Previously on the series: The Arabian Night
I woke up startled and looked ahead to see a blurry vision of a man resembling Officer Hadfield standing at my cell door.
“Good morning Amara. Sorry to wake you up this early, but the Warden wants to see you in the yard”
Still alarmed and half-asleep, I looked towards my digital clock, which indicated that it was 4:00 A.M
“Am I in trouble?” I asked nervously
“Not that I’m aware of”
“Alright, just give me a minute please”
“Take your time”
I put on my clothes, brushed my teeth, and then walked out with him.
“When are you getting out of here Amara?” he asked as we walked through the empty
“I don’t know. When are you getting out of here? Serving Life on the installment plan?” I asked teasingly, as the anxious adult in me went to sleep and my inner child was back in charge.
He chuckled and asked, “What would you do if you ever got out?”
“I would go back to the desert, marry 22 wives, and live off camel meat and goat milk for the rest of my life. Every year I would father 11 boys and 11 girls; each batch of kids would form a soccer team that would train together until they’re good enough to compete in the Olympics.
“Seriously” He interjected, barely containing his laughter
“I don’t know! I don’t even know what I’ll do tomorrow”
“Fair enough.” Sometimes you have to verbalize people’s cartoonish stereotype to make them realize just how ridiculous they really are.
We finally approached the door that led to the yard; Mrs. Collins was standing there waiting for us.
“Good morning Mr. Amara!” she said with an orchestrated smile that struggled to maintain its form.
“Good morning. What’s this about?” I asked.
“Follow me” she said as she opened the door and I followed her out to the yard. What I saw next was beyond incredible. Imagine a prison yard as big as a football field, illuminated by floodlights, with a soaring mountain at its centre, made up entirely of millions and millions of chestnuts.
“Are you okay Mr. Amara?” she asked as I stood there in sheer awe of what I saw before me.
“What is this?” I whispered with wonder.
“At the head of every millennium, a portal opens up in the upper stratosphere and rains down millions of chestnuts on a single location. A golden nut is hidden in one of these chestnuts; whoever has it in their possession can never die.” She said, sounding more like a witch than a warden.
“Cool. So why did you call me?”
“Because these chestnuts won’t crack open unless the one doing the cracking is of Middle Eastern descent.”
Why am I not surprised? I thought to myself.
“So you want me to crack nuts!” I said with a big grin.
“Not everything is a joke, Mr. Amara.”
“Sorry, I just can’t help myself sometimes. So what will I get out of this? I mean, this could potentially take a very long time.”
“Freedom.” she whispered, as if casting a spell.
The choice before me was obvious, so I accepted.
“Excellent” she said as she handed me a nutcracker and wished me good luck.
I then walked towards the bottom of the mountain where a stool was waiting for me. I can’t lie. I still thought that this entire exercise was hilarious. I imagined the headline: “Zakaria Amara, the man who cracked a billion nuts to earn his freedom” as I sat down and began cracking away.
But after a while it wasn’t so funny anymore. My mood grew sombre as memories of my past along with hopes of my future flashed before me. I went on labouring for a long time, barely taking any breaks to eat or sleep. Seasons changed; rain, wind, snow and scorching heat. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, months into years, and years into nothing. All the while, the night endured as it always does behind these walls.
I could sense myself growing old as my hair and beard grew long and grey. My hands began to tremble and my body ached with pain. God only knows how much time had passed.
Everything has an end, even time itself.
One day, I finally collapsed to the ground and laid there knowing that I was only a few breaths away from the world to come. As I laid there, a nightingale landed near my head and stood by looking at me as if waiting to hear my final words.
I have always wondered what a man thinks about in his final moments. I was not afraid of God, for I have always longed to meet him. I felt comforted by the fact that my family knew that loved them all with everything that I had; that I had given them the greatest gift that one human being could give to another in this life. But there was one person that I had let down in ways that I could not mend. In my final moments, I wished that I could tell my first love that I have never stopped loving her, even now, as my heart was beating for the last time. And with that wish, I uttered the words that every Muslim is taught to say before leaving this world:
There is no god but God
and Muhammad was His slave and messenger
What does a teardrop mean at the end of a man’s life?… I felt my soul depart as the nightingale fluttered its tiny wings and flew towards the heavens singing its sacred song.