One Hundred and Thirty Eight

A peek into the past – Rameez:

My parched throat begs to be hydrated.

Slowly, I sit up, moving out of my father’s embrace.

The world seems to spin for a couple of seconds and I have to close my eyes to rid the dancing stars from my vision.

I rub my eyes, feeling a little better, but also much worse.

My head is pounding, my limbs feel like lead, and paresthesia pricks under my feet.

“Rameez.”

I turn my head at the sound of my mother’s voice.

Dark circles surround her teary eyes. She looks tired; so very tired..

“Are you okay?” she asks.

I nod wordlessly, slowly getting up to embrace her.

A sob escapes her as we cling to each other, whispered apologies for actions we aren’t to blame falling through our lips simultaneously.

But “I’m sorry’s” don’t remove guilt.

“I’m sorry’s” don’t answer unanswered questions.

“I’m sorry’s” don’t fill empty spaces.

And so, we sit down on the fluffy rug in the psychologist’s consulting room and begin to talk.

The woman, taking a couple of things from her desk, leaves the room with a smile, telling us to take our time as she has no one scheduled for the next hour.

The door clicks shut and then it’s just the three of us.

Dad speaks first, taking our hands in either of his.

“It’s been a rough couple weeks, hasn’t it?” he begins, sighing. “And to recover from a rough time, you need support. We haven’t been supporting each other because we’re too lost in our own pain, grief, and suffering. I don’t think it should be like this, do you’ll?”

Mum and I shake our heads.

“So let’s go through it all together, shall we?”

“Dad, please,” I say, tiredly. “Do we have to?”

“How else am I going to get my son back?” he asks quietly.

I avoid his gaze, a pang of guilt twisting inside me.

“I’m sorry..” I mumble.

“It’s difficult for all of us, son,” says dad, gently squeezing my hand.

Dad speaks first.. explaining to us that he left work, at 6 pm as usual, with an almost-empty petrol tank.

“I would have made it home, but I decided to just fill up. There was mild chaos at the filling station though, because a man had just been pickpocketed. And as I sat and waited for someone to fill up my tank, it occurred to me that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to withdraw the money I had intended to, for my charity event the next day. But that inkling of fear that settled into my heart made me feel slightly cowardly. So, I headed for the bank after all.

The sun was just going down as I parked, and looking for excuses now, I reminded myself that I might miss Maghrib jamaat, that you’ll will worry if I only come home after salaah, that I could always just withdraw the money the next morning..

Eventually I left the bank without withdrawing any money. It must have been around half past six, twenty to seven, now. I was driving slowly, still conflicted as to what I should be doing. Something was off; I could feel it..

It was dead outside; quiet, still, not a soul in sight even though it wasn’t fully dark yet. And when the upcoming robot turned red, my heart told me to skip it. But I had already stopped. My window had already been smashed. I already had a blade against my flesh.”

Dad pauses, taking a deep, shaky breath before continuing.

“They asked me for the money they thought I would have. I played it dumb for a while, but I quickly came to realize that these guys weren’t your ordinary pickpockets. They knew what they were doing. I told them the truth – I hadn’t withdrawn the money. But obviously, they didn’t believe me. I begged, pleaded, gave them what I had, but they didn’t want to hear. Things happened lightning-fast after that.. A strong smelling cloth was thrown over my face, and then I blacked out.”

“How many of them, dad?” I ask.

“Two,” he replies. “Scar and Fang.”

I nod, indicating for him to continue.

“Do you know why their names are what they are?” asks dad.

“No,” I answer. “It makes no sense to me.”

“If you think carefully, you’ll understand,” says dad. “It would appear obvious for scarred face’s name to be Scar, for serpent tattoo’s name to be Venom, and for 4 shade’s to be Fang, because it sounds playful, wouldn’t it?”

Scarred Face. Serpent Tattoo. 4 shades.

I almost laugh out loud!

Is that how dad labelled them?!

“Yeah, that’s what I would have assumed if I didn’t know,” I admit.

“And that is exactly why it’s not like that!” says dad. “It’s too obvious. They have to be unpredictable.”

I nod slowly, realization dawning.

“Makes sense,” I mumble.

Dad continues..

“I don’t quite know how long I was out for, but when I regained my senses, I distinctly remember feeling terribly cold. The room was dimly lit. Not a sound could be heard. It took me a couple minutes to slowly sit up, take in my surroundings, and notice the two men who had attacked me earlier… now joined with a third; the main man -Venom.”

I shudder involuntarily, remembering the first time I laid eyes on Venom’s scar-covered face as his malevolent green eyes bore into mine.

“What was happening at home?” asks dad.

I look at mum.. she looks at me.

Indicating for her to speak, I drop my head, trying to keep my emotions under control.

“Initially I thought that maybe something came up at work. But you didn’t message to say so, which I found strange, and two hours later, when you still hadn’t come home, you hadn’t received my messages, you hadn’t answered my calls, I started panicking..”

I messaged Susan.. she said that she had left early and hadn’t heard from you since. She called me sometime later to confirm if your charity event was that weekend.. That’s when we formed a theory. And it was only a short while later that Susan received the message. Rameez was at Ziyaad’s place. I called him immediately, afraid that whoever these people were, might have him too. He was fine though, Alhamdullilah.”

“I went home, totally unaware of what was going on,” I say quietly, speaking up. “Mummy was so distraught that she couldn’t even tell me what was happening. I read the messages, slowly putting two and two together. I was still unsure though, as to what exactly happened.. so, I called the number in the message.”

“At that time I obviously didn’t know, but Venom answered. Dad.. his voice..” I say, a shiver running down my spine. “I had never heard a voice so cold and… and empty, before. He knew my name. He was expecting me to call and I had no idea why. I was so confused.. My mind was a swirling with possibilities, and after rereading the messages a million times.. it just clicked, I guess. They sent the message, didn’t they?”

Dad nods.

“You’ll weren’t supposed to get involved. Had I had the cash with me, they would have simply taken that and left me alone. But I didn’t. And they needed that cash. Why, I don’t know.”

“They needed it to give in exchange for drugs,” I say.

I hear a sharp intake of breath.

“Drugs?!” asks mum, her voice a hoarse whisper, her face wearing an expression of horror.

I nod, avoiding her gaze…

A newfound regret has made its way into my heart.

All the terrible things I’d done have been pricking at my conscience, and seeing the way my mother reacted, wondering what would go through her heart and mind if she knew the things I did, the words I spoke, the drugs I’d swallowed, only causes the turmoil within me to increase.

“How do you know, Rameez?” Dad asks quietly, his forehead creased into a frown.

A dreadful silence fills the room.

The clock ticks away loudly as I try to calm the anger rising within me.

Anger at myself for the mistakes I’ve made..

“Rameez!” exclaims dad, trying to tug his hand out of mine.

I don’t realize how tightly I’m gripping dad’s hand until then.

“Shit, sorry,” I breathe in horror, letting go and looking at my own hands in disbelief.

“Rameez!” gasps mum, astounded at my language.

I stand up hastily, my heart pounding against my chest, terrified that I’m involuntarily hurting her too.

My back collides with the wall as I stumble over my feet, trying to put as much distance between us. Shaking uncontrollably, I slide to the ground.

Worry etched in his face, dad stands up and walks towards me.

“NO!!” I yell, panic filling my entire being.

The room suddenly feels too small..

I need to get out!

All my senses have skyrocketed..

Oh god.. I can’t.. breathe..

Tears blurring my vision, I make a dash for the door, yanking it open as the invisible hand around my throat tightens it grip..

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