It's hard to think of Bilal as a memory, but I want to record some of my memories of him, to help stand the test of time.
When I remember Bilal, I see him, in his slight build, reminding me so much of my brother, standing over the stove top in the kitchen, tasting his mom's pot of stew. I see him hurrying us to the dinner table because he's so hungry from a hard day's work.
I see him smiling, always smiling that kind, nice smile.
I see him carrying my Sumy and playing with her. He was one of the few guy's she wasn't scared of, one of the few guys who escaped her stranger anxiety. I see him taking her outside for a stroll, throwing her up into the air. I see her smiling and loving him.
I see him from my balcony walking off to university with his books tucked under his arms, in his button down shirt and gray pants.
I see him sitting at his computer, downloading the latest anasheed. Bilal and 'A' always loved a good nasheed.
I remember him on Friday afternoons, when we all gathered together for lunch. After an early morning playing soccer, praying jum'a, and eating lunch, he'd bring out his small mattress, throw it down in the living room in front of the TV, and watch a bit of TV with us, then snooze off for a bit of zzzz's. Ever so comfortably, one hand under his head, with his little brother lying next to him.
I remember once when you drove your mom and me to the shopping center in Mansour, ya Bilal. Khala N and I were doing our own shopping and you were walking around on your own. Then you came and took Sumy off my hands. When I joined you a few minutes later, you had bought her this cute winter hat, blue and black, with a little teddy bear on it, and a matching scarf. You had dressed her in it, and bought a matching set for your niece. I thought that was the cutest thing, and I saved that cute hat, till I left Baghdad this last time. I gave it away with a bunch of things Sumy had outgrown. I wish I had kept it.
I remember how you grew so much in the three years I spent in Baghdad as your neighbor. You grew from a quiet, shy high school student to a student leader in college. I remember when you were studying in your senior year to get into the college of your choice. Your grades weren't as high as your brother and sister, but you just barely made it in the College of Media and Journalism, the college of your choice. The college from which you were later kidnapped, with guards standing around, watching and doing nothing. Alhamdulillah.
I remember war stories that you guys told us about this last war, four years ago, when you were seventeen years old. Two main memories stand out. In one of them, your sister told me how her fiancee had been away for a few days. You guys hadn't heard from him in a while, got worried about him, especially since he lived in a targeted area. You rode out on your bike, holding a white flag in your hand (and I think you were all dressed in white), to keep you safe from any bullets, rockets or bombs. You rode out a good distance, a good 12 minute car drive, on your bike, in the height of the war. Alhamdulillah, you came home safely that time.
I remember the story you guys told us once and again, your most vivid memory of the war. Something no teenager, no human being should have to experience. (My readers, if you have a weak stomach, please don't read the next paragraph). You and your brother and some friends heard that Yarmouk Hospital had no electricity and there were so many dead bodies in the morgue. Someone had to bury them soon, especially with no electricity for the fridges. You guys went out, and took the bodies from the morgue, buried them in a large grave. You were telling us how that was the most horrific experience. Bodies were decomposing, falling apart in your hands when you were moving them. Maggots and worms were crawling all over them. Except for that one guy... And the smell, the smell that did not leave your noses for days. 'A' told us how while you guys were moving the corpses, looters were ascending on the hospital, taking everything they could. Yall had to threaten them, yell at them to have some respect for the place they were in. I remember you guys telling that story, shaking your heads with the horror of it. I remember the look in your eyes, that faraway look of having experienced something that I could never fully understand, never fully imagine. May God reward you for what you guys did, the small part that you guys tried to do, to keep some sanity and order in your homeland.
Most importantly, I will always remember how you are a central part of our little family circle in Baghdad. I can't yet imagine a dinner table without you sitting there with us.
Allah has given you rest from the craziness that Baghdad has descended to. May you dwell in a much better place than we can ever imagine.