Prelude to Sympathy For the Devil
By: Sang Kromah and Moh Kromah
The thing about revenge is that if executed properly, the one on the receiving end of the vengeful act never sees it coming.
Zahra was never the type with dreams of grandeur. Dreaming meant setting the stage for disappointment, and from past experiences, there were enough disappointments in life to begin with, so why add the unnecessary to an already complicated scenario?
Life had never given Zahra much to hope for, but even with that in mind, she was still a believer. Her life had belonged to the church for so long that she didn’t dare question anything sanctioned by it. For the church had raised her. Being abandoned on the steps of the abbey at birth, Sister Magdalene had raised Zahra as if she were her own child, teaching her the Word, and the importance of having faith.
She never questioned the nun about the discrepancies of her story, yet she asked the same questions daily, hoping that one day the truth would find its way out. “Why didn’t my parents want me?” “Who were these people that gave me away?”
It wasn’t in her to accuse the woman of lying, but her story was similar to telling a child that they had been dropped off by a stork.
Maybe if the truth had entered the abbey sooner, fate would have dealt Zahra a better hand, or maybe not, but she wasn’t prepared for his arrival; not in the least. But then again, who would have been?
By the age of twelve, when all of her classmates had extravagant dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, and movie stars, Zahra was adamant about becoming a nun. After all, when her parents didn’t want her, Sister Magdalene basically raised Zahra as her own daughter. She longed to call her mother, but realized the inappropriate nature of the sentiment at an early age.
Zahra believed that there was no need in her bringing children into the world when there were so many here already, and in need of love. So she wanted to become a nun, and run the orphanage just like Sister Magdalene.
She had it all figured out until she met him.
Zahra frequented the farmer’s market as often as she said her prayers. But this day was unlike other days. The sky was a little dimmer, and the air felt a little thicker, and Zahra felt it, but it didn’t stop her from making her weekly trip to Spitalfield Market.
From vender to vender the crowd was awash with people hurriedly pushing their way through without the courtesy of a simple “excuse me”. The heaviness of the air seemed to weigh down on those in the market as well. People seemed more irritable. The pushing and shoving wasn’t unique to children; the adults reveled in acts of undisciplined debauchery, while the children ran rampant, but all in one direction.
While Zahra was only barely an adult, her curiosity and zeal for life was still very childlike; though in the most subtle of ways. She followed the children like a child being led astray by the Pied Piper.
The act of juggling was one she was accustomed to, but never had she seen juggling like this. The blue eyed man with the wry smile juggled and sang to the dozens of children who surrounded him in the center of the market. His song drowned out the raucous of the market, and for a moment, he was all she saw. He was imperfectly striking with dark hair that contradicted his pale skin. His wild curls weren’t long, but seemed to develop a life of their own as he playfully jousted through the crowd with the plentiful fruit he juggled. He was slim but sturdy…a working man indeed.
A shorter, round man made his way through the crowd with a hat intended for donations, while the blue eyed man continued to sing his Scottish tune that hypnotized Zahra and the children.
His voice was enthralling; yet the lyrics to the song escaped her memory just as soon as they met her ears, but that didn’t matter. No, not at all. All that mattered at that moment was that this strange, imperfectly beautiful man with an ethereal voice was completely focused on her and no one and nothing else.
The song ceased, but Zahra was still in a trance. He held her gaze, unwilling to blink as if doing so would make the scene disintegrate. A strange force drew them together and neither party protested.
She had never been so close to a man without good reason, but this was different. She felt different. All inhibitions were stripped away, and she wanted to know more. She wanted him.
He held out his hand, but it was far from a casual gesture. His eyes said it all. It was an invitation, and instincts told her so.
Trepidation worked its way up as bitter as bile, but she didn’t heed the warning, and she gladly accepted his hand.
His name escaped his lips, but it was a mere formality. Zahra felt like she knew him already. She felt close to him, but the feeling held no merit, because it was an impossibility to be close to a stranger.
Months passed and Zahra began to stray from the Abbey, now consumed by the love and affections of the Scottish stranger.
Sister Magdalene always wanted Zahra to venture out and experience the world before deciding on what path she wanted to take, but something about Fergus Campbell and his infectious personality did not sit well with her. It wasn’t the slickness of his tongue or the way he seemed to know something about everything, but there was something about him that made the nun want to grab her rosary beads and say ten Hail Mary’s and five Our Father’s.
He was off-putting and controlling, but she refrained from vocalizing her concerns for fear of pushing Zahra away.
Zahra was changing. There was distance even when sitting beside her, in the same room. Her earnest smile had become a disparaging smirk, and the zeal for life that once resided in her doe eyes were now a dull echo of the beauty that once was.
When Zahra fell pregnant and decided to leave the Abbey, Sister Magdalene could no longer hold her tongue. There was nothing the girl could have ever done to lessen the nun’s love for her, but it was clear that the infection known as Fergus was invading the host known as Zahra, and she was losing herself to him.
“At least stay until you have the baby.” Sister Magdalene told her.
Anger swelled within Zahra contorting her features into something frightening. Accusations of jealousy were thrown at the nun, but she took the blow, refusing to retort.
She took a step back as Zahra wobbled away, suddenly unrecognizable to the woman, who had raised her.
Zahra rushed out of the Abbey with a bag that barely held a week’s worth of clothes. She wanted to see him. No. She needed to see him. She had always loved being with him, but from the moment she became pregnant, she was desperate for him; unable to function without him being near.
It was night, and though she had lived in London all of her life, she never ventured out this late. The friendly faces that frequented the Abbey by day appeared less approachable by night. Maybe it was the full moon, but there was something about this night that made her want to run back to the safety of the church; to the safety of Sister Magdalene, but there was an urgency to get to Fergus.
Maybe it was the baby. Eight months in and she loved the baby more than she loved herself.
She turned into an alley–a shortcut Fergus usually took–and felt relieved when she saw a figure in the distance that she was sure was him.
She elongated her strides, anxious to meet him, but soon came to an abrupt halt once she realized he wasn’t alone. He stood over a round, diminutive figure. The moon shown on them, confirming it was Fergus, and the redhead man, who worked with him in the market.
The confrontation was not a friendly one. Fergus’ hand gestures made that clear. Zahra was now more curious than ever, reinstating her strides, but this time, more subtle.
The man was pleading on his knees as Fergus skulked and circled him as a lion would its prey.
For the first time ever, Zahra feared him.
“Why does she still breathe?” Fergus’ voice was as calm as always, but now menacing. “As long as she breathes, Zahra will never truly be mine.”
Zahra’s breath caught in her throat. She cupped her mouth, knowing that if she didn’t, she would scream in horror.
“Don’t nuns love angels?” The short man joked nervously. “Make her love you. After all, you are the “Morning Star.”
Something clicked in Zahra’s memory.
I was the star of the morning
The son of dawn
I’ve fallen from grace
But I still know my place
My throne shall rise
And she will abide
The daughter of my enemy will soon be mine.
For so long Zahra believed she never listened to the words of Fergus’ song that day at the market, but that wasn’t the case. The words rushed to her as clear as if he were singing them in her ear. She took a step back, tripping over trash, and bringing the attention of the two men to her direction.
Fergus’ face twisted becoming something that was a far cry from the handsome Scotsman with the crooked smile. He was hideous with red eyes that were no more than slits. His skin was like old leather. He wasn’t human.
Tears stung her eyes, but the fear and horror she was experiencing wouldn’t permit them to fall.
She knew who he was, but didn’t want to think the name, because that would mean the child she carried was…
She ran. She ran without looking behind her, unapologetically bumping into anyone who crossed her path. After all, she had all right, she was carrying Lucifer’s baby.
She ran into the Abbey, and tears finally dispersed. Her chest heaved as she fell into the arms of Sister Magdalene.
The nun held her consolingly, questioning the girl’s state.
When the crying ceased, she sat on a pew with eyes that resembled glass, and said, “I now understand how a mother could abandon her own child.”