Author’s Note: Wrote this story in March. Today marks one year since the gruesome murder (and dismemberment) of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
One morning before class, on a misty pink spring morning, I went on Twitter for the first time in forever. Behold then: a trailer for CNN’s “Saudi Arabia: Kingdom of Secrets.”
The video automatically played the following snippet of conversation. It blanketed me in a sudden drift of coldness — as though some invisible, icy fingers were slowly wrapping around my body.
“Why would you bring a bone saw to an interrogation?”
“Any saw could dismember a human being.”
“Why did they bring any saw?”
In the bright daylight, I felt physically sick. Many months after his gruesome death, a morning post-daylight savings time, the story of Jamal Khashoggi made me want to draw my knees up against myself, numbly rock back and forth, and take deep breaths — a muted pressure behind my temples to pray for redemption and the assurance of goodness. I looked into the intelligence gathered on the last moments of his death, and in an attempt at catharsis, I recreated it.
He must have drawn a quick, sharp intake of breath when he turned around the corner. He’s here, in this quiet district in Istanbul, picking up papers. Papers that would allow him to marry Cengiz, with her wet lashes brushing against her thin-rimmed glasses. Cengiz who is waiting outside. Cengiz who is Turkish. Turkish whilst he is Saudi.
The consulate is the same as last time. At least, at first glance, it is so. But, he is turning this way and that, entering deeper into this flaxen yellow labyrinth. Towards the heart of it, towards the papers that he has come here to get.
The thought — just briefly, like the caress of whiskers — must have touched his mind. Suggestively. They wouldn’t dare. Of course not.
When he steps into the room, glancing up at the man who comes to meet him, he knows that those whiskers — ticklish, impossibly so — should have stung him. This man should have been some nice, slow bureaucrat, who might have asked for a photo or offered coffee.
“What are you doing here?” he asks the man-who-has-come-to-meet-him.
He is old now, he cannot run, and there are another five men behind this one and more slinking in the shadows of the door frame. He is already at the heart of the labyrinth, staring into the mouth of the abyss, mid-swallow. He should not have been able to recognize this man, but oh, he does. Though how he wishes that he doesn’t. Because this man-who-has-come, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, is only the teeth. The darkness behind him is the man he has played chess with from across oceans. MbS.
Mutreb speaks, “You are coming back.”
His glasses fog up. He grows suddenly aware of the mechanisms of his body, like a fish out of water with all senses enlarged. His veins powderizing, his windpipe constricting, his skin papery, prickling, poised to be peeled any moment now. Their fragility made apparent by what could only be a revelation of mortality.
“You can’t do that,” he says, keeping his voice steady but there’s a sheen of perspiration on his head. “People are waiting outside.”
The air-conditioning is on full blast. Nobody speaks for a moment.
He watches what could almost be a smile stretch over Mutreb’s face. Blink.
The men are on him. There’s no more dialogue. They are grabbing him by his arms, and he flounders, tripping on the hem of his thawb. Someone grabs him from behind, thick hands closing around his neck. Another palm, sweaty and hot, closes over his face.
He fights for air. Loud gasping. He is buried alive in billowing folds, smothering hands, violent fists, and that steel-like grip around his neck. His world is screaming. He thinks Cengiz ought to hear this cry that is penetrating and shattering the roof of the universe, but when his mouth finally forms the shape of words, he only hears himself from far away. The weak rasp of a drowning man:
“I can’t breathe, I can’t—”
There’s a scuffle like a final tumble.
The fans whirl overhead.
The story was written back according to this CNN report: ‘I can’t breathe.’ Jamal Khashoggi’s last words disclosed in transcript, source says.
More recently, a detailed transcript of the conversation between Khashoggi and Mutreb has been released by the Daily Sabah, so my rendition is actually inaccurate: Saudi hit squad’s gruesome conversations during Khashoggi’s murder revealed.
May you rest in peace, Jamal,