Sûrah XXIV
"Unto whomsoever followeth the footsteps of the devils, lo! he commandeth filthiness and wrong."


Sodium pentothal, post injection, has induced a death-like state from which Joleena tries to rise, i.e. to surface: no sensation, not a dream—beyond a woozy recollection of a phrase, is all, repeated... by the surgeon? The anesthetist? The attending nurse? Whomever. "All is well," the voice intoned, an empty, abstract repercussion wherein sound, detached from meaning, drubbed its rhythm on her brain, then coaxed her consciousness into torpor, into stupor, into nothingness. 'Going under, as if buried, as if draped by a funeral shroud,' was her impression. Last impression? Lacking clues—a clock, a calendar—there was no way she could gauge her seeming nonexistence.

Light! Un-darkness, rather, infiltrates eyes still shut, impassive, sluggish in transmitting recognition yet aware of subtle shadows, vital shifts. Where once was absence of perception there is presence—indefinable but inspiring bleary sentience. What? Mind rallies. Thought rebounds, makes sense of physical reawakening as the body, sparked by neurons, feels the intellect charging up before it reasserts control. As if unhinged, her lashes flutter with a dawning curiosity. Slits of sight discriminate context: self from non-self, her from him; there is a specter hovering overhead, a countenance gray, unfocused... now imbued with a vague expression enigmatical. Harsh? Humane? A face compassionate and dispassionate simultaneously. Friend or foe? The features dissipate, reassemble, go through protean transformations: now an angel's, now a devil's, now harmonious, now at-odds, a smiling, scowling, handsome, ugly masquerade.

She needs to touch, to test, to verify actual otherness, so reflective that the manhood at its core could be a semblance of her own, had not the charms, the feminine clothes, the costume jewels, perfumes, cosmetics cast their spell on an otherwise dismal prepubescence. Reaching up, Joleena's fingers meekly enter her restricted field of vision, grope the air with feeble efforts to caress the phantom's jaw, explore its contours, brush its wiry beard and moustache, strum its mouth parts—lips contorted, teeth exposed, assume a grimace. Or a grin.


My name Ahmed.

Words he utters—distant echoes not the slightest bit intelligible—slowly seep through the cotton gauze that wraps Joleena's sutured head... conveying import, if perplexing. Ahmed? Who, pray tell, is Ahmed?

[Who indeed; the hashasheen whose trip to Chinatown had afforded him the tokens that he subsequently splayed across his future victim's door, the muhtasseb foresworn to chastise in proportion to iniquity, the fedai who had reveled in his gruesome predawn sacrifice, fled, then hoped that she whose blood must spill would fathom the significance, understand that Ahmed's wrath was but a harbinger of their Lord's, from which there was no lasting respite nor escape; eternal doom was that to which he would deliver her.]

Senses fade. Joleena lapses into somnolence as her outstretched arm collapses, limply swoons to the rumbled bed sheet like the neck of a dying swan, a Black swan ruffled, un-exotic in its bruised and bandaged languor, yet beguiling, it would seem, to him who stares, steadfast, on guard—returned from exploits out of keeping with this seeming spate of constancy. Why so vigilant? Why so mesmerized? Surely West Beirut had 'trannies'—less overtly than their counterparts, true, in sin-filled San Francisco, less accepted theocratically: Come ye not in unto males. Or could the artifice he beholds embody attributes to his liking? Could attraction be impairing Ahmed's judgment, churning qualms? Could oneness with Divinity (towheed) yield to blue temptation that the limits of behavior by Islam (hodood) deemed vile? Or did the fact of Ahmed's interest vouch for naught save practicality—the transvestite having not outlived her usefulness?