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LongStryShort

It Escalates Quickly – JeanPaul FARHAT

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”