Alawi is a skinny 13-year-old Shiite boy who lives near our bureau. He has weak eyes and wears thick spectacles, and often shouts a greeting in English when he catches us going through the compound gates.
He lives with his parents and five younger siblings. His father is out of work so Alawi feeds the family by selling black market gasoline and delivering cooking gas cannisters. He makes a few dollars a day, and sometimes a little extra by holding a place for a neighbor in a long line of people waiting at the local gas station.
He was there last week waiting to refill a gas cannister. Iraqi guards were on duty to protect the crowd from bombers who frequently target gas stations, bus terminals and gatherings of day laborers looking for work. Sometimes they'll even attack funerals to inflict as many casualties as possible.
One of the guards asked Alawi to hop across the street and fetch him a sandwich. He left his empty gas cannister in the care of a friend, took the guard's money and ducked through a police convoy passing by.
That's when the bomb exploded.
The blast was heard all over the neighborhood. We could see the smoke and knew immediately the gas station had been targeted. Ambulance sirens and the frantic honking from private vehicles carrying the wounded to hospitals filled the air.
Alawi's father ran from his house to the gas station. A neighbor told him his son had been badly hurt. He rushed to the local hospital. A medical worker told him Alawi had been taken into an operating room covered in blood. He'd probably lose an arm, the worker said.
But Alawi got lucky. A surgeon at the hospital was just about to go off duty when the casualties from the gas station began flooding in. He looked at Alawi's wound and made a snap decision to try and save the arm rather than amputate. He cut through the shoulder and down towards the chest cavity and eased out a sliver of metal that had sliced through some nerves. A few stitches and a few bandages later Alawi was wheeled out into a recovery ward.
Alawi's father saw him there... still unconscious from the anesthetic, wrapped in bandages and covered in blood but breathing and with his arm still attached. He wept and offered prayers in thanks.
Five days later Alawi's father brought his son home. I went to say hello.
Alawi's mother had made him up a single bed with fresh sheets in the family living room. He was weak and he had a headache. His father rubbed his head to try and make it go away. His mother made him a sandwich and a glass of fruit juice. Alawi was tired. He kissed his younger sister and lay back on the pillow.
His mother says she won't let him go near the gas station again. If someone else brings gasoline or cooking gas to the house she may let him distribute it locally, but she'll never ever let him stand in line again. He's the sole provider for the family, she says, and he's as brave as a lion. But she won't let him risk his life again.
Alawi's father says it was God's will that his son wasn't killed. It'll take at least a month for his arm to heal, he says, and probably another month of physical therapy before Alawi can use it to lift anything.
The sad thing is Alawi was saving a few coins every day to get an eye operation in neighboring Iran where they have affordable laser surgery. Alawi hated wearing glasses, and his sight gets weaker by the month. Now, says his father, the operation will have to be postponed indefinitely.
One more thing: Alawi's friend, the one who saved his place in line at the gas station when he ran to get the guard a sandwich, lost a leg in the blast.
God's will, says Alawi. Behind his thick glasses I can see a tear.