Below is Chapter 1 Abdul. This short story is currently published on Amazon. It is about a young man who is involved in a car accident in which he loses his life and kills a young girl, their souls transition into their afterlives, and they meet Azrael the Archangel of Death.
Chapter 1 Abdul
The relentless wind and rain whip past my torso. Water vapour from the road forms droplets on the visor of my helmet, they add a brief blur to my vision, driving faster was the remedy. The water complies and as my speed increases, small streams form pathways moving the rain drops to the sides of my helmet, which finally help me see clearly. I grip the handlebars tighter. My shoulders locked in position to create a frame, together my bike and body are one on the road. The wet winds envelope me as the familiar seasonal chill sets in and sinks into my bones. The phosphorus orange street lamps pass by, faster and faster, their eerie orange light reflecting on the differing shades of the wet grey surfaces that belong to the hard concrete and parked cars. London has hard lines, and tonight it has a hostile feeling. The intermittent light from the lamp posts on the sides of the roads reminded me of my childhood, when I used to try and count them from the warmth of the backseat of Dad’s car. Being on my motorbike is a stark contrast to that cosy and comforting memory. I try and hold on to that thought as it warms my heart and gives me respite from the cold.
Encouraged by this thought, I remind myself of the blessings I have in my life, and what I should be grateful for, and immediately my motorbike leathers come to mind. This secondhand skin protects me from the elements. My mantra set for my journey ahead, which I repeat in my mind. ‘Thank God for my leathers.’
I think about these words as my motorbike’s front wheel hungrily devours the wet road in front of me. The din from the exhaust complying with every rev from the handlebars. I was freezing my ass off to get to North London, even with no traffic my journey was another twenty minutes.
Breaking the silence, the voice in my head asks, “Forget about being grateful!” almost dictatorial in its tone, it goes on to ask, “Why did I leave home?”
Poised for an argument with myself I knew the answer before I had finished hearing the question.
“I had let her talk me into coming out tonight” I silently answered. I had prepared justifications as to why I was driving to North London on a night like this, trying to prevent an internal argument with the voice in my head.
The Pakistani in me speaks, “To be honest… I would rather spend the evening at home with the family, digesting Mum’s delicious home cooked lamb” which I had eaten too quickly to savour, my dinner sitting at the bottom of my gut, making me feel uncomfortable. Eating too fast meant I could leave the house sooner. I thought about how normally on a Friday night like this I would be relaxing in front of the TV, watching something good, maybe a film or a talk show to wind down from the hectic week, which had passed by too quickly. A warm cup of tea in my right hand and a chocolate bar in the left, comfortable and cozy with my feet curled up on the sofa, watching TV celebrities being quizzed. I pictured myself with my favourite socks on and my fleece blanket on my lap. The image in my mind made me feel warm and brought a smile to my face. Although, here I was, on my motorbike, in the freezing cold, driving fast for the road conditions rushing to get over to Mona's house.
The voice asks, “Why had I given Mona this level of importance?”
My internal justification continued with a reasonable tone, “Sure, ok, I like her, and I have dreams too. Like everyone else my age” I’m twenty-six and, “as a young man, a young Muslim man, I know I want a family, and that starts with getting married. I want that security of a family life, unshakable solid family life. My parents had it, and its normal in my culture for a guy my age to be thinking about his future. My Uncles and Aunties had been asking my parents questions about my plans and I knew it was time to make something happen for myself. Anyway, like culture has anything to do with it, even the boys at work, from all different cultures and backgrounds have girlfriends, some have boyfriends, some have wives. We all watch movies and read the news, we know that love is not easy these days. Some of my friends had it rough, they had married too quickly and been divorced quickly too. No, sir! That is not for me, I don't want that, and I don't want a girlfriend for years and years either. I want to move ahead with a woman that I can see a future with, that I can build something with."
Trying to get over to Mona tonight is about an investment in my dreams and my future. Our relationship is in its early days, from the little that I know about Mona, she is someone whose company I enjoy. So far we’d had a few meet up for coffee dates, so I know we can relax in each others company, which is important. Introduced to each other as two people who were both looking for marriage, and we got on well with each other, which was clear from the texts between us. Yes, the friendship is growing, but…right now, I didn't know if love could grow. At the moment, it’s at the deepening regard and growing affection level. She seem’s like a good woman, and I hope that if things kept developing that maybe one day she might be my wife. If I didn't think that we could be successful, I wouldn't be driving so late at night, to get to her.
Culturally there is a method to getting married which is in line with my principles, it starts with being friends, then her being my girlfriend, after that we can move to fiancée and then finally wife. We can’t skip any stage, each stage is special and reveals a lot about someone’s character. Right now we are between friends and her being my girlfriend. If I could find it in my heart to really love her and that feeling was mutual, we could move on. Girlfriend stage is the point at which she would be introduced to the family properly, and everything would start getting official. I definitely did not want to share anything until I knew that she is ‘the one’ mainly because I didn’t want Mum and my Aunties to start getting overexcited, thinking that there is a wedding on the horizon.
The thing I need to know and when I say know, I mean, I really need to know in my heart of hearts, is if we are a certified fit for each other.
Until that time my job is to protect this budding relationship to see if it flowers. Some brothers from the mosque had suggested starting Isthikhara (the guidance prayer) although right now I wanted to wait until I feel I know her better, and I’m sure the chemistry won't fizzle out.
The voice was onto something; a nagging feeling grows inside me, and I know the questions would not stop here. I had sounded out the justification before, so I tempered it with a reasonable tone.
The voice points out, “If that is the case, and I am being ‘reasonable’ why then was part of me feeling guilty?” The conflict came from the fact that I had prayed the Juma prayer (Friday prayer) with the brothers at lunch time. The Maghreb (evening prayer) before I left home, and here I am a few hours later in the night rushing to see her when I should be praying Isha (night prayer). There was a conflict in me, and the voice knew it.
Mona had a sort of vulnerability which appealed to me, and I wanted to look after her, although I knew she was an accomplished and independent woman. She has an important job working in finance in the city. Mona lived alone, and that was the root of where the uncomfortable feeling lay. Do not get me wrong! Spending time alone with Mona wasn't a bad thing in our dating situation. It just wasn't ideal.
The voice chimes in with its knowing expectation, “But at this time of the night going to see her could lead to sex?” I recognise this as a very real risk. We had been meeting in public before, and this was the first time she had asked me to come back to her place. I absolutely did not have plans to have sex with her tonight or even before we were married, that is something that I hoped we would save until after marriage. At the same time, I did not want to disappoint her. Could it possibly be her expectation tonight? A big part of me did not want to sin intentionally with her and then be sitting on my prayer mat asking for forgiveness for my premeditated sin.
“Was she going to test my faith tonight?” the omnipotent voice asked …maybe, probably was the answer in my mind. Sex always created complexity, and I did not want to take our relationship there, when at this stage, sex could easily misrepresent the delicate balance of our introduction. I wanted to step with caution.
Remember that this relationship was early days.
My hesitation was not to suggest that Mona and I were mismatched. My problem with the situation was that she did not seem to be as practicing a Muslim like me.
Initially, when I started looking for marriage, I had looked for women who labelled themselves as religious, later I found that it’s a problem to classify yourself this way. Sometimes I did not seem religious enough to the women I had met, I did not have a big long beard to convince the ‘religious hijab-wearing Muslim women’ that I was sincere in my faith, and I suffered from being judged like it. This time with Mona, it was the opposite situation, and I guess I was the more religious one between us.
My reasonably toned response to the voice, “It is normal to have a girlfriend, for at least a little while in this modern day society, as that is what all my friends had done. I shouldn't feel guilty after all my intention was pure….Right?” this was the only retort I could muster to the voice, which was set to torment me. Silence from the voice and no comment to interrupt my victorious logic.
Feeling smug and with my justification unscathed I revved the bike, I felt the empowerment this gave me. My bike and body as one, I continued to divide the elements of wind and rain and push myself to victory.
The voice interrupts my new found celebration of freedom, “Tell her you pray, tell her you’re religious, tell her the truth about you.”
Instinctively I said to myself “No! She might run a mile!”
She’s probably not into religious men, immediately I’ll be in the friend zone and never the boyfriend, and, more importantly, I’d never make it to being her husband. I had been watching her, and she hadn't uttered a single InshAllah (all hope is with God) or MashAllah (praise be to God) commonly uttered phrases amongst God conscious Muslims. I had hoped that her reluctance with these standard terms was because of her corporate training, which had masked her instinct to praise her creator in public.
The words uttered by the voice could not be ignored. They had robbed my empowerment, and as a consequence, my inner peace.
The voice brutal as always went in for the kill, “You know she’s not the one for you, and you’ll go there and sin, just like you’re planning."
My reaction to this ugly truth was with anger “God damn you voice! You always know how to mess things up."
I have been trying to avoid thinking about my need for sex and the growing feeling of lust that I feel when I am with her. I have been struggling to try to keep things on a spiritual justification level. Like a haggard bitter woman who lives in my head, the voice spoke its ugly truth.
That voice has been there all my life. Some people call it consciousness or anxiety. I call it, A pain in the ass! On bad nights, it can keep me from sleeping all night putting ideas into my head, anxiety about the future, over analysis of the past and images of previous rejections and hurts. Keeping my mind whirring, its only purpose to rob me of peace of mind, it creates tiredness and depression. Thoughts, thoughts, and more thoughts, endless cycles. Sometimes I just cannot shut it up. It confuses me to the point where I feel I cannot function. The inside of my head was as busy as Piccadilly Circus at rush hour. The voice was debilitating.
The voice commanded me “Turn around, don't go! Tell her you practise your faith, and that you’re not comfortable meeting her in private like this. Otherwise, you’re getting to know her while hiding who YOU really are!…And that is NOT fair.”
I knew it was right.
Slapped in the face with the truth, I couldn't bear its brutality. My response was rebellion, fixed on my course to Mona’s house, I grip the handlebars tighter and rev the bike, I go faster and faster, slicing the water on the slick roads with my front tyre. With all the debating going on in my mind, I had been distracted on the quiet roads around me, and I hadn't noticed my illegal speeds.
Also, as I was about to find out, I hadn't noticed the little red car ahead of me. It rolled onto the junction nearly fifteen yards in front of me from the adjoining side road on the left. As if in slow motion, it crept quietly into the middle of the road, its presence like a stealthy lioness hunting in the Masai Mara, with a watchful presence waiting for its prey.
The reality of this situation is that I am driving too fast and am too close to swerve. The closer I get, the little car seems like an impenetrable tank its red colour drained by its grey surroundings. It forms a barrier in my path, put there purposefully to stop me. In fact, I hadn't noticed it until it was in the middle of the road and it had suddenly turned on its headlamps, opening its eyes, announcing itself to say, “Abdul! I’m here, and you cannot escape."
Instinctively, I hit my brakes. The shrill sound of my tyres on the wet road creates sounds which vibrate and echo against everything around us. The other cars, the trees and the asphalt all act to amplify the sound. The shrill screech of my brakes, that deathly sound, penetrates my helmet, it is the only thing I hear. My ears and all my senses acutely sharp, this is the initial sensation to reach me from the impending impact of my bike and this car. This is the sound of horror. It is the finality of death itself.
I’m an experienced driver and yes, I know better. Usually, I would not have been driving this fast, in this situation, I would have stopped and sworn angrily at this Sunday driver who forgot to turn their lights on. Today, there would be no stopping!…We were too close to each other, which limited my options. I calculated that even if I could swerve to the front or the back of the car, each action would still result in a devastating crash, with the slimmest of chances that I could minimise damage.
My bike headlamp reveals a flash of long blonde hair in the driver seat showing me my irresponsible speeding is not just about my life, tonight I have made decisions that will affect her too. Her life, the driver, whoever she is, I pray she gets through this and that I haven't stolen it.
I swerve my bike to the front, and I close my eyes tightly, preparing for impact.
For a millisecond the screeching of tyres continues as my front wheel meets her front wheel, her right front tyre immediately explodes from the force of the impact. My bike unstoppable continues to try and drive over the bonnet of her car as if her car is an insignificant barrier. A millisecond later and my front tyre explodes, exposing the rim, which travels forward, like an inelegant circular saw it shreds the previously perfect unscathed bonnet and hacks at the engine underneath it, creating vast sparks and huge cavernous dents. The bonnet releases massive quantities of steam, sparks and smoke.
The front of my bike comes to a stop as it’s chewing the metal of her bonnet, as it firmly plants itself into the engine of her car. The violence of our mangled metal vehicles looks like a vulgar modern art exhibit. The front motion of my bike now stops, the back wheel of my bike continues with the velocity and lifts into the air, acting as a springboard to launch my body into the unrestricted air space above the crash. I am flying.
There is beauty in knowing that you are living your last moments. The terror of the screeching subsides as I am thrown above the car suspended in the air. As I accept the inevitability of my death, I reach a moment of inner calm, feeling a serene moment of peace as a result of my surrender. I am not in control of my life; I doubt that I ever was.
So concentrated is the feeling of peace that it drowns out all sound and I hear nothing. Peace takes me out of my body and makes me a spectator at my own death. My body takes the form of a black leather star. My legs above my head, my arms outstretched. I dare to open my eyes. I see Sophie, somehow my soul knows her name, she is the owner of the long blonde hair in the driving seat of the red car. I see her face properly for the first time as I fly upside down.
Through the visor of my helmet, my eyes find Sophie’s eyes. With a sense of purpose, I look at her conveying, ‘I want forgiveness for robbing her, of her life.’ We look directly at each other. She looks like a beautiful tragedy, with a pale oval face framed with her straight blonde hair and bright blue dilated horror-stricken eyes. Mouth wide open, she is paralysed, unable to produce a scream, I would guess she is in her mid-thirties, the fear on her face robs her of any emotion other than terror. She wears a wedding ring on her left hand, and this gives me comfort. If she gets through this, someone somewhere will look after her. Her white knuckles show the vice like grip she has on the steering wheel, vertical tear tracks accentuated by black mascara, run down her cheeks.
Our eyes are magnets, locked in this moment of human connection. This horror that neither of us wants to experience alone. It feels like a millennium as we stare at each other, we are one as the horror and violence erupts.
As if in slow motion the glass of the windshield of the car shatters around us. Glass indiscriminately cuts into Sophie's face, some of it travel upwards and impregnates my leathers and smashes into the visor of my helmet. Shards of glass cut into my body and hers.
Jenny, A small beautiful little girl, is launched from the back seat of the car. I didn’t know she was here!
The terror on Sophie's face multiplies in an instant. A mass of long blonde curly hair with a red tartan coat follows the shattered glass and flies like a projected missile from the back seat. I do not see her face, but I am aware of her. Her small body flies beneath mine, and she travels at a speed far faster than I am falling. My arms are outstretched towards her, trying desperately to catch her. Jenny is like a rugby ball and I an inept player who knows he will miss the catch.
The voice says, “She will die first." I know this is true. I also know that it was never my destiny to save her.
Shattered shards of glass look like diamonds in her hair reflecting the ghostly orange of the streetlamps. As she travels through the windshield the remaining glass snatches at her body and clothes, as if trying to grab a hold of her and stop her death.
She hits the ground, on the front of her delicate little body with a violent ear piercing thud. She skids three feet on the asphalt, each inch of road claiming a few grams of flesh, blood and once perfect golden locks of hair. Once the clothes settle on her fragile body, it is only the curls of her hair which reflect the velocity and distance she travelled. They bounce about until they settle in a messy pattern with glass glinting in-between her locks, her hair looks like it is filled with diamonds. The spreading blood instantly mattes her hair in places. Her resting place is the furthest distance from the car.
Jenny isn't moving, and I am to blame. I killed her. My arms extended towards her, I land on the asphalt road myself, first my arm, shattering into a million pieces, then my torso with a cold hard thud that immediately breaks several of my ribs, piercing my heart and lungs, extracting all oxygen from my body. Finally, my neck smashes against the cold, wet road and the inside of my helmet. My windpipe is instantly ruptured by the broken pieces of bone from my spine. The crunching noise of my bones breaking rings loudly in my ear, it is the last sound I hear.
As I lay on the road, the only warmth I feel is the blood escaping my body which is starting to warm my skin, a damp metallic warmth, reminiscent of the fluid in my amniotic sack before I was born from my mother’s womb. The agony makes it impossible to scream as life fades. I prepare to die, and my body begins the physical process of shutting down. My eyes are transfixed towards the blurred bundle of Jenny. The excruciating pain fades into knowing I am becoming numb. The numb feeling grows and spreads masking every sensation in my body.
The voice “WAIT! This is it” in my heart I murmur ‘La-illah-il-Allah Muhammed Ur Rasool Allah….’ (There is no God but God, and Muhammed is his Messenger) The creed of belief of a Muslim, the statement which negates all of existence only to affirm the existence of the Creator.
My heart has made this final declaration, as strong as a heartbeat. My mouth does not produce the words of this declaration. It can only muster blood bubbles which escape accompanied by gurgles. There is no distinction to the human ear between my last declaration and the rattled death breath which escapes me. With all my consciousness, I picture my index finger on my right hand in the same pointing motion made while praying, as I declare my faith, my very imperfect faith.
The awareness that I am responsible for the death of a little girl and possibly her mother, because of my careless driving, makes me sad. Maybe I don't deserve good in my human life, but I still hope for a good death, is this selfish? With the briefest glimmer of hope, I start to become aware of my surroundings as they begin to change, and the earthly dimension takes on a wider view and new spectrum.
I can see his shoes as he crouches beside me, listening to my heart and to the whispered bubbles of blood, which escape my opened mouth, with my last declaration of faith. He is with me, and I am not alone. He leans forward and touches my exposed, broken shoulder. His touch is cold, unfeeling and final.
With his touch, my last breath and heartbeat come to a final stop. Life escapes the prison of my body. Numbness envelopes me, as finally, my soul is taken out from my mouth with the exhaling of my final breath. My eyes follow the exit of my soul, and it all seems vaguely familiar, reminiscent of a suppressed memory of my soul entering my body while I was being formed in my mother’s womb.
The separation is complete. My soul and my body are distinct entities.
My soul stands beside him. I stand beside Azrael. This was a day I knew would come. Together we stare at my broken and shattered body. Vast amounts of blood and pieces of flesh smashed across the asphalt road.
He lets me stare at my body, this frail vessel which I am emotionally attached to, which I looked at every day in the mirror. He says nothing, even though I feel there is a lot to ask and say. Time in my new dimension does not exist. I can only tell you it felt like I stood there for a few minutes before I turned to look at him and acknowledge that he was standing next to me.
There was no black cape or sickle in sight. Azrael is a genuinely handsome man, which is strange because Archangels aren't personified as being handsome. He stands expressionless and has a look of authority, and immediately I know I trust him. Upon seeing his face and feeling his presence I am calm, he heard my last proclamation of faith and out of all the archangels, it’s his job to remove my soul from my body. If was feeling like a smart ass, I would have said, “Hey, I have been expecting you” but, sometime’s it’s just not appropriate.
We look at each other, and after a few moments, he asks me if I am ok? He asks this without using his mouth. I can hear his words in my head. I say, “Yes” I have just died but, yes I am ok. Is that a strange thing to say?
He knows I am asking myself questions. He looked at me as if he had heard them many times before and explained, “Death is the opposite of birth, it is a change of state.” Thoughtfully he adds, “Many humans do not appreciate that life is a luxury.”
Moments afterwards my sense of attachment to my body dissipates like billowing cigarette smoke into the wind. My body, like my motorbike, something that just got me from A to B. A way in which I recognised myself, labelled myself, but in itself, it was nothing real. I step away from the pooled blood, as the perspective of these new thoughts about my body creates an awareness I had never considered in my earthly form.
He looks at me and asks, “If I know what is to come next?”
He turns away from me and towards Jenny’s body which still lays on the asphalt. Her body radiates light and love and is the brightest spirit of the night. He walks over to her, and I watch a grandmaster at work. Instead of the handsome man, the form which he greeted me in, he shape-shifting takes the form of a beautiful young lady with a kind face and trusting eyes and a big smile.
End of Chapter.