Alex Mitchell


And the waters overwhelmed the earth so greatly that all the tall mountains that were under the heavens came to be covered.

(Genesis 7: 19)

… and turned to blackness all that had been light. The land shattered like a pot. All day long the South Wind blew, blowing fast, submerging the mountain in water, overwhelming the people like an attack… they could not recognize each other in the torrent. The gods were frightened by the Flood, and retreated, ascending to the heaven of Anu.

(Epic of Gilgamesh XI)

[…] there is Old Nineveh, which is desolate. The whole land of Nineveh is black like pitch […] There is neither herb nor any vegetation whatever […] New Nineveh, opposite, is on the other side of the river. At New Nineveh is a large congregation numbering more than six thousand souls. It has two princes. The name of the one is Rabbi David, and of the other Rabbi Samuel. They are sons of two brothers, and of the seed of King David.

(Petachiah of Ratisbon, 12th century C.E.)


December 5th, 2004. Mosul, Iraq

Mina stepped into her living room. It was completely dark. She always closed the shutters against the fierce Iraqi sun but she didn’t recall closing them this tightly. The air was stuffy and she couldn’t see a thing. She flipped the light switch but nothing happened. She was about to try again when she heard a slight shuffling sound to her right.

Hal honaka ahad? Is anybody there?’ she asked hesitantly. A second or two passed but no answer came back. Suddenly someone yanked her arms backwards and bound her wrists with cable ties. She heard the zipping sound of the ties tightening around her wrists, before another person pulled a large plastic freezer bag over her head and held it tightly round the base of her neck.

Panicking, Mina gulped a breath which emptied the bag of the little oxygen it held and left her gasping for air. She started choking, sucking the plastic deep into her mouth. She fell to her knees.

As she felt her mind fogging, she heard the creaking sound of the shutters being opened slightly. In a blur she could make out three men in dark clothing, towering over her. One of the men bent down and yanked the bag from her head. She gasped for air, breathing so deeply she thought her lungs would explode. She burst into tears and shook violently, the body’s natural response when given another shot at life.

The men didn’t give her any time to think. They pulled her to her feet roughly and flung her on a chair. One man stepped up to her, bending low to stare into her tear-filled eyes and said in a cold voice, ‘Miss Osman?’

Mina didn’t reply.

‘Miss Osman, you don’t know us, but we know everything about you. Do you understand?’

‘Yes,’ she whispered.

‘Good,’ he replied slowly, ‘so where is it?’

‘Where is what?’

‘Wrong answer,’ he said and turned to one of the other men, ‘You, the bag!’

‘Please,’ Mina begged him frantically, ‘don’t torture me! What do you want? I don’t know anything…’ She stopped talking abruptly when she saw her interrogator bringing a sharp knife towards her throat. It glinted in the single beam of sunlight peeking through the shutters.

He held the sharp edge of the knife under her ear and said, ‘The tablet, Miss Osman, where is it?’

That’s what they were after, Hassan’s tablet? But how could they have known she had it? This was insane.

‘So?’ He asked, slowly pushing the blade against the skin below her ear until she felt it cut through. Pain flashed through her and she felt warm blood trickling down her neck. Instinctively she tried to bring a hand up to stem the bleeding but she was still tied up. She was utterly helpless. ‘Please, please don’t hurt me,’ she sobbed, ‘the tablet is in my rucksack.’

He pulled the knife away and turned to the other man, ‘Pass me the plastic bag.’ Taking the plastic bag, he turned back to Mina and with a sinister smile said, ‘We wouldn’t want to leave any traces, would we?’

Mina felt the clammy plastic being pulled over her head once more and her mind begin to darken. ‘This is madness,’ she thought, as she began to lose consciousness.



The apple cannot be stuck back on the Tree of Knowledge; once we begin to see, we are doomed and challenged to seek the strength to see more, not less.

(Arthur Miller, 1915–2005)

Chapter 1

Four days earlier

December 1st, 2004. Mosul airport

Hassan had been pacing up and down the arrivals area for almost an hour. ‘The plane’s landed,’ he thought, ‘why isn’t anyone coming out?’ He approached one of the guards standing at the gate and asked him what was going on. The guard glanced down at the round-faced youth and replied, ‘Security checks.’

Hassan thanked him and sat down a little further away, ‘Security checks, more security checks. What do they think, Bin Laden’s on the plane? Will she ever come out of there?’ Suddenly, he caught sight of Mina Osman’s slender profile through the window and his face lit up.

Mina wore the tailored jacket and fitted jeans that Hassan and the other students knew so well from her classes. He had been wondering if she’d still be wearing a headscarf after spending time back home in America. At university she often wore a headscarf and made a point of always covering her hair on the streets of Mosul. He suspected Mina didn’t like covering her head, but knew better than to ignore local customs. Hassan remembered a discussion they had had months ago, after a class on the representation of foreigners in ancient Babylonian art. The conversation had veered to female dress codes in different countries and she had told him that she often let her hair hang loose in the US. But when she appeared at the arrivals gate, she was wearing a dark headscarf, dashing his hopes.

Mina was the most beautiful woman Hassan had ever been close to. She had almond-shaped eyes that

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