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The Tyres

by Monika Anselment and Ali Habib

One night in September, Rashid arrives home on foot. His car is parked in front of his house. Already from a distance, he can see it. But then he notices the two men kneeling before his car. He approaches hesitantly until he can see what they are doing. The two are removing the tyres from his car. Rashid pulls himself up to his full height, which him helps to disguise his own fear. He walks over to the two men, stands before them and says politely, "That is my car."

The men look up at him, a little embarrassed. Rashid doesn't want to provoke them and asks cautiously, "What are you doing to my car?"

"You see what we're doing. We're taking off the tyres."

"You can't do that. I can't drive the car without the tyres."

The man with the wheel brace in his hand looks at him. "That may be, but we need the tyres."

The argument is so convincing that Rashid says nothing at first and reflects how he can keep the conversation going. Finally he says, "Do you know what tyres cost today? You can't get a tyre for less than 20,000 dinars."

They look at each other, and one of the two squatting men says, "But we would never get that much. We might get 10,000 dinars for a tyre."

"That may be, but I had to pay 80,000 dinars for them. Do you know how much I earn in a month? Not one-tenth of that."

The two men have not put away their tools during the conversation. Three tyres are already piled on top of each another next to the car. The car is sitting on stones. The elder of the two stops and says, "You don't look that poor. But I'll make you an offer. Give us 40,000 dinars for the four tyres and we'll disappear."

Rashid thinks it over. 40,000 dinars is half of what he would have to pay at one of the markets. If he refuses the offer, he'll have trouble. The car is sitting on stones and he would have to look for hours, if not days, in the markets of Baghdad for replacement tyres. Replacement parts are currently difficult, if not impossible to obtain. Giving them the money is certainly the simplest solution.

"Agreed. I'll get the money."

"But don't think of calling the police!"

"Rashid mutters something and goes into his house. He is frightened. Perhaps they are armed. 40,000 dinars is a lot of money. But even used tyres are expensive. Four years ago, four tyres would have cost 100 dinars. He gets the money and returns with apprehension. The two men are putting the tyres back on. This makes him feel a little more secure. He gives them the money."

"One of the two men mumbles a thank you. Rashid hurries back into his house. From the window, he sees the two leave. He's certain that a car is waiting for them on a side street. The two men stop and remain standing. From their gestures, Rashid can see that they are having a heated discussion. He breaks out in a cold sweat. The two turn around and approach his house. The doorbell rings. Rashid goes to the door and calls out without opening it, "What do you want now?""

Embarrassed one of the two men says, "We want to explain something. Since we really only need 25,000 dinars, we have decided to give you back 15,000."

Translated by Tom Lampert