Your Story 17 Winner: The Key

Out of more than 1,100 entries, we chose this entry, submitted by Larry Peterson of Fox Island, Wash., as the winner of our Your Story #17 contest. Judging for the Your Story #18 competition will take place in late May. For more info visit writersdigest.com/YourStory.
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“Go around the block again.” I said, staring at the purple blossoms that sprouted on the Jacaranda trees in front of my parents’ house.

The taxi driver huffed, “Again!”

As he pulled from the curb, I caught his eyes looking at me in the rearview mirror. There was a woman’s lace garter dangling from the mirror’s mounting. I shifted my eyes to the visor that held photos of what must have been his family: a photo of him in a thick Ned Flanders mustache, his arm wrapped fondly around another man who also wore a heavy black mustache; a photo of a woman wearing a scarf over her head; a photo of two barefoot boys playing in a park where luxuriant trees lined the walkway. I glanced back to the mirror, saw his eyes watching me.

I wished that I could adjust the mirror, make it not intrude on me. The mirror was our only portal to each other, and his eyes were laser beams drilling into me.

“That your family?” I asked attempting to distract him.

His eyes moved from me to the visor. “My brother Hooshyar. Taken seven years ago in my home town of Chabahar. My wife Anahita. My nephew Iman and my son Javeed. Javeed, means living forever.”

“Nice family. So what’s that make you?” I asked.

“Make me?” He questioned, approaching a four-way stop. He looked back to the mirror at me, turned left.

“I mean where do you come from?”

“Ajam. I’m an Ajam.”

I glanced out my side window to Hoover Elementary school where children were just now getting out. I watched parents queue their SUVs in the parking lot. “Ajam, I don’t know what that is.”

“Persian.” He said, stopping to allow a woman in a silver Trailblazer turn left in front of him. “So why you afraid to go home? That is your house isn’t it?”

I looked back to the mirror where his eyes were again fixed on me. “I ain’t afraid to go home. Just not quite ready yet.”

“You on leave?”

“No. Discharged.”

“How’d you lose your foot?”

“Explosion.”

“Iraq?”

“Yes.”

“So why you afraid to go home?”

“I ain’t afraid.”

“Sure you are. Your family know about your foot?”

“Why all the questions? What difference is it to you?”

“Don’t know. Just Asking.”

“No. They don’t know about my foot. So why they call you an Ajam?”

“It’s derogatory. Against Persians, means stupid. Something Saddam liked to say about us.”

“No love lost between you, I take it.” I said, our eyes meeting in the mirror. “I mean you guys and the Iraqis.”

“They’re nuts.” He said stopping at a corner, looking both ways before crossing the intersection. “I tell you a story. You want to hear story how dumb they are?”

“Sure. Why not.” I said, pulling a small purple box from my pocket and setting it down on the seat beside me. His eyes followed me in the rearview mirror.

“They got all these old mine fields in Iraq that Saddam left behind. Well, do you know what they do to clear them?”

“It’s your story, don’t ask me.”

“They would send donkeys out into the fields and let them step on the mines in order to blow them up. But then the donkeys got too smart, so they started using horses. Then the horses got too smart.”

“Good for them.” I said.

“Then they started using children. Gave them little plastic keys and told them that the key would get them into Heaven. Then sent the children out into the fields.”

“Pretty dumb.” I said as he pulled the taxi in front of my parents’ house.

He turned around and looked into the back seat. “You ready to go home now?”

“I guess.” I said, reaching for my crutches.

“What’s in the box?”

“My Purple Heart.”

“Can I see?”

I handed him the box and reached for my wallet. “What do I owe you?”

“Don’t worry about it.” He said, opening the box. He lifted the medal and exchanged a glance with me when he saw the small plastic key that accompanied the medal.

“The boy I tried to save was wearing it.” I said, getting out from the taxi.

He closed the box and handed it back to me.

As I hobbled toward the house, he called. “Hey Marine! Semper Fi.”

Turning, I gave him a thumbs up.

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