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Hassan’s Tale, Part 9 – Caught

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

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

 

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“It’s seven o’clock,” Layth said. “We need to pray maghreb.”

“Yes, let’s,” Hassan agreed.

“Muhammad,” Kadija said. “I noticed you bought lemons.”

“Actually, I called the concierge earlier and he brought them up. This building is awesome. I think I was made to live like this.”

“Lord Almighty! Even a hog would like to be king. Well, I’ll make fresh lemonade. It won’t take a minute.”

“And I need to check on my dad,” said Muhammad. “Could someone call the hospital and see if there’s any change in Two Six’s condition?”

“Oh for heaven’s sake, Mo,” Jamilah said. “Could you call the poor woman by her name? I’ll ring the hospital.”

“Thanks, Triple Nine,” Muhammad said with a grin.

Jamilah was glad for the break. Hassan’s story had become emotionally overwhelming. For so long she had lived with a seething anger over the murder of her grandfather at Tel-Az-Zayoon… And now to hear a first-hand account of the massacre… It was almost too much. Could her grandfather have been one of those old men lined up against the wall? What terror he must have felt.

She didn’t know how to sort out her feelings about Hassan. On the one hand, he had been a member of the very force that had committed the massacre. But he had turned against them, gunning down his fellow soldiers to stop them. What strength of will he must have had, even at that age. Her feelings about him were jumbled and she was having a hard time sorting them out. Attraction, admiration and fascination, but at least a part of that was horrified fascination. Not a healthy emotion to build a relationship on.

And Daniel… Hassan had lost everyone he ever loved, one after another. What was Allah’s purpose in that? Did there always have to be a purpose? She did not know.

She called the hospital, then went to perform her wudu’. She loved the cool water on her face, waking her up, making her feel clean not only outside but inside as well, and the sense of peacefulness as the water poured over her arms, washing away the sins of the day. Kadijah had told her that the areas of the body washed by wudu’ would be shining with light on the Day of Judgment; and that the Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him – would recognize his followers by that light. The first time she’d ever made wudu’ she had broken into tears, (The Deal, Part 3) and she still felt the power of the ritual tugging at her heart every time.

The five of them gathered for prayer. Hassan again deferred to Layth, who kept the prayer fairly short. Afterwards they sat quietly as Layth said a dua’, asking Allah to have mercy on the Muslim Ummah, to forgive their sins, and to purify their hearts from anger and bitterness. He finished with a short prayer for healing for Alice.

Jamilah couldn’t help wondering if the mention of anger was intended for her. If so, the dua’ was already being answered. The events of this night had forced her to confront her own rage, not only over her grandfather’s murder but her father’s early death as well. Her inner ugliness had been revealed, and she felt ashamed. She was determined to find a way to be at peace with herself and with history.

“What did the hospital say?” Kadija inquired.

Jamilah shrugged. “They wouldn’t release any information. Family and authorized contacts only, they said.”

“That whole thing is so strange,” Muhammad murmured.

“What about your dad?” Jamilah asked.

“He’s asleep.”

“I think that’s good,” Kadija said. “Sleep is therapeutic. He’s in a safe place, with someone who loves him. I’m proud of you, Muhammad.”

Muhammad smiled bashfully. “Thanks.”

“I’m sorry guys,” Hassan said. “I went into more detail in my story than I intended. It’s getting late, and I still haven’t told you who’s after me and why. I could skip the rest of the story and get to the bottom line.”

“No,” Jamilah said immediately. “Whoever’s after you, we’re all safe here, right?”

“I believe so, yes.”

“And none of us are going to work tomorrow. I want to hear everything. You’ve been a mystery for so long. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you’re opening up like this. I’m sorry for everything that happened earlier. I want to hear all of your story, even if it takes all night.”

Hassan smiled. “It won’t take all night.”

“You know,” Layth said, “I’m surprised that you’re revealing so much. You swore me to secrecy, remember?”

“I did,” Hassan said. “But circumstances have changed. You all need to know what’s going on. Now that I’m divulging my identity and my past, I might as well tell it all. Wallah al-Atheem, it feels good. I’ve been keeping these secrets for so long.”

“Okay then,” Kadija said. “It’s settled. Everyone back to your spots. I made fresh lemonade, and trust me, it’s finer than a frog’s hair split four ways.”

 

***

 

The assassin known as Mr. Green to his colleagues, and as The Crow to those who trembled at the thought of him, was annoyed. It didn’t look like anyone would be coming out of Hassan Amir’s apartment tonight. Once again he considered the idea of a frontal assault – a home invasion, as it were – and again rejected it. He wanted to interrogate Amir and his friends on his own ground, within the confines of the West Oakland warehouse that he had carefully converted into a soundproofed torture chamber.

He assigned some of the consulate’s men to watch Simon’s building, and retired to his hotel room. Being in the field sometimes required a man to stay awake for days at a time. That’s why a seasoned operative always slept when he could, so that he’d be rested when he needed it.

Earlier that day he’d sent one of the other operatives to purchase a copy of an anatomy textbook at the bookstore. Now, back in his hotel room, he opened the book, appreciating the crisp edges of the pages. He had an idea for a torture method that involved peeling all the skin off a man without killing him, starting at the face and working down. Paging through the book, he studied the musculature of the face and neck, then moved on to the shoulders, arms and torso. Flaying was a fine art, sadly neglected by ignorant interrogators who stuck to beating prisoners with sticks or fists. How crude.

The Crow turned out the light and slept, imagining himself with scalpel in hand, wielding it like a conductor does a baton, working to the applause of colleagues and victims alike.

 

***

 

“The toothless old Palestinian man gave me a little money,” Hassan said when everyone was seated. “And I took a bus into the mountains, heading toward Syria. At a rest stop I found a thrift store and bought a used but warm coat.

I was ordered off the bus at a militia checkpoint in a mountain town called Hermel, and robbed by a score of young Hezbollah supporters. Most were no older than thirteen or fourteen, but they carried knives, and some had guns. It occurred to me that if they searched my pants pocket they would find Daniel’s dogtag and think I was him. They would know I was Maronite.

They did not search me, and it apparently wasn’t an issue of religion anyway. They took my coat and the last of my money, and beat me just for being a stranger.

I might have been able to take them all on – I’d say I had an even chance of surviving. I was used to killing, while these boys were not. Still, what was I going to do? Go all war machine on a bunch of adolescents? I chose not to fight.

One boy struck me in the face with the butt of a gun and split my lip. Another kicked me hard in the knee  and I stumbled. Finally I pushed them away and shouted, “Laa ilaha-il-Allah!” That phrase again, coming to my mind. I don’t know why. I can’t say if it was the phrase itself that backed them off, or my desperation, but they walked away and left me alone on the snow-covered road.

My knee still aches sometimes where the boy kicked me. Mostly at the end of a long workday, especially in winter.

After that I caught rides with farm vehicles – there’s an honesty to farmers everywhere – or walked. Some nights I went off the road and found one of the old shepherd’s huts that Lena had shown me. Some had sleeping mats and food supplies like dried fruit or cheese. One had a blanket and I took it. I feel bad about that but I might have died of the cold otherwise. At times I ate apples and raw potatoes from mountain farms. I crossed the border covertly, hiking across the countryside.

***

The first city I encountered on the Syrian side was Al-Qusayr. The entire border region was overwhelmed with Lebanese refugees, some who had money and many more who did not and who lived in tents and shacks built out of construction scraps. There were no jobs to be had.

I moved on, and after a few days of walking and catching rides, I arrived in Homs. Once again, there were refugees everywhere, almost outnumbering the Syrian population.

I was hesitant to go straight to Lena’s uncle Hatim. I knew Boulos would never stop looking for me, and General Ayyoub had made it clear he didn’t want me involved with his family. Instead, I managed to convince the owner of a Greek restaurant to let me wash dishes in exchange for leftovers and a sleeping mat in the storage room.”

“Like me,” Muhammad interrupted. That was my first job when I left home.”

Hassan smiled. “Yes. Like you.”

Homs was beautiful, with tended gardens and ancient mosques, and surrounded by olive orchards. Most of all, it was peaceful. It was an incredible thing not to have to worry about someone trying to kill me. It took some getting used to. A cat would leap onto a trash can at night and I’d wake up in a shock, scrabbling for my nonexistent rifle.

When I was alone at night I practiced martial arts in the storage room, trying to teach myself to move as Mr. Black had done. Trying to ghost, as I had come to call it in my own mind.

Because of my years of martial arts training I was able to break it down into simple mechanics. I knew that it wasn’t a matter of dodging bullets. That was impossible. Instead, it was all about moving in an evasive pattern that made one hard to hit.  Slipping from side to side, presenting the narrowest profile, randomizing my direction changes, and moving rapidly forward. The idea was to move in a way that contained no predictable pattern. Practicing it was like re-learning how to walk.

I couldn’t bring myself to go out without a weapon. I took a rusted kitchen knife from the trash and carried it in my waistband, under my shirt. I’d see some young men in the street and I’d tense up, ready to either run or reach for my knife, and when I got close enough they’d just greet me with “As-salamu alaykum”, or invite me to play football. I always declined their invitations.

I was acutely aware that I had seen and experienced things that none of these people could understand. I was an obsolete relic. My heart felt worn out, as if it had once been a full color painting, but life had washed the color off, so that it was just a faded pencil sketch of a heart, only pretending to beat.

I noticed that Syrians were very careful in conversation. There was a pervasive fear of Al-Mukhabarat – the Syrian secret police. Portraits of President Hafez Asad hung everywhere. No one discussed politics in public. I kept my mouth shut and tried to blend in.

I worked hard, hoping that the restaurant owner would start paying me a salary, or promote me to waiter, or maybe even teach me to cook,. But after a few weeks he told me that although I was an excellent worker, his nephew had just finished school and needed my job.

I made a choice to go to Lena’s uncle and let the chips fall where they may.

I found Le Toulon on the busiest commercial thoroughfare in the Christian quarter. It was actually a cinema, and a nice one at that. It had a huge marquee, a ticket window surrounded by framed movie posters, and an art-deco tower with a sunburst at the top.

Hatim Ayyoub was a cheerful man with white teeth and a broad forehead, well dressed in black trousers and a white button-up shirt. He took one look at me and said apologetically that he had no jobs, but that if I waited in the alley until closing time he’d give me the leftover popcorn. When I mentioned Lu’lu’ Ayyoub, his entire demeanor changed. He shook my hand, took me into his private office, and asked a theater worker to bring tea.

“How is dear Lu’lu’?” he asked. “I haven’t been able to get a call through to Beirut in a month. Do you study with her at the university?”

I told the truth – that I was a soldier, and that Lena was a friend. “She was teaching a volunteer summer course at the university,” I told him.

“Yes, that’s her,” he said. “A good soul. Just like her mother, Allah have mercy on her.”

He gave me a job serving as an usher and doing maintenance, and tasked a young woman named Nandi to train me at the ticket window. It was a good job, and Hatim paid a decent salary, so that I was able to rent a bunk in a boarding house run by an elderly Kurdish woman.

The fighting had largely stopped back home, but that meant little. The Lebanese civil war had smashed through numerous treaties over the years. The Taif accord was just another, for all we knew. The fighting could start up again tomorrow. As it turned out, it did not. The next year an amnesty would be issued for all combatants, and the militias dissolved, except for Hezbollah. But no one knew that at the time, of course.

I enjoyed working at the theater. At times I got to sit in back and watch the films for free. Nandi was a dear girl, and even though I was shy around girls she was very outgoing and was able to make me smile again when I thought I’d forgotten how. She wanted to be an actress and would re-enact the parts from whatever film we were showing, even singing sometimes. Hatem used to bring pastries in the morning for the workers. After five years of war, that life felt like a dream. I kept expecting to wake up and find myself back on the front lines.

I also kept expecting Lena to show up. She had promised she would come. Every time I saw a slender woman with long hair, my heart sped up. But it was never her. I thought that she must have been delayed. Maybe she had to finish teaching her course. Maybe her father would not let her leave.

A month after I began working at Le Toulon, Hatem summoned me to his office. The apologetic look was back, and I knew instantly that I was finished there.

“I got through to Beirut,” he said. “I spoke to my brother Nader. You know him. General Ayyoub.”

“Yes.”

“He says he ordered you to stay away from Lena. You didn’t tell me that. And you didn’t tell me that Boulos Haddad is your uncle, for Christ’s sake. And there’s more. Word is spreading that you had something to do with the Tel-Az-Zaytoon massacre. Boulos Haddad is telling people that you snapped because of what the PLO did to your family. You went on a rampage, murdering women and children.”

“That’s not true. I didn’t – “

He cut me off with a wave of his hand. “I know that you are a decent young man. Boulos Haddad, on the other hand, is the devil’s right hand. Still, I cannot keep you. Our presence in Syria is delicate. I cannot attract attention.”

“Can you recommend me to someone? Help me get a job?”

“Simon, you’re not listening. We are only an hour’s drive from Lebanon, and the PLO has a strong presence here. You’re not safe. You must leave Homs. Change your name and start fresh.”

“Where will I go?”

“I don’t know and don’t want to know. But you must leave. I’m sorry, son.”

He gave me a generous severance payment and I returned to the boarding house to collect my things. I trudged to the main bus terminal and stared blankly at the destinations board. I was on the road again, but this time I didn’t know where to go.

Not since Charlie’s death had I felt so alone and unwanted by the world. Lena had said she would join me. Why had she not come? Did she truly have feelings for me, or was it a passing fancy?

As I scanned up and down the list of destinations – most of them places I’d never heard of – I saw a name. It was one of the most distant destinations, but I knew in a heartbeat that it was the one. Istanbul. What had Lena said about it? If one could take only a single look at the world, he should look at Istanbul. That’s what I would do. I would gaze on Istanbul, if it was the last thing I did.

The fare was beyond my means. I decided that I would take a bus as far as Halab – Aleppo, in English – which was 150 kilometers from the Turkish border. I could walk and hitchhike from there. That way I’d still have money left over for food.

I’d heard that Aleppo was a beautiful and ancient city, but I spent no time there. I had a vision in my head of a different city – a grand metropolis straddling two continents, filled with magnificent Christian and Muslim monuments alike. I would change my name and start a new life in Istanbul, and Boulos Haddad would never find me.

I made a sign that said, “Turkey”, and waited on the side of the road. Right away a battered yellow Fiat pulled up and a tiny, grizzled old man hollered at me to get in. As he drove he chatted about his glass-blowing business, and how young people didn’t appreciate fine craftsmanship. Then he cautioned me not to use my sign.

“Why?” I said.

“It’s obvious that you are Lebanese. Turkey no longer admits Lebanese refugees. If the Syrian police see you with that sign they will arrest you. If you plan to get into Turkey you have to go offroad.”

He gave me directions that I tried to memorize, and let me out at a town called Anadan. I found a shop that sold Arabic pizza for only five piastres. A birdcage hung in the corner of the shop, holding two parakeets that twittered and sang sweetly.

The pizza turned out to be flatbread topped with spicy tomato sauce, cheese and za’tar. Simple but delicious. I shelled out a few piastres for a bottle of Pepsi, and sat there enjoying my meal.

Maybe it was the hot food in my belly, or the winsome song of the birds, but at that moment I felt that life would be okay. I would make it to Istanbul and start over. I would free myself from the horrors of the past. I would get a message to Lena somehow, and let her know where I was. She would join me, and we’d live her dream together.

The moment was shattered when I looked out the shop window and saw a pickup truck pull up. The driver was Sarkis Haddad, and the man in the passenger seat was Mr. Black. Two more men sat on a wooden bench in the truck bed. They all wore civilian clothes, but carried themselves with the sharp vigilance of soldiers.

I turned away quickly so they wouldn’t see my face. I strode through the small kitchen and out the back door, then ran toward the town square. Following the glass-blower’s directions, I found a hard-packed dirt road that broke off north and downhill from the town center. I dashed along it and found myself passing through olive groves. There was a huge, ruined stone building at the top of a ridge. It might have been Roman. Syria is amazing in that way. But of course I didn’t stop to appreciate it.

No one was following, so I slowed, striding through the olive groves, paralleling the road but staying out of sight of passing vehicles.

How had they found me? It must have been General Ayyoub. Beirut was only hours away by car. Sarkis must have left Lebanon immediately after Hatim’s phone call, then interrogated him as to my whereabouts. I was disappointed that Hatim had given me up so quickly, but I shouldn’t have expected him to risk everything for a virtual stranger. Perhaps they had guessed I would go to the bus station, and had questioned the ticket seller.

Should I report them to the Syrian police? The Syrian government and the Phalange were enemies.

No. From what I had heard of the Syrian secret police, they would torture us all, me included. People entered Syrian prisons and disappeared.

I didn’t think Sarkis would follow me into Turkey. If I could just get across the border, I would be safe.

The road skirted several rock quarries and passed a small town called Suq-Al-Kabeer. I saw men herding cows, goats and sheep, and village women drawing water from wells. The air was clean and smelled of earth and wildflowers. Here and there stood ancient, crumbling walls – the remnants of civilizations past. I topped a crest as the road bisected a ruined city called Khabar Shams. Families sat in the sun, picnicking, smoking shisha and eating barbecued kebabs. My mouth watered, but I gave them a wide berth and hurried along, glancing repeatedly over my shoulder.

Afternoon set in. I had traveled almost twenty kilometers on foot. I considered finding an isolated spot to rest. But I wanted to get to Turkey. I would be safe there. Istanbul was waiting.

The road ran through forest, with hairpin turns and steep drops. I passed through one village after another, descending. My thighs began to ache from slowing myself on the downslope. Finally the road flattened and I found myself in farm country again, surrounded by fruit and nut trees. I slipped into one of the orchards and ate my fill of pistachios, then drank from an irrigation ditch.

It went on like that. Kurdish towns, then Arab again. A river where I bathed. An untended cemetery that could have been six hundred years old or six thousand. Houses few and far between. The sun hung low in the sky, then seemed to plummet below the horizon in an instant. I wanted to continue, but I’d covered fifty or sixty kilometers that day. My knee ached where I’d been kicked, and my feet were swollen. My clothes were stiff with sweat, and my inner thighs were chafed. I dropped into a dry creek bed, and slept.

I woke at dawn with the sun in my eyes. I’d been bitten by something. I felt a stabbing pain in the back of my neck, and when I touched it, I found it painful and swollen. I felt dizzy and weak, and my head hurt. But I had to go on.

I climbed out of the creek bed and began to walk. Clouds swept in from the north and a cold rain rushed across the land. Soon I was soaked through. My head felt fragile, as if it were made of glass. I began to shiver, my teeth chattering loudly. The road degraded steadily, until it was little more than a potholed, muddy mess.

I hadn’t seen a vehicle all morning, but suddenly I heard a motor approaching. I bounded off the road and lay flat on my belly in an olive grove. The car passed. I got up and continued down the rutted track.

The road rounded a bend and suddenly a green valley lay below me, pelted by rain. The dirt road transformed into an ancient-looking stone avenue, with wide, white stones. Weathered and tumbled pillars lined the road as it ran down to a massive stone bridge that I later learned was built by the Romans. The bridge passed over an incongruously small stream that nevertheless ran quickly, swollen with rain.

There, parked atop the Roman bridge, was the pickup truck. Sarkis, Mr. Black and the others stood outside the vehicle, surveying the valley. One of the soldiers spotted me immediately, and pointed.

I ran off the road. I knew I was close to Turkey. It had to be just on the other side of this valley. If I could get across that stream and over the hills somehow, I’d be safe.

The olive groves were not thick enough to hide me, and soon I heard the sound of the pickup approaching from behind. I ran faster, going downhill. I caught my foot on a root and fell on my face, then got up again. I exited the olive grove and ran to the stream. The bridge was a kilometer upstream. I plunged into the stream and began to wade. The water was only up to my waist but was ice cold and surging, and I struggled to keep my footing. I had a moment of hope that I had lost the truck but as I exited the stream the vehicle came speeding toward me, bouncing across the open field, throwing up gouts of mud and water. They must have returned to the bridge and crossed.

There was nowhere left to run. The valley offered no cover. I was caught. I stood in the mud of the stream bank, waiting. I might as well die with dignity.

The truck stopped several meters away and Sarkis exited warily, carrying an old World War II MAT-49 machine pistol. The Phalange must be near routed, if Sarkis was down to carrying a forty year old gun.

Mr. Black came around from the passenger side, silent and blank-eyed as ever. If he was angry about our last encounter – when I’d clubbed him unconscious with a rifle – he didn’t show it. Only the scar across his throat seemed to leer like a cruel smile. The soldiers in the back hopped out and took positions monitoring the road and the valley. None displayed weapons except Sarkis.

“You led us a chase, cousin,” Sarkis said with a grin. “It was fun. Now I know why the English enjoy fox hunting.”

“I reported you to the Syrian police,” I said. It was a lie, of course. “I saw you in Anadan. They’re looking for you.”

Sarkis looked at me with contempt. “Do you think I would risk being arrested by the Mukhabarat? I paid them off, you moron. Just like I paid that PLO commander who wiped out your squad. Except the idiot let you live. You know what they say. If you want something done right…”

“What do you want with me?” I heard the frustration in my own voice and tried to control it. “I’ve left Lebanon behind. I’m done with all that.”

“I’m not.” Sarkis practically spat the words. He flipped the MAT-49’s safety off and aimed it at my chest.

“Why do you hate me, Sarkis? We’re family.” I was trying to buy time, but I genuinely wanted to know. Sarkis had always despised me, and I’d never understood why.

Sarkis gave a short, barking laugh. “Why do I hate you? Why do I hate you?” His voice rose to a shout. “Why shouldn’t I? Son of the revered Kamal Haddad, heir to the throne. Best shot in Beirut. Lucky Haddad. A captain, while I’m a sergeant. I was someone. Boulos trusted me. Then you come along, with your pious morality. Who the devil do you think you are to tell me what to do with my prisoners? This is war. Anything goes. You sniveling, self-righteous punk.”

“I didn’t take anything from you,” I said. “Boulos hates me, not you. I’m the one he wants dead.”

Sarkis shook his head in contemptuous wonder. “You really are stupid, aren’t you? I have never met anyone so naive. Boulos wants you dead because he respects you. He sees you as a contender. But me? My father was a servant. My mother had an affair. I’ve been looked down on and ridiculed all my life…”

As Sarkis raged on, I began the mental process of putting put all my weariness and sickness aside, just as Daniel had taught me (Hassan’s Tale, Part 5). I could do it for a moment only. One crucial second in which I would live or die. In that moment I would move so fast that even the raindrops would not touch me. I would think nothing and feel nothing. I gathered every last vestige of energy in my body and focused it on that impending instant.

“The day will come,” Sarkis continued, “When no one will dare to mock me. I’ll line them all up against the – “

I burst into motion. In the blink of an eye, I shifted from standing still to moving at full speed, heading straight for Sarkis. I ghosted, maneuvering as Mr. Black had done back at Tel-Az-Zaytoon, slipping and changing direction, presenting the narrowest profile. Sarkis fired and missed, and again, and again. He screamed in frustration, and I was almost on him when Mr. Black stepped forward and swung an arm at my throat. I tried to alter direction but my knee chose that moment to lock up. Black’s arm struck my face, and my feet swung up into the air. I crashed onto my back and lay in the mud, trying to catch my breath.

Sarkis lifted his booted foot and tried to stomp my face, but I parried his foot to the side, seized his leg and threw him to the ground. I rose to my feet and found Mr. Black beside me with a sharp knife pressed to my carotid artery. His expression was bloodless as ever, but the scar across his throat seemed to smile at me in mockery.

“Dammit!” Sarkis shouted. “Hold him down.”

The two anonymous soldiers seized me and threw me to the ground. One pinned my hands above my head, while the other held my feet. Sarkis loomed above me. “You! – “ he grunted, and punctuated it with a stomp to my face. My head rang like a bell and I felt something give way in my cheek. “Are! – “ another stomp, and I felt like my head would burst with the pain. “Annoying!” A third stomp, and the world turned ashen, as if a black sheet had been draped over my face. I guess the soldiers released me, because I was able to turn onto my hands and knees and crawl away in the mud.

Something tremendous crashed into my back, knocking me flat. I thought Sarkis had stomped on my back, but this felt like being stomped by a planet. I couldn’t breathe. My chest felt broken somehow. I slid a hand underneath my body and drew it out crimson with blood. I realized that Sarkis had shot me in the back, and that the bullet had gone all the way through, tearing a hole in my chest.

The world tumbled over and over and I perceived dimly that they were rolling me to the river. I heard a splash, and felt something cold on my face. Then the sound of the pickup truck departing, the engine noise growing fainter until it was gone. I had been cold before, from the rain and the river, but now I felt a merciless chill enter my marrow. It was a cold like I had never known. I knew that I was dying. My blood was pouring out into the river.

I felt a deep sense of regret. What had I done in life except to fail the people who had counted on me? Charlie, and Gala, and Daniel. I’d failed them all. I deserved to die there, in that frigid, deserted river. I deserved to be forgotten.

I grew even colder, until I couldn’t feel my body at all. I was cold as an underground river. Cold from skin to soul. I would never be warm again.

I thought, “Laa ilaha-il-Allah,” not knowing why that phrase kept coming to my mind at such moments. And then I died.”

Next:  Hassan’s Tale, Part 10 – Gaze on Istanbul

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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.

29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. M

    June 11, 2014 at 12:47 AM

    Wow! Finally caught up with all the chapters, and I must say, this story keeps getting better by the moment. MashaAllah! Keep up the good work brother!

    I was just wondering, are you planning to edit the series before putting it on print, because there were certain things in the previous chapters that I thought might need a little editing.

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      June 11, 2014 at 12:49 AM

      Thank you. Yes, I’m sure I’ll have an editor read it over again, Insha’Allah. Next time, perhaps you could point out those errors to me.

      • Z

        April 19, 2015 at 4:12 PM

        Salaam
        When is the series conclusion coming?

  2. reader

    June 11, 2014 at 12:58 AM

    Mashallah it was gripping. But the chapters are getting shorter!

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      June 11, 2014 at 1:00 AM

      Thank you for the comment, reader. People always say that about the chapters getting shorter :-) Actually Part 8 was longer than usual. It varies from one chapter to the next. This one is a bit shorter, you’re right.

  3. iffat sharif

    June 11, 2014 at 3:51 AM

    Oh snap!!! Why do u do this brother??? AlwayS LEAVING us on a cliffhanger?? “…I died” ?? Really…u could at least hv given the next passage….one week of wait and this is what we get!!
    Just kidding… :) this story is getting better every passing week!! Subhan Allah :)

  4. Sarah B.

    June 11, 2014 at 8:20 AM

    Oh my! I can’t imagine how he ends up surviving such an attack! I wonder what kept Lena from joining him at her uncle’s cinema? I suppose we’ll just have to wait until next week to find out! Each chapter is full of suspense and really captures our attention. Masha’Allah great work!

  5. noor fathima

    June 11, 2014 at 1:13 PM

    Until next Wednesday then.sighs

  6. Wael Abdelgawad

    June 11, 2014 at 2:41 PM

    By the way, I didn’t want to slow the story down with needless information, but it may interest readers to know that the bridge in the photo is indeed a Roman-built bridge still in use today, near the town of An-Nabi Houri in northern Syria, right on the border with Turkey. An-Nabi Houri is a small town now, but was once an important Roman city called Cyrrhus. The entire region is full of Roman ruins.

    Who was An-Nabi Houri (the Prophet Houri)? He is not mentioned in the Quran, but local inhabitants say he was a Kurdish prophet who lived long ago. Allah knows best.

  7. nuzbee

    June 11, 2014 at 6:40 PM

    Brother Wael, you are carrying an immense responsibility in writing this story. A lot of people tune in every week to read this (and many don’t post comments). We are all hopeful of how this story unravels. So please realize that Hassan must be redeemed in the end. Some form of justice must occur. You have to make the ending satisfying! Boulos and Sarkis must pay! Hassan has already lost so much. How much more can he suffer?

  8. Nus

    June 11, 2014 at 6:44 PM

    SPOILER ALERT (I think): I’m pretty sure who Mr. Green really is. I went back and read “Kill the Courier” and it’s all making sense now. Why does Boulos ask Mr. Green if he remembers anything of his childhood? Why else does Boulos say the one to kill Hassan must be the Partridge because it represents something symbolic for Boulos while referring to the ouroboros eating its own? The question lies though, will Mr. Green realize the truth and will he be the one to revolt against Boulos? Will there be a face-off between Hassan and Sarkis or Hassan and Boulos? Will Hassan grow some common sense by now? If he only killed Boulos in the beginning this would not have happened… *sigh* must wait another week! P.S. Brother Wael please delete my comment if you think it is a spoiler, or is misleading :).

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      June 11, 2014 at 8:14 PM

      Nuzbee/Nus, great comments. Many people have speculated on Mr. Green’s identity, so I won’t worry about deleting your comment, but I also do not confirm anyone’s guesses. I suspect that the ending will satisfy readers in some ways, and disappoint in others. We’ll see.

      I might as well warn the readers now, there will likely be a delay of a few months between the end of Hassan’s Tale and the beginning of the story that concludes the series, titled Ouroboros. I’m only one chapter ahead of readers right now, and I’ll need time to plot out the conclusion.

      • Aly Balagamwala

        June 13, 2014 at 9:52 AM

        The collective groan from your fans just echoed thru my ears…..

    • iffat sharif

      June 16, 2014 at 12:58 PM

      Even I was guessing the same.. Its gonna be amazing !! I hope I am alive till the story completes !! In’sha Allah

  9. Humaira Khan

    June 11, 2014 at 9:58 PM

    The last page was so beautifully poetic. Very nicely done brother wael.

  10. Hagar

    June 11, 2014 at 10:39 PM

    I finally caught on! Great work MashaAllah!!!! I love how detailed and visual your writing is! It’s like I’m there lol! Thank you for writing this awesome novel :)

  11. Safa

    June 12, 2014 at 12:15 PM

    Hassan seems supernatural in terms of endurance, mashallah. He has hope when the world crushes him a million times over and when every loved one he finally bonds to dies. His character is unbelievable and really a mountain of inspiration.

    Thank you for journeying us through Syria. It really is a beauty and the series was nostalgic for those who once saw her charm of Umayyad influence -courtyards & gardens, of Roman architecture and aqueducts, of rich heritage mixed with a landscape and atmosphere of countrysides and bustling cities. Once the glory of the Muslim world now the bleeding heart.

    May Allah rejuvenate our ummah with an Islamic awakening and bring relief to the Muslim ummah. Ameen

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      June 14, 2014 at 2:12 AM

      Great comment, Safa. It means a lot to me to know that Hassan’s story is inspiring to some.

  12. Adama

    June 12, 2014 at 6:08 PM

    I have learnt a lot about Islam and sisterhood in Islam.Thank you, I hope after Hassan’s tale you will give us another one.

  13. Nus

    June 12, 2014 at 10:07 PM

    I was just wondering why Sarkis thinks he killed Hassan between the borders of Syria and Turkey but comes back to later kill Hassan’s wife Lena and his unborn child? Doesn’t that imply that Hassan was alive and survived the shooting? Because Sarkis tells Boulos that he had already “finished the job” in getting rid of Hassan.

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      June 14, 2014 at 2:13 AM

      Good question Nus, and answers will be forthcoming in time. You are a sharp-eyed reader.

    • SC

      August 7, 2014 at 8:10 PM

      WHAT? i think that was a spoiler. please someone, remove it! is that part about Lena already up? i am somehow stopped at the part where he just says he never saw her again. all day thoughts are going through my head about how the beautiful Lena maybe OD’ed again, got kidnapped by Anton, or just disappeared into thin air – could happen. …. or just died of sadness/sickness

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      August 7, 2014 at 8:20 PM

      SC, Nus is only speculating. There was a scene in Kill the Courier where Hassan had a flashback to the day he found Lena dead (it was when he walked into Sarkis’ office at the consulate). But we don’t know yet what happened exactly.

      • SC

        August 7, 2014 at 8:34 PM

        ok. thank you! phew! and thanks for replying to us…it’s pretty neat.

      • SC

        August 7, 2014 at 8:56 PM

        sorry I skipped some of those parts after having somehow read the part with Mr. Green and Wolf first…and was totally caught off-guard with the whole torture thing (wal ayathu bIllah. Ya Allah protect us all from such ugliness and horror). then i skimmed for his name and just skipped entire sections where he might be found – i was too disturbed by that whole thing….sorry. but now i may go back and cautiously read. have to admit, i was kind of enjoying not knowing about Lena’s death from the very outset, and hoping that somehow she was still alive and maybe would even be able to be found. sorry. weird reader i know.

  14. Noo

    June 14, 2014 at 8:03 AM

    Okay. You are just amazing, Masha Allah. Your descriptions are so good that I actually get scared most of the time. I’m waiting for the next chapters!

    • SC

      August 7, 2014 at 8:39 PM

      I was totally freaked out for a lot of the scenes. one of the reasons I couldn’t stop reading: it was very good, yes, and so vivid and scary that I just could not move, thank God there is relief in the form of dhikr of Allah throughout.

  15. homayra

    June 22, 2014 at 6:31 AM

    I stumbled on this fiction n I was hooked . Read from beginning to end in a day and night retold entire story to hubby. Never read anything like this . Very interesting and entertaining. Now we are both itching for the next bit!! Mashallah gd work

  16. SC

    August 7, 2014 at 8:30 PM

    a.maze.ing story! love it.

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