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Authors: Abdo Khal

Throwing Sparks

BOOK: Throwing Sparks
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‘Go forth to […] the flames, which scatter sparks, as from massive logs, coloured like tawny camels.’

Unleashed, 77:30-33, The Qur’an



‘As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.’

The Song of Solomon, 2:3, The Holy Bible

A wave is a marker of distance, of absence.

And Tahani never raised her hand …

How I betrayed her when she did not wave from afar!

This confession, in all its sordidness, is for her and for all the others I ruined along the way.


Tariq Fadel


Outcast and dispirited...


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Second threshold









A Note on the Author


Outcast and dispirited
, I embraced a life of crime.

Standing in the punishment chamber, I would contemplate my naked body, bruised and degraded by the cruel and brutal acts it had performed. There had been hundreds of torture assignments, some more successful than others, and I approached each with steadfast purpose, unmoved by the victims’ agonised cries and pleas for mercy. I carried out my duties down to the most minute detail as required by the Master, ensuring that nothing would mar his enjoyment while he watched me sodomise his rivals.

I would dismount from my victims only after I had pounded them to a pulp and all that remained was a heap of moaning and gasping bones.

At the end of these sessions the Master had taken to handing me photos or video recordings of the victims. As a result, I knew all my victims, at least by sight. I kept a complete archive of the recordings and images, which could have been valuable had I been inclined to use them. I could have blackmailed the victims, exploiting those compromising pictures for the right sum. But I never dared to, knowing that the Master would instantly make mincemeat of me if he ever found out.

Even though I had spent many years punishing his rivals, I received no appreciation from the Master, other than when he was watching me at it. I served no other purpose; only when he had a victim in tow would everyone scurry around the Palace looking for me as if in search of a lost key.

There was no escaping him, even after I eventually moved out of the Palace and into my own place, ostensibly to look after my aunt. He watched my every move, my every start and stop. I was at his beck and call around the clock, expected to show up on demand. He held me tightly as if flying a kite – all he had to do was tug on the fine thread and I would tumble down and wait, covered in dust, to be lifted up to the wind.

‘Tariq! Get over here!’ His voice over the cell phone was irate.

I thought the game was up and that I might have to plan an escape. I called Maram for any news she might have, but she said it was unlikely he knew anything. There had been none of the usual early warning signs of his rages, no ‘alerts’ had been issued, and I should just get over there, as he demanded. I headed north over King Abdullah Street to get to his new palace in Sharm Abhar within the half-hour. But just as I was arriving, he called again to instruct me to meet him at his old residence instead. It was so typical of him to change his mind all of a sudden, without rhyme or reason – and God help you if you commented on or questioned a new command.

I wondered what he needed. I spun the car around and headed south, my mind racing.

A small fish caught in a net behind a fishing boat yearns to escape the trap. But the boat needs to stop long enough for the fish to break free. Ever since falling into
trap, I nurtured the hope that the Master would stop calling me every minute of the day, that he would slow down long enough for me to wriggle out of the snare. Sometimes we need to be still to determine the best way ahead, to decide whether to advance or to retreat. But that viper never had a day of rest. Distracted by his incessant motion, his prey could neither gauge the speed of the attack nor figure out the best escape.

I dreamed of breaking free from the instant I became trapped, believing that, with time, the Master would slacken the pace. I came to the realisation that nothing short of death would slow him down, and judging by his good health, that eventuality was a long way off.

I stepped into the marble foyer of the Palace where he usually held court. Some poor wretch lay across the floor surrounded by guards with their boots shoved into him. He was in such a pitiful state that it took me a while to recognise his features. I stood rooted to the spot and shuddered as I looked down on his crumpled body. All the years we had shared trickled back in tiny drops of brine. The excitement and adventures of our now distant adolescence coalesced into the memory of that night when he had come to my rescue and shielded me from my pursuers.

Who would shield us from one another now?

The Master ordered two guards to pick up the victim and take him to the punishment chamber. ‘Now to your final assignment,’ he commanded.

Though I knew it well, I looked around this den of cruelty as if for the first time. I felt a dizzying revulsion. I was completely shattered. It had never crossed my mind that one day he and I would be face to face in this very chamber. We looked each other in the eye, taking in our defeat and our torment.

The sole instrument of torture in this room was the method I had developed and perfected since my first assignment, and whose mastery had been demonstrated on countless occasions. My job was to loosen the hardened bond like a key bearing down on a rusty, seized-up lock. After which, the key was hung up for safe-keeping until the next time it was needed.

In all such instances, torturer and victim were inexorably drawn to the edge of the abyss. Their individualities dissolved and they became one, united in torment.

This time, though, everything was wrong – the place, the person, the timing. No sooner had I begun working on him than the evening call to prayer rang out, its melody and reson­ant words penetrating our very core as our bodies shuddered and convulsed. We begged each other for mercy and choked back agonised cries for our mutual suffering to end. Relieved and spent, torturer and victim buried their faces into the mattress, finally freed from each other.

I had been in the punishment chamber many times, feeling heavier and fouler each time. Whenever I had tried to extricate myself from the snare, the Master had tossed me back in, keeping me submerged to rust and corrode like a piece of metal abandoned in a dank and murky pit. I had grown accustomed to living exposed and raw.

I pulled up my loose-fitting shorts as soon as I had finished. Covering my shame and privates was easy enough; shoring up my frayed and tattered spirits was not so easy, given the filth in which I was steeped. I felt drained, battered and exhausted.

The evening call to prayer seemed endless. It felt as if the muezzin’s injunction to the faithful went unheeded long into the night. The words of the sacred call reverberated throughout my being but offered no respite from the unrelenting darkness trapped within. The doors to my heart had been slammed shut by sin a long time ago, and the pools of darkness had grown and widened, enabling my wounded soul to engage in ever more cruel acts of torture. The process did not stop just because the time was up.

There was no safe harbour for our wayward souls. Our wounded spirits carried on with their outpouring of pent-up grief until all our days and nights in Jeddah seemed like a journey through a vale of tears. We were like boats racing towards some nearby harbour only to be blown back out to sea, the shoreline obliterated by a sprawling mass of walls and buildings.

Time passed, the call to prayer continued uninterrupted and night fell, gathering up its cloak, not to cover us but rather to expose us, bound together in our shameful act.

Picking up my clothes, I left my victim to collect himself. I was now resolved that I could no longer carry on with such terrible acts, but said nothing for fear that my turn would be next.

The Master looked me in the eye and congratulated me on successfully completing the assignment. ‘You’re as good as you always were,’ he exclaimed. ‘Maybe I should reconsider that decision to retire you.’

I spat on the ground without the Master seeing, while he directed a thick wad of spittle at the victim. He brimmed with contempt for him.

This was the most difficult assignment I had carried out since working at the Palace. It was supposed to be my ‘grand finale’, as the Master had put it, and he had invited his closest associates, his inner circle, to witness it. I had no choice in the matter – refusing would have meant either becoming a victim myself or being jailed on charges of conspiracy to murder. The specifics would be irrelevant; the Master could fabricate whatever charge would lead to my sentence, complete with irrefutable evidence and maybe even a personal confession.

I now doubted this would be my final act. Make a deal with the devil, and life is certain to set up a vicious and inescapable trap.

Dear God, help me. Please help me.

My decision to kill the Master had fully ripened. I had been carrying around images of his dead body in my mind for a very long time, summoning up visions of murder while lying in bed, killing him a different way before falling asleep every night.

First threshold

How many women have been violated or forced into prostitution without anyone coming to their assistance – no court, no defender of human rights, no self-proclaimed reformer? Mayhem is upon us. No good can arise in a nation that punishes the weak and turns a blind eye to the deeds of the rich and powerful.

From a Friday sermon by

BOOK: Throwing Sparks
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