The Conspirators

These days, she writes with urgency, pen moving steadily over paper, filling each page with shaky handwriting. Her tiredness shaken off like an old, heavy coat. She smokes more than usual, inhaling deeply as she watches the sun set through the window behind her desk. The only half-opened curtains throw shadows on her face, dust twirling in last rays of light. The days are getting shorter and nights colder, and since the start of the uprising fuel prices have doubled. They cannot afford to leave on the heating throughout the night. She sleeps with two blankets wrapped around her, but she is still cold. She stubs out her cigarette, then glances at her phone.

Quietly, she closes the door and hurries along darkening streets, as if movement itself constituted a kind of salvation. When she reaches the main square, she fastens her pace and looks back briefly, hoping no one is following her. She turns into an alley with electric wires crisscrossing overhead, like branches of trees. Mousa has left the door unlocked in anticipation of her arrival. She slips inside.

They exchange a tender embrace. “How is mother?”, she asks. “Same old. Refuses to leave the room where they arrested Ali.” She nods, not wanting to probe further. They gather a few things – folders, documents, Ali’s camera. Mousa’s room is sterile, almost clinical; resembling a conscious attempt not to leave a personal trace. Before they go, Mousa pinches her arm, a smile flickering across his face. “To everything there is a season, my dear …”

The streets are empty by now, curfew having started an hour ago, and they drive along in silence. A dog barks somewhere in the distance. The sky is dark but clear, dim moonlight filtering through the clouds. Through the front window of Mousa’s Toyota she can make out the silhouettes of houses rolling past. As they approach the outskirts of the capital, residential streets give way to warehouses and the occasional farm. Mousa lights a cigarette, tapping the steering wheel. She’s lost in thought when she spots what appears to be a checkpoint at the end of the road. In an instant, she frowns and turns to Mousa, knuckles turning white from clutching her bag. Mousa motions her to be quiet, slowing the car until it comes to a standstill. He reaches for his phone and types a few words. It lights up with an incoming call. “Are you sure?” Mousa whispers. “And a time to every purpose …” he mutters to himself. “It’s deserted. We’re in the clear.” He squeezes her hand.

They park the car at an abandoned factory site. Before the uprising, tires were produced here; a rusty sign still indicates the name of the owners, who have long left the country. A burned-out vehicle marks the entrance of the main building. Mousa touches her shoulder in affirmation as they enter. Inside, they are greeted by a group of six, two women and four men, “fellow conspirators,” as Mousa likes to call them, sic semper tyrannis. Saleh, the tallest, his unruly hair held in a ponytail, invites the newcomers to sit. He has positioned a small satellite television on top of two empty boxes. “Just look at this.” He motions towards the TV; it flickers briefly before an image of the leader appears. Dressed in a suit, he is addressing parliament, his voice reverberating from the marble ceilings:

Seventy-four years ago, our noble countrymen shed their blood in the struggle for independence. Out of independence, we created order and progress. Now this order has come under threat. We are engaged in a great fight to contain the forces of chaos and darkness unleashed upon this soil by traitors of the homeland. To those of you in the ranks of this nation without honor, who side with the terrorists, let me say this: I am willing to rinse the streets of this country with blood, to drain the last ounces of resistance, until this nation is once again pure and worthy of my guidance.  

Saleh switches off the TV and turns towards the assembled. “This is insane. Absolute madness.” Mousa nods; others concur. Their voices blur together and then slowly fade away. Her gaze wanders for a short while, a shiver running down her spine. Later, she will remember only fragments, her recollection fractured like glass shattering on concrete. The doors burst open. Men in uniform enter, shots are fired. Mousa flinches; Saleh screams, hands thrown up in the air; bodies tumble over one other. She makes a dash for the exit, and from the corner of her eye catches sight of Mousa. He appears calm, and when their eyes meet, she recognizes the expression on his face, an expression she knows well. I’m sorry.

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