The jacks were in position but the operators delayed. They were hoping to raise Muhammad's wife on the phone so that he could speak to her one last time, but she appeared to be lost somewhere between cell towers, and he heard only her request that he leave a message.
The death sentence was confirmed when the paramedic returned to the platform and took his partner aside. After consulting with doctors via radio, their glance towards Muhammad told the story and they walked back to deliver it.
Again, they asked Muhammad to release his two accidental companions and again he refused. They nodded their assent and listened with Muhammad as the situation was explained.
Both men used their cell phones with their free hands to make the call to Muhammad's wife. Both left their numbers and explained that it was an emergency involving her husband. Both failed.
The firemen loitered, pacing without looking at Muhammad. The jacks were set. The air compressors that would fill them and release Muhammad from the subway car's life-grip sat silently on the platform. Commuters passed with furtive glances, enthralled by the life and death tableau and repulsed by it, and Muhammad was aware of every detail.
Slowly, everyone reached the same realization that they would have to allow Muhammad to die without speaking to his wife. The needs of the citizens of the modern metropolis could not be deferred by the needs of just one for very long. Muhammad interrupted the paramedic, “I know,” he said. “Give me just a minute more.”
The paramedic nodded and backed away leaving Muhammad in the hands of the two commuters who had the misfortune of witnessing the tragedy.
“Tell me about yourselves,” Muhammad asked.
“Why?” asked the man on his right wearing a yarmulke.
“I have a message that must be delivered to my wife.”
“Here,” the man on the left offered, pulling out his phone. “I'll dial her and you can leave a message if she still doesn't answer.”
“No,” Muhammad replied turning away from the cell phone. “It must be delivered in person.”
Both men glanced at each other and paused. It seemed that a conversation flashed between pleading eyes as Muhammad waited.
“I'll do it,” both responded in unison.
Muhammad smiled. “Thank you,” he responded, “but I can only trust this message to one.”
Both men waited with the same question in their eyes.
“I have an account that I've kept secret from my wife,” Muhammad explained. “I need you to take her the information. The bank, the account, and the password.”
“I have paper and pen in my pocket,” the man on the right, the Jew said, as he reached with his free hand.
“No,” Muhammad responded. “I don't think I can let go to write.” Seeing the confusion in their faces, Muhammad added, “I'm afraid I'll die as soon as I let go of you both. No, I must choose the man I can trust. I'll let go of only the other and he must walk away.”
The Jew began to release Muhammad's hand saying, “I understand.”
Muhammad gripped his hand more tightly. “No, please stay,” he said, and released the other man's hand.
The other man looked at his hand and then at Muhammad. “Why?” he asked. “Aren't you enemies.”
Muhammad shrugged. “Maybe, but he is a man of belief and he can be trusted.”
The man sat back on his heels and looked offended. “I can be trusted,” he protested.
Muhammad smiled. “I didn't say that I couldn't trust you. However, I don't know what you believe. You may believe in something but I don't see any sign of it. This man,” he said nodding toward the Jew, “wears his belief for all to see, and I can't trust a nonbeliever as much as I can trust a believer even if his beliefs are different from my own.”
Muhammad delivered his message to the Jew after the other man walked away and repeated it until he was satisfied that he had memorized it correctly. Moments later, he released the Jew's hand and the jacks began filling with air...