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Zaid Karim, Private Investigator, Part 9 – Stash House

I resolved to be done with Badger. Yes, Amiri was one of my oldest friends. But he was on an express highway to self-destruction, and I could not ride it with him, not if I hoped to stay sane.

Zaid Karim, Private Investigator
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See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

Previous chapters of this story: Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8

* * *

On the front porch I stumbled and almost fell when I stepped on something small and round. It was a white shotgun cartridge of a type I’d never seen before. I bent quickly to the big Samoan, who looked like a beached alien whale in his purple tracksuit, and pressed two fingers to the side of his neck. His eyes were closed and he made no movement. I was prepared to give him CPR if necessary, or to try to stop the bleeding from his wounds.

His pulse was steady. Nor was there any sign of blood or injury on him. I found this baffling – I’d seen Jelly fire into his gut at point blank range – until I spotted a small white packet on the ground nearby.

Bean bag shotgun shells

Bean bag shells and rounds.

A beanbag. Badger and Jelly were firing beanbag rounds. I’d heard of these but had never seen one before. They were non-lethal, non-penetrating shotgun rounds. Supposedly just one was enough to drop a man where he stood. I guess that didn’t apply to Samoan giants.

“Jelly!” someone shouted from inside, and I recognized Badger’s voice. “Report!”

“I’m hit!” That was Jelly, and there was a note of pain and panic in her voice.

Gunshots, loud and rapid, made me duck low and cover my head. I heard wood splintering, and ringing noises as bullets bounced off something metallic.

“I’m pinned down!” Badger called back.

Damn. I had to go in. I had to. I saw all my resolutions – my determination to leave prison in the rear view mirror and live a better and more peaceful life, to love my wife and daughter, to build a career and a future for myself – go up in smoke in an instant. Here I was, back in the game as Badger called it, back in a life of crime. How had I let this happen?

It was what it was. A purple bandana poked its way out of the Samoan’s pocket. I took it, sniffed it – it smelled clean enough – and tied it around my face, covering my mouth and nose. I couldn’t risk any of these gangsters remembering my face.

Moving to the door, holding my gun in front of me in a two-handed grip, I glanced quickly inside and pulled back. There were bodies everywhere, most of them duct taped at wrists, ankles and mouth, just like the whale at the door. There must have been at least ten, all Samoans it seemed, some hugely muscular, most heavily tattooed. Why on earth would Badger and co attack such a well manned house?

Several of the men stirred and uttered muffled groans. One thrashed in place helplessly.

The house looked a hurricane had whipped through. Guns of all kinds were scattered everywhere. I saw a gold-plated machine pistol and a shotgun with a shimmering abalone stock. Cartridges and beanbag rounds littered the floor. Bills of various denominations plastered every surface in green. There was a mangled money-counting machine that looked like it had taken a direct hit, as well as shattered beer bottles, smoldering cigarette butts and fluffs of furniture stuffing still drifting through the air. The walls were half destroyed by gunfire.

One of the men on the ground began to grunt and strain, uselessly trying to break his bonds.

I pulled my head back when a burst of machine gun fire split the air in two. My heart galloped like a horse on the final stretch. I took a shuddering breath and glanced inside again. There was a small lobby just inside the door. It opened onto a living room on the left, with the kitchen beyond that. On the right there was an office, then a short corridor leading to a bedroom. Two or three bodies sprawled in the office, and many more in the living room.

A female voice moaned from the direction of the kitchen. It sounded like Jelly.

Suddenly Badger stuck his head up from behind a nearly demolished sofa that stood against the left wall of the living room. Seeing me, he pointed to the hallway on the other side of the office.

I nodded and began tiptoeing through the office, moving around two unconscious men and trying not to give myself away by stepping on any of the discarded ammunition cartridges. One of the men, who must have been faking unconsciousness, seized my ankle. I stumbled and fell. The gangster – a muscular man wearing overalls, black gloves and no shirt, with his black hair tied in two long braids, glared silently at me and tried to belly crawl on top of me, where he could perhaps crush me with his weight. His wrists and ankles were bound, though, and he could not do much. I lashed out with the butt of my gun, striking him on the forehead, and he passed out. A nasty bruise instantly swelled up on his forehead. I hoped that I had not hit him hard enough to do any lasting damage.

Badger began to shout. “Yo busta in the can! Give up, dude. All your homeboys is down. It’s just you left. You got no flex.”

He was answered by a two-second roar of machine gun fire. Undaunted, Badger continued to shout, alternately insulting the man and exhorting him to surrender, two strategies that seemed mutually conflicting to me.

I realized that Badger was giving me the location of the shooter – the bathroom – and providing cover to mask my approach. I stood and moved quickly through the office, rounded the corner and stepped through the bathroom door before I could second guess myself.

A hulking Samoan crouched against the wall of the bathroom. He was naked. The entire surface of his body was covered in gang tattoos. His chest bore a grinning skull wearing a cardinal’s hat, while the word “Samoa” was scrawled in gothic script across his belly. Traditional Samoan tribal patterns sleeved his bulging arms. Even his face was not immune to the spreading ink, with a sun symbol on one cheek and a leering face on the other. His black hair was long and kinky, and his mouth was full of gold teeth.

He cradled a gun that was smaller than the .50 caliber belt-fed monster I’d imagined. This compact, wide-barreled thing was only as long as the Samoan’s forearm.

The gangster shouted in surprise when I appeared, and began to pivot toward me. I lashed out with a vicious front kick, catching him on the corner of the jaw with the toe of my shoe. His head snapped back and he collapsed, unconscious.

“All clear in here, Badge,” I called out.

“Yo Jelly!” Badger called out. “Pinkie. Move out.”

“Gonna need some help,” Jelly called back in a strained voice.

I turned away from the Samoan gangster to go in search of Jelly – and a metallic sound behind me froze my blood. It was the sound of shower curtain rings sliding on a metal rod. I turned in time to see a naked woman step out of the shower stall. I hadn’t thought to look there. She was a young white woman with red hair and freckles, no more than nineteen or twenty I thought. Her blue eyes were wide with terror. She screamed something I didn’t understand and raised a large blue handgun, a .357 from the looks of it.

I could not move. I could not bring myself to shoot this young woman. I saw my own death, standing there in that bathroom. I saw my body sprawled on the floor, a gaping hole in my forehead or chest. I saw the newspaper headlines – “local P.I. killed in drug robbery” – and the shame it would bring on my family.

The redhead pointed the gun at my face. As in a dream I saw her finger tighten on the trigger. My breath caught in my chest and my heart seemed to stop as I awaited my demise.

There was a terrible crack in my left ear and the redhead flew backward. Blood erupted from the center of her chest as she tumbled into the shower curtain, tearing it loose. She fell lifelessly into the shower, her eyes as wide and blue as a cloudless February sky.

Pearl handled revolver.

Pearl handled revolver.

I turned to my left to see Pinkie standing there, the big pearl-handled revolver extended in her left hand. She had a black eye and a cut on her scalp from which blood poured down the side of her head and neck. Her face was pink again – not with fear this time, but with excitement. She enjoyed this insanity.

The next few minutes will never be more than a hazy jumble. The four of us got out of that house and back to the car. Jelly had been shot in the calf, and Badger in the shoulder. My head rang from the shot Pinkie had fired. I took off the bandana and threw it out of the car.

I did not drive. Instead Pinkie took the wheel as I sat in the back seat, too stunned to speak. I had just killed a girl. I did not pull the trigger, but I was a part of it. I was responsible morally and legally.

Felony murder. I’d just committed felony murder. Under California law, a defendant could face a murder conviction even if he did not pull the trigger – in fact, even if the death was an accident – as long as the death occurred in the commission of a felony. Badger and crew went into the stash house to rob it; I went in to help; a murder resulted. Therefore we were all guilty of felony murder.

The penalty for felony murder in California was either life in prison without parole, or the death penalty.

That frightened me only in the abstract. What rocked me, what put me on my heels and made me feel like I’d just fallen into a yawning crevice in the middle of an earthquake, was the image of that young woman collapsing backward, the terror in her blue eyes frozen there as in ice. She might not have been a gangster. She could have been a prostitute or the girlfriend of the guy in the bathroom. She was someone’s daughter, maybe even some little kid’s mother. She would never fulfill the promise of the life that Allah had entrusted to her; and someone somewhere would surely mourn her death.

* * *

Pinkie drove us to the Q-Ball towing yard on the southern outskirts of town. It was a sprawling place with piles of junked cars everywhere, some in stacks five high, and the entire yard surrounded by a ten-foot wall topped with concertina wire. You’d think it was Fort Knox, not a weatherbeaten junkyard on the edge of an economically depressed farm town.

A tall black man wearing a blue jumpsuit and heavy black boots greeted Badger with a warm handshake. Badger and Pinkie pulled everything out of the yellow Corvette, Badger working with one arm only, still bleeding where he’d been shot in the shoulder. Jelly sat on the ground and began to bandage her calf, grimacing as she worked.

The junkyard operator, the eponymous Q-Ball, climbed into a large tractor on caterpillar treads, with a huge claw-tipped arm. He expertly maneuvered the tractor up to the Corvette, and seized it with the claw hand, lifting it into the air. He then wheeled the tractor over to a massive orange machine that looked like a dumpster on steroids. with a chute running out of each end. These chutes extended over smaller green dumpsters.

Car shredder.

Car shredder.

Q-Ball dropped the Corvette into the top of the orange machine. Massive iron wheels with cogs the size of a man’s arms began to spin. They bored into the Corvette and pulled it deeper into the machine, grinding it inexorably into rubble.

It was like watching another death. The car groaned and squealed as the wheels gripped it. The noise was terrible. The car bounced and twisted as if trying to escape, but piece by piece it was sucked in, the metal twisting and crumpling, the glass shattering.

As the car was seized and ground into the machine, its remains began to pour down the chutes. There must have been a sorter of some kind inside, because larger fragments – by which I mean the size of a hand or a bread loaf – poured down one chute, while the other chute carried away rubble that had been pummeled to the size of gravel.

I watched with grim fascination, wincing at times, wanting to look away but unable. I felt as if the day’s events had crushed me in the same way, grinding up my heart and spitting it out.

“Dat’s phat, huh?” Badger was at my side, his face impassive, showing no sign of the pain he must be feeling. He indicated the car that was now almost fully obliterated. “Badger posse leave no trace. First rule of the game is don’t get caught.”

“I don’t get it,” I said dully. “Wasn’t that car worth a lot of money?”

Badger shrugged. “Maybe thirty g’s. Ain’t nothin’ compared to the cheese we took off them Samoans.”

Q-Ball gave us an old Buick sedan. It was light brown and nondescript. Badger’s crew moved their belongings to this car and we all piled in, with me in the backseat. I didn’t know where we were going and hardly cared. My mind was still stuck in that bathroom, seeing the young woman collapsing as the bullet threw her backward, the look of shock in her blue eyes, the sound of the shot ringing in my ears like a fire alarm.

* * *

Abandoned fruit processing factory.

Abandoned fruit processing factory.

Jelly pulled up to an abandoned fig factory a few miles southwest on 41. She unlocked the rusted front gate, drove straight up a ramp into the loading bay, unlocked a rollup door, and drove the car right into the factory itself.

Inside, I sat on a wooden packing crate as the three members of Badger’s robbery squad set to work tending each other’s wounds. In a corner of the warehouse they had a makeshift clinic already set up. It contained everything a regular doctor’s office might have: anesthetic, scalpels, suturing tools, bandages, even an IV pole. Badger drank from a bottle of whiskey as Pinkie dug a round out of his shoulder and stitched him up. Then it was Jelly’s turn.

Jelly’s messenger bag rested on a low coffee table. It bulged with whatever they had taken from the stash house: money or drugs, I didn’t know which.

Badger limped over to me and placed a hand on my shoulder. “You represented, brother. You saved our butts back there. Wasn’t s’posed to be so many of ‘em. We was told there’d be three. They musta been havin’ a war council or su’m.”

I stared into his eyes and saw no trace of concern for the dead woman. It was as if we’d just returned from a picnic at the park. He’d been doing this for so long that human life had become meaningless to him. Was there anything I could say that would reach him? I didn’t think so.

“Let’s go find our boy Tarek,” Badger said.

I shook my head lifelessly. “I don’t want anything from you. I should never have come to you.”

“What you mean, Stick? How come?” Badger looked genuinely hurt and confused.

I held my hands out. “We killed a woman back there, Badge. She was barely out of her teens. A human being who never did anything to you or me. I don’t even know her name.”

“Crab had it comin’,” Pinkie muttered as she tended to Jelly. “Come out of the shower like psycho, ank ank ank!”

I ignored her.

Badger’s eyes on the other hand, showed a touch of genuine regret. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s unfortunate. But you know, ain’t no mercy in the game. Just by bein’ where she was, with the people she was with, she on the grind. Don’t put yo’ foot in the game if you can’t handle the consequences. Did I tell that chica to be in a stash house? Naw, man. She woulda killed you, Stick. The game is the game.”

“Really? Then why were you using bean bags? Don’t tell me you don’t have a heart!” My voice had risen to a shout.

Badger’s expression grew hard. “The gangs murdered my father. You know that. I could have massacred every one of those savages and I’d still sleep like a drunken baby. I don’t give a damn about them. They can rot in whatever underworld Samoans are destined for.”

I’d noticed this about Badger, that unlike some people whose speech degraded when they were upset, Badger reverted to proper English and even waxed poetic. I stared at him. There was something about the way he said, “you know that” that seemed to imply a deeper knowledge on his part than what he was saying. Did he know about the role I’d played in his father’s death? That was impossible. Badger had slaughtered dozens of men to avenge his father’s murder. I surely would have suffered the same fate.

“Then why the bean bags?” I demanded.

He waved this off. “Bodies bring investigations. That’s bad for business. Just playin’ the game, Stick.”

There was nothing else to say. I turned around and began to walk toward the door.

“Hold up.”

I looked over my shoulder at Badger, not turning my body.

“Su’m about yo’ case you ought to think on.”

“What?”

“The cheese, man. Follow the money. Where’d the forty five large come from? Did Angie steal it? If so, who from? Or did someone give it to her? If so, why? Forty five g’s don’t just appear outta thin air.”

I walked to the door and opened it.

“Don’t you want a ride back to your hooptie?” Badger called after me. “What about the dope? You want your share?”

I walked through the door and closed it behind me.

* * *

I don’t know why the death of that woman hit me so hard. After all, I’d stabbed a man in the belly just the night before and thought little of it. Was it because the redhead was young, and had her whole life ahead of her? Was it because she was white, and if so was that an unconscious expression of racism on my part, thinking that a white life was somehow more important than an Asian one? Was it because she was a woman? Was it because she was naked and therefore vulnerable, and somehow childlike in her vulnerability?

All these things, perhaps. After all, the Cambodian gangster I’d stabbed would live – I was fairly sure – whereas this young woman was as dead as a winter night. And the Cambodians had attacked me, whereas in this case we – Badger’s crew and myself – had been the aggressors.

There was no justification. I could not defend this young woman’s death before Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. I could not defend it on Yawm Al-Qiyamah. And I could not defend it in a court of law.

It took me over an hour to walk back to my car. I passed through rough neighborhoods, receiving hard looks and the occasional catcall. I paid no mind. I walked on autopilot, my feet reckoning the path while my brain cycled through guilt, blame and recrimination, again and again. I saw the shower curtain tearing free. Dead eyes as blue as a glacier. A spray of freckles and blood on white shoulders.

Had I pulled the trigger? I couldn’t recall. It felt like I had. My fingers twitched, remembering.

At some point I could not take any more self-castigation. Like fog hitting a prison wall, my mind drifted sideways. Walking mile after mile, I found myself thinking about Salman Al-Farisi’s journey. I had read the story many times, and knew it by heart:

After his father chained him up, Salman sent word to the Christians through an intermediary to notify him the next time a caravan was going south to Ash-Sham (Syria). They did so, and Salman freed himself from the chains and signed on. He was a mere child traveling into the unknown, driven by a burning need to find the truth about the Creator.

When Salman arrived in Ash-Sham, he asked for the most religious among the people. They pointed him to the bishop, and Salman became the bishop’s assistant.

He soon learned that the bishop was corrupt. The man had hoarded charity donations into seven jars of gold and silver. When the bishop died, Salman revealed his corruption to the people, who reacted by crucifying and stoning the bishop’s body.

The people replaced the bishop with another, who turned out to be sincere and righteous. Salman would later say that he never met a better non-Muslim than that man, nor a man more detached from the dunya – the material world – and attached to the afterlife, nor a man more devoted to righteous work. “I loved him more than anything I loved before,” Salman said.

When that bishop’s death approached, Salman asked him to refer him to someone else. The bishop complained that the people had altered the true religion of Allah. “I do not know of anyone who is still holding to what I follow except a man in Al-Moosil (Iraq),” the bishop said.

So Salman traveled to Iraq, whereupon he met that priest and served him until once again the holy man’s death approached. The priest recommended Salman to another in a city called Nasiyebeen. The story repeated itself. Salman found the man in Nasiyebeen and served him until he in turn was on his deathbed. Salman asked him where he should go. The man referred Salman to a teacher in Ammooriyyah, a city of the Eastern Roman Empire. Salman found the man in Ammoriyyah and served him, and again the man grew elderly and his death neared.

Now Salman’s path changed, for when he asked where he should go, the teacher said, ‘O son! I don’t know of anyone who is on the same (religion) as we are. However, the time of emergence of a Prophet will shade you. This Prophet is on the same religion of Ibraaheem.’

The teacher had a deep understanding of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, and had seen within them the clear signs of the approach of a true Prophet.

“He comes from Arabia,” the teacher continued, “and migrates to a place located between landscapes of black stones. Palm trees spread between these stones. He has certain well known signs. He (accepts) and eats (from) a gift but does not eat from charity. The seal of Prophethood is between his shoulders. If you can move to that land, then do so.”

The holy man died. Salman stayed in Ammooriyyah until one day some merchants from the Arab tribe of Kalb passed by. Salman said, “Take me to Arabia and I will give you my cows and the only sheep I have.” The Arabs agreed. Salman gave them his possessions and they took him along. When they reached Wadee Al-Qura (close to Madinah), they betrayed him and sold him as a slave to a Jew.

Salman stayed with the Jew and worked as a slave, for he had seen the palm trees of Madinah and hoped this would be the place described by the holy man.

* * *

I thought about Salman’s willingness to completely sever himself from the misguided people of his past in order to serve Allah as purely as he could. Nothing motivated him but the truth. He traveled from one land to another, leaving behind whatever friends he had made, keeping no attachments to anything worldly, placing himself completely in Allah’s hands. When the time came he gave up everything he owned, all his animals, and consigned himself to an unknown fate, just to get closer to the Prophet he believed would soon appear.

Even when he was sold into slavery he did not rebel, did not run away, and why? Because he believed himself to be in the land of the coming Prophet, and that was all he cared about. The truth, the truth, the truth. That was his obsession and his dream, his mission and his sole care in this life.

I did not know how to apply the lessons of Salman’s life to my own. I did not know what I should do, or where I should go. I already had the truth that Salman had so desperately sought. I had the Quran and the Sunnah. I had Islam, and a good and kind-hearted teacher in Imam Saleh. So why was I such a mess? Why did I keep stumbling into these terrible situations? Why couldn’t I divorce myself from my misguided past as Salman had done?

I resolved to be done with Badger. Yes, I was responsible in a way for Malik Sulawesi’s death. Yes, Amiri was one of my oldest friends. But he was on an express highway to self-destruction – no rest stops and no detours – and I could not ride it with him, not if I hoped to stay sane. Not if I didn’t want to be altered into something I myself would not recognize.

Of course this was locking the hangar after the jet had taken off. A woman was dead. She was possibly innocent and possibly not, but she was dead and I had been a part of it.

Small Masjid

“I found myself in front of the masjid…”

Finally reaching my car, I drove. I wasn’t sure where I was going until I looked up to see that I had – completely without conscious thought – driven to Masjid Madinah. Furthermore, the parking lot was full.

Of course. Today was Jum’ah. I was late, but the salat was apparently not over. I parked a block away and walked to the masjid, where I weaved my way through the packed congregation. I was focused on finding an empty spot in the rear and was not yet paying attention to Imam Saleh’s khutbah, until a word penetrated my fogged brain and froze me in place as if I’d just stepped in cement. “Murder.”

I turned my head toward Imam Saleh, who stood atop a small minbar at the front of the masjid. I half expected him to be pointing at me in accusation. But he stood tall in a gray thobe and white kufi, his hands animated but not singling me out. He went on:

“Murder is wrong. Attributing such crimes to Islam is despicable. The slaughter of innocent people is barbaric.”

I was a marble statue. In my confusion and fear – and I was indeed afraid – even my breathing seemed to have stopped. Was Imam Saleh speaking directly to me? Did he somehow know what I had done? Was he exposing my sin to the world? Was everyone looking at me, and seeing the stain of blood on my hands? I took off my fedora and held it to my chest, as if I could use it to shield myself against his words.

“The Messenger of Allah” – the Imam continued – “peace and blessings of Allah upon him, said, ‘No one of you murders at the time that he murders and remains a believer. Therefore, beware, beware!’ Ibn Hibban, 5979. One version of this Hadith mentions, ‘Faith is stripped from him like his trousers. When he returns to faith, it returns to him.’ In other words, as long as he is engaged in murderous acts, he cannot claim to be a man of faith. If he were to die in such a condition, he would die a disbeliever.”

Still I stood. Someone tapped me on the leg, no doubt because I was blocking his way. The Imam went on:

“The Prophet (peace and blessing of Allah upon him) mentioned, ‘A Muslim is one from whose tongue and hand all of the people are safe.’ Ahmad, 6753; Tabarani, 3170. This hadith tells us that anyone who unleashes words of hate against people, or commits acts of violence against them, is not a true Muslim. Rather, such a person is a hypocrite, shaming himself through his actions.”

Again someone tugged on my pants leg. The pull seemed to draw the energy out of me, so that I suddenly felt weak and dizzy. My legs gave out, and I reached for the ground with one hand as I sank heavily. A middle aged brother with a black beard shuffled to the side with a grunt of displeasure. I managed not to fall right on him. I sat cross legged and covered my face in my hands, breathing hard. Someone touched my shoulder in concern but I paid no mind.

Imam Saleh continued to talk. At some point it dawned on me that he was not speaking specifically about me. He was referring to acts of terrorism committed by so-called Muslims.

“All these narrations,” the Imam went on, “make it unequivocally clear that the depraved murderers who have embarked on a campaign of terror and war against their hosts, neighbors, fellow citizens, the innocent public, and against guiltless men, women and children, have joined the ranks of the devils and betrayed everything Islam stands for. Faith has died in their hearts. They have abandoned their religion and forfeited their humanity. They do not act in the name of Islam. They have no honor, and deserve only contempt.

“Confronting the rising scourge of terrorism is one of the great challenges of our age. To defeat it may require sweeping changes within the Muslim world – social changes, economic changes, political changes, and most of all spiritual changes. We must return to an understanding of Islam as a religion of compassion, kindness, and civil discourse. We must honor our relationship with the Creator, worshiping Him sincerely, and we must then extend that sincerity to our interactions with all people. May Allah give us the strength to complete this task.”

When the khutbah was over I stood and prayed mechanically with the congregation. I wanted to break down and plead with Allah for forgiveness, but I feared to release my emotions, for doing so might lead me to a complete breakdown.

When salat was over, I sat again, my eyes fixed on the heavy carpet as men shook hands, chatted and filed out of the masjid. A few brothers greeted me and tried to speak to me but I did not respond.

At some point it sank into my awareness that someone had been repeating my name insistently. I raised my eyes to find Aziz Al-Qudsi crouching in front of me, dressed in a beautiful gray suit and yellow tie. Like me, he had straight black hair, though he kept his very short. He was a handsome man whose appearance was marred only by the prominent bend in the bridge of his nose, from when Amiri had broken it in a sparring session when we were kids. Martial arts had never come naturally to Aziz, and he’d been the first of us to give it up, which he did when I moved to Qatar.

I was surprised to see him, since Aziz lived in Menlo Park, about a half hour south of San Francisco, and I had not seen him in at least a year. Taller than me at about six feet even, Aziz seemed to have it all. One year older than me, he was the eldest of the Five Musketeers and by far the most successful. In school he’d been the one student whose grades I could never beat. He’d gone on to earn an MBA from Stanford and at the age of twenty five had created a messaging app similar to Skype, which he later sold to Microsoft for a large sum of money. He then started his own venture capital fund. I had no doubt he was a multi-millionaire.

He was also an Islamic scholar in his own right. He’d become fascinated by traditional Islamic scholarship when we were still in high school. When the rest of us wanted to go to a movie, or ride our dirt bikes in the foothills, or practice Kali at Roeding Park, Aziz wanted to sit at the masjid and read 12th century Islamic texts in Arabic. Later, between earning his Bachelor’s degree and his MBA, he managed to earn a distance degree in Islamic studies from IIUM in Malaysia.

On top of everything else, he was happily married with three children.

He grasped my shoulder, his eyes wide with alarm. “Zaid! Shu feek? What’s wrong?”

I gave him a weak smile, but I think it must have looked ghastly, because the worry on his face increased.

“Marhaba, Aziz,” I said finally.

He let out a sigh of relief. “I’ve been saying your name for five minutes, man! What’s going on?”

“Nothing. What are you doing here?”

“I’m here for the FIA fundraiser tomorrow.”

Of course, I thought wryly. Aziz and a sister named Kawthar had comprised the entire first graduating class of the Fresno Islamic Academy. Kawthar went on to earn simultaneous degrees in medicine and law. Unbelievable, right? Who does that? Aziz and Kawthar were both frequently invited to speak at FIA fundraisers. They were held up as shining success stories and proof of the school’s academic excellence.

I’d attended FIA as well in my youth, though not in high school. I wasn’t holding my breath waiting to be invited to a fundraiser. Not that I cared. I thought it was funny, actually. We’re not all success stories, folks! But never mind that, hand over your money and your gold…

“Are you sure you’re okay, Stick?”

“Don’t call me that,” I snapped. “I despise that name.”

He withdrew his hand from my shoulder. He looked dismayed. “I’m sorry, Zaid, I -”

“No, no,” I cut in. “I’m the one who’s sorry. I’m just tired. It’s good to see you Aziz, but I don’t feel like talking.”

I did not resent Aziz’s success. Truly, I was happy for him. But our lives had gone in such wildly divergent directions that he could never understand who I was now. How could I possibly tell him about the things I’d seen and done? Can a man who’s never been uncomfortable understand what it is to shiver in cold all night long, or to spend the entire night awake in the dark with a homemade knife in your hand, waiting for the attack you know is coming?

Aziz said something about me attending the fundraiser. I did not respond, and at some point he moved off. After a while the lights shut off in the masjid. My mind drifted. The shot that Pinkie had fired still echoed in my head. I saw the redhead falling, the look of disbelief in her wintry eyes, the freckles on her shoulders like a field of wheat… I kept thinking of the ayah from Surat Al-Baqarah where Allah says, “wa laa tulquw bi-aydeekum ilat-tahluka…” – and do not throw yourselves with your own hands into destruction… Again and again these words played in my head, as I saw myself being cast by two fierce and terrible hands – my own hands, magnified into clawed horrors – into the fires of Hell.

At some point my vision focused and I saw that Imam Saleh sat cross legged in front of me. He watched me, saying nothing. My fedora sat on the ground between us.

“I-” my voice came out in a croak. I cleared my throat and and tried again. “I’ve made bad choices. I have destroyed myself.”

The Imam was silent for some time. Finally he leaned forward and tapped my chest. “I believe in your heart, akh Zaid. I look at you and see a good man. If all the world were arrayed into three camps: the forces of good, the forces of evil, and those who merely stand and watch, I would look for you within the camp of the forces of good.”

“You wouldn’t find me there,” I said bitterly.

“Come now. If you approach Allah with repentance, He will come to you with forgiveness even greater than it, no matter what you have done. And you know what, akh Zaid?”

“What?”

“I still behold that light in your eyes. You have not completed your work. You’re in pain, I see that. Spiritual pain is a wake up call. It is a motivator to change. It is not there to cripple you, but to drive you toward Allah, and to stimulate you to act. Replace a bad deed with a good one. That is the way forward. Call upon Allah, dig deep within yourself, be courageous as I know you are, and act. I know no one else like you brother, but I know that the world needs more such men.”

I didn’t know what to say. For the second time in as many days, here was someone expressing faith in me – first Jamilah, and now the Imam. In the past I’d gone years without hearing such words. But they didn’t know. They didn’t know how many terrible mistakes I had made.

Fedora

“He rolled my fedora up his arm…”

Imam Saleh picked up my fedora, and, extending his arm, rolled it up his arm to his shoulder. It was just like a professional magic trick, and I was amazed that he could do that. Smiling, he placed the hat on my head and clapped me on the shoulder. “I’ll be in my office,” he said. “Stay as long as you need.” With that he departed.

I stood on shaky legs and prayed. I took my time, holding each position for long minutes and fighting not to break into tears, for though I was not ashamed to cry before Allah, I feared that if I allowed the tears to spring forth, they would never stop.

When I was done I stood and walked out of the masjid. No answers had spontaneously manifested in my heart. No voice whispered to me, no vision appeared. Had my prayer been answered? Was I forgiven? I did not know.

What I did know was that there was a child out there who was afraid and abused. I had been hired to find her, and that was exactly what I would do Insha’Allah. Come burning sun or raging river, bad men or bad blood, I would find this child. I could not resurrect the redhead who’d been shot in the shower. I could not change what had happened to Malik Sulawesi ten years ago. I could not save any of the millions around the world suffering from tyranny, torture, starvation, disease or drought. I could not reverse time and prevent the catastrophe that had befallen my Palestinian people.

But I could find one child, God help me.

Find Tarek, I told myself. Find the father first, then the daughter.

Thinking of Anna brought to mind my daughter Hajar. School at the FIA ended after Jum’ah prayer on Fridays, so Hajar would be home now. In the car, I took out my phone and called, only to get Safaa’s voicemail. Most likely she didn’t want to answer. Probably thought I was going to pester her again about our marriage. I texted her: “Please have Hajar call me when she’s free.

I drove down to Jamestown Street. Like I’d told Badger, I did not know this area. No matter. I would use my eyes, ears and shoe leather, like any gumshoe. I parked in a shaded spot and watched the life on the street through the binoculars. There were homeless people everywhere in this neighborhood, standing about in groups, wandering singly with shopping carts piled high with belongings, or coming and going. Men who were clearly drug dealers stood on the corners, selling their wares with impunity. I observed the patterns of movement, noting the buildings that attracted the most traffic.

I noted a shuttered four-story building a block from my location. It was a weathered wooden structure that might once have been painted red but was now a drab grayish-pink. Some windows were boarded up, while others simply gaped open, the glass long vanished. A faded sign painted on the side announced, “Sheya Gardens Hotel.” Piles of litter were strewn about on all sides. I’d seen many people slipping through a gap in a loose board that covered the door.

I locked up my car, walked to the Sheya Gardens Hotel, and squeezed my way through the boarded up doorway. What I found inside was a world unlike anything I’d ever imagined.

Next: Zaid Karim Private Investigator, Chapter 10 – Finding Tarek

Wael Abdelgawad’s novel, Pieces of a Dream, is available for purchase on Amazon.com.

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Wael Abdelgawad's latest novel is Pieces of a Dream. It is available for purchase on Amazon.com.Wael is an Egyptian-American living in California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including IslamicAnswers.com and IslamicSunrays.com, and various financial websites. Heteaches martial arts, and loves Islamic books, science fiction, and ice cream. Learn more about him at WaelAbdelgawad.com.For a guide to all of Wael's online stories in chronological order, check out this handy Story Index.

50 Comments

50 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Amatullah

    April 4, 2017 at 9:02 AM

    Whoa! This chapter was full of events unforeseen. Zaid’s character is being refined by each passing episode. Zaid’s personality in my eyes was that of a not-so-mature middle aged man with full of emotions until the murder happened. He now looks more mature to understand his mistake, accept it and move on. Imam Saleh played an important role here-that which everyone needs in life, Emotional support.
    ” If all the world were arrayed into three camps: the forces of good, the forces of evil, and those who merely stand and watch, I would look for you within the camp of the forces of good” — This was beautiful and also Imam-istic :D.
    (My abba is an Imam and he talks like that too, always making up scenarios)

    And yeah, the Note at the end is depressing but nevertheless I hope the wait will be worth it.

  2. Avatar

    Bareerah

    April 4, 2017 at 5:02 PM

    As if we have to wait till JUNE for the next part…*sob*…the story is really coming together though masha Allah can’t wait to find out how it ends.

  3. Avatar

    Abdullah Ahmad

    April 4, 2017 at 10:18 PM

    Nooooooo! I can’t wait until June!!
    Subhanallah brother, what an interesting character development. Zaid is a complete mystery to figure. Keep up the good work. We will Eagerly await the next part in June inshallah

  4. Avatar

    Bint A

    April 4, 2017 at 11:20 PM

    That’s a long time. But we had our fair share of sabr-training with Ouroboros …. one year to be exact. And it was well worth the wait. So June shouldn’t be that bad hopefully …

    Cheers anyways at the book launching. Keep us updated and all the best with the rest.

    • Avatar

      Maryam Moeen

      April 10, 2017 at 3:25 PM

      I agree that the Ouroboros was the best I especially love the characters, I want them two to be back together as happy family. I didn’t have the training as you know what happened with me (Latest post), because it’s too amazing to resist form going on to the next chapter. I basically finished it in less than two weeks or less not sure but it’s possible.
      Jazk, for your great stories and taking the time out to write awesome stories for us and cooperation.
      PS: Yesterday was my birthday.

  5. Avatar

    Maryam

    April 4, 2017 at 11:44 PM

    So we aren’t going to have one every Tuesday. Aww, man.

    Brother, Wael there are a few mistakes, sorry but the word “or” is written twice, just want it to be good I guess.
    Jazk.

  6. Avatar

    SZH

    April 6, 2017 at 8:20 AM

    Another fascinating part of another beautiful story!
    And now we have to face the wait for same period which we had faced in Hassaan’s story. This time I will try to be patient. :-P
    When, do you think, the book will be available? If it is coming in two weeks, I will get it through my aunt (I assume that you will have it available for ICNA convention :-D). Otherwise I will have to find some other way to get it here in Pakistan.
    Anyway, I pray that you may be able to complete all your plans in the best way. JazakAllah Khair.

    • Avatar

      Maryam

      April 10, 2017 at 2:59 PM

      Br.Wael, I loved Hassan more and I wish you could write more about the Haddad’s and Charlie.

  7. Avatar

    Nasra Ban

    April 7, 2017 at 10:24 AM

    Deary sneary i have to wait till June. Oh my, how will i survive lol im sure it will be worth the wait.?

  8. Avatar

    Mohammed

    April 8, 2017 at 4:44 AM

    Being a gear head, I must point out that Corvettes were always 2 seater sports cars. You don’t have to publish this comment nor edit the story though if you don’t want to. It’s just an observation and I figured I should point it out.
    Very good read so far, MashaAllah. Thanks

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      April 8, 2017 at 5:50 AM

      Mohammed, would there be any space for two others to squeeze in behind the seat? Like a small cargo space or something? Or even just for a third person?

  9. Avatar

    Mutmainnah

    April 9, 2017 at 11:07 AM

    This is the first time I actually caught up, I’ve only started reading your books about two weeks ago, and I would be so thankful that I don’t have to wait to read the next chapter. Now this week I knew that I was catching up, so I tried to slow down, but I ended up coming to the end to see that karma turned around and bit me. Now I have to wait nine weeks!
    MashaAllah, this is amazing. I think I like Zaid better than Hassan. I don’t know, he seems more real to me.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      April 9, 2017 at 12:32 PM

      Mutmainnah, you read ALL of my online books in two weeks?

      • Avatar

        Mutmainnah

        April 9, 2017 at 8:55 PM

        What can I say? Your books are amazing. If it wasn’t for midterms, I would have even finished faster. I really liked your books. I was using it to reward myself for studying.
        MashaAllah tabarak Allah

  10. Avatar

    Maryam

    April 10, 2017 at 3:07 PM

    Me too Mutmainnah I read it less than two weeks, no joke and no sarcasm your books are amazing Br. Wael.
    SZH you’re in Pakistan?? Man I wish I could visit there.
    MA good going Br. Wael you have readers all way there.
    I was introduced to these series a whole website when I was in 8th grade, I completely forgot about it. I was just browsing around maybe and Allah (SWT) put it thorough my mind I was astonished that I recalled how the website looked I skipped the two chapters because we read them in our Islamic studies class.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      April 10, 2017 at 3:37 PM

      Maryam, what chapters are you referring to that you read in Islamic studies class?

      • Avatar

        Maryam

        April 10, 2017 at 8:48 PM

        Why? Oh the first three I haven’t checked but if I recall, it includes the one your about to publish where Layth and Khadija meet -> he is a taxi driver, and then Layth gets married in the masjid and we stopped where Khadija put a hijab on Jamilah.

    • Avatar

      SZH

      April 14, 2017 at 1:54 AM

      Yup, I live in Pakistan. A great country in not-so-great conditions. You can visit here, there is no visa ban or anything. :-)

  11. Avatar

    Suzy I.

    April 10, 2017 at 5:53 PM

    I can’t believe you left me hanging! Here I am at the airport, all settled in to read your story, and find out what happened. Patience was never one of my strong suits, so please hurry with the ending!

  12. Avatar

    Maryam

    April 11, 2017 at 9:01 AM

    Br.Wael, I loved Hassan more and I wish you could write more about the Haddad’s and Charlie. -Jazk.

    Why? Oh the first three I haven’t checked but if I recall, it includes the one your about to publish where Layth and Khadija meet -> he is a taxi driver, and then Layth gets married in the masjid and we stopped where Khadija put a hijab on Jamilah.
    Jazk

  13. Avatar

    Wael Abdelgawad

    April 14, 2017 at 2:02 AM

    As-salamu alaykum everyone. The new, novel-length version of Pieces of a Dream is now available on Amazon, in paperback and ebook formats:

    http://a.co/1YaPAaf

    It is triple the length of the story found here on MM, with added chapters exploring Louis’s relationship with his family, and the appearance of a troubling figure from his past. It is published in partnership with MM, with half the profit going to support the website.

  14. Avatar

    Maryam

    April 16, 2017 at 2:25 PM

    I just saw it but Br. what clicked in my mind was as soon as I read the intro you’re suspicious, just kidding are all the characters based on your life because it said that you worked as a cab driver in San Francisco and as a dispatcher, it’s fine but you made it totally non-relate-able I’m just guessing.

    How did your conference about writing??

    • Avatar

      Maryam

      April 19, 2017 at 4:27 PM

      How did your conference about writing go??

      • Avatar

        Wael Abdelgawad

        April 19, 2017 at 7:13 PM

        It was good Alhamdulillah. The audience had many questions about the process of writing. I think between myself and Umm Zakiyyah we gave them some good answers.

        • Avatar

          Maryam

          April 23, 2017 at 12:48 PM

          I just saw it but Br. what clicked in my mind was as soon as I read the intro you’re suspicious, just kidding are all the characters based on your life because it said that you worked as a cab driver in San Francisco and as a dispatcher, it’s fine but you made it totally non-relate-able I’m just guessing.

  15. Avatar

    SZH

    April 28, 2017 at 7:29 AM

    Salaam, brother Wael. I just visited MM to checkout on any update. I am glad the book has been published. Is it possible to ship books here? I want to buy at least 3 of them.

    • Avatar

      SZH

      April 28, 2017 at 7:32 AM

      By here I mean Pakistan. Karachi, to be exact.

      • Avatar

        Wael Abdelgawad

        April 28, 2017 at 10:18 AM

        Right. I will look into it Insha’Allah.

      • Avatar

        Wael Abdelgawad

        April 28, 2017 at 5:37 PM

        SZH, I don’t see a way to do this right now. Perhaps in the future, if the demand exists, I will do a print run in Pakistan with a Pakistani publisher, Insha’Allah.

        Of course, you could always buy the ebook. I know it’s not the same as holding an actual book in you hands.

        • Avatar

          SZH

          May 3, 2017 at 12:02 AM

          Ohk.. By the way, I had published few books when I was in a student organization in my university.
          Anyway, now I have to find a way to sneak it in. :-)

  16. Avatar

    Wael Abdelgawad

    May 25, 2017 at 7:17 PM

    UPDATE 5-25-2017: I know I said June 6th, but I’ll have to postpone the next chapter until the end of Ramadan. Sorry about that. I just completed some other projects I’ve been working on, and I’m turning my attention back to this story now. Also, I know MM prefers to focus on Ramadan topics during Ramadan. In the meantime, perhaps you could purchase and read Pieces of a Dream, if you haven’t done so already :-) I’m sure you’ll enjoy it Insha’Allah.

  17. Avatar

    Maryam

    June 6, 2017 at 7:46 AM

    Can’t wait till today oh aww man until I read the bottom I hope it’s worth the wait!!
    Jazk though!

  18. Avatar

    Sarah

    July 2, 2017 at 1:06 PM

    Assalamu alaykum,

    It’s been a while since I have read Ouroboros, and I went online to re-read some of your work, when I found that Pieces of a Dream was in print! I immediately bought it and loved it. Layth’s character development and the extra chapters made it a well rounded and awesome read. Jazak Allah khayr. After I finished it, I immediately went online hoping for something more, and I was surprised to find Zaid’s story!! Now having completed it, I am anxiously waiting the next part.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      July 2, 2017 at 2:04 PM

      Wa alaykum as-salam Sarah. Thanks so much for your comments. The next two chapters of Zaid Karim are written, but I’m going to hold off for two weeks before publishing them because I’ve realized there are a number of internal issues that need to be addressed. The teacher/nurse contradiction is one. There are also some contradictions in the timeline of Zaid’s life. So I need to fix those, and I’m also rewriting some previous scenes altogether. Give me two weeks Insha’Allah and the next chapter of Zaid Karim should be out by mid July.

      By the way, if you wouldn’t mind leaving a quick review of Pieces of a Dream on Amazon, I’d be grateful, thanks.

      By the way, you’re not the Sarah I just talked to at the ISNA convention, are you?

      • Avatar

        Sarah

        July 2, 2017 at 2:23 PM

        No I am not, I wasn’t there :) Will the other parts be put out in print soon as well.
        One of the things I love about your stories that makes me enjoy rereading them is the real life connections the characters have with ayat or ahadith. I forgot which chapter it was in, but I loved when Zaid woke up and prayed salat ad Duha even though he didn’t all the time because he felt like it was a duha kind of morning based on what he was going through at the time. The characters inspire me to engage with the book of Allah even though I don’t feel like I’m at the place I want to be spiritually in my life.
        Yes inshaa Allah I will definitely leave a review on Amazon.

  19. Avatar

    Sarah

    July 2, 2017 at 2:30 PM

    By the way, I’m sorry to bring it up this point because it is already in print, but there were a few typos in Pieces of a Dream. Nothing major and I’m not sure if you’d want to address it, just thought I’d let you know.
    Jazak Allah khayr

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      July 2, 2017 at 2:35 PM

      You must have been an early buyer. I have since corrected the typos. The current copies available online are all good, Insha’Allah. So you have a colllector’s edition, ha ha.

  20. Avatar

    Dahlia

    July 4, 2017 at 4:33 PM

    Okay, I’m waiting for the next chapter! Please share the link if I’m missing it .

  21. Avatar

    AA

    July 5, 2017 at 11:33 PM

    Here, once again, searching for Zaid Karim. And although I appreciate things happen and life takes over, you have many readers who have been patiently waiting for the next chapter. Please could you let us know what is happening, and when? Also, to be even more demanding, we should be treated to not the 1 but the 2 chapters (you mentioned above), as we’ve been wonderfully patient, no? :)

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      July 7, 2017 at 9:26 PM

      AA, you have definitely been patient. Please continue to be and I promise you will see part 10 before the end of July Insha’Allah. I’m at the very end of a major writing project that I absolutely must finish first, then I have to rewrite some scenes from Zaid Karim. So hang in there. I have not forgotten my readers.

      • Avatar

        AA

        July 8, 2017 at 11:21 PM

        Thank you for your reply Wael. Can’t help being greedy. And can’t wait! Insha’Allah. Best of luck with your project in the meantime.

  22. Avatar

    Maryam

    July 12, 2017 at 4:43 PM

    Aoa, Brother when will you be writing again? I’ve checked a few times just returning to close the tab. As today, when i checked I decided to read the last portion of Zaid Karim again, it’s good you can take your time.
    – Jazk

  23. Avatar

    Wael Abdelgawad

    July 21, 2017 at 3:27 PM

    Working on it now. Finished my other project (a soon-to-be-released novel called The Repeaters, not Muslim fiction, just mainstream urban fantasy). So I’m back to this now. Won’t be long Insha’Allah.

  24. Avatar

    Maryam

    August 6, 2017 at 7:54 PM

    Jazk! For the response I’ve been checking every Tuesday I don’t want to lose interest in a great novel like this.

  25. Avatar

    Abdullah Ahmad

    August 8, 2017 at 8:02 PM

    Assalamu Alaikum Brother Wael,
    Any update on the next chapter? Eagerly waiting…
    :)

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      August 8, 2017 at 9:30 PM

      It was supposed to be published today. Most likely the editor is unavailable or traveling. I will look into it Insha’Allah.

      • Avatar

        Maryam Moeen

        August 13, 2017 at 1:45 AM

        Jazk Brother, I’ve been waiting just wanted to check by no waiting I’m reading it. Wait, why was hes taking four pills is it because of the stash house I don’t quite remember him getting hurt. I checked, might be wrong.

        • Avatar

          Wael Abdelgawad

          August 13, 2017 at 3:08 AM

          You mean in part 10? His arm was badly slashed by one of the robbers in the drug house.

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#Culture

Death In A Valley Town, Part 3 – A Fighter And A Thief

Filing a lawsuit – against anyone at all – didn’t feel right, but the lawyer was an expert in these matters, and Samira seemed adamant as well. “Fine. We’ll proceed with the suit against the city. But not the kid.”

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

Previous Chapters of Death in a Valley Town1. Moving Day2. The Black Jesus

Zombies

AxeZombies were overrunning the world. Yahya was trying to hold his own, but it was hard. Hitting them in the head, like in the movies, didn’t work. To kill them you had to hack at the base of their spines with an axe or ice pick. Hack attack. The pick trick. It was brutal, sickening work. To make matters worse, many of them retained their minds and personalities, so they would try to negotiate with you, or plead with you to stop, but if you stopped they would attack and devour you. Yahya did not know if he could exist in this new, merciless world.

But he had no choice. There were people he loved here, and he must protect them. That was what home was, wasn’t it? Being with the people you loved. Laughing and crying with them, fighting for them, dying for them. That was the only home that existed in this world, wasn’t it? And if they loved you back it was wonderful, but you couldn’t count on it, because orphans were unwanted. That was the essence of orphanhood: to be abandoned, to be alone.

No matter, no matter! He swung his axe, sweat flying from his face, zombie blood spraying. His sister Yusra possessed karate skills and had hardened her hand to the point that she could snap a zombie’s spine with a karate chop. She was cutting through the monsters like a harvester through wheat. His wife Samira was using her strict, motherly voice, commanding the zombies to “stop this horsing around.” That wasn’t working at all. A man’s voice came over the P.A., telling the zombies he would sue them for ten million dollars if they didn’t cease and desist…

* * *

His heart raced. But the smell in the air was not of blood, but of lemon disinfectant and laundered blankets. His twin sister Yusra was saying, “He’ll be fine, Samira. He’s been through much worse, trust me. He may not look it, but he’s as tough as they come.”

Was he still dreaming? What was his sister doing here?

His mouth and throat were as dry as moon dust, while his entire body ached as if he’d been tenderized with papaya juice and a mallet. He made an effort to open his eyes and immediately squinted, blinded by too-bright overhead lights. Blurred ceiling panels… everything white… This didn’t look like their little apartment in Fort Worth. Where was he? Oh, wait… that’s right, they’d moved to California. To… Alhambra. Alhambra! The memories rushed back in a flash flood. The cops, the beating, the jail. Did that really happen? Or was it a bad dream?

He tried to push up with his hands in order to sit up, and discovered that his left arm was encased in a black plastic splint and was cradled against his chest in a shoulder harness. Pain hit him like a matatu bus. His head hammered, his arm ached all the way to the bones, and the rest of him just generally hurt.

“Oh, ruh albi. Lie still.” Samira was there, sitting on the edge of the bed. She wore no makeup and, in his view, never needed it, since she was extraordinarily beautiful as is, as Allah made her. But her eyes were puffy, as if she’d been crying. Her long black hair was tucked away beneath a gauzy orange hijab. She loved wearing colorful clothing. She cupped his chin and kissed him with her full lips. Ouch, that hurt too! A sudden thought came to him and he blurted out, “The kids?” He was filled with an irrational fear. Had the kids been hurt? Had they been taken away?

“They’re fine.” Samira stroked his cheek. “I left them with Munirah. She’s been very kind.”

Munirah, he remembered, was a nurse who worked at ACH – Alhambra Community Hospital. Samira had met her on her first day at work, and they’d become instant friends.

“I had a crazy dream,” Yahya said slowly. His throat was so dry. “You were there, and Yusra too.” He rubbed his face, remembering. “You should have seen her. She fought like a machine.”

“Nice to know,” Yusra said. “That my talents are well regarded, even in your dreams.”

Yahya jerked in surprise and looked around the room for the first time. To his right a large window filled the wall from hip height to the ceiling. It had a wide sill on which one could sit and look outside. Someone had placed a profusion of flower vases there. His sister Yusra perched among them, looking sleek and sangfroid as always.

Yusra was his fraternal twin, and though shorter than him she still stood an imposing 5’10”. She was thin, her features chiseled and uncompromising, her hair straightened but short, Halle Berry style. She wore a navy women’s suit patterned with yellow flowers, and a yellow blouse that buttoned up to the neck. Knowing Yusra, that suit cost more than Yahya made in a month. No doubt it was made by Gucci or Armani, or some other designer whose name ended in a vowel. And no doubt it was either stolen, or paid for with the proceeds of something stolen. Though Yahya loved his sister, he was under no illusions as to what she was. She was a fighter and a thief, just as she’d been back when they were kids in foster care. Except that back then she fought and stole to protect and feed the two of them. Now, she just did it to do it. She was a lustrous, sinewy tiger with a taste for man-flesh, hunting for the savage joy of it. Thriller killer.

“What?” Yahya had so many questions crowding his mind, he didn’t know where to start. “What are you doing here? Where am I?”

“Be nice, honey.” Samira squeezed his hand. “You’re at ACH.”

“It’s wonderful to see you too,” Yusra said. “My little brother is arrested and nearly beaten to death. Of course I’m here. And I have news about Baba. I have a source-”

“Stop!” Yahya held up his right hand to silence her. The very last thing he wanted was to hear about her delusional, never-ending obsession with “finding” their dead father.

Yusra’s face went as hard as stone. He’d offended her. Whatever, he couldn’t worry about that. Arrested, she’d said… that’s right, he’d been arrested. This didn’t make sense. SubhanAllah, his throat was like the Mojave desert! “I need water, please.”

Samira poured him a cup of water from a pitcher that sat on a small table. He drank, then tried to get things straight. “Where am I? How did I get here? Why am I not in jail anymore?”

As he was speaking, the door opened and a tall, lean man entered. “I can answer that,” the man replied in a deep voice. He was clearly Arab, and GQ handsome. He wore a finely tailored charcoal suit and blue tie, and was clean shaven.

“As-salamu alaykum.̈” The man shook Yahya’s hand. “My name is Basim Al-Rubaiy. I’m an attorney with CAIR Sacramento. Initially you were charged with felony menacing, resisting arrest and burglary.”

“That’s nonsense,” Yahya commented.

“Of course. The night of your arrest – last night – the local news media aired a video showing the police beating you without justification. The police ROR’d you and transported you here. This morning I filed a motion to have the charges dropped, and posted bail. I’m currently drafting a lawsuit against the police department.”

“We’re going to sue them for ten million dollars,” Samira added.

“I don’t care about the money,” Yahya said reflexively.

Samira sighed. “I know you don’t, babe. You never do. But the money isn’t the point. The money is how we get their attention, make them take action against their officers.”

“She’s right Mr. Mtondo,” the CAIR lawyer added. “Lawsuits are the primary tool available to us to demand justice. Hit them in the pocketbook and they listen. Gives us leverage. We should also sue Chad Barber, the man who called the police on you for no reason.”

“Don’t worry about this Barber clown,” Yusra commented. “Point me in his direction and I’ll take him apart. He likes calling the cops? When I’m done his fingers will be pick-up sticks. Let’s see him call anyone then.”

“Yusra!” Samira exclaimed.

Yahya sighed heavily, already weary of his sister’s drama. Not that he didn’t take Yusra seriously. He knew she was quite capable of executing her threats. Violence triggered and excited her. But he needed facts. He looked to the lawyer. The man was confident, as if he’d been through this a thousand times before. Maybe he had. “Chad Barber. Is that the white boy across the street and two houses down? Twenty, twenty one years old?¨

“I don’t know, let me check.” The lawyer opened a briefcase that sat on a small table by the window. He looked through a file. “Chad Barber, 714 Minarets Avenue. I don’t have his age. And sister,” he added, addressing himself to Yusra, “I would caution you against illegal or precipitous action that could get you or your brother arrested, not to mention torpedo his legal case.”

Good, Yahya thought. Let someone else talk sense to her. 714 Minarets… Yup. That was the house. He was sure it was the young man who’d flipped him off. He pursed his lips. Filing a lawsuit – against anyone at all – didn’t feel right, but the lawyer was an expert in these matters, and Samira seemed adamant as well. “Fine. We’ll proceed with the suit against the city. But not the kid.”

Anger flashed on Samira’s face. “That man set this whole fiasco in motion. He endangered all of us, including our children. You could have been killed. And why? Because we’re Muslim. We can’t let him get away with it.”

“She has a point, Mr. Mtondo,” the lawyer added.

Yahya held up a hand to the lawyer, who was beginning to get on his nerves. The man seemed to take his point, and stopped talking. Yahya looked towards Samira. “I said no. The city I’ll go along with for now. But the kid, no.”

“But why not?”

Why not, indeed? Yahya’s eyes wandered around the room, taking in the line of flower vases and bouquets by the window. Who had brought those? Did they know that many people in Alhambra? “Do you know,” he said eventually, “about the Jewish woman, Zainab bint Al-Harith, who brought a poisoned lamb to the Prophet Muhammad as a gift?”

“He forgave her,” said Basim, the lawyer.

Yahya was impressed. “Yes. The woman tried to assassinate him, and he pardoned her.”

Samira gave an annoyed cluck of the tongue. “Are you the Prophet now?”

“Though he later ordered her executed,” Basim added.

“That’s because Bishr ibn Al-Baraa’ died. He was the first to eat of it. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) forgave the attempt on his own life, but he could not waive the punishment for the murder of someone else.”

Samira raised a finger. “Hold on. Don’t I remember reading that the Prophet suffered the effects of that poison for the rest of his life?”

“Yes.”

“Aha!” She pinched his earlobe and glared. “You see what happens when you let bad people get away? We’re filing a lawsuit, not putting his head in a guillotine.”

Speaking of heads, his own head was pounding. Trying to escape this conversation, he said, “I’ll consult with Imam Saleh.”

Samira looked at him with eyes narrowed. “Okay, But you’re too soft on people, Yoyo. And look how they repay you.” She waved a hand at his ravaged body.

As if proving her point, he attempted to sit up and swing his legs over the side, only to find the world spinning like a merry go round. Without warning he bent over and vomited over the side of the bed. How embarrassing. In front of the lawyer and everything. Samira fussed over him, wiping his mouth and telling him not to worry about the mess. “Lie back down, baby.”

But he did not lie down. He insisted on checking out of the hospital, to his wife’s outrage. He didn’t want to leave the kids with strangers, or at least someone they were not familiar with.

Samira had brought a fresh set of clothing, since the lawyer, Basim, had taken the clothes he’d been wearing as evidence. They were little more than bloody rags, it seemed. A nurse brought a wheelchair. The attorney, Basim, shook Yahya’s hand, promising to check on him tomorrow. “By the way,” the lawyer added, “your shoes were not among the clothes the police turned over to me. They didn’t take them away, did they? If so I will add that into the lawsuit.”

“No. I gave them away.” From the corner of his eye he saw Samira’s sharp gaze, and knew he’d get an earful later.

* * *

Yahya sat in a wheelchair as Samira pushed him through the courtyard in front of the hospital, on the way to the parking garage. A woman in a hijab sat there, reciting Quran and tossing birdseed to a flock of tiny birds that hopped and flitted all around her. What a strange scene. And the sister looked so much like – wait a minute!

It was his older sister, Hafsa. Yahya was stunned. It was impossible for her to be here. Hafsa did not travel on airplanes. In fact she rarely left her small suburban home in Chicago. And she most certainly did not visit hospitals. She was terrified of germs. But here she was. Birds were gathered all around her. Yahya was no expert, but there were several of the tiny ones he believed were called sparrows, along with a finch – he recognized it because of the red scattered across its head and chest – and a bluejay that was trying to bully the rest. They hopped and flitted, trying to be the first to catch the seeds.

A handful of hospital workers – nurses and technicians – sat in the courtyard as well, eating or chatting, and many watched Hafsa curiously. Yahya had to smile. If this were a scene from a Turkish movie, he would think it cliched – the saintly hijabi, gathering the animals like some Sister Doolittle, charming them with the word of God. But it wasn’t a movie. It was just Hafsa. When she saw him she stood and rushed to him, then bent over to embrace him and kiss his cheek. She looked good. She’d always been chubby, but she’d lost a little weight.

“How did you get here?” Yahya wondered aloud. “I thought you didn’t do airplanes. Or hospitals.”

“Overnight flight. And for my little brother I’ll always make an exception. Actually I’m doing better with the phobias. Still couldn’t convince myself to go up to your room, though.”

The sun was going down, and Yahya shivered in the evening autumn air. “Come on, let’s go home. I’m excited for you to meet the kids.”

Try the Bak Bak

Chad’s eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw the silver Honda Accord pull up and the sand-chigger get out. Sitting on the porch, guzzling his sixth beer of the day – pretty much his everyday routine, he goggled at the scene, setting his beer down beside him. There were more Muzzies now! They were multiplying like rats. The Muzzie had his wife and kids with him, and also another Muzzie broad in a headscarf, and a tall, dark chick in a suit who was pretty hot, actually. I mean, Chad thought, she’s not white, but hey, a hot mama is a hot mama.

But that wasn’t the point, he reminded himself, renewing his sense of righteous indignation. Un-freakin-believable! Sure, he’d had seen the video that showed the rag-head getting his ass kicked. He was pretty sure Alan, the fairy schoolteacher, was the one who filmed it. And yeah, the liberal groups – like the NAACP, aka National Association for the Advancement of Commie People – were making the usual noises about police brutality. But so what? They were always squawking. They needed to have their heads cut off like the clucking chickens they were. But that was beside the point. The point was that he, Chad Barber, had helped to catch a rag-head terrorist here in his own town, and the cops had let the dude go! What the hell? In Trump’s America?

He watched the rag-head limp into the house with the wife helping him. The two little kids flanked them, one holding the mom’s hand and one the dad’s. Chad ground his teeth. Okay. The police had let the rag-head go. That was the reality. It was up to him now, Chad Barber, to make the next move. He knew exactly what he would do. He would get his friends together, and they would beat the truth out of the rag-head. It would be easy. Dude was an Uber driver, right? They’d call for an Uber to some remote location, like out in the country. When the rag-head showed up they´d lay into him with baseball bats. Break his arms and legs. By the time they were done he’s tell them all about his terrorist plots. He’d name names, give up the whole network. Then the cops would have to send him to Guantanamo for real.

A smile broke out on his face. He felt suddenly energized, like he wanted to jump up and run a mile. For the first time since he’d lost the Walmart job he felt filled with a sense of purpose. Damn, it was a good feeling!

The whole family went into the house, except the hot mama. She turned and stared at him from across the street. Chad sat up straight and sucked in his beer gut, trying to look manly. To his surprise, the woman began to cross the street, walking directly toward him. Her walk was athletic and poised, like a dancer. Damn she was hot. For a second Chad thought he’d lucked out. Maybe she wanted a beer. Maybe he could get some action going! But her stride was too rapid, too purposeful. Chad grew nervous. Then he saw her grim expression, and noticed that her hands were balled into fists. It occurred to him that her athletic, powerful walk was not that of a dancer, but a fighter.

“You little punk,” the woman growled. “I’m going to beat you bloody.”

Chad yelped and leaped to his feet, spilling his beer. The woman started up the steps and Chad turned and ran, dashing through the front door and locking it. Should he call the cops? But when he peered through the curtain the crazy bitch was crossing back to the rag-head’s house. She went inside, not looking back. Christ! What a psycho. What was her problem anyway?

Chad seethed. This was war. He considered. Who could he call? As he was puzzling over it, his little sister walked out of the house wearing slippers and pink pajamas that hung loose on her petite frame. Her mousy brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Carrying a plate of chocolate chip cookies balanced on one hand, she descended the crumbling porch steps and started across the lawn.

Chad stepped outside. “Where you goin’ with that? Can I have one?” Not that he always needed to know what Amelia was doing, but she was his younger sister after all, even if she was nineteen years old and technically an adult.

“Stuff it, you beer-blooded clownmeister.”

He grinned. Where did she come up with this stuff? She crossed the street, her slippers slapping the ground with every step. With a sudden sense of alarm, he watched as she made a beeline for the rag-head family’s house. “Amelia,” he called out, but she ignored him. She rang the doorbell. What the holy hell was she doing? Didn’t she know what had transpired yesterday? “Amelia!” he bellowed. “Get your skinny ass back here! That’s the enemy over there!”

He watched, stunned, as the rag-head wife opened the door, still wearing her stupid oppressed orange scarf. What, did she think her hair was some kind of holy relic that ordinary people couldn’t look at? Or did she imagine she was so stunningly beautiful – some kind of Muzzie supermodel – that her beauty would blind mere mortals? Morons.

Then, as he watched, Amelia entered the rag-head house! What was that pigeon-brained mouse turd doing? And was it his imagination or were those her slippers in front of the door? Why had she taken them off?

Chad paced the weatherbeaten porch, squeezing his forehead with one hand and ignoring the pool of spilled beer from earlier. He was going to knock his sister’s bowling ball of a head off her shoulders. She was consorting with the enemy. She was a traitor. She was-

She came out of the house. She was smiling – smiling! – and still carrying the plate, which looked like it still had food on it. Hah! They’d sent her and her infidel cookies packing. As she cut across the lawn, he lit into her, cursing her for consorting with the enemy.

Baklawa“I had to do something,” Amelia said, “to make up for that stupid stunt you pulled. Mama’s afraid they’ll sue us. She said we should try to make friends. Besides, look what they gave me.” She took a golden colored square from the plate and held it out to him. “It’s called baklawa. With a w, not a v. It’s delicious.¨

He knocked the small treat out of her hand, sending it flying onto the lawn. “Get that bak-bak crap out of my face. It’s probably poisoned.”

Amelia glared and held the plate with the remaining treats out of his reach. “If I had a lighter I’d set your stupid mustache on fire and watch you slap yourself to death, you rockwitted plague virus.” She stomped into the house, slamming the door behind her, at which point Chad heard their mother shouting at him – at him! – not to slam the door.

He sighed and smoothed his mustache. What had he been thinking about? Oh yeah, who to call. Why not his best friends, the guys he’d gone to high school with? His fellow track team members. Bram and Ames. Bram was very smart, which could be a problem at times. He didn’t believe in the separation of races like Chad did. Said it was “illogical and only the product of poverty-fueled desperation.” Idiot. Like those ten-dollar words actually meant anything. Just a lot of hot air. But in the end he was a follower, not a leader. A sheeple. He’d do whatever Chad said. Plus he was a big guy, not tall but thick and solid like a rhino. Could come in handy. On top of all that he was a pot dealer and always had money. The two of them got together all the time to smoke weed and play Call of Duty. Sometimes they went out to Rebel Saloon in Old Town – with Bram buying of course – and drank themselves off the stools.

Ames, though – he was a moron, but he was a karate guy. He went to tournaments and won trophies, the whole deal. He’d be a good one to have along. Kick that psycho hot mama’s skinny behind. Chad hadn’t seen him in a couple of years, and Ames might not be as down for the white race as Chad was, but surely he would understand the threat? This was about protecting the American way of life.

There was Mad Morry. They weren’t close anymore, since Morry seemed to spend more time in prison than out. But Chad was pretty sure his thuggish friend was out at the moment. Morry hung around with some scary dudes, and Chad was pretty sure Morry was tight with the Aryan Brotherhood. He would have no problem beating the blood out of a rag-head. Except… Morry scared him. Chad was pretty sure he had killed people, even women. He’d heard that Morry had been involved in the disappearance of a spook family in Oakhurst.

Jim might be down. He was three years older than Chad and had been a friend ever since Chad was eleven, when they’d been neighbors. Well, sort of a friend. Chad used to go over to Jim’s house to listen to music and lust after his busty older sister Cheri. Jim was a dope dealer and would give Chad free liquor, weed and pills. To be honest, Chad had never really wanted those things back then, but he’d taken them so he wouldn’t look like a pansy in Jim’s eyes. Jim was also a bully and a sadist. Once he burned Chad’s arm with a hot glue gun. Another time he used a nail gun to drive a nail through the back of Chad’s hand. But Chad never snitched on him, and as they got older and Chad filled out, the bullying mostly stopped, though it continued in verbal form, with Jim often calling him names.

No, forget Mad Morry and Jim. Screw them. Best to stick with Bram and Ames. Chad would be able to control them, and he’d be in charge. The boss of his own posse.

He tried Bram first, but got his voicemail, so he called Ames.

“Chad my man!̈”̈ Ames’s deep voice, midwestern accent – his family had moved here from Wisconsin – and enthusiastic manner made Chad smile. It was like nothing had changed and no time had gone by. Why had he and Ames fallen out of touch? The guy was always up for something fun. Chad explained to Ames about the rag-head, and how he wanted to lure the man to a remote location and beat him up. And maybe beat up the hot sister too.

“Dude, you been hittin’ the sauce or what? Let it go, brother. Live and let live. I’m a business owner now. I have my own dojo. I can’t risk my business over-”

“You have your own dojo?” Chad was amazed. He didn’t know anyone his own age who owned a business.

“Yeah, it’s on Second Avenue in Old Town. You should come by sometime.”

“Why do you have to call it a dojo? Isn’t that a Jap word? Why don’t you just say gym?”

Ames sighed. “I know it’s kooky but we’re traditional. We belong to a federation based in Japan. We take pride in maintaining the traditions of-”

Chad cut off the practiced sales pitch, realizing this was getting off track, and not really caring about this issue anyway. “Yeah, yeah, that’s fine. But you’re missing my point. The ragheads are in my freakin’ neighborhood. They gave my sister bak-bak. They might sue me. They-”

“Whoa, hold up. Your sister? They what? What’s bak-bak? You sayin’ they did something to little Amelia?”

Chad realized that Ames had misunderstood him. “No, they-” He stopped himself, remembering that Ames had always had a crush on Amelia, God knows why. He could use this. “I mean, yeah. They did. They messed with her, man. She’s really upset.”

“What? What did they do?”

“You know. The rag-head tried to, you know, mess with her. Amelia barely got away. Had to take off her slippers to run.” Well… she did take off her slippers, right?

“Hold up, man, hold up.” Ames’s voice was angry now. “He tried to rape her? That’s what you’re saying, right?”

Chad felt a sense of unease creep over him. This white lie was going a bit further than he’d intended. But he was committed now. He couldn’t back up without losing all credibility.

“Yup. The guy’s a predator.”

“Did you call the cops?”

“Of course. They even arrested him.” That was true enough. “But the cops couldn’t do a thing. They let him out the next day. We have to do something.”

“Count me in, buddy. That sonofabitch won’t be able to walk when I’m done with him. I’m going to kick his nuts until they come out of his ears.” Ames’s voice held rage and firmness of purpose. Exactly what Chad wanted to hear.

When he was done with the call, Chad walked into the house, smiling to himself. Bram would be down too, he was sure. Dude was a sheep. Chad could manipulate him into anything. They would put such a beatdown on that rag-head. Chad considered… It would be cool to really crush the guy’s arms and legs, destroy them so he’d never walk right again. Stomp on his fingers too. And if he could get that hot mama psycho bitch alone, he could teach her a lesson too. Not rape her, just mess with her a bit. Show her how to respect the white race.

He spotted the tray of bak-bak on the kitchen counter. He was pretty hungry, actually. He took one and tried a tiny, testing nibble. Oh – my – God. It was delicious. The layers of pastry were crunchy and sweet, held together by honey it seemed like, with a dusting of crushed pistachios on top. Holy swastika. He devoured the little square pastry and grabbed another. As he ate, he considered. He’d need to make some notes and plan this thing right. It was finally coming together.

* * *

Next: Part 4 – The Psychology of Forgiveness

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.

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

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Death in a Valley Town, Part 2 – The Black Jesus

Yahya took a few steps toward the phone and stopped. A muscular, brown-skinned man with numerous tattoos on his chest and arms sat huddled on the concrete bench, pressed into the corner. He wore no shirt or shoes, and his thick arms were wrapped around his torso as he shivered. His eyes were red slits.

Sword and sheath
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

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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.

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

Previous Chapters of Death in a Valley Town1. Moving Day. Author’s note, 1-5-2020: It’s been a while since I posted Chapter 1. Please go back and re-read it, as I expanded it and added some important details. I also changed the title, which was formerly”To Kill a Muslim”.

The Slap

At first everything had gone beautifully. Seeing the raghead dropped like a buck in hunting season, that had been awesome! Chad cheered and laughed, shouting, “Pick it up, pick it up!” What his coach used to shout at him when he was jumping hurdles. He liked to shout it at random, exciting moments. It made him feel like an authority figure. He watched gleefully as the cops carted the miserable sand chigger away, probably to Guantanamo where he belonged.

Now it was going sideways. Angry neighbors surrounded him on the porch, arguing with him and each other. They’d seen the two officers questioning him and had figured out that it was he who called them. One of those stupid cops accused him of filing a false police report. He said detectives would be around later to question Chad further, and that “filing a false report of terrorism” was a federal crime! Unbelievable. He’d caught a terrorist on his own street and now he was the criminal?

“He was right to call them!” shouted Eggers, the short, chubby guy from four houses down who owned three pit bulls and wore a t-shirt that said, “You stomp on my flag, I stomp on your ass.” “We don’t want their kind on our street. We have to keep our kids safe.”

“You don’t have kids,” retorted the dark haired, wide-hipped lady who walked five miles every day. She was Armenian or some crap. Not as bad as camel huggers, but not really white either.

“Yes I do, just because they live with my ex, so what, my point stands.”

“It’s racist,” another woman interjected. That was the blond lesbian from the corner, the one whose grown daughter lived in a camper in front of the house. “Muslims have as much right to live here as anyone. We have freedom of religion in America.” She pointed an accusing finger at Chad. “You had no right to do that.”

“Shut up dy*e!” Jessica, the teenager from directly across the street, was red in the face, spit flying from her mouth. Chad knew she had a crush on him. Pimply-faced little nitwit was always trying to bum a beer off him. He’d seen her drinking with some stoners at Dry Creek Park once and had taken her into the bushes and made out with her, but she reeked of old sweat overlaid with strawberry perfume, and he had no desire to repeat the experience.

“Don’t talk to Chad that way,” Jessica went on. “At least he’s standing up for the white race.”

“I’m not racist,” Chad muttered. “I’m not against anyone. But coloreds should know their place and stick to their own kind. And Muzzies are different, they’re raghead terrorists. Not normal like us.”

“Oh my God,” Alan said. He was a married father who lived right next door to where the Muzzies were moving in. He taught school at Alhambra High. “This is sickening. Where are our youth getting these ideas?”

Chad snickered at Alan’s use of the word youth. What did the dork think this was, a PBS program? Fairy.

Alan addressed himself to Chad and Jessica. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. Do you know those words? That’s from our Declaration of Independence. Do you know what self-evident means? It means anyone with a mind and a heart can see that all human beings are the same, we’re all equal. That was written almost two hundred fifty years ago.”

“We don’t care about your stupid declaration,” Jessica retorted.

“All your opinions don’t mean squat,” Chad said. “‘Cause the cops agree with me. That’s why they arrested the raghead’s ass. Proves I’m right.”

“You’re not right,” Alan the teacher insisted. “I saw everything. The police’s actions were abusive and illegal, and I’m going to make sure everyone knows it, including the cops, the city council and the TV news. And you, Chad Barber, will be charged with filing a false police report, and you’ll be billed for the cost of the city services you wasted, which I’m guessing will be around one hundred thousand dollars.”

That was when Chad’s mom appeared, hungover and red-eyed, hair plastered to one side of her face, shielding her eyes from the light. It took her a minute to understand what had transpired, at which point she turned to Chad and slapped him hard across the cheek. “You little moron,” she growled, her upper lip curling in disgust. “We don’t have money to pay any damn fines! If they bill us a single red cent I’ll take it out of your hide, I swear to God. I thought I was free of your dad’s racist garbage. But you’re an idiot just like he was.”

Chad thought he was beyond caring what his drunken slut of a mother thought, but her words pierced his heart. He hardly cared about the slap – that was nothing – but hearing her insult him in front of all these people make him shrink up inside like a wounded child. He threw his beer can on the grass and stomped into the house.

“And fix this damned-to-hell porch!” his mother screamed after him.

They were all against him, but he didn’t care. He’d show them he was right. If that raghead got out of jail, Chad would beat the truth out of him. Pick it up, pick it up. Then people would realize that Chad was a hero for standing up for his race. As for his mother, she would get hers when RaHoWa came, that was for sure. Especially since one of her boyfriends was black. Wait, Chad thought. I don’t believe in RaHoWa, do I? It was confusing sometimes, trying to remember what was true and what wasn’t. The Muzzies were evil though, that much was sure, and Chad intended to make a lesson out of this new neighborhood raghead, no matter what it took.

Mwanga

Sword and sheath

Yahya ran up a forest path. He was muscular, his calves and thighs as hard as iron, his bare feet calloused. He wore furs, and his beard was long and full. In each hand he carried a sword, one as long as his arm and the other half that length. The swords’ surfaces were engraved with writings that detailed all he had seen and learned in life. There was a lot of it, for he had traveled far and fought many evil men and vicious beasts.

He must get north. The tribes were not expecting him, but he carried a message that must get through. The path became rocky, with stone outcroppings on either side. Soon a sheer cliff face loomed, blocking his way. He’d known this would happen, for this formation ran for thousands of miles, dividing the southern lowlands from the northern highlands. But he’d heard rumors of a cave system that ran beneath the mountains and emerged on the northern side. He prowled the base of the cliff until he found a sinkhole. Dropping into it, he discovered a cave opening. He entered, and the darkness swallowed him like the throat of a dragon. How would he proceed in this sightless void?

His swords began to glow. This did not surprise him, for they were objects of power. By their light he ran, squeezing through fissures and occasionally strapping the swords to his back in order to climb. Relying on his internal sense of direction, which was extraordinary, he found a tunnel that ran north. It was so large that the light of the swords did not reach the roof. Soon he began to sense movement above. Things scurrying, creeping. He raised the swords and shouted, “Mwanga!” and the blades blazed with brightness like tiny suns.

Leathery creatures with bright fangs seethed across the roof of the cave, covering it. Their eyes were dead black, and their winged bodies long and serpentine. They crawled and slithered over and under each other, so that the entire ceiling appeared alive. When the light hit them they shrieked. For a moment they froze, only their obsidian eyes moving, tracking him. Their muscles bunched. They attacked.

Yahya spun, wielding both swords simultaneously. He ducked, rolled, and leaped as the weapons blazed. Battling without thought, operating purely on instinct and sanguinary experience, he cleaved monstrous heads from leathery bodies, severed scaly torsos, and littered the cave floor with wings and limbs. Even as he fought he never stopped moving north, driving his way through, the swords slicing, spinning, chopping. The creatures bit his shoulders, arms and legs, even his face. They slashed with claws and clubbed with tails. The air was coppery and hot with blood.

Finally, daunted by Yahya’s prowess and his terrible, frightening swords, the creatures retreated. Leaving bloody footsteps, Yahya ran on.

After what seemed like days of running and might indeed have been so, the tunnel narrowed and the roof came down to his head. Abruptly the tunnel ended in a stone door. It glittered with inlaid gems arrayed in mystical patterns, and was carved with the words ni wenye haki tu. Only the righteous. Yahya knocked and waited, then louder. Nothing. He pushed with his shoulder, but the door would not budge. He took a deep breath. His entire body pulsed and burned with the pain of myriad cuts, bite wounds and bruises. He gathered the last of his energy, took a deep breath, invoked the name of God silently and touched the door with the tip of his right index finger.

The door swung open. Bright sunlight flooded in, making Yahya squint. When his vision adjusted he saw a land of green grass and tall trees, and a great blue river that wound in the distance. Two women stood before him. They wore long multicolored robes and scarves on their heads, and their mahogany faces were serious.

“What do you bring?” one asked.

“A message.”

“And?”

What else did he have of value? Only his swords. He held them up, crossing the blades. But they were books, one large and one small, the covers glinting with inlaid gold lettering. On one cover shone the words, “You were on the edge of a pit of fire,” while the other said, “He saved you from it.”

The women stepped aside. “Welcome home,” one said.

“No,” Yahya replied. “I have no home. I’m an orphan. No center, cave, clan or tribe. No one, nothing, nowhere.”

* * *

Something jostled him and he opened his eyes. Were the creatures attacking again? No… that was a dream. But reality was just as strange. He was lying on the back seat of a car with his hands restrained behind his back. And – pain. It hit him like a train with no brakes, making his breath catch in his throat. His entire body ached, including his head. His lips were swollen and split.

Two men were talking in the front seat as the car jounced over a potholed road. A metal screen separated the back seat from the front, and Yahya realized he was in a police car. He tasted blood, and there was a wetness on the side of his head and neck that might be yet more blood. His left arm in particular was on fire. His kufi was gone and one of his pant legs was torn from the knee to the ankle, exposing a lacerated and bloody shin. Then he remembered… They’d Tased and beaten him. For no reason at all. No warning. He was about to speak up and protest when the words of the officers in the front seat pierced his mind’s fog.

“You know that was wrong, Jay,” said the cop in the passenger seat. “We messed up. The guy did nothing wrong. We need to take him to the hospital, not to booking.”

“Shut up,” the driver said. “You don’t say another word. We responded to a report of suspicious activity. We ordered this son of a bitch to lie down, but he resisted arrest. For all we knew he had a weapon or an explosive vest. We acted to protect the citizens of this town.”

“That’s B.S. and you know it,” the passenger said, but the certainty had gone out of his voice.

“Don’t tell me what I know, you boneheaded rookie. You say exactly what I told you to say, or it’s your job and mine and maybe worse, you understand?”

“Yeah,” the passenger cop muttered. “I understand, sarge.”

The conversation died. A fresh wave of agony hit Yahya like a cricket bat. Beating him like a bat. Rat-a-tat-tat. He gritted his teeth, then spoke. “Officers, I need medical attention. I think my arm is broken.”

The two cops looked back in surprise. The passenger was the young red haired cop who’d Tased him. The other – the sergeant – was a middle-aged cop with a beer belly and a thick head of salt and pepper hair. “Shut up,” the sergeant growled. “You don’t speak unless you’re spoken to. One more word and I’ll stop this car and kick your ass again.”

“Why?̈” Yahya did not fear the man’s threats. Let them do what they would. La ilaha il-Allah.

The sergeant turned and shot Yahya a quizzical look. “What do you mean why? Because I can, that’s why.”

“But why would you want to hurt me? Your job is to protect and to serve. I’m a citizen of this town like any other.”

“Can you believe this freaking guy?” the sergeant said to his fellow cop. Then, addressing Yahya again, “You’re no citizen, you’re a criminal.”

“What crime? What am I charged with?”

“Trespassing for starters. Menacing, disturbing the peace, resisting arrest, assault on a police officer. You’re going down, douche.”

“Trespassing? That’s my house you arrested me at. I’m a rideshare driver. My wife is a doctor at Alhambra Community Hospital.” He saw the two men exchange looks. They hadn’t known any of that.

“I told you to shut up,” the sergeant repeated. Yahya realized nothing he said would make a difference. Maybe someone at the station would listen.

They did not.

The Black Jesus

Jail holding tank

He was led into the station limping and bloody, where he was fingerprinted and photographed, then deposited in a cube-shaped and locked booking room that contained a steel toilet, a molded concrete bench that extruded from the wall, and a payphone. The numbers of various bail bonds agents were written in ink on the wall beside the phone.

Thank goodness, Yahya thought. I can call Samira and let her know I’m alive. He wondered if it was time to break his fast. There was no clock on the wall. How much time had passed? He couldn’t think clearly. The pain in his arm was like a red sea whose waves broke over him again and again, pounding, carrying away his rational mind.

He took a few steps toward the phone and stopped. A massively muscular, brown-skinned man with numerous tattoos on his chest and arms sat huddled on the concrete bench, pressed into one corner of the square room. He wore no shirt or shoes, and his thick arms were wrapped around his torso as he shivered. His eyes were red slits. He was like a suffering mountain, so powerful and solid but mined and clear-cut, and reduced to a naked, frigid mass.

This was all so familiar, like a recurring nightmare. Scenes of his youth came back to him. Living as a foster child, doing his best to survive in facilities not unlike this one. He would make it through this, just as he had survived that. Hadn’t he been passed around from one uncaring family to another? Hadn’t he come through it all as strong inside as a baobab tree? Hadn’t Allah brought him to the deen, showing him a place where he would always be welcomed and loved, by God if none other? He would get through this. Be patient, he told himself. Be patient and trust Allah.

In spite of his own considerable pain, Yahya felt a wave of sympathy for the shirtless man. No matter how bad one’s situation, there was always someone who had it worse. He considered. He could not give the man his shirt, because then he’d be the one shivering. But he could give his shoes. He took them off and approached the man.

“You need these more than me,” Yahya offered, but the man did not respond. Yahya gently touched one rock-hard, tattooed arm. The shirtless man jerked in surprise, his eyes opening wide. He brought his hands up in fists and bared his teeth.

Yahya looked at the man’s light. It was a gift he had, something he discovered at the age of thirteen, when trying to tame a feral cat that lived in the buses near the foster home. He looked past the exterior and into the soul, at the same time relaxing his own chest and arms and exposing himself on a spiritual level. He saw the souls of others as thin, translucent sheets of color. Sometimes their faces displayed colors as well, often in swirls that changed and pulsed. Occasionally he saw auras of color surrounding the person’s entire body.

Whether he could truly see this or only imagined it, he did not know. No one knew about it except his twin sister Yusra. Even Hafsa didn’t know. Yusra was skeptical, and had been imploring him to see a doctor since they were young. He never told her that he had in fact gone to see a doctor when he was twenty and worked at the bottling plant. Six months after he got that job and completed the probationary period, his medical benefits kicked in. First he saw a GP, who referred him to a neurologist. The man diagnosed him with a condition called synesthesia, in which the senses became crossed, so that stimulation of one cognitive pathway carried over into another pathway. In some people, letters and numbers took on color. Others saw colored shapes or even fireworks when they heard ordinary environmental noises like car horns or vacuum cleaners. Still others saw music as three dimensional lines that moved through space.

There was no treatment, since synesthesia was not considered an illness, but simply a difference in perceptual experience.

Yahya rejected the entire diagnosis. This so-called explanation could not account for what happened when he looked at someone’s light. Often he gained deep insights into the person’s history and character – insights that were proven true as he learned more about the person. And there was something else. The mere act of looking at someone’s light seemed to trigger a response in that person. Angry people softened, becoming, if not friendly, at least relaxed. Violent people calmed down and seemed to forget what had provoked them. It was not something Yahya could do at will, however. It took time and focus, and sometimes left him feeling physically and emotionally drained.

He relaxed now, focusing on this man’s light, and opening himself. This man’s soul was a deep, rich brown, but with thin streaks of angry red and washed-out yellow. Black and red swirled over his face, indicating confusion and pain.

As Yahya studied the man’s light, he sent a mental message to it: “Be calm. Be at peace.” The living mountain uncurled his fists and lowered his hands. His jaw relaxed and he stared at Yahya dumbly.

“Take these shoes,” Yahya repeated. His limbs were suddenly weak. The shoes felt heavy in his hand.

“Que?”

The man did not speak English. Yahya drew upon his mediocre Spanish. “Zapatos. Para ti. Gratis. Free.”

He knew, from his own experience in such situations, that the man might suspect an ulterior motive. But Yahya had none. He wasn’t trying to buy the man’s protection against other inmates, nor store up a marker for a future favor. Nor was he calling upon God with a quid pro quo: God, accept this act of charity and free me from this trouble. He did not believe in such things. One did not make deals with God.

No, it was just… There was a hadith he’d learned, a narration of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, that was always in his mind: “On every person’s joints or small bones, there is (the obligation of) sadaqah (charity) every day the sun rises. Doing justice between two people is sadaqah; assisting a man to mount his animal, or lifting up his belongings onto it is sadaqah; a good word is sadaqah; every step you take towards prayer is sadaqah; and removing harmful things from pathways is sadaqah.”

Yahya often thought that many Muslims did not realize the profundity of this statement. It wasn’t just an admonition to do some miniscule good deed every day. It described a radical way of approaching the world. The small bones of which the hadith spoke were the bones of the hand, or so Yahya had read. The hand was the instrument of creation. A man’s hands built, shaped, struck. They were symbols of power. It seemed to Yahya, therefore, that this hadith represented a declaration that kindness and charity were powerful forces of the universe, like gravity and combustion. Removing a harmful thing from the road, as the hadith suggested, could mean picking up a discarded beer bottle, sweeping up broken glass, or even scooping up animal excrement. This might be seen by some as degrading. It was the work of a janitor or a street sweeper, people who in some societies would be untouchables of the lowest caste. Lifting a man onto his mount was the work of a servant. Speaking a good word was something even a child could do. It required neither position nor power.

Yet in the sight of God such acts were not expressions of lowness but of personal and elemental righteousness. They drew one close to God, and that could only be a good thing. Yahya knew that these thoughts would probably make no sense to anyone else. But they drove nearly all his personal interactions.

He extended the shoes toward the man, nodding his head in a way that said, “Here, take them, please.”

The living mountain took the shoes with shaking hands. His gaze traveled up and down, taking in Yahya’s dark skin, black beard and bloodied head. His eyes opened wide. “El Jesus Negro!” he breathed. “Dios mio!” At which point he fell to his knees before Yahya and pressed his palms together in supplication. “Ayuda me! No cuestiono su plan, señor. Por favor, dile a nuestro padre que soy un siervo agradecido.”

What on earth? If Yahya understood correctly, the man had just called him “the black Jesus.” Clearly the poor fellow was delusional or drugged.

He turned toward the phone and was suddenly overcome by a wave of dizziness. He stumbled and put a hand on the wall. He put a hand to his forehead. His skin was cold and clammy. He had been badly beaten and was in terrible pain already. Looking at the man’s light had drained the last of his energy. His heart was beating so fast you could play a Kenyan benga song to it. Boom-cha-cha-boom cha-cha-boom. Like the Joseph Kamaru song. Wendo wa cebe cebe. The motion of the cube, but the cube was this room. His eyelids came down like a winter sunset, and he was only vaguely aware that he was falling.

He heard shouting in Spanish. His eyes were half open but he saw nothing, or if he did he could make no sense of it. He was aware only of the brightness of the overhead light, which conversely seemed to provide no warmth, actually sucking heat away, as if its function had been reversed. The concrete was freezing against his cheek. The cold deepened, becoming a sphere or tunnel that narrowed around him, tightening like the tunnel he’d been in earlier. Or had that been a dream? He couldn’t remember anymore.

* * *

Next: Part 3 – A Fighter and a Thief

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.

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

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#Life

I Encountered A Predator On Instagram

A predator on Instagram posing as a hijab modeling consultant, going by the name of @samahnation, tried to prey on me- an underage, 16-year-old. We don’t know if the photos on Instagram page have been stolen from a victim. These predators operate under various names.

instagram predator
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It was a Wednesday night in April and as I was getting ready to go to bed, a direct message popped up in my Instagram inbox. A little background; my personal  account on Instagram is private and it is rare that I let anyone, whom I do not know, follow me. But seeing that this was a grown “woman” with a baby and I had at least seven mutual friends, I let her follow me. 

I will say, I was definitely in the wrong to respond to someone I didn’t personally know. Somehow I thought her 105K followers gave her credibility. 

I was gravely mistaken. 

I opened the direct message. 

She had sent me a message complimenting me. This wasn’t new to me because I often get messages with compliments about my appearance from friends — we are teenagers. However, the stark difference was that I didn’t know this person at all. (I came to learn that these types of messages can go under the category of grooming). After complimenting me, she asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company. 

Many young women are targeted by predators on Instagram. Here is my story. 'After complimenting me, 'she' asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company.'Click To Tweet

I replied, saying that if I had more details I’d consult with my parents and give her an answer the next morning; to which she responded demanding she must have an answer the same night as she had other offers to make. 

I then went to ask my mother. Mama was sick with the flu, quite woozy, but despite her state she said,

“this sounds like a scam to me…”.



I decided to play along with it and test her. 

I told @samahnation to tell me more and how I could verify her and her company. She then sent me numerous copied and pasted answers —hecka long— about how I could trust her; how the company would pay me and how they will still make money in the meantime. 

hijab modeling scam

Thankfully, I was apprehensive during the entire ordeal, but as you can see, this type of manipulation is so real and possible for young women and girls to fall prey. This experience was honestly quite scary and jarring for me. I was so easily distracted by what she was portraying herself as on her profile. She had a GoFundMe for a masjid in her bio and posts of photos depicting her love for her baby.
predator

I began to do some research. I stumbled upon an article about a ‘Hijab House’ model scam. Using the title of ‘consultant director’ for a well-known hijab company, Hijab House, predators were allegedly preying on young girls in Australia. Hijab House has denied any link to this scam. 

Hijab House model scam

 

The predator went as far as to blackmail and pressure their victims into sending nude photos, or doing crazy things like smelling shoes! Eerily enough, @samahnation’s Instagram bio stated that she was based in Melbourne, Australia.


The more I engaged with this predator, the more ludicrous their responses and questions got. And this happened within the span of 24 hours. 

She went as far as to ask me if I would answer questions for a survey, saying all that mattered was honesty and that the purpose of the survey was to make me uncomfortable to see if I “won’t fall under pressure.”

Clearly, this last statement about being a speech analysis specialist was a complete fabrication. Again, may I reiterate that even older people can fall prey. You don’t have to be young and impressionable, these manipulative perpetrators will do anything to get what they want.



As shown below, the situation reached an obscene level of ridiculousness. You can see clear attempts to gaslight me and pressure me into answering or changing my stance on my replies.


This was the last thing I said to the predator before I blocked and reported them in an attempt to get them caught. Observe how as soon as I called this person out they immediately became defensive and tried to manipulate me into thinking that what they were doing and asking me was completely normal- that I was the crazy one for asking for proof. 

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. They had asked me questions I found too lewd to even answer or take screenshots of.

This bizarre encounter was honestly astonishing. I do not even know if I was talking to a man or a woman.

Alhamdullilah, I am so glad because even if I was a little bit gullible, I was aware enough about predatory behavior that I didn’t fall victim to this perpetrator. I am especially grateful for my mother, who has educated me about predators like this from a very young age; whom even in her drowsy state was able to tell me it was a preposterous scam.

I could have been blackmailed.

Talk to your parents or a trusted adult

I am grateful for having an open channel of communication, that my relationship with my mother is based on trust and I could go to her when this occurred. This is a reminder and a learning opportunity for all of us how these scary things can happen to anyone. We must learn how to take caution and protect ourselves and our (underage) loved ones against such situations.

Sis, please talk to your parents. They love you and will be your first line of defense.

Grooming

Grooming is a very common tactic online predators use to gain the trust of their victim. According to InternetSafety101, young people put themselves at great risk by communicating online with individuals they do not know on a personal level. “Internet predators intentionally access sites that children commonly visit and can even search for potential victims by location or interest.

If a predator is already communicating with a child, he or she can piece together clues from what the child mentions while online, including parents’ names, where the child goes to school, and how far away the child lives from a certain landmark, store, or other location.
Online grooming is a process which can take place in a short time or over an extended period of time. Initial conversations online can appear innocent, but often involve some level of deception. As the predator (usually an adult) attempts to establish a relationship to gain a child’s trust, he may initially lie about his age or may never reveal his real age to the child, even after forming an established online relationship. Often, the groomer will know popular music artists, clothing trends, sports team information, or another activity or hobby the child may be interested in, and will try to relate it to the child.”

These tactics lead children and teens to believe that no one else can understand them or their situation like the groomer. After the child’s trust develops, the groomer may use sexually explicit conversations to test boundaries and exploit a child’s natural curiosity about sex. Predators often use pornography and child pornography to lower a child’s inhibitions and use their adult status to influence and control a child’s behavior.

They also flatter and compliment the child excessively and manipulate a child’s trust by relating to emotions and insecurities and affirming the child’s feelings and choices.

Predators will:

* Prey on teen’s desire for romance, adventure, and sexual information.
* Develop trust and secrecy: manipulate child by listening to and sympathizing with child’s problems and insecurities.
* Affirm feelings and choices of child.
* Exploit natural sexual curiosities of child.
* Ease inhibitions by gradually introducing sex into conversations or exposing them to pornography.
* Flatter and compliment the child excessively, send gifts, and invest time, money, and energy to groom the child.
* Develop an online relationship that is romantic, controlling, and upon which the child becomes dependent.
* Drive a wedge between the child and his/her parents and friends.
* Make promises of an exciting, stress-free life, tailored to the youth’s desire.
* Make threats, and often will use child pornography featuring their victims to blackmail them into silence.”

Gaslighting 

Another interesting observation I made is the clear gaslighting this pedophile was trying to perpetuate throughout my conversation with them. You may ask what is gas lighting? 

According to Psychology Today, gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. “Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. For example, in the movie Gaslight (1944), a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind,” writes Dr Stephanie Sarkis. 

Another interesting observation I made is the clear gaslighting this pedophile was trying to perpetuate throughout my conversation with them. You may ask what is gas lighting? Click To Tweet

Recognizing signs that you may be a victim of gaslighting:

Second guessing. Are you constantly second guessing yourself when talking to this person or questioning your own morals that you wouldn’t have thought twice about otherwise? For example, when this person popped up in my inbox I wouldn’t have thought twice about blocking or just deleting the message if it was a man but, since it seemed to be a woman I was duped into thinking that it was more acceptable or I could trust them more.

Feeling as if you are being too sensitive. Again I cannot emphasize this enough that you must trust your instincts, if you are feeling uncomfortable and your internal alarm bells are ringing- listen to them! Anyone can be a victim of gaslighting or manipulation. 

Feeling constantly confused. Another sign that you may be falling victim to gas lighting is when you are constantly confused and second guessing your thoughts and opinions.

Three takeaways:

1. Trust your instincts (I’m going to reiterate this, always trust your gut feeling, if you feel like you are uncomfortable whether it’s a situation you are in or if you don’t have a good feeling while talking to a certain person I advise you exit the chat or don’t answer in the first place.)
2. Never answer to someone whom you don’t know. I will say this was my first and biggest mistake that I have made: allowing this person’s messages into my inbox, and replying to their ridiculous claims and questions. Now that I think about it I don’t even know if this was a woman or not.
3. Set your boundaries! This is probably the most important tip to take away from this article. Setting up your boundaries from the beginning is so important. Whether it is a friend, partner or colleague, if you do not set your boundaries from the beginning of your interaction or relationship with that person; people will not respect your limits and choices later on. Especially if your boundaries have to do with religion, moral compasses, or even specific pet peeves you have. I cannot emphasize how much boundaries matter when it comes to any daily interaction you may have in your daily life.

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