Drawn, as was his protégée, to the misnamed sea Pacific, Ahmed walks the wind-curved sand hills at an introspective pace, his black hair tousled as the coughed up kelp, curls glazed by the salted breeze that likewise coats his scraggly beard with coruscating crystals. Wild, austere, he has the look of an ascetic, in his off-white shirt and pants, his shoes and socks yoked round his neck like dangling talismans. Trudging, plodding—wells of sand sunk under measured footsteps swallowing heel to toe—the misplaced Bedouin longs for dunes akin to home.
The strict directives of his hair-shirt Faith resound, his ears like shells, the ocean's roar a cloistered metaphor; Allah's mighty voice, unleashed, instills both fear and awe, exhorting all to hear, comprehend, take heed.
Serve none but Him.
Could there be pain beyond the agony of ignominy, Ahmed wonders, as the thorns around his memory jab and pierce with mal intent, inflicting wounds upon his all-too-human pride? She was his pupil—Zahra Rahnavard—alias rich man's daughter, brat, a headstrong socialite, Turkish debutante, wannabe "terrorist." He had laughed.
Beheshtieh nonetheless took women; Zahra joined. The camp was tough; despite her size and fair-sex attributes, so was she. Some disapproved. Was it not travesty enough that she was welcomed, worse admitted, granted access to traditions and techniques reserved for males? But to be foisted upon him whose hapless task it was to school her, him whose hand-to-hand credentials were impeccable, him whose skills (acquired through years of back-street brawls and battles for survival), sat not well. It was an insult; he would sooner guzzle urine; and this he said. But, in the end—for Allah willed it—Ahmed had complied.
The ocean boils. Metallic breakers crest and curl beneath the overcast, crawling shoreward, dumping flotsam in deposits rife with flies, the stench contagious; clammy moisture clings to whiskers and to nose hairs; fishy smells bestir the depths of Ahmed's misogynistic bile.
She had betrayed him (and their sect, as well) by abandoning her mission. This alone was unforgivable; she would pay the price in Hell. But she had also cast her shadow-of-shame on him who was her tutor. True, he had done his best, before her great ordeal, to disassociate; true, he had punished her sadistically, after the fact—to no avail, because the rite of passage he and others hatched to "tame the tahouti" garnered censure for the perpetrators, plaudits for their victims—both of whom had passed her final test with fortitude exemplary. And though Ahmed disavowed his part in Zahra's sacred mission, when the news of her refusal to explode the bomb was known, it was on him that blame from comrades duly fell.
He swore revenge. He volunteered for the perilous
journey to "that Great White Satan's stronghold."
The combers hiss, surf turning somersaults with an escalating furor, nimbus brooding overhead; it starts to sprinkle, now to pour; the rain, in sheets, in marching ranks, assaults the beach at angles steep...
...resembling legions of the