A Beheading



A Beheading

by Mohsin Hamid
Short story

View an image of the author

A man is incarcerated in a beat-up, vintage vehicle, bonded by the bolted doors of the ‘copper coloured ’81 Corolla’. His pupils dilate uselessly in complete darkness. ‘I don’t want to die but I don’t mind dying,’ he tells us. ‘I just don’t want to be tortured.’ We do not know why our narrator has been taken from his home, separated from his family, and bundled into a car boot, but we understand there can be no happy ending. Fear seeps from his body against his will. Terror haemorrhages from each spoken sentence.

The prose reads as though the narrator is telling this story to himself as events unfold, perhaps in the hope of distraction, or in a state of detached shock. ‘I think of being at the dentist,’ he says, invoking the mundanity of day-to-day life. ‘You know it’s going to hurt more and you just wait and try to think of mind tricks to make it hurt less.’ We hang on to his every word, but don’t keep him company for long. Oblivious to the fate of his relatives, the identities of the executors, or the motivations behind the violence at hand, his final paragraph leaves us at a loss.

Words by Elizabeth Brown

We are plunged into a chaotic scene of shattered glass and raised voices, refused any chance to acclimatise. Caught in darkness, we read the frantic thoughts of an unnamed man. We are left scrambling to catch up with the short, blunted phrases. He has been beaten, restrained, and tossed in a trunk. His sentences begin the same way over and over, as if an attempt to combat the uncertainty faced. We do not know where he is, when the scene is set, or who his captors are.

This absence of context heightens the panic, just as the dense stream of consciousness envelopes us in the hopes and fears of our narrator. The focus on the personal paints contrasting pictures of humanity between our man and his anonymous captors. We piece together small fragments of a life from brief tangents and throwaway comments. Within the whirlwind of violence that ensues, the poignancy of his reflections becomes painfully magnified.

Words by Katherine Fieldgate

More to discover

Read the story here, find more short stories by Mohsin Hamid on his website here, and read a related article called ‘Silencing Pakistan’ written by Hamid for The Express Tribune.

Umair Kazi has interviewed the author for Guernica, as have Terry Gross for NPR, Robert Repino for Oxford University Press, and Jeff Milo for Paste Magazine.

Question of the day

Are artists their own greatest censors?
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They should be. The expansiveness of creativity must be pinned down, id tamed by ego. Else it’s purely personal. If not self-congratulatory.

– Lisa McInerney, author of The Blood Miracles and The Glorious Heresies (via The Brief →)

I know I can be. Censoring is a kind of editing process, isn’t it? We should consider our intentions and remove anything that isn’t ‘true’.

– Rachael Ball, cartoonist and author of The Inflatable Woman (via The Brief →)

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