"Lo! the punishment of thy Lord is stern."



I must rest.

There is a pallet in the room's far corner—mattress, pillow, blanket—on which Zahra slept throughout her rued confinement. She feels spent. The fierce attack, her gruesome getaway, exultation, sorrow, joy, emotions jumbled up and contrary have depleted her of strength. She almost staggers toward the rumpled bedclothes. Franchone, disregarded, watches idly, at a loss, unsure of what to do or say, considering Zahra's suicide-bomber role, her self-confessed atrocity—unaccomplished, to be sure, but no less contemptible—not to mention corrosive to his romance-style scenarios, cause for giving pause to his pseudo-novelist's insight. Doubts contend:

  • is she a mortal threat?

  • a fugitive?

  • someone apt to get arrested?

  • someone apt to get him charged with crimes he would doubtlessly condemn?

The list compiled by Franchone (reassessing fact in lieu of fiction) puts a damper on his chronic concupiscence, scores his brow, and makes him reconsider Zahra—crouching, kneeling, lying lengthwise, curling up in a foetal posture with her back toward him who stares, who cannot reconcile certain deeds with someone misperceived as 'innocent,' or at the very least 'empathic' in his undeveloped plot. He takes a step, and then another—still reluctant, undecided—insecure about his overture and its welcome. Drawn? Repulsed?

A subtle pressure, as she molds herself to the curve of Franchone's belly, signals Zahra is prepared to grant propinquity, bear his touch, allow the hand, that inches down her sleeve to trespass (oh so cautiously) on the outskirts of her bruised and battered breast.

1. Is this permissible?

2. To be lying thus, so closely, out of wedlock?

3. Do transgressions one allows become transgressions one commits?

4. Such impropriety I indulged once in my sleep. Are dreams not blameless?

5. What we do when we are wakeful, though, is willful, sometimes vile.

6. My trysts with Homa, for example, were deliberate. Therefore sinful?

7. Or are hearts immune from evil when imbued with love divine?