At first when there was only one dog the boy’s parents would feed it scraps every so often but times got hard and the bitch had a litter of six tiny, eager puppies, endlessly circling around their front door. His parents therefore encouraged the boy and his brother to throw rocks at the dogs so that they would learn to keep away. The puppies yelped and scattered and after four days of being pelted with whatever pebbles the boys could find they no longer returned.
When strands of black baling wire appeared on his chest, his brother taught him how to shoot. They began with empty soda cans, his hands shaking in fear of the recoil, his grip sweaty, the bullets never anywhere near the can, instead erupting little clouds of sand where they landed. Gradually his fear of the gun faded and he began to see it for what it was, just another tool. He began to hit the cans, making them dance up into the air. His brother, satisfied, told him that it was time to practice with moving targets. They found and cornered a wildcat, a scrawny haggard thing of skin and ribs. It looked up at them, frozen in terror, knowing it was trapped. It darted to the side, attempting to get away and he fired, hitting it in the neck. What remained of the cat disgusted him: its insides now hanging out of it, a splatter of guts on the pavement. His brother made him clean it up.
When he turned fifteen he beheaded his first sheep, and his family marveled at the ease and efficiency with which he handled the knife. The sheep bleated and struggled but he held it tight. His father and uncle applauded as the blood emerged from the sheep’s jugular, cascading down the garden path, tainting the grass until it rained months later and the path bled anew. The father cut up the animal, showing the boy how it was done and the boy and his brother were sent to distribute the meat amongst the poor. The next year the boy not only beheaded the sheep but cut it up as well.
The boy became a man and spent most of his days at the teahouse with his friends, smoking cigarettes and discussing politics and girls. When he returned home one day his parents were waiting for him. His mother gave him a glass of orange juice and led him to the living room where a girl sat, staring at her hands. He angled his head. She knew he was in the room, he could sense it, but she did not look up. She smelled real good and from what he could tell, she was quite pretty. His parents told him that this would be his wife. He smiled.
Agri Ismaïl is an Iraq-based writer whose work has appeared in the White Review (online), the Chimurenga Chronic, The Outpost and the Swedish art journal Glänta. He can be found online at abstractmodem.com and on twitter (@a9ri).