An Uncertain Lightby Kelle Grace Gaddis
Sleep is a type of dying we enter each night. If lucky we rise from our rest in peace, our pillowed tombs, to see another day. There are miracles all around me,thought Amari the morning of his trial as yet unable to imagine that he’d be convicted.
The prosecutor vigorously shook hands with the grieving families for whom he was a hero while Amari’s attorney flicked a piece of lint off the edge of her skirt. She regretted taking Amari’s case because she felt that the lawyers of terrorist suspects were demonized in the media.
The night before the trial the judge’s air conditioner broke, causing him heat-induced insomnia. If any were to ask him to choose between a nap and justice, the latter would have lost to physical need. Outwardly, as he reflected on the type of fan he’d purchase on the way home, he appeared solemn but present.
Conversely, the jurors were edgy from an excess of coffee; and seemingly too eager to appease the bombing victims families. Once dismissed, they bustled into the lobby like chickens into a feed yard, clucking at one another and the media. Some doubted Amari’s guilt in spite of having unanimously elected to convict him a few moments ago. They wanted to know how their decision was playing on TV and were relieved when they were assured they’d done the right thing. Everyone wanted justice – someone had to pay.
The foreman, a curt gray-haired man, had no doubts about Amari’s guilt. He knew the evidence was thin but he felt the mosque Amari attended was evidence enough to link him to the crime. During deliberation he repeatedly asked, “What was Amari doing in the United States anyway?”
Amari stood quietly. He hadn’t reacted to the word “guilty.” When the bailiff approached him after the trial with cuffs, he’d extended his wrists without resistance. Some mistook Amari’s silence as an admission of guilt, but that wasn’t the case, Faten Amari was an innocent man.
On the way to his cell, walking past the peach-colored walls and steel bars, Amari’s mind drifted back to the day his beloved uncle told his younger self the story of the thief.
“A thief,” his uncle said, “ran through the fruit market in Dammam whipping items off carts and tables.”
His uncle threw his entire body into the tale, running in place while grabbing imaginary apples, nectarines, and figs from invisible merchants. His arms shot left and right over a dozen times to demonstrate how many vendors the thief had robbed.
Faten laughed, “How could a thief carry so much fruit while running?”
“The thief,” his uncle said impatiently, “had a sling fashioned across his white thawb to conceal the stolen fruit.”
“Didn’t he look lumpy?” Faten asked.
“Lumpy or not lumpy, doesn’t matter Faten, you must listen to understand.”
“Sorry Uncle, what happened next?”
“Soon, another similarly dressed man was running along the path but at a slower pace. His arms were also loaded with fruit, but he had no sling across his thawb to manage the bulk. When a tourist stepped backward into the path, he tripped the second man, sending him to the ground.
Nearby vendors were on alert, having heard people shouting “Thief!” beyond their view. Several mistook the fallen man for the guilty party and quickly spread the word of the man’s guilt down the row.
The clumsy tourist, oblivious to any crime, apologized to the man scrambling for his goods. The man in the dust looked up and said, “It was an accident” giving the tourist permission to go. The gap the tourist left was quickly filled with angry shoppers that had begun to point and murmur “Thief” at the man still on his knees gathering fruit.
As the man reclaimed the last nectarine and placed it atop all of the other precariously arranged fruit between the crook of his arm and his chest, a righteous man stepped forward, assessing the man’s dirty thawb and array of fruit and snorted, “You are a thief!”
Amari’s eyes grew wide as his uncle continued, “The accused man stood up carefully so as not to drop anything and said, “Sir, you are mistaken.”
“Did they let him go?” Asked Amari.
“No. The old man ordered his sons to grab the sullied man’s arms sending all the fruit back to the ground. While in their grips the robbed vendors caught up and saw a captured thief. One vendor spat at the man. Another clucked her tongue in disapproval. The crowd began to chant, “Thief! Thief! Thief!” until the eldest son felt emboldened to act before the authority arrived, dragging the man to a nearby chopping block.
He swung the block’s ax upward and proclaimed, “You’ll not steal again!” before bringing it down, severing the captured man’s hand from its wrist.
The man screamed in horror and pain, “I’m innocent!”
The old man became incredulous and hissed at the maimed man, “Justice is served.” The crowd, awash with satisfaction, quickly dispersed.
Only I remained. I tried to help him to a doctor but they could not save his hand,” said his uncle.
“It’s so unfair!” Faten wailed.
“Good Faten,” his uncle said, “you understand the story.”
Faten Amari knew he would get a death sentence and that it would mean years of fearful waiting before his end would come. That night, after the lights dimmed, a cue for the prisoners to go to sleep, he lay awake on his bunk until the guard left to relieve himself. Amari took off his prison jumpsuit and placed it on the floor as if it were a prayer mat. He prayed with the boldness of an older man, someone showered in the light of hope when all hope is lost. When the guard returned, Amari was on the floor feigning illness with such conviction that the guard hurried into the cell to assess the situation. Amari grabbed his legs and shouted, “Justice! Justice! Justice!”
The guard beat Amari until his head split like a fallen melon. In the midst of darkness, Faten felt someone take his hand, “Let me tell you the story of a spirit broken free and a place of miracles beyond the mystery of a deeper sleep.”
An Uncertain Lightby Kelle Grace Gaddis