Horse And Buggy

By Mohammad Yadegari

Almost every day, I passed by the horse-drawn carriages lined up for religious pilgrimages in Iraq. My father’s business was just a block away from where customers waited in line for rides.

Occasionally, I accompanied our guests when they visited the area, and I loved the trip in the carriages. It was fun to ride in them, letting the breeze caress my face and rumple my curly black locks as they flew in the wind. Watching the horses gallop in unison was fascinating. Most of the drivers did not whip the horses. The horses knew the route and knew how fast they were expected to go. Occasionally, to impress the passengers, some of the drivers twirled their whips enthusiastically and brushed them softly on the horses’ rumps. The horses would pick up speed. They knew that at the end of the ride they would be pampered with hay and water and the loving touch of their owners.

The owners made a living, enough to feed their families, enough to buy hay, sugar cubes, and horseshoes for their animals. Then, one day, modern life intruded. Almost a dozen carriages had parked in a row in the usual place when some motorized taxis appeared and took up positions encroaching upon their territory. It was modernity versus tradition and fast versus slow. It was a war for survival.

As I was passing by, I overheard an argument that led to pushing and shoving. Then swear words were spewed, and, suddenly, I heard the crack of a whip knifing the air above the heads of the group. It hit a taxi driver in the face slashing his right cheek as if a sharp knife cutting butter. Blood poured from his face. That was all that was needed. In the melee that followed, hands, legs, and bodies were at work beating and stomping and fighting. A crowd gathered, watching the scene. The crowd knew it all had to do with money, livelihood, change, and progress. Children’s lives on both sides were at stake. I asked a person next to me why no one spoke up to support the carriage owners. Deep down, I preferred the horse-drawn carriages. He cautioned that it was not our business to interfere.

Within minutes, the fight came to a halt. It was so surprising, so poignant that I still remember the short period of noise and punches and curses. Then there was an exhausted and total silence. The carriage owners were crestfallen. Almost all of them were sitting with their backs leaning against the wall, gently sobbing. They knew and the crowd knew and the taxi drivers knew that the old way was being pushed aside. These defeated men would no longer be able to provide for their children, wives, mothers, and sisters. I was too young to comprehend the immensity of dejection that these men were feeling inside. All I knew was they sobbed for a loss that was too hard for me to imagine.

\"\"Mohammad Yadegari, an Iranian born in Iraq, moved to the United States in 1964. He studied at SUNY-Albany and NYU and then taught mathematics and history in both high school and college. This piece is from ALWAYS AN IMMIGRANT, A CULTURAL MEMOIR, to be published by White River Press in 2020.

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