Issue #51: World in Pain Sample – One Moment Before the End by Hisham Bustani

Hisham Bustani

One Moment Before the End

Your head, hit by a brick hurled bitterly by a professional murderer, will not stop bleeding before my eyes.

The white matter of the brain will not stop seeping out of the cracks and winding around my neck.

Come sleep beside me, I will heal the fiery marks that iron rod left on your body. I will heal the gaping hole the Kalashnikov bullet made between your eyes, I will make my flesh a pillow for your weary, desecrated body.

Was I deaf, or did I not hear your screams? Maybe you swallowed them. Maybe you swallowed your tongue. Tell me that you suffocated yourself; tell me you did not hear the cracking of bones, snapping one by one and breaking apart; tell me you did not hear his voice saying “on his head…”

This earth is the legacy of a filthy species of servile gods. A god who is enslaved to an enslaved god, and so on, ad infinitum. Ad inifinitum, but the end is coming: when I clench my fist and press my teeth together, I expand, becoming a cold, blue colossus – crushing that filth underfoot. From the periphery of my all-knowing gaze, drops of acid fall. May all of you



I raise a glass to your death and sit, alone on an empty planet awaiting my death that will not arrive.

But life is not a graphic novel, and the novelist cannot invent another future for me, or for you. And this slaughtered body before me is not an event embalmed on paper – brought alive by the mind when it desires, and put back on a dusty shelf after reading.

This blood before me will not stop flowing, and the brick that was hurled at your head (brick breaking bone, bone breaking brick) will keep spinning around my head – a performance fast, slow, reversed – as I writhe, tossing and turning in my bed like a body being hit with an iron rod, and exploding like a head hit by a brick.

[Zoom in on the face of the killer]

Thirty-two years. I am married with three children: two girls and a boy. I take care of the garden in my house, in the village. I kiss my mother’s hand when I visit her every evening, and she strokes my head. “God bless you son”, she says. I have sex with my wife three times a week, and sometimes argue with her. But I don’t let her stay angry for longer than two days, I buy her favorite sweets to make up with her.

I enrolled in the army, just like that. A steady salary, health insurance, benefits and prestige. I hadn’t been in a battle in my life. By the time I was born, the front had been calm for years. The only war I’ve known is an internal war, a war to root out a cancerous tumor, to exterminate the parasite that does not stop eating away, a war that turned our people into “them” and “us”. They are the disease, and we are the remedy.

They caught that young man in a big warehouse while sweeping the area. He was one of them, he was hiding weapons. One of my guys grabbed an iron rod and kept swinging and swinging as the boy writhed on the ground covering his head with his arms. He didn’t scream – in a quiet voice, he begged us to stop. The nerve!

The hitting continued for two minutes, or a little longer, I don’t remember. Then I picked up a brick and took advantage of a moment when his head was exposed to bring the brick down on the bloodstained mass. After that, the body stopped writhing. It became perfectly still, but the guy with the iron rod kept swinging and I picked up another brick and hurled it at his head. The brick broke and so did his head. Someone came over and shot him. We said,

“You want liberty?”

“There, now you are free.”

He didn’t reply. He was insolent even after he died.

[Zoom in on the face of the body]

I’ve always been thin. My friends would make fun of me for it, and sometimes my mother. I would eat and eat but never gain weight. I stayed that way, shadow-like, until that day they started in our village. They would yell out words that we were scared to even whisper to ourselves. When the soldiers came, the protestors chanted that their march was: “Peaceful! Peaceful!” and the bullets would rain down on them.

I was there when our neighbour’s son fell. He lay in the middle of the street bleeding for three hours. The fate of anyone who tried to go near him was a bullet. That was how the first two died, with a bullet to the head.

There was no third.

No one wanted to be a hero after that. We watched the pool of blood grow and grow, and his cries become fainter and fainter until he fell still. It was then that I decided to take up a gun and fight.

On this path, I came across former soldiers, men with beards, thugs and a lot of men who were moved by a deep bitterness and humiliation, like I was. Thin men who had barely left their mothers’ laps.

It doesn’t matter. I am neck deep now, getting wet is the least of my concerns. I got hold of a rifle that had been stolen from an army depot. When I loaded it with bullets, my body suddenly expanded. People started to take notice when I walked past and I’d feel the earth tremble a little when I stepped on it. But when they caught me in the empty warehouse where I hid my rifle during the day, I became that thin boy again, the one whose friends and mother make fun of. The shy one who would stare at a point deep within the ground in front of him.

I didn’t know any of them and they didn’t know me, but they hit me with iron rods as if I’d raped their mother. Their mother, Liberty. My mother, Liberty. Motherfucking Liberty. They keep hitting. I have a mother who wants to feed me, so that I’ll gain weight. She wants to marry me off, so she can have grandchildren. They keep hitting. Iron rods man, that crack the bones and send shocks through my skeleton. They keep hitting.

The pain is tremendous but I do not scream. Remember? I am thin again, I have returned to the days when we were scared to whisper, even to ourselves. Everything is fine. No objections. I don’t scream, the pain explodes without a sound.

There was one blow to my back that I remember well. It made my arm move – like a spasm – away from my head. After that, a great concrete boot came down with lightning speed. Stone lightning, and then I could remember no more. No more.

[The last page of Dr. Manhattan’s diary]

I was wrong. Me, the cold blue man who is never wrong. I was wrong when I killed Rorschach. He was my conscience, the conscience of my cold mind – my atoms assembled by quantum physics. Despite the harshness of his ideas, he held the world by its throat. He would press down on it, press down until its voice croaked and it was about to choke, then throw it aside on the couch and leave. That world was me. It was my evil, the evil I didn’t want to see until that murderous moment: at exactly twelve midnight on the last day of the passing year and the first day of the coming year. I threw that huge rock, and continued my never ending insomnia under a sky full of stars, bursting full of stars.

Translated from the Arabic by Thoraya El-Rayyes

The Arabic version is available in addition to the English translation in the print version. Those interested can purchase the journal for a bilingual format.