Mosque shooting victim finds solace in writing poetry as he struggles to heal
Poetry has 'become a need,' says Saïd Akjour, who's filled notebooks in 2 years since he was shot in shoulder
Saïd Akjour sits in a café in Quebec City with a small pile of papers and a couple of pretty notebooks in front of him. He opens one of the books and brushes the Arabic script written there with his fingertips.
This poem is dated March 24, 2017. Just seven weeks earlier, Akjour's life had been turned upside down when he was shot in the shoulder at the Quebec mosque.
The tidy script unfurls across the page from right to left. These verses are the first he wrote after the shooting.
He turns to another page, loosely translating lines of a poem written days before the first anniversary of the shooting, last year.
She protects the flame with two cold hands
Our shadows await us
Growing bigger then smaller, smaller then bigger
Like ghosts awaiting for an opportunity to pounce
The arrows of treachery strike the peace of mind
The fear grew, a cloud overhead
'A therapy of its own'
Akjour says since the shooting, the words come easily.
"I think the need was there. It's a remedy, a therapy of its own," he says.
The lion's share of the dozens of poems he's written in the past two years are about the attack, the shooter's legal proceedings or other attacks elsewhere in the world.
Akjour works as an orderly at a provincial long-term care home, and he often drops by this café not far from his workplace, to read and write and reflect.
Two years after the shooting, returning to any kind of normalcy is still a struggle.
"Adapting, saying yes to life, continuing, is a daily effort," he says. "Sometimes I see a dark tunnel closing up on me; sometimes I have dark thoughts."
In bleak moments like those, he says, what helps is speaking to those closest to him, playing sports — and his writing.
But as the second commemoration of the shooting approached last week, he says he struggled with a new thought: sometimes, he says quietly, he wishes he had died on Jan. 29, 2017.
"It's sad, but that's the way it is."
Akjour saw a psychologist for some time after the shooting, but he stopped making appointments several months ago.
He wonders if starting up again would do him any good. But his family doctor is off on leave, and without someone helping him figure out where to turn for resources, he finds himself at a loss.
Turning a page
On Friday, Saïd Akjour's assailant will be back in court to find out whether he will spend the rest of his days in prison. Akjour says it will be a turning of the page on the events following the tragedy at the mosque.
During sentencing arguments last spring, Akjour read a victim impact statement.
He called for the death penalty, even if he knows that's not an option in the Canadian Criminal Code.
"My reasoning is if someone takes a life, he doesn't have the right to his own life," he said. "He doesn't have the right to savour life."
During the legal proceedings and sentencing arguments, Akjour went to court every day he could.
It was exhausting, but for him it was essential to witness the judicial process, to witness "democracy in our society."
"It was primordial, necessary, for me to be there," he said.
In the courtroom, Akjour took notes constantly.
The day the shooter read his statement to the court, Akjour wrote a poem, in French, that he called The Message of Pardon.
I am not Islamophobic, but I chose the mosque for the scene of my hateful crime
I have dark, suicidal ideas, but I prefer to kill others.
I am not a terrorist, but I terrorized a whole city
I want to change things in time to avoid this nightmare
this horrible dream
so I can obtain more munitions.
Trying to regain balance
Akjour says the shooter's statement made him angry, but writing the poem helped "dampen the shock."
"Writing helps me regain balance," he says.
Akjour now has a collection of notes, memories, poems and thoughts he wrote during the court proceedings.
He says he split them into four categories: his life in Morocco before coming to Canada; his life here before the shooting; the night of the shooting; and finally the impact of the shooting on his life and his community.
He says one day he hopes perhaps to draw on them, to write a memoir or a novel.
In the meantime, he continues to write poetry to work through the turbulence of the past two years.
"Thank God," he says, sometimes, "I am able to write about things that have nothing to do with the shooting."