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And The Stars Remain

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I did not know what I had been expecting. But it wasn’t the sight before me. Not this man hobbling like a one hundred year old to his seat. His steps were short, dragging, like his legs could fail him at any moment. He clung to the Assassins next to him like they were his saving grace, most of his weight thrown onto them. What little clothing he wore hung loosely and his body was withering away, broken, mistreated, skin and bones, of which looked as though they could snap and pierce through his hide.

He glanced up, scars covering his once lovely appearance. Dirt and grime stained his skin and wrinkles dragged across his face. The scars cut right through his beard. Those eyes, once so full of life, were now so full of suffering. He was ripped apart, his soul barely clinging to reality. He was not the man I had imagined and if I could remember, he was surely not the man from my memory.

He was so weak, practically carried by the Assassins rather than assisted. He could swivel his head about, trying to take in his surroundings. He caught sight of me as he went by and he had to look twice, as if he had seen an apparition. Though barely alive, he regarded me as if I were an angel. His eyes, though bloodshot and blurred, became alight with recognition and love. I wish I could say the same happened to me.

He immediately tried to shimmy free of his comrade’s hold and to shuffle his way to me. He teetered, his balance off and the guards held to him, refusing to let him walk on his own. He fought them, but it amounted to little more than a weak push and pull.

He was begging, looking pleadingly at them, giving pained and longing looks in my direction. The guards were not forgiving. They pried him away.

My legs, as if an ancient force took over them, moved of their own accord. They stumbled blindly for the man who so desperately wished to see me. The dirt blew in my face and I lost sight of him. In his place, my demons had begun to churn in front of me, warning of bad things in the utter nonsense of their language. I stepped around them and went forward. I wanted to see the man. If he could not come to me, then I would go to him.

The steps seemed like miles. I felt as though I was farther away from him, making headway backwards. Quicksand seemed to envelope my feet, drowning, insistent. I did not stop. One step after another would bring me closer to him. My demons pulled at my legs. I paid them no attention.

Finally, I reached him. For moments, we just took each other in. I still, even after staring at him and drinking him in, I did not recognize him. His dark hair was matted and graying, his eroded skin the texture of leather, his arm, his entire body was bony and cracking before my eyes. Nothing about him triggered anything.

Not even his voice, soft and rusty from ill usage, the whisper of my name, jogged my memory.

Only when he reached feebly for my face did my mind spark, and it did not provide the image I expected nor wanted.

Instead of recollections of my past beyond this mess, I was given the image of the dictator, smiling a toothy, knowing grin, gently massaging my cheek, unhinging my jaw and burying himself to the hilt in my open mouth. The taste was still fresh in my mind, a putrid, salty flavor, reeking of body odor. Blood and semen coated my mouth. Nothing would ever get rid of it. Nothing…

I backed away from the man. I would not let him be tainted by my memories. He had to remain pure. I was not pure. Unclean, unclean, unclean…

The man’s eyes shattered. A soul rejected by Allah. Damned forever.

“Rajah..” He murmured, but it came from the dictator’s face, still reaching for me.

I ran. I ran as fast as my old legs would allow. I wanted to hide in the dirt, in the mountains, where no one would ever find me. I burst into the first house I saw and collapsed onto the dusty floor.

I wanted to die. I wanted to get away from this. If looking into my husband’s eyes couldn’t save me from myself, what could? Simple. Nothing.

In my haste, I knocked a over a bucket of water. The water rushed all over the floor and I had fallen into the clear liquid. A face stared back at me that I could not identify. Her murky eyes held no answers, only secrets that spilled and ran down her face in a puckered scar that ran from eyebrow to jaw. She’s lucky she could even see out of that eye… She had no hair to hide behind, a spirit with hollow cheeks and skin as pale as snow, crumpled and sagging.

Something glinted in the corner of my vision, tearing my gaze away from the woman in front of me. Sunlight plunged in through the window and cast its gaze upon a blade that had been left behind by whatever family had lived here before.

My demons playfully knocked it to the floor, like a cat. They shoved it to me like a dog would a toy, eager to play fetch. They told me strange things, like how beautiful I might look, how my answers may be found within that puddle, how my reflection might change and morph into the woman I once was, if I just looked at it in a pool of blood.

What did I have to lose? Eagle Eye had said it was not going to be good if I ended my life. Well, he had been wrong. I did not recognize my husband and I did not think I ever would. Besides, Eagle Eye did not say anything about this.

Droplets of blood stained the clear water scarlet and I slowly waited for my reflection to change.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

I stared into that puddle for hours upon hours. Many things changed. But not my reflection. It stared back up at me with numb eyes in a frame of red.

My skin had become mutilated, my attempt to drain myself of blood a failure. The knife lay a few inches away, taunting and teasing. The reflection had not changed. My demons lied to me. What did I expect?

Maybe I should have jumped. But I couldn’t do it now. Everything was watching me. The walls had ears, the windows eyes. I could not die. I wished to hell I was.

The only place I had not cut was my neck. Fuck it.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

I threw the knife away from me. It was too soiled. Too bloody.

I was back outside again, the stars shining upon my arrival. They didn’t understand. They’ll never understand. Nobody will.

I did not know why I was in front of that door. I did not know how I knew that he was in there. I did not know why I even bothered. What was the point? There was none. I had no business trying to make sense of him, someone who was not mine. Yet, it did not deter me.

Two guards answered and asked me of my intentions. I hid my hands behind my back, pulling the sleeves down over my wrists. I stated that I wanted to look into the eyes of the man that had been rescued. They recognized me and let me in without hesitation, stepping outside as I stepped in.

The room was dim, aside from the lantern that cut through the dark. He laid there on a cot, his thin frame shadowed. He was asleep, head lolled off to one side. I did not want to disturb him, but I wanted to see him. I wanted to try looking into those eyes as dark as pitch again.

I touched his forehead, his skin warm to the touch. They had scrubbed him clean and his skin looked and felt softer. He stirred. He opened those eyes for me and there was a universe coming to light in them. They sparkled like a young warrior’s upon seeing his lover after years of battle, like seeing the moon after a lifetime of darkness. He knew me, perhaps better than I knew myself. He knew who I was, what I had lost so long ago.

I could also see in him everything that had been done to me. I could see it in the gauntness of his cheeks, the sagging skin, the ribs poking out of his torso, his faded muscles. A ghost of what he used to be. Though I was looking at a mirror image, the light never darkened about him. He had not given up. The demons never got to him.

He touched me, cupping one of my cheeks, holding me near to him. He apologized over and over, that it was his fault, that it wouldn't have happened to anyone else. I hushed him. There was no need to worry over what could not be changed. There was only this moment. It could be our last. Never let it die. He massaged my hand, looking up at me with wet, starry eyes. I let him because his touch felt gentle and loving, familiar even. I let him worship my body which had been abused for so long. I lay down next to him, and he hushed the candle into darkness. I flinched, fearing the demons as they reveled in the nothingness.

“Do not be afraid of the dark, habibti. There are guards outside. They will not let anything harm us.” His voice was melodious, calming. Though I wanted to believe his statements, they were simply not true.

“There were guards outside of my cell, too. They did not do anything to protect me. I was always being hurt.”

I could feel him hug me close, protective and determined. “I will defend you. I will die for you, Rajah. I will do anything to keep you alive and safe. We will leave for Jerusalem, retrieve our son and hide away from the Brotherhood for a long while.”

This man would give up the Brotherhood for me. He would lay down his life for me. I was flattered. He must have loved me a lot. I wished to Allah I could feel something in return. This man would take me away, away from here. That Assassin that saved me will not have died in vain. I would be away. Far away.

This man would protect me. I would see my son. Maybe there was hope. Hope for me to one day see my reflection the way it was.

The next morning, there was chaos again. Cries. Swordfight. I was being yanked from my cell all over again. It was not over. It would never be over. I would never see my reflection, it seemed.