I was sitting with friends when a typical question reminded me of many years passed, this was my habit, to mix the simplest things with the most complicated things.
What kind of food do you hate?
I answered: pumpkin or what we call Khfif.
Pumpkins?! Why? have not you taste pumpkin jam?
Actually, no, I bought it once when I was visiting my sister-in-law, but I did not taste it.
Come, I have some of it, try it and tell me what do you think.
Indeed, I tasted it, it was one of the best jams I have tasted in my life; but I still do not like the taste of it salted and cooked with onions, this is what reminded me of what happened with me.
I remember, they were taking me to a side room, it seemed that it was located at the end of the corridor of an old building, which is the investigation branch, my wife Jana and I were taken there, our eyes were covered with black blindfolds and some light penetrated them, we peeked through the cloths at the mysterious world around us.
The moment we entered the room, they started cursing and insulting us, until Jana and I became prey to their provocation and felt broken, my wife condemned their curses, so she got hit at her forehead which left sticky stains on her face and mine, I smelled the substance that left those stains on our faces, I knew that what the woman I loved had been hit with was an old inkwell.
The executioner Aizouki attacked us “as they called him”, he knocked us down and beat us with no mercy.
I was exhausted from beatings in previous interrogations, over the past few weeks my body started to lose weight and I have become thin, as if I am a famine survivor, my ribs were broken by the violent beating, and I was in pain that mountains could hardly bear and recover from, I ask myself repeatedly, will I ever recover from this pain? But the answer always scares me, these pains will be gone with time certainly, however, the agony left in my soul cannot be removed by any power in this world.
The executioner never let a chance slip to show his heroism and dedication in performing his work, was he trying with his cruelty to please them? I do not know!
Hatred blinded his heart and eyes, of course he knew he was hurting people, but he probably did not care about us, he did not even bother asking if we were really criminals, I think there is a significant difference between him and me about our concept of crime.
Under the pain and tormenting feeling that my wife is being beaten and my pride has been utterly crushed, and I am in a position where I cannot defend her, I felt anguish possessing me, he is hitting Jana, my little Jana, my precious, my sweetheart who laughed even at my silly jokes.
“Aizouki”, if I were free, you would see that my hand is stronger than your damn whip!
“Aizouki”, your whip that was raining down on us, in all directions, your tongue that never stops cursing, today, I cannot remember everything you said, but I can recognize your voice among hundreds of voices.
In these dark corners, in that strange place for a human being, Jana felt that I was tired, and I could no longer scream to ease these pains, she crawled crying towards me, she came close to me and Aizouki did not stop beating me, I felt her breath and her burning tears on my handcuffed hands, she kissed them and said: do not cry, she is crying and saying: do not cry, do not worry you are still my hero.
Suddenly there was silence, and the beating stopped.
I heard them order the executioner to stop and take us back to our cell and get a doctor.
Weeks of investigation have passed, and during the days we spent in prison Aizouki transformed from a ruthless executioner to an ordinary jailer, bringing food, takes attendance, and his tasks are done.
I also remember that he tried to joke with the prisoners from time to time, but he never could make them laugh.
Finally, I could see his face for the first and last time when we are transferred to another prison, Aizouki was a man with skinny and unpredictable features by his nature, his eyes were cold as if they have never known love or any kind of human emotion.
A year after we got out of jail, on our way to visit Jana’s sister, I went to buy something for dinner, I entered the bakery, and walked towards the seller, it was a surprise, yes, it is him, I recognized him right away, it is Aizouki, the executioner became a skilled baker, the strong man with cold eyes now stands before me with a kind smile, ready to serve me, with a curved back like a decent man, the toughness which he had in the past has completely despaired, vanished by time, this time that failed to dispel my pain and my memories, he was like any normal salesman standing behind the table and responding to customers’ requests with excessive kindness.
I asked myself did he know me? Does the executioner know his victims?
Aizouki, who made us suffer of torment in the past, he gazed at me and shouted excitedly: I know you and your wife, your name is Ibrahim, he walked over to a table for two, he pointed at the table and said: “come please, come, please don’t leave… I am not that man anymore, forgive me and accept my invitation, please don’t disappoint me.
Under the influence of his words and emotions, a force made accept his invitation, I sat down at the table he was pointing at, and he sat opposite to me.
He said with a voice of sorrow: “man, do you remember the interrogation? When they brought you and your wife” He sighed and added: ” she kissed your hand, I could not forget her words that were consoling you on one hand and tearing my heart on the other, I was paralyzed! Even my bosses were stunned by those heart-breaking moments and told me to stop; you two are real heroes, everyone in prison was talking about you, I could not believe where this power was coming from.
I told him deprecatingly: ” Aizouki, now you speak like a normal human being, and it is fine, but you say we were strong and yet you never stopped hitting us” were you trying to gain the strength you found in us? were you trying to destroy it? What power are you talking about man? What the hell are you talking about?”
Ibrahim, perhaps you are saying that I am a monster in the form of a human being, and perhaps hatred fills your heart towards me, or you might say that my heart has never known anything but hatred. I totally understand you, I understand everything you are thinking, but I am a commanded slave, of course I knew what I was doing, but this was my job, in other words my sinister job, I did not think I was unjust to you, I am not lying at you, I thought your existence was really dangerous, and you were indeed guilty, this is what I was told, and that seemed unmistakably true to me, at least in those days… it never occurred to me that you and your wife or any of the suspects would be innocent”.
I tried to answer him, I searched for the right words but I could not find them, in the end, I told him:
you said I hate you, maybe that is true and I am under your whip, but now, when I think back about those days, I find the exact opposite, I am not a hater. It was a bad memory of course for me and I wish you were not a part of it, you might wish that too, this is what it seems to me from your words and from your present, however, it is a fact that you were an important element in the creation of that memory.
I am not going to talk about the past and please do not remind me of it, I am here to buy food, can you forget the past and do your job and sell me some?
I bought some pastries and went out of the place, while Azouki kept watching me, drowning in his thoughts as I was walking away, when I arrived at Jana’s sister’s house, ironically, Aizouki had added some dried pumpkin jam to the food without my knowledge.
Did I regret accepting his invitation and hearing his allegations? Yes, I do not deny that I found some solace in them, no, no, I was mistaken, I did not find solace in his words, but I found it perhaps in the new Aizouki, in his changing.
I got out of there asking myself why did not I hit him, why did not I insult him? Now he is just a baker practicing his profession like any normal human being, in prison, I promised myself I will have my revenge, let us suppose I forgave him for what he did to me, how could I forgive him for what he did to my Jana, to my little Jana, to my precious, to my sweetheart, how did I not defend her dignity? Would this fix the past, or bring back something we lost forever?
I promised I would have revenge, yes, but that evening I could not see in Aizouki more than a simple seller, then I started wondering sorrowfully.
Perhaps Jana’s kiss reminded him of a girlfriend? Or a wife? Or his humanity?!
Jana wanted me to have strength from her, did he feel the need for such strength?
These were all thoughts, and it was certain that he had a human side that made him stop beating us at that moment.
I did not go back to his place after that evening, but I remember feeling lightness in my heart when my hatred was gone.
Aizouki, you are the pumpkin I cannot stand stewed with onions, but I liked the taste of it when it was jam.
I was drowning in these fantasies, when I heard Jana: ” Ibrahim, the pumpkin was a great idea…”