Judy Douglas Knauer
Thoughts that breathe...and gasp and wheeze!
Can I say 'better late than never?' I promised the beginning #pages of my #thriller "OVER THE EDGE." So, here you go:
“Even the best amongst us, when pushed
over the edge, belong to tribes.”
- Tarek Fatah, Canadian Muslim Congress leader, to BBC Radio News, July 2006, following arrests of six Muslim men on suspicion of planning to bomb
the parliament and decapitate Canada’s Prime Minister.
Qiyam-Dasht District, Tehran, Iran
Hani Zafar slipped over the ledge, out his bedroom window so he could track his mother to the shuttered bazaar.
His only companions, darkness and a hot breeze heavy with raw sewage stench. Hani darted along sinister shadows in the familiar alley. The hardened soles of his bare feet made no sound, still Sanji’s scrawny mongrels sensed him. They barked and howled, warned the neighborhood someone caroused. Hani snaked his way between buildings. In no time he was well beyond the dogs’ noses and ears.
After sunset prayers Hani overheard his father tell his mother, Farah, to deliver a note to a man who waited at the bazaar. Now, across the street in the dark unpatrolled market, Farah stopped. She stood under a sliver of moonlight on the far side of the closed marketplace, maybe six meters from Hani.
Farah took great risk coming to this dangerous place alone at night. Hani reasoned that his mother needed his protection while he counted on Allah to watch his back. Hani also depended on Allah to keep this little nighttime adventure between the two of them, unless his mother actually fell victim to attack. He hoped that was unlikely, but these restless days who knew.
Over on Pahlavi Street he heard the ever-present traffic hum. The chirps from night insects stilled as he passed. He wished for more moonlight so he could watch out for the nocturnal camel spider. But shit, if he did spot one it would already have bitten him and he’d be dying.
Hani dashed across an alley. He hugged the crumbling outer wall of a store. His shirt open, the rough clay was warm against his bare chest. Pungent odors leaked from the tobacco shop’s battened windows. The hot wind whipped around the corner making him squint against gritty dust.
He wiped sweat from his face onto his shirtsleeve and stared hard into the night to see if his mother had moved. She had not. Tiny whirlwinds blew market trash around her dark figure in the black abaya. Farah’s favorite purple niqab shrouded her face.
A man abruptly stepped out of the shadows and walked toward her.
She bowed her head to look at the man's feet, handed him the paper. The note disappeared inside his shirt. He turned and the night swallowed him.
Hani’s heart raced. For a moment he lost sight of her. He stuck his head out further from the building’s corner, his eyes strained into the darkness. There. She had moved and pressed against a storefront, hiding under its corrugated tin awning. His father’s instructions were for her to stay until the man returned with a responsive note. The good wife obeyed her husband.
His heart swelled for his mother. She exuded a strong natural beauty and warmth that he wished she would use to make herself tougher against his father’s cruelty. She should not have been sent on this mission, a vulnerable woman.
Almost fifteen years old, Hani understood if men saw her as she dressed in a long-sleeved shirt under a thobe within their home, without the extraneous covers that screened her face and figure, they would desire her, which meant she committed grave sin. When she used black pencil around her large oval eyes and painted her lips bright red, she rubbed the color off and hid her face before she stepped outside. Hani felt it his duty to look out for her as he did now.
He held his breath. The man had reappeared. Farah moved from her hiding place. Without looking up at him, she snatched the note from the man and turned to leave.
In that moment, a large hand clamped onto Hani’s shoulder and squeezed. Jagged fingernails dug into tender nerves and muscle. Hani cried out. His assailant held tight against the teen’s instinct to run.
“Do you seek trouble, young man?” The accusation blasted like a sonic boom, exploding into the night’s stillness.
Hani raised his eyes to the sneer on the holy man’s lips. His grotesque features repulsed Hani. He twisted and spat, but the bigger man held firm. The mullah’s long beard smelled like old garbage. Hani pressed his free arm against his nose. He refused to answer this stinky goat.
Then they heard her.
The giant’s grip loosened. Hani squirmed free.
The mullah now blared allegations toward the woman who stood frozen, alone and afraid for her child and scared to death for herself.
The mullah’s voice blared. “Only a whore meets men in the night. Where is your husband? Your brothers? Answer me.”
As soon as his mother saw that Hani had freed himself, she turned and ran. The long abaya wrapped around her legs, slowed her escape. She glanced back over her shoulder. The old man took swift lengthy strides to stay in her wake. Mullah Al-Irani knew the Zafar family and the neighborhood. He would go straight to their home.
But Hani took a shortcut.
Even in the dark he could fly over Baranyi’s short fence and Magra’s trash heap. He jumped the slender sewage stream that ran down the middle of the alley. He used the empty oil drum to reach the small high window from which he had left his bedroom. Back in his room he fought to catch his breath. He heard his mother slam the front door to their first-floor apartment and hurry breathless inside.
Hani walked into the kitchen. He used his shirttail to wipe stinging sweat from his eyes. The upstairs neighbors would hear the mullah bang on their door and his demand to be allowed inside.
His father opened the door. The mullah rushed in. He pointed at Farah.
“You disrespect Allah’s word? You shame your husband to meet alone with a man…in the darkness of night?”
She did not speak as she stared at the floor. Hani walked over and stood beside her.
“You saw her.” Mullah Al-Irani’s eyes bore into Hani’s wide stare. “You hid and watched your mother commit adultery.”
Hani shook his head.
“Are you calling me a liar? Look at him pant and sweat like a sick dog. Look under his shirt at his shoulder. My marks are on him.”
Hani’s father grabbed his arm and yanked the open shirt down off his shoulders. The mullah’s ragged fingernails had broken Hani’s skin, left four evenly spaced bruises. Farah gasped. She took Hani by the wrist and pulled him toward the sink where she grabbed a bar of soap.
“I had no idea my wife wandered into the night.” Hani’s father turned a furious face to his wife. “Woman, do you cheat on me while I sit here reading the glorious Qur’an?”
His father lied with vulgar conceit in order to save his own skin. To speak truth meant he’d have to reveal the secret business that brewed in their neighborhood. Business that boys Hani’s age weren’t supposed to know.
But he did know, as did some of his buddies.
A revolt smoldered in the shadows throughout their District. His father and men of their Shari'a tribe bargained and bartered with Frenchmen to get guns and ammunition. When the time came, they would be prepared to hammer the Shah’s forces. Hani yearned for a part in the rebellion. But this…he could not believe his father would put his own wife in this danger. He used her to carry his secrets to his friends so he would not be caught.
“She is a whore.” His father stepped up to Farah and slapped her cheek. He turned and nodded to Mullah Al-Irani for approval. He did not see the fear in her eyes that Hani saw before she walked from the room. Hani felt his stomach turn sour.
Late in the night his mother sat on the side of his bed. She held him and swayed back and forth with him, her baby, rather than a teen. Her grip tightened around his shoulders, causing pain where Mullah Al-Irani had clawed him.
She kissed his face repeatedly and wished him a blessed life. Over and over she told him how much she loved her only child. She reminded him that his Persian name meant happy.
She pleaded with Hani to always live happy as he felt the soft patter of her tears drop onto his head.
This morning the men came and his father led her out of their home.
The black burka covered her from head to toe. Even her beautiful eyes lay hidden from view. They held her arms and led her down the gray dirt alley that wound to a rocky gorge at its end, just two blocks from their home. Hani thought she looked tiny.
The sun burned through his dark hair as he followed them. He knew he had no power to stop this. He had no choice but to stay.
Six men formed a wide circle around his mother. Each one was a family friend or neighbor. Today their faces belonged to demented monsters. Each man took his turn cursing Farah for unfaithfulness to her husband and to Allah. Their dark hairy fists bulged around large stones stained maroon with old blood.
Hani shouted, “She did nothing wrong.”
The sudden solid shove felt like he’d been hit by a truck. The force flung him backwards where he slammed hard on his tailbone against a ragged boulder. Crushing pain jolted through his backside and rode like a lightning strike up into his skull. His tailbone felt trapped in a fierce fire. He rolled onto his side, certain he heard bone crack.
Hani reached back and felt the wet sticky blood. His father grabbed Hani’s arm and pulled him off the ground, only to throw a backhand across Hani’s face. This time Hani caught his fall with his hands on the sharp, gouging rocks. His left cheek throbbed.
Tormenting venom bristled in the air as the men let loose the first stones. Hani turned away and covered his ears. But nothing could keep out the sound. He jumped at the hard whap each rock made when it struck his mother. His stomach erupted. Hot sour bile splashed onto his bare feet.
Beside him, his father picked up a rock and threw with rage. The sight turned to slow motion as Hani swiveled his head. He saw the rock leave his father’s hand and strike his mother’s chest. Farah crumpled to the ground. Stones flew at her and bounced off her head.
A growing mound formed around and over her. Agony twisted Hani’s face as he stared helplessly at her broken body.
His father grabbed his arm. Hani did not recognize the dark nothingness in those eyes. He looked down at the rock his father thrust into his hands.
“You will stone the whore.”
“No. I will not.”
“I order you in Allah’s name.”
Hani remained defiant. “Order what you will. She did what you told her to do.”
His father’s right fist struck the side of Hani’s head. The blow knocked Hani sideways and left him stunned and dizzy, but he did not fall.
“Do you defy Allah, you son of a whore?”
Hani let the rock roll off his fingers.
“Damn you to hell, Hani Zafar. I said take this rock and hit her.” His father’s loud command made the other men stop and watch. Another, larger stone was thrust into Hani’s hand. His teeth clacked as his father shook him.
His mother lie there, not moving. He felt certain she had stopped breathing. For long seconds watching her, so did he.
“Hit her! Now!” His father yelled.
Hani had no choice. Disgrace would fall on his father if he did not throw the stone. But worse, Hani would get forty lashes for disobeying. His mother had not moved. Hani threw the rock. It hit her shoulder and rolled off.
She never made a sound, no cry for mercy, no plea in her own defense. But any words she may have spoken would not have changed the outcome.
Today seven men… and Hani Zafar… stoned his mother to death.
Leaning across the grave on his bare knees, he patted the crumbled dirt and small stones on top his mother’s resting place. He wiped the back of his hand across his nose and looked over at his two uncles, her brothers. They too had tears streaming down their cheeks.
These tears he shed were his last.
He knew no prayer for this or for one that could put to rest his lethal anger. At that moment, Hani did not wonder what killing his father might feel like. He made his decision over his mother’s grave and felt a sense of calm certainty.
Three months later, November 4…
Guttural cries for death to the Satan United States roared from the mob. They pushed and flailed their way into the U.S. Embassy compound in Tehran. In the streets, the normal stench of factory exhaust and foul sewers was joined by the odor of fear. Gunshots stuttered in the clamor but bullets were fired overhead to strike terror rather than a purposeful target.
While many in the rebellion made sure cameras saw them, others turned their faces away, uncertain which tribe would win this current battle.
Hani rode scrunched in the back of a pickup among a dozen men from his father’s tribe. Like the others, he was armed. Two more trucks from his neighborhood were deposited near the University where a crowd gathered. The walk took twenty minutes from the University of Tehran to the Embassy. Hani felt the cool, still air on his cheeks as he joined the rioters. He walked a few paces behind his father and the girl. The rioting students took the lead.
Within sight of the Embassy, Hani stopped and called to his father. The elder Zafar turned. Hani raised the Famas G2 commando rifle with the magazine that held thirty rounds. The gun was one of many newly acquired from some Frenchmen so his father’s tribe was prepared for this season of rebellion.
Hani put light pressure on the trigger.
He did not hear the percussion nor sense the recoil. He experienced only wonder as three rapid rounds turned his father’s head into a crimson pinwheel burst. One bullet hit the girl’s throat. Blood spurted in a pulsing stream from her neck. Her pretty head fell to her left shoulder.
Hani’s revenge took mere seconds. Not long enough. His father deserved slow agonizing pain. Disappointment cramped his stomach.
Hani Zafar took a deep breath then ran into the mutinous crowd and stopped being.
She watched the Delta jet make a right turn out on the tarmac. That’s when misery crept up beside Ava Sevani and kept her gentle company. She sighed with the sensation of sudden loss and hurried out an exit of Flughafen Frankfurt am Main. In minutes, David would be high above the clouds on his way to the United States. Her breaths quickened, matching her pace…and the mounting fear.
Everything felt surreal. From her father’s phone call from Canada last night that scared the crap out of her, to withholding that secret from David through their intimate night and this morning. Maybe she should have told him the chilling message and to hell with her father’s warning not to. But she could never ruin David’s dream or burden him with worry.
MORE IN A FEW WEEKS!