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Hostage: The Jill Carroll Story – Part 10: Freedom

By Jill CarrollStaff writers of The Christian Science Monitor, Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor / August 25, 2006

Jillian Tamaki

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The evening of March 29, Katie Carroll went to a party with some of her friends. Earlier that day, she had gone on the Arab satellite television network, Al Arabiya, to plead for her sister's life.

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When she got home that night, Katie imagined – as she had before – how great it would be if the phone would ring, and she would answer it, and it would be Jill, and this would all be over.

Just like that.

P.G.

***

Little Hajar toddled away from the sagging bookcase holding a chapter of the Koran in her hand. She was heading for the foot-pedaled sewing machine, where a shiny candy wrapper had caught her attention.

She grabbed the wrapper, then showed me her treasures. She wasn't yet 2 years old and was so small that our eyes were at the same level as I sat cross-legged on the floor of the house west of Fallujah. I'd been here almost two weeks and March was almost over.

"What's that? What's that? Oooh, wow," I said, admiringly.

Hajar was great to play with despite the fact that her dress-and-jacket outfits were often smeared with yogurt or other messy food. Sometimes she'd bang on the door of my room to be let in. She was my only friend, the one person in this mujahideen household not responsible for my captivity.

This time, as the candy wrapper sparkled in her hand, the door suddenly opened. I looked up, expecting to see Hajar's mother or father coming to bring me tea or food as usual.

Instead, I glimpsed Abu Nour's visage as he entered. As always, the leader of these mujahideen had come out of nowhere, like an apparition. I cast my eyes to the ground, afraid he'd think I knew too much about his face.

Hajar collapsed into the velveteen of my dishdasha tunic and buried her face in it, afraid of this stranger.

"I know how ya feel, kid," I thought as I stroked her fine hair and small, motionless back.

What did Ink Eyes want? I hadn't seen him for three weeks. He'd promised then that he would release me in three days – a promise that had been just as worthless as the many other times he'd vowed I was on the brink of freedom.

I had learned to stop believing the promises, to protect myself from that terrible tease called hope.

I used to cling to every word Abu Nour said, analyzing them for days afterward for any hint of my fate. Now, after almost three months of captivity, I just didn't have the mental energy to do that anymore.

Instead, all I wanted was to minimize pain and have good days. A few minutes of playing with a child or helping women in the kitchen was an attainable goal. Seeing my family again – that was impossibly far away, a dream.

I stroked Hajar's hair, only half-listening to Abu Nour drone on. I just wished he would go so Hajar and I could resume our game.

"Well, today is Monday, and tomorrow is Tuesday," Abu Nour was saying. "So maybe in three days we'll let you go."

Twenty-four hours before my release he would return and we could have a final conversation about the mujahideen, he added.

I'd heard all this a million times.

"Oh thank you, sir," I said, trying to smile as he left.

"Yeah, right," I thought. "Don't listen to him. Don't get your hopes up, Jill. Just don't do it."

This was my theory: They were worried about my mental state. Since my bitter blow-ups with the Muj Brothers, Abu Qarrar and Abu Hassan, the mujahideen seemed to think I was fragile. Abu Nour hadn't seen me in awhile, and he had just come to say hello. Maybe he thought a dose of false hope would keep me from doing something drastic.

It was late March. "Dad's birthday is May 6," I thought. "If they let me out before May 6, that will be OK. That's all I really want."

Abu Nour had come on Monday. Tuesday was OK: I got to play with Hajar. Then Wednesday came around. I can't remember why, but I lost it.

I sobbed the whole day. Quietly, so they wouldn't hear me. I was so tired, so worn out. I'd been fooling myself, thinking some days were happy. It had been three months and I was drifting further and further away from my family, from my life. Enough was enough. "Let me out!" I screamed to myself. "Let me out!"

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