I've been wondering about Iran and this Mahdi character for about a week now. What sort of messiah wants you to build him his own special railroad? I ask around.
Krishna doesn't know. He's out in the fields, trying to pick up a couple of cowgirls again. He's not interested in trains, he doesn't want to miss the countryside on his journeys.. "Country girls are the best," he adds. I ask him if he's been to Carol's Pub the country bar in Uptown. He has. He said he's dipped in that well a few times already. "It's rough going if you're always running into exes," he says. I mention the band on Friday is known for its Elvis covers, though, so he says he might come along.
Buddha doesn't know. "I think I'm just gonna stay here, so I don't need a train," he says, reclining at the base of a Bodhi tree. "Need is an illusion anyway." Buddha's never had to fight traffic. If he did, he might have a little more appreciation for public transit. "I don't commute," he says. "It's the same there as it is here."
Jesus is bringing flowers to his mother, who is still hanging out with the bums under the overpass. "A train to Tehran?" Jesus is skeptical. "I thought he was going to use taht money to help the poor." I explain about the ripple effects of big infrastructure projects, but he seems unconvinced. He's not really sold on the bar, either, but tells me to page him if Krisha comes along.
Since I don't have any connections with the Mahdi himself, I go to the closest thing I have to a source. Since he named his private army after the guy, I figure he must know something. I find Moqtada al Sadr in a cinderblock house near Kut, in southern Iraq. Few people know this about him, but he's a big Nirvana fan. When I find him he's listening to "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle" while reassembling an AK-47. I notice that while it's a plain and sparsely furnished little hut, he hase one of those cool Bose speakers hooked up to his iPod.
"Oh great, another American," he says by way of greeting. "You'd best get up off my land, boy," he adds. I explain my question about the Mahdi. "Fuck you," he replies conversationally. I ask him whether the Mahdi would want a rail line constructed to ferry him to Tehran from the holy well place. He adjusts something on the gun with a screwdriver. "That whole well story is just a folk tale," he says, finally. "Why would he come to Iran, anyway? He would come here, where his people are." I point out that there are far more Shi'ites in Iran than in Iraq. Moqtada puts his cheek to the gun and stares down the barrel for a moment. He frowns and shakes his head. "Mohammad was an Arab, like me," he says. "He was my ancestor," he adds. The Mahdi is also a descendent of Mohammad. He will come here." He starts to adjust the sights again, then lays the gun down. "Fuck Iran," he adds, judiciously. So he feels closer to Sunni Baathists like Saddam, because they are Arab, than to Persian Shi'ites? "Fuck Saddam." Of course.
"The Mahdi will come to Iraq," he repeats. "We are his people. That's why fucking Saddam always feared us." I look back over my notes. "Fuck America. Fuck Iran. Fuck Saddam," I read back to him. "I notice a pattern developing." Finally he looks up at me. "Yeah. What part of 'Get the hell up off my land' do you not understand? Do you know what the problem with Iraq is?" I am tempted to show him a mirror, but prudence takes the better part of valor. "Foreigners," he says, finally.
He goes back to adjusting the gun sights. The next song starts up. It's "All Apologies." After a minute, he looks down the barrel again, and looks satisfied. He opens a drawer, pulls out a clip, and rams it home. Then he looks up at me again.
"Why are you still here?" he asks.
I have no earthly idea.