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Khaled Nurul HAKIM



The Book of Naseeb (Penned in the Margins, 2020) tells the story of an idealistic heroin dealer who dreams of fitting the victims of war in Afghanistan with artificial limbs. In this breathtaking first novel, Khaled Nurul Hakim chronicles the hero’s struggle for redemption through the backstreets and motorway service stations of modern Britain to the desert and mountains of a fictional borderland. Written in an exhilarating, incantatory blend of street argot and Quranic-inspired language, The Book of Naseeb charts an epic journey like no other.

I. | The Mi’raj of Angels

Read! In the name of your Lord, who created, created from a clot, and assigned each soul Receivers, to record in truth; and from these no thought is hidden, no scornful word unheard, and from whose Pens naught shall go unwrit.

And at the fiat of Jibreel, we gathered in the lowest sphere within the compass of a grain. And a thousand angels brought down the Preserved Tablet wherein all is decreed.

Read! said the Ruh, and stretched thousandfold Wings bounding the geometry of our world around a drop of sea.

And I saw archangel Israfil flicker into a trumpet-blowing messenger in gorgeous flowing green and turban, and his lips poised to blow for Judgement Day. And heavyclouded Mikael with his angel hosts who would drive the wind and rain and sea before them.

Read! That your Lord who knows the fall of a sparrow’s egg is content to hear the Accounts from the Recorders of the Right and Left Hand; and these, from the tangle of human motives, assign each deed to good and bad. And given to you, Roquib, precedence over Atid of the Left Hand, that you may allot tenfold or seven hundredfold merits to a completed good deed. And Allah is Merciful, All-Knowing.

How many Angels assemble at the blast? Protectors and Scribes for every soul ever born.

Some mystics imagine our world so well that in their minds it assumes a shape. But this shape has no top or bottom, it is not coloured, it has no weight. Truly our substance is infinitely stiff, infinitely pliant. We vibrate as one with no delay and no wave motion. Nevertheless the blast of Israfil’s horn disturbs a boat on a calm lake.

And given each soul two Followers, front and rear, to ward off evil. And these are with him from the womb—And the Protectors Hamza and Alif, the Protectors emerge from the waves.

An Angel is a fine and wonderful thing, almost amphibian between being and not being; as elastic deformation, or variation of pressure or electrical or magnetic intensity, or temperature. The water does not move forward, only the shape of the wave. And the boat oscillates up and down.

And we gazed on the Preserved Tablet.

There in a lambent lake of calligraphy the last of his words shine in the skinless surface—the filamental floaters of a life trembling, trembling in the Eye of the Creator.

Ah, what can describe the Preserved Tablet wherein the Book is writ?

Some see a hundred stark woods against a grey sky, each instant shuttling aspen, ash, and elms; with only a rumble of autumn wind against the flash of branches. Some see ten thousand bells of jellyfish, pulsing with luciferin blue and pink, and look through streams of tendrils, and plankton and arthropods twitching in the solid sea.

These unformed signs, the unformed signs before alif was formed.

The Archangel dips a Wing in the skinless surface of the Book.

And we descry the creature’s face in the lake. There in his eyes it is we who are holding him down, our shadows wobbling in skeins of light, as he drowns in a scumstained bath. The water yammering in his ears. Then our shapes explode in shards. And his life flashes before him...

And we thought: If he is dying, who is this old man and boy? Rifle and ammunition slung from shoulder and hips, scraping down the mountain track, a box wrapped in jute strapped to the back of the old farmer. And a scrawny pale horse or donkey weighed down with a crate. Lines drawn in dust in the old man’s face, who is not as old as he looks, and the strippling the same...

... the boy against the pack animal, salwar kameezes flapping as knees buckle on the ruts. The man’s eyes fixed on the path, passing words with his son as they clamber down. The track flushing down into a white road bounded by ridges.

(And each Night of Decree, when the year is revealed for the soul, we watch this vision of his end.)

We dive into the Book of Naseeb.

We dive into a lake of kelp. As far as we look the canopy sways with the surge, full of gaps and full of lights. Pregnant with all past and future. Blue rockfish and kelp blades flash blank surfaces. Bristleworm, scud and eelgrass deform into signs...


... When their mother came in, Arif gets up and turns to the wall.
... A dog smeared in excrement and blood runs down the street on three legs, looking back at him, beseeching.
... The creature goes to stay with his mother after youth detention. Every memory of her, she’s looking over her shoulder while he hurries after. ... They wheel around and smash an umbrella in his face. He runs home crying and cupping the blood in his hands. His father took him to the hospital and says, You want injection? The nurse has to stitch up the boy’s face without anaesthetic.... The boy sprang up and into the sack and bounded from the others; but the headmaster stopped the race, for his sack has a hole.

His life flits by as sea cucumber and bat star...

And here, his first page!—

a boy of ten in oversized Rambo T-shirt playing with other hazel-eyed children outside the white- walled house. On the flat roof the big girls play badminton, bunches of iron supports sprouting around them. And he’s trying to get the kids in kurtas to play dusty football between gates that drape buntings and banners as if expecting the next wedding party.

Abba and Chacha, moustached and paunched in their kurtas, and his brother Arif get into the minivan with darkened windows.

He runs crying Baba! Chacha!, hanging on the door handle as it edges out. His father barking rebuke; Chacha, ever indulgent, lets him in.

And in the minivan they feed him pistachios, Arif glowering on the back seat even then

—(how he misses his bullying!)

—*Eat, boy. Why don’t you eat? Bhaiya, why is he so thin? It’s not right for a Londoni.

—*I beat them—do they eat? It’s their mother’s fault.

(Where is his mother? She should be there, a soft buffer smelling of eau de toilette and sunscreen in her white headscarf and scorched skin. If she was there, snug between...)

Cigarette smoke gusting round and out the windows; he and Arif slyly kick each other.

Driving across arid plains. Everything the colour of lime. Then the fields of poppy. Mujahadeen stand in the orange heads, nicking poppy bulbs with a knife and screwing up their faces. (Somewhere the farmer and son stumble down the mountain track with the skinny pale horse or donkey.)

There in the border bazaar—tape recorders blaring distorted Quran, greasy Kalashnikovs, ammunition rounds, mortars on the stalls. Abba and Chacha cross-legged with jummah-going shop owners on the wooden stoops. And a bearded mullah leans forward, sober waistcoat criss-crossed with ammunition belts, to pinch his cheek (Naseeb, nai?), and a swell of pride tingles his ears.

They talk more and Chacha takes out a bundle of notes and puts it on the stoop.

And then he and Arif hold a Kalashnikov, and Abba fires in the air.

And now here, sneaking a glimpse in the backyard with Arif—the menfolk at some alchemy with a narrow trough of treacle giving off fumes, the blazing firewood in the afternoon not warmer than the grateful lump of love he feels, this privileged men’s world of Abba and Chacha and Arif...

Is this how he will remember dying?

Where, then, is Azrael, Archangel of Death? In the towering trunks of kelp stipes, the shadow of a grey whale so enormous it goes unseen.

And we hear the blast of Israfil’s horn smashing through the waters, and we arrow back to the surface.

And at the fiat of the Ruh Jibreel, we gathered in the lowest sphere within the compass of a grain.

And received the Book and the boy.

Henceforth are you confined to the slave, paired to record the Truth, which lies in the other’s hidden region. And created in symmetries, that you may succeed each other in the watches of the day, and the watches of the night. And your zaat as Angel-shaped threads from this world to the world of creatures. And your Lord is Merciful, Kind.

And Mikael of the wind and rain and sea and earth, and his angel hosts, made ready to translate to the realm of creatures. And he stretched thousandfold Wings.

Ten billion Angels feel the fluctuations. And at this instant we become Followers and Scribes for every soul ever born.

And with them the Noble Atid and I made ready to translate to the place of the creature. And the Relieving Angels keep a heartshaped lake till the appointed time.

Khoda hafiz, we say to each other,What you observe, we observe. As you are there, we are there.

An exploding horizon of Wings.

We cascade down shearing radiance, our faces burnt from the limitless sun, to receive a boy of ten in Rambo T-shirt, with the hazel-eyed children outside the white-walled house, and together dance with him, together dance with him to death.

II. | The Account of the Angel
       of the Right Hand

In which Your creature seeks his misfortune with the help of Angels and men; and is confounded by a drop of Mercy from a woman; and dreams of doing good; and finds his misfortune removed.


(Asr: 1605 GMT)

Da man runs out of his flat wiv da left luggige ticket.
An his Protectors front and back. Arownd dere transparence dey assume da semblans of cortiers from Samarkand. And dese have folowed him from da womb.

And I say to them:

Assalaamu alaykum Hamza, assalaamu alaykum Alif, how gos da servant?

Greetings, O Noble Scribes, you tell us, sez Hamza. We just wipe his bum.

Yr servant runs out of da flat wiv da left luggige ticket. Its mundane paper shining wiv baraka, to be exchangd for a black polythen parcel; dats gonna tumble out his Golden Fleece, gilding his face wif bliss, O shining faces of da blessed! I pray You Lord, his hert beats, Save this sad creture, for I am f___d. May I be truly thankful. Amen.

Da creature floors da clapping motor. Da whole way vex by da yowling yute, da yowling babby in th back o da car, and a fear th ticket wud fly out of his pocket.

—Todays da day, bway! Redistrbute som welth. Make em pay! Trust me. Yu gonna ride shotgun for me? You da Man! I need yu.

But da babby is bawling snot in his babychair.

—Hey, Jonah! Lern som history, mistah. You payin attenshion? We won da war for dem goore. *Us Pathans, bwoy. Understand? Hanh. So now we’re helping arselves. Ey, bill up for me, geeza... for fffaaa... Hey, Jonah...!

But da babby is bawling snot.
And under his breth, Shut da fff-flip up, man.

(Careful of his hart, Naseeb. Th child doz not know riht and rong. His Protecting Angels strong.)

—Yu shud a met my Legal. He’da educated ya. Wots one crime when yu got British come n screw evryone over? But you knock over one old boy, an da hole machinery comes down on ya!

But da pickney yowls for his bottel. I rite his words, I get you da juce, I get you da juce, as one good deed. And my noble Atid will sternly smile an say, Let him turn the car rownd. I’ll giv him a thozand merits.

And da car swerving as da servant gropes for a baby botle.

—Here, cane it. Only Jonah, yu gotta fix up, look da part, get me? I cant do this without yu. Blatant. Yore my sideman. Anyone com near me, yore da mouth.

And da Protectors wrap dere powers around da car to stop it swerving. And perhaps, perhaps dere was an atoms waiht of kindnes for da child. And praps I shud record it as ten good deeds.

Da road to Heethrow is alwayz rosting.

Yor creture floors da clapping motor.

Aw, we are breezin, cry Hamza an Alif, striking fihting

pozes on da hood n roof, thoh assuming da semblans of cortiers from Samarkand—thir green tunic and turban tails ripping: Wet dat motor, bossman! And da child’s Protectors cry, Maashallah, and a liht blazed whirling from his weels.

And if you cud see a Caravan of Protectors poized on bonnets an hoods in da jam from Northolt!—thir wite robes or black tunics ripping, or as elastic deformasion, or electrical or magnetic intensity...

And in de airport da cretur clings like begfrend to da child. In his hand da left luggig tiket. Its mundane paper shining wif baraka.

An he mutters to himself not to talk, he mutters himself not to talk. Da luggige atendant finks hes got a mental condicion. Da ticket soked wiv swet.

And despar filld his univers as de atendant disapeared in da back. Da Feds about to absail out da sky and bang him up in a meat wagon.

Da pickney griping.

And do you see da African cleener dragging her polythen bag? Yea, shes bin lost here forever. Dere’s djinn in every airport!

Dat djinn, shes gonna mess wiv his head, sez Alif.

And her litter picker clips da cretures foot till hes vex.

Sorry, my dear, shes mumbling.

An his patting da child bare vexed. An he finks he hears her mumble,
Are you all waiting with dis gentleman?

The atendant com back wiv a babby’s green holdall. And Noble Atid waches da slaves neck. Surely dey see his neck vein pulse! And Noble Atid wispers: Dey know, dey know wat yu do. Yore blatant.

But Naseeb lifts the exquizit heft.
And da pickney Jonah griping.

Da Followers throw dere sheeld arond. But dat creaturs lost his hart, his feet cant goo strait. And he sits with Jonah, whoz soaked in s__t. An he cant think straiht. And he feels in da green bag. Feels for a nappy. Feels for a polathene bag packt in Peshawar.

And his Protectors assume da semblans of two airport Feds. To mess wiv his hed. Two airport Feds com from the other side o th concorse. And Yor slave hears handsets jammed wiv noiz, feels them standing dere wif agate eyes.

An his hand grips da polathene in da bag.

And the babby stares at dem. Soaked in s__t.

And Five-O smiling back. Da pickney’s Protectors, immezurably strong, say: Pooh! I think the babys trying to tell you somthing.

An next man Hamza raizes his MP5 and farts: Well put that on th record!

Astaughfirullah, and Noble Atid rasps on dere walkie-talkie: Back to yr stacions, gentelmen.

And dey melt back.

Dat creturs rooted. Till Jonah starts howling. And he legs it to the exit—da pickney howling, Five-O about to absail out da sky, his body so hype it wud a shattered if somone askt direcsions.

And Noble Atid wispering:
They know wat you do, they kno wat you do.

Da carpark streches as far as da rack and wind of Mikail spanning horizons with his wings. And still no one stops da slave. When he reches da car Yor servant triz to clean da scribeless child.

Yea, an innocent stepdad wiv his Pampers. But hes shat up to his neck. Screeming Old Bill down. An da servant trying to wipe him wid da babygrow and hose him with a bottle a water. Jesus, he weeps, Plese, Jesus.

Yea Yor creture stuffs da soiled garms in a carryer bag. And unzips da baby holdall. (Packt in Peshawar two weeks ago. Da Companion of da Left Hand recorded it). Now he tekes out a blak polathene parcel and sticks it in da cronic nappy bag n ties it up.

Da future like a garden o grassy eaze & largess, an companionable houris wif sherbet—he can tuch it!

Da slave drives dazed. Somewere up da motorway he miht crash, an da pickney inherit a kilo of smack.

Da Followers throw dere shield around da car. As if they cud deflect his corse an atom’s bredth.

As if they cud protect him when da car lost power. When da car lost power arond da island he almost passes out.

Da Protectors for da child, immezurably strong, asume da semblans of da Sahaba: O Followers! Man yor frail bark! Catch the dowtful wind and eaze him to his reward.

Da Followers for Naseeb cry battle criez, flash agate eyes, Ya Seen! Haul to, Protectors! Keep this bag o nails straiht, Alif! Ya Seen! Ya Seen!

The Protectors for da scrybeless child, thir wite robes ripping, flash dark: Yallah, habibin, lets speed him to his doom! Allahu Akbar!

Dey chant da battle criz o da Sahaba, Ta Ha! Ta Ha! And thir Powers crackle.

Da pickney Jonah slept.

Dat creatur drove round twice arond da block befor he parks.

And walking up da starewell, babby in one arm, two bags in the other, Yur slave he trembles.

Yea, deres more dred letters on da mat. And Alif shoots out a protectif shield:
Long as he doznt open them his safe.

An he checks Alesha’s shift.

Put da pickney in bed.

Put a green bag on da kichen table.

Owner of da World.

Khaled NURUL HAKIM was born in Birmingham and has a background in film and poetry, publishing sparingly in the 1990s. He was visiting tutor in MA Screenwriting at the London College of Printing till 2004. The Book of Naseeb originally began as a 2005 screenplay for a low-budget feature film to be called Barzakh. Scheduled to be shot in Uzbekistan, the project was aborted when civil unrest broke out. Khaled took a decade-long break from writing to pursue a spiritual path, becoming a Sufi student and Sufi musician. He returned to rework the text as ‘a degraded epic’ while also looking after a growing family, a task that would take more than seven years.

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