Original Fiction: Guilt & Forgiveness

Set against the daily occurrence of violent real world events, author Maureen Pritchard invites us to explore a shadowy literary realm

Guilt & Forgiveness

I.I

Scraps and threads of thought were swimming in his brain, but he could not rest on one, in spite of all his efforts. Rahimovich had drawn the curtains, thrown himself on the mattress and pulled a blanket over himself, hoping to be wrapped in comforting warmth and the forgetfulness of sleep, but his thoughts still troubled him. He slipped into such a solid and tangible dream, he was later uncertain whether to call it a memory or premonition.

He was standing in a narrow and dirty stairwell, his ears pressed against a wooden door. From the other side of the door, came the sound of breathing. Someone was certainly on the other side, listening. Uncertain whether he had pushed the door or whether it had opened by itself, he entered. The space was that of a small apartment. He noticed something inside his jacket. An old and splintering wooden handle jutted from a make-shift sling sewn inside the jacket, carefully cradling a metal head that was round and thick on one end and flat and sharp on the other. He slipped the object from the sling in order to identify it. It was a hatchet. “And how, Kadir Rahimovich Musulmanov, has a hatchet come to be inside your jacket?” he asked himself silently. “And what are you supposed to do with it?” Rahimovich inspected the object closely. The blade had a small chip and the handle had been worn in places from frequent use. Without warning, the hatchet swung itself and took his hand with it. Blood covered the room, turning white-washed walls to red. Two bodies lay on the floor, their heads split by a hatchet. Rahimovich looked down at his hands – they too were covered in blood. He realized with horror that it would be impossible for anyone to believe that the hatchet had swung itself. He would be blamed as soon as the bodies were discovered. It was necessary to hide the evidence, if indeed such a word could be used to describe such absurdity.

The faint sound of trickling water reached his ear. Someone must have left a faucet running. Of course! He dragged the bodies down a narrow hall that led to a water closet. Approaching footsteps echoed on the stairs as he struggled to push the bodies in. He plunged them down the toilet. First one, then the other. Blood vanished from the rooms. Rahimovich washed his hands and checked his clothes – only a small spattering of blood remained on the calf of his left pant-leg. He used the hatchet to cut the spot, throwing both spot and hatchet down the toilet. Bodies, fabric and hatchet spiraled away, disappearing into the sewage pipes.

“And what if the bodies become stuck in the pipes and the toilet backs up?” Rahimovich wrung his hands anxiously, trying to slow down his heart which was ticking like a bomb on the brink of explosion. Someone was knocking on the door. Had he locked it? Someone called out. Pounded. Shook the handle. Rahimovich was seized by an urge to run. His hands shook violently. “I could climb out the window, go into the street.” But no, his heart would certainly explode and take the building with it. The toilet water was still swirling – he could throw himself in, drown himself in the water. He leaned forward into the bowl, only to wake with a start.

It was 3am, and on that particularly cold night in February, it seemed that the entire world was still, except for the mechanical clock that ticked violently in its roost. Rahimovich shuttered, recalling the smell of blood, the sound of that someone breathing, and the feel of metal slicing bone. “I need some fresh air, and a cigarette too,” he said aloud, pushing heavy drapes aside to open a large window. Bitter cold air rushed into the room. It was snowing outside and the large silent flakes shimmered in the street lights below. In that moment, every crystal of ice seemed imbued with its own distinctive sound. Rahimovich felt the pull of the keyboard, that subtle nagging of the inner ear that pleaded for the unvoiced to be sounded.

Rahimovich used to offer private music lessons, but as of late, a despondency and a boredom had overtaken him. Feeling increasingly anxious and distracted, he was barely able to keep up his university obligations and had let go of everyone interested in private lessons. The most ordinary and subtle noises irritated and enraged him, and those sequences of notes which he had once found beautiful and lofty seemed to have become base, hollow, perverse, and lacking. He craved something new, a redefinition of sorts, and his desire left him restless and uneasy.

Here amidst the silent ringing of the snow he conceived an ephemeral motif that was given birth in melody. In sounding that melody, imagination was brought into being and given the name Makkal.

Closing the window, Rahimovich went to the keyboard that called him, working with a fervor he thought he had lost until sunrise kissed the snow, leaving it blushing. For the first time in a long while, the composer felt elated. Ideas spun through his mind and he threw on pants, shirt, shoes and jacket, having a mind to walk and hear the sounds of the world once again. A hardened crust of snow crunched beneath his feet. Winter sparrows scavenged for seed, chattering as they flitted in and out of the nooks and crannies that served to shelter them from the winter cold. Rahimovich stepped to his right, hearing the steady beat of a runner come up from behind him and pass, accompanied by the panting of a domesticated canine. Icicles tinkled faintly, like rainsticks.

I.II

In his mind, he heard their rushing sound flowing beneath a bass clarinet, joined in their melodic wanderings by an oboe, a violin, and a whispering drum. His euphoric reverie was interrupted by a single utterance. “Kadir!” a voice called out. He felt the weight of a familiar hand. “Kadir!” I haven’t seen you for ages. What are you doing out and about in this weather? Let’s go get some breakfast and catch up. Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered.” The voice belonged to Jerome Roberts, a tall trombone player also known as “Raz”, Rahimovich had met his first summer in this city.

Without consent or protest, Rahimovich followed his fellow musician to a nearby diner. A small television buzzed in the background, flashing commercials intermittently throughout the morning talk-show.

“You boys having breakfast?” the waitress asked.

“Yes m’am – the usual,” Jerome replied.

“And you?” she said, eyeing Rahimovich.

“Eggs and toast,” he responded timidly.

“How do you want your eggs?”

“Over easy.”

“Alright – I’ll be back with some coffee.

“So what’s up?” Jerome gushed, “I heard one of your pieces got performed back in May, and that it even won a prize!”

Rahimovich surprised himself by smiling, “So it has. I forgot about that actually.”

“You would,” Jerome replied, teasing. “So how you been? I haven’t seen you out or nothing. I’m still with E/ko, still playing the same trombone, and that same tune you taught us.”

“Which one?” Rahimovich asked, unable to remember.

Jerome hummed a few bars. “But we jazz it up, so it sounds like this, and instead of playing like this…” Jerome said, rolling his fingernails across the edge of his chair, “Claude sets to the snare, like this…” Rahimovich just shook his head and laughed. Coming from an altogether different musical tradition, these jazz musicians had produced a delightfully impossible variant on a melody well known in his native Chegem. “What you doing Saturday night? We’ll be playing at The White Nile. We got this new singer you just need to hear. She is divine!” Jerome winked. “And not bad looking.”

Rahimovich’s answer was interrupted by the arrival of breakfast. “Need anything else right this moment?” the waitress asked. But Rahimovich was no longer listening. His ears had been consumed by a single source of sound: the television.

“And now — breaking news. A double homicide of an elderly woman and her niece has left South Side residents horrified and afraid. The victims were found dead on the floor of their residence, near the intersection of 6th and Michigan. Officials report their skulls had been split by what may have been an ax. A suspect has yet to be identified. Individuals with information related to these events are encouraged to contact city police. South Side residents are urged to keep their doors locked and not to permit entry to unknown or suspicious persons, as the assailant is still at large and motivation for the crime is yet to be ascertained.”

“Mister, you okay?” He heard the waitress ask. Her voice seemed to be coming through a fog.

“Kadir. Hey!” came Jerome’s kindly voice.

“Should we call an ambulance?”

“No, wait. It looks like he’s coming to.”

As his eyes came into focus, Rahimovich discovered that he was lying on the floor. He sat up with a start. “I’m okay. There’s no need to worry,” he said. The look of non-comprehension on Jerome’s face told him that he was speaking a language known only in the Caucuses. “Sorry,” he said, in a confused syntax, “I should go home.”

“No, no, no!” Jerome protested. “Wait. I’ll get a friend to drive you.”

Rahimovich felt hot and he heard himself shouting. “Who are you to detain me!”

“Nobody’s detaining you,” Jerome replied calmly, “but you seem a bit off!”

“I am fine! I don’t need you to pity me!” Rahimovich shouted and stalked out.

I.III

He walked for a long time, wavering in his path like a drunk, trying to pull his mind together. Is it possible that his dream had been a reality? Had he murdered an elderly woman and her niece? Perhaps if he returned to the scene of the crime, it might jog his memory. What had the newscaster said? 6th and Michigan. It wasn’t so far away, and there was a Latin bakery near there. If anyone asked, he was just in the neighborhood picking up some chocotorta for his new girlfriend. What if they knew he didn’t have a girlfriend? A coworker, then. But… Why would anyone care? Why would anyone ask anything, unless he was a suspect? The police may not suspect him, but he suspected himself! Wasn’t that enough? With these strange threads of thought whirling through his mind, Rahimovich followed the gridded roads, counting downward from fifteen until he reached the intersection of 6th and Michigan. Not sure where to go, he turned in the direction of bakery. There on the right he saw yellow tape, indicating a crime scene still under investigation. Resisting the urge to stop and stare, Rahimovich hurried toward the bakery. It was closed.

Fear, anger and repulsion propelled the composer. He continued walking until he could no longer feel his hands. Unable to turn back, he sat huddled on a park bench, weeping. Could it be true? Could he have committed such a heinous act? He had heard that some individuals suffer from episodes of amnesia after committing a violent crime. They bury their crimes so deeply within themselves that it interrupts the normal function of the brain, causing lapses in speech, everyday behavior, even erupting into seizures and other fits. “Could I be one of those,” he asked. “Could I have convinced myself that the crime was merely a dream, that I had been sleeping in my bed rather than wielding a hatchet? But what if it is only a coincidence? And then yet, what kind of coincidence is this?”

At that moment, a lanky, dark skinned man in a frayed coat and hat flopped onto the bench beside him. He was shaking and agitated. He looked at Rahimovich, but did not see him, and although his words were not addressed to the composer, Rahimovich felt the man was addressing a shared yet unspoken fear:

“It weren’t me! No sir! It weren’t me! Was it you?! No, sir! Was it you! No, sir! Was it me? No, sir! It weren’t me. But if it weren’t me and it weren’t you, who was it? A white guy comes into a church, sits with the black folk that’s praying. Then he kills the preacher and four people. They say he’s a terrorist, but nobody calls the police a terrorist for shooting a black man. He’s a public servant that police man. Yes, sir! But that preacher was a public servant, and twice so, ‘cause he was a senator too, and he weren’t no police man. No, sir! Didn’t have a gun. No sir! Didn’t have a gun, just a book! He was armed with a book, a Holy Book, that there Bible. Amen! Amen! A-men, I say! Woo-hoo, everybody had something smart to say that day! Ban the guns, take down the Confederate Flag? All talk! Yes, sir! All talk ‘cause when they found that old lady dead, they went right for the black man. Don’t really matter which man, so long as he black. Yes, sir! Don’t really matter if he got guilt or innocence, so long as he black. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness! Yes sir! I gotta get me some of that. We’ll all be free some day,” the man said, momentarily slipping into a melody Rahimovich vaguely remembered hearing at the jazz club.  Breaking off his melody, the man spontaneously jumped up, stood in attention and gave a salute. “Are you here to join the freedom band?” he asked, playing the part of an officer. “Yes, sir!” he answered, now playing the part of a recruit. He marched, then paced and then just walked away. “Are you crazy?” Rahimovich heard him ask. “No sir!” Rahimovich heard him answer.  “Am I crazy? No, sir! But if you ain’t crazy and I ain’t crazy, why this world don’t make no sense? Was it you shot that old lady? No, sir! I’m with the freedom band! Was it me? No sir! You’re with the freedom band! But if it weren’t me and it weren’t you, who was it?”

After such an encounter, Kadir Rahimovich Musulmanov didn’t have the strength to leave the bench.

Was that fellow crazy, or acting? Did he suspect Rahimovich? Or had he seen him? What did the man know that Rahimovich didn’t. Amidst these thoughts, coldness became warmth, and the composer fell into a deep yet agitated sleep.

I.IV

He was shopping in a supermarket. His cart was laden with luxurious, succulent and intoxicating items, all of which were oddly animate: Tropical flowers that bloomed and bore fruit in his hands, vegetables that continued to sprout and seed, flour that grew into bread and baked itself, swimming fish, crawling crustaceans, melting chocolates and wines that bubbled and flowed. Absently, he tossed a can of sardines into the cart. As he continued down the aisle, a soft, subtle yet incessant beating seemed to emanate from the can of sardines. Rahimovich picked up the can. It vibrated against his ear as though it too were living. Suddenly, the shiny tin with rounded corners exploded and all that which had lived and grown moments before became inert, mutilated and bloody. The market place had now become a graveyard of burnt rubble and ash. Rahimovich still held the shell of a sardine can in his hand, and would have killed himself from guilt had not his own terror immobilized him. He was neither able to flee, nor to weep.

I.V

Another explosion jolted him out of sleep and onto his feet. It was just some can popping in a fire that a group of homeless men had set up. Rahimovich’s lungs seemed filled with ice. He craved warmth, comfort, and human companionship. He also realized he was savagely hungry. He had not eaten the previous day nor had he touched the meal Jerome had provided. Fatigued by hunger, he made his way to a small bar frequented by students. He ordered a turkey sandwich and shot of whiskey. As his food arrived, so did a party of four.

“So what do you think about the Christmas terrorist, then,” one asked, picking up on some previous discussion.

“He’s an innocent moron!” retorted the other. “Sometime I think these incidents are the practical jokes played by Al-Qaeda. One man bets the other $5,000 dollars that he can get all Americans to remove their shoes the day before Christmas.”

“Why Al-Qaeda?” a third counters, “I think it’s  all part of a propaganda campaign to remind Americans of the reason behind the war on terrorism. It’s coincidental that these events happened with the onset of the surge on Afghanistan.”

“What are you saying?” inquires the fourth, “that the Feds let some incompetent get through the system, knowing that he would bungle the job?”

“Yup,” the third confirmed. “That way the government shows how easily it can detect and defray a terrorist, making itself look good, reminding the American people that we are a nation at war with enemies all around us, and offer the populace a great display of real American heroism.”

“Hmmm, that’s not improbable,” muses the second. A momentary quiet settles around the table.

“You know what I would do if I were a terrorist?” the first says, lowering his voice. The other three lean forward conspiratorially, as did Rahimovich.

“I would strong arm the operation!” the second announces.

The fourth throws his arms up in disgust, “You would.”

“No. Seriously, listen to me. I would intimidate security and send people in with thousands of explosives.”

“How would you do that exactly?” the second asks.

“Simple. Follow them home at night, kidnap their families.”

“That’s too heavy handed,” declares the third. “You have to be more subtle.”

“Subtle?” the first interjects, “What for? People will just give in if they know they have no other choice.”

Perhaps it was his already frail state, but Rahimovich’s head was spinning. He ate the turkey sandwich with appetite, continuing to eavesdrop on the conversation despite the fact that the voices had begun to blur together.

“I don’t think if you kidnap my family and say lemme through airport security or I’ll blow them up, I’d be inclined to help you. I mean, if you’re gonna be like that, you’ll probably just kill them anyways. I think I’d take the risk and report you.”

“So what? I’d just be loosing a mule. I’ll get another one and try it again.”

“You can’t just try over and over again – the Feds’ll catch on eventually.”

“I think you overestimate the intelligence in this country.”

“I think not.”

“I don’t know why terrorists try to get on planes anyway. Why go through all the bother – just blow yourself up in the airport, right there at the security check. You’d take out a lot of people…”

Kadir Rahimovich Musulmanov found himself both repulsed and intrigued by the conversation. How could these young people speak about such horrible deeds with the same casual air that they discussed the latest movie? He pushed the remnants of his meal aside in disgust, paid his check and walked out of the bar. He tried to push the conversation out of his mind, but he couldn’t. His thoughts held fast to a most dangerous question: What would you do, if you were a terrorist? How would you carry out the act? And could you get away with it?

Guilt & Forgiveness

Despite the events of the previous day, Rahimovich went to the university. There was no sense in changing his habits, as someone would certainly notice. On his way, he passed through a sizable park whose steep incline divided layers of race, class and social mobility. Marked by broad stone stairs and tall rock shrouded by trees, the park reminded him of home. He felt safe there, and secluded. At the foot of the steps stood a statue of a child and bear cub. It was unclear whether he was hiding from the bear cub or calling it, as a set of pan-pipes lay near his feet, evoking the myth of Orpheus. Orpheus, whose music restores life and offsets death, Rahimovich mused.

After graduating from the music school in Chegem, he had won an international prize for a composition. This resulted in a short-term residency in the US, which led to a more permanent position. Rahimovich stopped by the statue each day, hoping to catch the sound of the boy’s flutes, and in doing so capture the sound of the sorrowful bird that sang aloft in the lost lands. By adding voice to piano, oboe, and violin, he hoped to create a story.

Arriving at his office to wait for the students who rarely dropped in, Rahimovich absently ran though the text, trying out different rhythmic and modal variations. As the voice of his inner ear materialized, the shadowy form of woman seemed to step forth to tell the following story:

Stay your gun, good hunter. I am one of yours.

I too am a child of Chegem.

Stay your gun! I beg you, and let me tell the story of my fate.

Although these eyes cannot weep,

I long for someone with whom to share my sorrow.

We offered our tea, our salt, our bread to the beggar-woman who knocked at our door.

We offered our tea, our salt, our bread to the soldiers who took away our father.

Our tea, our salt, our bread was taken by the beggar woman.

Our tea, our salt, our bread was taken by the soldiers, and so was our father.

The beggar woman whispered her prayers, as my sisters tore at their faces and wept.

My sisters tore at their faces and wept, as soldiers placed their hands upon them.

Upon these tears, I flew.

Small and light, I flew into the forest.

Alone, I have born witness to this sorrow, and sorrow has become my song.

This was the voice of Makaal. Like this character, Rahimovich had been born in the margins of the Soviet dream. Alongside Chechens, Circassians, Georgians, Tatars and Jews, the people of Chegem had once been packed into trains and shipped to Central Asia. Rahimovich’s grandfather had not survived the journey, and his grandmother had been buried on the steppe, but as the Soviet dream crumbled, his parents and their infant child had returned to Chegem. Sometimes they wondered if the return was a mistake. In this new Russia, the quaint children of Uncle Sandro became a phantom threat. It seemed that at any moment entire villages might implode with anti-colonial anger. The sons of Chegem had entered a school, executing teachers and children. Meanwhile, the daughters of Chegem had hijacked a theatre performance, suffocating alongside their hostages from the noxious gases piped in by Russian security.

In this strange war, those Chegemites left orphaned and widowed spontaneously combusted in public spaces. Their allies donned acid colored balaclavas. Siding with foreign agents in the war against innocence, they dirtied the nation through homosexual acts and tasteless musical performance. This had remained Russia’s war until one terrible day, in Massachusetts, when a series of bombs killed, maimed and crippled hundreds of runners, leaving the citizenry permanently scarred. And now, it seemed this phantom had come to this city, under the guise of a composer by the name of Kadir Rahimovich Musulmanov, who had murdered an old woman and her niece without even realizing it.

Thinking about it was too much for Rahimovich. He forced himself to focus on his music. By the time Saturday night rolled around, the composer’s nerves were steady. Putting aside the sketch that was slowly turning into a composition, he toyed with the idea of heading to the White Nile. He should go, if only to save face, but what would he tell Jerome about the incident in the café, just two days prior?

By the time Rahimovich got up the nerve to face his friend, the performance was already underway. Jerome had put his dreadlocks up into a woven hat, pulled dark shades over his eyes and donned a floral shirt paired with camouflaged slacks. His cheeks pumped life into the trombone. Catching sight of Rahimovich, he saluted his friend with a melody. Upon finishing the number, Jerome took momentary leave of his audience. Setting down his trombone, he sauntered over to Rahimovich’s table, cautiously assessing his friend’s physical and mental state. “Hey. Glad you could make it. What was with you the other day? You had me worried!” Rahimovich looked at his friend apologetically. “I guess it was my blood sugar, and stress. I realized I need to take it easy. That’s why I came out tonight.” “Good man!” said Jerome, tapping him on the back with a broad hand, “And lemme tell you – you won’t regret it.” With a wink, he returned to the role of musician.

Although listening, Rahimovich’s eyes were not on stage. He could tell exactly what the musicians were up to just by hearing it. The composer’s eyes were on the audience. He liked to watch them the music fall on them, hush them, sway them, make them sing or dance. Sometimes he’d see a person laugh or cry. To his right sat a man whose facial contours strangely resembled the one Rahimovich had encountered in the park. The composer was studying the way he kept time with the music through a subtle movement of his well polished shoes when the voice of Makkal interrupted. This time the throaty sound, choking with power and emotion was not imagined. The composer’s eyes moved towards the stage, settling on the figure of a young woman with dark, curly hair. At this moment, Rahimovich cast all thoughts aside, allowing his mind to become music.

When the evening was over, the crowd dispersed. With only the musicians left at the bar, Rahimovich said his farewells. Although he did not even offer the singer a glance, the momentary actualization of Makkal’s voice carried the composer from winter into spring. Three months later, he handed a few pages of sheet music to Jerome, commenting that he was looking for a singer who might be willing to help him with the composition. Jerome laughed and winked, saying he might know someone. A few days later, the singer called him. It turned out her name was Malaya, but like the others, she also had a stage name: Marmalad.

The almost suffocating warmth of impending summer enveloped Malaya as she waited. “Well, Ms. Marmalad,” Raz had told her, “Kadir’s seriously brilliant, and seems to be a pretty good guy, but he can be strange at times” Malaya laughed, “That from a jazz man! We are all strange cats!” But the man who opened the door didn’t seem strange at all. Just a bit old-fashioned in his black pants and a button down shirt. “Ms….” he began, but trailed off, unable to recall her last name. “Malaya,” she said offering her hand. “Kadir Rahimovich,” he answered back with polite formality. “Let’s hear your voice first, then we can have a bit of a discussion,” he said, leading her into a room that was empty except for a bookcase, a record player and a baby grand. Straight to the point, she thought to herself. Luckily I warmed my voice up along the way. Her new acquaintance sat down at the piano bench and lit a cigarette without asking whether or not she minded. “Sing something that is meaningful to you, and sing it all the way through.” He said.

“Can I play?” she asked, pushing the composer and his cigarette from his perch on the piano bench. Enthralled by her voice, Rahimovich relaxed and let the sound wash over him while a more anxious and vigilant portion of his mind made careful note of the words.

…but how do I explain

why not too many people can see

that we are all just the same

we’re all guilty…

“Now let’s try an experiment,” the composer said as she finished. “You will sing the same words, but I will change the rhythm and melody. You just respond to the piano. As a jazz musician, I am confident you can do that.”  Malaya nodded. As the composer played, however, her sense of rhythm was displaced. She began to lose track of words and slipped into scat. Just as she started to find her groove, the composer stopped abruptly. “Enough. It seems I will need to train you a little!” Looking up at her face, he laughed. “Don’t worry! It has nothing to do with your musicianship. Here, come to the kitchen where we can sit properly. Would you like a cigarette? Brandy?” he chuckled, “too early? Let’s have tea then.”

Filling the kettle, Rahimovich left the water to boil and sat down at the small table. “Did you have a look at the composition?” She nodded. “Do you think you can sing it?” She nodded again. His eyes gleamed. “That was actually a trick question,” he said, answering the kettle’s whistle. “Let me get this ready, then I will explain.”

“You think that you can sing it,” he said, handing Malaya a cup, “but actually the composition is just the template for an improvisational form used in my region of the world. You have all the necessary skills, but will need to learn the rules, as they are different than what you are used to. So what do you think? You’ll come here once a week. I’ll pay you to learn maqam — that’s what we call it—so that eventually you’ll be able to create an improvised melody upon a set composition for piano, violin and oboe. And we will record each session so that I can transcribe your methods of improvisation for a future singer.”

“How much?” she asked.

“I can match whatever you would earn playing at the club, and perhaps a bit more.”

“Okay, then. It’s a deal, but I don’t work evenings or weekends when there’s a gig.”

Kadir laughed. “Fine. See you next Thursday morning, at eleven o’clock.”

“See you then,” she said. Kadir watched until she left before closing the door. Clicking the lock, he sat down at the piano and worked until evening.

Maybe it was possible to mix maqam with jazz in a way that would make the composition understandable. After all, music was like literature — full of borrowings. In both, words, sounds, images and impressions were taken from one source and planted in another, producing new meanings. Although Rahimovich was uncertain of what the results of this endeavour would be, he had not felt such excitement, and indeed elation, in a long time. Whether it was Malaya’s visit, Makaal’s manifestation or Marmalad’s performance, a new work, a new sound, a new aspect of self and imagination had been discovered.

By the time Thursday came around, he had composed a proper segment of music, carefully defining the melodic line within which Makkal could manifest her present. As he had not yet made up his mind which language the text should be sung in or set the order of events, they would stick to nonsense syllables.

“No, no, no!” he exclaimed. “You’ve got to dance with the line of the clarinet. When it goes up, you go down. When it holds its note, your voice flits around. And when you meet, you have to maintain dissonance!” Sensing Malaya’s thinly veiled frustration, Rahimovich decided to change his tactic. There was no sense asking her to reproduce a sound that was as of yet unknown to her and not fully understood by him. “Okay, okay… forget about the composition.” Rahimovich walked over to the bookshelf, pulling out a record player. “Yes, I still use vinyl,” he said laughing. “Let’s just listen together.” His fingers flitted through records he had brought from Moscow, until they landed on a lullaby from Diyarbakir.

Malaya listened intently, hearing first a drone, followed by a flitting clarinet and a faint, irregular drum. A woman’s quavering voice joined, moving slowly through the syllables, jumping up a third, slipping down, into a second. She momentarily alighted upon the drone before resuming her flight. “Like a little sparrow,” Malaya whispered to herself, and Rahimovich realized she had glimpsed Makaal in the music. Rather than teach Malaya, he simply needed to allow her to cultivate that sonic presence and allow it to sound.

“Do you think you can reproduce that?”

“Can I borrow the vinyl?”

“Oh, so you still use vinyl too?” he said, laughing again. “Yes, of course you can.”

“Okay. You’ll get your answer next week.”

And he did. One week later, Malaya sang without worry about the words. First an identical replica of melody and ornamentation, then an improvisation, mixing sounds in such a way that he himself could never have imagined.

“Are you sure you won’t have a cigarette?” he asked when it was done.

“That line doesn’t usually follow a music number,” she said, pulling out a cigarette. “Slims”, she said laughing. “You smoke lady’s cigarettes. I’ll take one then, but remember you’re encouraging the ruin of this voice,” she said, tapping her throat.

In the silence that followed, a question formed. “So when are you going to tell me your story?”

“Which one? The one I was told, the one I experience or the one that I’m writing?”

“All of them,” she said.

“I’ll get to it,” he replied. “Don’t be impatient. In the meantime, you might tell me your own.”

“What do you want to know?”

“How did you get to be a musician?”

“You want the long version or the short?”

“Which do you want to tell me?”

“The short version is I was raised by my grandmother. She was a church-going lady, and if there was anything she approved of, it was lifting up your voice to the Lord in song. First I was a choir girl, then a soloist.”

“How’d you get from the Church to the jazz club,” Rahimovich asked.

“Now that’s the long version,” Malaya answered wryly, “and it involves my mother. She wasn’t a singer, but she was always well dressed and worked nights. She might have been rich if using cocaine hadn’t been in her professional interest. I needed money, but I didn’t want to do the same work my mother did.”

“Sometimes, she’d come to the clubs where I’d be singing. I don’t know whether she was working or listening to me. I was too ashamed. One day she caught me at the stage door, just as I was heading out. I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know her, so I just stood there silent and proud. She said ‘you think you better than me, child? We both selling ourselves for money, just I selling this body and you selling that voice.’ She slipped me a line of coke, saying ‘Here you go baby. It’s on me. One day you gonna realize we the same.’ I was so angry, I threw the coke right at her, followed by everything in my purse. But she’d already walked away.”

Guilt & Forgiveness

That evening, Rahimovich paused from his work to look out over the city. The shape of houses, the movements of people and the motion of cars spread before him like a valley. Even as the sun slowly set, sound rose from all directions. Vehicles backfired. Children squealed. Music blared from the inside of a parked car, its door thrown wide open as a group of young men flirted with a passing girl. From one of the buildings the blue lights of a television flickered, spouting the evening news. Rahimovich absently caught a smattering: Local police had shot and killed a man found walking the streets with a crowbar and machete. Although Somali, he had no known ties to terrorist organizations. Family members reported he had been diagnosed with a psychiatric condition. Rahimovich thought of the man who had sat beside him on the park bench. He could have suffered a similar fate. It was a shame really, the way some people’s lives come to a close.

On the street below, a cat slipped out of a dumpster. A trash collector moved slowly up the street. Waving claw and broom, he skidded back and forth like an over-sized sand crab. But for a neon vest, his dark skin would have made him invisible in the shadows. Rahimovich squinted. There was a certain familiarity to his face and hands, however. No, it couldn’t be the same man who sat beside him on the bench. The physical similarity was striking, but this man’s visage was altogether different. This was no homeless man, drug addict or mental health patient. This was a working class man, who probably had a wife and child to care for. 

The man whistled, hummed as he worked, slowly slipping into song. “Well, the murders never cease. Are they men or are they beasts. What do they ever hope to gain…” Never pausing from his work, the man sang with such finesse that Rahimovich sensed he had just witnessed a work of art. Rahimovich’s ear followed him even as he slipped around a corner. Could this street sweeper have in actuality been a performer, striving to unmask the world in which we really live, and if so, what was the reality he was unmasking, and could it possibly be a coincidence that both he and Malaya had chosen the work of Nina Simone? 

Rahimovich shook the thought from his mind. He needed to stop thinking. These thoughts were interfering with his work. Only one voice needed his attention, and that was the voice of Makkal. With that thought in mind, Rahimovich returned to his composition. So focused was he on his work, he barely remembered standing up from the keyboard or laying down in bed. 

Deep in slumber, Rahimovich stepped off the train onto a station platform that belonged neither here nor there. His eyes sought Makaal. Old women touted heavy bags, followed by young couples and children. Exhausted workers return home amidst traveling soldiers and sedentary beggars. On the platform stands a lone passenger in a black veil. Although he cannot see her face, he recognizes the woman as Makkal. With heavy brown eyes, she steps towards him. He draws her into his embrace. Beneath the fabric is something hard and bulky. She is dressed in dynamite. 

Suddenly, the world imploded, and Rahimovich found himself standing alone on the steppes. A vast and almost incomprehensible emptiness surrounded him. From afar came the sound of lament, and amidst the weeping, the whisper of a thrush. It was the voice of Makaal, singing:

I have loved you Hunter 

As I have loved this forest.

Ay, ay, oh Hunter!

Remember the birch you felled? 

Remember the bear you caged?

Remember the slain stag and its children?

I have loved you

As I have loved this forest.

Ay, ay, oh Hunter.

Why are you killing all that has sustained and protected me?

Rahimovich awoke with a start. Although shocked by the experience of Makaal’s death, he was desperate to capture her song, paired with that of the thrush, before it vanished from his mind. As is the way with dreams, it could not be fully reproduced before the memory dissipated. Still, the kernel was there, and he had Malaya to help him work out the sound.

Weeks passed and the composition not only grew, but solidified with Malaya’s help. Their friendship grew until one day Rahimovich realized he was falling in love. Or was he? It was hard to be certain whether the feelings he held were for Malaya, the dark-skinned jazz singer, or for Makkal, the veiled Chegemite who embodied the whole of his imagination, and all his creative yearnings.

Rahimovich realized he needed to talk to someone, and since there was no one to talk to he reached into his memory. Many friends lived there. Conditions of war and immigration had dispersed them. He imagined walking towards the university canteen. Losha, an avid reader, would invariably present some sort of literary puzzle, which they would discuss until it grew tiresome. Once Losha had asked, why Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov, the protagonist of one of Dostoyevsky’s novels, had confessed the murder of a pawn broker to a prostitute? Had Dostoyevsky given her the role of the priest, or was it that the character had stooped so low that only a prostitute could save him? Sergei –who devoted a corner of his house to the images of saints– replied that, in Russian Orthodoxy, saints were often portrayed as sinners. For him, Sofya Semyonovna Marmeladov evoked the figure of Mary Magdalene. Sasha, an avid materialist, declared the conversation rubbish: “What we should really be asking,” he exclaimed, “is why the two never had sex!” “Maybe they did,” Rahimovich teased, “but Dostoyevsky respected the privacy of his characters enough not to mention it.” This had been too much for the other three, who rose to defend the modesty of a woman whose survival clearly required the exchange sexual favours for money. 

Still, Sasha’s question had been an interesting one. Why hadn’t the two had sex? Rahimovich had kept the question in his mind for many years, ultimately concluding that theirs had not been a romance in the classical sense, but a friendship for two individuals who needed empathy, understanding and forgiveness. He wondered if this was not the same sort of relationship he had formed with Malaya who every Thursday alighted on his stoop ready to sing, like some enchanted bird.

It was with these thoughts in his mind that Rahimovich entered the park. Absently, he took the path to his right, climbing the steps to find a group of men lifting barbells. Turning left, he entered a narrow path that felt secluded from the city. The path took him to another set of stairs. Going down, he came upon a pond where turtles slept upon a rock guarded by a silent and stoic heron. Lighting a cigarette, Rahimovich turned away from the pond. A man and boy were playing catch in the field while a large elderly woman walked a very small dog. A man was playing chess at one of the tables. Oddly, only half the pieces had been placed on the board. 

Rahimovich caught his breath. Could it be the man who had sat beside him on the bench that night? The composer placed himself on a rock, where he could observe discretely. Yes, it was most certainly the same person. Seeming completely engrossed in a game of chess, the man moved a pawn. He then laid his chin on the edge of the concrete table, waiting for a move only he could see. He leaned back, folded his hands and nodded, responding to words only he could hear. “Well, I don’t know about that,” the man said. His hand hovered over a knight for a split second before he committed to the move. “True, true,” he added. Pursing his lips, he seemed to remove an invisible piece from the board. “Well. You got to understand things are different for you.” The invisible payer must have captured his rook, as he removed it from the board. He sighed a heavy sigh. “The way I see it, being a black man in this nation gives perspective.” Pushing his bishop forward until some unseen obstacle stopped it, he continued his commentary. “Black folk know what it is to be stopped and harassed. When those flashing lights come up behind our eyes, uncertainty grips us.” He shook his head emphatically. “You’ve always got the feeling that the eyes are watching you. It’s almost like there’s some sort of guilt, something you can’t necessarily put your finger on, like you’re guilty simply for being who you are.” Removing a pawn from the board, he slipped another forward. “Oh, it’s the same for Muslims,” he said.

Against his better judgement, Rahimovich walked closer to the table. He paused for a moment before sitting down. “What is the same for Muslims?” Rahimovich asked. “They are guilty,” the man replied as if he had not noticed a change in the other player. “What makes you say that,” Rahimovich asked, wishing he had a piece to move. This time the man looked directly at him and asked “Do you feel that you are innocent?” 

Rahimovich got up from the table angrily. “What are you saying?!” he demanded defensively. “What are you accusing me of?! Who are you?! What do you know that I do not?!” The man, however, just continued his game. Rahimovich walked away, his head pounding. He needed to lay down. He needed to rest. 

Malaya would come in the next morning. He would talk to her. Maybe she would be able to save him from himself.

The next morning Malaya arrived to find the composer looking quite exhausted. 

“Are you alright? You look terrible!”

“I’ve been having trouble sleeping,” he said.

“Are you worried about something?”

“No. I’m fine. Let’s get to work,” he said, but he wasn’t fine and Malaya noticed.

“Okay, stop,” she said, interrupting a flight of keys. “You got something on your mind. Let’s have it out.”

Rahimovich breathed out slowly and fumbled for a cigarette.

“You know, I grew up in the Caucuses. There is a war there. I still hear it sometimes. The shouting, gunfire, and the burning. Sometimes I can smell it. I feel the vibrations and the heat and sense the fear. And I have dreams…”

“What kind of dreams?” Malaya asked.

“Dreams where I kill somebody,” Rahimovich replied.

“Do you think you would ever kill somebody?”

Rahimovich shook his head. “I’m afraid that I may already have.”

For a moment Malaya looked startled, but her expression quickly changed to sympathy as Rahimovich continued. “Why else would I have these dreams, unless I killed somebody?” He hesitated for a moment before lowering his voice to almost a whisper. “A few months ago, I dreamed I killed an old woman and her niece with an ax. The next morning I heard about the murder on the radio. I went to the scene of the crime, just to see if I could remember anything. It was so cold, and I sat down on a park bench and some man came, sat down next to me on a bench and asked who’d done it.”

“He asked you?”

“I don’t know if he asked me, or if he asked himself. But he asked. It seemed more than coincidence, and he’s been following me ever since.”

“He’s been following you?” Malaya said, the concern returning to her eyes. “Are you sure he’s following you?”

“I don’t know. I saw him once in the alley and then yesterday I met him in the park.”

“Maybe he just lives or works around here.”

Rahimovich hadn’t thought of that. What an idiot I am, he thought. Now she thinks I’m paranoid. Feelings of shame and guilt overwhelmed him. Why had he even mentioned it? 

Malaya had been talking, but Rahimovich had not been paying attention. “Look,” she said. “Let’s do something different. Let’s give the boys a taste of your work. E/ko’s been invited to do a workshop at a school near the harbor. Why don’t you come join us. We can present a piece of your work as well. We’ll figure out the details next week. I don’t think you’re gonna get much done today.”

Guilt & Forgiveness

Two weeks later, Rahimovich found himself wandering around the lower half of the city. He had an hour until he needed to be at the school, and decided just to let his ear explore this new section of the city.

Passing through the din of an ongoing construction project, Rahimovich became interested in the character a few yards ahead. Could it be? Yes it most certainly was the man who he had sat next to him on the bench the day of the murder. The lank man with broad hands had exchanged his frayed shoes, coat and hat for a pristine white hat, white pants, white shirt and white sunglasses. He crouched before a bronze relief commemorating those men who lost their lives the day the war began. Muttering to himself, the man pulled a boot brush out of his pocket, and began cleaning the figures. “Now why are these men brown when the green lady is green?” he said to himself. “She’s standing there on that island with her crown and her torch, but she is green and I am brown, and these men are brown. Why is that?”

Less than fifty minutes later, Rahimovich saw the same man leading a flock of school children past the brown men, towards the place where sweet water rustled and  tumbled over the ashes of the dead. Eager to observe the man and perhaps even engage him in conversation, Rahimovich decided to follow the group at a short distance. In contrast to their encounter on the bench and his murmurings less than an hour prior, the man presented himself as fully cognizant, articulate and well spoken. More so, he seemed to know everything about these monuments and the stories related to them.

“Maybe he is some kind of idiot savant,” Malaya said when Rahimovich relayed the story a few hours later.

“No, no. Wait. I haven’t got to the end of the story.”

When the tour finished Rahimovich approached the man. “Oh, you again!” the man said. “I noticed you’ve been following me, or perhaps that I have been following you.”

“Who are you?” Rahimovich, asked, startled by the recognition.

“That’s a good question, young man. Who am I?! I am who I am, or maybe I think therefore I am, or maybe YOU think, and therefore I am. In the visible spectrum, white is the presence of all color, whereas black is the absence of all colors, or indeed any visible light.”

“This is true,” stammered Rahimovich, “but I am asking for some information about yourself. You must have a name? A family, perhaps? A profession?”

The man chuckled in a low voice. “Forgive me professor, but I must go,” he said bowing. “Until we meet again.” The man paused for a moment, as if remembering something. Fishing around in his pockets, he pulled out a wallet, as white and pristine as his dress. Opening the wallet, he pulled out a business card. “Take this,” he said, and walked away.

“He recognized you and called you professor?” Malaya interrupted. “Now that’s weird. You gotta be careful. This city is full of all types, and a large portion of them are crazy.”

“You forgot to ask me what the business card said,” Rahimovich prompted.

“What’d’t say,” Malaya asked, not without a hint of sarcasm. In answer, Rahimovich opened his wallet, pulled out a card and handed it to her. She flipped it over, twice. The card was blank on both sides. She handed the card to Jerome, who took a sharp breath before handing it to Jayne who passed it off to Claude.

“So,” Jerome said. “You met The Man…”

“Who is he?” Rahimovich asked.

“Well,” Jerome responded, choosing his words carefully. “Nobody knows really. He’s certainly a jazz man, though he may not be a musician.”

“I used to see him at all the venues,” Malaya said “but then he just disappeared.”

“People say he used to be a lawyer, or at least a student of law. And nobody’s quite sure if he’s crazy, or if it’s all an act,” Malaya said.

“What do you mean?”

“You tell him, Tin” Malaya said to Claude, “it’s your story.”

Claude rolled his eyes. “One day I see this guy picking locks, the next day he’s a professional dog walker and the day after that he shows up at an audition saying he’s a classically trained pianist. You know me. I don’t mince words so I say to him, ‘Who the hell are you, and what are you doing going around pretending to be everybody except yourself?’ And then he gets all philosophical and says ‘When you get up on the stage, and start playing your drums, you adopt a persona, and that persona is not the same who goes bowling on Tuesday, or who delivers pizza to earn an extra dime.’ And I’m thinking how the hell does he know I go bowling on Tuesdays, or deliver pizza during the lunch rush? And that wasn’t the end of it. He says, ‘Why, you don’t even go by the same name. On the streets you are Claude, but up there, thy call you “Tin”.’ You are a performer, and so am I.”

“Tin’s seen him walking to and from the hospital,” Malaya said

Claude nodded in agreement, “He’s a mental patient.”

“I don’t know,” Jerome replied. “He might be an artist. An afrofuturist, or something.”

“Being an artist doesn’t prevent you from being a mental patient or visa versa,” Jayne commented.

“This is all very interesting,” Rahimovich interrupted, “but why’s he following me then?”

“That, I think, is the real question,” Malaya answered. Rahimovich thought he detected a suggestion of concern in her voice.

Guilt & Forgiveness

A few nights later Rahimovich found himself standing before the same twin waterfalls with a red carnation in his hand. He had come there to write a composition. Listening to the soothing rush of its fountains, he felt at first that the space was silent, and that he was alone. As he listened further, he realized the space was filled with ghosts. Each of them was talking, telling the story of a life suddenly lost. Disturbed by these visions and overwhelmed by the cacophony of voices, Rahimovich desired a melody. He decided to pray.

Having completed the ritual washing and removed his shoes, Rahimovich entered a mosque. The dome of the mosque was large and vaulted, somehow mirroring the roof of heaven. From floor to roof, the space was filled with prayer. His father and brother were there as well. But wait, they, alongside tens of other civilians had both been killed during a three day siege by government forces. There could be no living man here. Ghosts were praying. 

Above their heads came a soft rumble. Rahimovich was not certain whether roof or sky began to crumble. Piece after piece began to fall in a storm of stone and mortar. Unaffected, the ghosts continued their prayers. Rahimovich fled, however. Tearing down the streets of his childhood, he was confronted by the sounds of siege. The irregular pop and whistles of gunfire was followed by a voice on a loudspeaker. Shouting, crying. State security forces. His mother. His mother was crying. Rahimovich crouched in the shadows, trying to hold his breath until somewhere above him, he heard a melody. 

Sometimes it was that of a bird, sometimes that of a woman singing. Either way, the voice was that of Makkal. Following the voice, Rahimovich climbed a trellis into the balcony of his very own apartment. Malaya was there, with Makkal’s voice. She nodded and smiled in greeting, but did not stop singing. 

The jazz singer held out her hand, inviting him to come sit at the piano. Rahimovich leaned forward to kiss her. She tried to push him away but couldn’t. Her skin was soft to touch. She was covered in feathers. She grew smaller until she became the size of a thrush. He could feel her heart fluttering. The heartbeat became slower, and stopped. She became still and there was no more music.

That same night Malaya was too exhausted to notice that the door to the stairwell was not fully closed. She did not hear the footsteps of the person who followed her up the stairwell and through the door of her apartment. She did not see the colour of the hands that slipped around her neck, nor did she have time to cry out. It seemed the spectre of death had neither gender nor race, nor religion nor ethnicity. 

Three hours later, a neighbour had noticed the open door on his way to morning prayer. Having arrived in the country only a few months before, he barely spoke a word of English. Although he did not know enough to not enter the apartment, he did know enough to dial emergency services. Unable to understand what he was saying, but understanding it was somehow urgent the operator traced the call, sending police, fire and ambulance.

Seven firemen marched through the door in heavy boots to find a bearded man, in a long robe and a small hat sitting quietly beside the body. The firemen were quickly followed by two police officers and a medic. A small boy who had been watching from the upstairs corridor ran swiftly to tell his auntie that Omar Hussein had been placed in handcuffs. 

Mr. Hussein was taken to the police station for questioning, and would have been detained for quite some time had not Kadir Rahimovich Musilmanov showed up at the station to confess his role in Malaya’s murder.

Guilt & Forgiveness

Rahimovich lay on a hard bed, looking up at the ceiling of the holding room where he would stay until the end of his trial. Sensing a presence, Rahimovich turned his head towards the door. Malaya was standing there. He sat up.

“What are you doing here? I thought you were dead!” 

“I am,” she answered. 

“So it’s true,” Rahimovich said, thinking out loud. “I did kill you.” 

“No,” Malaya answered. “You didn’t. You couldn’t kill me because I never existed.”

“What do you mean by that?” he asked.

Malaya kissed him gently on the forehead. “Orientalism is a necessary aspect of the human imagination.” 

Then she was gone. Uncertain whether he had fallen asleep or had experienced a vision, Rahimovich waited in silence for Jerome.

From outside the corridor, he heard two men talking.

“Sir,” Jerome insisted, “my friend is not fit to serve trial. His testimony makes no sense. You can’t dream a person dead.”

“I appreciate your concern”, the court ordered lawyer countered, “but he’s confessed to the crime. I can’t defend a man who openly admits to his guilt. I can only ask that the sentence be softened with an insanity plea.”

A third voice entered. “I think Kadir Rahimovich Musilmanov ought to hire himself a new lawyer because the one he’s got thinks a man’s guilt is equivalent to a crime.”

“Are you offering?” the lawyer replied, sarcastically. 

“I am.”

“And who do you think you are? Atticus Finch or something?”

“Perhaps,” the stranger replied. “Yes, perhaps I do.”

“We can’t make any decisions without Kadir,” Jerome said. A few minutes later, a guard escorted them in.

This time Rahimovich recognized The Man immediately. “Are you following me again?!” he exclaimed. “Am I so fascinating? And you… I don’t need a lawyer! I have admitted my guilt and am willing to take whatever sentence is given to me.” 

“This is what I am taking about,” the lawyer said, speaking to Jerome as if Rahimovich was absent.

“Now Kadir, you’re not thinking straight.” the newcomer said, meeting Jerome’s hostile gaze, “I need you to have some courage. Real courage, you see, is beginning despite the fact you know you don’t stand a chance, and seeing it through to the end regardless.”

“Look, lay off the philosophical chatter” Jerome interjected, “He’s been through a lot. If this is just another one of your performances, you can just get on out of here.”

“My dear musician,” The Man replied, chuckling. “You forget that I am a lawyer.” 

Opening a briefcase, he shuffled through a stack of papers before pulling one out. “I even remembered to bring my license. Here it is. I’ll admit, I’ve never used it, but then, I never had a case worth considering.”

“You can’t just come in here and decide to work for my client,” the lawyer sputtered.

“How do we know you even know what you are doing?” Jerome asked simultaneously.

“How do you know this man knows what he is doing?” Kadir said, replying to Jerome. Turning towards the court lawyer, The Man added, “Besides, he’s not a client. He didn’t solicit your services. The court assigned you to his defense.” 

“A technicality.” the lawyer answered, turning again to Jerome. “I would advise asking this man to leave.”

Ignoring the lawyer, The Man sat down next to Rahimovich, “Kadir Rahimovich Musulmanov. Let me take your case. This fellow does not have your best interests in mind, and he is not qualified to take your case. He does not understand your circumstances because he has never lived them. He has never been guilty.” 

“What do you suggest I do—go rob a bank?” the lawyer sneered, “or will some petty thievery do the trick.”

“What I am suggesting,” The Man replied with an icy tone, “is that you consider four hundred years of colonial rule in which dominance, superiority and the sense of civilization has been claimed by people with your color of skin.”

Tipping his head towards Rahimovich, the lawyer quipped “I hate to break it to you, but your would-be client is as white as me.”

The Man gave no response, and the lawyer snickered.

“I am not white,” Rahimovich muttered. 

“See, this is why I don’t think he’s fit to stand trial,” Jerome interjected. “His mind is all mixed up.”

“If he persists in such statements we may be able to make an insanity plea,” the lawyer answered.

The Man turned towards the lawyer angrily, “An insanity plea would invalidate the entirety of experience. This man is not insane. Black can be the color of a person’s skin, but it can also be the color of oppression, and guilt is among many of oppression’s symptoms.”

“I’m afraid if you were to take such logic to the court it would be you who would need to plea insanity.”

“No, he’s right,” Rahimovich interrupted. “I am a Caucasian. For you, that means I am white but where I come from, Caucasians are considered black because we do not enjoy full citizenship rights. And because we are terrorists.” Bursting into ironic laughter the composer added, “Which one of you wants to defend a terrorist?”

“In 1966, the Black Panther Party created armed patrols to monitor the behavior of police officers and challenge their brutality,” The Man replied, “They also instituted a variety of health clinics, and social programs. They were classified as a terrorist organization by the Federal Bureau of Investigation who considered them to be among the greater threats to national security.”

At these words, the lawyer took a sharp, audible intake of breath: “I can see Mr. Musulmanov is in good hands. I will leave you to your client. I hope that when it is all said and done, I will not be assigned in defense of your friend for impersonating a lawyer.”

“Now!” The Man said, as the echoes of the lawyer’s footsteps faded from the marble corridor. “Now, the real work can begin!”

Guilt & Forgiveness

As it turned out The Man was an excellent lawyer, and the case—from his perspective—was quite simple. Any evidence pointing to Rahimovich was purely circumstantial. Yes, he had known the victim. Yes, he had met with her quite regularly, but so had dozens of other musicians and audience members.

The killer had been quite careful, leaving no evidence—other than the body—not even fingerprints. Despite his ready admission of guilt, the composer had a solid alibi. He was asleep the night of her murder. By pure chance had experienced a vivid dream concerning her death that happened to have uncanny parallels with reality.

“The question is why?” the prosecutor asked of the jury. “Why would Mr. Musulmanov have gone to the police station, and admitted guilt, if he were in fact innocent?”

Would it not make more sense to accept such blatant evidence and convict the man who clearly showed remorse for what he had done? He would serve his time, but the sentence would be lenient. Indeed, had he not grown up in such a culture of violence, one in which women were the primary victims, Mr. Musulmanov might not have committed such a crime. Having acknowledged his guilt, he would be easily rehabilitated.

Upon hearing such an argument, Rahimovich’s lawyer could barely contain his fury. 

“When first I took on this case, I was asked to submit a plea of insanity. To say that my client was not fit to serve trial. But I know that insanity is a charge in and of itself.  The insane do not have logic. They do not have reason. They do not have a story. Whether or not my client suffers from mental illness, I refuse to institutionalize his story. This man’s guilt has been caused by society’s prejudice known well to we who are identified by the color of our skin, the accent that marks our voice or the means by which we pray. Right now, I stand before you as a lawyer, but you know as well as I, that outside of this courtroom I am an invisible man. People do not see me. They only see black, and so I ask you, members of the jury to open your eyes and see this man. See him!”

Thus finalizing his impassioned monologue, there was nothing left to do but wait while the jury deliberated. In less than an hour, they returned. The results were announced, but Rahimovich was not listening. A thrush had alighted in the courtroom window, and his ears were filled with music.

Come with me, hunter.

There are too many shadows here.

Let us abandon this place.

Let us go to the sky, which is empty.

Guilt & Forgiveness

When we first decided to publish our original fiction series, Guilt & Forgiveness, the author, Maureen Pritchard, told us about the ways in which her story had paralleled various real world events. To help contextualise the story, we asked her to elaborate upon how she navigated her creative process through the murky waters of reality. Here’s what she said:

When I first began writing “Guilt and Forgiveness”, I had hoped to synthesize events I had heard about on the television and radio, and in doing so, to capture a contemporary moment in time in which media-led stereotypes forced Muslims to repeatedly affirm and defend their innocence. Working out the details took years within which the events of the world took many unexpected turns. There were terrible moments when it seemed – at least to me – that a narrative intended to be fictive had suddenly been made all too real. I often paused to ask myself whether this was a case of creative prophecy, or simple over-attunement to contemporary events. Media attention to the Tsarnev brothers led me to question my character’s formerly innocuous placement in Central Asia. After much contemplation, I realized that no place was impermeable to terrorist acts and no person immune to associated stereotypes. This led me to choose a fictive ethnicity for Rahimovich, and to reference criminalized homosexuality and the “acid colored balaclavas” of Pussy Riot in the same breath as black widows and the Boston Marathon Bombings. For me, these combinations are exactly what make this a “strange war”. The enemy-target is always moving and no one can be certain how or when they might be labeled as “criminal” or “dangerous”. This is also why I chose to break from Russian tradition, referring to Kadir Rahimovich Musulmanov, not by his last name – Musulmanov, derived from the Russian word for “Muslim” – but as “Rahimovich”, derived from Arabic for “In the name of God”. His first name, Kadir, is almost never used, perhaps  because it means “innocence”.

Pritchard’s words caused us reflect upon the old saying that goes, “truth is stranger than fiction”. So it follows that any violence or horror that can be imagined, even metaphorically, can and will also occur in reality. What a writer intends as fiction may unintentionally coincide with real life events. As is the case in Pritchard’s story, what was meant only as a guilt ridden dream may appear to reflect a very real explosion in a very public place.

We knew Pritchard was well suited to address this, as she has written extensively on the ways in which art and reality rub up against each other academically. She provided me with an excerpt from her paper, Creativity and Sorrow in Kyrgyzstan, in which she provides a framework through which to understand the art and the realities of sorrow:

“Your literature was like a dialogue between writer and reader. Between them, they speak on a single theme. Now let’s stop and think: Who is the writer and who is the reader? In one moment, all [people] are readers—Chingiz too. And all are writers. Through your literature we read you and you read us and something new comes out. It’s too bad you are gone. If you were still alive, we would fly. 

Quoting Kyrgyz akin, concerning the death of Chingiz Aitmatov

On the news, or in our social media there are stories of incredible heroism, bravery, impossible love, and remarkable coincidence. Sadly, when reality is always one-upping fiction, we must also be confronted with truly horrific events. When this happens, fiction is re-contextualized through real life. We are all touched by what we experience. When we read fiction, when we experience art, it colors our emotive reactions as we navigate our lives. Similarly, reality informs how we contextualize all our experiences.

As you read Guilt & Forgiveness, you encountered the world of Rahimovich. Through his memories and dreams you experienced not only a new reality, but a new creative work not changed by the author, but by real world events and our commentary upon them. Through your thoughtful readership we have become coauthors in a narrative that is larger than any single text. We hope that you have enjoyed the journey.

Maureen Pritchard

Quiet and small framed, Maureen is quite unnoticeable and takes secret delight in startling people with a simple "Hello." When not referencing Russian literature, Maureen may be found maintaining careful watch over her garden. She enjoys dark beer, thick smoke and soulful music. The most loyal of her companions is a 97 Volkswagen Beetle named Begemot, who seems to move between car and cat in their joint escapades through Columbus Ohio.