If it was going to happen, I wanted it to be quick. So I crawled over to Abu Hassan and begged.
"I don't want the knife!" I sobbed.
Neither Abu Hassan nor his fellow guard – the blubbery, adolescent Abu Qarrar – really knew what to do about my outburst.
"We're not going to kill you. Why? What is this?" said Hassan.
His voice was flat and sounded insincere.
"Abu Qarrar, you speak English. You have to tell my family that I love them and that I'm sorry," I implored.
I sat against the wall of a house whose location I didn't know, under a window to an outside I couldn't walk through, and cried and cried.
• • •
In Baghdad, Jan. 7, 2006 was a sunny Saturday. For me it promised to be an easy day.
Not that my life in Baghdad was easy. Freelance journalism is a tough business everywhere. But I didn't want to sit in a cubicle in the US and write, as I had, about the Department of Agriculture food pyramid. Here I was living my dream of being a foreign correspondent – even if that meant sometimes living in a hotel so seedy it was best to buy your own sheets.
First up were some routine interviews of Iraqi politicians trying to form a new government. Three weeks before, the country had chosen its first democratically elected permanent government. But Sunni politicians were dismayed at how few seats they'd won.
Later, I planned to leave my virus-ridden laptop (stashed in the trunk) with a techie friend of my interpreter, Alan Enwiya.
Alan was vital to my newsgathering process. We had been a team for almost two years. We were also friends – it felt as if we were almost siblings – who'd worked through Iraq's difficult and increasingly dangerous conditions.
In our time together we'd eked out a living freelancing for the Italian news agency ANSA, USA Today, US News & World Report, and now The Christian Science Monitor. We had been threatened by militia members, mobbed after Friday prayers, and seen bullets rain down from passing police vehicles. We'd walked hours through Baghdad soliciting interviews from ordinary Iraqi voters.