4:30am, 2nd December (the next morning). Dawn
In the burgeoning light of the new day, Max sat on the northern lawn, doing up the blue laces on his orange shoes. Then, looking up, he beheld the dawn. Ragged scraps of gray black clouds lay scattered across the eastern sky, the light of the unrisen sun touching their bellies to make them glow like giant lanterns. Overhead the lightly star flecked night was growing lighter as the strength of the dawn pushed it from the Heavens.
Standing up, Max sucked in a breath of fresh air that filled the very pits of his lungs. Then, holding it, he absorbed every molecule of oxygen to finally exhale it back into the air. He felt calm. He felt prepared. He felt ready.
Then, sensing someone behind him, Max turned and found Sheikh Abdullah walking towards him, emerging from out of the shadows. His flowing robes gave him the appearance of floating rather than walking, with one hand hidden within the folds of his clothes and his other hand held out in front, clutching his prayer beads as he fingered them individually on the leather strap. The moment struck Max as somewhat surreal, almost divine. Like the Sheikh was an angel striding out of thin air to address him.
‘Your Highness,’ Max said, ‘you’re just in time. Kris’ lackeys have just lugged that cannon contraption your boys made down to the beach, so they can pummel me with it. Should be a good show if you’re up for it?’
‘Good morning, Max,’ Abdullah greeted in his smooth, melodic tone. ‘Thank you, but no. I shall pass on your offer this morning, but I do wish you luck.’
‘Thanks. I’ll show you the bruises later,’ Max replied as he turned to readdress the sunrise.
“I see you enjoy the dawn just as I do?’ Abdullah said, stepping up next to Max to gaze at the sky.
‘Dawn and sunset. My favourite times of day.’
‘Dawn brings hope,’ Sheikh Abdullah said.
‘And sunset brings those we love back home together,’ Max added.
A silence slipped over them. The horizon changed shade to a silvery gold.
Abdullah spoke first. ‘Last night you asked me a question and after reflecting on my answer, I confess I did not tell you all that was on my mind.’
Max looked down at the ground and then back up at the sunrise. Abdullah continued.
‘As I said, my demons are tamed. Not banished forever, but certainly tamed and I told you how I accomplished that, but I did not answer your question. I did not explain why I am content despite the doom that threatens us. How is it I have my peace in all this uncertainty?’
Max remained silent. Abdullah continued.
‘Eternity. It is eternity that provides my solace. If Death awaits us all in the arena, I know that I will be reunited with Fathiya to share the eternity we had hoped for. God will be waiting for me to place my hand in Fathiya’s once again and I can be nothing but content with that surety. That is why I do not fear Death. In truth, if it were not for my purpose in life to guide my people in the world and aid all of us through these troubled times, I would welcome Death.’
Max turned and looked at his friend as the warming glow of sunrise touched their faces.
‘However,’ Abdullah added, ‘my solace in this perspective has been shaken in the last few months. It seems I have found a reason to live and now, for the very first time since Fathiya left this mortal realm, I have meaning other than my perceived purpose to want to stay alive and that is to share my life with you, Max and the special people surrounding us. It is all of you that have given me a desire to live, so if you succeed in the arena and life continues for us all, I will also be content. Eternity in the afterlife is no longer the only prize. Life itself is now equally as precious to me.’
Abdullah shifted to return Max’s look as the sun broke free of the chains of the horizon, sending a bloom of gold flooding across the grass field. A gentle breeze also stirred across the lawn, ruffling Abdullah’s robes and the trees surrounding the estate.
Kris walked carefully up to the two silent men from behind. ‘Max?’ she asked carefully. ‘It’s time to go get sweaty.’
Abdullah broke his gaze off and gently turned to bow to Kris. ’As salaam alaykum, Kris. Good morning.’
‘Good morning, Your Highness,’ Kris returned, smiling a little awkwardly.
Max noted Kris’ shyness and the difference in Abdullah’s bow, that it was slightly deeper and more prolonged, making it almost intimate.
‘I will leave you both to your training,’ Abdullah said and glided away.
Max flicked his gaze from Abdullah to Kris and then back to Abdullah.
‘What?’ Kris asked, hands held out to the sides.
‘Hold on a sec,’ Max said to Kris before bounding off after the Sheikh. ‘Your Highness, excuse me?’
Sheikh Abdullah halted to let Max jog around in front of him.
‘Thanks for coming down to see me this morning and thank you for sharing,’ Max said. ‘The more I get to know you, the more you make me realise I should have gone out looking for friends a long time ago.’
Abdullah gently nodded again.
Max continued. ’But, something just occurred to me. Something that maybe no one else is going to say to you, so I guess it might just have to be me. Remember also that I’m no expert in these sorts of things, but last night you told me Fathiya was the love of your life. Well, maybe she was the love of your past life and that somewhere out there is the love of your future life? You also just said you’d be content to spend the rest of your life with the special people around us, so...’ Max trailed off to cast a glance over the Sheikh’s shoulder towards Kris.
Abdullah guessed the direction of Max’s gaze and resisted turning. Instead he looked down and resettled his hands inside the sleeves of his robes.
‘You are wrong, Max,’ he said simply, looking up at him. Max squinted in return as the Sheikh’s mouth crinkled upwards. ’You may very well be an expert in these matters after all.’
Then without another word, Abdullah glided past Max and off towards the mansion. Max did not turn to watch him go, but rather just crossed his arms and grinned. In front of him, the new day had begun and all he could do was think how good it already was.
‘Come on, Max!’ Kris called out. ‘Get your fancy shoes over here! It’s crying time!’