“It’s alright, son. It’s alright. Just breathe into this.”
So many hands. So many shadows. So many people looming over me. Someone places a tube over my mouth and nose. I think it’s supposed to help me breathe. It doesn’t.
“He’s not responding. Beginning CPR.”
A mouth placed over mine. Air rushing into me. Hands thumping my chest. For a few seconds I think... I might actually survive this.
And then I see him. And I know it’s over.
My name was Mustafa Khan. Born June 18th 1994, I was barely 5 years old when my father died of a heart problem. My mother did her best to raise us. Being a single mother with three boys, the oldest of whom was only 12 at the time? Not an easy job. But somehow, with the help of my uncle, she did it.
When I first met Matt, my eldest brother, Sohail was, at age 24, about to graduate from law school, my other brother, Abdullah, at age 22, was in medical school…and then there was me. 17 years old. In the middle of my senior year in high school. The disappointment of the family. Maybe that’s a little too harsh. See, I wasn’t dumb, not even close, but I had nothing on my brothers. Sohail and Abdullah had both graduated at the top of their classes. Me? I had good grades and all but I was nowhere near as amazing as the two of them. My academic life would never match theirs. The teachers would see my light-brown untamable hair, hazel eyes, slightly crooked nose and think, there’s another one of those Khans. They would wait expectantly for my perfect test scores and stunning essays. Those grades didn’t come. And they would give me that disappointed look that said, “Seriously? A 92? Your brothers got nothing less than 98s.” And as I said earlier, my mom tried her best, she really did. But with two brothers like mine, I got shunned to the side a lot. And so I made some mistakes, got some wrong buddies and effectively managed to screw up my life.
Now Matt. He was a good guy. As I tell you more about him, you probably won’t agree with me. But he really was a good guy. He just had some…issues. For one, he was an 18-year-old weed addict who occasionally drank. I can already see you going, "Why the heck were you friends with him?". It only gets worse. For another, he was a bully. There’s no other word for it. He made fun of little kids, reduced girls to tears and beat guys up. But senior year, he got better. Something in him changed. He was more focused on his education. The AP Bio teacher asked me to tutor him and we slowly grew from hating each other to, at the very least, becoming mutual acquaintances. Within a year, he was practically my best friend. Yeah, he was a jerk at first. But my mom had always taught me to give people a second chance. And so I did. The only problem was his smoking. The drinking wasn’t that big of a deal because he only did it a couple of times. But the weed. He was completely hooked. Sure. He was a legal adult, but as his friend, shouldn’t I have tried to help him? The only problem was…I didn’t. I let it go, thinking, you know, he’ll get over it. He didn’t. My family warned me about him. I just laughed. I still remember the conversation we had, word-to-word.
“He’s going to get you in trouble.” Abdullah had added, peering at me through his glasses. “He’s bad news.”
“Oh, shut up,” I’d sneered.
“Mustafa!” my mother had scolded. “Don’t talk to your brothers like that.”
“That’s how they talk to me.”
“Well, just because they do the wrong thing, doesn’t mean you have to. Besides they’re only trying to help. Maybe you shouldn’t be friends with this Matt.”
And that’s when I had snapped. I’d screamed at her, calling her a hypocrite, telling her I hated her so much, that by the time I was done, she had fled to her room in tears, and my brothers gaped at me furiously.
“How dare you?!” growled Abdullah advancing on me.
I’d flinched a little, still in shock at my own words. I’d seen the pain in my mother’s eyes and I’d felt so guilty. I’d wanted to stop talking to apologize, but my mouth wouldn’t listen to me.
“Honestly, Mustafa. What just happened?!” Sohail had glared at me.
Normally it was me and Abdullah who always fought and Sohail was our peacekeeper. But at the moment he’d looked so furious, I had known there was no chance he’d try to keep us from fighting.
“I…I…I don’t…I just…”
“You. Just. What?” hissed Sohail enunciating each word.
I hadn’t known how to respond. I had looked from one to the other, desperately wanting to convey my guilt, my unspoken apology. Sohail’s eyes had softened a little and he had sat back on to the sofa.
“Look bro. I know it hasn’t been easy for you trying to stay up to Ammi’s expectations.”
I had looked at Sohail, wondering how he could have gotten it all wrong. I didn’t want to live up to my mom’s expectations. I’d already done that. I just wanted to be known as my own person, not as the younger brother of Sohail and Abdullah. I just didn’t want all that pressure on me.
Sohail had just kept talking, not noticing that I had zoned out. “…And maybe you’ve been the “good kid” for too long. Hey, I get it. You want to be yourself. But Mustafa…you can’t talk to Ammi like that. So, I’ll make you a deal. We’ll get off your case about Matt, you go ahead, be a teenager, live a little. But you don’t ever talk to Ammi like that again. Yeah? And you go and apologize to her. Now.”
And so I had. And we never spoke of that day again.
Three years passed. Sohail was engaged, Abdullah was in his final year of med school and I had gotten into a pretty good college alongside Matt. By that point I had drifted away from my religion. My mom and brothers tried to convince me to talk to our local Sheikh but I just tuned them out. I was convinced that now that I was an adult, I didn’t need a God. Biggest mistake of my life.
It was June 15th, 2015, three days before my birthday and coincidentally three days before Ramadan. Matt and I were just cruising around in his car a little before 11. We had a major exam the next day and after spending the whole day and half the night studying, we decided we deserved a break.
Matt was drinking. Yeah I know. Don’t drink and drive. But he wasn’t driving; I was. Or at least I had been. Around midnight, we decided to go back to our shared apartment and he asked to drive. I hesitated for a second. He then reassured me that he knew how to pace himself, that he didn’t even feel the familiar sensation of intoxication yet. So I decided, oh what the heck, it’s his car anyway. As I strapped myself into the passenger seat, I felt a twinge of panic at the thought of him driving. But I told myself, No. Matt said he’s not drunk yet. It’ll be fine.
It wasn’t. Barely two minutes later, Matt, hysterical at a joke I had told him, threw his head back laughing and drove straight into an eight wheeler truck.
And then I see him. And I know it’s over.
The Christians call him Michael, the Hindus, Yama, and my mom? She called him Malak-ul-Maut; The Angel of Death. And he’s here to take me.
“No! No!” I screech hysterically. “I’m too young! I haven’t even finished college yet!” A faint voice in the distance tells me to “Calm down, kid.” I ignore it and beg the Angel not to take me.
He looks at me solemnly. “It is time.”
“No! Please! Just one more day! I need to pray!” I haven’t prayed a single Salat in almost a year now and I’m regretting it so much.
“It is time.” He repeats. “My Lord has commanded me to take your soul. And so I shall.”
As he approaches me, I turn my face towards the Heavens begging Allah for forgiveness. Then the Angel presses a hand to my chest and I discover the meaning of true pain. He is literally pulling my soul out and it hurts, it hurts so much. And then…
Time of Death: June 15th 2015, 11:47 P.M