Stoning for adultery. Amputation for thievery. Death for apostasy. These cruel and unusual punishments for criminal offenses under Islam’s sharia law strike Westerners as barbaric. Yet they have been and continue to be the law of the land for countless Muslims in numerous countries right up to the present day. Criminal justice under sharia law is an upside down world where criminal defendants are caught in a Kafkaesque system, judges make it up as they go along, and never-ending punishments far exceed the crime.
Chop! – a searing indictment of Islam’s inhumane criminal justice system under sharia law, where the accused have no rights and the punishment never ends a new short story from Tober Mory.
And as for those who do evil deeds, the punishment of an evil deed shall be the like thereof, and ignominy shall cover them. They shall have none to protect them from ALLAH. And they shall look as if their faces had been covered with dark patches of night. It is these who are the inmates of the Fire; therein shall they abide….
– Quran 10:27 –
“You have the right to remain silent…. You have the right to an attorney….” Alex had heard this countless times on TV, but never thought he would be having his rights read to him in real life. But here he was, busted for shoplifting a men’s Longévité dress watch from Javert Jewelers. Alex wondered if police in other countries went through this same routine when they made arrests. Meanwhile, eight time zones away….
It all started with a coincidence. Ali was thinking about how he would like to get married someday when he saw engagement rings in the window of Javert Jewelers and went inside. “I wonder how much they cost,” he thought. An arm and a leg, it turned out but, as he turned to leave, a men’s Longévité dress watch caught his eye.
“Would you like to try it on?” the store clerk asked. Ali did just that and admired the way the watch looked on his wrist and hand. Truth be told, Ali was a bit vain about his hands. “A concert pianist should have such hands,” he often told himself. Ali liked how the hour and minute hands pointed to the classic Roman numerals on the face of the watch, and how the second hand advanced a single second at a time – tick… tick… tick….
“Could you come here for a minute?” the manager called out to the clerk from the back. When the clerk disappeared, the temptation came over Ali suddenly. Still wearing the watch, he was out the front door and halfway down the block before he knew it. “I’ve never done anything like this in my life,” he thought. But the alarm had gone off, calling the police right away. They happened to be in the neighborhood and they caught Ali just two blocks from the store. The clerk told the police what had happened and the manager affirmed the watch Ali had stolen had indeed come from Javert Jewelers. “Praise be to Allah,” the manager said as the police drove Ali away.
The ride to the jail didn’t take long. The walk to the cellblock was equally short, but made memorable when Ali saw a prisoner hanging upside down from the ceiling of a cell, being beaten by the other prisoners. Ali was dumped in a common area with about 50 men sitting or lying on the floor. A fluorescent light was flickering on and off. A prisoner was called by a guard and had to step over other people to make his way out of the room. Another prisoner, bigger than the rest, was bossing the other inmates around, telling them to bring him a snack from the little shop Ali had seen on the way in where they sold pajamas, toothpaste, and the only toilet paper that was available. “Do what he says, or you won’t have any place to sleep tonight,” an inmate seated next to Ali said. “I’m Jalaal,” the man said, extending his hand. The two men shook hands.
“Salaam. I’m Ali. What are you in for, Jalaal?”
“I shot somebody. It was an accident, but I still got convicted.” Jalaal went on to tell how his mother had witnessed the incident and offered to testify on his behalf, but women are generally not allowed to testify in criminal cases in Muslim countries governed by sharia law.
“Something’s not right. Didn’t you have a lawyer?” Ali asked.
“A lawyer, hah!” Jalaal replied. “First, they held me at the police station and beat me with a stick every day, trying to get me to confess. You could see my bruises, but they got recorded as ‘accidents’ in my records. When they got tired of beating me, they put me under the air conditioner for hours at a time, until I was shaking from the cold. They woke me up several times every night. I confessed when they brought out the electric baton and threatened to shock me until I soiled myself or passed out.
“Then I was sent here and held in solitary confinement for the first four months. I was handcuffed in a cell so small I couldn’t even lie down. I was not allowed to call a lawyer or my family. They don’t have to tell anybody where you are for 60 days. So my family didn’t even know where I was the first two months. There isn’t much a lawyer can do, anyway…, to answer your question.”
Jalaal’s story was interrupted by the evening meal, such as it was. The guards threw a big tray on the floor for everyone to scoop up their food with their hands, or with a little cup some of them had. “Better grab what you can,” Jalaal told Ali. “There isn’t any more until morning.”
“You were going to tell me the rest of the story,” Ali said when they finished eating.
“The judge asked me if the confession I signed were my words. I told him, ‘It is my writing, but those are not my words, I was tortured.’ The judge refused to proceed with the trial until I withdrew my claim the confession was coerced. He sent me back here. I was forced to stand in place the entire next day. When they threatened to stick a boot in my mouth and break my jaw – I’ve seen it done to other prisoners – I signed another statement admitting to everything they said I had done. I put my fingerprint on it for authentication, and months later, I was finally brought back to court where I told the judge I fired the gun deliberately.
“I heard, in other countries, people aren’t made to speak against themselves. Wouldn’t that be nice,” Jalaal mused.
“The entire time, I never saw the charging documents, the police reports, or the other evidence against me. They never let me see any law books, so I never learned what they had to prove, or the penalty for the crime. They were never going to let me call my other witnesses or cross-examine the witnesses who were to testify against me. I was also told that, if I didn’t approve the verdict, they wouldn’t give me a copy of it so I couldn’t appeal. I confessed and the court entered a guilty verdict, but I don’t know how long my sentence is. Without a copy of the verdict, I’ll never be able to prove how long I’ve been here.”
“Sorry, I couldn’t help but overhear, it’s so crowded in here,” another prisoner said. “I’m Majid al Din, asalaamu alaykum. Consider yourself lucky. At least you know what you were charged with. I’ve been here almost six months and I still don’t know. I’ve never been to court. I’ve been accused of all sorts of things – stealing money, belonging to a non-religious political party, spying for a foreign government – but I’ve never been charged, at least, not yet.
“You talk about law books and wanting to know what the authorities have to prove. Good luck with that. There is no written criminal code under sharia. Offenses aren’t defined anywhere. Punishments aren’t spelled out, either. It all depends on how your particular judge happens to interpret sharia law. You never know what you’re going to get from any individual judge. You never know if your actions are criminal or not. And you never know what your punishment will be. In my case, they’re still investigating. They told me that, when they’re finished, they’ll make up a name for what they say I’ve done.
“I heard about one guy who was tortured and confessed to forming a gang that never even existed. He was given two trials where witnesses were paid to testify against him. He was told to plead guilty and beg for mercy. He was sentenced to death, then he was tried again twice without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom, and sentenced to death by beheading. His head was chopped off not too long ago. All praise be to Allah – Allah has willed it so.”
It was time for bed. Off the common area were several rooms without doors, each with six bunk beds. Ali’s blanket was full of lice, and the only toilet was a bucket shared by the 50 men in his cell block. “You think this is bad. At least we have beds,” Jalaal told Ali. “Some prisoners have to sleep on the floor in the hallway, so consider yourself lucky.”
Months went by without Ali hearing any more about his case. He was looking forward to the six-month mark when he could ask to see a judge. But the day before the six months was up, Ali was summoned to court. The first thing he noticed was the large Quran mounted on the wall, displayed alongside a whip and a long axe with a sharp blade. Ali looked around for his family, but they weren’t there. Maybe his mother was there, but Ali couldn’t tell because of the wall running down the middle of the courtroom to segregate the sexes – men on one side, women on the other.
The judge, who was an imam, took the bench in full clerical robes. Only he could see both sides of the courtroom. There were no spectators present, and no press was allowed. These were not public proceedings.
First up was a murder case. The defendant appeared without a lawyer. He didn’t look more than 14 to Ali, but the judge didn’t ask about his age. The deceased’s family had demanded the death penalty. “The court finds you guilty and, in accordance with Quran 6:151, sentences you to death by way of justice and law in the name of Allah, the most Compassionate and Merciful.”
The judge privately had qualms, but didn’t let on. Stone-faced, he declared to the courtroom, “Sharia is our teacher. I seek only to do Allah’s will.”
The next defendant was led to the dock. He was accused of drug smuggling. He was charged only because his friend was arrested for the drug deal in question. The witnesses to the transaction – who were all actually somewhere else at the time the deal went down – testified they heard from acquaintances the defendant was in on it. The defendant demanded to see some real evidence, since this was just hearsay. “Silence!” the judge roared. “I am satisfied whatever the prosecutor says is true. I hereby sentence you to 20 months and 700 lashes.” Ali looked nervously at the whip on the wall, wondering whether the lashes would be administered right then and there, as he had heard happens in some sharia courts. He also wondered whether that would be his fate, as well.
But the defendant was hauled away and the next case was called. Ali couldn’t see this defendant, but could hear her on the other side of the wall. The religious police had entered a private home to bust up a party where mixing of the sexes and consumption of alcohol had occurred. The young woman was questioned at the scene and released, thinking that was the end of the matter. But she got a summons a few months later accusing her of witchcraft and leading a prostitution ring. Those charges weren’t mentioned in court, though. “The court finds you guilty of commission of sins, serious crimes against the religious order,” was all the judge said before pronouncing sentence in accordance with the sharia. “All praise and thanks belong to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds,” the judge continued. “Let your conviction and sentence serve as an example to others. We cannot have this kind of behavior or the ummah is lost. If we depart from the sharia – Allah’s law – we will have no end of troubles. But if we fully enforce and adhere to the sharia, our other troubles will disappear. Thus, I follow sharia. It is ordained by Allah, the most Beneficent and Merciful. May Allah have mercy on the whole Muslim ummah and protect us from women like you who would tempt us and lead us into licentiousness.”
Then it was Ali’s turn. He listened as the witnesses from Javert Jewelers swore to tell “the truth before Allah” and laid out the case against him. After they finished, the judge did not ask Ali if Ali had a defense. Instead, he asked, “Will you submit to the sharia?” Not seeing any choice, Ali answered, “As a Muslim, I submit to the sharia and to whatever sentence the sharia prescribes,” hoping his submission would buy him some leniency.
The judge said, “The court finds you guilty of stealing an expensive watch from the premises of the rightful owner, Javert Jewelers. Under sharia law, the punishment for theft is amputation of the right hand at the wrist. The Quran at 5:38 states: ‘As for the thief, cut off their right hands as a recompense for that which they committed, a punishment by way of example from Allah. And Allah is All-Powerful, All-Wise.’ Further, Muhammad – the Prophet and Perfect Man, Peace Be Upon Him – ordered that a thief’s hand should be severed at the wrist. The Prophet said, ‘The hand should be cut off for stealing something that is worth a quarter of a Dinar or more.’ There is no denying the value of the watch. The court further finds the additional conditions for meting out this sentence are met – the thief was not under duress, the item was stolen from one who had not wronged the thief in any way, two male witnesses who were present at the time agree in their testimony, and the thief’s left hand is healthy.”
Privately, the judge was thinking, “The Quran might be cruel, unsustainable, and inhumane, but it is the direct word of Allah and cannot be changed. How could anyone – much less a single judge – presume to change the word of Allah? Why should I be ashamed to hand out this sentence? I am only implementing the laws the Creator has decreed for all humanity, Muslim and non-Muslim. Besides, I would lose my job and be ostracized if I were to fail in my duty or speak against the system.”
Convincing himself it all made perfect sense, the judge continued: “The court sentences you to amputation of the right hand at the wrist, the sentence to be carried out forthwith in the public square.” He rose to his feet. “Praise be to Allah, the Most Tender and Merciful,” he said, turning to leave the courtroom. It was time for prayer.
Meanwhile, back in America, Alex saw a judge within 24 hours of his arrest, got out on bail, and went to meet with his lawyer. “You’ve got two choices,” his lawyer said. “You can go to trial or plead guilty to a lesser charge. I went to see the prosecutor. I got discovery – they have a lot of evidence against you. They offered to cut the charge down from felony theft to a misdemeanor if you plead guilty, because it’s your first offense.” “Will I go to jail?” Alex asked. “Hard to say,” the lawyer answered. “First offenders usually get probation, but jail time is more common in cases that start as felonies. That was an expensive watch and our system endeavors to make the punishment fit the crime. The best advice I can give you is bring your toothbrush to sentencing.” “What will happen if I ask for a trial?” Alex asked. “You’d get a trial in open court pretty fast, within a few months. I’d be there to represent you. You could have your family there. Who knows, a reporter might even take an interest. It’s not like you could keep them out – it’s a public proceeding. You could take the stand and tell your side of the story, or not – it’s up to you. You’d get a jury, but juries are tough. Don’t expect to lie your way out of this. If you do and you’re found guilty anyway, there will be a hidden sentence from the judge for perjury inside what would definitely be a prison sentence at that point.” Alex frowned. “Don’t worry,” his lawyer said. “Jail’s not great, but you’re young and you’d still have your health and your whole life ahead of you when you get out. In the meantime, there’s TV and popcorn. You could take classes and work on a college degree, if you want.”
Chop Chop Square
Ali was whisked from the courtroom and taken straight to Chop Chop Square where his punishment was to be carried out. He was there before he knew it, still shocked by what had happened to him in the courtroom. It began to sink in as he watched the proceedings.
A young man was pushed to the middle of the square. “Sit,” he was told. “Take off your robe.”
The whip lashed across the man’s back and he flinched.
The second lash left a long mark on his skin.
He curled forward in pain.
After all ten lashes – the lash marks crisscrossing his back – the crowd roared, some taking pictures with their cellphones. “This is Allah’s justice,” one onlooker said approvingly, as the man was led away.
Then a man and a woman were brought in, and buried up to the waist, the crowd leaning forward in excited anticipation. The executioners picked up stones from a pre-arranged pile and hurled them toward the condemned. The first stone hit the woman square in the face. Their heads were tossed back and forth as the stones pelted them, the man’s head eventually separating from his body. The woman’s face eventually caved in. The stoning only stopped when both of the accused were dead. What blood didn’t soak into the ground flowed into the nearby drain, installed for the purpose. They had been found guilty of adultery. “It is ordained by Allah,” one of the executioners said. “Why should I be ashamed of laws that Muhammad himself ordered during his lifetime, Peace Be Upon Him.”
Next up was an adolescent male. He was caught at a protest and charged with sowing discord. He was charged with forming a terror cell. His family didn’t see it that way. The main evidence against him was a picture on his phone deemed offensive to the security forces. His family issued a statement: “How can they execute a boy because of a photograph on his phone? Since his arrest, we have known nothing but pain. It is a living death for the whole family.” The execution of a minor being a special case, a government official strode up and told the assembled crowd, “This execution will be shown later on TV. In addition, pictures of it, along with pictures of other imprisoned children in shackles, will be published on the cover of a children’s magazine. This boy’s beheading will serve as a deterrent and inhibition to other children who might be tempted to deviate from the way of Allah. And Allah is exalted in might and wisdom.”
Then the executioner stepped up, placed a bag over the boy’s head, and the blade came down. Ali watched the head bounce on the ground, the crowd roaring in approval. The severed body and head were publicly nailed to a pole as a warning to the young.
The boy was one of 81 executions in Chop Chop Square that day, but Ali could no longer concentrate. He knew he was running out of time. But the government officials in attendance were still watching attentively. The executions were fully supported by the highest officials of this Islamic country. The president himself was so enthusiastic about sharia punishments, he was called ‘the Butcher’. He had personally overseen thousands of executions when he was Justice Minister.
Then came Ali’s turn.
The tranquilizer was fast-acting. “The better to control you with,” one of the officials who was to administer the punishment said to himself. Another tied rubber surgical tubing around Ali’s right arm to form a tourniquet. Two others grabbed his hand and forearm. “Please make it quick,” Ali pleaded.
A heavily built official drew out a large wooden-handled knife he used to slaughter camels. Ali watched the blade descend.
It was all over in a flash but, for Ali, it went into slow motion. The blade sliced through the layers of the epidermis… the dermis… the subcutaneous tissue and fat… the many muscles giving the hand its dexterity… and the blood vessels, nerves and tendons… before hitting bone. The blade tore through the first bone – the radius… then crunched through the second – the ulna… before ravaging through the tendons… the nerves… the blood vessels… the muscles… the fat… and the layers of skin while going out the other side.
Ali screamed in pain as he watched his hand drop through the air and fall to the ground. He could smell the iron scent of his own blood, the tourniquet being tightened now to staunch the flow. He wanted to pick his hand up and somehow stick it back on, but he passed out. He never saw his hand again. An official picked it up and walked away with it. When Ali came to, he found his arm had been wrapped in cloth. He was sent on his way, Allah’s justice having been done.
Little did he know his punishment was just beginning.
Alex went to see his probation officer for the first time. He had pled guilty to stealing the watch and received weekends in jail for a year, giving him plenty of time to think about what he did. The sentence allowed him to keep his job during the week. He was ordered to visit his probation officer regularly and to make payments toward a fine equal to the value of the watch. “The system cut you a break,” the probation officer said. “You could easily have ended up in prison for years. This way, you can remain a productive member of society and not get institutionalized, unable to function outside prison walls. The judge gave you a reasonably good start. The rest is up to you.”
Ali was released late in the day. First stop, the grocery store. He pushed a cart around the aisles with his left hand, picking up some vegetables, meat, and aspirin as he went along. He found he could use his stump to help steer the cart. Carrying a shopping bag with one hand – no problem. “This isn’t too bad, maybe I’ve been worrying too much,” he said to himself.
When he got to his apartment, he set the bag down beside the door and fumbled for his keys. They fell on the floor. When he reached down to pick them up, he lost his balance. He instinctively reached out with what should have been his right hand to break his fall, but there was no right hand and down he went. Just then, his neighbor’s door opened and people started coming out. They saw Ali on the floor and offered to help him back up. “I don’t need your help,” he replied angrily, maneuvering to pick himself back up with his stump and left hand. Ali felt ashamed and wanted to cry. Fortunately, nothing was bruised but his dignity.
The pain wouldn’t let up. He would see a doctor tomorrow and get a prescription for some painkillers. Aspirin was all he had for right now. Ali set the new box of aspirin down on the table in front of the sofa. He managed to get the box open with one hand and started to wrestle with the bottle inside. He pinched the cap with his left thumb and forefinger and began to twist. Not easy, since he was used to using his right hand for everything. Like most people, Ali was right-handed. He poured out a few tablets on the table, but some got away from him. It took him a few days to figure out he should pour the aspirin into the upturned cap so he wouldn’t have that problem. Pain was radiating up his arm. “Will I able to sleep tonight?,” he wondered.
Ali was getting hungry, so he went into the kitchen. He put the cabbage he bought on the counter and picked up a knife to cut into it. The cabbage rolled off the counter and onto the floor. Another defeat. The cabbage was too big to grip with one hand, but he managed to get it back on the counter by pressing his stump into service. This time, he rolled it into a corner so he could cut it. It wasn’t until later he would learn about special cutting boards and cooking techniques others in his predicament use to cope with their situations.
The cooking done, Ali sat down to eat. He lined his lamb chop up on his plate, then pressed in with a knife. He rolled the knife back and forth on the meat, using his stump to keep the chop from moving around too much. It took a long time to free one mouthful, but it eventually worked. For the next bite, he stuck his fork into the chop, then secured the fork between his stump and upper arm. He picked up his knife with his left hand, but when he went to cut the meat, the improvised hold suddenly gave way, sending his food flying off the plate.
He was humiliated, but then it struck him: this was nothing compared to the fact he was being forced to eat with his left hand. “I’m eating with my left hand,” he repeated aloud. That’s the hand Muslims use in the bathroom and is, therefore, considered unclean. “Now I have to eat my food with my left hand. That’s part of my punishment,” he realized. “And it will be like this for the rest of my life. Every time I sit down to eat – every meal – I’ll be reminded of my punishment, a punishment that will never end.”
Ali was worn out and headed to bed. Getting his robe off one-handed and hanging it on a hook wasn’t hard. He laid down, his mind churning. “Why couldn’t they have taken my left hand? It wouldn’t have been such an insult, and there’s so much I have to relearn because I’m left-handed now – how to write, how to use my phone – the screen’s too big, I can’t hold it and reach everything with my thumb at the same time. Some of my robes have buttons – how’s that going to work? I guess putting on a watch won’t be too difficult – I can manipulate an expandable watchband with the fingers of one hand, or get a Velcro band and use my teeth to hold it in place when I’m closing it. Maybe I don’t want a watch. A watch is what got me into trouble in the first placed, hmm…. Most of my shoes are slip-ons, but I do have sneakers and black leather shoes, both with laces. How in the world am I going to tie them? I don’t even want to think about it, it’s too depressing. Everything’s too depressing. Who will marry me, after this? What woman wants to feel a stump on her back? Can I still go to Paradise when I die? And I’m down to one hand – what if I sprain my left wrist and they put it in a cast? That would be catastrophic. I’d be completely helpless.” It was then he allowed himself to cry, the pain sapping his will. It was all so overwhelming.
Exhausted, Ali fell into a fitful sleep. The next morning, he awoke with a sense of dread, but didn’t know why. Then he remembered his right hand was chopped off the day before. He was tempted to stay in bed, to hide from the world. But his pain got the better of him, so he got up and went into the bathroom where he found more challenges – shaving and grooming his facial hair one-handed, not losing his balance in the shower, deciding whether to soap up his hand or rub the bar of soap all over his body.
On the way to the doctor, he noticed his stump was starting to swell up. Then the weirdest thing happened. He started to feel pain in his right hand, the hand that was no longer there. In coming weeks, he would swear his missing hand was itching, burning, or feeling wet. “I can’t tell anyone this. They’ll think I’m crazy,” Ali thought.
The doctor reassured him. “That happens to most people in your situation. It’s called ‘phantom pain’.”
“You’re lucky,” the doctor went on. “You could have died from the amputation, or had a heart attack or blood poisoning, or a blood clot in your lung.” “I don’t feel lucky,” Alex said.
The doctor started writing Ali a prescription for pain pills, then asked, “Have you thought about a prosthesis? You can get a hook, a gripper, or one in the shape of a hand.” Ali asked what was involved and the doctor said, “First, we have to prepare your stump – remove all the dead tissue and file down the bone. They weren’t exactly careful when they were amputating your hand. Next, we cushion the area with healthy tissue from other parts of your body, then stitch skin and muscle flaps over the stump. When all that heals, we go back in and attach the prosthesis to the bone. If your bone grows a spur, we have to do it all over again.”
Ali said he would think about it, wondering if he would ever have a job again that would allow him to pay for all that. He took his prescription and headed to the pharmacy, careful to hold his stump inside his sleeve and close to his stomach so people wouldn’t notice, they would just see folds of white cloth and not think anything of it. He kept looking around to see if people were scrutinizing him. He was getting angrier by the minute. “I don’t want a prosthesis. I don’t care how much it can do,” he thought. “I want to hold my first child, with my own hands. I want my own hand back,” although he knew full well it wasn’t coming back. It was a part of him that was gone forever and would never return.
Ali was back home when the phone rang. It was his mother. Ali had been wondering why she hadn’t called. “Well…,” she hesitated. “I didn’t really know what to say.” She had been getting conflicting advice from family and friends. “You’ve brought dishonor upon the family. Some of your relatives never want to see you again. It is written in the hadiths that Muhammad – Peace Be Upon Him – would cut off his own daughter’s hand if she were a thief. Some are even telling me that I’ll be punished in the grave because I must not have raised you right. But a TV imam was saying the other day it’s a great sin to cut off family ties completely. People who do that don’t go to Paradise. He said, if I do see you, an angel will be with me defending me from the evil inside you. So, I don’t know what to do. I need spiritual guidance before I talk to you or see you again. I’ll call you when I’m ready.”
With that, she hung up. Ali was devastated and ran out into the street in a panic. “My own mother…. She might disown me. She thinks she has to defend herself against me. It’s not fair. Yes, I committed a crime, but it was just an impulse. What are those few seconds against a lifetime of behaving right? How could anyone think I’m evil deep down inside and will be for all time? People change.” His mind was furiously spinning future possibilities: Maybe he wouldn’t be invited to family gatherings ever again. Maybe they wouldn’t come to his wedding. Maybe his children would never know their grandparents. As he wandered aimlessly about, he forgot to hide his stump. A child asked, “What happened to your hand?” Ali looked at the child, then up at the adults the child was with. They weren’t smiling. They knew.
Over the coming days and weeks, Ali found out who his friends were. Some people he knew shunned him entirely. He just had to take the losses and go on. Others may have meant well but said the most insensitive things.
“You’re lucky you weren’t cross-amputated,” one said. Cross-amputation is the punishment under sharia law for highway robbery. The right hand and left foot are both amputated, making it difficult or impossible to walk – even with a cane or crutches. “People keep telling me I’m lucky. I don’t feel lucky,” Ali said, irritably.
His best friend – one he started school with – turned on him. “Hate to say it, but you got exactly what you deserved. You may still go to Paradise, but your right hand will go to hell. Sharia law has been followed. Justice has been done. This is Allah’s will. Just accept it.”
That was hard to take, but not as hard as the friend who said Ali should become a suicide bomber. “Fulfill your duty to Allah and wage jihad so others will submit to Islam,” he said. “You’re disabled, so that’s all that’s left to you now, Ali. I know some people….”
Ali dismissed the possibility in his mind, but the suggestion did start him thinking seriously, for the first time ever, about ending his own life.
He would turn this over in his mind many times as the days went by. He started isolating, deliberately keeping to himself, brooding. It had been some weeks, but his stump still hurt. Not as much as before, but he was still maxing out on his painkiller prescriptions. “I hope I’m not getting addicted to these things,” Ali thought. “But maybe I am. They help me forget my hand is gone and I can’t do everything I used to.” His thoughts took him further down, to the point where he wasn’t taking care of his stump properly or even showering every day. He picked up a staph infection in his stump that put him in the hospital on an antibiotic IV drip.
“I know some people just want me to die,” he was thinking to himself, eyeing the knife on the kitchen counter and the veins in his left wrist. But then the doorbell rang.
“Hi Ali, I haven’t seen you in a while. Where have you been hiding?,” his friend Khalil asked. “Listen, I came to invite you to the soccer game this Saturday. It’s a big match; the whole country will be watching. Everyone’s excited. I have an extra ticket. What do you say?” This was a pleasant surprise and Ali agreed to go. “Oh, by the way,” Khalil continued. “There’s a woman we’d like you to meet afterwards – Sonia. She has an uncle whose foot was amputated from diabetes, so stumps don’t bother her, if that’s what you’re thinking. She’s used to it. We can all meet at a coffee shop after the game, her brother will be there, tamaam?
“Azeem!,” Ali said. This was the best he’d felt in months. A woman with a family member who had a stump – this possibility hadn’t occurred to him. Of course he was interested. Things were looking up.
The group met at the stadium. There was an awkward moment when one of Khalil’s friends reached out his right hand to shake hands with Ali. Not knowing what else to do, Ali bowed his head in greeting, instead.
They found their seats and the players took the field. Ali relaxed and was starting to enjoy himself. When the first goal was scored, the roar of the crowd took Ali right back to Chop Chop Square. He looked at the ball bouncing near the net, but what he saw was the head of a condemned prisoner bouncing on the ground at the Square. Then he remembered his encounter with the cabbage in his kitchen and imagined it was the head of an executed prisoner rolling off the counter instead – too big to pick up with one hand.
Ali was unnerved by these unwanted thoughts and the suddenness with which they unexpectedly appeared out of nowhere. “I have to go home. I’m not feeling well,” he told Khalil. “What about meeting Sonia?,” Khalil asked. “Maybe some other time,” Ali mumbled then left, secretly relieved because his body was not very interested in such matters since his amputation, and wasn’t cooperating the way it used to. He didn’t know if the spark would ever come back.
Alex only had a few weekends left in jail. He got a promotion at work and began to fantasize about what more money would make possible – a new car, a bigger apartment. A female co-worker was beginning to show interest in him, so maybe an engagement ring was down the road, somewhere. He wondered what it would be like to have children. He realized the people in jail were mostly younger than him. “Jail’s for kids,” he thought. “It’s time to get on with it.” He felt ready to put this chapter behind him and find new life. His arrest had lit a fire inside of him. It galvanized his will to do better, to make something of himself. Then it was lights out in the cellblock and he drifted off.
Back home now, Ali went to sleep and began to dream:
He was sitting on the sofa, looking eye-level at the Longévité watch from Javert Jewelers on his wrist. Blades grew from inside the watch band and constricted, cutting off his remaining hand, but the watch stayed on. Blood spurted in a fountain from his upturned arm, then stopped. He looked at the face of the watch. The hands were moving backwards, slowly at first. The severed hand floated up off the floor and reattached itself to his arm. The hands on the watch were spinning backwards faster now. He looked again and saw that his right hand had reappeared – beautiful as ever – on the stump he had tried to hide from view ever since Chop Chop Square. Now Ali had both his hands back. A feeling of contentment washed over him.
Tick… Tick… Tick…. Nice.
The feeling didn’t last long. The face of the watch now showed a cross-section of a wrist, as if looking down from inside the arm. The hands of the watch had turned into axes, like the one on the courtroom wall, and the sharp blades were cutting through the skin… the fat… the nerves…
Tick… Tick… Tick….
The blood vessels… the tendons… the bones….
Louder now. Chop… Chop… Chop….
Ali looked away in horror. When he looked back, he saw the face had almost returned to normal but, this time, the Roman numerals had been replaced with words – Pain, Loss, Embarrassment, Shame, Humiliation, Rejection, Isolation, Nightmares, Flashbacks, Regret, Hopelessness, Despair – at all twelve positions. Nothing to look forward to but anguish, no matter what time it is.
Tick… Tick… Tick….
Then each word turned into a tongue of yellow and orange flame. Now it didn’t matter if the hands went fast or slow, forwards or backwards, or stopped altogether. It was all the same. The tongues got bigger and merged into one big conflagration. The inscription ‘Longévité’ was still clearly visible inside the fire. The fire ignited the sleeve of his robe. Before long, his entire apartment was engulfed in flames.
“It is these who are the inmates of the Fire; therein shall they abide…”
Still louder – tick… tick… tick….
Ali awoke with a start to see the sun streaming in through the windows.
“My hopes… My dreams… My future plans… My prospects… My joy…. I stole a watch. They stole my life.”
The phone rang. It was his mother.
©Tober Mory. All rights reserved.
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