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LongStryShort

It Escalates Quickly – JeanPaul FARHAT

Jamais-vu

Friday was my favorite day. Not because it initiates the weekend. Friday was special because my dad would pick me up from school to go visit my great-grandpa Ellis. He was the oldest person I know. Born exactly a century before I first saw light, he blew his 106th candle last month. Papa Ellis – as I called him – had been recently transferred to a retirement home an hour away from school.

The wheels of my dad’s Rover spun to the sound of Whitney Huston’s “aaa… I will always Looo…ve You…wooo”. The overwhelming fragrance of pine trees created a pleasant atmosphere through the half-opened window, taking me to a sepia-hued scenery. The shifting objects on the sideways mesmerized me in a deep-sleep state, contracting the long-drive into a five-minute nap. My dad turned off his time machine, quickly drawing me back to reality.

“Wake up champ. We made it!” uttered my father with excitement.

I held my dad’s hand as we walked through the tight hallway. The lights were white and strong completely burning my sleepy eyes. The cold draught from the AC triggered my shivering mechanism to produce heat. I came closer to my father’s leg to regain a sense of security and warmth from his wool pants. A strange feeling had pressured my chest the minute I entered the retirement house. I grabbed my dad’s hand firmly, raised my contorted face, pouted my lower lip and asked, “Daddy, is papa Ellis happy here? Cause, I don’t like this place daddy…I don’t”. We continued walking and I never got an answer.

“Hi sir. How can I help you?” promptly asked the woman behind the desk. Her face was a mystery to my eyes since I wasn’t tall enough to reach the counter.

“I’m here for Mr. Ellis Farhat. He’s my grandfather,” answered dad.

I heard her nails typing letters on the keyboard at an ultrafast rate. Once she was done, she made my dad sign a sheet and then led us to the room. Her ecru overall could fit an oversized forty-year-old and it took me a while to spell her nametag “Enn… Nuh… Nurse…”. I saw some grandpas and some grandmas walking around with other misses wearing big clothes and named Nurse as well.

Nurse unlocked a wide wooden door with a small blurry glass window in its center, and then voiced, “Welcome Mr. Ellis Farhat.” but the only thing in that room was an empty bed.

“Where is papa Ellis?” I asked, expecting the worst. I pouted my lower lip again but this time I burst into tears, “I waa…aant my pa…paaaa!!!” and I cried and yelled. My eyes sucked all the water from my throat and poured it on my cheeks. The woman grasped me and I heard her mumbling slowly, “It’s gonna be okay sir, just stay calm.” My eyes followed her lips. She was too close to my face… I kept crying. My body felt lighter. I was draining all my energy. Then I collapsed.

 

“Wake up champ… I’m here,” whispered a deep voice in my ear. I opened my heavy eyes with some effort and I saw him, Papa Ellis, sitting on the bed next to me. He was neatly dressed as always: a brown winter suit, assorted with a dark green tie and his usual Gatsby cap. I hugged him tight and expressed my concern. He remained silent, but I could read the sadness between the wrinkles on his forehead.

“What’s wrong papa? Why are you sad?” I asked innocently.

He looked at me through his thick eyeglasses and said, “kiddo, life is unfair. You might not understand that now, but as you get older you’ll see. Everything can turn on a dime. And when it does, you won’t be able to go backwards, rewrite the past or fix your mistakes. You passively watch the butterfly effect build its cocoon around your lungs, choking you until your last breath.”

“But papa what happened to you? You’re not happy here, aren’t you?” I asked rhetorically, confirming my suspicions.

Papa Ellis grinned and continued, “I’m fine… hah… I’m fine kiddo. To be honest with you, I don’t have much time left and I need to tell you a short story. Not like the ones mama reads you before you go to sleep. My story is real and its ending is not happy.”

I loved listening to papa’s stories. He had an eloquent way of describing quite everything, leading me to envision the world his way. He kept his hat tucked under his armpit for a while before placing it besides him and putting back to place whatever was left of his hair.

“I was almost eighteen years old when humans all over the globe decided to fight. They called it The Great War,” started papa “but trust me, it wasn’t great at all,” he added.

Although living in the deep mountains spared him some of the violence, papa Ellis went on describing the atrocities he witnessed. From embargo placed on food supplies to grasshoppers that consumed all the crops, it only took famine a few weeks to hit the country. “It was horrible,” added papa, “to get wheat or bread, every Friday of each week, my brother and I would ride our donkey and travel for days from our village to the nearest city.”

I never knew that I had a great-granduncle so I had to ask, “what’s his name papa? Your brother.”

His voice cracked and his eyelids vainly tried to hold his tears as he said, “Thomas… his name was Thomas. And the last time I saw him was on a Friday back in 1915… that horrible year.” He paused deeply inhaling to gather his wits. He continued, “I looked for him all over the city, but he was nowhere to be found. I told him to wait for me while I stand in line to get wheat. I should never have left him by himself.” He cleared his throat this time and surrendered to the flow of his emotions.

“Where did he go papa?”

“I ask myself the same question. Everyday. That’s why I need your help kiddo. I need you to solve the mystery, to ease my guilt, to tell me that he lived a better life,” he begged. A lump formed in my throat. “Some citizens heard Thomas sing gracefully that day until two Ottoman soldiers interrupted him mid-performance and seized him. He had the most angelic voice you know?” he added while wearing his cap “help me.”

 

For the next few days, I felt as if someone had tied a knot around my stomach. My nights were haunted by human skeletons trying to eat my flesh, while grasshoppers invaded the sky. I kept visiting papa Ellis on Fridays and every time he asked me if I had found any clues, I would bow my head in sorrow.

Months had passed and I wasn’t even close to finding any trace of Thomas Farhat. Papa’s face crumpled even more, and his dimmed smile progressively disappeared. As the guilt swallowed him whole he was slowly raising his white flag.

 

Summer was finally here! This meant moving from the city to our native village: the place of ultimate freedom. I could spend the whole day playing outside, collecting shiny stones and running in wheat fields.

I lost track of time; it was the first Friday on which I don’t visit the retirement house. Instead, I rode my bike between the tight alleys, replied to all the hellos with a smile or a hand gesture and followed my path. Under the old famous oak tree, I saw a boy – probably my age – playing with a soccer ball. I slowed down then dropped my bike to the ground, hoping to join him in a game.

“Hey!” I said eagerly, “Can I play with you?”

He nodded and passed me the ball. After that, each of us built his own goal with a couple of rocks and we kept kicking the ball for hours. We were enjoying our game so much that counting points and chatting seemed to have little importance.

“Thomas… it’s time to come home!” a motherly voice shouted.

“I’m coming mom…” He yelled back and then told me: “I’m sorry, we’re travelling back to our country tomorrow morning, so I need to get going.”

“Where do you live?” a feeling in my gut pushed me to ask.

“We live in Istanbul, Turkey. We only came here to discover our home country,” he responded as if he had memorized the answer his parents constantly repeated.

Thomas… Turkey… Home country… is it possible? I was trying to link his answers in my mind. It must be a coincidence. It probably doesn’t mean anything. I’m overthinking this too much I kept telling myself. But I had to be sure… ask him!

“Hey Thomas…Uhmm, what’s your last name?” I hesitated.

My heart was pounding so hard I could feel it ripping off my chest. I was picturing him pronouncing the letters F.A.R.H.A.T.

“Slim,” he said, “Thomas Slim. What’s yours?”

My expectations were wrecked. What was I thinking? Thomas is a very common name!

I interrupted my internal monologue and answered, “Mine is Farhat. Nice to meet you.”

He shook my hand and then said, “Oh… That’s my mom’s maiden name! We must be related then.  In fact, it was her idea to come visit this town as a tribute to her grandpa. He used to live here before moving to Turkey where he became a famous singer.”

There it was. My clue. A living proof that Thomas survived, got married and probably lived a better life with his family in Turkey.

“Carry on!” I said eagerly as I ran towards my bike. I had to tell my father first so I hopped on and headed home. The wheels couldn’t keep up with the pace of my cycling speed. The wind was smacking my face producing a loud howl in my ears. The trees were shifting rapidly in a tunnel-like effect, until a hovering grasshopper shook me off my daydreaming. “Get off… Get off!!” I yelled turning my head to the sides to stop it from landing on me. As I was struggling, my foot got stuck between the pedal and the metal chassis, and head first, I fell to the concrete ground.

 

I slowly opened my eyes tucked inside the white, fresh smelling sheets of, as it seems to be, Papa Ellis’s bed? I looked around and I confirmed my speculations.

                How did I make it to the retirement house? Oh yes, today is Friday.

A tingling sensation on my forehead instinctively drew my hand to feel the wounded area, reminding me of the fall and the surprising encounter. I can’t wait to tell my Papa!

As I was getting out of bed, the door slowly opened.

“I see you’re awake champ!” It was my dad, “ready to go to the village?” he asked.

“Hey daddy…” I uttered “I can’t wait to go back, but I need to talk to papa first. You know daddy, I think I found Uncle Thomas’s family. Papa is gonna be so happy,” I added excitedly.

“Oh really?” he asked indifferently, as if this situation weren’t unprecedented. “He’s gonna be up there,” responded my father as we walked out of the room and into the hallway. He stopped in front of the counter to sign another form. Sitting behind her desk, Nurse looked at me with her dark eyes, grinned and then said loudly, “Have a good weekend sir and take care of your wound! Don’t move too fast, you might fall again! See you next week.” I smiled back and kindly thanked her. I felt so cold so I hugged my father and covered myself under his jacket.

 

I realized that we finally made it to the village as soon as my father parked his Rover next to the old famous oak. As I got out of the car, I recognized Papa Ellis standing under the tree.

“Papa… I found it!” I screamed while running towards him. He stood still, looked at me and then said peacefully, “I know you did champ… and I’m proud of you!”

We were standing face to face but I couldn’t understand his reaction. I imagined he would be happier, he looks so calm. Plus, what is that on his forehead? It looks like we have the same wound?

I touched my forehead, he did the same.

                  Why is he copying me? Who is he anyway? Wait… where am I?

 

 

My head felt heavier, the earth spun around and I found myself standing alone under the oak tree. I looked under my feet and read the following words engraved on a marble stone:

                                    Here lies the body of Thomas Farhat: 1900 – 1915

 

I fell on my knees, held my Gatsby cap in my hand and burst into tears… not because I discovered that my brother was dead, because I already knew he was, last Friday and the Friday before…

This was my state of lucidity so I held my tears and said to myself,

“It’s okay. You’ll probably forget all this by tomorrow Papa Ellis…”

 

I Witness

“Oh my God! I… I can’t believe this… You… You have freckles covering your face!! Aahan…And blond highlights??” My enthusiasm was hard to discern due to my overwhelming emotions. I struggled to draw half a smile on my face and continued to palpate my wife’s traits: “I always pictured you with plain brown hair. My wife… you are gorgeous!!! You are, Martha… You’re very beautiful. I’m… I’m a very lucky man.” The words felt heavier coming out of my mouth as I hugged my wife and my doctor. I was still adapting to my new vision after the eyepatches were off. Although it was still blurry, I could identify better details.

The doctor declared that my cornea was healing correctly and that my vision was going to improve progressively throughout the year: “Congratulations Tylor! Enjoy sinning through your new eyes” he burst out laughing at his joke that neither my wife nor I found funny.

“Tylor you can see!!” she hugged me tighter and cried. “Thank you Doctor Salem! Thank you a million times for your miracle work.” Her eyes all wet, she sniffed the air to hold her runny nose and asked: “But Tylor, who is Martha?? My name is Helen and you’ve been mistaking it ever since you woke up from your anesthetic sleep two days ago.”                                                                 

Lying on the doctor’s recliner chair two weeks earlier, my heart couldn’t keep up the pace of my excitement when he told me that a donated cornea was available and that I was ready to undergo surgery.

As a teenager, I found it hard to read seven feet away road signs or to discern the letters “a” and “o”. The symptoms were similar to those of myopia, which were alleviated with diverging lenses that made my eyes appear smaller. They used to call me “Ty with the mini eye” back in high school. The nickname didn’t bother me as much as the constant sensation of my eyes soaking in water did. My vision deteriorated progressively and my eyeballs took a more conical shape bulging out of their original place. The unilateral headaches multiplied as the ghostly images duplicated in my brain. My poor eyesight was finally linked to a degenerative disease of the eye called Keratoconus [Conical Cornea] that weakens the autofocus properties – similar to a Nikon camera – of the transparent outer layer of the eye.

On the day of the surgery, the preoperative anxiety started to kick in. I knew that doctor Jack Salem was the best ophthalmologist in the country, with perfect reviews on Healthgrade.com and a 90% success rate of corneal transplant. Yet, visualizing the circular incision in my cornea gripped all my facial nerves, clenching my upper and lower teeth against each other.

The surgery did not take too long. At least that’s what I thought. I remember kissing my wife before heading to the OR and then… Darkness. It seemed as if I was sucked out of time and space into nothingness: The place where the unborn and the dead reside.

“Martha… Don’t let them take you away from me!”

Those were the last words I muttered before regaining my consciousness. Who was Martha? I had no idea. Although, I remembered later on seeing her face in my anesthetic-induced dream. She looked real, felt real. Her close-up portrait still flashes in my mind from time to time: A black turban covered her hair and contrasted her dark eyeliner. Her eyebrows felt heavy, carving deep vertical streaks between them, that hid her most profound secrets. She covered her nose and mouth with her left hand protecting herself from a possible threat. She was begging for help.

But how was I supposed to help someone who breathes in my mind?

Dr. Salem lost his humor after several failed attempts. He prescribed me antibiotic drops but did not require immunosuppressants for graft rejection since there are no blood vessels in the cornea. But then again it wasn’t my immune system that was discarding the donor’s tissue but quite the opposite.

My body and spirit were craving Martha. Her eyes were blaming me for cheating on her… with my wife. A void filled my stomach every night lying next to Helen. Her touch was senseless; her voice was soundless.

“YOU’RE NOT MY WIFE!” I screamed at Helen one day when she was checking if I took my antibiotics. Her facial expressions dropped instantly in grief. I had regained my eyesight, but it seemed like she had totally lost her husband.

What was I talking about? Of course she was my wife.

I went the next morning to visit Dr. Salem for my regular check-up. I took a cab to the hospital since I needed to express to him the feelings I was experiencing without Helen being around. Waiting for my appointment, I was formulating the words in my mind to sound the least crazy. I noticed a woman passing in the background of my wondering, dragging behind her a luring rose scented cloud. I inhaled a mesmerizing puff of aroma that transported me to a twirling déjà vu.

“Ahmed… Hang on!” She sobbed, kneeling on the ground while holding my hand firmly. “The doctors are on their way to help you!! NO!!… YOU CAN’T!!… huhh… You can’t leave me here… alone with the kids in this refugee camp…” she begged in distress. “They’re going to kill us!!”.                                  

While I lay on the ground with my hand touching the slimy burning sensation in my stomach, Martha brought her head closer to my chest. I was hanging on to reality by sniffing her rose fragranced turban but I was slowly disconnecting from my vision and regaining sense of the hospital waiting room.

“Martha” I called, but I was alone in the room.

Still confused, I entered Dr. Salem’s office for my check-up. I only responded to his questions with brief answers, without adding any small talk to the discussion. Once he was done running his tests, he affirmed that everything was normal. As I was standing from my chair, I looked at him and said: “Dr. Salem, everything is not normal. I might physically have a normal progression of my eyesight, but I am changed.”

“Tylor, what do you mean?? I don’t understand what you’re saying.”  He answered with a puzzled gaze.

“Dr. Salem, I know you might think that I lost it but… Ever since I had the corneal transplant, I’ve been having these visions and dreams that felt so real… Is it possible that these phenomena are somehow related to my donor’s past life?” I shyly asked.

“Well, Tylor. Some organ receivers complained about similar experiences in the past. Though, there is still no scientific evidence for their occurrence. So who knows? I’m sure they will soon vanish and you will be back to your normal self.” He said reassuring me.

“But doctor, I’ve been dreaming about this woman called Martha and it’s ruining my marriage with Helen. In fact, just before I entered your office, I was teleported to a refugee camp. I was badly injured after being shot or knifed by some terrorists I guess, and Martha was scared. I think she called me… Ahmed.

Doctor Salem, is my donor’s name Ahmed?” I vividly questioned this time, feeling more hyped up.

 

“I’m sorry Tylor but I don’t have access to the donors’ names. Their identities are kept anonymous. Now go home and rest” He apologized and escorted me out the door.

 

That night, I also slept on the living room couch. I had one leg dangling to the ground in order to fit the rest of my body on the mattress. My thin blanket couldn’t fight the chilly weather and soon enough my eyes started to itch and sting. I could feel the pointy needle penetrating my glassy cornea, producing blood-dripping friction. Ahmed was sewing his way through the stitches from my cornea all the way to my brain. That’s when the nightmares began. My eyes were shifting from one side to the other grasping the flashbacks from Ahmed’s past life.

“Hello, I am doctor Jack Salem.” Boosh… Ratatata “You Join us… or boom boom… family…children…you… Bye Bye! Under’estand? “

sssshhbloom… “My team and I are here to run some medical tests on you to make sure that you and your kids are safe and healthy.” Ratatata… “God is ISIS…”

” Please sign these papers for us. They’re nothing important. Some medical formalities for further research”

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“Mashallah! Good wife you have… Bayoutiful” ssshhhblamm… Karrrtataa… “Don’t touch my wife!” Ratatata…

“Ahmed… Hang on!… The doctors are on their way to help you!!” eee-woOO-EEE-WOoo-eee-wooo…

“He’s not gonna make it to the hospital. Inject him with a high dose of morphine. His organs are still functional.”

“THEY’RE GOING TO KILL US!! KILL us…kill us”

 

Ahmed had invaded my mind, building new connections with my brain cells. I was a receptor to his spiritual field, capturing all his ideas. I felt him through the pulsating sensations going from my brain to my limbs. Ahmed was hungry for revenge and his intense murder instincts were driving my body.

 

Martha was right: They’re going to kill us… Not ISIS though… but these doctors that made us sign papers we didn’t know how to read. Never did a wounded refugee come back to the camp! But I’m gonna be the exception… I’m coming for you Dr. Salem and soon I’ll be back to my wife and kids.

Ahmed had already taken a toll on me and I had two options: either cooperate with him or fight him back – although I had no idea how to do that –.

I sympathized with him; his feelings ran in my blood. He was a victim offered the chance to defend himself and I felt somehow responsible.  I rented him my body to free myself from the guilt of either killing Dr. Salem or remaining silent in the face of injustice for what I have witnessed.

 

It was already 6:00am, Dr. Salem was definitely in his office at this time. I don’t know how I managed to drive to the hospital since my vision wasn’t totally recovered. It seemed like Ahmed’s instincts were stronger than my physical disabilities. He became so enraged that time dilated playing the scene in rose-tinted slow-motion. The high levels of adrenaline in my body blocked the surrounding noises. The only sounds I was perceiving were produced by my hyperventilation and my accelerated heart-beats. I quickly turned the doorknob of Dr. Salem’s office and found myself inside.

 

“Oh… Hey there Tylor. You scared me… What’s going on?” said Dr. Salem while catching his breath.

“Hi doctor. We meet again.” I walked closer and grabbed the surgical scissors from the metal table under the TV. “I believe this is your weapon of preference? You hide behind your white coat and your vast knowledge… when in fact, you are worse than these so-called terrorists! At least their violence is expected.”

 

“Tylor… Tylor please, drop the scissors… Please, let us sit and talk about how you feel.” He pleaded in fear.

 

“Hahh…” I giggled. “Tylor has nothing to do with that. I’m Ahmed: that stupid, poor, mine of golden organs. The rotten piece of meat holding precious spare parts for your wealthy patients.” I walked closer towards him and grabbed his left arm. “I am going to make you feel the exact same pain you inflicted on me while ripping my organs apart. First, my liver…”

I choked him with my left arm against the wall and placed the scissors against his liver. He tip-toed to escape getting hurt, tilted his neck backwards and looked down towards the scissors. I pressed the pointy weapon deeper into his dermis and through the fat, tearing all of the layers in between. He whimpered as the blood dripped on the scissors, my hand and all over the ground. As I rapidly took-out the pointy metal, Dr. Salem fell to the ground moaning in pain, bathing in a puddle of blood. “Then… My kidneys!” I yelled as I stabbed him in a single shot! “Finally… my heart that you took away from Martha…” I pierced him straight in his blood-pump, smashing one or two ribs.

 

My feet couldn’t fight gravity anymore as I abruptly dropped on my knees. Dr. Salem had lost a lot of blood, his twitching stopped… He was dead.

 

What have I done? What have YOU done Ahmed?

 

I didn’t do anything Tylor…. It was all you! Do you really believe that I have the power to do all that? I’m just a voice in your head. You did it… for Martha. Remember? Now you have to go back to her… she misses you… you miss her too. Don’t you? The police are on their way; do you think they will believe your story? You have to act fast!

 

What was happening to me? God help me… God… Please forgive me, I have sinned.

 

Wait a minute.

I have sinned… through my new eyes.

 

I got up from the ground and ran towards the metal table. I picked clean surgical scissors, looked at them in my hand for a while, not sure if my idea would work. But I decided it was worth the try.

 

“Goodbye Ahmed!” within a heartbeat, I turned the scissors towards my eyes and stabbed them directly in the cornea… and then, Darkness.

 

Two weeks later:

 

Lying on the hospital bed, I heard someone’s footsteps approaching.

“Hello Tylor” I directly recognized Helen’s voice. “How are you feeling?” she continued asking.

 

I wasn’t sure what to say: Apologize? Explain myself?

We talked for hours… She told me that the police had caught several doctors involved in organ trafficking after the incident, including Dr. Salem. She held my hand and assured me that she will hire me the best lawyer in town to make sure I don’t end up in jail for murdering the doctor. This time, I had lost my eyesight forever, but at least I regained my wife, my sanity… myself.

 

The next morning, I was good to go back home. Going out of the hospital’s door, I passed next to Dr. Salem’s office. Helen told me that a woman sitting on the recliner chair had recently had a corneal transplant. I remembered that day when I was sitting on that same exact chair removing the eyepatches. A scent of roses suddenly filled the air. I stopped for a while, and then I heard her say:

 

“Ahmed…?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Room 168 

“In our latest news, a twenty-four-year-old woman was found dead, inside her chalet. Reports show that the husband might be involved in this murder as he was taken for further investigations. Neighbors affirmed that the couple was on bad terms, which led to their separation earlier that year, and that the woman (aka Lara) had been beaten several times by her so-called husband. A true tragedy…” Another murder story on the news… It’s the third one this month and all of them involved women mistreated by their husbands. I started hating this patriarchal, misogynous country I live in. But this story affected me the most. It took place in the same resort my family and I stay at. During the next few days, reporters and investigators constantly visited the crime scene in search of evidence, although the court had enough proof to consider the husband guilty. The night of the murder, he had signed himself in the resort at 10:07 PM, an hour before the victim was found dead. The security measures of the residence made it mandatory to track visits and a surveillance footage confirmed the suspicions, showing the musclebound husband walking through the gate, carrying a Samsonite briefcase and a bottle of wine.

That night I was riding my longboard across the chalets. The sound of the wheels gripping the concrete beneath it absorbed all the tension and stress accumulated in my temporal vein. Longboarding was my way to neutralize the negative vibes. As I was pedaling, a flickering white light pierced my eyesight, leaving me blind for fractions of a second until I finally accommodated my vision to the changes. It was the backdoor light of room 168; the chalet belonging to Lara, the woman presumingly found lying on her bed, bruises covering her face and body, bathing in her own viscous blood. Looking through the window, I identified a feminine figure, moving in trimmed and sequenced pictures – an illusion created by the strobe light and assimilated together by my brain. I stepped down from my longboard and carried it under my arm to halt the noises I was producing. Through the dark silence of the night, glass and wood breaking echoed from room 168, and the shadowed silhouette seemed responsible of this rumpus. Something bad was happening inside and I wanted to get a clearer view of the scene out of both curiosity and concern. Even being six feet tall, I had to change the purpose of my longboard to a stool in order to reach the window. My oxygen intakes decreased, though the frequency of my respiration hastened. I was unable to rationalize my fear, since my body was only responding to the adrenaline flows, produced by my own consciousness of doing something bad. Every heartbeat against my chest generated seismic waves through my nerves, weakening my arms and legs. I tracked the woman’s movements in the room. She was traveling from one corner to another as if she was searching for something. After a while, she stopped and while she kneeled to the ground, I tiptoed on my longboard to get a better view… a view that stimulated a stronger tachycardia, transferring the wave straight to the wheels, dropping me to the concrete.

A body… she was dragging a body!

When I heard the news, the flashbacks haunted me again. I was a strong witness to this case… maybe a suspect as well. When I fell down from shock, I left my longboard at the crime scene and ran as fast as I could to my chalet. Blood drops from my elbow wound could possibly be found and if investigators asked the neighbors about the owner of that longboard, I could be dragged to court right now.

“Updates about the murder of the twenty-four-year-old woman named Lara: An autopsy confirmed that Lara died from a clean deep cut in her neck using a sharp piece of wine bottle glass, slicing the carotid artery which usually leads the oxygenated blood to the neck and brain. This murder is similar to the two previous ones, the cases of Alia and Julie, who were also mistreated by their husbands and finally killed by a sharp slice in the neck. Investigators believe that the three homicides might be linked to a secret sect pushing men to kill their wives.”

I spent my whole day watching TV, expecting to hear about a found longboard which could be linked to the assassination. My eyes were getting red and itchy due to the long hours focused on the screen. The news anchor appeared again turning my paranoia into a justified fear. She was talking about a new suspect, that might be involved in the murder. I was losing sense of my surroundings; the sounds were deeper and slower as I was anticipating what could happen to me during the investigation, court and even jail. My expectations were confounded when I understood that the suspect was a woman, alleged to be the husband’s mistress. They had met on a dating website called “Hook’d” and she invited him over that night to her chalet for their first live meeting, the resort his ex-wife stays at. The conversation they had together on the website shows that she had asked him to bring a bottle of Bordeaux, the same bottle that was used as a weapon to kill Lara.

The murders gave rise to mass protests and awareness campaigns about women’s rights. Carol Malek, the founder of an NGO called “I’m h.er Fam” for abused and battered women, gave an emotional speech about gender equality. Lara visited the NGO several times because she was fragile and needed help. The main objective of “I’m h.er Fam” is to offer a Family – as the name suggests – to women like Lara, as well as a moral and legal support.

My strong curiosity led to my further investigation. The mistress was nowhere to be found, so I created a fake account on “Hook’d” hopeful to track her IP address thanks to my limited IT skills. Her account had been apparently deleted right after the incident.

In his testimony, Lara’s husband declared that he got stood up by the girl from the dating website, so he left the bottle of wine in front of the door of her chalet and went back home.

A couple of weeks later, the verdict considered the husband guilty of the murder of his wife. He was sentenced lifetime imprisonment. His fingerprints were tainting the whole crime scene, and no DNA belonging to the other suspects was found.

“I’m h.er Fam” inspired more women to break the wall of silence and to talk about their despairs. It even attracted young volunteers like myself, to support their cause. After the tragedies, I emailed Carol Malek, the founder of the NGO, to apply for a volunteering position during the month of August. She rapidly called me for an interview at her office.

I got up the next morning, two hours before the meeting. I put my blue suit on, shaved my aspiring beard and tied my hair in a bun, adding some wax on the sides to fix the small stubborn hair. The secretary welcomed me to Ms. Malek’s office. I entered through the door, holding my resume in my hand, and while waiting for my interviewer to come in the room, I tried to familiarize myself with the space. Her wooden desk was decorated with souvenirs from all kinds: little snow globes from around the world, some pictures of herself, files, papers and other professional objects…

I turned around the desk, to sit on the chair again but my pointy shoe got stuck into something, propelling my weight forward. I balanced my mass to save myself from falling, then I got to my knees to look for the cause of my drop. The blood flow pressured my tympanum again, inwards and outwards consecutively, similar to a drum roll. My respiration quickened as well, and holographic images from the night of the murder surfaced once more in my mind.

What was my longboard doing inside Carol Malek’s office???

The door opened, and here she was entering the premises. Shocked, I banged my head against the desk.

“Excuse… Excuse me Ms. Malek… I tripped over this longboard and I… I was trying to get up again.” I stuttered, still in a state of trauma.

I stood up, fixed my suit and extended my arm to shake her hand.

“Mr. Farhat” said Carol “You and I, know exactly what brought you here today. I would be smart if I were you.” She continued.

Still confused, I couldn’t grasp what she was insinuating: “I’m sorry Ms Malek, I’m just here to learn more about the volunteering opportunities offered by your NGO.”

“Cut the bullshit Mr. Farhat. When Lara died, you were at the crime scene. I found this longboard in front of the door of her chalet. It didn’t take me long enough to discover who its owner was. If it wasn’t for me, you could’ve been a suspect by now and dragged to jail. When I received your email, I knew you were up to something. Don’t you dare do anything dumb, or I will make sure to sink you with me.”

It was her… The woman dragging the body! And I just made sense of it.

“But why?” I asked. “Why did you do it? You’re a founder of “I’m h.er Fam”, the most feminist NGO in the country. And you end up killing the women that come to you asking for help?? You’re an animal!”

“You don’t get it, don’t you? I did a favor to those women. Do you know how many times they have wished to commit suicide? Their lives do not matter to them anymore. The only thing they cared about was the security of their children. Not only did I grant them their wish to become free, I made sure to pin it on these bastards. Driven by testosterone, they thought they could get away with beating their wives until their noses bleed and their eyes get swollen, raping them day after day, just because the law allows these acts under the roof of marriage. I saved them; I saved their children. I created a fake account on a dating site, knowing that men only care about getting laid. As soon as they fall into the trap, I make sure to cover the crime scene with their fingerprints and DNA samples, from objects I ask them to bring. The women are relieved, the men receive the judgements they deserve, the kids are safe and the world becomes a better place”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She was crazy. I gathered my strength and said: “Ma’am you’re a psycho. I can’t leave you wandering in the streets, knowing that you might kill another innocent person. I’m calling the police.”

She stabbed me with her look and grinned.

“Call them and I will frame you, just like I did to the other men. It’s very easy for me to do it. I built my whole NGO on framing other people. Let’s play a game… Look closely at the name “I’m h.er Fam”. Why is there a dot in the middle of the name? think… play with the letters… change their order.”

I squeezed my eyes to concentrate on the logo and to find the secret message.

“I’m h.er Fam … Fame rhim? … Fear himm? …” I couldn’t see it.

 

“wait I do…

 

FRAME HIM”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfinished Business

I stopped talking to him for nearly two years. I cut all kind of social interaction with him: live meetings, phone calls… everything. The only time I would see him would be during court, and on that battlefield I was dominating. I’ve won every single battle, gained full custody of my two sons and earned half of his properties.

It all goes back to that Sunday morning, when he woke up in bed next to me, tired of going back to his mediocre job the next day. He got hit by this common Sunday feeling of anxiousness mixed with a nostalgia of turning back young again, to that time where ambition was only limited by one’s own creativity. Excitement boosted him out of bed, striking me in shock, out of my sleep. With his eyes wide open as if he were having a “Eureka moment”, he eagerly described his plan with some hand gestures. He wanted to quit his engineering career and run for the parliamentary elections. Apparently it was his lifetime goal to serve his country. Not taking him seriously at first, I ended up organizing his campaign, knocking on people’s doors, hosting events and attending political receptions to promote him as a serious candidate. The awaited day had finally come… and he had succeeded!

That night we went out to celebrate on a rooftop club downtown. I had forgotten how fun it was to party. Ever since I got pregnant, we got busy acting like parents, we forgot that we were a young couple after all. The glass of Mai Tai acted up fast in my veins straight to my brain, and suddenly I was hugged by euphoria. Looking down at the view of the illuminated skyscrapers gave me strength, and the victory stimulated a sense of pride in my chest. I turned around to search for my husband in the middle of the crowd and it took me some time to finally distinguish his blonde hair, gelled to the back. He was talking to a young female, whose head did not even reach his shoulder. Both of them were wearing formal attires, but what was happening between them definitely wasn’t.  I kept watching them closely because I knew he had something for petite women. She reached her left pocket and removed what it seemed to be an envelope or a piece of paper – I couldn’t tell since some guy blocked the view at that moment – and passed it to my husband. They hugged and went in separate ways.

During the next few months, my husband got a lot of TV coverage. He was discussing political and social issues and his views attracted new supporters. He endorsed environmental and economical projects which as he explained in one of his interviews, would not only boost the economy but also appeal investments from all over the world. However, what boosted were the zeros on his paychecks rather than the economy of the country. He showered me with unexpected gifts and the people with anesthetic lies. He disgusted me. Even more than the smell of feminine perfume and alcohol stained on his shirt. That’s when I decided to file for divorce because I could not live with this hypocrite anymore. I also went down on the streets with a group of protestors to fight corruption. I was the woman behind his success and I wanted to make sure that I would be the one to sink him down.

That’s the full story Mr. Officer. I had nothing to do with his death. The doctor’s report showed that he passed away from natural circumstances due to his unhealthy lifestyle.

“Thank you ma’am” said the officer “you’re free to go”. I got up from my chair and as I was passing through the door, the officer started speaking again: “Excuse me ma’am. You mentioned a young woman giving a piece of paper to your husband on that rooftop. How is she related to the story?”

“Well…” I hesitated “We went back home that night, and while the alcohol had extended his REM sleep, I looked in his pocket and found the piece of paper. The woman had signed her name Lila at the end of the message that said:

Capture

“So this was nothing more than a business meeting” supposed the officer.

“Yes. Some unfinished business.” I replied, and then left the building.

I woke up the next morning, not being able to concentrate as usual before taking my coffee so I made myself a cup. I sat on the kitchen table and opened my mac to check my emails. Among the spam emails and advertisements that snuck out from the junk folder, I opened one specific message that looked intriguing:

Capture2

Ms. Deputy sounded so beautiful. I’ve been working for so long to hear this word. I tilt my head to the back, took a gulp of coffee and savored the taste of victory.

The Girl with the Greener Eyes

It was a Friday night and like every other night I was preparing myself for my shift. I stood in front of my bathroom mirror and as I was putting my mascara on, I noticed that my iris was slightly pigmented with a greenish color -I usually have hazel eyes- that did not seem to be originated from the bad lighting. I brought my head closer to the mirror to focus even more but my breath kept on tainting the glass with steam that I continuously swiped with some paper towels. I could see my pupil dilating, like a black hole engulfing parts of its galaxy. Even my consciousness was getting sucked inside this whirlpool, as I was feeling my head being pulled down by the gravitational force. Suddenly, I woke up from my wondering and continued my make-up. Done with the contouring and the foundation, I ended up my routine by applying my favorite red colored lipstick, and there I was, ready to go to work. I got out of the bathroom and walked towards my bedroom to unplug my phone from the charger. I got frustrated to discover that it was only 13% charged but I couldn’t wait any longer because I was getting late for work. I had received an imessage from my boss a couple of minutes ago that said:

“Hurry up Kelly! Customers are getting hungry, and few are serving. We need your help asap”. 

This text brought shivers to my spine, because it wasn’t the first time that I get a warning for being late and I was afraid to lose my job.
Ever since I failed to maintain my scholarship, I had to find a way to pay my tuition. I remember the day I entered the dean’s office to beg Mr. Stone not to take my scholarship away, but he refused to listen to me and with a demeaning look he told me:

“Miss Kelly, there are plenty of other institutions that can welcome you. We have rules here. You weren’t between the top of your classmates therefore you lose your scholarship”.

I always had been on the honor’s list, but the death of my parents in a car crash at the beginning of that semester undermined all my efforts and hard work. My parents never wanted me to major in political sciences. They believed that I was able to go to med school and become a surgeon. However, following my dream meant taking a huge leap of faith, and losing my scholarship was the wind that slapped me to the ground.
The dean’s words dragged me through the mud even more and I found myself vulnerable to failure. I hated him… So bad… That every time I see him in the hallways, all the muscles in my body contract. I can even hear my heart pumping in my chest, this thick, crimson liquid against my arteries. Soon enough, my stomach starts to ache as if it was receiving electrical shocks.
But I couldn’t do anything about it because as he said “We have rules here”.

I took the keys of the old, silver colored Honda, and drove to work. The seats were dusty and smelled like rotten food. Even one of its loosed rims was constantly cracking along the way.
I finally reached my destination, got out of the car and ran as fast as I could with those heels towards the Club I work at. There, I saw my boss, who I assumed to be extremely mad since his eyebrows crossed roads just above his concave nasal bone.
“Go wear your uniform and serve tables 4 to 8” he said firmly.

Holding the tray in one hand, I placed a short glass of scotch -on the rocks of course- on table number 5. I was carefully watching my steps, because the place was too dark, only lightened by strobes, switching on and off to the rhythm of the loud music. I rapidly sense a presence behind my back, coming closer towards my ear, whispering: “I’ll give you what you want, if you give me what I want!”.
I recognized this voice immediately. I turned around to confirm my assumption, and here he was, Dean Stone!

He broke my comfort zone by sternly gazing into my eyes. I was trying to preserve a slight portion of my privacy, but he managed to strip the last bits of it by simply saying: “Your emerald-green eyes are mesmerizing!”.
At that moment, I couldn’t refuse his offer, because on one side, it was part of my job to satisfy every potential client, and on the other hand his offer was definitely tempting.

Two years have passed, and I was still sleeping with the enemy. It was my graduation day and also the day I was going to be set free from all the torture I had suffered. Looking at myself in the mirror, my iris looked greener than usual. I gazed deeper into my reflexion and suddenly a deja vu throws me off to when it all started. The first time I let myself being manipulated, succumbing to the trap, I felt unworthy and disgusted of the person I turned into. My identity was altered by circumstances I had no control of, or thought I didn’t. Each time I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t recognize myself. I’ve played too many roles in my life that I forgot to play myself. But today, I’m breaking this never-ending vicious cycle… I’m going on that graduation stage and instead of throwing my valedictorian speech, I’m sharing my story!
Reality hit me, and I found myself looking at my bathroom mirror again. My eyes gained their original brownish color, and for a long time, I finally looked like Kelly.