Johnny America


Izels, from the Book of Misunderstandings


Illustration of two men

Three weeks af­ter Izel Mah­mu­dov was award­ed the Rheinach Prize for Med­ical Re­search, two FBI agents en­tered his lab­o­ra­to­ry and, mak­ing no ef­fort to spare him hu­mil­i­a­tion be­fore his col­leagues, took him in­to custody. 

“What have I done?” he asked the agents. “Where are you tak­ing me?”

Dur­ing the last years of the lengthy and bru­tal eth­nic war in his coun­try, Izel com­plet­ed his med­ical stud­ies in the rel­a­tive safe­ty of the cap­i­tal. In his fi­nal year, news reached him that the vil­lage where he had grown up was at­tacked and his par­ents killed. He had no sib­lings and had nev­er been close to his un­cle, two aunts, or four cousins. He as­sumed they were ei­ther dead or scat­tered. Ex­cept for a few friends and his work, Izel found him­self alone in the world. Like many young, ed­u­cat­ed peo­ple in his coun­try, he was ea­ger to get out.

Izel was lucky. He was grant­ed a refugee visa thanks to the spon­sor­ship of a se­nior re­searcher at Sp­in­gold-Walk­er Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals. This kind man had read a bril­liant pa­per on which Izel’s name ap­peared as co-prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor along­side that of a well-es­tab­lished re­searcher. The Sp­in­gold-Walk­er sci­en­tist right­ly con­clud­ed that, though the lab and what­ev­er funds sup­port­ed it be­longed to the se­nior in­ves­ti­ga­tor, the work it­self was Mahumudov’s. He con­tact­ed Izel through the Uni­ver­si­ty where he earned his de­gree. Izel who begged for help in em­i­grat­ing and Sp­in­gold-Walk­er took care of every­thing on con­di­tion that he come and work for them. 

Izel Mah­mu­dov grate­ful­ly ac­cept­ed em­ploy­ment with S‑W, found a stu­dio apart­ment with­in walk­ing dis­tance of the lab­o­ra­to­ries, and ap­plied for cit­i­zen­ship. The break­through that won Izel the Rheinach Prize was the first ef­fec­tive treat­ment for Hedwegh’s Sar­co­ma, an in­vari­ably lethal form of can­cer. Thanks to Izel’s work, lives were ex­tend­ed and Spingold-Walker’s stock price shot up. 

The post-war gov­ern­ment in Izel’s home­land need­ed some time to com­pile its first list of war crim­i­nals. In­ves­ti­ga­tions had to be con­duct­ed, wit­ness­es in­ter­viewed, and, where they ex­ist­ed, records checked. The process was com­pli­cat­ed by po­lit­i­cal com­pro­mis­es and bribes. Giv­en the dif­fi­cul­ties and the zeal of some of the in­ves­ti­ga­tors, er­rors were per­haps to be expected.

A promi­nent name on the list at last dis­trib­uted to the world was that of Izel Mah­mudev. When the war broke out, this man, a fa­nat­ic na­tion­al­ist who had just com­plet­ed a de­gree in oph­thal­mol­o­gy, vol­un­teered for the an­ti-gov­ern­ment forces. Dur­ing the years of con­flict, he had charge of a pris­on­er-of-war camp, one no­to­ri­ous even amidst the gen­er­al bar­bar­i­ty for its atroc­i­ties. In ad­di­tion to mur­ders and star­va­tion Mah­mudev presided over tor­tures, the most un­speak­able of which he per­son­al­ly devised.

The in­ven­to­ry of want­ed war crim­i­nals was turned over to the government’s Rights Vi­o­la­tors and War Crimes Cen­ter whose first task was to cross­check it against a list of re­cent visa-hold­ers and im­mi­grants. The in­ves­ti­ga­tor as­signed names from K through N im­me­di­ate­ly flagged Izel Mah­mu­dov as a per­son whose visa should at once be re­voked and de­por­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings opened. He did take note of the that the name on be­tween on the war crim­i­nals list was Izel Mah­mudev and Izel Mah­mudov on the visa list, but a Google search in­formed him the two spellings of patronymic sur­names are in­ter­change­able. There were no pho­tographs of Mah­mudev avail­able, but the in­for­ma­tion that the crim­i­nal held a med­ical de­gree con­firmed that he must be the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal re­searcher Mahmudov.

Izel Mahumudov’s com­pa­ny lawyer was skill­ful. He was able to keep the case drag­ging on for sev­en months af­ter at the end of which Izel was deported.

Mean­while, Izel Mah­mudev adopt­ed the name Ist­van Markovic, pre­serv­ing his old ini­tials, and moved to a small town in a rur­al dis­trict far from the cap­i­tal. Here he es­tab­lished a mod­est prac­tice cor­rect­ing the vi­sion of peas­ants, po­lice­men, and provin­cial dignitaries.

Filed under Fiction on September 22nd, 2023

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