Young enough to be my son, a man cradles the corpse of his 10-year-old boy.
Except he would not say it, could only think it. Except he cannot think of it, dare not address himself to what happened – and who even knows how it did? He can only do what – yes, really – what a man has to do.
In Baghdad the city morgue is full to capacity: bags of bodies stuffed into freezers, temperatures in the streets outside nudging 50 degrees; mortuary staff carrying on withthe stifling work of listing and labelling. Wherever possible, reconciling recent images – broken faces, busted bodies – with earlier photos of missing persons.
Sometimes the remains cannot be released to relatives until a DNA test has proved positive.
The woman in charge doesn’t know the numbers, although in reply to the reporter’s question she concedes there are many more sectarian killings than a year ago. She laughs but not out of cynicism or defiance or nervousness; it is only funny that someone would need to ask.
Otherwise untimely, in these extraordinary circumstances her laughter is appealing. It carries the half-thought – why would she need to think it through? – that carrying on is what she does in remembrance of normality.
Doing what she has to, Our Lady of the Morgue is proof positive of that public virtue – bureaucracy. She bags bodies because life unrecorded might never have been; except for family, there is nothing to say, either way.
Public and private, official records and a father’s grief. In the open valuation of human life, each of these matters as much as the other.