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Hassan’s Tale, Part 10 – Gaze on Istanbul

“I died,” Hassan affirmed. “Kicked the bucket. The numbness disappeared and I felt as if I were lifted up, followed by a rushing sensation, like I was sailing against a strong wind.”

Published

Istanbul, Turkey

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

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

 

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Jamilah frowned. “What do you mean you died?”

Hassan exhaled loudly and rested his back on the sofa cushion. “Muhammad, do you think you could brew some coffee?” he said. “There’s a coffee maker in the -“

“I know where it is. Coming right up.”

“Jazak Allah khayr,” Hassan said. “I’m wiped out. But I want to finish this story.”

“You died…” Jamilah prompted.

“I died,” Hassan affirmed. “Kicked the bucket. The numbness disappeared and I felt as if I were lifted up, followed by a rushing sensation, like I was sailing against a strong wind. I opened my eyes and found myself sitting on a white stone bench in a small garden, lush with wild grasses and yucca. There was a raised bed planted with aloe, agave and rosemary, and I realized it was our backyard from the house in Downey. My mom used to make her own lotion from the aloe.

Except that the colors in this yard were brighter than life, and the butterflies and bees flitting about were larger, and the water from the fountain in the center sparkled as if it were liquid crystal.

Our backyard in Downey had included a small Japanese-style sand garden with a rake for creating patterns, and this otherworldly version also had one. A little boy sat in the sand, playing marbles. He looked at me and I saw that it was Hassan Amir, my childhood friend. I mentioned him earlier, remember? He was killed by a drunk driver when he was eight. He smiled and I saw that he was happy and at peace.

Someone said, “You’re early.” I turned my head and there was my father, sitting beside me, looking healthier and stronger than I had ever seen him. It wasn’t that he was more muscular or fit. It was something in his eyes. An absence of fear or worry. It transformed him. He seemed to shine with life.

I exclaimed, “Baba!” and leaped up to hug him but he put out a hand to stop me.

“My beautiful son,” he said. “I’m so proud of you. But you are early. You have much left to do.”

I was confused. What did he mean? Where was Mom? And Charlie?

“It’s okay to remember,” my father said.

I stared at the ground and the memories began to return. My parents’ death. Beirut. The war. The horror of Tel-Az-Zaytoon. My flight to Syria, and then… I’d been shot. My eyes widened and I stared at my father.

“I failed everyone,” I said. And I began to cry.

“No, Simon,” he said. “You are a hero. I love you more than I can express. I am the one who failed. But Allah is Ar-Rahman. He is everything. Remember that words have rights. Words are promises, and promises must be fulfilled. Do you remember the other thing I said to you?”

I stared at my him in confusion. “Beneath the garage?” Until that moment I had completely forgotten him saying that. It just didn’t seem that important. But here he was reminding me of it again. So there must be something to it.

He nodded. “Go back now.”

He and the garden began to recede. I tried to hold on to it, the way you try to hold on to a sweet dream even as you’re waking up, but I felt myself retreating quickly, as if I were rushing backward through a dark tunnel. The coldness returned, and a sensation of extreme pain. I convulsed and coughed up water, and someone said in Arabic, “La hawla wa laa quwwat il-la billah. He’s alive!” Then I fell into darkness.

When I woke again I was flat on my back in a room lit by candlelight, gazing up at a stone ceiling.”

***

Layth interrupted. “Can I ask a question, akhi?”

“Sure.”

“Do you think that was really your father?”

Hassan answered without hesitation. “Yes. How, I don’t know. But absolutely, that was my father.”

“What do you think he meant when he said that words have rights?”

“He was talking about the shahadah,” Hassan replied. “He was telling me that it’s not just an expression to be shouted at moments of danger. It’s an obligation that must be fulfilled.”

Layth nodded. “Okay. SubhanAllah.”

***

Hassan continued.  “My chest felt as if a horse with spikes for hooves was standing on it and nailing me to the bed. Someone murmured something I couldn’t hear, and squeezed water into my mouth from a wet cloth before I passed out again.

I was in a farm house on the far side of the same valley in which I’d been shot. The owner of the farm was an old man named Abu Yahya Sulayman. He lived there with his ten year old grandson Hamada. The day I’d been shot, the two of them were out in their olive grove, clearing debris from the irrigation ditches so that the farm would not flood. As soon as Sarkis and his men departed, Abu Yahya and Hamada hitched a donkey and came to get me. They managed to roll me onto a sled, and pulled me back to the farmhouse.

Abu Yahya told me later that I was dead when they found me. I wasn’t breathing, my heart was not beating, and I was pale as a sheet from blood loss. He was already thinking he’d have to pray Janazah and bury me. But when they rolled me off the sled, I coughed up water and began to breathe.

I rose and fell in and out of consciousness for a month. Hamada fed me and told me jokes and folk tales, persisting even when I did not reply. He was an amazing boy, so cheerful and hard working. When I was well enough to speak, Abu Yahya asked my name. I knew I could never use the name Simon again. It was too dangerous. I remembered my vision, and little Hassan smiling at me. So I told Abu Yahya that my name was Hassan.

I didn’t take Hassan’s last name, at least not at that time. Just the first name. Still, it continues to bother me after all these years. I feel like I stole his identity. Do you… Do you think I did something wrong?”

***

Layth put out a hand and rubbed Hassan’s shoulder. “You did what you had to do,” he said. “Who’s to say that he didn’t appear to you for exactly that reason?”

Jamilah herself found it to be slightly macabre. To take the name – first and last – of a dead friend? But she knew Hassan had been desperate. His entire life, she was coming to realize, was a tale of struggle. It didn’t matter where his name came from. He would always be Hassan to her.

***

“Abu Yahya never asked me where I came from, or why the gunman shot me. Maybe he didn’t want to scare me off, or maybe it was part of a culture of not prying into dangerous affairs. He made me a cane, and when I could sit upright and walk haltingly, he invited me to join him for salat. I wanted to, but I didn’t know how, so I claimed that I’d forgotten. Abu Yahya nodded sagely and said it must be because of my “accident”. So he taught me, step by step, and after that I prayed with him and Hamada, five times a day.

Abu Yahya was illiterate, but he knew some of the shorter Makki surahs and taught them to me. Learning the Quran was like a door opening to another dimension. I had learned only the Arabic of the street and the soldier, but the Quran gave me a glimpse of true Arabic, with its ancient eloquence, and changed my view of the world.

Surat Az-Zalzalah tells us that a time will come when the earth will be inspired by Allah to pour forth all her secrets, and that every human being’s deeds will be exposed, down to the smallest atom of good or evil.

That was something I needed to hear. I needed to know that all the atrocities I’d seen would not go unpunished, and that Boulos Haddad, who had placed himself above any law, would have to submit one day to the Judge of all.

Hamada taught me to play backgammon. He always won, and took great delight in it. I sensed him becoming attached to me, and it worried me. I couldn’t be responsible for another child. I didn’t need another Charlie. I didn’t need to redeem myself. I didn’t want to think about the past, and I didn’t want to mimic it.

I began helping with chores on the farm, tending to the goats and hens. One day Abu Yahya sent me and Hamada to An-Nabi Houri to sell eggs and cheese, and buy supplies.

I noticed some of the townspeople eyeing me strangely. Some crossed the street when they saw me coming. I heard a few mutter, “Aoothoo billahi min ash-shatyan ir-rajeem.” I asked Hamada about it and he looked down in embarrassment.

“Some of them think you are a jinn,” he said. “Because you were dead and you came back to life.”

I regarded the impoverished town, with its one poorly paved road, low stone buildings, and a small but ancient-looking masjid that dominated the town skyline. What if word spread to nearby towns that a young man with a Lebanese accent had returned from the dead? What if it spread further than that?

I pointed to the mountains to the north. “Is Turkey over those mountains?” I asked.

“Those mountains are Turkey,” Hamada said. “The border is right at the foothills. But it’s closed. The road doesn’t even go through. No one goes that way.”

I stared at the mountains. They were green now, but winter was coming, and those peaks would become snow-covered and impassable.

When we returned to the farm, I told Abu Yahya and Hamada that I could not stay. Abu Yahya looked crushed. I think he’d hoped that when I recovered my strength I would help with the farm. Hamada began to cry. I felt guilty and ashamed. But I it wasn’t safe for me to remain, and it wasn’t my home. I didn’t belong there. As much as I cared for Abu Yahya and Hamada – and I did care for them – they were not my family, and I could not pretend otherwise. And this small town with everyone looking at me cross-eyed… I simply could not stay.

Abu Yahya rose and began to pack a bag with cheese, nuts and smoked meat. He gave me a warm sheepskin coat, hat, and mittens, and told me that I would always have a place in his home.

I embraced them both and set off south, toward Aleppo. When I looked back they were both there, hand in hand in front of the farmhouse. It was late in the morning and their shadows were long on the road, stretching toward me as if wanting to pull me back. Abu Yahya waved, but Hamada did not.

I hung my head and walked on. When I’d gone far enough south to be out of sight, I went off the road, cut through another farmer’s wheat field, and turned north. I took my bearings on the mountains, and resumed my journey to Istanbul.

***

The trip took longer than I expected. From Aleppo to Istanbul is 900 kilometers through country that is alternately mountainous, desert and forested. If the road had actually gone through, it would take perhaps three days driving. But I was on foot for a good portion of the way. I ate when I could, bathed in streams, caught rides when possible, and kept on performing my prayers.

Two months later a truck driver dropped me off in the eastern suburbs of Istanbul. The Sublime Gate, as the Ottomans used to call Istanbul, was everything I imagined it to be. Towering minarets everywhere, and the sound of the adhaan echoing over the city five times a day. There are places in Istanbul where you can literally hear the adhaan from a hundred different masjids at once.

I saw the Blue Mosque, looking like a great living creature, with domes atop domes. The Grand Bazaar – biggest covered suq in the world – where you can buy everything from hand woven carpets to rare pink diamonds under one roof. Restaurants everywhere serving exotic cuisines, or simple Turkish meatballs and honey tea. Hilly, cobblestoned streets, and one district after another, as big as half of Lebanon it seemed to me.

Beirut was provincial by comparison and I was lost, feeling awed but trying to find my bearings. I remembered what Lena had said about wanting to study at the University of Istanbul, so I used that as a reference point. I learned that the university was in a neighborhood called Fatih, so I made my way there.

Fatih is a crowded, working-class area, quite conservative. You see bearded men wearing heavy coats and turbans, and women in black abayas. Not what people think of when they imagine Turkey.

It also has crime, as I discovered. I visited one shop after another, trying to find work. I tried a tea shop called The Western Door, next to Beyazit Mosque and very close to the university. My clothes were tattered, my shoes were worn through at the toes, and my beard was growing. The owner looked me over and turned me down flat.

A small group of middle-aged American tourists sat at an outdoor table, drinking tea and eating Turkish delight, and perusing a map of Istanbul. One had his wallet sitting on the tabletop, in the open.

To my surprise, I could understand them. I hadn’t spoken English in years, but I suddenly remembered that English was, in fact, my first language. Of course I’d always known that on some level, but I’d made such an effort to banish the past from my mind. It was a surreal moment. Like remembering that you can fly, or that you are psychic.

The shopkeeper approached to shoo me away, and in that moment a young man snatched the American’s wallet. A split-second later a helmeted rider zoomed up on a motorcycle and braked quickly. The thief leaped onto the motorcycle and the driver began to accelerate away.

I snatched an empty tea glass from the table and hefted it in my hand. Someone at the table shouted, “Hey! Stop!” The motorcycle was about ten meters away and would soon turn a corner and be gone. I cocked my arm, took aim and let the tea glass fly. It sailed through the air, catching the sun at the top of its arc, and struck the thief in the head just as the motorcycle was slowing to turn. The thief tumbled from the bike with a cry, and the rider kept on going.

I took off after the thief, and caught him as he was struggling to rise. I pinned him to the ground and seized the stolen wallet. A bit of blood stained his hair where the glass had hit him. He was talking in Turkish – his tone was pleading – but I couldn’t understand him. The American who owned the wallet came trotting up, breathing heavily, with the shopkeeper right behind.

I handed the wallet to its owner. “Here you go,” I said in English. “What do you want me to do with this guy?”

The American stared at me. “Your English is perfect,” he said.

I nodded my head. “Thanks. What about this guy?”

The American checked his wallet. “Everything’s here. I don’t want to get the police involved. Besides, it looks like he’s suffered a bit already. Let him go.”

I did, and the thief ran off with a hand to his head, cursing me as he gained distance.

The American said, “You know kid, you should be playing for the Yankees with an arm like that.”

The shopkeeper eyed me curiously. “Why you can speaking English?” he asked.

“I’m American,” I replied, then I switched to Arabic. “Wa bakallam ‘Arabi kamaan.” (I speak Arabic as well).

He gave me a job. I needed a last name of course, so I borrowed Abu Yahya’s last name and I became Hassan Sulayman.

The shopkeeper’s name was Mehmet – the Turkish version of Muhammad – and he was a good man. The problem, however, was that I didn’t speak Turkish. The university’s Turkish language department offered an intensive night course for foreigners, and I signed up. Meanwhile, Mehmet fronted me a little cash to buy new clothes and rent a bunk in a cheap hostel.

A few days later after work I made my way down to the Bosphorus Strait, which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, and is the dividing line between Europe and Asia.

I arrived in the evening, after Maghreb. I stood on the promenade beside an ancient masjid with a blue dome and two tall minarets that blazed with light from two illuminated platforms. The water was a perfect azure hue. A bridge soared across the strait, lights shining on its topmost cable. Across the water, the mountains were almost black against a navy sky, with lights twinkling on the hillsides. The cool wind blowing off the water smelled of salt and sargasso and dried the sweat on my brow. I’d never imagined anything so beautiful.

I took Daniel’s dogtag from my pocket and held it by the chain. The light from the minarets caught the raised lettering on the tag:

Iskander
Daniel B.   O Pos
4th Battalion, Comp B
Maronite

I drew my hand back, then flung the dogtag as far as I could over the water. It fell silently and was gone. Daniel’s head rested on a mountain – if only a sketch of one – and his tag lay in the sea. With that thought, one of my father’s poems coalesced in my mind. He’d recited it when one of my fish had died, years ago. I’d been very grateful to him for that. Still facing the water, I repeated it:

White, for us, is the color of home.
White are the snows of Mount Lebanon
and the sands of Ramlet Al-Baida.
White is our hair, altered in grief.
We send you, beloved, into the deep.
Will the next mountain
be lovely as Lebanon?
We will find you there
to feast on honey and zaytun
and never weep again.

***

Two years passed. I completed the Turkish language course, and spent another year getting a high school equivalency diploma. Then I enrolled part-time at the university, studying English literature. I wanted to be literate in my first language. I also found a martial arts school in a back alley that taught a Japanese style called Jujitsu, and once again immersed myself in martial arts training. Four nights a week I sweated it out in this little dojo, hitting the heavy bag, learning the intricacies of joint manipulation and ground fighting, practicing sword and stick techniques…

After I’d been there a while my sensei gave me a key to the front door. I’d stay late after everyone had left, and practice ghosting in the mirror. It was the most difficult skill I had ever tried to master – a huge leap beyond anything I’d ever done, as it involved moving in ways that were utterly unnatural for a human being. That unnaturalness was exactly what made ghosting so unpredictable, and therefore so effective.

I would not even have believed that such a skill was possible if I had not seen it myself, and if I had not used it myself – with mixed success – against Sarkis in that cold field outside An-Nabi Houri, in Syria.

I’m the best shot I know, and yet I’d missed Mr. Black at fairly close range in the alley in Tel Az-Zaytun. True, it had been night time, and I’d hit him with my second shot, but for me to have missed at all was extraordinary.

So I practiced relentlessly, repeating the movements thousands of times, watching myself in the mirror to find the footwork and angles that would make me hardest to hit. In time I became very good at it – perhaps better than Mr. Black himself. If I ever had to put this ability to the test again, I wanted my skill to be foolproof.

Martial arts were, and still are, a lifeline for me. When I’m training I don’t think about anything else. All my problems and anxieties disappear. There’s only the movement. Reading my opponent’s body, and learning all the ways that one can destroy another human being. For those few hours, I’m totally at peace. I guess that’s ironic in a way. Finding peace in the study of combat.

I became a help to Mehmet. I created English and Arabic versions of the menu, and little flyers that we posted in the local tourist hostels. Business was good.

Friday nights I attended Islamic studies class. I was coming to see how truly amazing Islam is, not only in practice but in design. So complete, and so inspiring when you read about the life of the Prophet Muhammad, sal-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, and the Sahabah. When I heard the stories of Suhaib Ar-Rumi and Salman Al-Farisi, I felt like they and I were members of the same tribe. I’m not saying that I’m on their level, astaghfirullah, not at all. But I no longer felt so alienated. Those sahabah had experienced everything I had, and more, and it only strengthened their faith.

Some would say that Islam is beautiful in design, not in practice, but I had been treated well by Muslims. The PLO commander, the old Palestinian man who gave me refuge in the camp, Abu Yahya, and now Mehmet. That’s what brought me to Islam. The kindness of Muslims.

With all that, I struggled to be happy. I felt as if my spirit were leaking from some hidden puncture in my heart, and I’m not talking about my bullet wound. I was living Lena’s dream without her. There I was, studying at the very university she wanted to attend. Where was she? Istanbul was full of beautiful women – really, the most beautiful women in the world – but I didn’t want any of them. I wanted Lena. She was the only woman in the world. All others were shadows or illusions.

I was aware that I had changed – I was Muslim now, and Lena was not – but she’d been so open to the idea of learning about Islam. I believed that we could work it out.

***

Jamilah’s mouth was set like a knife. She didn’t want to listen to Hassan talk about how Lena was the only woman in the world. So I’m a shadow, am I? she thought.

She didn’t know what would happen between her and Hassan, but she loved the creep – she couldn’t deny that – and she knew he had feelings for her as well.

Take it easy girl, she told herself. You’re being irrational. He’s talking about the past, when he was eighteen years old. A different lifetime.

Still, Hassan could at least respect her feelings and not blather on about another woman.

Was she deluding herself regarding Hassan? He’d told her once that he was no good for her, but she had discounted his words as mere self-pity. She looked him over as he continued his story. Did he still pass the Shamsi Test? “When I can picture myself waking up every morning for the rest of my life and seeing his face, then I’ll know it’s right.”

Yes. He still passed. Jamilah breathed in deeply, and let it out, and told herself to simply listen. Sabr, as Kadija sometimes said.

***

“I’d made efforts to contact Lena,” Hassan said. “I knew it would be a huge risk, but I couldn’t bear not knowing. Six months after my arrival in Istanbul I bought a phone card and called the University of Beirut. The university clerk informed me that Lena Ayyoub no longer studied or taught at the AUB. The clerk would supply no further information.

I began chatting up Lebanese tourists who visited the cafe, and would sometimes casually drop Lena’s name. No one ever reacted.

Finally I took the dangerous and foolhardy step of sending a letter to Hatem Ayyoub, Lena’s uncle who I’d worked for in Homs. I knew that General Nader Ayyoub, Lena’s father, had supplied my location to Boulos. But I did not believe that Hatem had willingly betrayed me.

I’ll never know if my letter was received or read, as no reply came. But I think that one of my inquiries eventually reached the wrong ears, with disastrous consequences. But that was still years away.

At night I’d sit on my bunk in the hostel, thinking about Lena. Was she alive? Did she still want to marry me? Should I return to Lebanon to find her? Maybe I’d locate her and discover she no longer loved me. Worse, maybe she would not remember me at all.

I also had nightmares, to the point that some of the other hostel residents complained.

One night I dreamed that I sat on the back patio of a house overlooking a lake. A group of people sat around a large table in the shade of a canopy, chatting and laughing. My parents were there, and Charlie, Gala, Daniel and Lena. The table was covered with dishes like hummus, babaganoush, marinated red snapper, french fries, stuffed grape leaves, and turnip turnovers. I was ecstatically happy. All the people I loved, in one place, having fun. It was the happiest moment of my life.

But as I looked around at these wonderful people, a doubt began to creep into my mind. How could these people be here? My parents… my parents were dead. And – No! – Charlie was dead. Gala, Daniel, Lena, all dead. A sense of panic expanded in my chest like a gas cloud, and I woke up choking on my own saliva. A realization hit me with the force of a sledgehammer: such a gathering would never happen, could never happen. All those people – the only people who had ever mattered to me – were either dead or disappeared.

I began to sob, and I couldn’t control it. I had never cried like that in my life. I curled into a ball on my bunk and I sobbed so hard that my shirt became stained with tears and my body shook. Someone turned on the light and people began to wake. There were fifteen other people in my dorm, all men of various ages. A few had complained about my nightmares in the past, because I sometimes shouted or screamed. But this time no one complained. They gathered around me, murmuring sympathetic comments. A middle aged Kurdish man named Rami wrapped his arms around me and held me tightly. I continued to cry until my nose ran and stained Rami’s shirt, but he did not pull away.

That’s how the Turkish people are. They’re warm, open people. I love them.

Finally my tears subsided. One of the men asked me what had happened, but I could not speak, partly because I was still breathing in hitching gasps, and partly because I did not know what to say.

A few weeks later, Mehmet asked me to take some flyers down to Istiklal Avenue. Istiklal is a touristy pedestrian thoroughfare that runs through the Beyoğlu district. It has bookstores, art galleries, theaters, cafes, chocolatiers, night clubs… No cars – just a streetcar that runs on rails down the middle of the avenue. Tons of street performers. I’d been there once, but it was too crowded, and everything was expensive.

I slung a leather satchel over my shoulder and went from one establishment to the next, leaving flyers or pinning them to cork boards. I reached Galatasaray Square at the heart of the avenue. Among the other street performers, a young woman sat at a folding table, drawing caricature sketches of tourists. A shabby looking man in his late twenties sat beside her, drinking beer from a bottle at 10 am in the morning.

The woman was Lena. She was thinner, and her skin had an unhealthy, yellowish cast. Her eyes looked tired. A faded bruise on her cheek was partially concealed by makeup.

A wave of relief and joy swept through me. Lena was alive. I had found her.

In spite of my excitement, I did not go to her right away. In fact I took a step back into the shade of a building. Thoughts swirled in my mind. Was she ill? Who was the man with her? Was he responsible for the bruise on her cheek? How long had she been in Istanbul? Where had she been for the last three years?

A family approached her table, then seemed to think better of it and turned away, perhaps scared off by the sight of Lena’s companion. He was terribly thin and wore jeans, a dirty t-shirt with cut-off sleeves, and boots. He had a tattoo on the side of his neck – I couldn’t make it out from where I stood – and sores on his arms.

I took a deep breath and strode forward to Lena’s booth.

She squinted up at me and spoke in moderately good Turkish. “Would you like me to draw you? I can do a funny picture or a portrait, whatever you like.”

She didn’t recognize me. To be fair, the morning sun was in her eyes, and the last time she had seen me I was fifteen years old and only slightly taller than her. Now I was almost nineteen and four inches taller. I’d put on some muscle as a result of my nightly Jujitsu training, and my beard had grown out, though I kept it trimmed short. Even my voice had changed.

“Here we are, Lena,” I said in Turkish. “In the capital of the world. We made it.”

She looked up at me, startled, and shaded her eyes against the sun. Was that fear I saw in her eyes? She stared at me for a long moment, then said in a voice that was barely a whisper, “Simon? Is that you?”

I smiled at her, and reverted to Arabic. I didn’t know what I was going to say until the words came out of my mouth.

“I walked a thousand miles to get here,” I said. “Through desert and snow. I died in Syria, and came back. But all I ever wanted was to see you again, Lena.”

“Simon!” she shouted. She stood so quickly that her chair tumbled over and cracked her friend on the shin. He cursed as Lena ran around the table and threw herself at me, hugging me fiercely. Of course in Islam we don’t embrace non-mahrem women like that, but it wasn’t the time for me to explain such things. She pulled back and looked at me again, seeming to marvel at my appearance. “I can’t believe it’s you,” she said. “I can’t believe it.”

Suddenly she staggered back as her friend yanked at her shoulder.

“Who the **** are you?” he demanded in a high-pitched voice that reminded me of a mosquito. He tried to approach me but I extended my arm, palm out. Even from a few feet away I could smell his body odor and beer breath.

I didn’t know how to answer. What was I to Lena? I had no idea. “I’m a friend,” I said finally. “Who are you?”

He sneered at me. “I’m her boyfriend, that’s who.” He tried to push my arm aside, presumably to press his chest up against mine the way some men do, or to stare me down face to face. I pushed him back.

Without warning he swung a fist at me in a wild, looping arc. I ducked beneath it and his punch continued past me, leaving him off balance. I shoved his side lightly and he staggered and crashed into Lena’s table, then fell to the ground.

“Anton!” Lena cried. She ran to his side and tried to help him up but he pushed her away.

Her boyfriend, he’d said. This pitiful bum was her boyfriend. He had attacked me, and Lena seemed more concerned for his welfare than mine. What a fool I’d been. I’d been living in a dream world, thinking that Lena still loved me, and that if we could only find each other we’d live some kind of fairy tale romance.

“My name is Hassan now,” I said, but no one heard me. I still had a handful of flyers in my hand. I set one on Lena’s table and walked away.

***

San Francisco General Hospital, 3rd Floor. 8:30 pm.

Alice tried to open her eyes, but her eyelids seemed stuck together. She tried again, making an effort, and her eyelids parted slowly, like a machine that hasn’t been lubricated in years.

She looked up at a white plaster ceiling. She attempted to speak and heard her own voice emerge in a croak. Someone called out for a nurse, and a few moments later a young African-American woman in a green smock appeared beside her bedside.

“Don’t try to talk,” the woman said gently. “I’ll get you some water.”

A moment later a small cup was placed against Alice’s parched lips. She drank the cool water greedily. Where was she? What had happened? She tried to remember but her mind was covered in a cool fog. She should turn on the fog lights. But fog lights always made things worse. Someone should invent an anti-fog ray…

She woke up again. Someone was shaking her gently. The nurse again, but this time a beefy blonde man in a uniform was there as well. A police officer.

“Miss, can you tell me who attacked you?” the police officer asked in a voice like a bassoon.

Attack? Alice tried to think. Someone had hit her in the back. She’d been in her apartment. Burning sage… Oh, Lord. It was Mo’s father. He’d stabbed her. Stabbed her! He was crazy. And dangerous. What if Mo was in danger and didn’t know it?

Alice spoke in a whisper. “Did you catch him?”

The police officer leaned in. “What was that?” he boomed. His big voice hurt Alice’s head.

“Back up,” the nurse said firmly, addressing the big cop. “Give her some room. She’s asking whether you caught him or not.” The nurse took Alice’s hand and winked at her conspiratorially, as if to say, “Don’t mind this big ox, he’s harmless.”

Alice was glad for this woman’s presence. She was so kind. She tried to focus on the woman’s nametag, and after a moment made out the name: Dempsey.

“No miss, we haven’t caught him,” Officer Bassoon said. “Who was it? Who attacked you?”

“More water,” Alice murmured. Nurse Dempsey gave her more of the lovely water, and Alice began to speak.

Next:  Hassan’s Tale, Part 11 – A Tragic Flaw

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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.

53 Comments

53 Comments

  1. Blue Pilot

    June 18, 2014 at 2:18 AM

    I wish I hadn’t found this before it was completed. Qaddar Allah wa ma shaa’a fa’al. Maybe a training in patience. JazaakAllah khayr great writing :)

  2. umm habiba

    June 18, 2014 at 5:39 AM

    As salaamualaikum brother Wael
    Great writing Masha Allah! Your fiction in a way is not very different from reality and Hassans tale resonates with me.
    My life is unfolding like this too. In bits n pieces. Like Jaamilaah I’m determined not to give up on Hassan, just that here Hassan is my husband. Alhamdulillah it’s a rahmah that it unfolds slowly coz Allah knows we will be able to take only that much at a time.
    Alhamdulillah the emotions and lessons which I come across from the characters is helping me cope too. When I watch Hassan open out, I know that soon in’sha Allah, Allah will relieve the heart of my companion. May Allah grant us patience, PERSEVERANCE, pour out on our hearts a Sakeenah from Him, n guide us. Ameen.
    To all my brothers n sisters, do remember my family in ur dua’

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      June 20, 2014 at 1:12 AM

      Sister umm habiba, keep in mind that this is fiction. Just because Hassan is evolving in a certain way, does not mean that your husband will also. Of course I don’t know your situation but sometimes it helps to take active steps. I went through some of the same post-traumatic stress disorder as Hassan, and it helped me tremendously when I saw a therapist every two weeks for about a year.

      • umm habiba

        July 31, 2014 at 2:59 AM

        Yes brother I’m aware it’s fiction. Regarding taking active steps, he refuses seeing a therapist, or rather doesn’t open up to one, saying it’s not going to help, n he can handle his issues himself.

  3. Nada

    June 18, 2014 at 5:04 PM

    Love it! cant wait to see how lena ends up with hassan. I wish I can visit the places you describe so well in the story. These places must be breathtaking…

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      June 18, 2014 at 6:41 PM

      Me too :-) I’ve never been to Istanbul, but I’ve read about it. Insha’Allah we will each experience our dream someday.

  4. Sarah B.

    June 18, 2014 at 11:16 PM

    Masha’Allah I like this little break from the action. As action-packed as Hassan’s life is there definitely should be some time where things calm down a bit for him so he can try to begin his life again.
    So interesting how he came across Lena again. It reminds me of those stories we hear about someone finding their other half when they least expect it and Hassan definitely wasn’t expecting to come across Lena randomly on the street. I’m so eager to know how things end up coming together for them and what’s going on with poor Alice!

  5. iffat sharif

    June 19, 2014 at 12:03 AM

    Words have right!! True… :) the way you use Quran’s ayaat in this story is beautiful!! Wow!! The imagery abt surah all -zalzalah!! Beautiful… I memorized surah ad-Duha when I read it in the story and now. I think I should look up surah al-zalzalah as well!! In’sha Allah !! U write amazing….u should do more fiction .Muslim youths need this kind of read!!IIts very emancipating and strong and real !! Jazak Allah khairan wa kathiran !!

  6. M

    June 19, 2014 at 12:11 AM

    Hmm, I was wondering what happened to Alice. It’s like you totally forgot about her. But what about Sahar though? Does she know about Hassan’s past? And how many parts of this are remaining. Are you going to publish any parts during Ramamdan?

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      June 19, 2014 at 12:17 PM

      M, Sahar does not know about Hassan’s past. I’m not sure exactly how many parts are remaining. Yes, I will continue to publish during Ramadan, if MM has no objection. In fact, I just had an idea: I can describe Hassan’s experience of Ramadan, maybe.

  7. Hadija

    June 19, 2014 at 11:12 AM

    I feel HAssan is a super human with all the natural fighting instincts and success who manages to cross 2 countries by foot and manages to enroll in multiple courses in university while working in a shop -not very relative to commoners like me.
    He is definitely amusing but not an inspiration for change.IF i could see some of his flaws and fears and how he fought them in order to survive ,That would be a motivation for those who have similar struggles.People change in times of desperation and utter need and that is found plentiful in the story.

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      June 19, 2014 at 12:29 PM

      Hadija, Hassan is an extraordinarily talented fighter and marksman, because of his life circumstances. His mother started him as a child and drilled him hard, then his skills were tested and honed in combat.

      Aside from that, he’s an ordinary man. Refugees cross borders on foot all the time. Hassan completed a language course and a high school equivalency course over the span of two years. A commendable achievement, but not exceptional.

      Hassan has his share of flaws, I think. His nightmares, his reluctance to get close to people (like Abu Yahya and Hamada), his general naivete…

      But I think I see your point and maybe I can do more to show his human side.

  8. Wael Abdelgawad

    June 20, 2014 at 1:15 AM

    You never know. Maybe it’s Anton? Or one of Hassan’s childhood friends? Or one of Uncle Sami’s kids? Time will tell.

  9. reader

    June 20, 2014 at 12:45 PM

    The part where hassan says “and then i died” made me laugh out loud :) jazak Allah khayr for this wonderful story. I have been searching for a good read for a while now. It is distracting me from my studies a bit, but i try to delegate reading to break time only. Continue writing, you are doing a great job, mashaa Allah

    • THE reader

      June 23, 2014 at 8:57 PM

      Hey, you took my nick! I have been commenting as a ‘reader’ for this series.

      THE reader actually thought if THE writer has an editor/proof reader, then the editor/proof reader does not have to go through the painful wait. What a wonderful thought!

      I agree with the above comments about feeling as if Hasan doesn’t have many flaws. There were indications here and there that he fears being close to people, but his interaction with his friends had been flawless. The way he handled Lyth’s rejection at the beginning, by waiting at the foyer for such a long time, or how he behaved even after Jamilah slapped him in front of a group of people, even though he was super stressed and needed his friends, especially Jamilah’s acceptance, these were just extra-ordinary. This Hasan who is so perfect with words and interaction is hard to match with the Hasan who hasn’t spoken for a few years from the shock of loosing his parents.

      Having said that, I like Hasan and his perfections :). I find him inspiring. For example, the description of his salah in his warehouse stayed with me for a very long time. I have tried to pray like that, to use prayer to calm me, sooth me, loosen up all the muscles and lift my worries. It worked. May Allah grant you good returns for writing this series.

      • Aly Balagamwala

        June 24, 2014 at 12:15 PM

        Use your name. :)

      • um abdelrahman

        July 3, 2014 at 4:17 PM

        Sorry for taking your name! It just caught my eye as a good general nickname, but i can use something else next time i post :)

  10. Hafsa

    June 25, 2014 at 12:16 AM

    You know the conversation Hassan has with Uncle Sami? Where he says he has some recording, and uncle sami thinks to himself about his voice being in it too. Which incident are they referring to? Is that still coming in the story?

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      June 25, 2014 at 12:32 AM

      Hafsa, you’re thinking of the conversation between Hassan and Dr. Basim, about the contents of the briefcase. We were never told exactly what was on the tape, but it will come up again, Insha’Allah.

  11. Wael Abdelgawad

    June 25, 2014 at 12:35 AM

    As-salamu alaykum everyone. MuslimMatters will of course be focusing on articles about Ramadan during the coming weeks. So the continuation of Hassan’s Tale will be suspended until after Ramadan, Insha’Allah. Sorry for the delay! Enjoy your Ramadan and may Allah make it a time of mercy, forgiveness and protection from the fire, for all of us.

    • reader

      June 25, 2014 at 1:35 AM

      Unbelievable! MM should at least publishthe last part of this story as was due today. Its not Ramadan yet in any part of the world

      • Hena Zuberi

        June 25, 2014 at 10:18 AM

        Assalama alaykum wa rahmatulah,

        I hope you all forgive me for making this decision, but part of our vision is to make MM a platform that gives us practical real life solutions. When our shuyookh are constantly giving us reminders to prepare our heart and souls for Ramadan, it would be unwise of me to not listen. I know my soul needs Ramadan but I need to wean myself off dunya distractions to hit the ground running in a few days. I love this story as well and promise you that I have not read the next part and will wait with you throughout Ramadan. I am requesting Wael that he writes something inspirational that will tide us over Ramadan, please read his unbelievably spiritually uplifting pieces listed below to see what I mean. http://muslimmatters.org/2012/03/21/allahs-plan-for-you-and-me/
        http://muslimmatters.org/2011/09/20/if-not-you-then-who/

        Please keep my family, myself and the whole MM Team especially Wael and his daughter in your special Ramadan duas.

        Sh ANJ writes:”Go and find a quiet, secluded moment and sit there and think. ‘I am sitting two, three, four days away from the blessed month of Ramadan. What do I want to achieve? What do I want to accomplish? What does Ramadan mean to me? What do I hope to be when Ramadan is done? And think about that long and hard until you find that intention and you find that you’re sure about what you want to achieve in Ramadan. http://muslimmatters.org/2014/06/25/what-are-your-intentions-for-ramadan/
        With salam,
        Hena

    • Wazeed Safi

      June 25, 2014 at 1:45 AM

      Man, i was waiting for it too. last part of the story until the rest gets published anyway. #NOTclutch

    • umme Ibrahim

      June 25, 2014 at 2:45 AM

      MM should follow their schedule! Like ‘reader’ mentioned, its still not Ramadan in any part of the world! MM wants us to be practicing ‘patience’ throughout Ramadan!! may Allah bless thos month for all of us, and enable us to benefit from it the max! inshaa Allah! Amen!

    • Omer

      June 25, 2014 at 9:36 AM

      Well that’s very disappointing to hear, and I respectfully disagree with MM’s last minute decision.

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      June 25, 2014 at 11:55 AM

      We can all be patient for a while, Insha’Allah. Ramadan is a time to practice sabr, after all. And please don’t vote my comment down otherwise it will disappear.

    • SZH

      July 1, 2014 at 6:36 AM

      Salam Brother Wael,
      As you haven’t published the promised part of Hassan’s Story on the 25th June, and you have told us that the series will have a break in the month of Ramadan, so I propose that, on the day of Eid, you should publish 5 parts of the story as Eidi (or as Punishment for not fulfilling your promise).
      I will be delighted and will forgive you.. B-)
      W/Salaam

      • Wael Abdelgawad

        July 1, 2014 at 2:33 PM

        Hah! Actually it was an MM editorial decision, not mine, but I understand the reasons for it. Maybe – maybe – I’ll publish an extra-long chapter after Ramadan, Insha’Allah. But I can’t publish 5 parts since they don’t exist yet.

    • Abdullah

      August 2, 2014 at 5:40 PM

      So is this actually going to be continued or what?

  12. hassanzawahir

    June 25, 2014 at 3:39 AM

    I was waiting :(

  13. abdullah

    June 25, 2014 at 3:40 AM

    very unsmooth, MM.

  14. Hadija

    June 25, 2014 at 5:45 AM

    Haha, i was expecting a blow like this..was preparing my mind for the “news”
    Its a good thing actually.insha allah,there will be more good in it.

  15. Hanaa

    June 25, 2014 at 7:19 AM

    Was really looking forward for just 1 part before ramadan! Pleease! Too long to wait :(

  16. fatima.mubeen

    June 25, 2014 at 12:26 PM

    Brother Wael, you right so well! when are you publishing your novels? I would love to read them!

  17. Safa

    June 26, 2014 at 12:40 AM

    Asalamu alaykum sister Hena-

    Ramadan Mubarak to you, all the MM Staff, & all the readers!

    Although I respect your decision, there are 2 valid points to have at least published the last piece of the series:

    1. Readers were promised the publication. Out of courtesy, its best to honor the promise rather than repeal it

    2. There is no compulsion in religion :)
    The beauty of advice is that when its given, a person has the option of either embracing it or leaving it. Not everyone is at the same level of eman, therefore its best to allow ppl to make their own decisions instead of shaping it for them. The prophet used to say:(بشِّروا، ولا‌ تُنفروا)

    That being said, Thank you for directing us to the Ramadan articles and Jazakumuallahu khayran for wanting the best for us. I’ve read a few and they really are worthy of everyones time

    May Allah bless you and your family, and br Waleed and his family. We ask Allah to grant all of us and every reader the companionship of the Prophet in Jannat alfirdous. Ameen

  18. SZH

    July 29, 2014 at 5:53 PM

    How much shall we wait? Are you people still in Ramadan, and fasting?
    My Ramadan has passed and now I have also celebrated Eid, where is my “Hassan’s Tale: Living to Forget, and Forgetting to Live” and “Ouroboros”???

  19. Reader

    July 30, 2014 at 1:42 AM

    It’s Wednesday again, I have come back after the usual time MM publishes the stories… where is the next part MM? Please don’t ask us to be patient till the fasts of Shawaal are over!

  20. Saudah

    July 30, 2014 at 6:37 AM

    Eagerly awaiting :D

  21. taylor

    July 30, 2014 at 11:22 AM

    Aaaaaaaahhhhh…..cant wait longer

  22. Gori Fatema Azam

    July 30, 2014 at 8:05 PM

    Can’t wait either……pls. MM hurry up ……..

  23. not happy

    July 31, 2014 at 1:05 PM

    We Muslims need to be more professional than this. Not publishing on due date rather notifying there won’t be any on the due date would seem like a hit generating venture to many. Announcing there will be a story after Ramadan but not publishing without any explanation is similarly hit generating but extremely unprofessional.

  24. SZH

    July 31, 2014 at 8:11 PM

    It is just because of the grip of Wael’s Novel that I am still visiting and refreshing the page to get next part. Otherwise, the administration of MuslimMatters.Org has proved that they are incapable peoples that cannot fulfill their promise.
    You people (the admins) had stopped this novel BEFORE Ramadan in the name of Preparation of Ramadan and Taqwa etc etc. But it seems, that all that good talk was just show off and you are either willing to destroy reputation of MM or you are just ……
    Just…
    leave it.

  25. Story please

    August 1, 2014 at 12:11 AM

    I want story please

  26. mushmis

    August 3, 2014 at 12:11 AM

    People on here need to relax. MM is a voluntary organisation. Its not like we’re paying them for a service. I was diserppointed too, but seriously quit having a dig at admin, they do have lives you know, families that take priority. Have you even tried inboxing them.

    • Aly Balagamwala

      August 7, 2014 at 1:00 AM

      JazakAllahu Khairin for your kind comment. We are sorry to keep our loyal readers deprived of this content but as they say ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ ;)

      WasSalamuAlaikum
      Aly
      CommentsTeam Lead

  27. Wael Abdelgawad

    August 3, 2014 at 1:49 AM

    Great news! The next chapter of Hassan’s Tale will come out this Wednesday, August 6th, Insha’Allah. After that we will resume the weekly publishing schedule until the story is complete.

    mushmis is right. The MM staff are ordinary people with jobs and families, doing their best to provide a service to the Muslim community. Please remember that patience is a part of imaan.

    I do appreciate your enthusiasm ma-sha-Allah.

    • umabdelrahman

      August 4, 2014 at 11:49 AM

      Yay!alhamdulillah. I am looking forward to it!

    • Aly Balagamwala

      August 7, 2014 at 1:02 AM

      Not sure who was more pleased with this news…. all the readers who were waiting for the next release or me for not having to read more comments for which I had no answer. :)

      May Allah (SWT) give you barakah in your work.

      Aly
      *Comment above is posted in a personal capacity and may not reflect the official views of MuslimMatters or its staff*

  28. Hafsa

    August 5, 2014 at 3:30 PM

    Will be here at mid night insha Allah! :)

  29. Waleed Safi

    August 6, 2014 at 3:30 AM

    The talk with the father has me thinking that he died as a muslim.. I read this so long ago. when i first read this. when the father said Allah was Ar-Rahman it stopped me dead in my track… not that I’ve never heard it used but i really got a chance to ponder over what that really really meant especially in my own life, and Wallahi, Allah is Ar-Rahman!

  30. AbdulRasheed

    July 13, 2015 at 1:25 AM

    Funny how it has been over a year now. I guess the series has been discontinued. Ramadhan kareem everyone.

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      July 13, 2015 at 1:36 AM

      When we took a break last Ramadan, I got out of the groove of the story and began working on other projects, particularly martial arts, poetry and my daughter’s education. I have black belts in three martial arts and I achieved 2nd degree black belt in all three in the last year.

      But believe it or not I’ve been working on it again intensively for the last month. If you go back and re-read the stories you’ll find many edits and additions. Hassan’s Tale part 16 needs to be extensively re-written and I’ll be doing that in the next few weeks, Insha’Allah. And the final story (Ouroboros) is taking shape, Alhamdulillah.

      • h

        July 30, 2015 at 4:41 AM

        Congratulations on the achievements! May Allah bless you more.
        JazakAllah Khair for updating us and catering to our wishes too :)
        Your efforts are highly appreciated.

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