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The Short Tale of a Bosnian

The capture of the butcher of Sarajevo, Radovan Karadzic, alhamdulilah, a few days ago was a welcome news not just for Bosnians, but for all Muslims. To the Bosnian Muslims in the blogosphere that I know of (Samaha and Hamdy), mabrook. May Allah give this butcher all what he deserves, and may Allah preserve the Muslims of Bosnia (guiding those who are astray) upon His path and safe from their enemies.

More than a decade ago, when the Bosnian genocide was ongoing at its apex, I penned a short story, a sort of historical fiction. The capture of Karadzic gave me an opportunity to dig it out of my creative briefcase, scan it, and present it to all. Please note that this is really, really old work, and I hope it serves as a reminder and snippet of the brutality that filled the lands of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Please excuse me for any inaccuracy… imagination can take some leaps of faith at times. Though no one can deny that it was probably much worse than anyone can capture in words:

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bosnia-genocide.jpgThe stars and the moon were in their hideout- the night was very dark indeed. A grim sense of fear lurked around every soul that dared to walk upon the desolated street.

He stepped out of his devastated house onto the rubble that welcomed him— the rubble that once was an attractively adorned street. A chilled, hideous wind greeted his snow—white face. He knew it, everyone did— no mortal being was safe on this hell on earth. He screwed his dark muffler over his naked ears and started to walk briskly.

The cruel silence of the darkness was brutally shattered by the familiar sound of gun shots and then a dying scream.Now him, next me- he contemplated. But this thought had long ceased to disturb him, let alone scare him. The plain truth was that there was no escape, no optimism; the future was as dead as the land beneath the remains of the shoes he was wearing. He knew one thing though— the land could become alive if there was rain. But then again, there was no rain in sight. Clouds had long forgotten the way to this forbidden land. Tears streamed out of his jaded eyes. They surprised him- he was quite sure that they too had deserted him. He wiped them off with his scarred hands.

Almost suddenly, pictures of the pre-war period flashed in front of his damp eyes:

The streets lights flashing, couples and families, hand in hand, strolling around the glittering shops with their decorated showrooms. There was no fear, a hand shake here and there, a hug, a smile, a petty argument… it was beautiful.

He smiled, then laughed and finally cried. Maybe he couldn’t recognize emotion any more, it all seemed the same now. He did recognize though that his life was a hapless journey; a trip through hell into the grapples of death and probably as futile as the dried leaf that falls down and never gets up.

The damned wind seemed to get cooler every minute. Or maybe his tattered clothes had given up on him. After all, the world had given up on his homeland. After all, the world had been reduced to being mere spectators to yet another genocide. After all, they had other more important things to deal with. After all, after all…

The man dragged on. He stumbled over dead flesh. Part of a cat lay spluttered in front of him. “Those beasts, ba**rds didn’t even leave the cat alive,” he mumbled. Of course they didn’t; cats were just animals but humans. He changed his mind…we are animals too. He kicked away the intruding creature with a loud thud. No, he wasn’t always so insensitive. He had just grown out it. In fact, he had grown out of many other feelings, too, like love for instance. They were just old traditions that everybody had to grow out of. Honestly, most already had.

Lost in paradoxical thoughts, he came across a dried up well, a preserved ‘antiquity’. He remembered how people had crowded around it, throwing away their coins, wishing for so many things. How stupid, he thought. If only they had known better, they’d spend their money elsewhere. If only it wasn’t a wishing well, if only it had some fortune in it, like oil perhaps…The thought amused him but he didn‘t smile. It just seemed so honest, so really true. He buried his eyes in his hands and went back…

It was eight in the evening and he had just come back home after a hard, laborious day. Not that he was the only one who worked hard. Back then everybody did but at least everyone was allowed to live. His wife had just cooked the daily rice and beans. Life was difficult and ends barely met. Suddenly, his daughter barged into the room and instinctively he realized how beautiful she had become- his little girl had flowered into a beautiful woman. He held her close and wept. I

t was a hard life, if only he could give his daughter more… His son followed in next and they came together for a big bear hug. This had become a daily ritual, a sort of family endearment and how sure he was that his strength lay in this. They sat down for food and gobbled down their inadequate daily rations but they were happy to be alive, to be together. No one complained and this hurt him more. Sometimes, he wished that they would argue, that they would be angry, but like his other wishes; these too vanished into thin air.

He shook his head to disperse the snow that had collected over it and wiped off his tears. Suddenly, he started running, fell down and then sprinted again. But he knew that it would catch him, it always did. Surely, the pictures swept in front of him and he became witness to yet another hallucination.

It was eight in the evening and he had just come home. He heard the sound of loud barking and before he had time to make sense of it, a sharp blow hit across his forehead and he crashed down. Adem woke up to a nightmare— only that he wasn’t sleeping. He was tied to the door. His daughter lay in the bed in front of him, she was stark naked. He closed his eyes and screamed and cried.

A tight slap hit across his face. It opened his eyes and forced him to witness. The soldier climbed into the bed, encouraged on by fits of laughter and cheers. Adem looked on in disbelief. He had stopped screaming. The man raped his daughter. She wept, begged for mercy, begged for help…The dogs had started to bark even louder and their barking seemed to be drowning her voice and her strength. Adem wished for respite, wished for death. He’d gladly accept either. Moments later, another soldier entered the scene and repeatedly raped his daughter. Adem fainted. Not much later, he was awakened by boiling water poured over his head but it didn’t hurt at all. Physical pain seemed so minute…

This time his wife was the centerpiece. Besides her lay his daughter, apparently dead. His wife was screaming too but Adem didn’t flinch, he didn’t cry. He watched quietly as his wife became another toy for the animals. Next his son was brought in. It was a procession of death and he was the chief guest. The little child’s hands were placed on the table and severed, one by one.

The child had fainted after the first blow but the savages systematically continued to mutilate him, one bit at a time. The remains of the innocent human beings were gathered and then thrown in front of the beasts’ beasts. Throughout the ordeal, Adem had fainted several times but the butchers made sure that he didn’t miss any of the action. They didn’t kill him, though. It was too easy an escape.

Adem was now screaming and hammering his head into the barren ground. He kicked, he shouted, he cried…Why couldn’t these thoughts leave him alone? He raised his hands to the heavens and begged for mercy.

The mirage of his thoughts had barely subsided when he heard Serb words behind him.

He smiled and looked back.

A shot whizzed past his ear but the second one was more accurate.

The old man fell down with a thud.

He was dead and so too seemed hope.


For background information and eye-witness accounts, pls visit these links:

  1. General Information On Wikipedia on Bosnian Genocide and Srebrenica Massacre
  2. Eye-witness accounts and more on PBS
  3. Case Study: The Srebrenica Massacre
  4. Eyewitness to Gendercide: A Critical Feminist Analysis of Rape as a Tool of War in Bosnia and Rwanda
  5. Robert Fisk: Our shame over Srebrenica
  6. Memorialization of the Srebrenica Massacre (Photos)
  7. Srebrenica Survivors Sue Netherlands, United Nations
  8. Srebrenica, An Orchestrated Tragedy (a Documentary)
  9. Genocid.org (Tons of information and photos)

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Abu Reem is one of the founders of MuslimMatters, Inc. His identity is shaped by his religion (Islam), place of birth (Pakistan), and nationality (American). By education, he is a ChemE, topped off with an MBA from Wharton. He has been involved with Texas Dawah, Clear Lake Islamic Center and MSA. His interests include politics, cricket, and media interactions. Career-wise, Abu Reem is in management in the oil & gas industry (but one who still appreciates the "green revolution").

44 Comments

44 Comments

  1. Amad

    Amad

    July 31, 2008 at 9:12 AM

    As I was scanning this story from the the decade-old pages I had printed it on, I was thinking how far the electronic age had come. I don’t recall exactly when I wrote it, but I remember e-mail and internet being new frontiers at the time. There was no place I could really publish this, except offer it to the print-media, where it could be either accepted or rejected. At that time, we relied on “official” news channels for information. There was no opportunity for Bosnians to blog about their situation. Or fellow sympathizers around the world. No facebook support group, no internet campaigns, etc. You could easily shut a population down and destroy it, as the Serbs tried to do. No more now. How much things have changed. Some for the good, some for the bad.

  2. Avatar

    iMuslim

    July 31, 2008 at 10:05 AM

    It terrifies me how humans can behave worse than the most evil of creation… not even like animals; like shayateen – true demons of the darkest kind. May Allah protect us from the evil of our own selves and His creation. Subhanallah.

  3. Avatar

    Amna

    July 31, 2008 at 12:28 PM

    Subhanallah! It never ceases to amaze me the destruction that human hands can cause. Allah gave us little power on Earth compared to His and look at the injustice that spreads. In comparison, His Power makes Him Just. Subhanallah!
    This piece was great, mashallah!

  4. Amad

    Amad

    July 31, 2008 at 1:16 PM

    We have to be mindful of this history. People don’t become animals overnight. There is a slow and systematic process of brainwashing and fear-mongering.

    Do we think that these Serbs or the German Nazis or the Russian army in Chechnya or the Gujarati Hindus became beasts overnight? No, rather, the process of inculcating hate and bias kept on going for years, decades and eventually when the opportunity came, this hatred was unleashed.

    Why is this relevant? I keep reminding people, and I said this in a speech on Islamophobia at school, that even though what is happening in America, in terms of islamophobia, is not at the proportion of Nazi Germany or other centers of pre-genocide. But, it is a slow process. And we cannot let that hate reach such a boiling point, such that when there is an opportunity or an incident that sparks anti-Muslim sentiment; that this hatred isn’t suddenly unleashed upon Muslims in America. If we don’t stop this train of Islamophobia, in American, and worse in Europe, then we will be left to wonder on later what happened!!

  5. Avatar

    abu abdurrahman

    July 31, 2008 at 2:03 PM

    i can’t believe that people still actually support him but then again there are still neo-nazis out there.

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2008/0730/1217368580572.html

  6. Avatar

    Samaha

    July 31, 2008 at 2:59 PM

    Amad – thank you for thinking of me – this is just one big war criminal but so much more accountability needs to take place – the UN, individual countries and not just the leaders of this campaign but individuals that had commited acts that you have described above. Until then – all of these things will keep happening in this world. When organizations like the UN can not hold to their own genocide articles and then hide behind immunity – I lose all hope.

    You’re also correct that people don’t just become animals over night it takes a lot of brainwashing – here’s a post with a link to an interesting article which discusses this a bit: http://samaha.wordpress.com/2008/02/29/yugo-nostalgia-heavy-sarcasm/ . I agree with you about the Islamophobia – maybe because in Bosnia we never saw this comming – we were friends, we inter married, most people were agnostic .. so we never felt this Islamophobic presence which could have been a warning .. the propoganda was really subtle and while there was some sort of animosity towards Muslims by very few people (nothing like the standards of what is happening in the US) it never seemed like it would be a problem. Also – since I’m here – I do want to mention that there were Serbs who fought with the Bosnians and Serbs who protected Bosnians from Serb forces and many Serbs lost their lives for it – I know of one from my mothers home town that was hiding Bosnians from the forces and was killed for it.

    You know, it was at this time (1992) as well that I started using the internet and you are so correct at how much it has changed. I was the secretary for a Bosnian youth organization that was actively involved in the Bosnia crisis – we even had our own radio program and I used to write/compose the news in Bosnian and English for our broadcasters. $300.00 a month phone bills and I didn’t have the luxury of google and advanced searches back then. Who knew when my father bought us that Commodore 64 back in the mid 80’s .. sat us down and told us that one day we’d be doing all our shopping and banking and EVERYTHING on this thing that we’d be here today doing just that and so much more like telling our stories and connecting with people accross the globe.

    The story – while very hard to read because it just reminds me of everything that my friends have gone through and relayed to me – was really well written. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  7. Amad

    Amad

    July 31, 2008 at 3:44 PM

    Thanks Samaha for your comments. I am really glad that I did do some justice to the Bosnian tragedy. I was really worried about being wrong in such a sensitive issue.

    You know Shaykh Yaser Birjas worked in Bosnia for some time. I wish he would share some stories with us some day too.

    wasalam

  8. Avatar

    Hamdi

    July 31, 2008 at 4:07 PM

    I recently came back from Bosnia and I was there, in Republika Srpska, when the news of his arrest broke. The majority of the Serbs there were unhappy with the news and still consider Karadzic a hero. However, I also met a Serb whose family saved the lives of my neighbours by hiding them from the Serb army, just like Samaha mentioned.
    It’s interesting that Karadzic claimed today that he struck a deal with the United States in which he would be left alone as long as he didn’t appear in public, since the former Bosnian foreign minister and ambassador to the UN Muhamed Sacirbey recently said that he knew that such a deal existed and that he is prepared to testify in the Hague, if asked.

  9. Amad

    Amad

    July 31, 2008 at 4:15 PM

    Thanks for sharing Hamdi. I can’t imagine how they could let this beast go unscathed, considering Karadzic’s role in the genocide.

    How is the situation in Bosnia? State of dawah? One thing that I have heard is that the genocide had an effect on Muslims to wake them up from their slumber… and that people started practicing more. Is that your and Samaha’s experience?

    w/s

  10. Avatar

    Samaha

    July 31, 2008 at 4:18 PM

    Amad – it would be great to hear some more stories.

    Hamdi – I was just wondering if I knew anyone that was over there when the news broke – and wow – to be in RS to hear it .. ughhh. I’ve also been writting about the lack of reaction from Serbians – I was following RTS’s website and a few blogs – shameful that they are so enthralled with his appearance, alleged mistress etc and make no mentions of the atrocities he’s commited. There had also been edited and deleted comments at RTS – when I first looked all the comments were pro-karadzic and then the site was done for a little while and when i went back – voila .. a new and improved comments thread that looked so much more balanced.

  11. Avatar

    Samaha

    July 31, 2008 at 4:24 PM

    No – Amad – I was always very religious. I had lived in Bosnia when I was 14 so that I could master the language so that I could attend Gazi Husrefbeg’s Medresa. Due to three Australian girls failing that year I was denied entrance to the madrassah because it was typical that foreigners did not do as well so it was ashame to take spots from Bosnians :( Reis ul-lema Mustafa Ceric had later secured me a spot since he was a family friend but by that time I was already 19 and had met who would soon become my husband and I had not taken that opportunity.

    I’m going to let Hamdi approach the state of the dawah question because he may be more knowledgeable and I’ll chime in if I disagree (from my own observations from 2 years ago) :-) I Hamdi – samo da znas da sam (typical) Bosanka – dobro se svadzam :-)

  12. Avatar

    Samaha

    July 31, 2008 at 5:17 PM

    Sorry – I read the question wrong Amad. I’ll chime in right away then .. from my own personal experience – I’ve actually seen a bit of a downfall in regards to being a practicing Muslim from a village that was predominantly Muslim that had more liberty to practice Islam during socialism. My mother was from Vlasenica and that is where I lived for a year .. it was hard comming by old friends and time was short but about the only revival I saw was that they now consider themselves Muslim, believe in god but I wouldn’t say that they are now practicing Muslims. It’s nice to know that so many people fast during Ramadan now and I hear it is supposed to be beautiful during that month and that many more people are going to hajj but to say that so many more people are praying five times a day now – would be a false statement.

    I’d have to say that in Sarajevo there seemed to be more young women covering their hair than I remember pre-war. Mostly I remember groups of girls from the madrassah that would venture out for a walk and older women who covered their hair in pre-war Sarajevo.

    The thing is that this is a start and an Islamic revival just because of persecution is bound not to last. The thing is that now there is hope because one can say that they are Muslim and that their children can go to ‘mejtef’ (sunday school) and that their children will know they are Muslim and inshallah, this will lead them to find out what Islam is – a natural revival.

  13. Avatar

    Seeker7

    July 31, 2008 at 5:38 PM

    SubhanAllah, reading this story…I did some searching and I found this series of videos by the BBC titled: A Cry From The Grave – Muslim Genocide In Bosnia, it’s in 11 10-min parts on youtube.

  14. Avatar

    Hamdi

    July 31, 2008 at 5:39 PM

    Samaha – Yeah, I’m from Bosanska Gradiska and I’ve seen t-shirts being sold with Karadzic’s and Mladic’s pictures on them. I don’t even react to that kind of a thing anymore since I’ve gotten used to it. What made me react, however, is that a Serb whom I am friendly with and joke around with, expressed his sadness about Karadzic’s arrest. It felt so weird to know that someone like that, whom I had good contact with and everything, still liked someone like Karadzic. It’s as if there is a type of cognitive dissonance among many Serbs. They have Muslim friends and act kind towards them, but still consider someone like Karadzic a hero. In fact, during an interview with Karadzic’s former Muslim colleague, he revealed that Karadzic used to call his mother every Eid to congratulate her, even after the war broke out.
    Anyway, I watched the news the days after his arrest and they asked normal Serbs on the streets about their reactions and basically every person they asked said that they were saddened by the news that he was arrested. Still, there were no major incidents in RS alhamdulillah which didn’t really surprise me since it seems that the general Serb population has abandoned Karadzic’s party in favour of Milorad Dodik and his ways, even though they still like Karadzic’s persona. I nadam se da nece biti razloga za svadju =P

    Amad – I am from a Muslim village in a Serb dominated area. The Muslims in this village are extremely secular and I would say that my family is one of the most secular ones in this already secular village, both my parents having been Communists. The presence of Islam here basically comes down to this (apart from the Muslim names and the occasional Arabic words used in everyday language):
    There are quite a few mosques (all of whom were destroyed during the war and have been rebuilt) and adhan is pronounced. There are maybe a dozen men in the mosque for Jumuah (women don’t attend). Islam really begins to play a part in their lives when someone dies. Apart from the janazah, you have sessions after a week, 40 days and a year has passed after the death in which the imam and some others that are present read the Qur’an, sing songs about the Seerah, do dhikr, praise the Prophet etc. The widow usually starts wearing hijab during her mourning period. You also have Eid celebrations and mawlid celebrations. Apart from this, I LITERALLY cannot think of anything among the people that would indicate that they are Muslims. No hijab, no people at the mosque for the daily prayers except the imam and maybe the retired imam. Apart from what I just listed, it’s just like the neighbouring Serb village with the bars, zina, etc. Even worse though, the general people have no clue about aqidah and it isn’t even that uncommon to hear people swearing at God. I know that there are places in Bosnia that aren’t like this, but this is the case in my village. This is largely due to Communism since I know that it was very different before that era. My great grandmother wore a niqab for example, something that would be unthinkable today.

    I have also been to Sarajevo and it is different there. You will see women with hijab (and some with niqab) as well as bearded men even though they are a minority. The Salafi dawah has had relative success since it was virtually non-existent in Bosnia before the war.

  15. Avatar

    Hamdi

    July 31, 2008 at 5:47 PM

    Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that people do send their kids to “mejtef” which Samaha talked about and that it is different during Ramadan with people fasting and going to tarawih prayers. Apart from those two things and what I listed in my previous post, Islam isn’t really that much present there.

  16. Avatar

    Samaha

    July 31, 2008 at 6:09 PM

    Hamdi – with the way the population shifted around in Bosna and all of the Serb propoganda – I’m really not surprised. I think a smart move right now would be to include an agreement between the EU and Serbia that annexing any portions of surrounding lands in other countries (ie. RS) can not happen and if such an act were considered that such act would be considered an act of war. Such an agreement might help put things into perspective for Bosnian Serbs. It’s still ashame that even though Karadzic is at the Hague that his campaign of ethnic cleansing suceeded and still even thrives in Bosnia – the lack of our returning refugees to their homes in RS is evidence of that. I’m glad that your family is able to live in Bosanska Gradiska. When I was in Vlasenica two years ago – I had been pinned between a rock wall and the side of a chetnik’s car just for having a camera – he wanted to know what I was doing and to inform me that he lives in one of these houses now.

    hehe – bas nismo imali razloga da se svadamo :-) Ali, bas ovdje uvijek se nadem u belajima – bas nema ta utopia za koju si prico u tvoj poslednji post na tvoj blog – mozda i zamalo ce mi istrajati ovaj bujrum. Eto – mozes posjetiti i moj blog ako me nestane ovdje.

  17. Amad

    Amad

    July 31, 2008 at 6:42 PM

    jazakumAllahkhair to both of you for opening up this little window into the Bosnian world… most Muslims have no idea about European Islam, and this sort of first-hand information is refreshing and enlightening, and makes blogging so worthwhile! :)

  18. Avatar

    Hamdi

    July 31, 2008 at 6:46 PM

    Samaha – My family owned a house, an apartment and a café before the war and three Serb families took over all three places but we got them back a few years ago and I think that every Muslim family in our village has been able to get their house back. One Serb family that moved into a Muslim-owned house actually put up a picture of Karadzic on the window to provoke the Muslims. But RS have been forced to return the houses even though there are still some problems for all of the families to return.
    One thing I’ve noticed is that it seems that 5-6 years ago it was kind of taboo for politicians to talk too much about abolishing RS (for the Bosniak politicians) or having a referendum about RS independence (for Serb politicians) because of a kind of fear of OHR and perhaps also a fear of being viewed as too radical. Now, it is more okay to do so especially with the rise of Dodik and Silajdzic. This is just my perception.

  19. Avatar

    Hamdi

    July 31, 2008 at 6:49 PM

    Amad – Wa iyyak. It seems, however, that this discussion is going into a direction where only people already familiar with Bosnian politics will really understand hehe… If that becomes the case, feel free to ask for clarifications. It’s my pleasure to share some information.

  20. Avatar

    Aalia

    July 31, 2008 at 6:56 PM

    Oh my… This story brought tears to my eyes, subhanAllah :'( How can people become such evil, strong followers of shaytaan??? A`uthu billahi min ashaytaani-rajim wa humma. JazakAllahukhair for this reminder that just because the Bosnian genocide had been swept under the other headlines, doesn’t mean their suffering was any less. These were real people, families, Muslims.

    *sigh*

  21. AnonyMouse

    AnonyMouse

    July 31, 2008 at 7:18 PM

    I’ve found that fiction always strikes me more than news reports do – maybe it’s because rather than simply viewing the facts (which in this care are horrifying enough in and of itself), the story goes into the person’s head and heart, creating a personal connection between us.

    Also, jazakumAllahu khairan to Samaha and Hamdi – just reading these comments, I’ve learnt quite a bit.

  22. Avatar

    Samaha

    July 31, 2008 at 7:20 PM

    Amad – glad that you are learning something about Bosnia. I think that is the point to blogging – we put ourselves out there to learn from each other, inform each other and I think we have a wonderfully diverse community of Muslim bloggers.

    Seeker7 – thanks for posting that link – I may have to use it today.

    Hamdi – in Vlasenica, if a Serb refugee is living in your home or has demolished your home and put up another house or strip mall – you have to go to court to get it back – and I hear the cases go on for years. My friends just came back from their summer trip and they had Serbs living in their house and they let them stay for free just so the house is kept up – they would visit and bring them gifts and their children chocolates – this year before their vacation they had asked them to move out because they needed to sell the place. This summer when they got back to their house – EVERYTHING was removed from the house – the curtains, cabinets, toilets, sinks and even the tub.

    I think that it is a natural reaction to talk about aboloshing the RS in response to talks of RS’s independence. This is the only reason I didn’t go back this summer – once Kosovo went independent I knew that it would take one minor incident for hostilities to take place.

    The thing is while I believe that the RS should not be allowed to seceed – I think it is the international community that is going to have to step up and take action on this – Paddy Ashdown just recently made some remarks in regards to this. Also there was an article at Avaz that interviewed an American ex-CIA specialist that said that Bosnia must come to an agreement or Bosnia is going to cease to exist – he predicts that it will not be able to and that RS will become independent. So, Silajdzic has to make the statements that he is making otherwise we will lose RS. I may never be able to return to Vlasenica to live but on the other hand I couldn’t bare the thought of anyone losing their lives over it in order for me to be able to return (not Muslims and not Serbs) and I do not want Bosnians to be the agressors. By the same token I do not want the ethnic cleansing/genocide campaign to be rewarded with an independent RS. We all kind of knew that Dayton was a reward for the aggression but I think many people thought that we’d be able to prepare ourselves for a better defense and that Serb hostility would resume again in the near future. Long term .. I knew that Dayton meant writting off RS. If there is a way to not reward the systematic cruelty that took place on our people – I think we need to resort to it – diplomatically cutting off RS from any hopes of independence is going to be it – but that is going to take pressuring the international community into action.

    What’s your opinion on all this talk?

  23. Avatar

    Hamdi

    July 31, 2008 at 7:50 PM

    Samaha – We also got our home back by going to court and resolving it there. They also took everything but the walls, roof and the foundation.

    As for the whole RS, issue. I don’t know, I think I’ve become a bit jaded. I used to get all worked up when the issue came up, but things don’t seem to go forward, really, and it all seems to be hot air. The international community insists on Dayton and wants to upholds the status quo (which is also in the interest of RS since they seem to be giving up on the idea of RS independence in the short term) even though they know that Bosnia cannot be a normal country with the situation as it is now, and as long as that is the case not much can happen. I know that the RS exists because of genocide and ethnic cleansing and as such shouldn’t exist, as a matter of principle. But I have just gotten so tired of the whole thing since it doesn’t seem to go anywhere and I agree with you that lives should never be lost because of this.

  24. Avatar

    Samaha

    August 1, 2008 at 3:11 PM

    mouse – glad you are learning something and there really is a lot of literature out there that is written by Bosnians who lived through the war and many books by foreign journalists as well – I know how much you love to read.

    Hamdi – I know that the issues are tiring but comming up with a just solution is important – it’s importance goes way beyond Bosnia and affects how all conflicts are fought. I mean when you think about it – when the UN can’t live up to its own genocide convention articles and actively do everything in its power to thwart it – what good is the UN, what is going to get those in other conflicts to ever give up their weapons when they have seen what happened to Srebrenica under UN protection. What is going to keep leaders from inspiring the masses to commit these acts when the example of Bosnia is territorial reward for those actions – Karadzic may be in the Hague but there is something to be said about his hero status – if the Serbs weren’t rewarded with land for their agression, were in some way punished for this agression then maybe Karadzic wouldn’t be a hero – and some people may choose jail for that status amongst their people.

    Additionally, this wasn’t the first time we were persecuted in Bosna and it might not be last time if we are only going to look at RS’s short term goals – maybe we can secure a better future now by taking appropriate diplomatic actions to thwart the long term goals. There’s also so much we can do to actually bring back our Muslim population to RS but it would take a lot of money to implement it but unfortunately we’re not the wealthiest society to do this and Islamic countries seem more interested in building up the mosques and madrasas than to assist in relocating our population back to its hometowns or investing into our economy. But, yes it is all very complex and there is only so much we are going to be able to do.

  25. Pingback: Out and About in the Islamosphere and a Global Voice « Samaha

  26. Avatar

    wikipedia_needs_policing

    August 1, 2008 at 8:42 PM

    Thanx for the article

    I think more muslims should take a larger proofing role on some of these wikipedia articles, particularly related to issues related to muslims. I always feel as though news such as this “muslim genocide” gets under-rated and overshadowed by technical aspects of the case. Is it a genocide, or not, was it state crime or much smaller individual responsibility etc…and list of reductionist terms go on… always packaged with controversies, or ” stupid reductionist opinions” .

    The massacre took place a decade ago, but the story seems to get merely focused on the political motivations of such crimes. The human side is never focused in isolation or given enough weight or exposure. The numbers, the names etc…all are less important.

  27. Avatar

    Owen

    August 2, 2008 at 7:33 AM

    Samaha, excuse me having a pop. I’m surprised to hear you say “Long term .. I knew that Dayton meant writting off RS.” Dayton was a fix to a situation on the ground. It involved Milosevic because Milosevic was a power-broker. Milosevic is gone. While it was a fix, it wasn’t a hand-out. There were conditions attached that RS has fought tooth and nail not to meet, above all of course respect for the rule of law in its institutions. There should be no question of accepting the entity status of RS as a given. To do so is to allow the people who profited from genocide to capitalise their gains. It’s not just a question of what’s important for Bosnia, it’s a question of what’s important for “Never Again”.

    Hamdi, thanks for the story. It’s important to have an occasional punch between the eyes like that to remind us outsiders what all the fuss concerning alternative therapists is really about. (and thanks for the signpost, Samaha)

  28. Avatar

    Owen

    August 2, 2008 at 7:37 AM

    Sorry, Amad, I got the authorship of the story muddled. Of course, the thanks remain the same.

  29. Avatar

    Samaha

    August 2, 2008 at 10:57 AM

    Sorry Owen – I really should clarify it. I knew that long term that their was potential for RS to attempt independence and by that potential that we would write it off.

  30. Avatar

    patb

    August 2, 2008 at 1:04 PM

    I need a history lesson from you folks that have lived this.
    How long has the problem existed between the different ethnic religios groups in the former Yugoslavia and the region?
    I had a serb tell me that the present hatred goes back to the World War Two period when the Mufti of Jerusalem raised a 20,000 man Muslim division for the German Wafen SS that terrorized the Serb population and hunted anti Nazi partisans. He said many still remember that period but the strong communist government (ruthless) kept the lid on issues by threat of force.
    Has this ethnic/religious unrest been continuous from the time of Islamic expansion (Spanish conquest) or is it a phenomina of the last century?

  31. Avatar

    Hamdi

    August 2, 2008 at 2:37 PM

    Samaha – Yeah, of course we need a solution to the problem. I just don’t see one coming in the near future. I think that if things remain the same the next 10-20 years, then a new generation of Bosnians who don’t have the war in recent memory will be able to make Bosnia a normal country, since nationalism may become less popular with the goal of most people in Bosnia to become EU members and have better living standards. Nationalism wont put food on your table.
    Allahu a’lam.

    patb – I’ve never actually heard Serbs emphasising the whole Bosnian Muslim invovlment in WW2. Usually I hear it from Western Islamophobes and never from the Serbs themselves, which has always made me feel that it might’ve been blown out of proportion. I don’t know.

  32. Avatar

    Owen

    August 3, 2008 at 4:35 AM

    Samaha, I know you’re not a defeatist! It’s important, however, that everybody he’s talking to hears Paddy Ashdown’s wake-up call about the way Dodik is creating parallel structures in Republika Srpska –
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jul/27/serbia.balkans (if the article itself doesn’ show, click on Read Full Article). He argues that Bosnia is in danger of breaking up. Dodik is taking advantage of the political vacuum to move RS towards complete autonomy, undermining the Bosnia that Dayton envisaged, and eventually aiming at secession. He’s the only man working to a plan, Croats wait and see, Bosniaks squabble and EU is tired – the locals pretend to reform and the EU pretends to believe them.
    But also go down the Comments (most are the usual apologist rubbish) to an interesting one by someone called “discourse-analysis” in which he talks about the constraints on Dodik> He sees Dodik as having less scope to pursue independence and characterises Bosnia since Dayton as being trapped in a state of “Malign stability”.

  33. Avatar

    patb

    August 3, 2008 at 3:16 PM

    Hamdi,
    I think you are wrong about that actually. I first heard about that (Muslim SS) studying history in the 60’s from an American friend Milan Peric (sp) and didn’t really believe him til I looked it up. There wasn’t much written about it but much more is available nowadays on the internet. It is history and not a phobia as that’s an irrational fear. Iook it up as it wasn’t an insignificant event, the Muslim SS division also was used in Hungary to hunt Jews and other ‘objectionable’ people at the behest of the Germans.
    In truth, the British initially supported the Serbs in this recent conflict as they thought them more of allies (fought for the Allies against the Nazi’s) than the Muslims/Croates that they identified with the German effort. The Brits’s fought behind the scenes to support the Serbs for this instance alone.
    That being said this bloody conflict, wether religious or ethnic, is an ugly reminder of the depravity of men when they rationalize rape/murder as if it will further their goals.

  34. Avatar

    Samaha

    August 4, 2008 at 9:52 AM

    Owen – I know and that is why I have been saying that we need to take advantage of diplomatic efforts – Silajdzic is rocking the boat because he has no choice – really.

    patb – Milan Peric is at the very least a Serbian-American. I was born here as well and if I tell people that I am Bosnian-American so that people do know that I have an interest in the region. So, my dear, please read my link somewhere above about perpetually endless Serbian victimization.

    Now – there has been tensions between us since before even WWI and that has to do with the Greater Serbia dream and chetniks – not because of some SS division in which the Bosnians were 20,000 (most reported number and please make sure you are referring to BOSNIANS in this thread and not all of the balkan Muslims who were all divided between a couple of batallions.

    During WWII Bosnians had to go through the same as what went through this past war – they were being slaughtered by Chetniks, Ustase (Croatian Nationalist extremists) and then there were Partizans who were fighting for communism. Many Bosnians stayed out of the war altogether – others did join the Partizans and a relatively small group joined the SS division only to defend their local territories – they did not have many choices it’s not like their was some magical democratic side they could join – all sides represented something against their nature. Again – they were in a position of having to defend themselves from territorial goals of neighboring nationalist extremists – war takes great tolls on people but considering the small number that did go to the SS division this is hardly something to complain about in terms of Bosnians.

    Additionally, one of the batalions with Bosnian soldiers – the Bosnian soldiers were slaughtered because the German officers could not handle being with them – I believe they even killed many as they prayed. The other batallion was in France – and why is it that no one mentions that this is the only group to ever carry out a mutiny – France celebrates this batallion every year for their bravery.

    As far as I can recall – the Bosnian batallion was only training to be ready to protect local areas in Bosnia from being attacked, Croatians had already cleared Sarajevo of Jews and there is enough evidence of the Muslims accross Bosnia not wanting to take part in these efforts and even taking stand against it in Sarajevo.

    But yeah – it kills me – this whole SS thing gets fed to the west and Jewish community via Trifkovic and people gobble it up whole but if only you knew the animosity that Serbs feel towards both the west and Jews.

    Still – the MAJORITY of Bosnia’s Muslims were secular before this last war and even today most are – we lived with Serbs peacefully, they were our friends, we inter-married, they were our best men and maids of honor and if you had seen this society pre-war – you would never have imagined that this would happen.

  35. Avatar

    bint Ashfaq

    August 4, 2008 at 11:05 AM

    Subhan’Allah i actually sat down to read this, at times it’s all too much and i’ll skim read it. Subhan’Allah this is one story that made me stop and cry instantly and that doesn’t happen alot. I remeber watching a few clips on Islam Channel news long ago, it was bad at times humans can be the most evil of creatures. How evil, may Allah protect us and save us from such animals. ameen.

    Jazak Allahu khayr for posting this br Amad, very well written and all those who have given us a greater insight into Bosnia.

  36. Avatar

    Owen

    August 4, 2008 at 11:18 AM

    Churchill chose to work with Tito despite ideological differences because Tito was the only Yugoslav leader he believed had the determination to defeat the Germans in Yugoslavia. The Major govt basically supported the Serbs because Milosevic was seen as likely to achieve a stable final outcome reasonably quickly. There was quite a lot of accompanying propaganda exploiting the WWII relationship but basically John Major and Douglas Hurd seem to have wanted the whole untidy business sorted out with minimum fuss.

    I can very rarely bring myself to say anything positive about Margaret Thatcher but she was on the ball over Bosnia. In her New York Times article in August 1992 – http://www.margaretthatcher.org/speeches/displaydocument.asp?docid=108299 – she spoke her mind pretty unambiguously. She called for NATO intervention to stop the Serb/Serbian assault on Goražde and Sarajevo, in order to end ethnic cleansing and to preserve the legitmate Bosnian state of Alija Izetbegovic. She referred to “the Serbian ‘ethnic cleansing’ policy—a term for the expulsion of the non Serb population that combines the barbarities of Hitler’s and Stalin’s policies toward other nations”. She described the the conflict as a “killing field the like of which I thought we would never see in Europe again.”

    For some reason Serb sources always seem to have a lot of information to offer about the Bosnian Muslims who collaborated with the Nazis and very little about the Serb collaborators. Samaha, I find it extraordinary anyone can pay attention for long to Trifkovic’s pedantic pseudo-academic milking of the limitless history of Serb victimhood. He certainly helped me work out early on which side was more likely to be telling the truth.

  37. Avatar

    patb

    August 4, 2008 at 12:46 PM

    Samaha,
    Thank you for your viewpoint and yes, Milan was an American Serb.
    I only find this interesting (the SS thing) from the viewpoint of the Mufti of Jerusalem and his personal contacts with Hitler. A very unusual alliance.
    This begs the larger question of multi culturalism and societal health in a nation state. It seems that a happy medium in society requires just that, a medium or meeting point. When ethnic cultures develop, or maintain, different languages, modes of dress, etc. and different visions based upon disparete cultures they tend to clash at different levels.
    In your experience that multiculturalism ‘experiment’ did not work unless there was an overarching ruthless regime to enforce peace.
    Celebrating a link to a culture left behind (as has traditionally been the case in the US) and importing a culture to stand alone within the established culture will, I believe, cause issues.
    Maybe these enclaves will eventually disperse, I hope so. A certain commonality must exist for the common good.
    I’m not speaking about religion.

  38. Avatar

    jawwadsti

    August 4, 2008 at 4:01 PM

    This article makes me so sad :(

  39. Avatar

    bosanka

    August 7, 2008 at 5:17 PM

    Things are pretty clear here, Serbs (99,9 %) are very saddened by Karadzic being imprisoned, they consider him as their hero and not afraid to show that. In past few days there have been several “gatherings” in Republic of Srpska, where men, women and children went out in the street, showing how much they love him, shouting that allowing his arrest is shame for Serbian people and carrying billboards that saying : We are all Karadzic. Police is very active in that part of Bosnia, as treats to Serbian prime minister and others came from there.

    Imagine how does it feel to actually LIVE here. Surrounded by those same people who were killing us for all those years. And Hamdi, I understand you pointing to our people being affected by communism, this is very true, but Islam has come to a better days here during and after the war. At least thats the case with youth. Me, I didn’t know anything about Islam b4 war. This is mostly due to the fear of my parents, as we lived in city with Serbs as majority. But alhamdulillah, a lot has been changed and I see many many people living Islam and feeling proud because of it.

    May Allah’s help be with Muslims, fe koll makan.

  40. Avatar

    Olivia

    August 10, 2008 at 2:47 PM

    I went to a highschool in Indiana and there was a group of highly nationalistic serbs who went there too and they were NUTS. they had all this serbian propaganda all over their backpacks scrawled in whiteout and would draw serbian tattoos on themselves with pen. everybody thought they were whacky and made fun of them but it didnt phase them at all. shows you how evil nationalism is.

    im so glad theres a day of judgment where all those evil people will get their come-uppance.

    EDIT: Sorry k, can’t let that last one through ;)

    luv,
    b (aka Siraaj)

  41. Avatar

    Amina

    August 18, 2008 at 9:30 PM

    Assalamu alaikum

    I come also from the city that is occupied by Serbians.
    Alhamdulillah I am blessed that I am still alive and that Allah guided me to learn Islam and practice it. Even in Bosnia majority of people are still not practicing religion but we have more and more our youth studying Islam correct way so they can inshAllah teach other.
    May Allah unity our ummah and make us better Muslims. Ameen

    Assalamu alaikum

  42. Avatar

    ilmsummitee

    December 7, 2008 at 12:12 PM

    I just came upon this story, but JazakAllahu khairan brother for the story, SubhanAllah it really touches upon the personal element.

    I remember growing up about both the Kosova and Bosnia conflicts and killings. May Allah restore their lands and all the Muslim lands with peace, justice—and bring in rain to the desolate misery out of which will spring hope and strength and blossom into victory. Ameen.

    Keep the ummah in your duaas, always brothers and sisters, let us not forget them………

    Wasalams.

  43. Pingback: In Memory of Srebrenica | MuslimMatters.org

  44. Avatar

    ASKARI

    May 2, 2010 at 10:44 AM

    Allah Humma al an Quam azzalameen

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#Culture

Searching for Signs of Spring: A Short Story

At the party she stood near the front door, as if she might attempt escape. No one talked to her, though she saw plenty of glances cast her way. At least the food was good.

Golden Gate Bridge at night

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

The Smoker

Cigarette butt

“I’m going to kill her,” the man in the back seat growled. A moment earlier his phone had beeped, indicating a text message.

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Randa ignored him. She could already smell him – he reeked of cigarette smoke and Drakkar, a syrupy yet rancid combination, like a rotting fruit – and didn’t care to expend the energy to turn her head.

Exhausted from a nine hour shift slinging overloaded plates of food to hordes of Japanese and German tourists, she sat in the front seat of the UberPOOL car, staring out the window at the passing nightlife of San Francisco. Taxis and buses jostling for space, restaurants with lines down the block. Cable cars, street cars, tourists with their expensive cameras like baby candy for Tenderloin junkie thieves. Chinese women heading home from SOMA sweatshops, elbowing their way onto packed buses. Local hipsters, bike messengers and pimply faced tech millionaires. They were all jammed into this city on seven hills, mesmerized by the lights and endless cash, or imprisoned by them. Free to go where they would; free to ruin themselves.

She reached into the shopping bag between her knees and fingered the silk scarf she’d purchased. She’d spent half her weekly paycheck on it. A gift for Nawal. SubhanAllah, its exquisite softness was unreal. What she would have given during the last three years to feel something so yielding. She released the scarf and settled back into the seat. Quick stop at the halfway house to shower and change, then on to Nawal’s party. She could do this. After all she’d been through, why should a party make her nervous?

“Bitches lie,” the smoker went on. “That’s all women do, they lie. I’m going to kill the sl*t.”

“Sir,” the driver said, glancing in the rear view mirror. He was a tiny man with a thick moustache and a flat cap. His name was Ali, according to the Uber app. European looking, maybe Kurdish, maybe Arab. “Calm down or I will put you out.”

“Screw you,” Smoker said. “I paid for this ride, I’m not going any-”

Ali swerved to the curb and hit the brakes, screeching to a stop beside Union Square. “Out.”

It was almost Christmastime, and the square was packed. Randa saw people ice skating on the little rink they set up every December. The compressor that cooled the ice was very loud. Tourists were crowded into the Starbucks beside the rink. On every side of the square, monuments to consumerism rose. Macy’s, the Westin St. Francis, Nike, Apple, Louis Vuitton, Bul93gari, Tiffany & Co… Idols of wealth and third world labor. After spending three years owning nothing but a few sets of clothing and a few books, this was all foreign. As if some great beast had eaten every valuable thing in the world and regurgitated it in one place. She wasn’t quite sure if she wanted it all, or was revolted by it all.

“Drive the damn car,” Smoker said.

Randa had had enough. She turned and scanned the back seat. Directly behind her, a teenaged blonde girl in denim looked very uncomfortable – almost frightened but not quite there. Randa focused on the smoker. He was brown skinned and barrel chested, with thinning black hair. Middle Eastern. He looked familiar, actually. His eyes were bloodshot. It was like a set up for a joke: three Arabs and a white girl get into an Uber… Except there was nothing funny about this guy. He was big and looked quite capable of violence.

Randa, on the other hand, was physically unimposing. Short, skinny, long black hair tied in a ponytail, she was a typical Yemeni girl, as light as one of the reeds that grew in the Aden wetlands, where her parents had grown up. That didn’t matter. Anyone could hurt anyone, she knew this. Her eyes were lasers drilling into the smoker. Her jaw was a steel trap. Liquid nitrogen flowed through her veins. If this guy wanted to mix it up, she would tear him to pieces.

The man’s eyes met hers, he opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of it. He exited the car, slamming the door.

The driver smiled at Randa. He looked very relieved. “MashaAllah alayki,” he praised her in Arabic. “I don’t know what you did, but thanks. Maybe you should be a rideshare driver.”

Randa did not reply.

The Threat

Prison visitors window

She checked into the halfway house on Turk Street with ten minutes to spare before her work period expired. The staff member on duty was her own case manager, a thin, bald man with a pasty complexion and a scar on his lip.

“I’ll need a recreation block later,” Randa told him. “Starting at seven.”

The man smirked. “Hot date?”

Randa gazed at him impassively, her face as ungiving as a concrete wall.

“I need to know where you’re going,” the case manager said, annoyed.

“Bachelorette party.”

“Better not be any drugs there.”

“Muslim party. No drugs, no alcohol, no men. Just women dancing and eating.”

“You only have one rec block left this month.” He nodded toward the door that led to his private office. “Come back here, we’ll have a little fun, I’ll give you five more blocks. You’ll have a good time.” He punctuated this assurance with a wink.

“Eat poison and die.”

The man flinched as if he’d been slapped, then snarled. “Take your block. But if you’re one minute late I will write a violation on you faster than you can say, ‘Allah help me.’”

Up in her tiny second floor room with the two-woman bunk bed, changing out of her waitressing uniform, she considered not going. She hadn’t been to a social event since her release. She knew they’d all be talking about her.

While locked up she’d earned a correspondence bachelor’s degree in business administration. She was still trying to figure out what to do with it. Education wise she’d already surpassed 90% of the Yemeni community. But that didn’t matter. To them she was a shame and a wreck, a disgrace to her family.

And she wasn’t sure it was safe. What if her brother Motaz showed up? Did he still have it in for her? She had not seen him since her arrest, when he came to see her in the county jail. They sat across from each other in small cubbies, separated by thick plexiglass into which someone had scratched the words, “LOVE YOU FOREVER.”

Leaning forward to talk through a perforated panel, she explained that she hadn’t known there were drugs in the backpack. Her boyfriend had told her it was a game console he’d sold, and asked her to deliver it on her way to school. She’d been in love with Lucas, and never imagined he would manipulate her that way.

Her brother’s cheeks were purple with rage. “I don’t care about the drugs,” he seethed. “That only proves how stupid you are. You had a boyfriend. An American.” He struck the plexiglass and Randa reeled, nearly falling over in her seat. “If we were back in Yemen,” her brother went on, “I would kill you myself. It would be best for the family if you hang yourself from your bunk.”

She didn’t try to tell him that she’d never been intimate with Lucas and that she was, in fact, still a virgin. It wouldn’t make any difference, she knew that. It was public perception that mattered, and the shame it would bring. And she wasn’t saying her brother was totally wrong on that score. She hadn’t represented herself or her faith well. But that didn’t give him the right to threaten her.

She had not spoken to her brother since that day. She had no idea what his intentions for her might be. But she didn’t intend to give him the chance to make good on his threats.

The Phone Call

The phone rang. It was her mom, reading her mind. Randa told her she was going to skip the party.

Her mom clucked her tongue. “Nawal is your friend. She’s getting married, she wants you to celebrate with her.”

“She didn’t invite me.”

“She invited me. That means you as well.”

“What if Motaz shows up?”

“Why would he? It is a ladies party. And if he did, so what?”

“You know what. He threatened to kill me.”

“Ah, Randa! Astaghfirullah. That was in the past. All is forgiven. Anyway he never meant it. It was only his anger talking.”

Randa was not sure. Islam taught compassion and mercy, but in her native Yemen, feuds could carry on for generations. People did not forget. She voiced another of her fears: “They’ll all be judging me. The ladies.”

“Eh?” Her mother sounded genuinely perplexed. “Why should they?”

“Because I just spent the last three years-”

“No,” her mother interrupted. “We don’t speak about that. It never happened.”

“I don’t know how to talk to those people.”

“Those people?” Her mother sounded outraged. “They are your people, Randa!”

Randa sighed and shook her head. She could fight off people trying to kill her, and had done so, but she was powerless against her mother. Why was that, still?

Her mom switched to Arabic. “Give your tribe your money and blood, but give outsiders the point of a sword.”

Her mom and her proverbs. And she never used them right. “That doesn’t even fit.”

“It means do not justify yourself. The past is the past.”

“I don’t think it means that.”

“And wear something colorful. No more black like you’re going to a funeral.”

Prayer

All she had was black. What else? After three years of state-issued denim, she’d sworn she’d never wear any shade of blue again. What, then? Orange was jail jumpsuits. Red, pink, yellow, purple? What was she, a clown? Or white, like a nun, a nurse, or a virgin bride? She would laugh at that if she remembered how.

San Francisco Islamic Society Mosque

She donned a long black skirt over black stockings, walking shoes, a long-sleeved blouse and a black sweater, and set out on foot. Her first stop was the Islamic Society masjid on Jones at Market. In the elevator she took a light black abayah from her purse and draped it over herself, covering everything but her face and hands. The masjid was on the third floor, a wide open space in which Randa could forget her problems for a time. She had rediscovered her faith in prison, and sometimes it was the only thing that kept her going.

She knew that was a cliche, but it was true. When every door was made of solid steel, double locked and remote controlled – Allah’s door was open. When every road was not only blocked but taken away altogether, because you were sealed in a tiny room – the road to Allah was still there. When there were no windows, and the light bulbs were turned off so that you sat in utter darkness, Allah’s light was still there.

She smiled imperceptibly, remembering the first of Ruby’s rules. Ruby, her cellmate and mentor, had developed a set of rules to survive and thrive in prison. Rule number one: only God can get you out.

Well here, she was, out, and just in time for ‘ishaa. A handful of other women were in attendance and she prayed beside them. As the Imam recited Surat Ar-Rahman, Randa searched her own heart for some sign of spring. A bit of softness, a warm breeze stirring, a melting of the ice. She found little to give her hope. Too soon, she thought. Her great fear was that her past self, the Randa who cried at the recital of the Quran, hung out with friends and gossiped or laughed about boys, or just walked down the street with a bounce in her step, happy to be alive, was gone.

The Party

Yemeni food mutabaq sandwich

Mutabaq

She took another Uber to Nawal’s house, out in the Richmond district, near the ocean. At the party she stood against the wall near the front door, as if she might attempt escape. No one talked to her, though she saw plenty of glances cast her way. She drank guava juice from a small glass and ate a mutabaq. At least the food was good. She hadn’t eaten anything so delicious in years.

Her mom had hugged her when she arrived, chastised her for her grim sartorial choices, then wandered off to sit and gossip with her friends.

There were at least forty women present. The younger ones danced to the sounds of A-Wa, with the occasional Ahmed Fathi song thrown in to appease the aunties. Others sat at a table around a henna artist, taking turns getting their hands and arms tattooed. A woman in an orange scarf sat on a sofa crying, while two other women flanked her, comforting her.

Nawal sauntered over to Randa and embraced her. She looked radiant in a sequined blue gown, her long black hair flowing freely, her arms hennaed up to the elbows with intricate designs. “Thanks again for the scarf. It’s lovely. You didn’t have to do that.”

“My pleasure.” Randa nodded to the crying woman. “What’s going on there?”

Nawal looked. “Oh. That’s my Tant Ruqayyah. Her husband’s been cheating on her. But she’s finally done with him. She sent him a message today, asking for a divorce. Hey.” Nawal grinned at Randa. “What’s up with the black outfit? You planning a burglary later?”

Randa bristled, pulling back. “What do you mean?”

Nawal faltered. “No. Nothing. Just a joke, Randa. What happened to you? You lost your sense of humor.” Nawal squeezed Randa’s shoulder and turned away to rejoin her friends.

Randa wanted to shrink into a corner of the room and draw the darkness around her like a cloak. Nawal’s comment stung like chili in a cut, all the more for its truth. She knew she wasn’t the fun person she’d once been. She wasn’t someone people wanted to be around. She wasn’t someone people loved.

A commotion from the direction of the entrance made her turn. The door was just around the corner and she couldn’t see what was happening. She heard a man shouting, and a woman protesting. For a second she had the irrational thought that it was her brother, come to murder her as he’d threatened to do three years ago. Then she smelled it. The stench of cigarette smoke and Drakkar. It was the man from the Uber. Suddenly she knew why the man had seemed familiar. She’d seen him with his wife at parties in the past. His name was Momo, she remembered now, and he was Ruqayyah’s husband. She remembered the text message Momo had received in the car, and his saying, “I’ll kill her.”

A woman shrieked from the doorway and the man pushed his way in. He passed by Randa, not noticing her. Her eyes shot to the man’s hands, just as Ruby had taught her. Rule thirty: watch people’s hands, not their faces.

Momo held a long butcher knife tucked low against the back of his leg. No one else in the room seemed to have noticed it. The other women were too busy scrambling to put their scarves on, now that there was a man in the room. Some were retreating quickly, heading for the bedrooms. Some of the younger ones were still dancing, oblivious. Meanwhile, Momo was making a beeline for Ruqayyah.

Ruqayyah had spotted the knife. Her eyes were locked on it as she backed up, her hands held to her mouth in horror, her face pale as the moon.

Randa moved. Dropping her plate and glass, she walked rapidly toward the food table, slipping off her sweater as she did so. Rule thirty two: anything can be a weapon. Without breaking stride she snatched up the pepper shaker and pocketed it, then grabbed two unopened soda cans. She wrapped the cans with her sweater and twisted it, gripping it by the sleeves.

Momo had almost reached Ruqayyah. He brought the knife up, aiming it at her heart. Ruqayyah stepped back, stumbled into a chair leg, and fell to the ground. It probably saved her life.

Randa was only a few feet behind Momo now. He still had not seen her. Rule thirty five: hit first and hit hard. She gripped the sweater sleeves with both hands and swung, turning her hips, putting everything she had into it. All her frustration, fury and shame, her loneliness and self doubt. The soda cans in the sweater connected with the side of Momo’s head. There was a loud thudding sound, and Momo dropped as if a djinn had snatched his heart out of his chest. His hand opened and the knife clattered to the ground beside him. Some of the women screamed, and someone finally turned off the music.

Still clutching the sweater in one hand, Randa reached down and took Ruqayyah’s hand, helping the older woman to her feet, and helping her adjust her scarf, which had slid forward over her eyes. The auntie was stunned speechless.

Momo groaned. Randa turned to see him reach for the knife, find it, and begin to climb back to his feet. Damn. Hard-headed bastard. Reaching into her pocket, she calmly unscrewed the pepper shaker and flung the contents into Momo’s eyes. He hollered in pain and dropped the knife once more, and this time Randa kicked it away so that it skittered under the table. Once again she gripped the sweater sleeves with both hands and swung. The cans smashed Momo square in the face. He fell backwards with a cry, blood spurting from his nose. He rolled about on the floor, clutching his face, all the fight gone out of him.

Someone seized Randa’s arm and she turned to see her mother. The woman was literally quaking with rage. “Get out of here,” she hissed. “You crazy person. Why did I think you changed? You are a majnoonah.”

Nawal was there too, her face set in stone. “You should leave,” she said. “I won’t tell the police what you did, but you should go.”

Randa didn’t argue. What did it matter? These women had their minds made up about her, as did her mother. Fine. She turned to leave. Again someone gripped her arm, but this time it was Tant Ruqayyah. The auntie pulled Randa into an embrace, then kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you,” she said, her lower lip trembling. “You saved my life, habibti. May Allah give you life. I don’t know how I can ever repay you.”

Nawal frowned. “What are you saying, Tant? Randa, what does she mean?”

Randa looked at her former friend. “He came here to kill her. He had a knife.” She gestured with her chin to the table. “It’s under there.”

“To kill her?” her mother said. “What nonsense is this?”

Randa smoothed Ruqayyah’s orange scarf. “Don’t worry, Tant. You’ll be fine.” She turned away, replacing the pepper shaker and dented soda cans on the table on her way out. One of the cans had punctured and was spraying soda in a fine stream. She put her sweater on and found it wet.

At the doorway, a woman was rising from where Momo had pushed her over on his way in. Thank God he hadn’t stabbed her.

Bridges

Her mother called out to her, but she let herself out. The night breeze instantly penetrated her wet sweater and raised goosebumps on her skin. Her hands were shaking badly, so she thrust them into her pockets, violating one of Ruby’s rules. In fact her entire body shook. She told herself it was just the cold.

Nawal emerged from the house and called to her, then hurried to catch up. Her friend was flustered, her cheeks red. “I’m sorry,” she said, taking Randa’s hand. “I misunderstood. You… You are a hero.”

Golden Gate Bridge at night

Randa looked away. In the distance she could see the Golden Gate Bridge glowing red in the night, and the dark hills of Marin County silhouetted against the sky. Bridges took you from one reality to another then back again, but what if you never wanted to go back? What if you wanted to put the past behind you forever? Was there such a thing as a one way bridge?

They said she was a villain, then a hero. Which label applied? Ex-con? Disgrace? Waitress? Yemeni, American, daughter, friend?

She returned her gaze to Nawal’s face. “No,” she said. “I’m not.”

She turned away. A light drizzle began to fall, chilling her, but somehow she’d stopped shivering. She was miles from the halfway house, but there was plenty of time left on her rec block. She would walk. The city stretched out before her like a jeweled wedding veil, the wet sidewalks shining beneath the street lamps. Appreciate the moment. Another of Ruby’s rules.

Randa walked.

THE END

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

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Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters, Zaid Karim Private Investigator, and Uber Tales – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

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River Delta: A Love Story

She’s wilder than he expected. A little nutty, in fact. Like this thing now, traipsing around in the freezing mud of the delta, amid the reeds and terns, hawks and catfish. His life feels slightly out of control. He is nervous and happy at the same time.

Sacramento River delta

They both have the day off. Jimena takes him to the Sacramento river delta, where the muddy shallows stretch forever. Mile after mile of wetlands, some preserved for migratory birds and small, wild creatures, and others claimed as farmland, growing rice in vast acres of standing water. They take off their shoes and she drags him into the calf-deep water, laughing. She is tiny, a small-boned woman of Mexican ancestry, and the water comes up to her knees.

A crisp wind sweeps across the open water, lifting the clothes from their bodies and drawing tears from their eyes. The air is brilliantly fresh, like he imagines air must be in the middle of the ocean, or coming off a remote glacier.

“This is the safest rice,” Faiz says, his toes sinking into the frigid mud. “Asian rice nowadays is grown in industrial wastewater and sewage. It’s full of heavy metals. And most American rice is grown in the South, where the land is tainted with arsenic residue from the cotton growing era. Only California rice is not polluted.”

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But she’s not really listening, and why should she? He’s prattling. There’s no one else in sight and she is splashing in the mud, shrieking with pleasure, not caring that her leggings and even her dress are soaked. “SubhanAllah!” she exclaims, bending over to pick something up. It is a tiny seashell, curled in on itself, burnished copper outside and pink outside. “Que bonita! What kind of shell is this?”

Faiz smiles and shrugs. He should know, but does not remember. And he is worried about how they’ll keep from tracking mud into the car.

‘You know,” she says, “My father used to bring me here to fish. I know this area like my own living room. See that deep spot? You’ll find catfish among the tree roots.”

“You mean like our living room.” They’ve been married two months, but he still feels she is a bright macaw that he has somehow tamed, and if he doesn’t pay close enough attention she’ll fly away.

“Right.” She begins to sing in Spanish, and the sound seems entirely natural, as if she is a creature of these wetlands.

He almost asks, “What made you want to be my wife?” But he has asked this question before, and does not want to annoy her. She’s my wife, he thinks. He likes the sound of that. “My wife.” It occurs to him that this is an odd way of expressing things. “My” husband, “my” wife. Possessive. As if we do not all belong to Allah, carried in His hand. Do we truly own anything in this dunya? Not really. All this will pass, and only the presence of Allah will abide. Take a breath, he tells himself.

Sacramento River delta

Sacramento River delta

She’s wilder than he expected. A little nutty, in fact. Like this thing now, traipsing around in the freezing mud of the delta, amid the reeds and terns, hawks and catfish. His life feels slightly out of control. He is nervous and happy at the same time. Overall it is better than he expected, Alhamdulillah.

Back on solid ground, covered in mud like a riverbank otter, she takes a notepad from the glovebox and scribbles a note, her soaked hijab dripping onto the paper and smearing the ink. She slips it into his shirt pocket.

“I wanted to drown myself in the deep part,” she says with a laugh. Only later does he realize that she meant it. Beneath all the wackiness and laughter, her sadness is a wide river. He has seen it in flashes, when she talks about her father, who was killed in a street mugging when she was a child, and her mother, who died of uterine cancer when she was in high school. There is a terror in her too, a dark chasm that he has only glimpsed.

There are moments when she does not know he is looking, when her eyes go wide and distant. He watches her, holding his breath. Her skin is dark, and he thinks she must have some Mayan ancestry. But she has a sharp Castilian nose and wide-set green eyes. She is captivating, way out of his league. Then she catches him watching and gives him a quizzical look, or she doesn’t catch him so he goes to her and rubs her shoulders, and she returns from wherever her reveries took her, sometimes grabbing him and wrestling him playfully to the ground.

They go home to the little green house Faiz grew up in and inherited from his parents. In the front yard is a Japanese-style arched wooden bridge over a pond, and a Zen sand garden. His father, a practitioner of Japanese martial arts, was crazy for everything Japanese, but Faiz never took to it.

A New Land

Thai restaurantThey shower and change, toss their clothes in the washer, then walk to the country-style Thai restaurant a block away. It stands alone between a house with peeling paint and an empty lot, and is covered in vines, as if it has been there for centuries. The sign looks hand-painted, and the brass Buddha mounted in a niche above the door smiles beatifically, as if welcoming all visitors.

Sant, the owner, in his sixties but sporting a full head of black hair, brings a bowl of sticky rice and a platter of salmon with cashews in yellow curry. As he sets the food down, Jimena exclaims, “Wow, this looks amazing!” and touches the back of Sant’s hand. Faiz flushes, but says nothing. He knows his jealousy is stupid. He loves Jimena and trusts her completely. He is grateful that no one notices his reaction.

Sant smiles widely. “In my country we have story of man who cannot taste food. All his life he wonder what the fuss is. He is bony and thin, because he have no interest to eat. Then he get married. The first time his wife cook for him, he taste everything. He weep with surprise and joy.”

“What’s the moral of the story?” Faiz asks.

“What you think?”

“The family that eats curry together, stays together.”

Sant grins. “Correct.”

“Also, love changes you.”

“Correct!”

“It’s more than that,” Jimena offers. “Love pulls you into a new land. You enter a trance state, like a dervish, where everything is possible through the love of God. Then you lose balance and come out of it and you don’t know your name, and don’t recognize the country in which you stand. You realize you died and didn’t know it, and that the oceans of this new land go on forever.”

Sant’s smile falters. “Ehh… Not so sure about that one.” He wanders off.

Faiz watches his wife licking yellow curry from her fingers. He knows that some of his friends do not approve. She’s a Hispanic convert, and was married once before.

“You can’t trust converts,” one of his friends said. “They might be Muslim now, but leave the religion later. It’s not in their DNA like us.”

Faiz does not speak to that friend anymore. There is no place for arrogant fools in his life. Let them look, let them whisper. He does not care. He is a poor man, still pursuing a masters in environmental studies and earning meager pay as a teaching assistant. He does not consider himself handsome.

In his first year of college he attended an Islamic retreat that affected him deeply. One of the scholars spoke of sincerity, and how this simple philosophy – to be sincere with God, with yourself, and with others – could transform your life. Since then he has strived to always be sincere. That is all he really has going for him, he thinks.

And yet, this beautiful woman married him. She is gorgeous, and smart – a Stanford grad. She’s petite but so strong. Sometimes she seizes his arms and squeezes playfully and it hurts. What she sees in him, he does not know. Later he comes to understand that she is deeply insecure. Would she still have married him if she actually knew how smart and beautiful she was? Did it matter?

Still, her faith is as powerful as the tide, and she loves him. What a miracle. Like Jibreel striking the ground with his wing to produce water from the desert. What an unexpected blessing. He never saw it coming.

At home, Faiz moves the clothes to the dryer, and they pray the night prayer. His wife goes to bed – she gets up early for work and always sleeps before he does.

The Note

Sea shellWaking in the morning, he notices the little seashell that Jimena found in the delta. She has placed it atop their bedroom dresser. The morning light illuminates it, making it look like a museum piece. How amazing to think that something lived inside it once. Some tiny creature manufactured this shell as a home. That creature is long gone now, dead. No one but Allah knows what it was, or when it lived.

Looking at the shell, he remembers the note Jimena wrote. The clothes they wore yesterday are still in the dryer. He knows the note is in the pocket of his blue shirt, and may be ruined, or illegible. But he forces himself to fold the clothes one at a time, tapping his foot nervously. Finally he removes the note. The paper is crumpled and fragile. He unfolds it gingerly. The writing is faded and smeared, but to his surprise he can read it. “You will always be my hero,” it says. “Be patient with me. I love you.” He is so moved that his face grows warm and his eyes well up. He performs wudu’ and prays two rakahs out of sheer gratitude.

Two months later Jimena goes through her first serious depression, at least that Faiz has seen. She weeps, rocking back and forth, and will not let him touch her. Back when she found the seashell she wove a cord through it and hung it around her neck. Now, as she weeps, she clutches it tightly, as a drowning woman might clutch a life-ring. She draws the curtains and barely eats. It lasts almost a week.

Aside from her job as a nurse, she is an activist, always raising money for one cause or another. She paints, writes poetry and plays the guitar, singing Los Lobos songs in a lovely, clear voice. At dinner parties she is the center of attention, telling anecdotes and jokes, and laughing along with her audience. Faiz knows that some of the stories are exaggerated, and he thinks she laughs too loud, but he does not say so. People tell her she is an inspiration, the most positive and cheerful person they have ever known.

Those people are not there when she slashes her own paintings with a box cutter, or strides through the house raging and screaming at Faiz for not supporting her, or locks herself in the bathroom until Faiz has to break the door because he fears she might harm herself. Though she never actually goes that far.

These depressions come along every three or four months. Anything can trigger them. A criticism by a work supervisor. One of her experimental vegetarian dishes not coming out right. One time she is talking about a patient at work, a child who had been abused by a parent, when Faiz receives a text on his phone. He checks it, and that is enough to send Jimena spiraling into the howling tunnel of depression.

Faiz, in his typically rational way, tries reasoning with her. He praises her, pointing out her many good qualities, and tells her how many people love her, including himself. None of it works. Then one day he is texting with his cousin Saleem Haleem, who has dedicated his life to working with the homeless but also possesses a wacky sense of humor. “Try dressing up in a bunny suit,” Saleem suggests, “and run around hopping and shrieking, ‘stop eating my chocolate eggs!’”

Faiz laughs it off, but then thinks, why not? In a desperate fit completely unlike himself, he pulls on a swim cap, paints his face red with Jimena’s lipstick, and runs into her bedroom shouting, “I am alien. Where is leader? Bashooomdafaaaah! Oueeegamaaala!”

Jimena stares wide-eyed, looks for a moment like she might attack him, then bursts into uproarious laughter. And like that, she is back to her usual creative, bubbly, hyper-social self.

Faiz begins to think that this is why he was blessed to marry her. It’s a bargain that Allah has made with him. A trade. She is too beautiful for him, too witty and charming, it is true, but he is patient enough for her. He can bear the insults she flings. He can comfort her when she rages that life is dark and useless, and that she is ugly and alone. She may be the woman he desires and dreams of, but he is the man she needs.

She loves to sit on his lap and kiss him until his lips are sore. She cooks his favorite foods. She writes love letters that he reads again and again, saving them in a sandalwood box, along with the note she wrote at the delta. She brags to her friends about how smart he is. She prays with him, and asks him to teach her Urdu and Quran. And through it all, she does not lose her faith. Just the opposite. When all else seems bleak to her, she still believes in Allah, still prays.

Hard Times

Empty walletJimena becomes pregnant but miscarries. She is plunged into postpartum depression that continues for a year, during which she cannot work. An economic recession hits. Faiz loses his job and takes consulting work when he can find it. They buy used clothing at thrift stores, and shop for groceries at the dollar store. There are times when they have no money in the bank, and Faiz’s wallet is empty. He is reduced to selling his childhood baseball card collection and his father’s old coins. Jimena castigates him: “You’re not a man. A man provides for his family.” She blames him for her miscarriage, saying that the stress of poverty caused her to lose the child. This last accusation wounds him to the quick, but he knows she doesn’t mean it. It’s the depression talking.

He goes for aimless drives in the foothills, letting the curves and angles of the road rock him like an infant. Sometimes he stops the car and presses the heels of his palms into his eyes as hard as he can, so that his eyes ache and strange shapes appear. Dark hands reaching for him. Exploding suns. Ghosts with no arms. Jimena is big on healthy eating and will not tolerate junk food, but when Faiz is out driving he goes through the Taco Bell drive through and binges on nachos and soda. Then he stops at the car wash and vacuums away the crumbs, eliminating the evidence.

When he feels most frustrated with life and with Jimena, he opens the sandalwood box. Beneath all the letters is the note she wrote that day at the delta, the words barely legible. He reads it and thinks of all the love Jimena has given him. He holds a picture of her in his head, a shining image of the woman he fell in love with, and his love returns stronger than ever, like a river replenished with the spring melt. Holding that bright image in his mind, he goes to her and takes her in his arms.

Jimena’s depression passes, as does the recession. She goes back to work for the hospital, and Faiz gets a government job as an environmental compliance inspector. Jimena has one sibling left, an older sister named Mariela. One evening the phone rings. As Jimena speaks to her sister, her face goes pale. Mariela has breast cancer. The doctors don’t know yet how advanced it is. Further testing is needed.

Jimena cannot stop weeping. “I’m alone now,” she moans. “There’s no one left.”

Faiz urges her not to imagine the worst. “Maybe they caught it early. Be patient. Trust in Allah.”

It turns out the cancer is advanced. Mariela undergoes treatment, but in three months she is gone.

Things are never the same between them after that. Jimena has it in her head that he told her Mariela would be okay. “You always make promises you can’t keep.” She stops writing love letters, stops sitting in his lap. She works overtime, returning home late. Faiz orders takeout and eats alone. When Jimena’s depressions descend she checks into a hotel, telling him she can’t stand the sight of him. Whenever she leaves he checks to make sure she has taken the seashell necklace. It is the only thing that gives her comfort anymore. She holds it obsessively, kisses it like a talisman. As long as she has it with her, he believes, she will not harm herself, and will come back to him.

Goodbye

One day he comes home and the necklace is hanging on the coat rack by the front door. There is a note on the kitchen counter, scrawled on computer paper:

“Don’t come looking for me. You’re better off anyway. You know it. Let go of your worries and be clear hearted. Goodbye.”

Sandalwood boxHe takes out the sandalwood box. Her love letters are there. Also the old note, yellowed note: “You will always be my hero. Be patient with me. I love you.” Faiz does not know what to do. After all they went through together, she is gone. So what was it for? He thought this was his test, his bargain, his gift, all rolled into one.

He wants to burn the letters. He wants to go after her in spite of her warning, convince her that they belong together, prove his love and his patience. What does she want, for God’s sake? What does that mean, let go of your worries and be clear hearted? Is it a puzzle for him to solve? No one will ever love her like him, doesn’t she know that?

He decides to wait. He will be patient, and she will return. She has blocked him on all the social media networks, so he creates a fake profile and befriends her, and learns that she has moved clear across the country. There are photos of her with people he does not know, looking happy. She posts about her usual activist causes, shares messages from her favorite religious teachers. Nothing about Faiz. It’s as if he never existed. Her profile status says, “single.”

Every day he takes out the sandalwood box. He selects one of the love letters at random, unfolds it. Her cursive script is flowing, loose:

Rumi wrote, “This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment.” I thought true love was a myth, but you, my darling Faiz, have caused the veils to slip from my eyes. The veils of cynicism, bitterness and despair, lifted by the wind of your love and carried away. Now I see the hidden heart that beats in the forest of bones, the intoxicating air that only lovers can breathe, the hushed and peaceful path that only reveals itself to four feet that walk as two.

How could someone say such things and not mean them? Or if she meant them, how could such love disappear? Shaking his head, he folds the letter carefully and returns it to the box.

Six months later he receives divorce papers in the mail. All this time he still believed she would return. He is dumbfounded. Why is Allah doing this to him? What terrible thing did he do, to be punished this way? Why does Jimena not love him anymore? How can she be happy without him? Who will love her as he did? In a fit of pique and resentment, he signs the papers and mails them.

He tumbles into his own emotional hole, where he has thoughts of suicide for the first time in his life. He imagines stabbing himself in the throat, or maybe taking some pills, that would be easier. He doesn’t do it, and would never do it, he knows that. His faith in Allah would never allow it. No matter what else he might be, he is still a Muslim.

A month later, he learns from a mutual friend that Jimena has married a wealthy restaurant owner with grown children. Faiz is shocked and angry, and blindingly jealous. He wants to find her and scream at her, insult her, but he knows this is useless and stupid. Instead he begins taking hour long walks before Maghreb, feeling the breeze in his face, exploring unfamiliar neighborhoods, admiring people’s gardens, thinking of nothing.

A week later he hears that Jimena and that man have divorced. He can make no sense of it, but feels bitter satisfaction. How is it possible that he loves her but is happy at the news of her failure? Does he really love her, then? He doesn’t know anymore. Love is all fake nonsense. He deletes the fake social media profile and shuts down all his own pages.

He is sure that one day she will show up at his door again, and he fantasizes about what he will do or say. In one fantasy, he spits on her and screams in her face. But he would never actually do that. In another, she starts to beg forgiveness, and before she finishes her apology he snatches her into his arms and embraces her, and they resume their relationship of adoration and madness. In yet another scenario, he invites her in and they have a civil conversation in which they agree to be friends.

Japanese Garden

His walks lengthen to two hours, then three. He stops at the masjid to pray Maghreb in the middle, then resumes walking, going on until his feet and calves ache. His legs grow muscular. His body feels light and strong. He thinks of Jimena every day, but he can live with the ache and loss. He has learned this. He hears that she has married again. A white convert this time, a sufi. Faiz feels some jealousy but not like before. If jealousy is a green-eyed monster, then what he feels is its pale-green ghost.

Six months later she is divorced again. Faiz feels only sadness and confusion.

He usually pays little attention to the Japanese garden, but one day he gets out a rake and begins drawing patterns in the sand. He remembers his father trying to teach him: “Don’t drawing anything real,” he’d say in his sharp Pakistani accent. “Just moving the rake in random patterns. Seek for symmetry.” Faiz does so, and is happy with the design he creates. Then, as his father taught him, he erases it and starts anew, ending up with something different but lovely.

As he gets into bed that night, a thought makes his breath catch. He used to believe that Jimena was a gift from Allah and a test. He imagined he was the man she needed, the man who could handle her. No one could love her like him. But how arrogant these ideas were! How insincere. She was not a wild animal, and he was not her caretaker. Nor was she a child. Who was Faiz? He was not some living key to Jimena’s joy. He was not Jimena’s god. He was just a man. She had a life before she met him, and she would have a life after.

This leads him to another thought: he too can be happy without her.

Two months later an old friend named AbdulMalik calls him. “Guess what I heard? Jimena-”

Faiz cuts him off. “I don’t need to know.” It is true. It’s not necessarily that he doesn’t care. But he has achieved some measure of hard-won inner peace. Why mess that up?

Four years pass. In the beginning he thinks of Jimena often, remembering intimate moments they shared, conversations, the way her chin dimpled when she smiled, and the curses and weeping as well, the accusations. And their lost child. That is the most difficult of all, for the pain it caused and for what could have been.

One day he realizes with surprise that he has not thought of Jimena in quite a while. He’s pleased by this, and rewards himself with a pint of premium vanilla fudge ice cream – something Jimena never would have let him get away with.

Be Sincere

At the masjid after Jumah prayer, the Imam signals him to enter his office. A sister has recently moved to town, a white American woman named Anamarie, with two small children. She converted to Islam a year ago. The father of her boys is in prison. Would Faiz be interested?

The offer is not exactly tempting. If his parents were alive it would be a non-starter, as they would give him blazes over it. Raising someone else’s kids? A frightening thought. What if he doesn’t love them, or they don’t love him? What if he has no idea how to treat them? What if he disciplines them and the mother gets mad because he’s not their dad? Stop, he tells himself. What’s the harm in meeting her?

He meets her in the Imam’s office, with the Imam present. She is his height, not fat but a bit chubby. She breaks the ice by inquiring about his work, and is surprisingly interested and informed about science and the environment. She has a slight southern accent, and eyes the color of a winter sky. He asks hesitantly about the kids, and what she would expect of him. Evan is three years old, and Ellie is one and a half. Anamarie can see, she says, that he is a kind hearted man. She would not expect anything more from him in the beginning than to be present in their lives. “Be sincere with them,” she says. “That’s all you have to do.”

They meet for lunch next time, still just the two of them. Being around Anamarie is strangely easy. Why is he so comfortable? Maybe because she is nothing like Jimena. With Jimena he was always giddy, nervous or dejected. Anamarie, on the other hand, is a calm summer sea. You could lay out on your boat and relax on a sea like that, and not have to worry about hurricanes or whirlpools.

Oh, there are things she is passionate about. She is a teacher, and loves her work. She is also an aspiring novelist, and speaks wistfully of being able to earn a living from writing one day. She is not an activist of any stripe, and Faiz likes that, as he has come to associate activism with instability.

Meeting the kids is easier than he expected. Evan is serious but friendly, surprising Faiz by taking his hand as they walk through the park. The boy’s hand is warm but dry. Ellie is wacky and easily entertained, ready to laugh at any funny face Faiz makes.

Their nikah is held on the shore of a nearby lake. There are only a dozen people in attendance: Faiz, Anamarie and the kids, the Imam, and a handful of Faiz’s friends and co-workers. He rarely thinks of Jimena anymore, but can’t help wondering on this day whether she is happy somewhere. He hopes so.

He has saved quite a bit of money over the last five years. He sells the tiny house and buys a modestly sized Mediterranean style home with arched doorways, a sunny breakfast nook and a large backyard.

A week after the wedding he takes a drive out to the river delta by himself. Squatting at the water’s edge, he burns Jimena’s letters one by one, watching the ash spill into the water and dissipate like breath on a cold day. He feels no anger. Standing, he takes the seashell necklace from his pocket. He studies it one last time, admiring the perfect smoothness of its inner curves. Something lived here once. But now it is gone. He draws his arm back and throws the necklace far out into the water. It floats on the surface, buoyed by the cord, then finally sinks.

* * *

A year later he, Anamarie and the kids are seated in the nook, eating spaghetti and meatballs for lunch. They are planning to visit the airplane museum tomorrow and Evan is excited about the planes they will see. Faiz smiles to hear him talk about wing designs and aerodynamics. A budding engineer, mashaAllah.

Spaghetti and meatballsEllie is on Faiz’s lap, and he is struggling to increase the ratio of spaghetti that goes into her mouth versus onto her shirt. “The flyer is returning to the mothership,” he says dramatically. The forkful of spaghetti swoops and dives. “Open the bay doors so it can land.” Ellie shuts her mouth tightly. “Open the mothership,” Faiz urges.

“I’m not a mother,” Ellie pouts, turning her face away.

“Ships in space don’t land,” Evan says. “They dock.”

The doorbell rings. “I’ll get it,” Anamarie offers.

Faiz waves her off. “No, I’m on it.” She is seven months pregnant. Getting to her feet is a struggle. He hoists the little girl onto his hip.

When he opens the door he feels the blood drain from his face. It is as if an angel, a devil and a ghost have all combined into one person and materialized on his doorstep.

“As-salamu alaykum,” Jimena says.

It has been five years since she left. He has forgotten how tiny she is. Yet she is as intense as ever, even just standing there. Her eyes are forest green, her teeth white. She wears an orange hijab, blue jeans and a “Save Gaza” t-shirt.

“Who’s this?” Jimena nods at Ellie and smiles, but there is tension behind it. Is that jealousy Faiz sees in the set of her jaw? Disappointment? Unconsciously, not knowing why, he shifts his hip slightly, moving Ellie away from Jimena.

A flash of anger crosses Jimena’s face, then vanishes. “You look good. You’re fit. Do you think we could talk? I have some things I want to-”

“I didn’t know if I would ever see you again,” Faiz interrupts calmly. Sincerity, he tells himself. That is all. “I am glad you are here so I can tell you that I am grateful for the love you gave me, for as long as it lasted.” His voice is soft, gentle. “I was angry, but not anymore. I only think well of you. I wish good for you in the dunya and aakhirah. May Allah bless you in everything. That is all I have. Please don’t come here again.”

He steps back into the house and begins to close the door. He is afraid she might throw a tantrum, maybe push her way in. But she stands in place. Her mouth turns down in an expression of utter dismay, and Faiz feels a terrible flood of guilt. He never could bear hurting her. He closes the door all the way. His hand trembles on the doorknob, and his breath is ragged. He locks the door.

Back in the nook, he takes his seat.

“Who was it?” Anamarie asks.

“Oh. One of those people, you know, the people who come to the door?”

“What people? Missionaries?”

“Daddy didn’t let her talk,” Ellie says.

“That doesn’t seem like you,” Anamarie remarks.

Faiz picks up the fork. “Open the bay doors. The flyer is coming in for a landing. I mean, to dock.” He glances to Evan, who nods approvingly.

Ellie turns her face, and the fork pokes her in the cheek.

The End

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels, Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters, and Zaid Karim Private Investigator, are available on Amazon.com.

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#Culture

No, My Son | A Short Story

It was pure happenstance that Payedar Olan was sitting near the entrance of the masjid on the day the gunman entered and shot him. He had forgotten that here in America they changed the time twice a year…

San Francisco Islamic Society Mosque

It was pure happenstance that Payedar Olan was sitting near the entrance of the masjid on the day the gunman entered and shot him. He had forgotten that in America they changed the time twice a year, so he was an hour early for Friday congregational prayer. The little masjid at the top of a hill was almost empty, with only a few brothers praying, and one washing up in the ablutions room. So he sat with his back against the wall to relax and wait.

Such a strange thing, this time changing. The sun rose and set. How could men change it? But in America they believed they had power over all things.

Life here was bewildering. People zipped around on electric scooters, in Uber cars and in trains that rumbled beneath the ground. Skyscrapers blocked the sun. People wore strange costumes, and one could often not tell a woman from a man. The markets contained more food than anyone could need, much of it artificial, tasting too salty or too sweet. People smiled for no reason, while crazy people wandered the streets, shouting at nothing.

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This city and country had taken him in and given him shelter when his own homeland was being devoured by evil men; so he was grateful. Still, it was perplexing, and so far removed from his experience that sometimes he felt he was on a different planet.

The Kurdish Heart

A Kurdish village

Kurdish village

Payedar had been born in 1953 in Iraqi Kurdistan, in a mountain village called Gur-e-Sofia, reachable by traveling first on the Ruwandiz road from Erbil, then by a three hour climb up a mule track. His bav was a duck hunter, and his dê a midwife.

In his village, whitewashed homes were built into steep hillsides in tiers, facing the sun. The mud of the roofs had to be rolled anew every September, before the winter rains, because in summer it would crack. Sheep and goats dotted the slopes. Most people grew barley or bearded wheat, and tobacco in summer, using oxen to plow the fields. Every family knew precisely how much water they could take for irrigation, and no one took more than their share, for fairness was ingrained in the Kurdish heart.

Walnut trees grew everywhere, and Payedar would shake them to bring the walnuts down, then crack them between two stones. Because of this he was never hungry, alhamdulillah.

He remembered his bav, his father, sitting at the village coffee shop, smoking rich Kurdish tobacco from a hookah pipe, and shouting exultantly as he won a round of backgammon. At home his dê cooked spiced kofta meatballs, bulgur pilaf and flatbread, with figs and sweetened black tea for dessert. Payedar, his parents and six siblings ate on the floor, sitting around a clean cloth. At night Bev led them in prayer, reciting the Quran in his powerful voice.

It was life, and he was happy, until he was eight years old and the Kurdish-Iraqi war began. His three older brothers and one sister went to fight and never returned. The village was bombed. Many were killed and many homes were destroyed. Even the small masjid was reduced to rubble. His bav fell into despondency, and one day went out to hunt ducks and blew his own head off.

Payedar, the eldest remaining child, became the breadwinner. Twice a month he loaded up a mule with white grapes, tobacco and walnuts and traveled over the mountain to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where he sold them at a good profit. It was hazardous work. More than once he was injured. Three times he was robbed.

These dangers were balanced by getting to see Erbil, a city of a million people. A million! Where ancient Assyrian and Roman monuments and citadels mixed with four-story buildings and a modern soccer stadium. Women went out with their forearms uncovered, people wore Western jeans and shirts, and music played from boomboxes sold in shops filled with electronic goods. At the same time, Erbil was a frequent target of Iraqi bombs, and it was not unusual to see bodies in the streets.

The Dying and the Dead

The war ended when he was seventeen, and began again when he was twenty one. This time he joined the Kurdish peshmerga and fought the Iraqi invaders, sending his salary home to his mother.

Female peshmerga fighters

Female peshmerga fighters

It was in the war that he met his wife, Letya. Her name, which meant tiny and womanly, matched her stature, if not her personality, for she too was a member of the peshmerga, and the first time he saw her she was in a soldier’s uniform with a Soviet rifle in her hands, her fierce black eyes promising death to the enemies of the Kurds, and her long black hair streaming in the hot southern wind.

He killed many men, and saw many die. Back home in Sofia-e-Gul one of his two younger sisters got married and moved away, while the other, out one day foraging for food, was kidnapped by Iraqi soldiers, raped and killed. Shortly afterward his mother died of loneliness and heartbreak. He returned home to bury her, his tears falling into the rich mountain soil atop her grave. Sofia-e-Gul was now populated only by old people waiting to die, and by the dead in the cemetery. The fields lay untended, many homes half-destroyed, the animals lost. He prayed, begging Allah’s forgiveness for leaving his mother alone. He did not ask for Allah’s mercy on his mother, for it was unnecessary. She was a saint, and if anyone in the world deserved Paradise it was her.

He left Sofia-e-Gul and never returned.

Payedar and Letya were married as the war raged, and when the Kurdish militias lost and the Kurdish region was overrun by Iraqi troops, they fled to the Kurdish border region in Iran. There Payedar worked as an assistant to a stone mason. He and Letya raised two boys and a girl.

San Francisco Islamic Society Mosque

These were the things Payedar was thinking about as he sat with his back against the wall in the little masjid. Lately it seemed his mind dwelled more in the past than the present. Sometimes he found himself standing on a street corner in this American city, thinking about the feel of his father’s bristly mustache when he kissed Payedar goodnight, or the smell of his wife’s hair, redolent with the day’s cooking – or, if she had bathed, with the scent of fermented rice-water shampoo. Then someone would interrupt his reverie, some Spanish girl with green hair, or a goateed man with earrings and a baby in a belly sling, and ask if he was alright. And he would smile and thank them.

He had no complaints about the way his life had turned out. He’d lost so much, yes. But he’d been a fighter all his life, and what more could any man do? Everything was in Allah’s hands. Whatever had happened was always going to happen, and whatever had passed him by was always going to pass him by. There was nothing he could say in the end but alhamdulillah. And if he was fortunate, he would meet his lost ones in Jannah, and all would be well.

Boots On

The gunman entered with his boots on. That was the first thing Payedar noticed, glancing to his left and seeing the military boots on the plush carpet of the prayer room. His eyes shot up to take the man in: tall, white, with a powerful frame. Green eyes and a scattering of freckles across his cheeks. Brown hair in a buzz cut. Dressed in green army fatigues, and carrying a semi-automatic rifle. The gun was pointed toward the mehrab as the man’s head swiveled, taking in the interior of the masjid.

The man seemed confused. Maybe he too had been fooled by the time change, and was expecting to find a full congregation. Maybe his eyes were adjusting to the gloom, for the interior lights had not yet been turned on, and the masjid was all cool shadows and lazily spinning ceiling fans.

The gunman’s hesitation gave Payedar the time he needed. He leaped up and embraced the man tightly, throwing his arms over the man’s arms, pinning them to his sides so that the rifle pointed at the ground. “No, my son,” Payedar said intensely, whispering in the man’s ear as if telling secrets to a confidante. “No.”

“Get off me you goddamn terrorist!” the man bellowed. He struggled, nearly falling. He was strong, but Payedar also was strong, for though he was sixty seven years old he had been a stone mason for decades, and the work had given him a broad back and muscular arms.

“No, my son,” he said again, his voice rising. “I will not allow it. I cannot, I cannot.” He heard other men shouting in panic and confusion, but he did not turn to look.

“I’ll kill you!” the man drove forward, but Payedar held on. The gun went off. The sound ricocheted off the walls like the roar of a cannon. Someone screamed. Payedar’s foot exploded with pain. Starbursts appeared before his eyes. Yet he kept his arms clasped. “No, my son,” he said again, desperately. ‘No, my son.” He was pleading, but not for his life. He and death were old friends or old enemies – he could not tell anymore. Sometimes you hated a man but admired him. So it was with Payedar and death. No, he was pleading for this man to understand, to stop before it was too late.

“GET OFF ME YOU CRAZY OLD MAN!”

Again the gun fired, and this time it was as if a sword had been driven into Payedar’s thigh. He closed his eyes and groaned in agony, but held on. Again he pleaded, his voice filled with something that might have been anger but might also have been love, and this time it was a shout, driven by pain and desperation. “No my son!”

The gunman stopped struggling. Payedar felt the man’s body go limp within the circle of his embrace. He opened his eyes to meet a gaze filled with hatred and rage, but also confusion and shame. Now that the man had stopped struggling, Payedar seemed to have lost his own ability to fight, as if he had drawn his energy from the other’s seething will. His arms grew slack and the world turned monochrome, as if he were seeing everything on the old television he and Letya had purchased when the children were still small and still alive. Pain filled his mind, and he could not stand.

Arms seized Payedar and the gunman. Both fell. Men were atop them, shouting in Arabic and English. Payedar’s mouth fell open as his eyelids came down like steel doors.

His Young Prince

Hospital IV bag

Two surgeries and a week in the hospital, and he was on his way to recovery. People said he was a hero. Visitors from the masjid were allowed in two at a time, but Payedar found their visits tiring. Reporters wanted to see him, but his son Ekrem shielded him. Payedar had no desire for fame. Police came as well. He told the story in halting English, and picked the gunman out of a selection of photos on a card.

Sometimes he did not know where he was. A hospital, but he had been in many clinics and field hospitals. He had been shot twice before, bombed, struck with grenade shrapnel, and tortured in an Iranian jail, where he was accused of being a Kurdish separatist.

When he became confused he remained silent and waited stiffly. Eventually Ekrem would appear, sometimes with his beautiful wife Amirah, and Payedar would relax, for even if he did not know where he was he knew that Ekrem was his young prince, his joy and legacy, and that if Ekrem was there then everything was fine.

Later, he awoke on the sofa in Ekrem’s living room. Usually he slept in a tiny upstairs room, but he had a titanium rod in his thigh and a cast from knee to toe. He let out a groan. His leg and foot ached as if a lion were gnawing on the bones. He’d experienced worse pain in life. But he was old now.

Amirah stood over him, speaking. “Apê. Tu dixwazî hin çay bi şekirê dixwazî? Dem dema dermanê we ye.” Uncle, would you like tea with sugar? It’s time for your medication.

Payedar smiled at this princess, this beautiful African-American Muslim woman who had given him two grandsons and had even learned Kurdish!

Trying not to show how much his leg hurt, he rubbed his eyes and yawned. “How about some mast-aw?” he replied in Kurdish. It was an old joke. Mast-aw was a Kurdish favorite: heated goat’s milk mixed with sour goat’s milk to curdle it, then with cold water. Of course it could not be found in America.

“Honey,” Amirah called in English. “He wants mast-aw.”

“Coming up.” Ekrem emerged from the kitchen carrying a tray with a single glass of milk perched in the center, and four pills beside it. The boys trooped at his heels, grinning. Payedar looked at his son, with his curly hair and long, proud nose. He was sturdy, for he too was a stonemason, having learned at Payedar’s side.

Payedar smiled at this prank. The pasteurized, homogenized milk sold in America was a far cry from mast-aw. But he took the glass without complaint, and downed a few pills. His eyes widened. The drink was thick and tangy, rich with the flavors of his homeland. It was mast-aw! He had not tasted it in many years, and for a moment the flavor took him back, so that he was a child, sitting on the floor with his parents and siblings after a long day of trooping over the mountains with his bav. The children enjoyed mast-aw and boiled wheat with sugar, and when his older brother tried to talk about the war Bav shushed him. His sister told a joke about a cat that tried to ride a bicycle, and Payedar laughed.

Remembering this, he laughed again, and witnessing this, Ekrem and his family laughed as well, and Payedar returned to the present. “This is miracle,” Payedar said in English, and his family grinned and told him how they had sourced all the ingredients.

Moments like this were a barakah, and Payedar was filled with gratitude to Allah. If only… he faltered, his hand shaking, nearly dropping the glass, so that Amirah took it quickly. A tear ran down his cheek. Ekrem was beside him, touching his shoulder. “What is it, Bav? Is something wrong?”

Payedar shook his head. “You are the spirit of my heart, Ekrem. All of you.” He reached a hand to his grandsons and they piled onto the sofa. “I wish…” He could not continue. He wished Letya, his wife, could have lived long enough to see this new land. And Sara, his daughter, gassed by Saddam Hussein along with her husband and children. And Baz, his firstborn, a lifelong soldier.

Ekrem rubbed his shoulder. “I know, Bav.”

“Can I try the mast-aw?” This was Ibrahim, his youngest grandson, a wide-faced boy with curly black hair and dark eyes, only four years old. His mother gave him the glass and he took a sip, then coughed and grimaced. “Eww!”

Payedar chuckled. “You are American boy. You better stick to apple juice.”

* * *

An assistant district attorney came to see him. A rail-thin blonde woman with spectacles like tea glasses. The gunman, whose name was Amundsen, had so far refused to speak to the police. He said he would only speak to, “the old man.”

“Meaning you, Mr. Olan,” the ADA said. “You’d be doing us a favor.”

Good Crazy or Bad Crazy

They met in a room in the county jail building. It was painted steel gray, with a thick window beyond which a tall black guard watched. There were no cameras or listening devices, as far as Payedar could tell.

The gunman, Amundsen, sat across from Payedar at a metal table that was bolted to the ground. The man wore orange jail coveralls with “JAIL INMATE” printed on the chest and back. He was handcuffed, his ankles shackled, another chain connecting hands and feet to a belly chain, and the whole mess chained to a steel eye loop welded to the table. The man was unmarked. No bruises or burns. Back home he would have been tortured until he confessed. Here they had to appeal to him, negotiate, reason. America was crazy. But good crazy or bad crazy? Both, Payedar supposed.

Payedar wore the traditional clothing of his homeland: a dark vest over a white robe, a black turban, and boots. He did not always dress thus. Sometimes he wore typical Western clothing. He was not sure why he had chosen to dress this way today.

The gunman eyed him. There was some hostility in that look, but not as much as Payedar had expected. The man seemed almost curious. “You speak English?”

“Yes. I learn.”

The chains rattled as Amundsen gestured to Payedar’s leg. “You gonna be alright?”

Payedar nodded.

“You really messed me up.”

“You mess up yourself.”

“Yeah.”

Neither of them said anything for a while. Payedar studied the gunman. The man’s eyes were intelligent, his jaw set tightly. A forearm tattoo peeked out beneath the sleeve of his coverall. His torso was as wide as a barrel. Payedar was amazed he’d been able to hold the man. In fact, he could not see how it was possible.

“Why did you say that?” the gunman wanted to know.

“Say what?” Though he knew.

“You know. You called me your son. You kept saying that. Even when I shot you. What the hell, man? I’m not your son.”

Payedar flushed with embarrassment. But he had agreed to talk to the man, so he answered. “Sometimes I get confused. At that time I thought you was my son, Baz.”

Amundsen stared, then shook his head and laughed. “Unbelievable. I got stopped by a senile old kook. Do I look like your son?”

“Little bit. Big and strong. He was soldier, fighting the Iraqis. Seven years ago, when ISIS start to invade our land, Baz come to me, say he going to fight them. I did not want. I lose so many people already. So I hug him, I tell him, no, my son. Do not go.”

Amundsen frowned. “Your son was going to fight against ISIS? I thought you Muslims supported ISIS.”

“You are fool!” Payedar snapped. “Never say this. Do you understand what ISIS did to my people? They attack the Yazidi villages because the Yazidis are Christian, not Muslim. So ISIS kill the men, take the women and rape them. My son cannot accept this, so he go to fight, to protect them.”

“So…” Amundsen’s mouth hung open as he took in what Payedar was telling him. “Your son fought to protect Christians?”

“Muslim, Christians, one people. They are Kurds.”

“What happened to him?”

“What you think?” Not wanting to speak it out loud.

The room fell silent. Payedar looked around absently, taking in the clean floor and walls, the even light from the fluorescents embedded in the ceiling. He looked at the jail guard on the other side of the window, who stood calmly, watching them both. Payedar’s mind wandered, traveling through time, crossing borders and eras in an instant, feeling the touch of his wife’s lips on his cheek, whispering her love. She had loved him like a fighter, fiercely, unreservedly. Then his mind swept forward like a flash flood in a mountain ravine, and he was once again in the present, in this tiny room in a foreign city far from home. His gaze returned to Amundsen, who in turn studied him silently. No one spoke.

The end

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels, Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters, and Zaid Karim Private Investigator, are available on Amazon.com.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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