January 16, 7:00 PM, Kabul
Cursing, I slam down the receiver and run out of the house, shout for Bro. He stands by his car still parked on the street. Arms folded, he turns to me, a stocky young man with black hair and a heavy mustache. He wears a leather jacket and jeans. He used to lift weights and box. Despite a potbelly he could kick my ass.
The night sky unfurls above us without stars and curtains everything in darkness except for a small patch of light coming from inside Bro’s car. Streetlights hover above us with no purpose. After nearly thirty years of war, nothing functions here.
Bro watches me. The jagged flashes of an electrical storm reveal beggars stooped in piles of trash, sifting through foul gutters. Square concrete houses appear ghostly white and then disappear into darkness. Packs of feral dogs gather at the end of the street and howl. A frigid wind inflates my jacket and the hair on the back of my neck rises from the chill.
“Where do we go now?” Bro says. It’s the same question he asks me every morning when I walk out of the house, juggling dozens of story ideas, pens and notebooks flopping in my pockets.
“Bagram. We need to go to Bagram.”
Bro looks at his watch. We’ve been working since eight this morning, scouring ministries for information about the new post-Taliban government inaugurated in December. We didn’t stop for lunch, haven’t had dinner. He dropped me off only minutes before. We had tea, relaxed from the long day, said good night. I heard my satellite phone ring as I shook hands with him at the door.
Bro understands my impulsiveness. Understands the sudden demands on a correspondent’s time. But what I’m asking of him tonight involves risks beyond the usual hasty, breaking news story. He makes a face, kicks at the pavement nervously. He understands that too.
“Curfew,” he says finally, looking again at his watch.
I nod, know it’s at least an hour’s drive north to Bagram Airbase on spine-jolting roads. The base was built by the Soviet army after they invaded Afghanistan in 1979. When the Taliban fell in November, an international coalition, led by American and Northern Alliance forces, occupied it.
Now, two months later, a delegation of U.S. senators is arriving at nine o’clock tonight. I was tipped off by a BBC correspondent who called me just as I entered the house after Bro dropped me off. I need to cover this. I need to get to Bagram.
“Curfew’s nine-thirty, I know,” I say, looking at my watch. “If we leave now, we can get to Bagram by eight. If they let us in, we’ll spend the night on base. If they don’t, we’ll turn around and get back just in time.”
“It’s very late,” Bro says.
“And getting later. We have to leave now. I’ll pay you extra.”
“It’s not the money. I am Afghan! If we’re stopped it will be big problem for me.”
“For both of us.”
“For me more. I am Pashtun. Do you understand?”
I did. Tribal affiliation means everything here. For instance, the Taliban emerged out of the predominantly Pashtun-dominated south. The Northern Alliance, a coalition of mostly Tajik people and other northern tribes, supported by American bombs, drove the Taliban out of Kabul in November and now patrol the roads. The majority of Pashtuns resent the rise of the minority Tajiks. The Tajiks equally despise the Pashtuns for supporting the Taliban.
Despite their Pashtun lineage, Bro’s family opposed the Taliban and celebrated when American B-52s bombed the outskirts of Kabul after September 11. But that won’t matter if we’re stopped by a Northern Alliance patrol. He’s still Pashtun.
“I’ll pay you extra,” I say again.
Bro has been seduced by the fifty dollars a day he earns driving and translating. Most Afghans make just five to fifty dollars a month. When he learned that television crews were paying translators one hundred dollars a day, he asked me for the same amount. I bluffed, told him to apply for another job. There were plenty of translators I could hire for fifty dollars a day, I said, and walked away.
“If you need, I’ll write you a letter of reference,” I continued, not even looking over my shoulder. “Most reporters are leaving Afghanistan. The Taliban is gone. Stories are fewer. I hope you’re sure about this.”
That scared him. He pleaded with me to keep him. He supports a wife and child. He buys food for his parents and clothes for his six brothers and two sisters. They all live in one house. Each night, Bro counts his earnings out on the kitchen table lit by a gas lamp. The wavering light leaps in the wide eyes of his family bunched around him spellbound as he counts out his money, two American twenty-dollar bills and a ten. Yesterday, he bought a new black leather jacket. Money was our bond.
“I am your driver. This is my job. I’ll do what you say, but this is dangerous,” Bro says.
“I’ll pay you extra.”
“It’s not the money.”
“I’ll pay you an additional fifty bucks. That’s a hundred dollars for today.”
“You don’t understand. What will money do if I’m dead?”
“This is silly.”
I smile and he smirks, chuckling. Silly is a word he latched onto after he heard me say it one afternoon when I described a stupid bureaucrat who wouldn’t let us make an appointment with a government minister. From then on, every bumbling guard and official we encounter he dismissed as silly. He keeps a notebook filled with English words and expressions I use that are unfamiliar to him. Silly is his favorite.
“You’ll give the money to my family if I die?”
“We’ll be in and out of Bagram and back here in no time.”
“I need to tell my wife and father.”
“Your house on the way?”
I look at my watch, thinking. Stop at his house, five, ten minutes tops.
“Okay,” I say. “Don’t get too overly sentimental. We’re coming back.”
7:15 PM, Bro’s house
“This is silly,” Bro says again, getting out of the car. This time he doesn’t laugh.
I watch him go. We met in November shortly after I arrived here. I had interviewed his uncle, who administers a de-mining operation in Kabul. He spoke English and I asked him to recommend a translator. He introduced me to his unemployed nephew, Khalid. The way I mangled his name drove him crazy. To spare us both, I called him Bro.
We’re an odd pair. Blocky Bro, young and tough. Old, skinny, pony-tailed me, a decrepit social worker from San Francisco who shook off a midlife crisis by going into newspaper work. Night cops. Briefs. Writing stories about car wrecks and fires and a man who made false 911 calls for fun.
Then I caught a break when I went to Sierra Leone with a local group of doctors with missionary zeal. What I saw and experienced there—the violence, the poverty, the famine and helplessness—changed my life once again. I became an overseas junkie. I fell in love with the mental chess game of making my way through a place where no one spoke English, the streets were a maze, and the guy around the next corner could blow me away. I loved the rush. It beat playing phone tag with public relations flacks.
I wrote about Sierra Leone and stewed over it, determined somehow to get back overseas. The disaster of September 11 gave me my chance to cover a war.
I look at my watch and wait, listen to chickens rustle in a wire pen inside the gate to Bro’s house, a low, flat, concrete building draped in shadows. I hear voices, can’t tell if they’re coming from his house or another. Then silence. A man bicycles past me wrapped in a blanket, weaving around potholes. Cats yowl, run through patches of murky light thrown by a pocked moon veiled by clouds. Women in burqas approach, adrift in fog. They knock on my window, begging. I ignore them, wait for Bro.
“Silly,” I mutter to myself. I glance at my watch again, thumb through my wallet to make sure I have an extra fifty to give him.
Bro runs back to the car, a sleeping bag jammed under one arm.
“What did you tell your family?”
“I told them I have to work late and may need to sleep in your house. I did not tell them we go to Bagram.”
“I’ll get you back in time.”
“Inshallah,” Bro says, shifting the car into gear, “God willing.”
We rattle down a road leading out of Kabul potted with bomb craters. Bro swerves between gaping holes and strewn chunks of concrete. Tanks abandoned by retreating Russians in 1989 loom out of the shadows swept by cold winds. Afghan resistance to the Soviet Union’s occupation in the 1980s was followed by brutal civil wars. Most of the ruins in Kabul resulted from feuding among Afghan factions between 1990 and 1996, when the Taliban took control.
By then Afghanistan had been blitzed back into the Stone Age. Buildings in downtown Kabul look like the remains of sand castles after high tide. Ostracized by the rest of the world for their harsh interpretation of Islam, cut off from international aid agencies, the Taliban did not have the money to provide power, running water, garbage removal, road repair, and other basic services I always took for granted. Hell, if they had the money, they wouldn’t have spent it. Under the Taliban it was against the law to fly kites, to listen to music and birds singing. Women were forced to cover themselves from head to foot in body-length veils. The simplest joys were taboo. The Taliban was an austere bunch of guys.
I look at my watch. Seven twenty-five. We’re barely going thirty miles an hour. Yeah, at least an hour.
The warped metal gates of Bagram Airbase tower above us. The dirt road roils with dust churned from our speeding car. Gaslight from wooden vendor stalls curtains the gritty air with a yellow glaze. Afghan men wrapped in blankets approach my side of the car talking at once.
“Mister, help a poor man.”
“My family, they are all sick.”
“Buro,” Bro snaps. “Go.”
The men step back. They peer into the car, rocking it, and again Bro shouts, “Buro!” They scuffle away, shift to another side of the car, and press their faces against the windows.
“I’m going to see if I can get us in.”
“I’ll wait here,” Bro says. “Buro!”
A Northern Alliance soldier stops me, pats me down. He says to wait and talks rapidly into a radio. Another Afghan soldier asks where I’m from.
“What do you do in Afghanistan?”
“I’m a journalist.”
“You have a satellite phone? I see many journalists. All of them have satellite phone.”
“What does it matter?”
“May I use to call my family in Pakistan?”
“Only if you get me in.”
“I have not seen them for a long time.”
“Get me in and you can talk to them.”
“I’ll get you in,” he says, slipping behind the gate.
I glance back at Bro, can’t see him through the crowd of people gathered around the car. I blow on my cold hands. Narrow dirt paths lead from the road to collapsed mud huts lit from within by wood fires. I twist my watch against my wrist, look at it, pace back and forth. A merchant offers to sell me a prayer shawl. Another guy urges me to buy some nuts. The night stretches low and immeasurably far over the desert, a dark, fathomless void beyond the firelight.
After fifteen minutes, an American army officer walks around the gate toward me. I cup my hands around my nose and blow to warm my face. My toes feel numb.
“May I help you, sir?”
“I’m a reporter. I wanted to get in for the press conference with the senate delegation.”
“Sir, I’m sorry you came out this way at this time of night, but I can’t let you inside.”
“Is there a reason?”
“We have a list of reporters, sir. From that list a pool of reporters was selected. You should be able to get what you need from them.”
“No way I can get in?”
“No, sir. I’m sorry.”
“Well, I had to try.”
“Can my driver and I can park inside the gate and sleep in the car?”
“No, sir. I’m sorry, sir.”
“We won’t make it back before curfew.”
“I’m sorry, sir.”
“Why can’t we just park inside the gate?”
“I’m sorry, sir.”
“My driver has family.”
“I have my orders.”
“Just inside. Just inside the gate.”
“We could get killed going back now. Please!”
“You need to leave now, sir.”
“How about if we just stay on this side of the gate?”
“I wouldn’t do that, sir. These people … I don’t know, but we can’t protect you.”
“Well, I had to try.”
“Abdul here wants to know if he can use your sat phone.”
“No. We had an agreement.”
“I told him he could use it if he got me inside.”
“I’m sorry, Abdul,” the soldier says.
I walk back to the car, push through the throng to the passenger door. Bro sits inside behind the wheel looking tense.
“Let’s go back.”
He looks at his watch, turns the key. Nothing. Turns it again. Nothing. Turns it again. Again. Again.
“What’s the matter?”
“It won’t start.”
“I know that,” I snap, slapping the dashboard. “Why not?”
“I’m your driver, not your mechanic,” Bro barks back.
Okay, I think, okay, let’s chill out. We’re going to get back. We’re going to get back. Bro opens the hood. We stare at the engine as if somehow staring will solve the problem. A glut of vendors crane over our shoulders, shoving us against the car, their funk strangling me. We’re given advice; steamy breath layering hot mist over the exposed engine amid the shrill clacking of tongues, excited gestures.
We decide to push the car down an embankment to see if motion will start it. Bro steers the car off the road between rows of red-painted rocks that warn of mines in the area. The car gathers speed, the engine coughs and sputters. I wait, watching, take my watch off and shove it in my pocket. Tired of looking at it. A cloud of exhaust belches out the back and I hear the engine growl to life. Yes!
“Whatever you do, don’t turn it off,” I shout.
Bro leans out his window, wags an upraised thumb and laughs. He backs up. I get in, give him a high-five slap to the hand.
“Who’s the man? Bro’s the man!” I shout.
We drive away. I take my watch out of my pocket, twist it around my fingers. Bagram has almost disappeared behind us when I feel the car slowing to a stop. I look at Bro. He won’t look at me. He gets out, kneels by the right front tire.
“What’s the matter?” I ask, knowing without being told.
“I didn’t feel it.”
“What does that matter? It’s flat.”
“Let’s get the spare.”
“Extra tire. You have an extra tire?”
I tug at my beard a few times, biting my lower lip. I put my watch back in my pocket. Shit.
“What do we do?”
“Go back,” Bro says, getting in the car.
He drives in reverse. The car lists heavily to one side. Small flickers of firelight dance out of vendor stalls, grow brighter. We’re immediately surrounded again. Bro explains the problem to the curious crowd. Several men point at a narrow path between several stalls and urge us to follow them to a gated compound I can’t see at first in the dark. A man leans against the heavy wooden door and slowly pushes it open. Inside, smashed cars rise in uneven stacks. Two short grease-stained men emerge from a shack and chase the onlookers away. They close the gate and examine our tire.
Shaggy hair. Thick, gnarled beards. Trolls, I think. I breathe deeply, wait and watch. Shit.
Without talking, the men jack the car up and remove the tire. They roll it in a trough of water, squeezing it until bubbles rise from the puncture. Troll number one taps the ground with his fingers until he finds a small splinter of wood. He pushes the wood into the hole, marking it.
The men rummage among some toolboxes until one of them finds a small, square rubber patch and smears it with glue. It sticks to his fingers and he shakes his hand until it falls on the ground. He picks it up, brushes dirt off, and rubs on more glue. He removes the splinter from the tire and presses the patch over the hole. He reaches for a hand pump and attaches it to the tire, slowly pushing air into the tube.
He hands the pump to the other man, who finishes filling the tire. Together they put it back on the worn wheel hub and screw in the bolts. The fat tire shines where it is still wet. The men look at us and smile. No teeth. We shake hands. I pay them five dollars and they bow, right hand over their hearts in gratitude.
“Where do you go?” one of the trolls asks Bro.
“Think we’ll make it?” I ask after Bro translates.
“Why not?” he says. “Inshallah.”
The cratered road leading back to Kabul is lit only by our headlights. Blackness extends beyond our feeble illumination. Fog breaks over the hood of the car. Bro drives fast, swings right, then left around the deepest holes. Our lights graze red rocks on the side of the road and I close my eyes, exhausted, wonder how all the mines will ever be removed from this country.
The car leaps and I bang my head against the roof. Jesus! I see Bro’s hands scrambling over the steering wheel as he fights to regain control.
We careen off the road, smashing through a line of red rocks into sagebrush. My head smacks the passenger window. Wheels spin in place as Bro downshifts and we jump forward back onto the road, slamming into another hole. We’re raised out of our seats; my left leg lands on the stick shift. Bro grips the wheel, steadying it to a stop. I rub my leg. The car lists to the left. This time, I hear the hiss of the flattened tire. We look at each other, get out.
“A different tire,” Bro says from the left rear of the car. “That is good.”
“Why? Why is that good?” I ask limping behind him.
“Those men did a good job. It is not their tire that is flat. At least they did not steal from us.”
I look around, can’t see a thing past our car. A nether place where we’re lost in someone else’s stormy dream.
“We’re going to have to spend the night here.”
“No,” Bro says.
“We can’t drive. I’ll call people in the morning on the sat phone when curfew is lifted.”
“Bandits are on the roads. If we stay, we’ll be killed.”
“You can’t drive. You’ll destroy the rim.”
“Rim? What is rim?”
“We won’t make it is what I mean.”
Bro approaches me, the muscles in his jaw twitching. I raise my arms, ready for a fight. So this is what he was like in a boxing ring. He’ll kill me. That’s OK. Let’s fight. Let’s tear each other up and get this night over with.
Bro hesitates, cocking his head to one side. We both turn at the sound of a vehicle approaching. Headlights rise behind us, slowly illuminating the road around. Gradually the light fills the night until we’re blinded. A truck roars past, rocks our car with its back draft.
“We can park behind one of these tanks,” I say above the noise of the truck echoing around us.
“I am your driver,” he says. “But I am also Afghan. For twenty-three years—as old as I am—there has been war here. What do you know about that? I know. We can’t stay here. Why do you think this road is empty at night? Bandits. We will be killed if we stay here.”
I’m convinced we won’t make it to Kabul driving on a flat. We’ll ruin the car, have to get it towed, increasing our problems in the morning.
“Look, I know you’re nervous. I’ll pay you extra to stay out here. Behind these tanks. No one will see us.”
“Why you always talk of money? What does money do for a dead man? I told you we should not do this. I told you!”
His anger stuns me to silence. I pay him, dammit. He works for me. That’s it. I’ll hire someone else tomorrow. This is not my fault. Let’s just get out of here. This is not my fault. I have a job to do and he works for me.
Bro gets back inside the car, shifts into first gear, and we hobble forward, rocked by the repetitious thump of the flat tire. We don’t talk, don’t look at each other. Any bandit that sees a car moving this slowly will be drawn to it like a shark to blood, I think.
But I don’t say anything. I drop a tape of Iranian music into the cassette player. Something to kill the time. Kill the silence between us. Keep my mind off the thump, thump, thumping of the flat tire and the painfully slow journey ahead.
Each time a headlight appears behind us, Bro pulls off the road and shuts off the engine. We get out and scramble behind an abandoned Soviet tank and wait for them to pass. Thank God for war debris. I can’t see if we’re around any red rocks or not.
“If they stop,” Bro says, “don’t move, don’t breathe. Hide. Hide as best you can.”
No one stops, the noise from their engine trailing off in the fog. We resume driving. The noise from the flat tire slaps against the gloom. I glance at Bro’s worried face.
This is not my fault, I think. Not my fault.
I look at my watch.
We limp into the outskirts of Kabul and stop at a military checkpoint, the tire an unraveling mound of shorn rubber.
“Where are you going at this time of night?” a Northern Alliance commander asks Bro, shivering. The commander tugs at a blanket around his shoulders, shifts from one sandaled foot to the other. The new government of Interim President Hamid Karzai has no money to provide its soldiers with uniforms and shoes.
“He is an American journalist,” Bro says. “I am taking him to his house. We are returning from a news conference at Bagram.”
The commander looks at the back of the car, jams a cigarette in his mouth.
“How long have you driven on this tire?”
Bro looks at me and I look at my watch.
“Two hours,” I say. “Two hours,” Bro says.
“You can’t drive further on this tire.”
“His house is not far.”
“You are a guest in our country,” the commander says, looking at me. “But I have no tea to offer you or I would ask you to stay. Go. But you will be stopped again.”
We push on toward downtown. Padlocked vendor stalls line the road covered with burlap. The empty streets resemble little more than paths. Dogs howl unseen. We continue driving. Bro talks us through three more checkpoints. My status rises with each stop. He says I’m an FBI agent working for Karzai, a U.N. official, an aid worker. Anything to keep moving.
When we reach downtown, a man materializes out of the fog, rears back on his right leg, and then lunges forward, extending a rifle. He aims it at the windshield.
“Jesus!” I scream.
Bro slams on the brake and we drop down in our seats, wiggling as much as we can under the dashboard.
“Aiee!” the man shouts, firing a shot above the car.
Four Afghan soldiers surround us, pointing their rifles at the car. We are at an intersection near a roundabout. Their commander, a short man in a green uniform, strokes his heavy black beard that sticks out all over the place like an overused Brillo pad and asks Bro again and again why we’re out after curfew. Bro explains about the two flat tires. The commander shakes his head.
“Bad luck,” he says.
“Yes,” Bro says.
“Where are you from?”
“But you are Pashtun?”
“I am from Kabul City.”
“I am from the Panishir,” Brillo Pad says, referring to a Northern Alliance stronghold near Kabul. He studies Bro for a moment, then looks at me.
“You can’t leave until five o’clock, when curfew ends. But I will take the American to his house now.”
“Don’t leave me here with them,” Bro says after he translates, his voice shaking. “Tell them you can’t go without me.”
I look at him and for the first time realize the risk I’ve placed him under.
“No, no,” I say. “I can’t leave without my translator. We’ll stay here.”
“Thank you,” Bro whispers.
“I am sorry, mister,” Brillo Pad says to me. “You are a guest in our country, but I am a soldier and must do my job. If you will not leave without your translator, then you will stay. Cigarette?”
I give him one.
“Don’t be afraid, mister,” he says. “When one fights against someone, if you are not the enemy, you must not be afraid. I’m not against you. Our goal as soldiers is to resist our enemy and conquer. You are our guest.”
“Thank you,” I say.
Behind him, soldiers gather around small fires to warm their hands. Many are barefoot. Further away, orange firelight stains the interior of a hut where more soldiers stand. Indian music squawks out of a cassette player. Beggars dart among vendor stalls, picking at scraps on the ground. The soldiers ignore them.
Bro turns in his seat, reaches for the sleeping bag. He unrolls it and pulls it up under his chin. He pushes some of the bag over to me. I scootch over toward him, pressing against the stick shift, and cover myself. Bro leaves the car running and turns the heat high. We lower the backs of our seats. Brillo Pad stares at us, walks away. Three other soldiers stay by the car.
“Well, at least you told your family you might be out all night.”
“This is my job. I’m your driver.”
“You were pretty pissed off back there.”
“Not so much.”
“A little bit.”
“Not so much … a little bit.”
“I think you went above the call of duty. Next time I’ll listen to you.”
“Next time you’ll do the same thing,” Bro says. “You are a journalist, I am your driver.”
“Where do we go now?” I say imitating him.
“Where do we go now?” he laughs. “I spent six days in jail for cutting my beard. I was arrested for playing music in my house and went to jail again. Once, they came to my house and asked for my father, but he was not there. Then they asked for my brother, and he was not there. They took everything; our rugs, tables, beds, photographs. There was no joy. Now there is joy. Are you married?”
“My wife wants to go to America. She tells me, ‘Get visa at embassy.’ I tell her it is too expensive. I want to go to America, but not with her. I think if she saw all the beautiful things in America, she would not want to come back. In America women see too many men other than their husbands.”
“We call that promiscuous.”
“Prom … is … cuous?”
I spell promiscuous for him and he writes it down in his notebook.
“It means seeing someone other than the person you’re married to.”
“Oh. We have that in Afghanistan too.”
“Maybe you could come to the states by yourself first and see how you feel and then send for her.”
“I think maybe I would like to go to America alone. Tell me about Miami Beach.”
“Miami Beach would rock your world, Bro. You wouldn’t want to come back.”
“I want to go to school there.”
“You can go to school here.”
“There are no jobs for Afghans. I studied biology, for medical school in Talib time, but there’s not work for doctors.”
“Reporters are starting to leave here. You should go back to school.”
“I cannot tell you how good it is to make money. What it is like to say I am a driver for journalists. I have told all my professors I drive for a journalist. They have not been paid for months. They see I am doing well. I can imagine nothing else but to drive for journalists.”
“You should think of something else. The news will move on. I’ll move on.”
I will leave Afghanistan behind as certainly as he will stay. There’s nothing either of us can do about that. Home calls us all. He doesn’t understand my wanderlust. He was born into an adrenaline rush of war and wants only peace.
“Inshallah, you will stay in Afghanistan. I could take you to many places. Herat, Jalalabad. Good stories for you.”
“Inshallah, we’ll get home tonight.”
A soldier taps the window and asks for a cigarette. He wants to know what we are talking about.
“Nothing,” Bro says. “It is between us.”
“Mister, in Talib time, sometimes at home very secretly I watched TV and videocassettes,” he says to me. “Many times Taliban would come by our street and put their ear against the houses to see if we were listening to music.”
Another soldier leans his gun against the car and shares the first soldier’s cigarette.
“One day a woman came to my shop,” the second soldier says. “The Taliban said don’t talk to woman. But why? They kicked the woman. I could do nothing. Even children could not play outside. It was forbidden for them to fly even kites.”
The soldiers pause long enough for Bro to translate. Soon he becomes so involved in their conversation, he forgets me.
“What are they saying?” I ask.
“It is nothing,” Bro says. “It’s between us.”
One of the soldiers apologizes.
“I am sorry, mister. You are a guest in our country, mister. But we are soldiers doing our job. We are just talking. About life. About how it is to be Afghan. We have known only war all our lives.”
Bro says something to him and their conversation resumes without me.
I hear a shout; wake up beneath the sleeping bag, my nose pressed against the fabric. A soldier runs to a spot where the light beams of a vehicle thrust through the fog.
“Aiee!” the soldier shouts, firing a warning shot.
The vehicle appears to be some sort of military Land Rover. The soldier eases out of his crouch and approaches it.
“I need to piss,” I say to Bro.
He nods, unrolls his window and says something to our guards. They wave for me to leave the car. I walk a few feet away and relieve myself.
“Aiee!” a soldier shouts behind me; at the same time I feel a blast of air over my head, followed by a sharp crack.
I close my eyes, drop to my knees, and hunch my shoulders, the sharp odor of urine filling my head. I slowly op