“Is this it?” Ali asked
“Yes,” I said. “Make sure you grab everything. It’s a long way back down.”
“Sure,” he scoffed. He shook his head and got out of the van.
I parked the car at the bottom of the mountain with the engine running so it didn’t freeze over in the middle of the desert. Ali opened the back door. One by one, he took out the propane tank, the heater, the chains, and the food supply. He put everything in a box and opened the trunk.
“Hey.” He smacked the man in the face. “Get up.”
[[Splash water on the man to wake him]] “Ali!” I scolded. He looked at me frustrated.
"What?" He asked.
"We are not animals," I responded. "You've obviously drugged him out of his mind. Just give it some time he will wake up."
Ali looked at me, confused. "Why are we catering to his needs? Let's just wake him up and get this over with."
"If you suddenly wake him up now he may have a heart attack," I explained.
I could see that Ali had a different plan in mind than I, and I knew going into this that it may be a problem. Nevertheless, he gave in.
"Fine. Let's wait." He went back to the passenger seat and opened the glove compartment. He grabbed my gun and started cleaning it, humming while doing so. I put in my headphones and started listening to Quran. As I walked around aimlessly, I started listening more closely:
"BY THE END OF TIME, ALL MEN WILL BE AT LOSS. SAVE THOSE WHO HAVE BELIEVED, DONE RIGHTEOUS DEEDS, AND ADVISED FOR TRUTH AND PATIENCE"
I thought about this line as I stared at Ali, who was still cleaning the gun, slightly smirking.
"What am I doing here," I whispered to myself. Just then, I hear a grunt. I looked in the trunk to see the man, half awake, moving from side to side. I run to the trunk.
[[Untie the man's hands]]
[[Splash water on the man to wake him]] He doesn't wake, so I open a bottle of water from inside the box and splash some on his face. The man woke up panting and looked at both of us, dazed.
“Ahmad," he finally said. "Ahmad, my dear friend. What is this? Where is this coming from-“
“Khalid. The more you speak, the longer this will take,” I said to my former partner. “You are stuck with us. Please, just get up.”
“No. No,” he whispered, lowering his head. He became quiet. Under his breath we could hear him reciting surahs.
“Good, Khalid. Pray. Seek guidance! Ask to be saved,” Ali laughed while untying his hands from behind his back. “Ask Him.” Khalid reluctantly got out of the van, his head still down.
“Here,” he said. He cupped Khalid’s hands and held it in front of his face, as if he were making dua, and tied them back up. “For your prayers,” he said smiling. Khalid’s head was still down, but he kept his hands there.
[[Start walking]] I get to the trunk before Khalid and untie the mans hands.
"Khalid," I whispered, as to not let Ali hear. "Khalid wake up."
I covered his mouth with one hand as I untied the knot with the other He slowly opened his eyes, and to my surprise he stayed calm.
"Go Khalid," I whispered again. I reach in my backpack for a bottle of water and handed it to him. I didn't know what I was doing. We were in the middle of nowhere, and there I was trying to tell this man to run away.
"About 5 miles passed this hill there is a lodge. Wait there for me. Once I convince Ali to go back home, Ill come get you."
I help Khalid slowly get out of the car, and watch as he starts making his way towards the hill. I close the trunk and start walking to the passenger seat.
"He is still asleep, Ali, what do you th-" he wasn't there. Suddenly, I hear, "POP, POP, POP."
I turned to see Khalid laying on the ground in a pool of blood, Ali pointing the gun at him. He empties the clip, and starts walking back to me.
"Thank you, brother, for finally making this easy." He puts the gun back in the glove compartment and sits back in his seat. "C'mon lets go. We're done here."And so, we started walking. Ali was in front, pulling Khalid by the rope. I walked behind, holding the box. I kept losing my step as we got higher because I was busy staring out into the distance, as I used to. I remember thinking that the sky was busier as a child. There were clouds that moved uncontrollably and planes barely visible. Something had changed, it was clearer. It was blue. And it was empty. The only other things we could see were the other hills of sand miles away. I glanced at Ali, who was now telling Khalid the story about a lion cub who survived in the middle of the forest that my father would tell us every time we walked up this exact trail as children. He told us we would become men once we were able to make it up the mountain without him. This was our first time.
The rest of the way was silent. I thought about what I was going to ask him. How I was going to do it. All I discerned up until now was that he knew something, and he’d been under my nose for 10 years.
When we got to the entrance of the cave, the sun was setting. I let Khalid make Maghrib prayer while Ali watched him as I picked up the supplies and went in. It was small in comparison to the rest of the desert’s rooms. There were two column looking rock structures on either side of the cave. Behind them was a round wall that was clearly wet. I put the things on the ground next to the back wall and walked up to the column that my mother had engraved. It was fading, but it was there. “A+A,” it read. The stones were cold and sturdy, and had the same muddy stench as it did years ago.
“You boys will grow to be our protectors,” she always said when she looked at the mark. I was excited back then to take the title. Protecting would have probably felt less dismal than avenging.
Ali came in and slammed Khalid to the ground, waking me from my trance. He walked over to the box to grab the chains and wrap them around Khalid.
[[Take the chains from Ali]]
[[Untie Khalid]]Double-click this passage to edit it.As he turned around, I grabbed the chains out of his hands.
"What are you doing, brother," he asked. I put the chains on the ground and picked up the propane tank, heater, and food supply.
"You really have no decency, do you," I asked.
"Exactly what part of this is decent?" He responded. I said nothing. He went back for the chains, first wrapping them around Khalid, then he walked to the column like structures and locked the chain around it. Meanwhile, I connected the propane tank into the heater and placed it next to Khalid, who was now sitting with his legs crossed and his hands tied behind his back, head still down. Ali walked up to me as I got up.
"Theres always a soft spot with you," he continued. "You're lying to yourself, Ahmad. All of this- the food, the heat... for what? You just need to feel better. Fine. Go ahead. Make yourself feel better. But don't forget why we are here."
“We need him alive,” I explained
“To put it together.”
"To put it..." he stared at me blankly. "We've already put it together. He is the killer. What part of this is confusing to you?"
"We don't know that," I said. "Don't you want to know for certain that this is our guy."
"I do know. You told me. You showed me the evidence. Please, brother, let me finish the job and go home."
[[Tell Ali off]]
[[Pretend to let Ali kill Khalid]]Double-click this passage to edit it.“I don’t care about what you think you know.” I said, finally looking in his eyes. “I do this for a living. I show you my progress out of courtesy. You speak only out of emotion.” I was growing impatient.
“There is something missing. All we have to do is get some words out of him, and we will act accordingly.” Ali’s face was red at this point, his eyes focused on mine. I could see our mother’s stubbornness in him. Literally see it in his eyes. He scoffed and walked to the entrance of the cave screaming. I ignored him and sat in front of Khalid.
[[Give him food]]
[[Give him water]]I reach in my backpack and hand Ali my gun. He looks at my with a blank stare, but without hesitation he turns around and walks right up to Khalid.
He raises his arms, and points the gun at Khalids forehead. Khalid doesn't move.
"I'd give you time to pray, but I don't remember you doing the same for my parents," he says. Khalid sat still with his head still down. In a matter of seconds, Ali pulls the trigger.
Ali looks back at me furious. He walks back with a death stare in his eyes.
"Do you think this is a game? Why are you toying with me like this?"
"Because clearly you are still a child," I responded. "I thought he would talk.
"Yeah, well he didn't!"
"So he didn't. Now we move on."
Ali stormed out of the cave, leaving me alone with Khalid.
[[Give him food]]
[[Give him water]]I took the food out of the box and placed it in front of him. He didn't move.
“You know what this is,” I whispered. His head was still down, and he was still reciting.
“I don’t know what you think is going to happen now, but I can assure you you’d rather be dead.” Still nothing. “That’s actually what Ali wants.” I looked back at my brother who was now standing outside smoking a cigarette. “Kid wants you out of this world this second. He wants you gone. But if you’re who he thinks you are, then I don’t want you dead. I want you to feel agony. And anguish. I want you to feel.” He was still reciting. “Just tell me why. That’s all I want.” Silence. His head stayed down.
In the embassy, we weren’t allowed personal information. No pictures on the desks, no personal cell phones. Our private lives were private. Khalid took this more seriously than anyone in the unit. To a point where we had spent months together in a single bedroom in Afghanistan, and I never even learned his full name. It was like this kind of information was more top secret than the things we had our clearance for.
I got up, and placed a bottle of water next to him before I began to head out. I grabbed my backpack and started to head out before looking back once more.
[[Walk out of the cave]]
[[Cave, kill Khalid]]I wemnt back to the box and took out the separate cantine of water. I opened it and held it up to Khalid's mouth.
"Drink. You will die of thirst." He didn't budge. "It's Zam Zam," I said.
He lifted his head, and looked in the cantine. Tilting his head back he opened his mouth for me to pour in, and I did so.
"Its funny," I thought to myself. "How a little bit of religion can change the course of ones life."
"Tell me," he finally said. "What's next?"
"Well, you either tell me the truth or you die. And if the truth is what I fear, then you die regardless."
"How is it that a man with this much faith can kill so easily?" He asks
"Didn't you do the same?"
"That was not so easy," he responded.
Startled, I got up.
"Did he just admit it..." I thought. I stared at him, as he lowered his head back down and recited again. That was it. I had to do it. I got what I wanted, now it's time to end it. Bring back justice into my life.
But I didn't know why. Do I have to know why?
[[Cave, kill Khalid]]
[[Walk out of the cave]] Double-click this passage to edit it.I hand Ali his backpack as I pass by him.
“Where are you going?” He asked.
“Wait what?” he sped up towards me trying to catch up. “What happened to the questioning? What did he say?”
“Nothing,” he muttered. “So that’s it we just go back now and leave him there?” I stopped and turned around.
“What do you suggest? You tell me what we should do.” My voice was getting louder than usual”
“Kill him!” He yelled. “We kill him.” It was silent for about a minute. I sighed.
“Please, Ali. Just please let me do my job.” He looked out into the sky and chuckled silently. Then he started walking down the mountain, laughing to himself.
“You promised me, brother,” he yelled back.
I did. I promised him he’d die. I just needed to know why.
We walked back down the path, again in silence. By now it was close to sundown, and when we got to the car I couldn’t feel my hands. Ali hopped right into the passenger seat and closed his eyes. I got in the car, put it in drive, and drove.
Double-click this passage to edit it.Double-click this passage to edit it.