(Al Fatiha, the opening chapter of the Quran, is recited. The prayer fades out, as if echoing down a long hallway. Music plays up for the duration of a breath before the narration resumes.)
Melathe: How did you know when he was gone?
Nur: He stopped reciting.
And then within seconds, his mouth opened, wide, like he started yawning. And later on, I read: Yawning, that’s an indication that they can’t breathe. They’re trying to breathe, but they can’t. So it’s like drowning. And so he yawned a number of times—at least three times—and then he was gone.
(A moment of no narration, just music.)
Nur: The time that you are waiting, that’s the most difficult time. That’s when you start thinking. That’s when it hits you. It’s quiet. Nobody’s saying anything. Everybody’s waiting. Waiting for the doctor to come and pronounce him dead. That’s when it hits you how surreal it is. How absurd it is.
Melathe: Back when Yusuf first took the assignment—to counsel Orlando—it felt simple to him. Instinctual, even. He saw a fellow human being in need, and he decided he would help. But that moment after Orlando died, the whole thing stopped feeling so simple.
Nur: I’m in this room, and I am participating in the killing of a fellow human being that just a few hours ago was healthy. They assign you a role to play in this execution. That’s when all of these thoughts crowd into your mind.
(Another moment without narration, only music.)
Melathe: The aftermath, after the break.
(The music ebbs and flows, like an electronic tide.)
(A muted ringing, as if of oversize wind chimes, plays, and then goes quiet.)
Melathe: A little before midnight on November 19, the United States executed Orlando Hall. Yusuf was standing right beside him.
Nur: And, you know, it’s all of these thoughts that crowd your mind.
Melathe: Yusuf looked around the room. Once Orlando was gone, it was just him and the executioners.
Nur: You just … How surreal it is, like we are the high priests of this sacrifice. That we’re sacrificing … It, you know, it makes you go back thinking about, you know, when people used to sacrifice humans to their gods. It’s like that, that we are the high priests, and we are sacrificing this human being to satisfy some kind of a—not religious rite, but a secular rite.
Melathe: Did you feel like one of those high priests too?
Nur: Yeah, exactly. You know, it hits me that I am participating in this, and I am playing a role that they assigned me to kind of legitimize what they’re doing, or furnish this religious, spiritual side, where they are providing the secular side of the sacrifice. When you’re left to your thoughts, you say, “Ah, see, that’s exactly how they planned it.” But then I will correct myself and say, “The only reason I’m there is because—if it were not for him wanting me to be there, I wouldn’t be there.” And by the way, that’s when it hit me why he wanted me to be there, because, in that room, I was the only friend he had. The other people there came to kill him. I was the only one he could look [at] and say, “You know, that person doesn’t intend any evil towards me.”