Preface. - 1 -One foot after the other, he stepped out of the two-floor building with the multi-compartment huge basement. How he hated its walls; these yellow, concrete walls with so many pin-like projectiles on their rough surfaces that would scratch a hand if run against them – as if it’s a reminder to those out there of what’s inside. He always thought of himself as a man. “Man.” That word rattled every single thought in his mind. It held a bigger influence to him as opposed to other people. A man – he thought – is a creature with the most power to endure; he is a person of virtue with so little flaws; someone who would sacrifice himself to the very last cell of his body to keep all he believes in and loves safe; a man would bury his pain, his anger, and his tears within himself to his very last breath – as such, a man would walk out of such place with a smile on his face. “Hammoodeh! Out so soon?” said the guard at the front door in his coastal accent. “How come they’re holding you for a shorter time now?” “That’s because I’m running out of bones to break.” “Ha-ha! Well take care, and make sure we don’t see you for a long time now.” “Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss the free feast.” “Just get the hell out of here.” The guard’s voice started to fade as Mohamed walked away, but he could hear him mumble with his fellow: “look at him! He’s the first one I see who walked out of here smiling… I really hope he would not come back here, there’s a good man inside him…” It made him widen his smile. It was four-fifteen in the morning when he finally reached home after his long forty-five-minutes walk and put his key in its fitting keyhole, and the door was opened without him turning the key. At the first few times Mrs. Hadid would hold her son closely after such nights at the detention, but she knows better now for his body would still be red and blue from the beatings. She held his arm, led him inside, and shut the door. “Mom, what are you doing so early?” “I woke up to pray Al-Subh,” she replied. Her eyes were trying to be strict, but the stress and worry hiding behind her blinks did not escape her son. “Did they feed you this time?” “Yes. I just need to go to the bathroom for Wudoua’ and be back to pray with you. Lay down a Salat-Rug for me.” After the Salat, he turned to his mother, held her right hand and kissed it, and put it on his head. “Mom, are you satisfied with me?” he asked her. “Of course I am. I just don’t like watching you throw all your effort and health and all the good in you away. This is destroying you, and I don’t like to watch all whom I loved become destructed.” “Well, destruction is only the- “ “No. Don’t start with your fancy sentences and Socrates’s quotes. I’m your mother. I deserve to have at least one of my beloveds survive.” “You have Aisha. And you still have me. I won’t be going away anytime soon; they won’t break me.” “Well,” Mrs. Hadid got up and looked in her son’s eyes, “that’s what your father used to say.” There wasn’t much time left until he goes to his school, so he decided to stay awake until then. He turned on the T.V in the living room and sat to watch. Mohamed had always a particular arrangement for everything he does: at T.V. time, for example, has to be complete silence as people are watching; his seat is always the farthest from the T.V; entertainment channels are limited and have limited times; and the news channels should always be first in the list followed by Islamic channels – and in that particular mood, he sat down. There wasn’t anything new – the same old news repeating itself. Every now and then they would make a fuss about Palestine and eventually come up with nothing from it, and then gradually fade that issue out of the news. Same goes for all issues Muslims have in the world. Eventually, boredom got to him and added up to his still-weak body – his eyes slowly shut, his grip over the remote loosened, his head slowly tilted sideways, and his lips mumbled “just for 10 minutes.” - 2 - He woke up to Aisha’s soft fingers pulling his hand to get him off the chair. “Wake up! I’m going to be late for school!” she was crying as he widely opened his eyes in alarm before slowly closing them again. The T.V was turned off, the remote was put back at the table, and he was covered up to his shoulders with a blanket, with only the hand his little sister was pulling uncovered. He wetted his lips with a snap lick and gulped, and then replied “go pack your bag and we’ll leave.” Seeing them standing together, a stranger could easily recognize that they are brother and sister – they had the same facial features: same dark, oval eyes; same puffy cheeks; the round face and tipped nose; they even shared the same skin color tone. As they start to speak, however, one would suspect their impression that they are of one family. “I might be late today,” said Aisha in hesitation. “What for?” he replied, before sipping coffee from a small carton cup. “Miss. Kayali has invited me to audition at her institute.” “And you were expecting me to express my emotions of great pride in this?” “Don’t start. I just told you so to let you know, but I’m going one way or another.” “No, you’re not.” “Why not? Look, if you bring me only one clear statement from the Quran that singing is forbidden I won’t go.” “Haven’t we had this discussion –” “You know there is no red lines regarding that matter, so don’t create one and strangle me with it,” she interrupted angrily. “We have had this discussion before and I don’t like repeating myself. You’re not going and that’s the end of this conversation,” he strictly replied. “You know, it’s my fault that I try to include you in my own life. I hate it that I love you so.” “And you know that the only reason I’m doing this is because I love you otherwise I wouldn’t have made an effort to stop you from making wrong decisions.” Aisha nodded her head in disagreement. She took a deep breath and exhaled, letting out a small vapor cloud of winter. Her eyes fixated on the bus coming from the left, and his, on hers. “I realize that you think that’s the reason, but it isn’t. It’s about you worrying too much that people will say ‘he’s the brother of that promiscuous brad who chose singing for a career’ instead of just being there for your sister to support her in the faces of such people.” “I’m just trying to protect you from yourself. Such acts will eventually deviate you from the path that pleases God and his punishment will befall you.” “I’m sure whatever bad I do, God has already punished me for it by sticking me to you for nine months,” she replied with quick wit while getting on the bus that had just stopped. “Yeah, just don’t be late.” He said aloud, and watched the bus drive away. - 3 - She threw herself in the second seat tilting her head above her shoulder, resting her scalp against the window. She gazed outside, watching a line of small, leafless trees pass by one by one. Her fingers reached to the small window handle and started to aimlessly feel it over and over; her eyes shut slowly; and, on the inside of her lashes, her mind, in seconds, generated myriads of images of all that constructed what she was feeling – her father carrying her with one arm and smiling at her with a couple of incisors that have their edges broken; the four-year-old Mohamed kissing her forehead when she’s crying; the numerous moments in which she had seen tears in her mother’s eyes that she retracted to her throat and swallowed into her depths.. But there was something lacking in that array of spotlights – something that her mind thirsted for to the extent of death. And so, without care to the small bus and the ears within; or to the lack of external noise to drown her voice in, discretely, and without words, she sang. “Are you okay?” said Lama, who had just stepped onto the bus and sat next to Aisha. Aisha opened her eyes after a few minutes of singing. “No. It seems to me that my whole future is dependent on whether I make it to today’s audition. I can neither skip school because he’ll call to check for my absence; nor can I be late afterwards. He’ll find out, and I can’t let that happen.” “Okay, I have to ask: what will he do if he does find out about this? Will he beat you? Because if he does I can help – “ “If what he does is beating then it wouldn’t even matter – I’d happily take a day’s beating for this. But, no. Mohamed wouldn’t physically hurt me. What he would do is watch my every movement as though he’s my shadow. He’d look into every corner of my life to stop me from doing what he thinks is wrong. I can’t live with that kind of chain around my neck.” After a few minute’s thinking, Lama said in excitement: “Okay, how about this: the audition starts at ten. We have Mrs. Kayali at ten-thirty. Talk to her and let her know of your problem. She could let you out at her own class and maybe call someone at the institute to rush you in. I mean, she came up with the idea to get you in the institute, I don’t think she would mind doing that at all, right?” Aisha sat up, and fixed her eyes out the window behind her friend, thinking about what she just heard, intermittently switching her sight to Lama’s eyes which showed great eagerness. Her own eyes sparkled and a smile overshadowed her troubled face. “I think this could work just fine.” - 4 - His eyes tracked the moving bus until it has faded from his sight. He took a sip and turned around, and made his way to school. “Thanks for the coffee,” he said cheerfully talking to the man behind cart just outside his house as he walked past him. It was about fifteen minutes that parted him from his school during which he would mumble his morning prayers – “God is with me; God sees me; God protects me… To God is all power and grace; He deadens and revives; and is ambidextrous in everything.” Bruises and wounds he recently bore still ached and burned, making the walk of a wounded man he tried to disguise in a straight back and careful paces conspicuous. The fog that crippled the city did only thicken as he ascended on the slope that lead to his school; it presented a sense of sympathy to Mohamed, as if the weather reflected his feelings in that illustration of dense air. From that atmosphere of wounded walks and heavy breath his mind wandered away. The sea of thoughts he had built for his imagination was very stagnant though motion in his life was far more active than in most of seventeen year-olds’, for that motion was drearily repeated every day. However, his mind needed a rope – any rope – to hang onto other than one with a noose at the end. His chain of thoughts was broken as Kareem slowed his pace and got near him. Mohamed took a glance at his childhood friend and greeted him back with a smile before dwelling again in his own head while still keeping a façade interactive with Kareem’s words. To Mohamed’s tastes, Kareem had always been bitter even before he grew the habit of lying about everything so he would look “cool.” Nevertheless, their fathers were on good terms, so he had to fake a certain friendliness, for if respect was missing towards Kareem, it was unmeasurable towards both fathers. Before taking the final turn that led to his school, a thought stopped Mohamed’s track. He turned his head and scanned the sidewalk, but couldn’t see what he sought. “I’m sorry to interrupt, Kareem,” he said, “but did that man just say my name?” Kareem, with a stunned look on his face, replied “Who? The old beggar we just passed? Yes he said ‘Thank you, Mr. Hadid,’ though I gave him the money this time. Can you believe how ungrateful people are?” “Yes. People can be very empty-headed sometimes,” Mohamed replied with a wide smile. “Anyway, you were saying?” he continued as he resumed his walk both on land and in his head. “How did he know my name? Did he just hear it? But I rarely ever have company on my way,” he thought. “Did he just get lost in the fog? Is that why I couldn’t see him? I better look again.” As they turned, Mohamed took a thorough but quick glance over his shoulder. The man was not visible. Little did he know, the man had clear sight of Mohamed.