Content Warning: Sexual abuse and graphic violence
Thick aromas of fried garlic and onion soak into Badr’s skin as he walks by the kitchen. He sees his wife and sister stir large pots, cradled by long orange flames. The sight of savory rice boiling in chicken broth, and ground beef browning in a bath of tomatoes, make him lethargic. He sighs in disappointment, knowing the crowd that’s soon going to gather around his home, would leave nothing but a few crumbs.
He’s grateful the people have enough faith in him to be mayor. To make difficult decisions. But he’s barely in his mid-twenties. They trusted his father to lead them across the border. To settle. To thrive on their farms and survive as a community. But would he be able to live up to the people’s expectations? To his father’s expectations?
He considers sneaking into the kitchen once it’s empty and eating before his speech. But he reminds himself that the people come first. If he got no dinner, then he would still be pleased God made him worthy of representing. He couldn’t let them down. Not when the loss of thousands still formed a heavy dome of dysphoria around his village. Not when the border is in close proximity and the savage anger from both sides has yet to die down.
Memories of the bloody partition overwhelm his mind, slowly and painfully. Despite the decade that has passed, the repercussions of having an Islamic state aren’t going away any time soon. Badr sighs again. He doesn’t feel old enough for the responsibility he’s been given. He wasn’t old enough to witness what he had. But he had to be thankful he was alive, right? That he had a wife and son that were safe. That his sister hadn’t met the same fate as his mother. That his life wasn’t taken like his father’s. That he had a village of brothers to rely on.
Before the tears begin to pour, Badr makes his way into the bathroom for absolution. It was almost time for Dhur and the small musala would soon be packed for congregation. But no matter how hard he tries, there’s no escaping the harsh throbbing of his chest, or the heavy pit that forms in his stomach.
With every step he takes towards prayer, his heart beats faster. His mind struggles to keep the past in a locked corner of his mind. He couldn’t let the people see he was hurting. He couldn’t let them see a weakened leader.
Badr thinks he is okay as he walks into the musala. He thinks he will be okay when the muezzin gives the athan. He thinks he is okay as he recites Fatihah behind the imam. And he is okay until his forehead rests on the ground in prostration. Until he bows before his Lord, and in complete vulnerability, he can’t seem to hold it in anymore.
He whimpers as he falls into a trance of the past. He can’t feel the tears drench the mat beneath him. He can’t see anything other than his mother. Can’t hear anything other than her screams and protests.
The man standing behind her exploiting her to his will. No regard, no remorse, no mercy. Only revenge on the men of the other religion. Her headscarf no longer cloaks her beauty. The modesty she prized as representation of her faith, no longer in her control. The child within her, feeling the presence of another man.
Darkness enclosed Badr’s eyes because he couldn’t take it any longer. Couldn’t bear watching his mother while he did nothing. He was paralyzed with fear. He begged his body to move and it wouldn’t. It wouldn’t move.
He can see his sister hidden under his ripped and tattered jacket. He prays she couldn’t see, couldn’t understand what she was hearing.
Would it stop soon? Would mother be okay? Was it going to be okay?
He feels slight relief as the man backed away from his mother. Badr wanted to run to her. He wanted to beg for forgiveness. Apologize for being useless. For not having done anything. For not protecting her. But he still sat frozen.
He sat frozen when the man came back. Axe in hand. Outrage driving the man’s every movement. As if Islam repulsed him. As if the thought of having done something so vile with a woman disgusted him, solely because she was Muslim.
He sees the man lift the axe and aim for his mother’s stomach. He wants to scream when he hears the metal and skin connect. He wants to scream when he hears the agony his mother’s in. He wants to pull the hair out of his skull at the thought of his slaughtered unborn sibling. He wants to no longer live. He’s too exhausted to live.
But he has a sister. He has a sister. A sibling who is alive. Family who’s still alive. And despite the horrors he’s looking at, he has to survive. For her.
Badr is brought out of his memories when the imam says, “Allahu abkar.” He had almost forgotten he was in prayer. That he was no longer ten and incapable of defending. He now feels the tears and snot smeared across his cheeks. He feels the heaves of his shaking shoulders.
The rest of Dhur, Badr cries his silent tears. He relives the death of his mother, over and over. With each loop, he hurts more. He succumbs more to the numbing emotions.
Badr walks into his room after prayer. He needs to change into more fitting attire for his speech. After yesterday’s election, the people wanted to hear him speak. So alongside a few words, he decided to offer a feast. A show of his gratitude.
His son is asleep, laying peacefully on his back in a small cradle. His light snoring brings Badr a form of relief. A reminder that the bloodshed wasn’t for nothing. That his son could now pray without the threat of torture or murder. That his parents and the rest of the ummah didn’t sacrifice their lives, their morals, their families, for no reason. That the generations to come had safety, provision, and a country of their own.