The sky outside resonated my spirits perfectly: the heavy layers of sinister black with occasional grey speckles. The stale air of the crowded kabbah reminded of the train stations or airports unable to “digest” the endless flow of travelers. Inside the kabbah, everything looked pale and gloomy. The kabbah visitors, however, seemed to take no notice of the dispiriting view of the settings for their eyes were all fixed on a small black cube placed in the center of the room, the epi-center of the Muslim religious world that managed to bring thousands of pilgrims to the kabbah each year. Rapt in my contemplation, I threw a scattered glance at what marked the Islam’s most sacred relics. The cube looked unexpectedly simple and casual in design with the golden Arabian letters being the only decoration that gave a hint at the exclusive status of the relics. I watched the letters with a blend of confusion and abashment for they were starkly alien to me what created a disturbing feeling of “not belonging.” I joined the crowd hoping to be lost in the religious garment with its uniting and equaling power that put aside all the socioeconomic and material attributes. I tried to enter the spirits of the overall euphoria but the loud sound of the prayers coming through the speakers would only make me more nervous, it would disturb my ears with its unfamiliar and almost hostile tone. I made an attempt to fix my consciousness on the message of the prayer but my mind would shift elsewhere else encouraging me to finally focus on the true reason why I was there. Unlike all those agitated people, my motivation for coming to kabbah that day was far more material. The kabbah, the prayers, and even the cube did not promise any enlightenment to me for my sacred quest resolved itself to the quest for one person or, putting it more precisely, a memory. His name was Achmad.
For those who might consider the outlined context to be exaggeratedly dramatized, I shall assure them that his name was probably the only symbolic feature that I would associate with this man. Other than that, it was an entirely worldly man with fairly progressive views and a somewhat excessively skeptical mind. His skepticism, however, would rather reveal an agile and shrew mind for it was free of any malice. Paradoxical that, my kind-hearted uncle Achmad whose positive and easy-going approach to life was so contagious was unfortunate to face the most intolerant and aggressive turn-down on the part of his closest relatives.
Raised in the hustle of the urban Jakarta, my uncle seemed to be destined to repeat the life of thousands representatives of a classical middle-class family. He was actually in the way of doing it, attending a traditional Islamic school where he was taught to adhere to conservative Islamic values which were so passionately shared by his religious mother. His flow of life would repeat the most trivial scenario: university, job, marriage, and children. The family would treat him respectfully – for them, he was a classic example of a successful eastern man. I, in turn, would treat him warmly – for me, he was, first and foremost, a good and understanding friend to whom I could trust my most cherished secrets. Things changed rapidly and unexpectedly as they always do. One day, I overheard a conversation between my father and grandfather which took me aback by the sharpness and cruelty of the unpleasant characteristics they applied to the object of their discussion. For a moment, it seemed to me that I heard my uncle’s name but I decided that I heard amiss for it could not be my dear friend that they were discussing in such a hard-hitting manner. Time went on and I noticed that Achmad was no longer the member of our family reunions, nor do we pay any visits to his family. Disturbing doubts bemired my soul but I would banish them away overwhelmed by some inexplicable fear.
Most people know that Saudi Arabia, just as many other eastern states, is characterized by a strong almost fanatic adherence to conservative traditions. These traditions dominate over any sphere of a person’s life penetrating in its most private and delicate parts. While the western civilization proclaims and promotes overall tolerance accepting willingly people of all races, sexual orientations, and views, Saudi Arabian people rely on inflexible stereotypes of what a man and a woman should look, do, and like. My uncle was unfortunate to fall beyond this stereotypical framework which cost him a life in a literal sense of this word. When the secret about his nontraditional sexual orientation was disclosed, the life became a nightmare for him. The family preferred to pretend they were unaware of his “specialness,” but the change in their attitude was so evident that could not do more to demonstrate their disdain. His wife alienated him from the children prejudicing the innocent kids against their loving father. The worst of it, this harassment would be masked under the imitation of the overall unawareness which made it feel even more pressing and cringe worthy. To my uncle’s credit, he would remain a true man until the very end ignoring all the aggression and doing his best to restore friendly relations to the extent to which it was possible in the given context. Despite all his efforts, the situation would not change for better; more than that, it seemed to become more chillingly depressing from day to day. I saw him retiring into himself more and more strongly but I was clueless about what to do to rescue him.
When he decided to make a pilgrimage to kabbah, no one tried to tack him back of this potentially dangerous idea for he was evidently too weak physically to endure such an exhausting journey. I now realize his true plan was not to endure it. Be it consciously or not, he was seeking the death for it was the only salvation he could account for. It is, thereby not surprising, that no one would be touched or shocked by the news about his sudden death of the heart stroke that found him just at the culmination of his pilgrimage. This death would not disturb the conservative mind the family, nor it would undermine those ridiculous stereotypical rules – I was not even allowed to attend his funerals. The only change that this death brought was a radical transformation of my worldview, a strong resistance I would at once adopt towards any intolerance and stereotypical mentality. In this view, I suppose that Achmad did not fully realize what role he played in my own life. Maybe, if he did, he would want to search for some other salvation except for death.
The sky outside resonated my spirits perfectly: the gloomy episodes of my past fit well against the dark background of the evening sky. I was inspecting the crowd trying to identify those pilgrims who could have potentially preserved some memories about my uncle, whose look could have once crossed his look, and whose hand might have been shaken warmly by Achmad. I closed my eyes and let my memories die away with the doleful sound of the prayer.