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Hassan’s Tale | Part 5 – Rough Way, Smooth Way

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 Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

See the Story Index for a chronological guide to all the stories.

“By the time Charlie was three,” Hassan said, “Mom was running me through intensive drills with clay and paper targets. She told Baba that she was taking me to Saturday martial arts class. I was old enough to understand that we were lying to my father, and to feel guilty about it. Baba would say, “How was class? What did you work on?” And I’d say, “I learned a new punch defense…” – or whatever. And I’d feel ashamed. But I didn’t know what to do.

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“I began to see my father as weak. He was being lied to and didn’t know it. He had bullet scars up and down his legs and couldn’t walk without a cane. He was a pacifist. I began to see him as someone who let others trample him without consequence.”

Hassan buried his fingers in his hair and shook his head.

“There was so much I didn’t know,” Hassan continued. “For one, my father was not a fool. I heard him arguing with my mother after I’d gone to bed one night. He said he was tired of having the same argument again and again, and that she had to get rid of the guns and stop training me.

“But Mom would not stop, and two weeks later Baba moved out. I was nine years old. Baba rented an apartment nearby, and Charlie and I would spend Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays with him.

“My friend Hassan was killed around that time. He was crossing Firestone Boulevard to go to 7-11 and was run over by a drunk driver. That only added to my general feeling of dislocation and confusion.

“I want to tell you about Charlie. I know I’ve been reluctant to talk about him, but I can’t tell this story without him.

“Charlie.. well, he used to make me laugh. He’d get in trouble at school for the most ridiculous things:  arranging his raisins in the shape of a woman’s breasts, or doing a handstand on his desk. He was just a munchkin – very small, blonde and dimpled like an elf. No one ever believed we were brothers, since I was tall for my age and broad shouldered, plus I inherited my father’s darker color. But like me, Charlie started martial arts young and was quite talented. He had asthma and he carried an inhaler, but the asthma didn’t bother him unless the smog or the pollen count were especially bad. And sometimes in martial arts class, if we were working hard, he’d start to gasp for air. I’d fetch his inhaler from his bag, and I’d rub his chest with my hand, making circles, and I’d say, ‘You’re alright. You’re okay. Take a breath…’ It always worked. Charlie used to say that he wanted to become a scientist when he grew up so he could find a cure for asthma.

“The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were just becoming popular and Charlie was nuts for them, especially the one with the orange mask and the nunchuks.”

“Michaelangelo,” Muhammad interjected. “Cowabunga!”

“Yeah, yeah!” Hassan’s enthusiasm was so uncharacteristic that it made Jamilah smile.  “Cowabunga. Charlie used to say that,” Hassan continued. “I’d want to sleep in on Sundays and he’d wake me by jumping on me and screaming, ‘cowabunga!’ We had a pair of nunchuks at the dojo and Charlie hit himself in the forehead trying to swing them like Michelangelo. Left a little scar like a crescent moon. In fact he made us call him Michelangelo for a while, and he’d call me Leonardo – the older brother Ninja Turtle.

“He used to do an imitation of Baba where he’d put on Baba’s glasses and shoes, lean on his cane, and say in an Arabic accent, “All zee beoble must love each ozer. Zees is very imbortant.” It would crack my father up, to where he was holding on to his sides in pain.

“Charlie always wanted to follow me and play with me. It drove me crazy, but it was flattering at the same time. I used to tease him – I’d call him Munchkin – but if anyone ever picked on him I’d take them apart. I got sent home from school for beating up an older boy that was picking on Charlie. I put the bully face down on the ground with everyone watching and made him say, “I eat dirt for breakfast.” No one bothered Charlie after that. I remember being very surprised that Baba didn’t punish me.

“Charlie loved Baba so much. Of course he loved Mom too, but you see, he wasn’t conflicted like I was. I was torn between the polar opposites of my mother and father’s ideologies. But Charlie didn’t go through that. His love for Baba was pure and strong as a geyser. He wasn’t ashamed to sit on his lap, or stroke his cheek – he’d stroke it back and forth, saying, ‘Rough way, smooth way.’ He’d fetch Baba’s cane, make his tea, sharpen his pencils… He was such a good hearted kid.”

***

Hassan rested the good side of his face on his palm. He seemed to have lost the will to continue. Jamilah felt tears in her eyes, and rubbed them with the heels of her palms. Hassan’s love for his brother was clear as sunshine and quite moving. And Jamilah knew just what he meant about the ‘rough way, smooth way.’ She used to do that herself with her own father.

After a moment, Hassan resumed his story. “After Baba moved out, Mom didn’t do well. She withdrew into her own mind. She took care of our physical needs, but spoke little. One day she sliced open all the sofa and chair cushions, convinced there was a listening device in the house.

“At night after Charlie and I were in bed, she’d sit at the kitchen table and cry. I tried to tell Baba how badly Mom was doing, and I could see that it hurt him to hear it. But the guns were a red line for him. He used to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – who was his hero and his greatest inspiration – saying that through violence you can murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate. Darkness cannot put out darkness – only light can do that.

“But of course such ideas flew over my child’s mind. Concepts like that cannot compete with the power of a rifle in your arms.

“My father would say that the wealth that Lebanon was dumping onto its own citizens’ heads in the form of murder and death, could have made it the richest country in the world.

“One of the reasons I remember this is that I used to argue these issues with Baba. He’d talk about nonviolence and I’d counter that anyone who wouldn’t fight to protect himself was a coward. He’d say that guns had no purpose except to destroy and I’d say that a gun was a man’s best friend. As if I knew anything about being a man. I was a parrot, brainlessly repeating my mother’s brutal aphorisms.”

Hassan paused, tucking his chin into his shoulder. He took a deep, shuddering breath, then continued. “It breaks my heart to think of how I treated my dad. He deserved better. And he tried. He learned to cook simple dishes, he washed and ironed our clothes, helped us with our homework… He surprised me and Charlie with an aquarium for Christmas and I fell in love with it instantly.

“I had a six line wrasse, with six horizontal blue and orange stripes, and a green tail. It would dart in and out of the fake coral like a flash of sunlight. I had a bluestreak cleaner wrasse that looked like a dagger with a black line down the middle. My prize was the Mandarin dragonet. You’d have to see this fish to believe it. Orange and yellow with thick blue circular stripes, and large, waving fins. Watching the Mandarin was like watching a parade go by.

“It only occurs to me now that maybe the aquarium was a physical representation of my father’s philosophy. A tranquil world, beautiful and blue, all these different species of fish – like the races of man – sharing a space peacefully.

“Mom kept on training me. The one concession she made to my father was that she never taught Charlie to shoot. Saturdays she’d leave Charlie with Baba and the two of us would head out to the desert or the mountains. By that time I was doing live-fire drills, where Mom would literally shoot a live weapon at me – not trying to hit me, but to simulate the experience of being under fire – and I’d have to belly crawl, or run, and continue shooting targets. Of course if Child Protective Services had known, they’d have taken me and Charlie away in a second. So would Baba, for that matter. But I never discussed the details of my training, per my mother’s instructions.

“By the time I was ten I was as good with a gun as your average special forces soldier. I know that sounds crazy, but it doesn’t take size to be a marksman. Just training and practice, and I’d had that in spades. Also, I was a junior black belt in Hapkido, and was working on second degree black belt material.

“In the end it was probably for the best that my mother trained me as she did. What happened next is something I’ve never spoken of. But… SubhanAllah. I never thought I’d have people I could trust like the four of you.”

 

Hassan was silent for a time. He sat cross-legged on the sofa, his fingers clasped together and pressed against his lips. Questions bubbled up in Jamilah’s mind, but she waited patiently.

 

“On August 17, 1986,” Hassan continued, “My grandfather died. I’m speaking of Antoine Haddad. I knew nothing of him. I still believed that my name was Simon Ibrahim, and Baba did not tell us otherwise. He sat me and Charlie down and told us that our grandfather had been a brilliant and strong man. He lit some incense and recited the Lord’s Prayer, and that was that. I felt sad for my father, but I wasn’t personally affected. I only remember the date because it was exactly one week before the most important date of my life.

“What I believe now is that even though my grandfather and my father were ideological enemies, they loved one another. As long as Antoine was alive no one would have dared to harm my father. Once Antoine was dead, my father’s enemies had free reign.

“My father packed everything up and we moved back in with my mom. He said was that it was time for the family to be together.

“For a week, my mother was happy again. She kept putting her arms around my father. She started cooking and caring for the house, and her paranoid behaviors ebbed. She even stopped checking for bombs under the car. Charlie was over the moon with joy. He’d been praying for our parents to reunite – I’d hear him literally praying at night, when the lights were out, asking God to let us be a family again.

“August 24, 1986 was a Sunday. My mother didn’t take me training that weekend. Whether she meant to give it up permanently, I’ll never know. We went for ice cream at Swensen’s. You know the little Swensen’s up on Russian Hill, right by the cable car track? They used to have franchises all over the state.”

“Anyway…” Hassan sighed. “I’ve told this story only once in my life, a long time ago. Normally Sundays were inventory days at the station. My father would take the car, while Mom, Charlie and I would walk to the local church for services.

“On this Sunday, however, my father announced that we were going to the beach.Mom got up early and made everyone’s favorite breakfast – a cheddar cheese omelette for me, chocolate chip pancakes for Charlie, and a croissant with jam and za’tar for Baba.

“Mom said she’d go down to the corner store to buy ice and fill the gas tank while the rest of us got ready. Charlie told some silly joke that he made up himself, and Mom smiled and ruffled his hair. Ordinarily just seeing Mom smile was unusual, and extraordinary too, because her smile was like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. She was a beautiful woman. Later I wondered why I didn’t have a premonition. Isn’t that supposed to happen before a disaster? But I didn’t feel anything. I saw Mom’s white teeth when she smiled, and the way the morning sun lit up her blonde hair like a halo. And she walked out the door.

“I’ve replayed that morning countless times in my mind. I went into the bedroom to feed my fish. I was worried because the six line wrasse was acting aggressive, harassing the other fish. I could hear my father in the bathroom. It always took him a long time to shower and change, because of his disability. Charlie was packing his superhero action figures into a backpack. He loved to take his little Ninja Turtle guys to the beach and build forts, and have mock battles.

“I heard the car start, and the sound of the engine as it backed down the driveway.

“The bomb didn’t go off instantly. If it had gone off with the car parked at the top of the driveway next to the house, we would all have been killed. Maybe the bomb was on a timer with a several second delay, or maybe it was connected to the forward gear shift and didn’t trigger when the car was reversing. I don’t know.

“There was a tremendous boom, like a mountain being split in two, or like every thunderclap in the world combined into one. I was literally picked up and thrown across the room to crash into the bedroom wall. The air was knocked out of my chest. My ears rang like church bells. I thought I was dying. I lay there on the floor, my chest heaving, until I managed a gasping breath. I felt something moving on my neck, and I snatched at it and threw it away. Then I saw that it was my Mandarin dragonet. My prize fish. It lay there on the carpet, dying where I had thrown it.

“The room was a shambles. The fish tank had exploded when the bomb went off and I had been cut all over my arms and torso by small pieces of aquarium glass. The scars have faded, but you can still see a few.”

***

Except that Jamilah could not see anything, because Hassan wore a long-sleeved t-shirt like always. Was that why? She watched Hassan as he stared at the floor, meeting no one’s eyes. Though the subject matter was obviously emotional, his voice had become increasingly flat. Jamilah didn’t blame him. She imagined that if she’d been through something like that, she’d have to shut down her feelings as well, or she’d never be able to tell the story.

 

“I was soaking wet,” Hassan continued, “with a combination of water from the aquarium and my own blood. I couldn’t think, as if my brain had been hit with a fist and stopped working. Charlie sat on the floor nearby, but aside from being dazed he seemed alright. He’d been on the floor when the bomb went off and the shock wave had passed over him. My father appeared in front of my face. He felt my body and shouted something, but I couldn’t hear him except as a muffled echo. One of his arms hung oddly, and he had blood trickling from one ear and a bad cut on his cheek. He checked on Charlie, then he limped out of the room – he didn’t have his cane. I struggled to my feet and followed him.

“The kitchen and living room were destroyed. The front wall of the house had caved in and all the windows were shattered. The front door was simply gone. A large, blackened and smoking piece of metal had sliced right through the front wall of the house and was burning a hole in the kitchen linoleum. I think it was a car door.

“I followed my father through the doorway to the front yard. He saw me and waved me back, but I ignored him.

“The car sat at the bottom of the driveway. It was entirely black. The doors, hood and trunk lid were gone. Flames shot from the windows and the doorways and a cloud of black smoke roiled up into the sky. My ears still rang and the heat was blinding. Two of the neighbors’ cars that had been parked on the street had caught fire and were burning. I wouldn’t be surprised if windows were blown out all up and down the block, but I wasn’t paying attention to such things. Even in my state of shock, though, I couldn’t help noticing that the street and driveway were entirely green, blanketed in tree leaves. This is something characteristic of powerful car bombs, as I later learned all too well. The force of the blast knocks all the leaves off the surrounding trees, and the ground ends up looking like a forest floor.

“My father tried to get to the car. Even through the ringing in my ears I could heard him screaming, ‘Evelyn!’ I rushed forward and pulled him back and we both tumbled onto the scorched, cratered driveway. As it was, his eyebrows and the front of his hair were burned off. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that my mother was in that flaming heap and that my father was trying to get her out. I still didn’t understand what had happened. My brain was not processing the simple calculation of mother in car plus explosion equals mother dead. I only knew that my father was going to be burned, and I had to stop him.

“There was nothing that could have been done anyway. I never saw my mother’s body, but she would have been incinerated. The heat was like a malevolent entity driving us back. My father, on his hands and knees, dragged me away from the fire and onto the scorched front lawn. The air stank of urine. I thought I had pissed myself but I hadn’t.”

“ANFO,” said Layth.

Hassan nodded grimly.

Jamilah didn’t know what ANFO meant, but she did not want to interrupt the flow of Hassan’s story. She realized she’d been holding her breath and let it out in a stream.

“Then I heard a gunshot,” Hassan said. “If my ears hadn’t been damaged I probably could have told you the caliber of the bullet from the sound of the shot. As it was, I barely heard it, but I still recognized it as a gunshot. Next to me, my father collapsed onto the burnt grass. I crawled to him and grabbed him and began shaking him and screaming his name. Blood was blooming like a great red rose on his chest.

He didn’t die instantly. He focused his eyes on me and he rasped, “Take care of Charlie.” I think I read his lips more than I heard him. And then he said, “Beneath the garage.” And that was it. His eyes were open but sightless and his head flopped as I shook him. I went a little crazy then. I kept shaking him and screaming. I remember hands tearing me away from him.

“I don’t know what happened after that, or how much time passed. I don’t remember the trip to the hospital, or being treated for my injuries. I remember that Boulos was there. It might have been a day later or a week. I was in a hospital bed and he kept saying the same things again and again. He was Boulos Haddad, my uncle. My parents had been killed by the PLO. He would take me and Charlie back to Lebanon.

“I remember gripping Charlie’s little hand. Even in my switched off state I knew it was important to keep him near.

“I was a marionette. People changed my clothes and fed me. I remember being on a plane. I had no thoughts of my own, except an awareness of Charlie sitting next to me. Just other people’s words repeating in my head, cycling like a scratched record. My father’s words, my mother’s, Boulos’. Take care of Charlie. Boulos Haddad. Your gun is your life. Your name is Simon Haddad. Killed by the PLO. Your gun, your gun, your gun. Take care of Charlie. The PLO, Haddad. Killed by the PLO. Beirut. Charlie. Your gun.”

Hassan looked up. “I need a break,” he said.

***

Jamilah was speechless. What amazed her was that after everything Hassan had been through, he still seemed to be a relatively healthy, centered and put-together individual. He must have extraordinary adaptive and healing abilities, in the emotional and spiritual sense.

She felt ashamed for insulting and striking him. Hassan had never criticized Jamilah for anything – had never done anything but encourage her. He deserved better than to be judged for – well, for nothing. She vowed that she would not allow her hatred to consume her love. Layth’s words had hit her hard. She would not be a woman of hate.

The pizza they’d ordered earlier had vanished to the last crumb. This time Muhammad placed a delivery order for Chinese food. It arrived quickly – the restaurant was in fact on the ground floor of the Palisade – and Hassan continued his story as they ate.

***

“Boulos owned a huge villa in the hills just above East Beirut. He had no wife or children, but my Uncle Sami lived in the villa as well, along with his wife and three young children, a passel of household servants, several of Boulos’ soldiers who guarded the property, Boulos’ personal bodyguard, and my cousin Sarkis, who was Aunt Nirmeen’s son. Nirmeen lived in Paris, but Sarkis was fifteen years old and had chosen to remain in Beirut. There was a dog too. I’ll get to the dog in a moment.

“I was practically catatonic. I could feed myself and take of my bodily needs at that point, but I felt empty, as if my soul had been blown out of my body by the force of the explosion that killed my mother.

“The only person aside from Charlie who seemed to care for me at all was Gala, the cook, who Charlie called Tant Gala. She was a small woman in her thirties who wore black and tied her hair in a tight bun. All the other servants deferred to her as if she were royalty. With me, though, she was gentle and kind. She’d make my favorite foods – I guess Charlie told her what I like – and she set up a chair and table in the kitchen for me, so she could keep an eye on me while she cooked.

“Sami’s wife avoided me as if I were diseased, and the rest of the household just thought I was retarded, I’m sure. But Gala fed me, bathed me and changed me. I don’t know what would have happened to me if she hadn’t been there.

“My parents’ bodies were returned to Lebanon and my father was given a state funeral with honors. Hundreds of people attended, but I didn’t care. I silently did as I was told. I climbed down into the grave and helped lower my father’s casket. I threw the first handful of dirt to cover him. I didn’t attend my mother’s funeral – none of my father’s family did. Again, I didn’t care. If Charlie was badly affected by our parents’ death, he didn’t show it. I know he must have been grieving, but I think he hid it for my sake.”

Hassan gave a bitter laugh. Jamilah almost never heard Hassan laugh, and now she wished she hadn’t, because his laugh evoked not humor but shame and loss.

“I wasn’t unaware. I saw and heard what happened around me, and though I felt unmoored from the world, I did apparently experience fear, particularly fear of loud noises. There was a big 155 millimeter artillery gun at the bottom of the hill – one of ours – the Lebanese Forces, I mean. The people of the household called it Abud-Deek – father of the rooster – because it would be silent for a time, then would wake everyone in the middle of the night, booming again and again, firing at whoever was the current enemy, sometimes all night long. Gala told me later that whenever Abud-Deek would start up, I would cover my face with my hands and cry. I don’t remember it, myself.

“I mentioned the personal bodyguard. The household staff, when they dared to speak of him at all, called him Mr. Black in whispers, maybe because of his close-cropped black hair and the sleek black suit he wore – or maybe that was really his name, I don’t know. He was a young man in his mid twenties, with a long purple scar across the front of his throat. When Boulos moved, he moved. When Boulos was in his private study, Mr. Black stood unmoving as a stone outside the door.

“I never heard Mr. Black speak. I don’t even know if he could. He watched everything silently, with black eyes that swam in a sort of deadness, as if all light and love had perished in his heart.

“Boulos himself was hardly ever around. He was, as I later learned, the head of both the Kataeb regulatory forces – the Phalange, in other words – and the Lebanese Forces, which was an umbrella organization that governed the various Christian militias. He was also a member of President Amin Gemayel’s cabinet. Uncle Sami was on the LF ruling council and was also rarely home.

“Charlie began attending school shortly after we arrived. He’d dress in a blue and white uniform and one of Boulos’ men would drive him to a private Catholic school. When there was shelling, he’d stay home. When the shells fell near the house, Sami’s wife would calmly order Gala and the maid to turn off the gas and the electricity.

The maid was a teenage girl from a poor hill family. She’d only recently come to the city from her mountain village. Whenever the shells came near she’d tremble with fear and call out to the Virgin Mary. We’d rush down to the basement where we had candles, emergency rations, and a small bookshelf. Sometimes we had to stay down there for hours, the maid shaking and clutching the cross on her necklace. We’d come up and maybe the house would be untouched, or maybe the windows would be shattered, or the garden wall damaged by shrapnel. There were always construction crews repairing the latest damage, hammering, pouring concrete. No one even bothered to wash the window-maker’s ink codes off the windows.

“Once the house took a direct hit and there was a huge crash. I heard screaming that went on and on as if someone had been injured. It might have been me. I remember Gala putting her arm around me, and Charlie holding my hand.

“The men went up first, carrying fire extinguishers. We followed to find that the southwest corner of the house had taken a direct hit. The sunroom and one of the bedrooms were destroyed. Everything in the house was covered with cement dust like a white sheet. Shattered glass, twisted rebar, holes burned in the carpet, shrapnel holes in the walls, the smell of smoke in the air – it was like it had been hit by a tornado. I found a piece of shrapnel embedded in the mattress of my bed. I remember Boulos walking through the house, raging, with Mr. Black following on heels, his face blank as one of the slabs of Stonehenge. We never heard Abud-Deek after that. Presumably Boulos had it moved.

“I spent my time sitting on the floor, watching the activity of the house, or sitting on a bench in the garden, looking out over the distant sea. I watched the ships coming and going, and the smoke rising from battles at the ports – the militias were always fighting for control of the ports – or from fires caused by artillery. The sound of gunfire rose up from the city below. Not an occasional shot, but heavy, continuous gunfire and explosions. At night there was tracer fire. Tracer fire is not pretty. It’s unnatural and frightening, as if the sky were being sliced to ribbons by electricity. Every now and then a car bomb would go off and the sound would thunder across the entire city, making the ground vibrate. When one of those went off I would tremble like a leaf. I don’t remember what thoughts I had in my head, if any, but I suspect that a part of me was reliving my mother’s death over and over again. I had nightmares and I often woke up to Charlie trying to comfort me.

“Charlie handled the transition better. Baba had always given us Arabic lessons and Mom mostly spoke to us in Arabic, so we had a good foundation. Charlie made the switch easily and was speaking Arabic like a native within a few weeks. I knew what time he came home from school and I’d go to the front of the house and sit on the bench to wait. I remember Charlie always staying close to me, talking to me, stroking my cheek like he used to do for Baba.

“Sarkis on the other hand used me like a punching bag. He had been evicted from  school for behavior issues, so a private tutor came to the house. When Sarkis wasn’t studying, his hobby was to poke me, pull my ear, slap me or kick me – though only when no one was looking. I was aware of it, but it didn’t seem to matter.

“What finally brought me back to life were three things: martial arts, Charlie and a dog.”

Hassan flashed a lopsided, broken smile as he reclined on the sofa, tucking one leg underneath the other. “Does anyone have a problem with that?”

“Why would we?” Layth said.

“Oh, you know how Muslims are about dogs. Oil and water.”

“That’s a myth,” Muhammad said. “Mullah Nasruddin had a dog. One of his friends asked him who was the boss in the house. Nasruddin said, ‘My wife commands me, the children, the cook, the gardener, the dog and the parakeet. But I pretty much say whatever I please to the goldfish.’”

“I don’t get it,” Kadija said. “A goldfish? What does that prove about Muslims and dogs?”

Muhammad shrugged. “I’m just saying, he had a dog. Cook, gardener, dog and parakeet. And he was a mullah. Case closed.”

Jamilah smiled, in spite of being annoyed at Mo for the interruption. “Can we get back to the story?” she said.

“Right. Boulos had a dog named Sarookh – Arabic for Rocket. It was a Sulaki Persian Greyhound – an expensive purebred – with long legs and a barrel chest. Rocket took a liking to me, even though I was as active as a potted plant. She would curl up next to me and lick my hand. I began petting her and scratching her ears. That was the first sign of life on my part. Someone must have noticed that because one of Boulos’ soldiers began helping me to walk Rocket in the garden, and soon I was doing it on my own. From there I graduated to throwing sticks for Rocket and playing tag with her. She was an amazing dog. Absolutely tireless, and could run like the wind.

“Charlie loved Rocket too but we learned that dog hair activated Charlie’s asthma. He was so disappointed about that. In general his asthma bothered him much less in Lebanon than it had in Los Angeles, but he still had to carry an inhaler.

“So I began to come back to the world. The next time Sarkis poked me, I seized his finger and took him belly down to the ground with a finger lock. Maybe that was the beginning of his hatred for me, I don’t know.

“There were two soldiers who practiced karate in the garden. Some days they practiced knife techniques and one of them, a big man by the name of Saber who had a sharp widow’s peak and long arms, was very good with the knife. I had learned many knife techniques in Hapkido but I could immediately see that Saber’s style was more fluid and  natural than what I’d learned. And Daniel, a small, wiry man with an oddly staccato manner of speech and a waxed mustache that curled up at the edges. He was a phenomenal striker – expert with his elbows and knees.

“On the other hand, their throws were weak. One day they were practicing hip throws and Daniel couldn’t get Saber over his hip. I could see why. He wasn’t getting low enough. I walked over, took Saber’s arm and threw him over my hip. I was only eleven but a hip throw done properly takes no power. It’s just unbalancing and leverage, like pushing someone over a thigh-high railing. Saber went flying, got to his feet, and they both stared at me as if I were a talking dog. ‘Boy got moves,’ Daniel said. One of them tentatively threw a punch my way, not trying to hit me, just testing my reflexes, no doubt wondering if what I’d done was a fluke. I parried his punch, locked his elbow, and dropped him straight to the ground.

“I began training with them regularly. I taught them joint locks and throws, and they taught me striking techniques. In the past I had trained with a rubber knife, but these guys used real knives with the blades slightly dulled. Still, if I wasn’t careful I’d get cut, as I did many times, just shallow cuts on my arms, belly or thighs. Pain and blood are powerful teaching tools and I learned quickly.

“I still didn’t speak. Sometimes the servants came out to watch. They must have thought I was an idiot savant. Sarkis would sometimes watch for a minute, then spit on the ground and walk away.

“I used to eye the soldiers’ guns. I began hearing my mother’s words in my head.Nothing can ever be as real as a gun. Everyone you love and everything you depend on are as insubstantial as moonlight.’ I had seen that myself. My mother and father snuffed out in an instant. Furthermore, they had lied to me all my life. Even my name was not real.

“But a gun is real. The steel has weight and power. It never changes its mind or its name. It is what it is. A gun can be your most loyal friend. It’s a very sick and seductive thought. There’s a dark logic to it.

“One day, about two months after I’d arrived in Lebanon, I was out in the garden throwing a stick for Rocket. Charlie came home from school and joined us, and it was hardly five minutes before he had an asthma attack. I opened his school bag but couldn’t find the inhaler. Gala wasn’t around – she’d gone to run some errands. I started rubbing Charlie’s chest like I had always done in the past. I said, “You’re okay, Charlie, you’re alright. Take a breath, kiddo.” It took me a second to realize that I had spoken out loud. It felt like – you know how it is when you’re low on cash and you put on a coat you haven’t worn in a while and you find a twenty dollar bill in the pocket? Like that.

“Even as Charlie was trying to get a breath he stared at me with wide eyes. After a minute the attack passed. Charlie let out a whoop and went racing through the house shouting, ‘He’s talking, he’s talking!’ All the servants and soldiers came around and started saying, ‘What’s my name?’ ‘Hamid.’ ‘What’s my name?’ ‘Lamya.’ When Gala came home I said, ‘Tant Gala.’ She smiled from ear to ear and hugged me.

“The funny thing is, I spoke in Arabic, as if I had forgotten English altogether. My vocabulary was thin, but it solidified. I was still not talkative, and I never spoke about the past. I put my parents out of my conscious mind altogether. I left the fear behind, too. The gunfire and explosions of the war stopped bothering me. I continued to have nightmares, though. That’s never changed, actually. I still get them today.

“I became aware that the household loved Charlie. He was a sweet little golden haired boy who loved to play and laugh. I, meanwhile, was a dusky skinned, mostly silent cipher. Even when I began speaking, the household wanted little to do with me, aside from Tant Gala and the karate guys. But I didn’t care. Gala and Charlie were enough for me.

“I loved Charlie like – I don’t know how to tell you. Like life. More than life, in fact, because life had not been terribly good to me, but Charlie had. My father’s last words had become an unconscious imperative, hardwired into my brain. ‘Take care of Charlie.’”

Hassan paused and gazed at the floor, his chin tucked into his shoulder.

“I failed at that. I have plenty of monumental regrets, but that’s…” He shook his head. “I failed.”

 

Next: Hassan’s Tale, Part 6 – The National Lottery

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Wael Abdelgawad's novels can be purchased at his author page at Amazon.com: Wael is an Egyptian-American living in California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including, Zawaj.com, IslamicAnswers.com and IslamicSunrays.com. He teaches martial arts, and loves Islamic books, science fiction, and ice cream. Learn more about him at WaelAbdelgawad.com. For a guide to all of Wael's online stories in chronological order, check out this handy Story Index.

28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Shurufa

    May 14, 2014 at 1:05 AM

    This could be an awesome novel MA. I know I would buy it. ;)

  2. shifaya

    May 14, 2014 at 1:12 AM

    Wonderful piece of article, can’t wait for next week!

  3. Nus

    May 14, 2014 at 1:48 AM

    Oh this made me cry…! I wonder when Hassan will realize that Dr. Basim was the traitor all along? I wish Hassan was a little less naive!

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      May 14, 2014 at 7:13 PM

      Nus, you’re right that Hassan has always been a trusting person, even when people around him have betrayed him. I think it’s a strength in some ways, but it does make him vulnerable.

  4. sammy

    May 14, 2014 at 4:48 AM

    salms wanted to knw if Hassan and friends will come to know that Mohammeds father stabbed Alice

  5. sammy

    May 14, 2014 at 4:49 AM

    please let me know

  6. Edward Kefas

    May 14, 2014 at 7:38 AM

    I hope Muslim Matters can write about Christopaths, those with a pathological hatred of the prophet Jesus, pbuh, and how this hatred hits not just Christians but Muslims also.

    Jerusalem authorities ask Catholics to take down banner welcoming Pope Francis
    http://mondoweiss.net/2014/05/jerusalem-authorities-welcoming.html

  7. Bint A

    May 14, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    It’s like you wrote the story backwards… amazing masha’Allah!

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      May 14, 2014 at 7:15 PM

      Bint A, I started out trying to write it forwards but couldn’t seem to get it right. Eventually I abandoned that attempt and did it this way, and it worked better, Insha’Allah.

  8. Bismillah

    May 14, 2014 at 2:25 PM

    Amazing mashaAllah! Can’t wait for next week. This part was just awesome…

  9. Bint Rashid

    May 14, 2014 at 3:55 PM

    Salam alaikum

    Brother, this was really well written, excellent work, mashaAllah. So descriptive, i could see it all happening in front of my eyes. Cant wait to find out the rest of Hassan’s past, and learn what happened with Charlie.

    Keep up the good work, Wednesday mornings are so much better these days, lol.

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      May 14, 2014 at 7:15 PM

      Bismillah and Bint Rashid, Jazakum Allah khayr. Thanks for the encouragement.

  10. Safa

    May 14, 2014 at 8:24 PM

    Very powerful writing mashallah. One of the best pieces thus far.. sad and beautiful intermingled in superb imagery.

    May Allah bless you in your writing and give you tawfeeq & irshaad to use it for His sake.

  11. J K

    May 14, 2014 at 8:48 PM

    Salaam walaikum brother. This is a great story. Please post more! I don’t know if I can wait till next Wednesday to find out more!!

  12. tymah

    May 15, 2014 at 5:07 AM

    wow masha Allaah! More greese to your elbow!!

  13. khadijat

    May 15, 2014 at 6:18 AM

    Ma sha Allah….very intresting,though didn’t read d part1-4

  14. Sulayma

    May 15, 2014 at 9:57 AM

    I avoided last week’s piece so I can read a whole bunch together, but I couldn’t resist for long, such poor discipline, read both today and man oh man… now I have to wait for next week’s instalment. I would like for Hassan’s story to go on forever and for the Partridge to just disappear into thin air. I don’t deal well with villains in stories, it brings me too close to a reality I despise and fear, so being inside the Partridge’s head is sickening to me. I’m not a naive person, but I’m very aware of the psychological and spiritual impact darkness has on people, it’s not an area I willingly venture into. Thus when I do read fiction, it’s usually mysteries, and that’s basically just the good guys’ journey to capturing the bad guys. So Brother Wael, it’s quite a feat that I’m still hooked to your story, and didn’t run away from the first inkling of discomfort.

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      May 15, 2014 at 11:40 AM

      Thank you, Sulayma, for venturing out of your comfort zone and sticking with the story.

  15. Shahnaz Gul

    May 15, 2014 at 11:08 AM

    Such powerful writing. Moved me to tears. But please don’t make the (*****). That’s too much pain to swallow. And I honestly believe this could be a great novel. The next Kite Runner perhaps.

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      May 15, 2014 at 11:38 AM

      I edited your comment slightly Shahnaz. Can’t have you giving away any secrets, now! :-)

  16. Shahnaz Gul

    May 15, 2014 at 3:25 PM

    I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize I’d be sabotaging your story. All in all, am anxiously waiting for the next installment.
    Wa’alaikumassalam Akhi

  17. Ramiz Ali

    May 17, 2014 at 7:48 AM

    As Salamu Alaykum,

    Absolutely love this story – can’t wait for next week now! May Allah put barakah in your writing ameen!

    Ramiz

  18. sq

    May 20, 2014 at 11:38 AM

    I just read the whole story so far in two days and im so hooked! The thought of these thing actually happening to people makes my problems seem nothing and alhamdulilah im so grateful for that.

    Love this story
    Respect, from pakistan :)

  19. Huma Rani

    May 28, 2014 at 7:08 AM

    what a great work is here. You have really done a wonderful job here thank you for kind sharing. let visit my first blog here http://www.howegets.com and comments us for betterment please.

  20. Sarah B.

    May 29, 2014 at 12:02 PM

    This was a very sad addition. Losing one’s parents in such a violent way at a young age must have a huge affect on a person. Hassan seems to be holding all that emotional baggage with him at all times. I hope he will be able to forgive himself and let go of what happened in the past insha’Allah.

  21. Abayal

    January 12, 2017 at 5:01 AM

    It says “Continued on next page” but I am not able to find any link that would get me there.
    I tried going back through Story Index too but ain’t working.

    Please help.

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      January 15, 2017 at 10:18 PM

      Abayal, apparently with the website redesign, a problem has surfaced where posts with multiple pages are only showing the first page. I have just gone through all the Hassan’s Tale chapters and removed the page breaks. So I suggest you go back to Hassan’s Tale Part 1 and re-read, since you probably missed the end of the previous chapters as well.

      I will do Ouroboros next, Insha’Allah.

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