"We are sects having different rules."


Whenever she lets me out of here, I'll grant "Rahnavard, Z." three wishes.

Franchone studies the dog-eared passport.

Istanbul; wow, how weird. That's what I guessed, lo many moons ago it seems, when we first met. Girl's been around, for one so young. Well, twenty-eight—no babe in arms. More like a well-armed babe; this faded snapshot shows her in fatigues, some kind of paramilitary getup.

Arranging Zahra's few possessions on the tabletop (dummy opposite), Franchone reads them a la tarot cards spread before a fortuneteller.

Who's the other babe? Nice-looking woman. No resemblance. Unrelated. Uninvolved?


Are these two comrades or companions, Joy? Intimates or confederates?

He examines both expressions in the well-worn glossy photograph, then places it side by side with the letter penned in Arabic.


Hers, you think? Check out the script. It's blurred in spots, like it was written in the rain—unless whoever wrote or read it was crying her eyes out.


Nine October

Dearest Zahra,
          I am here for what we Brides of Blood are honour-bound to do, and it is good, this drawing nigh to Him whose Grace our deaths exalt. I am not fearful since the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, lit my path that night so clearly. You were there; you must recall. It was the night we traded sighs beneath a sky so filled with stars that we were luminous in our nudity. Not a chill in the air. Pure warmth. As if a million distant suns each lent us one refulgent beam and in its radiance we two basked like sultry paramours, virgins each, who pledged our troths to Allah, sharing touches chaste, if no less passionate, unashamed before His fond, Beneficent gaze; His eyes ,unblinking, watched us make our gentle, blameless love till dawn.
          But I am past this world, with all its ugly pains and pretty pleasures. They recede, as did the Angel who appeared within my dream and bade the desert wind to give His mandate voice:

"Upraise thine arm against Mine enemies
that the innocents go unscathed
preserved from rabid tooth and nail
lo! are relieved,
through your self-sacrifice,
of the evil wrought
by heedless disbelievers."

Forever yours,