Boreal

Sohrab

Good Cops / Bad Cops

He does not remember how many days had passed since his last time with his torturer when three guards came for him. It was not to take him to be tortured or the courtyard to be shot, but the infirmary.

The nurse who tended to his festering wounds while the three guards left them alone to perform the noon prayers took pity on him. After bandaging his feet, she gave him some money and opened a window to the outside world and asked if was too high for him to jump. He jumped.

Torture was usually followed by execution not a trip to the infirmary. The escape from Adelabad prison may have been facilitated by the Revolutionary Guard who, having failed to convince Sohrab through torture and fake executions to reveal the identity of his Mujahideen associates, now hoped he would lead them to his friends.

Whatever, Sohrab was now on the run staying for a few days in “safe houses” to give a chance to let his wounds heal and beard to grow as he made his way towards the Afghan border (the Revolutionary Guard would undoubtedly look for him in the other direction, in the direction of Khomeini’s mortal enemy Sadam Hussein).

When his beard was long enough to fit in with the Taliban which controlled large portions of Afghanistan at the time, he crossed into Afghanistan. On foot and using whatever transportation was available he made it to Pakistan where he purchased a plane ticket for Kuwait. It was while in Kuwait that, in my opinion, he became an alcoholic.

He was in Kuwait illegally; to earn the money for the next leg of his journey which he hoped would take him to Canada, he passed himself off as a Christian, obtaining a Christian card on the black market.

With a Christian card he could check in to any hotel in Kuwait and purchase booze. Groups of Muslim men would come to his room and would pay a lot of money to quickly guzzle what Sohrab had to offer. To make sure it was not a setup, Sohrab had to be the first to get drunk.

The Kuwait government decided that it was time for Sohrab to leave when it announced a crackdown on those who were in the country illegally. He flew to Poland where he was denied a visa; next, the former Czechoslovakia; and finally Spain where he was able to obtain the necessary documents to come to Canada.

In Canada, he started a business that he had learned from his father, restoring Persian carpets to their former glory. The money was good and that meant he could afford to drink to excess. Because, as a Muslim he had never learned social drinking, he indulged in the type of drinking he had done in Kuwait, and that meant many a trip to the Ottawa police station for being found intoxicated in a public place.

It was during one of these trips to the Ottawa police station that it happened.

He says he probably had it coming (although I don’t see any justification for what happened) because he was “mouthing off” perhaps more than usual. The car suddenly stop, the officer in the passenger seat got out of the car and got in the back seat with him, he was in handcuff with his hands behind his backs. The officer started punching him hard in the ribs leaving him in pain and gasping for breath.

That is when he understood that you have to be careful about what you say to Ottawa cops; a simple question, as Stacy Bonds discovered, might set them off.

Having said that, Sohrab does not hold a grudge. He says, for the most part he was well treated, and considers most of the police officers who had to deal with him decent people.

I got proof of this when we were walking on a downtown portion of Bank Street and a police officer who recognized Sohrab and whom Sohrab recognized joined us to congratulate him on turning his life around (postings on this extraordinary turnaround in the near future, and what it might mean for untold numbers of Ottawa Muslims who feel they have to struggle alone and in obscurity with this addiction because their religion considers it a sin).

On another occasion it was a squad car who pulled over to ask Sohrab how things were going (because of the friendly nature of the conversation I have to assume they were not looking for a reason to pick him up).

And then of course there is that police officer who listened. During his “drunken years”, as he calls them, he caused a lot of grief for local merchants and the police, for which he is very sorry. Thanks to the John Howard Society and Alcoholics Anonymous he is a new man.

As part of Alcoholics Anonymous twelve steps program to recovery he has tried to apologize to merchants, to people he treated shabbily, including police officers.

Many praised him for changing his life around as did the merchants he contacted, with a few exceptions. One of these exceptions, a large drugstore in the Ottawa community of Vanier from which he had been banned during his “drunken years.”

Last week, he was looking for medicine for a severely blistered foot when he was again detained by security based on a more than two year old warning that he was not allowed in the store. The police were called.

The officer who answered the call, instead of believing security who told him what he was like before, took the time to listen to the man who talked about the person he is today. The officer then asked store security to apologize to a shopper who was simply looking for something to ease the pain.

Thank you.

Bernard Payeur


Two poems by Sohrab about being a drunk, then not being a drunk, which he says need more work, but which I like just the way they are.

Like An Old Wooden, Broken Sailing Ship

Like an old wooden, broken sailing ship,

The harsh cold burning wind,

Slanting it, once to the right.

Slanting it, once to the left.

Kept going straight on its way.

The heart of sorrow sat on the moonlight night sky.

White, gray, black clouds filling the sky.

The trees, the leaves and the earth shrouded in snow.

The road glistening with ice.

The Earth! Is dressed in sorrow and sadness.

The cold! The cold burning wind!

Caressing the hair! Here and there!

The cold! The cold burning wind!

Whipping the face! Here and there!

Gotten drunk! Gotten drunk!

Wanted to get out of the bar! Like an old wooden,

                 Broken sailing ship!

Slanting once to the right,

Slanting once to the left,

Heaving to the sight, blacked out!

Hundreds of green gardens, are growing in front of an eye!

Thousands of flowers are budding on the right.

Thousands of flowers are sprouting on the left.

Hiccupped a few too many times.

Cursed the sky!

I am a drunk, you are mad!

And tell me then!

How are we getting home?

Who will take us home?

His blacked out mind whispered a few more times;

I am unknown to myself!

I am not in love!

I am with no heart!

I am with no thought!

I am with no God!

I am drunk at a bar.

He got up to leave and like an old wooden,

                 Broken sailing ship

Slanting over, once to the right,

Slanting over, once to the left.

Hiccupped a few too many times.

Looked up at the sky!

How many times have I told you?

Drink a little, not even one!

                     Not even two!

                     Not even three!

                   Of this bottle of white and red wine!  

October 23, 2006

I am not a DRUNK anymore!

Do you know why I am not a drunk anymore?

Because I am not drinking anymore.

Do you know why I am not powerless anymore?

Because I am not drinking anymore.

Do you know why I am not insane anymore?

Because I am not drinking anymore.

Do you know why I am not thoughtless anymore?

Because I am not drinking anymore.

Do you know why I am not fearful anymore?

Because I am not drinking anymore.

Because I am not drinking anymore.

              I am not a drunk anymore.

Do you know why I am not in denial anymore? 

Because I am not drinking anymore.

Do you know why I am not rebellious anymore?

Because I am not drinking anymore.

Do you know why I am not deficient anymore?

Because I am not drinking anymore.

Do you know why I am not isolated anymore?

Because I am not drinking anymore.

Because I am not drinking anymore.

              I am not a drunk anymore.

Do you know why I am not hurtful anymore?

Because I am not drinking anymore.

Do you know why I am not deceitful anymore?

Because I am not drinking anymore.

Do you know why I am not hopeless anymore?

Because I am not drinking anymore.

Oh, God!

Do you know why I am not soulless anymore?

Because I am not drinking anymore.

Because I am not drinking anymore.

              I am not a drunk anymore.