Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Thursday, April 18, 2024

A scene from Mustafa Khalifa’s The Shell

More than thirty cries of pain. Subjugation. Escaping from the mouths of more than thirty cultured, educated men. More than thirty heads, every one of them holding hopes and dreams and ambitions, every one of them screaming, thirty wolf howls. The roar of more than thirty lions would not be louder than the cries of these cultured men, they would not be more savage, more bestial.

My cries were lost in this forest of screams and voices, the crashing of whips on our feet…the waves grew higher.

I called out to the president to save me. They beat me harder. I realized I wasn’t supposed to defile His Excellency’s name with my dirty mouth.

I cried out for the Prophet.

A blow to my head, and the officer thundered with incomprehensible rumblings.

“Mohammad’s the one who got us into this mess!”

A series of blows, and a punch.

I saw him walking away from me, slowly.

“Please, sir! I’m begging you! Just a word, please!”

Waves of pain rose higher and higher, crashed upon me, harder and harder, he was walking away, farther and farther, I screamed as loud as I could—

“I’m not Muslim, sir. I’m Christian. I’m Christian. Sir, please, I’m begging you, please, sir, please. I’m a Christian!”

Slowly, he stopped. My voice stood out, among all those voices. He heard it. He came back. So slowly. He got close to me. He raised his right hand to the policemen—enough.

My fate was bound to a word from the mouth of this officer, this officer who barely knew how to read.

His eyes narrowed.

“You’re a Christian?”

“Yes, sir—yes. Thank you, God bless you sir.”

“A Christian, and you joined the Muslim Brotherhood?”

“No, no, no—I’m not in the Muslim Brotherhood, sir.”

“Well then why did they bring you here? Like this? You liar! In front of God—you piece of filth—if those bastards deserve to die once, you’ll die twice over. Come on men, beat him harder! A Christian who joined the Muslim Brotherhood!”

He left, the three policemen beat my feet more furiously, the fourth policeman’s whip rained down on my naked thighs.

The spasms of pain shook me harder. The flesh of my thighs was thin, not like the thick soles of my feet. Strangled by my cries, for a moment I fell silent, trying to catch my breath and fill my lungs to scream again. A cloud of red gathered before my eyes. The pain was unbearable.

The officer having failed me, I turned to God. There was no other savior. In times of hardship and hopelessness, man turns to God, and so did I, praying he would deliver me from evil. On the path of righteousness, I was in the greatest depths of faith and reverence.

“Lord, save me! You are the Savior, deliver me from their hands.”

Adrift in my mind, I spoke these soundless words, and they emerged, rushing towards the heavens.

My strength faded, my ability to scream left me; the pain became sharp as razor blades. I saw the whips rising high above me. I waited for them. If they fell upon my body, I would surely die. I did not have the energy to stand any more pain. Death…I pleaded with God.

“Dear God, let me die. Let me die! Save me from this agony.”

It was now death I hoped for! I wanted only death…but even death was beyond my grasp.

The whips rose and fell. The red cloud, the rosy skies, the pain faded. The screams faded. A faint wave of tingling and numbness descended from my feet over the rest of my body.

Numbness overtook me. A sweet wave of calm washed over me. The whips rose and fell. Delicious pain. I felt my tense body fall slack, and then I passed out.

This scene is taken from The Shell, authored by Mustapha Khalifa; translated from Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette.


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