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A Peace of Sorts

by Ahmed A. Khan

The relaxation exercises are not working. Neither is meditation. It is 2 AM, I am tense and jittery as I sit on my bed in a room in Hotel Guignol.

My room is small. It is on the top floor. I have the lights shut off and am looking at the night sky out of the huge bay window. A meteor shower has been predicted.

I try to lose myself in the darkness of the night but I cannot obliterate a vision that I keep seeing without the use of my eyes – the face of my wife, serene and beautiful even in death, serene and beautiful in spite of the marks of violence.

I ring room service.

“Could you send up two glasses of warm milk?”

“Certainly, Mr. Ali.” There is no evidence of surprise. By now, they know some of my ways.

Within five minutes, the doorbell rings.

I turn the room lights on and say: “Come in.”

The waiter enters and deposits the glasses of milk on the center table. The waiter appears to be an Asian, probably in his late fifties or early sixties, close to retirement age. His face is lined and his eyes are empty. His name tag reads: Ram Prasad. Probably a fellow countryman. He is about to leave but I want to keep him here as long as possible. I don’t want to be alone.

“Please have a seat, Ram Prasad,” I point to the couch. “I would like to talk to you.”

His eyes show surprise. He sits down but his manner is awkward, wary.

“From India?”

He nods.

“So am I.”

He smiles, the barriers coming down a few notches. I pick up one glass of milk and offer him the other. He protests. I smile and over-ride his protests. He sips his milk. Suddenly, I see tears in his eyes.

“Are you okay?” I say, alarmed.

He bows his head and nods. “I guess I had forgotten how it feels to be treated as a human being.”

I let him alone for some time. Then I break the silence. “I have seen how badly the manager, Mr. Haysfire, treats you. Why do you stay?”

“Because I am a waiter and I cannot be anything else.”

“Why not go back to India?”

“My wife and my daughter are buried here. I cannot leave them alone.”

I wonder at how lives interweave. Here is another tie between this person and me.

“Mr. Haysfire is a racist, isn’t he?” I say.

“The worst kind.” His eyes express disgust. “If this was the last century, he would be a KKK leader.”

“A person who would think nothing of raping and killing a non-white woman.” Something in my voice touches him. He looks up at me. Abruptly, he gets up. “I have to go, sir.” He leaves the room, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

 

I step out of my room. The door clicks shut behind me. Two rooms down, the corridor turns left. Two more rooms and I knock on the door in front of me.

“Come in.”

Colonel Nordstrad is a giant – a giant in a wheelchair. Ex-army, turned private investigator after retirement.

“Here’s my report.” He hands me a folder. Given his appearance, his voice is surprisingly soft.

“You have conclusive proof?” My heart is beating fast.

“Conclusive enough for you and me, but nothing that will hold up in a court. Sorry.”

 

Back in my room, I study the report. I finish reading it. Then I spread my prayer mat and pray.

Nordstrad is right. The evidence is conclusive for him and me. Ten years ago, one day, while staying at this hotel, I had gone night-walking. Upon my return, I had found my wife brutally raped and murdered in our room. She had not been able to make any noise because her mouth had been taped. Subsequent investigation had resulted in no arrests. The perpetrator had not been found. I had been harboring my suspicions – suspicions to which I could now attach a name: Haysfire.

The ball is now in my court.

Ram Prasad. Ram Prasad is my key to the next step.

 

Haysfire sleeps alone in his apartment. He does not have a family. People like Haysfire usually do not have families. Thank God. When he is rudely shaken awake, he tries to sit up but he cannot. He has been securely tied to his bed. He cannot even make a noise because his mouth has been taped shut.

He looks at me and there is fear in his eyes. He looks at the knife in my gloved hand.

“You remember me, don’t you?” I say. “And my wife, Firdaus.”

He tries to move and makes vague noises.

“For ten years, a sense of injustice has been burning through my soul. The time to balance the scales of justice is here.”

I move toward him. He is not moving any longer, as if he has given up every hope. Only his eyes move, and there is stark terror in them. Suddenly I sense a stench that starts slowly but grows strong. I recognize it. Haysfire has lost control of his bladder.

I raise the knife, pause, and move back in disgust. I cannot do it. I cannot kill someone in cold blood. I move away from the bed, put the knife back in the kitchen where I had picked it from, and leave his apartment.

I take the elevator down to the main floor. The lobby is cozy and beautifully lit. The girl at the reception desk smiles at me. I walk out of the hotel.

The silence of the night calms me. The vast, overwhelming sky full of stars shows me the insignificance of my affairs and my existence. Suddenly, I see bright pin-pricks of light moving through the sky. I remember the predicted meteor showers.

I raise my hands to the sky and pray. Then I make my way back to the hotel. I know that I will be arrested for assault and breaking and entering because Haysfire is sure to sic the police on me once he manages to remove the ropes and the gag.

I enter the hotel and am arrested for suspicion of murder of Haysfire.

 

Later, they let me go. One of the meteorites managed to burn through the thickness of the earth’s atmosphere and break into Haysfire’s room through the window. They found the pebble-sized meteorite embedded in his head where it had hit him and caused his death. A very strange turn of events. The ropes and gag did indicate some sort of foul play but they do not have enough evidence to pin it on me.

Before going back to my room, I confront Police Chief Gardner.

“You have to admit that suspicion of murder was justified under the circumstance,” the Police Chief says. “The rope, the gag…”

“But why is it that among the fifty or so people in the hotel I was the only person arrested on suspicion? No one else in the hotel was even investigated, as far as I know.”

“Because… because…”

“Is it because I am a Muslim and the stereotypes created ages ago back on earth are still clinging to our psyches?”

The Police Chief has the grace to look sheepish.

 

Back in my room, I analyze my feelings and find that there is a peace of sorts in my heart and mind. In a way, I think that I have avenged my wife.

Underneath the starry skies of the moon, I had prayed – prayed hard – for Haysfire’s death.

Copyright © 2011 by Ahmed A. Khan

Ahmed A. Khan is a Canadian writer with Indian origins. He published stories in Interzone, HP Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror, Anotherealm and several anthologies. He edited Fall and Rise, an anthology of post-apocalyptic stories with a difference,  SF Waxes Philosophical and A Mosque Among the Stars, an anthology of Islamic sf stories. He recently published  a collection of short stories. His blog is at http://ahmedakhan.livejournal.com/

 

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