You know when you re-read old writing and cringe? Hehehe. This is kinda cute though.
LOCATION: New York
My head is too full. It’s swarming, buzzing, breaking down and coming together again. The pressure is almost unbearable. It’s as if somebody has taken hold of my brain with their very fingers and is squeezing hard Spots of light dance in the darkness behind my eyelids. If it wasn’t for the familiar musty smell of the prayer carpet cushioning my face, I think I’d have forgotten where I am right now.
I try to concentrate on my prayers, but really I’m thinking about my parents.
I’m thinking about Dayud, my brother.
I’m thinking of Sophia.
Concentrate! Majdoube! Today is the one day I can’t be distracted. Today is the day.
I finish the prayers and stand. My mind is spinning but I can’t allow myself to think too much, to feel too much. There’s no time to back out. Everything is…
I turn with a speed that makes me look guilty and an expression on my face to match. It’s only Dayud. Tall, wiry and pale-skinned, my brother is like a ghost. He barely talks, preferring to survey the world behind glasses that made his eyes look unfocused. Perhaps that’s why people find him unnerving. Of course, few know he’s a Cell Commander in one of the largest freedom fighter groups in the world – Al Qaeda.
I check my watch. 8:30am.
“Almost. I’m going out quickly. I’ve got some errands to run. I won’t be long.”
There’s an ugly silence and my eyes slip uncomfortably from his and back again. Dayud’s always been able to read me like a book. A book written, published and signed by himself.
“This is the day we’ve been waiting for,” he says slowly, as if I’m a child that doesn’t know the difference between Fajhr and Maghrib. As always, when he speaks, it’s like there’s an unpleasant taste in his mouth. I suspect there is; a sour resentment coats his tongue and matches a bitter heart. “Are you going to risk screwing this up because of some girl?”
“I won’t be long.”
As I go past he grabs the flesh of my arm in a scorpion-like grip.
“Don’t disappoint me, kashar ror,” he whispers. Little brother. I’m in my twenties now but he’s never called me by any other nickname.
My arm’s still hurting I leave the house, but not as much as the pain of indignation burning within my chest. After all these years, Dayud still doesn’t always trust me even though I would never purposefully do anything to disappoint him.
Dayud and I moved to America to stay with our grandparents when I was six. Soon after, we were told our parents had died in the war. I barely remember them but Dayud was twelve. The tender age; just south of blissful ignorance but not far north enough to be mentally stable. I idolised my brother like most young kids do. Dayud took me under his wing and made sure he cultivated my hatred for the American, the British…in fact; all Western countries became the enemy.
No, disappointing Dayud is the last thing I want to do.
It means disappointing parents.
It means disappointing our aboriginal homeland.
Seeing Sophia is never easy, but last night I’d arranged to meet her in the orchard near her backyard and she’s already there when I arrive.
“Tariq!” Her voice is filled with genuine pleasure and she flings her arms around my neck. That’s what I like about her. She’s so guileless. She’s like the child I was never allowed to be.
“Listen, I can’t stay long-”
“Neither can I…”
“-But I just wanted to see you.”
I make sure to keep my voice level even though there’s a lump rising in my throat and my heart is hammering so hard that I’m sure she can see it through my shirt.
“I’m glad,” she says.
What will Sophia do when she finds out? What will she think? I need to tell her.
I love you.
Why is it so difficult? Why is it that the thought of uttering those three simple words has me paralysed in the middle of an orchard on a hot, sticky morning?
“Don’t you wish things could stay the same forever?”
“If things stay the same, the human race will soon be extinct.”
“I mean the little things. I wish they could stay.”
“I don’t get you.”
“Never mind,” she says cryptically.
“You’re very strange today.”
“So are you. What’s wrong?”
“I…” I trail off. She’s concerned now. Unlike my brother, words very rarely evade me. Her hand reaches up and brushes my cheek.
“What is it?”
I wonder whether she can see how much it pains me to see her right now – so blissfully unaware.
“This was a bad idea.”
I turn to go but she pulls me back.
“Please?” she begs.
I hesitate. I contemplate explaining but I change my mind and kiss her instead. It’s bittersweet, full of anguish and the unspoken. It’s not how I imagined today would be. I break away suddenly.
“I’ve got to go.”
“Stay with me.”
I stop. My back is towards her. If I turn around, I’ll give myself away. “…Do you love me?” She says it almost shyly but I understand why. Four years and I’ve never told her.
“What do you think?” I say gruffly.
I continue walking. I don’t want to see her face. It would be too much to bear.
My brother has always taken good care of me. He kept me out of trouble in an almost obsessive way. Of course, now I see that was for our advantage. I’ve never been in any sort of trouble with the law, not even a minor scrape out in the streets. I have a record as pure as virginal snow. I work hard and have several qualifications. I am trusted in my society and it’s all paying off today because I got through airport security with little trouble.
Dayud and another man from our cell – Dean – are restless. Something doesn’t seem right. It was too easy to get onto this plane – an A380 headed straight to London. However, we’ve been flying for half an hour. If we were suspected, we would never have made it this far. We’re part way through a mission we’ve been planning for the best part of a year. Nothing can go wrong. I know every detail about this plane. I know how it was manufactured. I know the amount of fuel it’s holding today. I know how many passengers it holds. Today it’s transporting 800 people. Men, women and children.
Dayud is sitting a few rows ahead of me. He turns and nods almost imperceptibly. That’s the signal I’ve been waiting for. I turn slowly and see the flight attendant walking up the aisle.
She smiles brightly, leaning in to hear me better.
I lunge. The flick knife is already in my hands. I hold it to her throat. Strangely enough, she doesn’t scream. She freezes in fear. There are a few screams among the passengers. Scared, shocked, indignant faces. I’m calm. I know that Dayud is behind me, holding a gun to them. I know that Dean has already made his way to the cockpit to deal with the pilot.
This is what we’ve planned. I draw the knife closer to her throat, slicing through the major veins and arteries. I’ve practiced this in training multiple times. I know where the jugular and carotids are. But simulations aren’t like the real thing. The blood is hot and there’s so much of it. It coats my hands, it gushes to the floor. The passengers are silent now, unable to believe what they’ve just witnessed.
“We’ve taken this plane hostage,” Dayud announces loudly. “If you cooperate, we won’t harm you. Nobody moves. Nobody communicates with anybody else. We’ll be forced to spill more blood if you disobey us.”
The passengers are silent, traumatised into submission. The woman has stopped gasping in my arms now. I drag her to the front of the plane and Dayud hands me a cloth from his pocket which I use to dry my hands.
“How does it feel, kashar ror?” He mutters. I know what he means. How does it feel, little brother? Taking a life? Your first of 800?
I head to the cockpit to retrieve the gun we planted there months ago. That was one of the reasons it was so easy to get onboard. We didn’t try to smuggle handguns in. Not even explosives. There was nothing to declare.
The pilot is laid unceremoniously on the floor of the cockpit. Dean is behind the controls.
I return into the main body of the plane. Not long now. Not long until we crash into The Shard London Bridge. With over 80 floors, 72 of which are inhabited today, it’s the perfect target. Our attack would kill both the Americans on the plane and the British in the tallest structure in London. My only regret is that I won’t be around to see the world’s reaction.
Returning from the cockpit with a firearm causes further unrest.
“Stay still,” I say in a voice of deathly command.
A voice of disbelief. For a moment, I lower the gun. I search for the source of the voice and find it. My heart drops.
Second row from the back. Aisle seat. Sophia sits, a look of horror and confusion on her face.
I glance at Dayud.
“Did you know she was here?”
He shakes his head.
“Shit. Shit shit shit!”
I’ve never sworn in my life but the word falls out of my lips so naturally. “What the hell are you doing here Sophia?”
“I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I…I’m going to study in London.”
“What?” I say coldly.
“I told you about it this.”
“You said that one day you might move to finish your degree! You never said…How could I not have known?!”
“I was contemplating it this morning. Then you made up my mind for me.”
I’m aware the other passengers watching us. Everybody’s wondering what the hell is going on. I can feel Dayud bristling with annoyance.
“It was obvious that you-” She takes a deep breath, building up the courage. “-obvious that you don’t love me. That was the last push I needed. I bought a last minute ticket.”
Obvious that I don’t love her?
“What you said this morning.”
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
She doesn’t look convinced. I know what it will take to convince her otherwise but…here? Now?
“I do love you,” I whisper. “Okay?”
“Very touching,” Dayud says.
I ignore him.
“Stop it,” Dayud says. “Can’t you see what she’s distracting you? She doesn’t give a damn about you, especially now. You’re just lowlife terrorist scum to her.”
“That’s not true!” Sophia says. “I love you. This isn’t you!”
Dayud laughs; a dry, humourless sound.
“She thinks she knows you. Really Tariq? Who looked after you since you were a kid, huh? Who taught you everything you know? Who…”
“No! Who was there when our parents were murdered?! Fighting against them!” Dayud gestures at the passengers with his gun. “Fighting people like her?”
He’s done it on purpose. Nothing stirs up hatred inside me more than recalling how our parents died. I want to unload the bullets into their stupid little chests. I want to do it now. But Sophia…
Dayud reads my thoughts.
“She’s American. She’s no different from the rest of them.”
I can’t move. Sophia’s saying something but I can’t hear her anymore.
“This is your chance,” Dayud’s eyes light up. “Allah has placed her into your hands. Do it. Kill her now.”
“Kill her?” My voice is low, lifeless.
“Yes. You’ve always been the weak link.”
“How dare you?”
“Prove to me you’re not. Don’t you see how perfect this is?”
Suddenly I do see. I see my parents on the day of their death, shredded apart by bullets. I see Sophia and her privileged parents, the perfect family. I see the passengers on the plane; the fear etched onto their faces. I see my parents, beckoning me home.
The sun breaks through the clouds. The rays fall over my face. Yes, I finally see.
Dayud’s talking. Sophia’s talking. None of it matters. I realise – judgement doesn’t follow death. No, my hour of judgment is upon me. My time is now.
“I’m sorry.” Who am I apologising to? Dayud? Abeeha? Allah? Myself?
I raise the gun. I pull the trigger.