Ahmed noticed her pleasant expressions fade as she pointed outdoors into the absolute darkness “Can you see the flickering candle flames in the cemetery?” she questioned, her brownish-black eyes losing their sparkle. "Never has there been so many."
She was lying in her bed, surrounded by life-saving equipment, on the seventh floor of Al-Zabeera hospital, in the heart of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital city, pointing to the public cemetery, at the far end that served as a burial ground for both royals and commoners.
Ahmed walked up towards her and positioned himself between the huge glazed window and her bed, blocking the view. He was much relieved to realize that she was now identifying her surroundings. The chip implanted in her brain must work well; the experiment needs to be successful; he thought. He didn’t want to stress her; so he stepped to the window and drew the curtains in one swift motion.
But his move startled her, and she turned away from him, focusing on the ceiling, trying to figure out where she was. The silence was absolute, yet, in that deafening silence she could hear the humming sounds of the equipments and a throbbing ache in her head.
It had been six months since the car accident. When emergency responders arrived, they found the passenger side door crushed by a big electric pole. She had slipped in her seat, unconscious. Ahmed, who was just slightly hurt, went to the hospital with her.
They took Adra into surgery after undergoing a CT scan to establish the extent of the injury. They eventually transferred her to the intensive care unit, where she remained for an extended period.
The doctors would examine her pupils and squeeze her arms for clues that she wasn't a vegetative pulp. And one day, much to everyone's relief, she curled her toes. When asked to repeat the movement, she did so, and eventually, the day came when she was no longer bound to a feeding tube.
However, the respite was just temporary. They soon discovered that she had no recollection of her name, family, or childhood. Just a few fragmented memories. When doctors wanted to operate on her and implant a newly researched chip, Ahmed stood against the idea. He recalled his many conversations with the doctors and the most recent with her dad, “she has enough memories to fill a complete day, from the twenty-three years of her existence. Why on earth would you allow her to be used as a guinea pig and inject her with something that is not proven?” he protested, but it was in vain.
The physicians needed a willing participant for their study, and her father wanted her to have a life, so he signed the consent form. She appeared to recover well and was recently shifted into this room.
Ahmed felt guilty as he looked at her, blaming himself for her plight. He wished he hadn't offered to drive her, since none of this would have occurred if he hadn't. With each passing day, Ahmed's guilt got the better of him.
He reflected on that evening’s events. They were strolling together towards the massive parking lot when the wind picked up, blowing sand in their eyes from the empty lot around them, quite a usual occurrence in Riyadh because of the oppressive heat and arid stretches of land.
Signalling Adra to take shelter in the car, he too dashed. Once inside, Ahmed turned on his car radio to listen to his favorite station. A voice roared in, advising drivers on the road to drive gently because of the approaching sandstorm.
“Let us not drive.” She had said in fear.
He regretted turning on the radio and quickly turned it off.
His limited interaction with her was when he had met her for the first time on that particular day for a meeting. Her vivaciousness and her intelligence, at that meeting where she had won the coveted assignment, completely bowled him over.
He was looking forward to spend time with her, so he promptly said “If we delay, it will be soon dark,”avoiding to look at her lest he feels the heat build in him again, like the time when he planted a kiss on her, before that meeting had started. She had lost her cool at that time, as the total act was uncalled, so this time he tried being cautious.
“Shall we start?” he wanted to ask, take permission, and rectify his past, but out came an apology.
I’m sorry, sorry for the kiss, he had blurted.
“No, no, we are not talking about it again!” Adra had replied too hastily.
“Please put the incident out of your mind for a while. I would rather talk to you than lose my temper remembering it,” throwing back her head in feigned annoyance and flashing the drop-dead gorgeous smile, she had said.
“If we are lucky, we should reach Ursmouth in a couple of hours just before night strikes,” he had said switching on the ignition.
Leaning back in her chair as if to collect her thoughts, she noticed the sky turn orange before returning her gaze to him. “Are you hungry?” she had inquired.
On Ahmed's nod, she pulled two carefully wrapped sandwiches from a bag on the back seat. After she handed one to him, she had said, “While I had worked on my project in Egypt, I heard several rumors about an old book. Curious as I was, I had contacted various agencies to know more. I contacted the Archaeology and Anthropology departments, the church, and the history schools, but they denied any knowledge. No one could offer me any specifics. They dismissed it. The government was suppressing this for reasons best known to them.”
She kept on talking about the mysterious book. “I never gave up hope and kept following up with government offices. One fine day, a priest followed me into a cafe and you won’t believe what he said!”
She had paused for a few seconds, her gaze fixed on me, before revealing that the book dated from around 600 B.C. It predicted an enormous change in humans to survive.
“Beginning when?” Ahmed had asked.
“Beginning of the twenty-first century.”
“That’s now?” he had said, surprised.
“Adra, he asked, half-joking, what type of change?”
“The priest informed me that certain inexplicable happenings will affect people's lives.”
“You are one of a kind, Adra, the odd duckling, if any such prophecy would have surrounded me, I would have been a nervous wreck,”Ahmed had said.
“The priest warned that there will come a day when every human being on Earth will reflect and transit into a spiritual existence.”
“What was the name of that book?” Ahmed had inquired, in case he might have heard of it in his growing years in Egypt.
On the cover page the priest saw “Our World.” inscribed. When an archaeologist discovered it in the Tomb of Nemesis, the Great Pharaoh, its crimson leather cover was unharmed. Before given to a government library (for which no record exists), the priest had it for a short time.
Ahmed had no recollection of any conversation or news on such a book. He focused on the road, the visibility had dipped further.
Ignoring the danger looming ahead, he turned to face her. “All of this seems very utopian and far-fetched,” he had said, and to emphasize his point he asked her to look outside at the massive storm that had hidden the arid stretch of land, “hope you are referring to these types of occurrences?” he had asked.
Looking outside, she replied, “No, not these, she had added slowly, not outer but inner.”
“Will in the coming times, would it affect everyone?” inquired Ahmed, getting intrigued.
“According to the book, moments in our lives will feel different somehow; they will become more intense and inspiring. When each one passes through this phase, much may feel depressed and restless and want to end the experience. Many will lose their own lives or the lives of their dear ones. Others may come out unscathed and much richer about life.” she had replied.
Still eyeing her from the corner of his eyes he wondered out aloud - “When we humans have existed on this planet for a long time, why should we be receiving insight into existence now, so late in the game? Was there a game change ahead and the forces above trying to warn?”
But, though he said so, it didn’t appear practical, and just as he was about to persuade her to drop the notion, he noticed the visibility drop to zero.
Because he didn't pull over to the side of the road and continued driving on a hunch, the worst happened. His automobile collided with an enormous stone, causing it to swerve right and travel straight towards an electric pole off to the side of the road. Ahmed attempted to regain control by swerving the car to the left, but the right side door had smashed inwards after colliding with the pole, trapping Adra against the back of her seat, finally smashing back into the stone.
He repeated her name in vain, and just before, he blacked out, he heard the wailing sound of the ambulance.
Six months had passed since then, six long months, and a lot had happened to the outside world. The prophecy was coming true. Covid-19 had wreaked havoc around the world for the third straight month since the first case.
He noticed Adra move and felt her grab his hand with unexpected yearning, just as he was spinning out of those memories. She had a confused look on her face. As if her mind was full of thoughts.
“Where are the doctors, and do you have any idea where Dad is? What's more, why isn't he here to look after me? How come this part of the hospital seems so deserted?”
Ahmed felt forced to inform her about the current situation. However, he was unsure whether he should. The hospital's newly designated Covid wing got the doctors and nurses so busy that they barely came once a day to check on her vitals. There was no one else he could turn to for help. Considering the risk that she may suffer, he eventually opted to reveal the information when she was in a better state of health. But for now, he believed, that he could break the events down in a more softer approach, one that would please her and not come across as harsh and sad.
“Adra, do you recall our conversation about the book-Our World?”
“Yes, I do.”
“The time has come.”
"For the prediction of a global transformation to come true."
“Really?” she said, closing her tired eyes.
“Yeah, each human is progressing toward a higher essence,” he said and saw her flash her gorgeous smile, her eyelashes sinking in her face as her smile widened. It appeared as if she was listening through her lashes.
He felt this sudden urge to rock her to sleep in his arms. “God, I love her so much. Don’t let me give in to my desires, God, not now, not when she is all fragile and vulnerable,” he begged, almost whispering aloud.
At that very moment, she shifted a bit on her bed and looked questioningly towards him, as if she had heard him. Taken aback, he swayed a little to regain his footing. Her solemn, tiny form changed into a wry grin, and she inquired. “So what’s the plan, she asked. I haven’t dreamt for months, and it’s time I do.”
He laughed, a hearty laugh, after weeks or maybe months, and then with a wide smile he spoke, “Yes, Adra, we’ve got a busy few months ahead of us.” The memories of the pandemic filled him. “I’m sure you don’t think I’ve been sitting around doing nothing for the past few months,” he remarked as he bent over Adra. “Rather, I’ve been giving a great deal of consideration to our impending project and how we would deal with it in coming times.”
Adra was looking at his face and detected a smile spreading from his eyes to the corners of his mouth.
Intrigued, she inquired, “What are you talking about, Ahmed? What else do you want to share?”
“Some interesting news for you,” he said.
“What news?” she asked.
“Do you want me to tell you from the beginning?”
“Yes please, she said, I like good news.”
“As soon as the doctors told me I’m ready to go back to work, I picked up my mobile and made a call to Egypt.”
“To who in Egypt?” she inquired, surprised.
“To my buddy, a young man with a sharp mind.”
“Go on, tell me more,” she asked, unable to hide her questing spirit and eagerness for life.
“I will fund this hospital project that the bureaucracies in Riyadh want to build, thanks to a project management team managed by this buddy, and you, my dear Adra, will hire the best architects to prepare outstanding drawings with his help. You’ll have the most innovative technology and software, and I’ll have a terrific finance team to help us with a budget.” His excitement audible in his rising voice.
“That sounds like a good start. Oh, my goodness me, we’re going to be busy for the next few weeks and months and years!” she murmured, her voice barely audible,now tired with all the excitement.
Then, as an afterthought she added, “so much to dream about now. And with dropping eyes and a sleepy smile, she whispered, but that’s good!”
“Yes, said Ahmed. Things will get better and better by the second.” And, thinking about the inserted chip and its visible results, he expressed secret gratitude to the guy above.