Shoes - The Noble Truths of Suffering

Aleksandar Hemon's story published in The New Yorker on September 22, 2008 was one of the best stories I've read this year. The title of this sparkling and mini-voltage filled story is The Noble Truths of Suffering. A novice Sarajevo writer's encounter with an American prize winning author, the observations through a voice of drunken stupor, and elaboration of violence through Buddhistish non-violence made the conflicting descriptions of war, brutality and politics painfully live.

Here is an excerpt from Aleksandar Hemon's "The Noble Truths of Suffering":
"an ex-marine who would have been a hero in the battle of Falluja had he not been dishonorably discharged for failing to corroborate the official story of the rape of a twelve-year-old Iraqi girl and the murder of her and her entire family, an unfortunate instance of miscommunication with local civilians. Tiny returns home from Iraq to Chicago and spends time visiting his old haunts on the North Side, trying vainly to drink himself into a stupor, out of turpitude. He has nothing to say to the people he used to know; he breaks shot glasses against their foreheads. The city barked at him and he snarled back. High out of his mind, he has a vision of a snake invasion and torches his studio with everything he owns in it, which is not much. A flashback that turns into a nightmare suggests that he was the one who slit the girl’s throat. Lamia Hassan was her name. She speaks to him in unintelligibly accented English.

He wakes up on a bus to Janesville, Wisconsin. Only upon arrival does he realize that he is there to visit the family of Sergeant Briggs, the psychopathic bastard whose idea it was to rape Lamia. He finds the house, knocks on the door, but there is nobody there, just a TV playing a children’s show. Tiny stumbles into a nearby bar and drinks with the locals, who buy him booze as an expression of support for our men and women in uniform. He tells them that Sergeant Briggs, a genuine American hero, was one of his best buddies in Iraq. He also tells them about his friend Declan, who got shot by a sniper. Briggs dragged him home under fire and got his knee blown off. Tiny tells them not to trust the newspapers, or the cocksuckers who say that we are losing the war. We are tearing new holes in the ass of the world, he says. We are breaking it open."

..................He tells them the gory details of the rape—Lamia’s moans, the flapping of her skinny arms, the blood pouring out of her—and the old man listens to him unflinchingly, while the mother goes to the kitchen to fetch coffee. They seem untroubled, as if they’re not even hearing him. For an instant, he thinks that he is not speaking at all, that this is all happening in his head, but then he realizes that there is nothing inside them, nothing but grief. Other people’s children are of no concern to them, for there was no horror in the world beyond Declan’s eternal absence from it. Tiny is sobbing."

Reading only the fragments of this beautifully written story doesn't elucidate the complete rewards that can be attained reading it in its entirety. What made me more surprised after reading the last sentence of Aleksandar Hemon's short story was the "Shoes" video propping up on the net. Muntather Zaidi threw his first shoe with uttering words: "This is a gift from the Iraqis. This is the farewell kiss, you dog", and he hurled his second shoe saying, ""This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq"

A frustrated Iraqi journalist throwing his pair of shoes at Bush, missing both his throws less than an inch, but the ultimate insult was done for an American outgoing President, whose neocon directed murderous wars caused so many millions of unnecessary deaths, bloodshed, rapes, and destructions, and whose answering back to a journalist's question afterwards proclaiming that democracy at play in Iraq and the man who threw the shoes only was trying to grab attention to himself were as usual missing the mark of truth completely.

While the protesting shoe throwing journalist was subdued on the floor, and was screaming from pain, words can be heard, "Camera! Camera!", and the heads rolled toward the recording camera that was documenting everything. Perhaps the "democracy" protecting goons spared him the pain for the moment while being recorded in camera, but off camera the story will turn to gory detail, even a gifted story writer like Aleksandar Hemon may find it difficult to describe the plight of tortures on protesters and any opposition termed as "enemy combatant" at the whim of whimsicals beyond the flashy lights and camera.