Islamabad, April 15, 9:06 am
It was a brief note in the computer, headed "Travel," and it was what I was hoping for — a request to go to Iraq.
I read it to Mal, who was on the couch. He would head back to Israel. I watched myself, and I could feel the energy and excitement pour in. I felt like pumping my fist. I stood up to slap Mal's hand.
"Two white guys," he laughed.
Thirteen years ago, I would lean back on a folded chair in the corner of the tech room, near the only door that led in. If the door was open, you couldn't see me. I was out of view. I was leaned back either reading or writing. If anyone asked, I'd say I was writing a letter in a notebook. I think staying out of sight helped me to hang on to the job.
One time the reporter Steve Hurst walked in, looked around the tech room, then walked out. I thought it was possible he was looking for me, so I emerged from my space behind the door and found him in the hallway. It was early. The only people in the office were me and the babushka who made dog kilbasa sandwiches and coffee, Bab Raya, a survivor of the hunger in St. Petersburg. She was always eating and talked with her mouth full. She told me how once there were just four potatoes and her mother gave her her's. She cleared her throat a lot. I guess hunger is a fear you don't forget, even after sixty years.
Dog kilbasa, by the way, has large white chunks of fat in it, sometimes as hard as stones. I prefer doctorskaya kilbasa, which was smooth like liverwurst, without the stink.
Steve was surprised to see me in the hall. He had white hair and a new wife. He called me "Steve-o," which from him I liked. The Russians sometimes referred to us as "Steve" and "Big Steve," which was even better, but more often they gave him the deferential title "shef." He was there for ten years, and even when later bureau chiefs replaced him, for some of the Russians there was still only one shef, even if he was somewhere in Vermont.
Hurst seemed surprised to see me appear suddenly in the narrow hallway. "Do you want to go to Hungary?" he asked me. It took a few seconds to sink in, along with a rush of excitement. That was the first time I felt it, when I realized it was a job where you could walk in in the morning and someone could say, "Do you want to go to Hungary?" It hasn't changed.
The job was to deliver a satellite phone, which back in the early 1990's was two giant suitcases and a metal umbrella antennae. "Drop it off and show a three-person team how to use it." They were going to Yugoslavia, he said.
I dropped it off and showed them how to use it. The reporter called headquarters and asked if I could go with them. Headquarters said no. Their car was shot in Yugoslavia. Three of them were in the back seat. The woman camera operator had her tongue shot off.
I'll be back in a few days, Inshallah, to blog the road to Iraq. Thank you for reading.