So... this is a short story I wrote... for a short story competition... i don't think i've heard from them yet... but i submitted to it about 3 months ago.. and well... i'm not sure when you're supposed to hear back... but anyway... here it is
By Reem Abou-samra
I was kicking a screaming, wrenching out of their grasp, gasping for breath between shrieks that felt like banshees shattering my ears. Why were they taking me?! Where are they taking me? I didn’t want to go with these men. “Let me go!” I yelled, till my throat was raw, my arms flapping about in all directions, like a baby bird learning to take flight. They held my arms securely, more securely than I could ever hold myself together. They wouldn’t answer me. The most one of these men would say was “You have the right to remain silent” and I would go berserk. Remain silent, for being taken away? On what charges?! Who do they think they are?! And then it hit me, like all those rumors I heard about Muslims in our community, it hit me, like a brick in the face, it hit me. I was being detained! My body suddenly went limp out of shock, and they tightened their grasps on me. Words, let alone thoughts, couldn’t form past my lips. I didn’t know what to do? Should I comply with them, should I fight back? Why were they taking me anyway? I was part of the collateral damage, my head is pounding, my legs feel broken, and why are they taking me? I am a victim.
“I am a victim!!!” I couldn’t hold it in any longer. “Why are you guys taking me?!” I screamed at them. One of the guards looked at me sideways, a look that burned me inside out, accusing, threatening, full of animosity, “you’re a terrorist, that’s why we’re taking you.” He said in whispered tones, his voice passionate yet low. My jaw dropped, me, a terrorist? I was on my way to pick up my daughter, when all of a sudden a gun shot sounded, followed by many others. The whole street of people seemed to drop to the ground instantaneously. I was silently praying in my head that my daughter was out on the street, playing hopscotch with her classmates. When all of a sudden the shots died out, and as we all got up off the ground slowly, I was practically tackled by four men, probably double my size in both height and weight.
“I didn’t do anything! And my daughter needs me!” I said between attempts to pull away from them. The same guard looked at me again, and said “Your daughter won’t even notice you’re gone, you filthy piece of crap.” I couldn’t take it, what were they doing, I almost lost my life, my daughter was in jeopardy, I didn’t know what to do. Their hold on me was too tight; I could feel my arms losing feeling, because of lack of blood circulation. I tried to wrench free again, and the next thing I knew, the guard took the side of his gun and hit me on the head, and I slipped away.
I feel groggy, and I can’t tell anything apart. I’m not even sure if I am awake yet, since with my eyes open, everything looks darker than it was when my eyes were closed. I try to extend my legs, to stretch them from the fetal position I was lying in for the past, God knows how long. But they don’t get further than maybe half a foot, six measly inches, feeling like ancient Chinese foot binding had evolved into leg binding, and was being practiced on Arab males. I massage them, pushing, pressuring, drawing circles on my calves, knees, thighs, but the cramping doesn’t stop. Restless leg syndrome, I’ve had it since I was a kid, and it’s ten time worse now since I can’t do anything to stop it. I need to just ride it out.
My eyes finally register the darkness that surrounds me, and my ears and nose kick into hyper-sensitive, and I can smell something dead, and hear something run by me, rats maybe. I hear dripping water somewhere beyond this tomb like chamber. All of a sudden swift foot steps come down a hall just beyond these cement walls, doors are yanked open, something seems to fall, maybe drop to the ground with a clang, and doors slam shut. I hear the steps coming closer and closer, and I brace myself, hoping that this is a bad dream, and someone is on the brink of waking me up. The footsteps stop for half a second before a small sliding door is heaved open, bright light defuses in. I’m blinded temporarily, not being able to see the face of my savior, before my ears twitch, tingle, shatter, as a loud clang hits the ground right between my bended, cramping legs. I’m still blinded, my head is pounding. Is it from lack of caffeine or is it the dark? How long have I been here. I can’t even remember anymore. Has it been a day, weeks, months, years? I’m not even sure.
A smell wafts up and tickles my senses, food. Is it breakfast, lunch, dinner? I can’t be sure, since there is no consistency to our meal times. I don’t want to eat. I’m scared of eating. The smell dies away by the overpowering stench of crap. My own or someone else’s, I’m not even sure. All I know is that I can either suffer hunger, or I can suffer dehydration, because it’s laced with laxatives. My stomach grumbles, tightens and I feel nauseated, maybe from diarrhea or from hunger, whatever it is, it feels like an earthquake that is impossible to still. Hunger wins out, I reach for the plate and take a bite. It’s tastes nasty, like someone shat in my mouth. I my stomach resists this invasion, and I heave it out. Bile fills my mouth and throat. I give up, praying that someone will come for me, remember me, because I forgot them all.
I’m being dragged, my arms pulled over my head, as my head lolls to the side in surrender. I can feel the numbness in my legs, my head is pounding, like a hammer to the gong. It quakes through my body. I can smell, not feel, my blood drip away from my toes because my feet are being dragged behind me, cut up by jagged shards of rock, metal, glass, I’m not sure which, just something sharp. My capture dumps me on the ground. I still can’t tell, is it dark or bright, I don’t know, I feel blinded, am I blind? No. I’m blind folded.
Someone with a thunderous voice screams in my face, ripping apart any working faculty of my ear drums, and I can smell the sourness of his breath, practically taste it and my stomach clenches.
“WHY DID YOU DO IT?” and I respond with silence, until I start gasping, choking, coughing, I’m drowning. My arms attempt to paddle me to safety, but they’re restrained behind me. My legs can barely even move an inch, let alone help me swim to safety. I can’t breathe. Then, I gasp for breath. I realize that only my head was drowning. My body is dry of everything except my own sweat, which reminds me that I am still alive, until I start drowning again. This goes on, with all his questions “Who else was involved? Who do you work for? What is the next hit?” I can’t make sense of any of his questions, let alone answer them. I don’t understand why I am here, but I feel guilty, at fault, blameworthy, responsible for something I don’t even know about. This daily routine of inconsistency makes me feel like a scolded child, being sent to sit in the corner for time out.
Soon, Sour Breath gives up trying to pry answers out of me, like a dentist pulling out the wrong tooth. And I’m dragged again back to my sanctuary, my prison, my four walls that I’ve gotten to know so well, which indentation at what corner, every stone pressed against my back, the smell of piss, vomit, crap, dead animal carcasses, live ones, and rotting food. I’m being squished back into my cement box, my six foot frame, curled back into fetal position, being redeemed, being reborn, being returned to my cement womb. Something furry, crawls over my shoulder, and turns my chest and hair into it’s very own high ropes course. It slides down my body, scratching with it’s knife like claws, nibbling with razor sharp teeth at different parts, tasting me, and I, naked and bleeding, am a 3 course meal, buffet style. I drift out again, into a world of dreams, mostly nightmares, but all I wish for is that I could have a dead sleep.
I wake with a start. I’m being dragged again. No wait, I’m hanging by my arms, looped around my wrists are metal cuffs. Bright lights are turned on, and I scream at the image in front of me. There is a man, hanging like a star fish, out of the sea. Lands and legs spread, and I look down and realize that it is an image of me. A mirror. I smell him, before seeing him, Sour Breath is here. Again, his voice fills the air, threatening me with numbers of volts that I do not even recognize, are they high? Low? He says that if I comply with his questions then it won’t have to be this way. And I feel scolded again. He asks what I did, and I ask myself, what did I do? I can’t remember anything other than this life.
“Abdul-Salam, ANSWER ME NOW” he hollers and I can feel my ears twitch. Abdul-Salam, is that me? I can’t remember, he’s forcing me to, but it makes me forget all the more. All of a sudden, I feel on fire, my whole body tightens, my arms and legs clench at the shock that traveled through my body. The shock stopped, but my body continues to twitch for moments afterwards. And like the drowning, he continues battering me with questions that I don’t have answers to. I stare at him through the mirror, my eyes misted over, but I know he can see me glaring at him, but he doesn’t care. He smirks, and his horrible breath drifts over to me, more overpowering than my own stench, and another shock runs through me. I feel like I have been burnt inside out, my hair all standing at their ends, erect, waiting for another shock, over sensitized.
Tears are washing the grime off my cheeks, but I don’t want Sour Breath to see me break, but I am already a broken horse, I am ready to wear the harness, ready to succumb to his every last wish. And once he read that submission in my eyes, his smirk turned into a cocky smile. Deciding that I should taste more domination, he rips off his belt and starts whipping at every possibly angle on my body. I am burnt, beaten, bruised, broken, but not yet dead. I bite down on my tongue, wishing for it to stop, but it doesn’t, and I slip unconscious.
My eyes snap open, and I realize that I am not in my cell. I am strapped to a chair, hands extended in front of me, palms faced up. Someone is bending down over my feet; I stare at them, wondering what is going on, until I feel a little piece of me being ripped away. My nails are being pulled from my toes, each one bloodier than the next. The surgeon drops each nail into the palm of my hand. And I want to start gagging, the sight hurts me more than the actually removal, since my feet have been numb since I could last remember. I don’t reveal this information, because I don’t want them to truly hurt me where I can feel it, or I won’t be able to handle it any more. I’m exhausted. I want to sleep, but they keeping waking me up, each time more unexpectedly than the last. I let him work, silently praying, knowing that they’ll eventually grow back. I count, one, two, three, four, and five. He stopped. I realized that he only intended this for one foot, maybe he’ll get to the next, or maybe this was to remind me of the pain I’d feel comparing the nailed foot with the nail-less one. I sighed in surrender, all over again.
I’m shoved back into my cell, and I’m desperately trying to remember my life before this hell hole. But I can’t remember. I can’t think past these four two by two walls. It’s like they are thought proof, no mind can work while inside. Or maybe, they did it so your mind runs in circles, so that you brink on insanity. And I wonder, am I brinking? Or am I there already, dived in, drowning in it? My thoughts run around and around like a perpetual merry-go-round, dizzying, nauseating, exhausting. My biggest question is, who am I? Because even though I desperately don’t want to be who they have been accusing me of being, what if they are right? Should I just say I am, and that way I will know who I am?
I hear footsteps coming towards me again, aimed only for me, and my muscles tighten, my body clenches, and my thoughts withdraw. I’m suspended over my body floating, pretending that I am someone else, and watching this poor person get the punishment they deserved. I watch as a guard grabs my chains and practically drags me, and I float over them, attempting to guess what is going to happen next. My body is thrown into a chair, and Sour Breath is staring out the window, the first one I’ve seen, and it’s like I see the window of freedom, the window of opportunity, the window of hope, in this office I seem to be in. He turns towards me, his eyes accusing me like all my worst fears were confirmed, and that hope that had just risen like a phoenix from the ashes experienced an instantaneous heart attack as it was just about to take flight. His eyes confirmed my suspicions, maybe I was a horrible person before this, and it scared me. Sour Breath maintain eye contact, enough to shoot uncomfortable shivers down my spine, I waited for him to tell me what has been done? What will be done? And barely over a whisper, skeptical, like he doesn’t believe what he’s telling me, he says:
“Apparently Abdul-Salam, you were a victim at the shooting. Evidence shows that you weren’t even supposed to be there but it was a set up. What you told us in the beginning three weeks ago has been confirmed as true, you were only a passerby, on your way to pick up your daughter from daycare. The real culprit saw you as a potential cover as he escaped. You’re free to go. Your stuff is at the main entrance, just continue down the hall. And if anything similar ever comes up, even if it’s rumors, give me a call.”
Sour Breath handed me a card, it said Eric Wyandotte, Head Investigator. I didn’t know how to react, and I still couldn’t remember my life before being here, I couldn’t even remember what I told them three weeks ago. All I knew was that I must have done something wrong to be punished with this brutality. I was forever changed, and I knew I would never remember who I was before coming here. I followed the way down the hall, picked up random items, a wallet, jeans and a t-shirt, sneakers, underwear, a cell phone, keys, glasses and a messenger bag. I opened my wallet and stared at my ID, Abdul-Salam Khalid, Boston MA, born in 1984, six feet. But the picture that stared back at me was unrecognizable; I had no idea who this clean cut and tailored person was. Because all I knew about myself was: I am Broken.