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How the Grinch Stole Eid

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Dr. O blogs at Muslim Medicine, a site that strives to serve only the freshest grade-A certified ẓabiḥah ḥalāl comedy. Contact your local ḥalāl butcher for more details.

Every Muslim down in Islamville liked ‘Eid, a lot!

But Abu Grinch, who lived north of Islamville, DID NOT.

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Abu Grinch hated ‘Eid, oh you might think it treason!

But don’t ask why, no one quite knows the reason.

It could be, perhaps, some angry Masjid uncles were mean,

Or perhaps no sister wanted to marry a guy so hairy and green

But I think the most likely reason of all,

May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

But whatever the reason, his heart or his cold whims,

He stood there during Ramadan, hating the Muslims.

Staring down from his cave with a Grinchy frown,

At the hungry Muslims about to break fast in their town.

For he knew every Muslim down in Islamville below,

Were busy cooking meals and baking tasty dough.

“They’re putting out dates and drinks!” he snarled with a sneer.

“Tomorrow is ‘Eid-ul-Fitr- it’s practically here!”

He trembled, his cold heart beating like Zain Bhikha’s drumming,

“I must find some way to stop ‘Eid from coming!”

For tomorrow, he knew- all the little Muslim girls and boys,

Would jump, shout, and play joyously with their new toys!

And the noise… ugh, the noise! The Noise! Noise! NOISE! NOISE!!

All the Muslims, young and old, would embrace one another and hug

And they’d hug! And they’d hug! And they’d HUG! HUG! HUG! HUG!

Not once, not twice, but three times- oh, such a touching display

That the mere thought of it caused Abu Grinch to wince in dismay

THEN they’d do something that he hated most of all,

Every joyous Muslim, the big and the small,

Family, friends, and perhaps a loving soul mate,

Would all gather together and start to celebrate!

Uncles fondly reminiscing about good times long past,

While Aunties set up matches to get their kids married fast,

Young men playing XBOX and talking about sports and cars,

While young sisters make henna designs and swoon over Bollywood stars.

Cute little kids full of energy would rush about, jump, play, and sing,

And the furious Abu Grinch would shout, “I must stop this WHOLE THING!”

Then he got an idea! An absolutely AWFUL idea.

Abu Grinch got a terribly awful idea!

“I know just what to do!” Abu Grinch laughed in his throat.

And he grabbed his favorite hat and his puffy old coat.

And he chuckled and chortled, “What a great Grinchy plot!”

“I’ll turn them against each other; divide and split up the whole lot!”

And so Abu Grinch crept into the joyous town, completely unaware,

He began to speak poison to the Muslims, their emotions he’d ensnare.

What a delightful topic moon-sighting can be… oh, how swell.

Grand fights to start Ramadan, and the same fights in its farewell!

A stroke of a few egos, the spewing of jealously and spite,

Fanning flames in a family reunion, turning it into a bullfight!

The joy of ‘Eid was slowly being robbed; clear to anyone who could see,

Abu Grinch tried to take what the Muslims needed most- sweet harmony.

And as he chuckled and reveled in his cold-hearted glee,

He found himself towering over tiny little sister Imani.

She frowned at Abu Grinch, her tiny eyes welling up with tears,

“Why are you doing this?” she asked through his sneers.

“Sweet girl,” hissed the Grinch with a sinister scowl,

“They turned their backs on me, treated me quite foul”

Abu Grinch’s face snarled, “They don’t care at all for me.”

“And those who take away joy, don’t deserve to be happy.”

And then something happened, that Abu Grinch hadn’t planned,

Little sister Imani wiped her tears away and gently took his hand.

“Someone was mean to me once, too” she said without fear,

“But in Ramadan I forgave them, and I gave them gifts every year”

And so amongst all the Muslims fighting and arguing on every inch,

She took her small ‘Eid gift, a toy pony, and handed it to Abu Grinch.

“’Eid isn’t about the moon or the money” she said with a smile,

“It’s about sharing happiness, that’s what makes it worthwhile.”

Abu Grinch felt wobbly, his mind swept into a blur,

He never felt this way before, she caused quite a stir!

The Muslims around him overheard her words and felt its touch,

Who knew a child’s sweet innocence could teach them so much?

Abu Grinch balanced himself, his mind still feeling sore,

And then he thought of something he hadn’t before.

“Perhaps this day of ‘Eid means something much more.”

“A gift of escape from hardship and sadness that Muslims ask for.”

The ice of Abu Grinch’s cold heart began to melt as he felt inspired,

He finally found the happiness and welcome that he always desired.

And what happened then? Well in Islamville they say,

That Abu Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.

‘Eid Mubarak Everyone!

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Hailing from New York, Dr. O is a current medical student who blatantly misappropriates his study time by posting absurd articles lampooning the weird things he often notices within the Muslim community. His articles often contain unhealthy doses of odd wit and humor, sprinkled with overly-pretentious medical-jargon, but covered in a sweet milk-chocolate coating of small sincere life lessons. Despite not actually having a medical license and pretending to impersonate an actual physician online, Dr. O aims to heal patients with just a tiny bit of bitter advice contained within a sugary pill of light-hearted laughter. He hosts his own blog, Muslim Medicine, at http://www.muslimmedicine.net.

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Avatar

    H Khan

    August 8, 2013 at 5:44 AM

    Superb!!!
    {though to be honest i thought it was a case of ‘no-samosas-sent’ to the Grinch for iftaari. Tis trauma at its severest.}
    Enough said, Bring on the Eidi and Khajur ya akhi!
    :)
    v well done mA!

  2. Avatar

    Fulan Fulani

    August 8, 2013 at 11:39 AM

    This has got to be the BEST post on this site ever!

  3. Avatar

    Yahya Ali

    August 8, 2013 at 12:11 PM

    As Salaam aliakum …’Taqabal Allahu minna wa minkum‘
    (May Allah accept it from you and us)

    ***Eid Mubarak***…the story is great but I think we should use a different character and name.

  4. Avatar

    mk

    August 9, 2013 at 2:22 AM

    theres a bigger picture here with a message. if you can move past the character, this brings up a very valid point. it’s sad to see on facebook people’s silly messages of the use of the character and no mention of the message this story is trying to deliver. then again, humor is not for everyone.

  5. Avatar

    wael77

    August 9, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    Funny. I like it, and of course it’s a commentary on how we let ourselves be divided by small things rather than focus on the big picture. Best of all, I can read this to my 7 year old daughter and I think she’ll enjoy it and learn something.

  6. Avatar

    Yahya Ali

    August 10, 2013 at 4:39 PM

    I’m an American Muslim convert. I grew up in a christian home. 40 years ago I was 7 and the Grinch stole Christmas….that’s the way it is and always will be….we have to be careful what and the the way we teach our kids….like I said before the story is great but I think we should use a different character and name.

  7. Avatar

    theAMTG

    June 14, 2015 at 4:34 PM

    One word.
    EPICAPAPOCALYPTIC.
    MaShaaAllah. :)

  8. Avatar

    Gul Azhar

    June 19, 2016 at 3:58 AM

    Well done, MA. I think its very well written and very relataeble. My family and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I’m definitely sharing this! :)

  9. Avatar

    Tratamento Estrias

    December 22, 2016 at 7:05 PM

    I loved the article one of the best and enlightening

  10. Avatar

    Curso do martinho

    December 26, 2016 at 6:09 PM

    Great article, my congratulations

  11. Avatar

    Tasneem Badat

    April 10, 2017 at 7:54 AM

    Brilliant! Absolutely Brilliant! JazakALLAHkhair.

  12. Avatar

    joao vieira

    February 25, 2018 at 8:46 AM

    Grinch is so creepy

  13. Avatar

    ana santos

    March 17, 2018 at 9:11 PM

    I never liked the Grinch

  14. Avatar

    Maria Eloisa

    March 17, 2018 at 9:12 PM

    Very nice

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#Culture

Day of the Dogs, Part 7: The Underground Dream

Behind them, the city was burning. Omar and a thousand others descended into the cave, led by the red-robed Saviors.

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Caves of Borneo

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

This is chapter 6 in a multi-chapter novella.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6

“Not without you,” – Omar

Eggplant

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Omar’s mother flipped when she saw the bruising on his face – how could she not, when the whole right side of his face was the color of an eggplant – and demanded to know who had attacked him, but he merely told her he’d slipped and fallen in a pothole, which was true as far as it went. No point in freaking her out further with the details. Though Omar didn’t see why she should care. Nemesio had beaten him for years and she hadn’t stopped it. Why should it matter now? It smacked of hypocrisy.

He was not the type to give up on anything, so the next morning he ate the breakfast his mother prepared – scrambled eggs, corn tortillas with white cheese, and coffee – and set out again for Hani’s house. This time he made it without incident, although he was exhausted by the time he got there, and his shirt and hair were damp with sweat.

Hani lived in an orange-colored home with peeling paint and a high metal fence surrounding a tiny front yard. Curiously, there was a moving van parked in front of the house, and a stack of boxes on the front patio.

Hani’s mother, a thin Arab woman with a long face just like her son’s, answered the door.

“Omar!” she said warmly. “It’s been too long.” Then her eyes took in the scars on his face, his half-ruined ear, and the massive purple bruise on his face, and her smile faded. “What happened?” She pointed to her own cheek. “Is that bruising from the… the incident?”

“No. I fell down yesterday. But I’m fine.”

“I see. Be careful.” She seemed at a loss for a moment, then she said, “I saw you on television. Congratulations for the award.”

“Are you guys moving?”

Her smile faded. “Yes. We are moving to Bogotá. For Hani’s father’s work, you understand. I know Hani will miss you.”

“Oh.” Omar was taken aback. He and Hani had known each other since they were little. Now he was moving without warning? Omar doubled up his hands on the cane, resting more weight on it. “When are you leaving?”

“In a few days. Hani is not here. He went with his father to buy boxes.”

“Oh.” Knowing he must sound like a simpleton. “Should I come back later?”

Hani’s mother hesitated, emotions playing on her face like the shadows of rain clouds. “Maybe not. He will be very busy.”

Omar did not understand. He wanted to ask if she could give him a ride home, but was too embarrassed. He walked slowly home and collapsed into bed for a long afternoon nap.

Underground

Caves of Borneo Behind them, the city was burning. Not from bombs, but from the hands of citizens against citizens. But the bombs would fall soon, they were told, so they were led into the cave and down into the depths of the mountain’s roots, a thousand of them shuffling toe to heel in the shifting darkness, lit by the pale illumination of the hand-powered flashlights carried by the red-robed Saviors.

Omar craned his head at the barely seen walls and ceilings of the caverns they passed through. The cave was frigid and damp, and he could not imagine this as his new home.

They would be safe here, they were told, and would be fed. But they must work. Life would be hard. Such was the price of survival.

And oh, they did work. Not at farming, technology, communications, or tending to the sick. No, they worked at one thing: mining for gold. Omar was a digger, excavating shafts and spiral tunnels. Others were muckers, removing blasted materials, or mixers, using cyanide to break down the ore. Some died from the poisonous fumes. Others were killed by cave-ins, vanished into unseen pits or crevices, or died of malnutrition or exhaustion. The “food,” if it could be called that, consisted of freeze dried meals, holding as much moisture and flavor as cave dust.

A few objected to the unceasing work and terrible food. One in particular, a young man named Javier, stirred up a fuss. One day the Saviors seized him. They held a public trial, declared Javier a traitor, and dropped him into a bottomless crevice that everyone called the Pit. After that no one complained.

Omar saw Samia from time to time. She was lucky enough to be a dowser – one of the gifted few who had the ability to find veins of gold. The only tool she used was a small candle floating in a bowl of water, which she carried with her. Somehow it worked. She was better fed than the others but still thin, all her baby fat gone, and her skin had a grayish tint that worried Omar.

One of Omar’s co-laborers, a former Ngäbe-Buglé leader by the name of Toribio, had broken a rib when a supporting beam snapped. Omar covered for him, working twice as hard, doing Toribio’s work as well as his own. In return, Toribio gave Omar an entire loaf of flatbread. Real bread! Omar could not imagine where it had come from, and Toribio would not say.

That night, Omar slinked stealthily into the women’s sleeping area, where he found Samia jammed into a too-small sleeping hole. He woke her with a hand over her mouth, and gave her the bread. Her eyes widened and she nodded, and Omar departed as silently as he had come.

Toribio’s broken rib must have punctured his lung, because his condition grew worse, until one morning he would not wake. He was barely breathing, and his skin was ashen. Omar knew what would happen. The Saviors would throw the wounded man into the pit. His eyes flicked to Toribio’s boots. Toribio was small, about the same size as Samia. He would not need the boots where he was going. Omar unlaced them and pulled them off, feeling like a criminal.

That night, he slipped into the women’s area and gave Samia the boots. But one of the women must have seen him and reported him, because the next morning the Saviors yanked him out of the work line and beat him with a stave, until he was bruised and bleeding everywhere.

Omar knew that something was not right. If the Saviors cared about saving anyone, they would not treat people so cruelly. Also, the Saviors claimed that they met with other survivor clans and traded the mined gold for supplies. But if that were true, then why were they eating dreck and wearing rags? Why did they sleep in tiny rock chambers that they dug out themselves with hand tools?

Above ground, they were told, the world was a ruin. The cities were destroyed, the forests burned, the air poisoned. Only in these depths was there any hope of survival. But Omar wondered… The Saviors were robust, not starving like everyone else. And what would a ruined world need with gold?

Late one night, Omar followed one of the Saviors. If he were caught he’d be publicly beaten, and might not survive. He followed at the edge of the man’s light as the red-robed overseer sneaked up a narrow tunnel that led to a locked door. Omar memorized the route, knowing that if he came this way alone he would do it in darkness. The man unlocked the door and slipped through. Omar could not follow.

The next day, as he was carrying a wheelbarrow full of unprocessed ore, he bumped into that same Savior. The ore tumbled out. The man shouted in rage and beat Omar with a stick, splitting his cheek and bruising his ribs. But Omar had what he wanted: he’d slipped the key out of the man’s pocket in the chaos.

Late that night he crept out of his sleeping chamber and traveled up the long corridor in pitch darkness, walking with his eyes closed, relying on memory. He reached the door, unlocked it, and found no more than a continuation of the tunnel. But… wasn’t there a whisper of a breeze? He continued. Was the tunnel rising? And the air… it was fresher. Now he saw light ahead, not bright but a lighter shade of darkness than the inky depths below.

The tunnel emerged into the vast openness of the surface world. It was night, and the stars shone blindingly in the sprawling firmament. Had the sky always been so vast? Omar could not remember. The air was rich with the scents of leaves and soil. A night bird called, and it was the sweetest thing Omar had ever heard. He felt something on his face, wiped it away, and realized he was weeping.

The area was forested, except for a paved road that disappeared into the trees, and a squat stone building with firelight flickering through the windows. Omar heard laughter. He eased forward and peered through a window. Inside was a beautiful dining room with a wide wooden table, colorful fabrics hanging on the walls, and logs burning in a fireplace. At the table sat eight Saviors. Omar recognized their faces, though they looked different without their red robes, which hung on hooks along one wall.

They were feasting on dishes that Omar remembered as if through a dream: whole roasted chickens, platters of fish stewed with vegetables, fresh salads, fried plantains, and sliced mangoes and pineapples. Omar’s mouth was instantly full of saliva. But he must return before someone spotted him. The Saviors would kill him if they caught him. He stopped only long enough to pick up a freshly fallen leaf and thrust it into his pocket.

Back in his sleeping chamber, his mind raced. The people would not believe him. Their obedience of the Saviors was absolute. Every day they were told that they would be dead without the overseers’ vision and guidance, that the surface world was a wasteland, and that only through labor could they be saved. If the people reported him to the Saviors, he would be cast into the Pit.

He could simply leave. The key was burning a hole in his pocket, demanding to be used. There was no need to remain in this tomb of horrors. But… he could not leave without Samia. The two of them hardly spoke. But they were connected in a way he could not explain.

The next night he returned to Samia’s sleeping chamber, knowing someone might see him and report him. It was a risk he must take. In whispers, he told Samia what he had discovered.

She was skeptical. “The surface world is a wasteland, Omar. You were only dreaming. Go away before you get us both in trouble.”

He showed her the leaf. Her eyes widened. She felt it tenderly, smelled it, even bit a piece off and chewed it. She began to weep silently. Finally she thrust the leaf back at him, her hand shaking. “I can’t. I’m afraid. I don’t want to go in the Pit. It terrifies me. I can’t, Omar, I can’t. You go. At least one of us will be free of this nightmare. You leave.”

He silenced her with a finger on her lips. “Not without you,” he said softly. Then he departed as silently as he’d come. What could he do? Her fear was more real to her than his promise of freedom.

He hid the key beneath a stone in a disused mining tunnel, and went back to work. He would not abandon Samia. If she wanted to stay and be worked to death in this abyss, then he would do the same.

* * *

He woke with his hands clenched into fists. His heart felt like a withered leaf. Why was Samia so stubborn? Then relief washed over him as he realized it was only a dream. He was not a beaten-down, kidnapped laborer in an underground tomb.

How strange that Samia should appear in his dream. That had never happened before. The eerie thing was that even awake, he could not shake a sense of responsibility and guilt, as if he had truly abandoned some version of her, some alternate personality that existed in that mine, sleeping in a hole in the wall and slowly dying.

Snow in Fiji

After that movie night at his house, Omar had hoped that maybe he’d have actual friends at school. He’d be one of the “in crowd”. Especially now that Tameem and Basem were gone. But with Hani gone as well, Omar was the only boy left in his grade. There was no “crowd” left to be a part of.

Fiji snow globe Sure, the Muhammad sisters were cheery and kind. They brought him little gifts, like homemade cookies, and a snowglobe from Fiji, which was funny, since Omar was sure it had not snowed in Fiji in about five hundred million years. Nabila brought him sports jerseys, a Buffalo Bills baseball cap, and once even a cool pair of navy wraparound shades – all more sponsor swag.

But Halima was remote, finding excuses to avoid him. That stung. Not that he imagined she’d become his girlfriend. He knew that was not allowed in Islam. But when she smiled at him and made witty banter in her Colombian slang, he felt like he was drifting in a rowboat on a clear summer lake, and never wanted the moment to end.

The one time he gathered up the courage to ask Halima why she was so distant, she only smiled ruefully and said, “You’re out of my league, hermano.” Then she walked away. Omar assumed she was being sarcastic, and was actually telling him that she was out of his league. And of course she was right. Chastened, he left her in peace.

As for him and Samia, they mostly went back to ignoring each other. Omar appreciated the way she’d stayed by his side in the hospital, and her words of wisdom. But the two of them had never really been friends, unless you counted the way they’d pranked each other relentlessly when they were little. Samia was too much of a know-it-all for Omar’s taste.

Still, a string of odd incidents made him wonder. Once at lunchtime, a bottle of Pepsi that had been in his lunch bag exploded as he opened it, fountaining all over his face and shirt. Some kids laughed, while others were horrified, hurrying with napkins to help him clean up. What made Omar suspicious was that Samia, who sat at another table with her back to him, did not even turn to look.

Another time, when they sat for keyboarding class, Omar’s computer mouse would not work, no matter how much he jiggled it, unplugged it, and re-plugged it. Finally he turned it over, and saw that someone had stuck a post-it note over the optical sensor. Written on the note was, “HA HA HA.” Omar’s eyes shot to Samia. A Spanish speaker would have written, “JA JA JA.” Using the “h” gave the person away as a native English speaker. But Samia’s eyes were resolutely fixed on her computer screen.

Omar confronted Samia, who only rolled her eyelids and said, “Come on, Omar. That’s kid stuff.”

The Next Person Goes in the Garbage Can

In the middle of that eleventh grade year, a new boy named Fuad arrived to join Omar’s class. Omar was pleased to have another boy to keep him company, but Fuad was an odd duck. The Indian boy spoke in a heavy accent that Omar could barely understand, his eyeglasses were so thick you could see nothing but a blur behind them, and a mass of black hair always hung down over his eyes. He was physically awkward, and would sometimes rush out to the bathroom without even asking the teacher. A strange boy, altogether.

Lightning-scarred oak treeShortly after Fuad arrived, Omar overheard a few 12th graders making fun of him. They were both new kids whose parents had just moved to Panama. Mahboob, the leader, was a heavyset, full-cheeked Pakistani youth who looked more like a brown refrigerator than a high school student. He was known for being physically rough in football games. His sidekick, Asad, had a thin face that looked like a pressed Cuban sandwich, and a mass of curly hair much like Omar’s own.

Omar was sitting with his back against a tree in his usual spot on the yard, while the older boys sat at one of the nearby picnic tables. As Fuad walked past, Mahboob called out to him:

“Hey mophead! You’re so skinny, if we need to clean the floor we could hold you like a mop and use your hair.”

Mahboob grinned at his own joke, and Asad let out a high pitched, giggling laugh.

Fuad turned and said politely, “I beg your pardon? You are saying what about my hair?”

But Omar was already on his feet, striding quickly toward the boys, not even using his cane. He stopped in front of Mahboob and glared at the large youth. The hulking 12th grader could probably have picked up Omar and used him as a conga drum, and for a moment Mahboob looked as if he might be about to say something, but in the end he averted his gaze.

Omar had experienced this with all the kids since the dog attack. They held him in awe, or at the very least respected him. Though these two had not been hear last year, they must have heard about it.

Omar touched an index finger to his lips then pointed sharply with it – an Arab gesture he’d picked up during his years at IIAP. “Wallahi,” he growled, “the next person who bullies Fuad is going in the trash can. Try and see, if you don’t believe me.” He stared at each boy in turn, then walked away.

It wasn’t that he had any great fondness for Fuad. He barely knew him. But he’d been the victim of bullying for years while others stood by, and there was no way on Allah’s sweet earth that Omar was going to become one of those silent bystanders, letting apathy make him complicit in cruelty.

Apparently the bullies didn’t believe him.

The next day, after school dismissal, the Muhammad sisters’ mother, Sister Farida, had offered Omar a ride home. He was about to climb into their SUV when he realized he’d forgotten his homework folder in his desk. The 9th to 12th grade classrooms were located in an outbuilding behind the main building, flanking the basketball court. He went out there, retrieved the folder, and had just exited the classroom when he saw a drama developing between Fuad and the two older boys.

Fuad was apparently retrieving books from his locker. As he did, Mahboob and Asad stood behind him, blocking his way. The yard was mostly empty at that point, with only a few younger kids milling about, and no teachers. No one seemed to have noticed what was happening.

As he watched, Fuad said something to the boys and tried to walk away, but Mahboob stuck out a foot and tripped him. Fuad fell heavily on his face. His glasses skittered away, and his backpack opened, the books tumbling out.

The boys laughed. Omar saw Fuad put a hand to his mouth. It came away bloody.

Omar’s vision turned as red as a forest fire. His hands tightened into fists as he strode toward the bullies, not even hearing the clatter of his cane as it fell to the ground.

The look on his face must have been unmistakeable, because when Mahboob saw him coming he raised his hands in fists. His stance was terrible, however. He held his fists along the sides of his ears, as if he were one of the pre-Islamic Arabs trying not to hear the Quran. It was obvious he had no training.

Where the head goes, the body follows – one of the martial arts principles that Sensei Alan had drilled into him over the years. Omar could not lift Mahboob, but he could control the bigger boy’s head. Slapping Mahboob’s hands out of the way, he seized the boy’s hair in one hand and his throat in the other. Giving the twelfth grader no time to react, he used Mahboob’s head to drag him toward the trash can. Mahboob shouted, as did the others, but Omar paid no mind. With a heave, he chucked Mahboob headfirst into the trash barrel, which was brimming with the day’s food leftovers and chewed gum balls. The can could not hold him, and tipped over, dumping the trash onto Mahboob’s head.

Asad jabbed a finger at Omar. “You can’t do that!”

Omar seized the finger and bent it backwards, forcing Asad down to the ground, until he was lying on his stomach. Omar stepped on his neck. Mahboob was up by then, wet, sticky garbage clinging to his shirt and hair. His face was purple with rage and embarrassment. He and the other two boys glared at Omar. Comically, Mahboob took off his sandal and lifted it as if to slap Omar with it. Thank goodness he has no confidence, Omar thought. Or he would just pick me up and slam me.

“I can do this all day,” Omar said calmly. The red fog was gone. He knew what he had done, and didn’t care. Boys like this were wild dogs. His days of backing down to dogs were over. “So far it’s garbage and a bent finger. You want to move up to broken bones?” He turned a fierce stare onto Mahboob. Under the weight of his glare, the hefty boy dropped the sandal and slipped his foot back into it.

Asad screamed and thrashed beneath his foot. Omar removed his foot and stepped back.

“You know about those dogs that attacked me?”

“Yeah, we know!” Asad shouted as he rose to his feet. Tears filled his eyes. “So what?”

“You know what happened to them?”

“No.”

“They’re dead. If you bully Fuad again, I’ll come after you. You outnumber me, but I don’t stop. You’ll have to kill me, or I will kill you.”

Mahboob pointed a shaking finger at Omar, then – apparently remembering what had happened to Hamada – retracted it quickly. “You’re crazy!” he shouted. He turned away, and Asad followed. Mahboob kicked the basketball pole, then cried out in pain and limped on, pulling garbage out of his hair.

Someone touched his shoulder and Omar was surprised to find Fuad standing beside him. The boy had recovered his belongings. His lower lip was split, and he’d apparently wiped the blood away with his white school shirt. The bloodstains looked ghastly.

“You did not have to do that,” Fuad said. “But I thank you nonetheless.”

Omar suppressed a grin at Fuad’s oddly proper English. “It’s nothing.”

The main building’s back door opened, and Nabila stuck her head out. “Omar! We’re waiting for you.”

Omar slapped his forehead. He’d forgotten. Nodding goodbye to Fuad, he retrieved his cane and hustled out to the parking lot. As he settled himself in the van, Nadia said, “What took you so long? I’m writing a book called Rip Van Omar.”

“Oh.” Omar wiped sweat from his forehead. “I got caught in a parade.”

Neither a Miracle Nor a Brute

Omar was worried about the repercussions of the fight. He could be permanently expelled. Nothing happened, however. The other boys apparently did not report the incident. Still, word must have gotten out, because no one so much as spoke a slantwise word to Fuad after that.

Omar also noticed that the deference the other kids afforded him seemed to increase, to the point where he got more respect than the principal. Younger kids came running to him instead of a teacher when someone pushed them around. Some kids brought him fruit or chips. When he made his way down a crowded hallway it cleared in front of him.

Omar and Fuad began eating lunch together. Once Omar got used to the thick accent, he found Fuad to be smart and funny, though his sense of humor – all math and physics jokes – took some getting used to. (Two atoms are walking down the street. One says, “I think I lost an electron.” The other says, “Are you sure?” The first one says, “Yes, I’m positive.”)

One weekend Fuad invited Omar to come to his house to play cards and have dinner. Omar didn’t know any card games, but he accepted. Aside from Fuad and his parents, there was a younger brother with equally thick hair and glasses – Omar had seen him at school, he was a fourth grader – and a little girl named Anika who continually charged around the apartment waving a toy lightsaber.

Indian rice and cauliflower dish When dinner was served, Omar started in on a dish of rice, stewed beef and cauliflower. He took two bites before his mouth began to burn. He gulped down water, but that only made it worse. His eyes began to water, and he was sure his face was cherry red.

Fuad’s mother was apologetic. In spite of Omar’s protests, she went into the kitchen and, ten minutes later, returned with a dish of rice and cauliflower sans spice. For the rest of the evening, nearly everyone teased him about his “tender tongue.” After dinner, Fuad taught him a game called hearts, then the entire family sat to play.

In the middle of the game, Fuad suddenly leaped up and rushed off to the bathroom. Omar laughed. “He does that at school too! Like it’s always an emergency.”

Fuad’s father, a gentle man with a thick moustache, touched Omar’s arm. “He has epilepsy. The medication stops the grand mal seizures, but he still gets petit mal attacks. He can feel them coming, so he runs away to hide. He’s very embarrassed by it.”

Omar was mortified. Fuad’s father must have seen that, because he touched Omar’s arm again. “You did not know. Fuad told us what you did for him. We are grateful.”

Omar visited Fuad many times after that. It was always the same: Fuad’s mom would make one meal for the family, and a separate meal for Omar. Then the family would either play cards, watch a movie or all go for a walk together.

Omar enjoyed these visits, but at the same time he felt like he did not belong. These people were part of something Omar had rarely seen: a happy family. The only other one he’d seen, in fact, was Tio Niko and Tia Teresa’s family. They at least were relatives, and were Panamanians, with all the familiarity, loudness and general nuttiness that implied. But Fuad’s family were polite and soft-spoken – even Anika, the sword wielder, who would charge around waving her lightsaber then lightly tap Omar on the shoulder and say, “Touché, dear sir.”

They were gentle, normal people. Omar had a feeling none had ever committed a violent act, or been a victim of one. Whereas his own life had been immersed in violence for years. His father’s murder. Nemesio beating him. Sparring in karate class. The dog attack. The mugging. He couldn’t escape it. When he sat with Fuad’s family he felt like a fraud. His voice was too loud, his hands too rough, his scars too visible. He was a brute, and he did not belong.

At times, during these visits, Omar felt almost overwhelmed by these feelings. When that happened, he often remembered Samia saying, “Tu, hermano. Eres el milagro.” You, brother. You are the miracle. Sometimes the memory of these words would bring tears to his eyes, and he would excuse himself and go to the bathroom to wash his face. As strange as this was to admit, a part of him felt like if anyone truly understood him, it was Samia. He didn’t think he was truly a miracle, as she claimed. But maybe he was not a brute either. Maybe he was something in the middle. Maybe he was just human.

A Lifeline in a Choppy Sea

Aside from the persistent, low-level pain from his injuries – particularly in his left leg, which had actually been broken by the dogs’ teeth – he felt better this year than at any time since his father’s death. Still, there were times when he was dizzied by all the changes, and fell into sadness. Part of him missed having Hani around, exchanging banter with Halima, and practicing karate.

And as crazy as it was, he almost – almost – felt like he missed the abuse and bullying he’d been subjected to. He felt baffled and angry at himself for feeling this way, and cursed himself for being an idiot. What was wrong with him? But the thing was, as terrible as the last four years had been, the viciousness had given his life purpose. Every day he’d awakened and known that the day would be a battle, and he could rely on no one but himself to survive it. Whether it meant keeping his head down and hiding, or turning himself into a stone, so that nothing affected him, his mission was to get through the day without letting it break him. He even missed having to run away to Tia Teresa and Tio Niko’s house when the abuse became intolerable. The constant struggle had defined him.

Now, he felt directionless. There were his studies, sure. And he helped his mom with Puro Panameño after school, boxing products and printing shipping labels. But what was he really doing? Where was he going? He’d never had the luxury of being able to think about these things before.

He’d always been attentive to his salat, but not rigorously so, and had often missed prayers. Now, though, he found himself turning to the salat as if to a lifeline thrown to an overboard sailor in a choppy sea. It wasn’t a conscious choice. The salat reminded him of his days as a small child, when his father had taught him what to say and how to move. It was a respite from confusion. A few still, calm moments in which he knew once again who he was:  not an abused boy entering each new day like a soldier at war, but a servant of Allah, a worshiper, and a member of a nation of 1.5 billion souls. If he had a mission and a purpose, then it must be tied to that, because in the end, nothing else was real.

Love Letter

The year went by, and the next. Every two or three months there would be a new prank. He did not feel bullied by them, though. They were a mystery to be solved. But in two years he never discovered the perpetrator.

He graduated high school with high honors. The scars on his face were much less noticeable, though his ear would always be disfigured. He’d pushed himself with physical therapy and had resumed karate class, though he had to make adjustments. He could not kick with his left leg, for example, and found himself relying more on hand techniques. Sparring was out of the question. He no longer needed a cane, but still walked with a limp.

His mother’s company, Puro Panameño, now had a small warehouse space on the Transistmica, and two full-time employees. Omar worked there part time, taking customer service calls. The customers were almost all women, and the regulars got to know him by name. Some had seen him on TV. They’d ask about his life, and flirt with him in the harmless way many Panamanian women did.

Pink envelope On the last day of school, Halima gave him a small golden envelope, telling him to open it at home. Later, sitting on the edge of his bed, he opened it to find an ornately folded letter. When he unfolded it, a pressed rose fell out. He picked it up, set it on the bed and began to read the  handwritten letter:

I’m sorry that I have not been friendly the last few years. After the Day of the Dogs, I found myself thinking of you all the time, and I had to admit to myself that I loved you. I have never known anyone so strong, brave and smart like you. And not only because of what you did that day. Even before that, I knew your life wasn’t easy, and I admired the way you never let anyone stop you from advancing.

I never told you this because there’s no point. I know you would not want to do anything haram, and I feel the same. Now my father is sending me to Universidad Nacional de Colombia, his alma mater. I will live with my aunt. So I will never see you again. Besides, I’m not good enough for you. I never was. Take care of yourself. I will always remember you.

Your dear friend,
Halima

Omar was stunned. Never in his wildest imaginings would he have thought Halima had such feelings for him. And what did she mean that she was not good enough for him? He wanted to rush to her house and say, “No, don’t leave, you are good enough for me. I love you too!” But did he actually love her? He wasn’t sure he knew what love was.

Sure, there was the Hollywood version where two people were caught up in a wonderful, heated passion. Those romances always ended in disaster, at least in the movies. One of them killed the other, or one was a con artist, or an undercover cop. Then there was the version where the straight-laced, boring man fell in love with the mad, hot, out-of-control woman. That didn’t seem to apply. Oh yeah, and the one where one of the pair was not who they were portraying to be. The prince who pretended to be a commoner, or the college professor who was mistaken for a spy. Omar didn’t see how any of those related to his situation.

He liked Halima for sure, but love? He guessed not. Plus, she was leaving, and it was probably true that they’d never see each other again. Shaking his head, he let out a perplexed sigh. Life was confusing. At times like this he wished his father was alive.

He slid the letter and rose back into the envelope, stuck it in the bottom of a shoebox that contained miscellaneous old letters and postcards, and did his best to forget it.

Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 8:  Rich and Poor

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 and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

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Day of the Dogs, Part 6: The Curious Sensation of Pity

He reached to take her hand – and her other hand swung out from behind her back. Omar caught a glimpse of a large, rough-edged chunk of cement…

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Panama City slum, Panama

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

This is chapter 6 in a multi-chapter novella.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5

“You’re out of my league, hermano.” – Halima

Hundred Watt Smiles

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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.

Omar sat on a plush stool as an oddly muscular fortyish woman with pencil thin eyebrows applied makeup to his face.

Panama City, Panama high rises He’d been picked up that morning by a chauffeur driving a black town car, and delivered to the TVN studio, located on the 40th floor of a Calle 50 high rise. His mother was at work. He was alone on what felt like the biggest day of his life.

He’d worn his school uniform of blue pants and white cotton shirt, having nothing at all “dressy” to wear, but another lady came by – the wardrobe lady, young and skinny with a tight expression on her face. Fingering his sleeve, she said, “this won’t do,” and gave him a blue dress shirt.

He took it into the green room’s exotic bathroom, outfitted with magnifying mirrors on jointed arms and real orchids growing in wall sconces. His face was flushed with nervousness, and he wanted to splash some water on his cheeks, but he’d been warned by the makeup lady not to do so.

Someone knocked: “On the air in ten!”

“Okay,” Omar called back. “I’m almost done.”

In reality he was doing nothing but standing at the sink, looking in the mirror. He looked like a clown. But the makeup lady assured him that it would not show on camera and was necessary to reduce the glare of the set lights.

A giant, he told himself. I may be short, but I’m a giant. I can do this. Noticiera Estelar, starring Omar Bayano. He chuckled at his own stupidity.

Pretending a confidence he did not feel, he limped onto the set with his head high. He saw the two hosts – a 20ish man with spiky blond hair, and an older woman with angular cheekbones and a polished smile – take in his cane and scars. Their hundred-watt smiles flickered, then returned as bright as ever.

The five minute segment went well. The hosts dispensed praise like candy, and while the young man cracked corny jokes (“You’ll be famous now, the ladies will love you”), the woman asked surprisingly relevant questions about Omar’s injuries, and even about Samia, since she was the other person injured in the attack. She’d done her homework.

When they asked how he was spending his summer, he replied, “I’m helping my mom with her organic makeup company, Puro Panameño.”

Mango ice cream When it was over they chauffeured him home (and let him keep the shirt). It was strange, returning to an empty house after that. He scrubbed off the makeup and ate mango ice cream while watching football.

His mother came home and asked about the interview. It bothered him a bit that she’d missed it, but he knew it wasn’t her fault. If they’d had a VCR they could have taped it, but they were too poor for that. But couldn’t she have taken a few minutes off and watched it in the Arrocha break room or something?

Say Hip Hop

Around 6 pm the door knocker sounded. He limped to the door, opened it, and there – to his astonishment – were the Muhammad sisters, with Nadia and Naris in their colorful traditional clothing, and Nabila in jeans and a tennis shirt, wearing a backpack and bobbing her head to music only she could hear. Nadia held up a VCR tape and exclaimed, “You’re a celebrity!”

“You did well,” Naris said unsmilingly. “I was impressed.” She carried a VCR machine with the cord dangling to the ground.

Omar’s mouth fell open. “You taped it? How did you even know?”

Nabila kept time with her hand as she rapped, “Your mom gave us the lowdown, because we got the know-how, we’re bringing it on like Motown, we’re three at a pop and we don’t stop, all the Muslims in the house say hip hop-”

“Heep hope” said a heavily Spanish accented voice from behind the girls, and here came Halima, with her father waving goodbye from the family minivan. She looked amazing in black slacks, a black and white checkered top and a gray hijab that set off her green eyes. Before Omar could say anything a pizza delivery car pulled up and a young man trotted up with three large pizzas.

“Let your friends in,” Omar’s mother said. Nabila unslung the backpack and opened it, pulling out an Adidas shoebox that she handed to Omar.

“What’s this?”

“Sponsor swag. These look like they might fit you.”

They were brand new Adidas hi-tops. All black, except for the trademark Adidas stripes, which were white. Omar fingered the leather. They were beautiful shoes, better than anything he’d ever owned. And they were his size! “I don’t know what to say, Nabila.”

“No worries, bro. I get plenty.”

Soon they had the machine hooked up and were all settled in front of the TV, Omar on a folding chair and the ladies crowded onto the love seat and sofa. The doorbell rang again. Mamá went to the door and returned with Hani, followed by Samia and her younger brother, a fifth grader named Nuruddin. Omar was especially happy to see Hani, but the boy seemed reticent, and avoided meeting his eyes. Was he still tripping over what had happened?

Samia did not look good. Her hijab was pulled very low over her eyes, almost like a hood, maybe to hide the few scars that were visible just below her hairline. She’d already been chubby, but she’d gained more weight, and her breath was an audible wheeze. Beyond that, her eyes were troubled somehow, as though an unseen shadow was playing over her features.

They watched the interview three times, and each time the kids cheered when Omar was announced. It was so strange, sitting in his own home surrounded by – friends? – was that what these were?

Then Nadia said, “movie time!’ and popped in another tape. Omar was afraid it would be a chick flick, but to his surprise and excitement it was a Bruce Lee film.

A horn honked outside. Three short blasts. Hani rose. “That’s my ride.”

“Come on, hermano,” Omar pleaded. But Hani insisted, saying he had things to do. Omar started to stand, using his cane to lift himself up, but Hani put up a hand.

“No, man, don’t get up. Please. Just…” He shook his head, walked to the door and let himself out.

Down the Rabbit Hole

\After the TV interview, the trickle of orders for his mother’s products became a stream. So did the interview requests. They came pouring in from all over the world, by email and by phone. Every day he did three or four phone or webcam interviews, with TV shows and newspapers from as far afield as Bogotá, Lima, Mexico City and even New York, and some in person as well, when the media sent people to see him. He did not travel. Some paid him, some did not.

It came to a climax when President Juan Carlos Varela invited him to the Palacio de Las Garzas, where he was given the Manuel Amador Guerrero award, the highest civilian honor in Panama.

The day the call came, Omar and his mother stood gaping at each other. It felt like he was living in a strange reality that was half nightmare – with his injuries and pain – and half marvelous dream. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to wake up, or keep dreaming.

This time his mother took the day off and came with him. Omar wore the blue shirt that TVN had let him keep, and a pair of new black slacks, dress shoes, and a tie. Every Panama news station was rolling tape as President Varela placed the medal around Omar’s neck, while Omar’s mother stood beside him and beamed like the tropical sun. The medal was shaped like a white cross surrounded by golden rays, and was heavy around his neck. Omar accepted the cross solemnly, unwilling to say, “I’m a Muslim, I can’t wear this.” When President Varela asked how he was coping since the attack, Omar smiled at the cameras and said, “I stay busy working for my mom’s makeup company, Puro Panameño.”

Now he had definitely tumbled down Alice’s rabbit hole and was looking at the Cheshire cat coalescing into being before him. First the glittering, toothy smile, then the rest, bit by bit, ending in the tail. But he never let the attention go to his head. He sensed that this particular cat was one that could either curl up at your feet and purr, or eat you alive, leaving nothing behind but your bones.

The orders flowed in like the Chagres River, until their small kitchen was filled with shipping boxes, and Mamá was working fourteen hours a day.

Árabe Unido

Estadio Armando Dely Valdes in PanamaThe stadium, Estadio Armando Dely Valdés, held 4,000 people, and was packed to the rafters. People chanted, cheered, and blew horns. Mamá had surprised him with tickets to an Árabe Unido game for his birthday in late July. He had not been to a game since Papá died. It was the semifinal match against Tauro in the Liga Panameña championship.

Omar wore his number 58 jersey, along with a blue and white striped Árabe Unido hat from the concession stand. The concession lady recognized him, as people sometimes did, and insisted on giving him the hat free of charge.

Their seats were all the way down near the field. Making his way down the stadium steps, Omar had to be careful. His left calf had been badly damaged in the dog attack, and his left shin had been fractured by a dog’s tooth. Neither wound had yet fully healed. He held tightly to the railing with one hand as he descended, and with his other hand gripped the cane that he used to take weight off his leg.

Still, he was so thrilled by the scene before him that he hardly noticed the pain. The field was brilliant green, the sky so blue he imagined he could dive upwards into it and swim. The air smelled of cotton beer and french fries, and was so thick with humidity that Omar had sweat spreading out all over his body, even on the backs of his hands.

As they made their way toward their seats in row A2, Omar spotted a tall young man with curly hair sitting in A1. His parents were with him, as well as his younger sister. It was Tameem, and Omar remembered that this was one of the few things in the world that he and Tameem had in common. Tameem was an Árabe Unido fan.

Tameem happened to glance over his shoulder. The older boy’s face went blank as he spotted Omar, no doubt taking in Omar’s scarred face and arms, mangled left ear, his limp, and the cane that he needed to walk. Tameem turned to his father and spoke in the man’s ear. The father looked up at Omar, and the two of them – father and son – appeared to argue. Then the entire family stood up and began to leave.

The only thing Omar could think was that Tameem was ashamed. Tameem had bullied him all through their childhoods, but somehow the situation was now reversed. Omar had become the strong one, sure of himself. It wouldn’t have mattered to him if Tameem had suddenly hollered, “Punching Bag!” or “Patacon.” Such things seemed petty now. He would have laughed it off. But Tameem couldn’t face him.

Omar had hated this bully for so long. In school they’d learned about Argentina’s guerra sucia, their “dirty war” of the 1970’s and 80’s, when right-wing government death squads would fly their enemies out over the ocean in helicopters and drop them in. Omar remembered wishing he could do the same to Tameem.

Now, though, he found himself wondering what it must be like for the older boy, reviled by their friends as a coward. What did Tameem have left now? He’d never been a good student. Omar suddenly perceived the older boy as a mask of arrogance worn by a mannequin. An empty thing. The thought gave him a chill, and he experienced the curious sensation of pity, not for himself but for his tormentor.

He called out, “Tameem!” He was going to say, “You don’t have to leave.” But the older boy didn’t look back.

Armando Cooper of Árabe Unido in action

Armando Cooper of Árabe Unido runs it down.

At halftime, the stadium announcer said, “Give a hand of applause to Omar Bayano, recipient of the Manuel Amador Guerrero award for bravery.” The crowd roared. Omar looked up and there he was on the jumbotron, wide-eyed, his mouth hanging open. His mother lifted his hand and waved it, and the crowd laughed.

Árabe Unido won four to one, and by the time the game was over Omar’s throat was sore from cheering. The blue express had done it again. If only his father had been there it would have been the best day of his life, bar none.

Heroism Befitting a Believer

Returning to school, all Omar knew was that he wanted no pity. He had, at some point, stopped caring about people’s reactions to his scars. He did not regret what had happened to him. He’d done the right thing, trying to save Samia. If he could do it over again, he’d make the same choice. So what sense did bitterness make?

It was true, he still had nightmares. And on the rare occasions when he went out walking, he was nervous, constantly looking over his shoulder. Not that he blamed the dogs who’d attacked him. They had only reacted to Tameem’s provocations. He wished they had not had to die, but he told himself that the dogs’ deaths were not his burden to carry. Like Surat An-Najm said: no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another. Even so, they had been living creatures, with minds and hearts. Omar knew violence well, and would not wish a violent death on any living thing.

Tameem did not return to IIAP, nor did Basem. Strangely, Hani did not come back either. That first day back, the principal called him up in front of the entire school at morning assembly and gave him a trophy. Inscribed at the base were the words, “For heroism befitting a believer.” Omar found the attention embarrassing.

The other kids treated him with deference, parting for him in crowded hallways, and holding doors for him. Some of the little kids even called him ustadh, which he found hilarious.

Strangely Colored Hope

The first Saturday after school started, he decided to walk to Hani’s house, on the southern end of Panama Viejo. He wanted to know what had happened to the boy. Had he transferred schools for some reason? He put on his number 58 jersey and new Adidas, grabbed his metal cane, and set out.

Panama City slum, Panama

Panama Viejo

Panama Viejo, true to its name, consisted of a slum of dilapidated houses that sprawled along the waterfront, within sight of the skyscrapers of tony Punta Paitilla on one side, and towering Costa del Este on the other. Being on the waterfront did not mean beach access. For one thing, Panama Viejo was cut off from the sea by the taut line of the Corredor Sur highway. Furthermore, there was no beach. Just smelly mud flats that bordered a bay polluted with effluent.

Omar walked through the muddy streets, doing his best to keep the new kicks clean, and pulling his shirt up to cover his nose and mouth whenever a diesel-fueled diablo rojo rumbled by. He detoured around potholes, sometimes stopping to rest his arm, which tired from supporting his weight on the cane. Occasionally he switched the cane to the other hand, angling it to relieve his left leg. Hani’s house was normally a fifteen minute walk, but Omar had a feeling it would take a lot longer today.

The working class inhabitants of this neighborhood drove taxis and buses, cleaned floors and toilets, worked as cashiers, cooks and servers, styled hair and nails, or simply peddled goods on the street. Some did what was called in Panama, “mata el cameron” – killing the shrimp, which meant any odd jobs that paid the rent. And some walked the wrong side of the law, robbing, extorting, and selling drugs or people.

Many lived in fear in this barrio. But Omar had never been afraid. When his father had been alive, and they’d sat on the front steps at night watching the stars, Omar had always felt supremely safe. Papá could handle anyone. But Omar had been wrong about that. Papá was not superman. He could not defeat any bad guy. And if he couldn’t rely on that, then what could he rely on? The world might as well be jello, for all the solidity and security it offered.

After Papá died, Omar was still not afraid, but now it was because he didn’t care what happened to him. What did it matter? If he died in an accident or a mugging, a few people would fill a few thimbles with tears, and the world would roll on, turning inexorably into the horizon like a celestial bulldozer.

He still felt that. He’d been lauded in the media and given awards, but a big part of him felt like he could disappear right now, fall into a bottomless pothole, and there would be no butterfly effect, no tiny ripples as Samia liked to say. His absence would not save the life of a stranger in China. And… he wanted to say that he himself would not care. Living or dead, what was the difference?

He’d felt that way for so long that it felt strange to feel any different.

But he did feel different. Somehow some stray light beams had slipped into his Stygian interior. Some strangely colored hope. It was an odd feeling, almost uncomfortable, but it made him lighter on his feet in spite of his injuries. He stopped walking and gazed up at the moisture-laden afternoon clouds coursing in from the south. He might get rained on. For so long he’d wanted to be anywhere else but here, in this decaying barrio, living this ramshackle life. Today, though – it amazed him to think this – he was okay with existing right here, right now.

Blue Braces

At the moment this thought flitted through his brain, he was standing beside a house with a chain link fence. Suddenly a dog ran up to the fence and barked. It was not a large dog. Some sausage-shaped breed, maybe a dachshund. But its approach frightened Omar badly. He broke into a run purely out of instinct, driven by a pointless but overpowering dread. He managed a half dozen steps before his injured leg gave out. Planting the cane to check his fall, he missed the mark, the tip sliding into a pothole. He fell heavily in the rutted, dirty road. Only his karate training saved him from injury. At the last second he turned in the air and took the fall on his side, as he’d been taught.

He looked up to see two women striding briskly toward him. They were in their mid twenties or early thirties perhaps, and had the angular, used-up look that some women get when they’ve lived too hard. One, a wiry woman with mahogany skin, wore cellophane-tight jeans and new sneakers, and had blue braces on her teeth. The other was white and very thin, and wore a tank top and red shorts that exposed sores on her pale legs. “Hey little brother,” the one with the braces called out. “Are you okay?”

As they neared, the blue braces lady reached out a hand to help him up. Veins that stood out beneath the skin of her muscled arm, and a tattoo of a dandelion covered the back of her hand, with the seeds blowing away up her forearm. A perpetual wish for a better life, Omar supposed.

He reached out to take her hand – and her other hand swung out from behind her back. Omar caught a split-second glimpse of the object she gripped – a large, rough-edged chunk of cement – but didn’t even have time to cry out before it struck him across the face with the force of a sledgehammer. He tumbled back onto the road. Pain seared his face, and his head rang like a gong. One of the women kicked him in the stomach and he folded in over himself, all the breath expelled from his body.

Hands rifled through his pockets. One found his faux leather wallet, pulled it out. Omar knew there was nothing in there except five dollars, a miniature copy of Surat Yasin the school had given him at graduation last year, and a clipping of a newspaper article about him. He had twenty dollars on him – a bit of his newfound wealth from the paid news interviews – but it was tucked inside his sneakers.

Blue Braces rolled him onto his back, then slapped his face with his own wallet. He was still gasping for breath, trying to force air into his lungs.

“Where the money at, puto?” the woman demanded. “I know you got some. Look at these sick kicks. Fancy football shirt, walkin’ with a cane like some kinda gentleman. And this.” She pulled his copper bracelet off his wrist and slid it onto her own. Pulled his little flip phone out of his pocket and took that too. Then she opened the wallet, pocketed the five dollar bill, and flicked the copy of Surat Yasin into the street.

Omar went cold. To disrespect and abuse him was one thing. But there was no world in which he would tolerate someone disrespecting the Quran in his presence. And as for the bracelet, his father had given it to him. His FATHER.

Breath came into his lungs. The pain in his face and stomach vanished, and all emotion fell away. He knew what was happening to him. He’d seen Sensei Alan switch into this state of awareness when sparring. It was frightening, sparring with Alan. Something inside the man would change and you’d see it in his face, which would go as flat as a marble slab. Omar had once kicked Sensei in the stomach while sparring, a hard snap kick, connecting with the ball of his foot. It should at least have driven him back. But the man walked right through it.

He understood now. Cold descended upon him, and he felt as calm as a glacier. A roaring sound filled his ears, and though his eyes were wide and unblinking, his vision narrowed so that he saw only the two women.

Blue Braces pulled a screwdriver from her pocket, took a handful of Omar’s shirt in one hand and pressed the tip into his cheek. She shouted something, her spittle striking his forehead. The screwdriver should have hurt but he felt nothing, and did not hear her words. The two muggers were little dogs, yapping. Dogs again, always dogs, coming at him, attacking him. But he knew how to deal with dogs, didn’t he? He didn’t back down to dogs.

“No,” he said, responding not to any particular thing Blue Braces had said, but to the entire situation.

Blue Braces screwed up her features, said something.

Omar heard only the sound of ocean waves crashing in his ears. “No,” he repeated more loudly.

Blue Braces spoke over her shoulder to Skinny Legs, who hauled back her foot to kick again. Her foot flew at Omar’s thigh. He pulled up one knee and let the woman’s toes impact his kneecap. A common sparring technique. She cried out soundlessly and turned in a circle, hopping on one foot. Blue Braces gripped Omar’s shirt tighter and drove the tip of the screwdriver into his cheek. He felt it break the skin and sink into the flesh. Yet there was no pain. Only pressure.

Enough of this.

“I SAID NO!” He shrimped to the side, seized the wrist that held the screwdriver, then struck Blue Braces in the throat with the web of his hand, using the L-shaped part of the hand formed by the index finger and thumb. This was not a sparring strike, but a technique from kata – the set forms he had practiced thousands of times. It was called the tiger’s mouth.

Immediately Blue Braces released the screwdriver and clutched her throat, gagging. Omar shoved her and she fell away. He stood and faced Skinny Legs. Her green eyes were wide now, her hands up in a placating gesture. Omar kicked her in the stomach, not a snapping kick but a powerful thrusting kick that drove deeply into her abdomen. She flew backward, literally coming off her feet, and crashed to the ground, moaning in agony as she rolled in the dirt.

Omar turned back to Blue Braces, who was still clutching her throat. Her face was turning blue. If he’d crushed her trachea she would die without medical intervention. He took his bracelet back, then dug into her pockets and recovered his phone and cash. A handful of crumpled bills spilled from the woman’s pocket, maybe a hundred dollars, but Omar left that. He found his wallet and surah in the street and wiped the surah on his shirt to clean it.

Reymundo is My Guide

He picked up his cane and began to walk away, and was nearly overcome by a wave of nausea, dizziness and pain. He pushed through it and kept on walking, leaning heavily on the cane, barely aware of his environment. If someone else tried to rob him in that moment he’d be done for. When he’d covered two blocks he came to a small store with a sign that said, “Reymundo is My Guide Panama Viejo Snacks and Lottery.” He’d seen this place before and had always noticed it because Reymundo was his own father’s name. But he’d never actually stopped here.

The shop had a little wooden bench out front, one leg chained and locked to an eye bolt in the ground. Omar sat, took out his phone and dialed 911 for the ambulance service. A woman answered and he gave her Blue Braces’ location and condition, then hung up.

“Hey son,” the shopkeeper called. “Are you okay?” He was an old man with wide Indian features and gray hair, and wore round spectacles.

Omar stepped up to the shop’s small window and looked over the goods. What could he get for $5? He settled on a bottle of Coke and a cheese empanada. The shopkeeper refused Omar’s money. “I know you,” the man said. “I knew your Papá. He was a great man.”

Omar returned to the bench and began to eat and drink. The shopkeeper emerged with a box full of medical supplies. Omar started to protest but the old man ignored him. As Omar ate, the man cleaned Omar’s face with a hot towel, applied alcohol with a cotton swab – that hurt badly, making Omar flinch – then applied three bandages.

“Your father help me build this place,” the man said. “You know that?”

Omar shook his head.

“Oh yes. He was very handy. I buy a big pile of bricks and mortar, and we put this place up in a week. He used to come here, help me move boxes, do repairs. My name is Melocoton.”

Omar gave the man a quizzical look. He was named after a fruit? He had a thought. “Wait a minute,” he said slowly. “The Reymundo in your sign?”

The old man grinned, showing teeth that were yellowed but intact. “Your Papá. Is a story. I tell you someday. Anytime you come here, no charge for the son of Reymundo Bayano.”

Omar thanked the man and decided he was ready to head for home. He’d try the trip to Hani’s house again tomorrow, if he was up to it. Right now he just needed to rest.

By the time he was close to home his face and body were drenched in sweat, and his arm trembled from supporting his weight on the cane. He was exhausted and sore everywhere, and his face ached. As it turned out, the sweat at least was not a problem, because when he was one block from home the sky unleashed its torrent, and the rain came down like the curtain at the end of a Greek tragedy.

Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 7:  The Underground Dream

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 and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

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Day of the Dogs, Part 5: Sorceress of the Forest

The eagle perched on one of the upper branches. It was a bizarre looking creature, and made him think of a child wearing a dark cloak and a mask.

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Harpy eagle

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

This is chapter 5 in a multi-chapter novella.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 |

“You must overcome your fear.” – Mamá

Home Alone

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OMAR WAS RELEASED FROM THE HOSPITAL two weeks after the attack. Nemesio was gone, and that was a barakah as great as a cloud. The miserable man had taken his things and disappeared, leaving behind only a scattering of old papers and business magazines in the drawers of Omar’s old desk – the desk that Nemesio had appropriated for himself. Omar was going to throw them out but Mamá said no, put them in a box and store it in the closet. Shaking his head, he did so. He did not tell Mamá about the ultimatum he’d given Nemesio.

Cash money in a can The next day Mamá discovered that Nemesio had stolen the gold bracelet that had been given to her by her mother, as well as a wad of cash – Mamá’s emergency savings that she kept inside an old Thermos bottle in the kitchen cupboard. She hadn’t known that Nemesio knew about it.

Mamá was melancholy, but Omar tried to reassure her, telling her, “Whatever Nemesio stole is a small price to be rid of him.” After that they did not speak of him again.

Omar could finally breathe. Mamá’s mood too improved as the days passed, and he saw her smiling and laughing for the first time in years.

* * *

Hospital Nacional, Panama

Hospital Nacional, Panama

Mamá had to go back to her job at Farmacias Arrocha. She’d taken time off after the Day of the Dogs, but couldn’t afford to miss any more work.

On the three days a week when Omar had physical therapy, he took a taxi to Hospital Nacional and back. He got to know many of the nurses and orderlies by name. There was one nurse, an Afro-Latina woman named Leticia, who told Omar he reminded her of her younger brother, who had gone to New York for university. She often brought him chips or brownies from the hospital cafeteria.

There were days when Omar felt like the ugliest kid alive, with the scars on his face and his limp, and his hair that had still not fully grown in. He looked, he thought, like a gang member. Or an accident victim, which he was, in a way. Then Leticia would come along and give him a wide smile and say, “How’s my favorite young man today? Oh look at you, your hair is coming in curly like Eric Dane. And your scars are fading, I can barely see them. The ladies are going to fall at your feet!” And even though Omar knew it was half baloney, he would stand a little straighter, and his heart felt lighter.

When he wasn’t at the hospital, he was home alone.

In past summers, he’d avoided the house during the day, because Mamá was at work and he never knew when Nemesio might be there. He’d spent his days reading at the library, playing football in the street, taking classes at the dojo, and sometimes visiting the masjid.

So being home alone was a new experience. At first he loved having the whole house to himself. He could limp around in his underwear, turn the mop bucket upside down and pound it like a drum, or soak in the bath for an hour, reading a sci-fi novel. He could watch football with the volume turned up, and eat as much microwaved popcorn as he liked.

Once the novelty wore off, however, he realized he was lonely. Entire days passed where he neither saw nor spoke to another human being. His mother had purchased him a basic phone, a little flip-model with talk and text only, but he didn’t know anyone’s numbers except his mom at work and the taxi service. He found himself watching the clock, waiting for Mamá to come home. When she finally did walk through the door, he often didn’t want to talk to her. She’d end up throwing her hands in the air and walking away, and he’d be lonelier than ever.

Beetle Season

He lay on his back in the dark. It was storming outside, the power was out, and the house was hot. Perspiration beaded his forehead and glued his back to the sheets. The digital clock on his nightstand was dead, but Omar knew it was past midnight. The window was a meter from his bed; one of the geckos that gathered on the outside of the glass, eating mosquitoes and termites, startled him by calling out loudly: “DAP dap dap dap dap dap dap dap.”

He could smell the sickly-sweet strawberry air freshener that his mother sprayed in her room to help her sleep. Soothed her nerves, she said. Strawberries didn’t grow in Panama, and Omar was not sure he had ever seen one. Did his mother’s air freshener really smell like strawberry, or just some manufacturer’s chemical imitation?

Golden beetle

Golden beetle

It was beetle season and the creatures were everywhere, to the point that he could sometimes hear them scurrying about his room at night. There were common black beetles, striped beetles, huge brown hercules beetles, and once he’d even seen a golden beetle, gleaming in the dark. He’d once seen a TV show about Bogotá’s Museo de Oro, and the beetle looked like one of those golden artifacts, come to life.

Sometimes a beetle would end up helpless on its back and the ants would swarm out and devour it. Omar knew the feeling.

Sleep was a torment. No matter which side he lay on, there was pain. He spent many summer nights like this, staring up at the ceiling, trying to think of something other than the throbbing of his wounds. All too often he found himself reliving the Day of the Dogs. What if he hadn’t gone? What if he’d forced Tameem to stop hassling the dogs? What if they’d taken a different route? Why had no one helped him? Was he stupid for trying to fight those two dogs alone? But what else could he have done?

He’d told Hani that the past was gone. A lo hecho, pecho. But he couldn’t silence the self-recriminations, especially at night, when his body was exhausted and in pain. Ramadan was here, but he could not fast, and that shamed and angered him. He had not missed a Ramadan fast since he started at eight years old. He was in and out of the hospital, going through one procedure after another. A physical therapist worked with him three days a week, putting him through stretching and strength-building exercises. Omar wanted to know when he could resume karate training. The doctors said years, possibly.

Pain stalked his days and haunted his nights. It was a strange thing, to live with constant pain. He felt stretched out, like a rubber band about to break. He couldn’t concentrate, and was irritable all the time.

The doctors prescribed pain medication, but Omar remembered Toyo, a short, beefy man with the images of Catholic saints tattooed on his fingers. He’d been a brown belt at the dojo, one level above Omar at the time. Toyo had been tough, not only in the dojo but in life. One of those guys who grew up scrapping. Then he had a motorcycle accident and injured his back. In the wake of that he became addicted to painkillers, and when the doctors cut him off he switched to street drugs, so it was said. Omar watched Toyo waste away week by week until his skin hung on his frame like wet laundry on a line. Then he stopped coming. Some said he was living on the street. Others said he’d gone back to Santiago, where his grandparents were from.

Omar never wanted that to happen to him, so he took the medications only when the discomfort became severe.

Other times, when the sun was shining and his pain was dulled, he felt confident, and knew that he had done exactly what he had to do that day, and that Allah would take care of him, and guide him where he must go.

This was not one of those times. Lying there in his bed, sweating like a runner in a relay race – except that he couldn’t run, and had no one to pass the baton to – he felt like his breath was trapped within him, unmoving, growing hotter by the moment. He needed to cool down. He should get up, rinse the sweat off and splash some cold water on his face.

Stiffly, painfully, he swung his legs over the side, began to walk toward the bathroom – and stepped on something living. It crunched wetly beneath his foot, but before it died, it bit him. He gave a muffled groan – Nemesio’s fist-first training against crying out loud still in effect – and sat on the floor. He’d stepped on a beetle, of course, and though it was nearly obliterated, a few of its legs still twitched, and its antennae waved. Omar’s foot pulsed with pain.

Sitting there on the floor in the lightless room, with the rain finally beginning to tire of its assault, Omar cried.

E-Commerce For Idiots

A Saturday morning in July. He sat at the kitchen table, poring over a book titled, “E-Commerce for Idiots.” Mamá was trying to expand her makeup business. She’d always bought goods imported from Hong Kong and South Korea, but she’d recently started her own line of organic makeup, made from sustainable Panamanian forest products. She called it Puro Panameño.

The problem was that Puro Panameño products were expensive, because of the cost of sourcing the ingredients. Mamá’s usual customers were working class Panamanian women who could not afford these products. She had to find a way to reach middle and upper class women.

Mamá thought an ecommerce website would be the key, so here Omar sat, in a kitchen that looked like a storeroom, with boxes filled with raw ingredients, bottles, shipping labels and packaging stickers. His mother, who had the day off work, sat on the floor, cutting boxes open. She wore black sweat pants and a colorful Kuna blouse, hand-woven with a striking mola in the shape of a fish. Bits of cardboard clung to her long black hair. Her face was tired and sweaty.

Eventually she’d have to lease a proper manufacturing space, but they were a long way from that. Orders were barely trickling in. It was deeply discouraging.

Omar was trying to figure out how to place an advertisement on a social media website, and target it to a specific group of Panamanian viewers. He sat back and exhaled loudly, running his fingers through his curly hair, which had finally grown back after being shaved in the hospital.

His mother looked up. “You want something to eat?”

“What do we have?”

She gave an apologetic head tilt. “Tuna, crackers, peanut butter, rice, bananas. The usual.”

Omar grimaced. If he ate any more tuna he’d grow fins. Between the funds Mamá had invested in these new products, and the cash Nemesio had stolen, they were broke, with hardly enough money for food.

Staring through the barred window, watching a man selling single cigarettes in the street outside their home, his eyes wandered over their little yard, with its neat flower beds that his mother had planted, and the wide acacia tree that shaded the house in the mornings. Though his eyes were on the tree, his mind was elsewhere. He still received phone calls from reporters wanting to interview him. He’d always declined, partly because he didn’t have the energy, and partly because it was intimidating. What if his tongue got tied? What if he ended up looking foolish?

War or Death

Suddenly his eyes focused on the tree, and what he was seeing there. His mouth fell open in astonishment. His mother, busy with her work, did not notice. Omar closed his mouth, opened it again. “Mamá,” he said. “The tree. Look, Mamá.”

“Is it the neighbor’s cat again?” she said testily. “The silly thing can stay up there for all I-”

“No,” Omar broke in. He grabbed his cane and stood, pointing. “It’s a harpy eagle.” He gaped at it. The national bird of Panama. According to Brother Mamdooh, his biology instructor, there were only two hundred breeding pairs in all of Panama.

Harpy eagle

The harpy eagle

The eagle perched on one of the upper branches of the acacia, partly hidden in the foliage. It was looking off to the north, so he saw it in profile. The creature was massive, maybe 100 centimeters tall, with a gray head and a long, hooked beak, and wearing a tall gray crest. The upper body was charcoal gray, the belly white, and the massive black legs sported curved black talons the size of meat hooks.

He’d seen photos, of course, but had never imagined he’d see one in person. It was a bizarre looking creature, and made him think of a child wearing a dark cloak, a hood and a mask. A chill ran up his spine, and he shivered.

His mother leaped to her feet, scattering a pile of small metal canisters filled with pigments. She looked where Omar was pointing, then put a hand to her face, half covering her eyes. “La curandera del bosque,” she breathed. The sorceress of the forest. “Don’t look at it!” She reached out and put a hand over Omar’s eyes.

He pulled away, grinning. “What are you doing?” He looked back at the harpy and now it was gazing directly at him. It gave a loud squawk, and Omar had the sense that it was in fact speaking to him, communicating something.

His mother cried, “No!” then ran to the window and pulled the cord to drop the blinds, cutting off the view of the eagle. She said, “La ilaha il-Allah,” then sat at the table, closed her eyes and began to chant, rocking back and forth. She spoke in Ngäbere, the language of her people, and Omar could only understand a few words.

He sat beside her, gripped her forearm. “Mamá! What’s wrong?”

When she opened her eyes, they were liquid with fear. “The águila arpía is the curandera del bosque. She is the queen of the forest, while the jaguar is the king. When the curandera speaks, it means war is coming, or death, or both.”

Omar shook his head. “We’re Muslims. We don’t believe in all that. Second, I’ve already been to war. I faced death and survived.”

Mamá’s eyes, locked on his, went wide with surprise. “You might be right.” She jumped up again, and opened the blinds. The eagle was gone. Omar watched with amazement as his mother dashed into her bedroom and came out with her sneakers. She almost never wore these. She slipped them on, tied a scarf around her hair, and ran outside. Omar followed as well as he could, limping and leaning on his cane, and found her walking around the base of the tree, looking at the ground. Then, to his further amazement, she reached up for a branch, dug her sneaker toes into an old knothole in the tree trunk, and began to climb.

“Mamá! You’ll fall.”

She made no reply, but continued to climb, and in fact she moved with swift agility, as if she’d been clambering up trees all her life. Her small form moved higher, until she reached the branch where the harpy had been sitting. After a moment she cried out in triumph.

When she dropped to the ground she held up a single long feather, gray with black stripes. Her face bore a wide smile. “You were right. La curandera left this as a gift, in honor of your courage. But it is also a challenge.” She held out the feather.

Omar took it. The feather was half as long as his forearm. “What’s the challenge?”

“You must overcome your fear. Then your status as a warrior will be acknowledged by the jaguar and eagle throne, and you will be ready for the crown.”

“What crown?”

“You are nobility, remember? My father is king of the Ngäbe.”

“Oh yeah. But isn’t there, like, a whole gang of people in line in front of me? And aren’t you exiled?”

His mother gave a noncommittal grunt. “Yes, that is a problem.”

“What am I supposed to overcome my fear of, anyway?”

“That is for you to decide. I want you to wear the feather around your neck always. It will protect you.”

“We don’t believe that, Mamá. Only Allah can protect us.” Seeing the look of dismay on his mother’s face, he added, “I’ll frame it and hang it on my wall. Not for protection, just decoration.”

She seemed satisfied with that.

All this reminded Omar of something. “When I was in the hospital, I had a dream of an old woman who sang over me and gave me something bitter to drink. A Ngäbe woman.”

“It was not a dream. She was a krägä bianga. She healed you.”

“The doctors healed me.”

Mamá shook her head. “The krägä bianga healed you. The doctors helped.”

Like Father, Like Son

“How do you people get my number?” Omar’s mother said into her mobile phone. “He’s not interested. Do you know how many-”

“Let me.” Omar took the phone. The man on the line was from La Prensa. He wanted to conduct an in-person interview and take photos.

“Will you pay us?”

“No. We don’t do that. We feel it compromises the integrity of the interview.”

Omar thought. The memory of the harpy eagle, and the challenge it presented, was still bright in his mind. He must overcome his fear, his mother said. He’d avoided publicity so far, but he had an idea. Maybe there was an opportunity here.

“I’ll do it.”

Spanish newspapers The reporter came to the house. He was bearded and middle aged, and spoke to Omar with great respect. There were the expected questions about the dog attack: Why did you try to help your schoolmate instead of running away? What went through your mind when the dogs attacked you? Do you regret intervening like you did? Are you angry at the owner of the dogs? Have you spoken to him?

From there the questions became more personal. Omar’s childhood and parents. When Omar explained that his father had been killed trying to stop a robbery, the reporter seemed pleased and excited. Omar stiffened with anger. The reporter must have sensed this, because he began to stammer. “I mean, it’s a tragedy of course…”

Finally came the question Omar had hoped for. When the reporter asked him how he was spending his time this summer, he said, “I’m helping my mom with her organic makeup company, Puro Panameño. It’s the best makeup in the world, made right here in Panama.”

Two days later, his mother came home from work with two copies of La Prensa. She layed one out on the kitchen table and they looked at it together. Omar’s story was on the front page. The headline read, “Like father, like son: a family of heroes.” Thumbnail photos of Omar’s face and Papa’s face stood side by side. Omar broke into tears. Why had they done that? He went to his room, and did not read the article. Later, he wasn’t even sure why he’d cried. It just caught him off guard, he guessed.

Nevertheless, when a female reporter from El Siglo called on the house phone the next day, Omar spoke to her and let her interview him over the phone.

That same day he received a call from TVN Noticiera Estelar, one of the most popular news shows in Panama. This was the first news outlet that actually offered to pay him.

The day before the interview Mamá pressed a suit that she had purchased for Omar for this occasion. Where she found the money he did not know.

Off With His Head

That night he could not sleep at all. His left leg throbbed and ached, and his many scars itched like wildfire. The doctors said the itching was a normal product of healing, and that he must not scratch the wounds, but the sensation drove him mad sometimes. Finally he could not take it. Rising in the dark, he took one of the pain pills the doctor had given him, downed it with a glass of warm tap water, and went back to bed.

 

Red boxing spider The Spiniflex hatchlings were beginning to eat their way out of his body. The pain was blinding, as if he were the centerpiece in a bonfire. The Ruby erupted out of his skin, and blood cascaded from his body, falling in rivers from his chin, his fingertips, his elbows… He fell onto his back, writhing in pain.

The Ruby spiders massed on his chest, gathering in a V formation, their cilia-covered bodies glistening with his blood. He saw that some had the heads of hedgehogs, and others of flamingos, but no matter what their eyes were all insect eyes, black and mirrored, and all focused on Omar’s face.

The largest spider stepped to the point of the formation. On its back it bore the shape of a red heart, the kind from a playing card. Pointing one hairy arm at Omar’s face, it cried, “Off with his head!” Its voice was thunderous, rattling Omar’s teeth. At the command, all the spiders produced axes. They were all hooded now, like executioners, and they advanced on Omar’s neck, coming to chop off his head.

 

He fell out of bed, panting as if he’d run a race, his stomach heaving like he might throw up. He remained on his hands and knees on the tiled floor, gasping for breath, his body drenched in sweat. When would the dreams stop? He shouldn’t have taken the pain medication. “Hasbun-Allahu wa n’em Al-Wakeel,” he said out loud. Allah is sufficient for us and is the best Protector. He felt a sudden urge to call Samia, which was ridiculous. It was the middle of the night, he didn’t have her number, and they weren’t even friends. Not really.

He rose, washed his entire upper body at the small bathroom sink, and changed the sweat-soaked sheets. His body hurt, but he could tolerate it. He would be okay. “A giant,” Samia had called him once. “You may be short,” she’d said, “but you’re a giant.” He’d be okay. And he’d never read that damned Alice in Wonderland book again.

Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 6: The Curious Sensation of Pity

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 and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at 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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