Friday morning, I returned to listen to the BBC in Tom’s apartment. As the announcer spoke of a resolution proposed at the United Nations demanding an immediate Iraqi withdrawal, an unusual noise distracted us from outside.
“What’s that?” Tom said, as the rumbling grew louder. We hurried out to the balcony. At first I saw nothing, and the noise was so loud and seemed to come from all directions. I didn’t know where to look. Then I saw a column of tanks and trucks moving from Ahmadiport about a mile to the south. Three tanks and seventeen trucks passed in front of the Alia Towers and stopped just north of us, maybe three hundred feet away. I assumed they were Kuwaitis counterattacking, since they were coming from the south. I wanted to cheer, clearly identifying with the Kuwaitis.
But Tom read the markings on the vehicles. “They’re Iraqi. I’m positive. Let’s get off the balcony.” Each truck carried scores of armed soldiers. Some drove over the curb and onto the beach. Others stopped farther up the road at a high-walled mansion Tom had always said belonged to an Al-Sabah, a member of the royal family of Kuwait. The soldiers jumped off the overloaded trucks and walked to the water’s edge. They approached the bathers on the beach and gestured for them to leave. Unlike me, the Russian bathers had not altered their behavior at all after the missile attack. Now though they left. In no time, soldiers began digging holes, filling sandbags, building walls with the bags, and setting up mortars and tents. Once an hour or so, two or three tanks rumbled past; I couldn’t tell if they were the same ones each time. Soldiers set up checkpoints on the avenue. Others dug deeper into the sand, installing guns and building sandbag bunkers. Still others walked along the avenue stringing wires off a spool. Communications links—or trip wires, I wondered.
I sprawled on my sofa, then lay on the floor, then crawled over to the floor-to-ceiling windows to peer beneath the curtains. Then I went back to the sofa and started the cycle again. I reread old letters from Diana. Several times I climbed up onto the roof, keeping low, trying to see. The night before, I hadn’t slept much, not wanting to die in my sleep unaware. But the threat then was invisible, over the horizon. Now soldiers might be looking up at our building and wondering if anyone was inside, wondering if a sniper was sighting down at them.
Everything in my sparse apartment was white or natural wood, and outside, the dominant color was ethereal blue of the sky and Gulf. If I looked at only these, I imagined all else was unreal. Only what I wrote in my journal was real, or so I wished.
“Diana, tomorrow I go on vacation, the first in eight months. Time I will spend with you. I feel we’ve lost touch; letters are shorter and telephone calls strained. But I’m confident that meeting in Rome will rejuvenate us.”