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Zaid Karim, Private Investigator, Part 17 – A Mountain in My Mind

El Demonio came ahead grinning nonchalantly and whirling his stick through the air, completely unafraid of any opposition I might mount.

Zaid Karim, Private Investigator

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

Zaid Karim Private Investigator is a full length novel. Previous chapters: Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16

El Demonio came ahead grinning nonchalantly and whirling his stick through the air. He walked straight toward me, completely confident in his abilities and unafraid of any opposition I might mount. After all, I was seriously wounded and barely able to walk. What threat could I be?

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As I watched him come, I was convinced that he was little more than a novice with three or four years of training at the most. For one thing, an experienced Kali practitioner would never attack in a straight line. We always move at angles, keeping the enemy guessing and seeking to destroy the enemy’s limbs while staying out of range ourselves.

El Demonio might think his few years of training made him an expert. That was common in martial arts. People believed that a first degree black belt (which could generally be attained in three to five years) made a person into a clone of Bruce Lee.

I was on a different level from the cartel boss and I knew it. This was not arrogance or boasting, but a realistic assessment. I’d been wielding a stick since the age of seven. Anyone who trains seriously in martial arts knows that those who began as children and never stopped training possess a poise, grace and insight no one else can match. A child’s developing brain is plastic, like a map still being drawn. As the child soaks up knowledge, the brain routes its pathways to maximize the use of this knowledge. The brain says, “Oh, this Kali stuff is important? Then I will adapt myself and devote maximum resources to understanding Kali, and I will develop the body’s abilities congruently.” This is why the vast majority of Olympic athletes, symphony musicians and chess masters are those who began as children.

Kali long-range fighting, known as largo mano, relied heavily on footwork. I could not fight at that range, since I could barely walk. I would have to bait El Demonio, get him to drop his guard, and draw him into corto or close range, where I could get my hands on him and use my stick as a force multiplier in a grappling contest. Beginning Kali fighters rarely understood this type of weapons grappling, known as dumog. Maybe I could neutralize El Demonio’s physical advantages.

Of course even if I won I’d be killed. I’d cross that high-wire when I came to it.

The scarlet-haired cartel boss waded in with a descending strike to my head, trying to split my skull from the get-go. I raised my stick into an umbrella, a type of angled block, and deflected the blow easily. I pretended, however, that I’d barely managed to save myself. I cried out in alarm and crouched as if frightened. El Demonio laughed in glee and paused to look around at his men, who laughed along with him. He then turned to me and aimed a blow at my ribs.

I made the choice to take the hit. I knew it would hurt, but I needed him to think he had me beat. In retrospect, it was a bad decision on my part. The stick hammered my already fractured rib. I felt something give way inside me, and my right side detonated into an eruption of pain. I dropped to one knee and coughed up blood, which poured down my chin. I could guess what had happened. My rib had snapped all the way through and punctured my lung.

El Demonio swung a backhanded blow at me from the right, and because my right eye was swollen shut I didn’t see it coming. Pain burst like a firework in my right ear and I fell to the ground lying on my side atop my own stick, my head filled with a loud whine like a swarm of bees. I sensed El Demonio looming over me – maybe his body blocked the sun, or maybe I heard his self-satisfied chuckle – and rolled onto my right to look up with my left eye.

The evil little cartel boss raised his stick high, preparing to bring it crashing down on my head. He was standing almost on top of me, his feet only inches from my face.

There are certain things martial arts novices have in common. One is that if you have a stick in your hand, they expect you to only strike with the stick. If you have a knife, they expect only the knife. They forget that you still have hands, feet, elbows, knees and every other weapon the body can bring to bear. A novice stick fighter typically does not expect a wrestling match.

I made my move. I dropped my stick, rolled into El Demonio’s legs and hugged them with my right arm. He lost his balance and fell to the ground with a cry of surprise. As he fell I punched him in the groin as hard as I could. He gave a shout of pain and rolled onto his side, clutching himself. I retrieved my stick and crawled up behind him. I intended to apply a choke, but I could not use my left arm or leg. So I slipped the stick around his neck in reverse, with my palm facing me, then threw my right leg over the stick and hooked it with the back of my knee. I now had El Demonio’s head trapped inside the triangle formed by my right leg and arm, and the stick. I sat back and pulled with every shred of strength I had, arching my back, using my core muscles.

El Demonio thrashed his arms and legs wildly and made gagging noises. This was not a blood choke. The stick was directly across the front of his throat, cutting off his breath and slowly crushing his windpipe. Choke holds like this had been banned in police departments across America because they often resulted in the death of prisoners. Such chokes were also banned from mixed martial arts, even when applied only with an arm.

The cartel boss kicked his legs and scrabbled with his hands at the earth, tearing flowers out of the ground. I held the choke. The stick dug into the back of my knee, and my hand began to go numb. I was in more pain that I’d ever experienced in my life. Every breath was agony. I was dizzy, and couldn’t tell up from down. I coughed up more blood. I could taste it going down my throat as well, hot and metallic. There was a roaring sound in my ears, and beyond that I heard El Demonio’s men shouting, ordering me to release their boss. No doubt they’d shoot me any second. But I held the choke. El Demonio stopped fighting, and only twitched like a person in a bad dream. Still I held the choke. He stopped moving altogether. He was dead.

I dropped the stick and fell back, gasping for air. I felt like I was underwater. I noticed almost with curiosity that my fingernails had turned blue. I pushed myself up onto my knees. That was the best I was going to get. There was no way I could stand.

El Demonio’s dozen men stood around me in a wide circle. Some were pointing their rifles at me, some not. Their expressions registered a range of emotions. Some looked shocked. Beefeater looked satisfied, and I could have sworn he had a trace of a smile on his face. Cowboy was stone faced, unreadable.

I met their gazes, letting my eyes move from one to the next. “He’s dead,” I announced. It hurt to talk. “I saw how he treated you. He shot two of you last night with his own hand. You’re free of him now. Leave this place. Do whatever you want with your lives. Let me and my friends go. We have our own boat. Just let us go.” Though truthfully I couldn’t imagine how I’d get to the boat, or how I’d get Niko there, even if he was still alive.

“Yes,” Beefeater said. “You may go. We will-”

Cowboy shot him. The mustachioed torturer in the black leather cowboy hat simply pointed his rifle and shot Beefeater dead center in his chest, then put another two rounds in him as he lay on the ground round-mouthed and wide-eyed.

Some of the guards flinched. One crossed himself. One laughed. A younger guard – a short, mahogany-skinned man with a narrow face and a trimmed beard – looked like he wanted to throw up.

“I’m in charge now,” Cowboy announced in Spanish. “Does anyone have a problem with that?”

All except for the young guard said, “No sir.” The young guard simply stared at Beefeater’s lifeless body. I wondered if they had been friends.

Cowboy shot the young guard. At this a few of the guards actually cried out in surprise. Cowboy named two of the older guards, then gestured to Niko and the girls. “Put them in the middle with him,” he said, pointing to me, “and kill them all.”

“That wasn’t the deal,” I said in a voice that sounded like sandpaper on stone. It hurt to talk. Everything hurt.

Cowboy eyed me with all the feeling of a mako shark. “Your deal was with that piece of basura.” He gestured with his chin toward El Demonio’s body. “No El Demente, no hay trato.” No Demented One, no deal. “As much as I detest that pedófilo, it would damage my reputation irreparably if I let the killer of El Demonio go free.”

“I would not-” I began.

“Callete!” he bellowed, shutting me up.

One of the older guards grabbed Niko’s feet and dragged him across the ground, leaving a trail of blood across the zinnias, amaryllises and other flowers of the garden. So much blood. Niko’s skin was pale. When was the last time he’d moved or opened his eyes? The guard deposited my friend beside me in the flower bed. Another seized the two girls by their arms, ignoring their cries, and pulled them to stand beside me. Then he retreated to the perimeter of the flower bed.

Cowboy pointed one by one to five guards, including the two older ones.

Preparados!” he shouted. Ready.

The five appointed executioners raised their rifles and pointed them at me, Niko, Oris and Anna. One guard, a muscular and slightly pudgy man in his thirties with pale skin and a cleft chin, looked uncertain and reluctant, but lifted his rifle anyway, and kept his mouth shut.

“Get down,” I urged Oris and Anna. “Lie down beside me.” I took their hands and pulled them gently to lie on the ground, face down.

Apunten!Aim.

I hunched over Niko and the girls, covering them with my body and arms. “Close your eyes, girls,” I told them, filling my voice with as much reassurance as I could. “It will be okay. Close your eyes. I love you both.” And it was true, I did love them. I loved Anna Anwar, the daughter of my good friend, a child who’d been abandoned by everyone. And even though I didn’t know Oris, I loved her for her bravery, and her attempt to protect Anna.

I coughed up another mouthful of blood. The edges of my vision were gray, and even though the weather was tropical I shivered with cold, my teeth chattering. I still felt the pain that suffused my entire body, but it seemed to be retreating, as if the pain had become a thing separate from me, a living creature that nuzzled up against me. I held it and trembled, not with fear but with cold. I’m dying, I realized. The thought did not frighten me, but made me sad. Sad for Hajar, to whom I would be only a memory of a man she knew when she was small. Sad for Anna and Oris. Sad for Niko and his family.

I held my breath, expecting at any second to hear the command, Fuego! – Fire!

Instead a roaring, thrumming sound filled my ears. Was this death? Was it another thunderstorm? I raised my head, and with one good eye I saw the source of the noise as it came into view. Two large, camouflage-green helicopters soared up from behind the cliff on the southern side of the island, only a few hundred meters away.

Military helicopter.

“Two large, camouflage-green helicopters soared up from behind the cliff…”

All the guards similarly craned their heads, some shading their eyes to see the helicopters more clearly.

Fuego!” Cowboy screamed, and I didn’t know if he meant that the men should fire at me and my companions or at the helicopters. I put my head down and braced myself for the impact of bullets tearing through me. The air erupted with the sound of gunfire… and I was still alive. I looked up to see the guards firing on the helicopters, or at least trying to. The two helicopters moved as fast as falcons, flying in formation, making a huge circle around our position. I saw that both copters had twin machine guns mounted on either side of the cockpit, massive circular cannons with multiple barrels. Beside them were what looked like missile batteries. There were actually two cockpits in each copter, one on top of the other, with the upper one presumably housing the gunner.

The helicopters opened fire, and the world turned into a thunderstorm of sound and light. Those machine guns spun too fast for the eye to see, pouring death onto the island. The sound was an uninterrupted, ear-splitting whine. All around me men screamed and fell. I dropped my head again and covered the girls and Niko as well as I could.

When the firing stopped, I looked up to see that all the guards around me were dead, their bodies torn to pieces by the powerful guns of the helicopters. Cowboy had actually been cut in half at the waist. One of the helicopters continued to hover to the west of the house, while the other touched down outside the perimeter fence twenty meters southwest. A lone figure dismounted and strode toward me. He was a tall man wearing a green jumpsuit, black army boots and a black helmet with a face shield and an attached microphone. He also wore a nylon shoulder holster containing a large handgun. He approached until he stood above me. Then he removed the helmet, and I saw his face.

It was a thin face, with hollow cheeks and a long, crooked nose. He wore a neatly trimmed goatee, and his perfectly styled hair, once black, was now mostly gray. His name was Yusuf Arosemena Cruz, and as he stared down at me his eyes were full of rage.

The rage, I was sure, was not directed at me, but at the men who had abused me so terribly.

He kneeled beside me and spoke in English. “Do you have people in any of these houses?” He made a gesture that encompassed the huge house and the outbuildings.

My chest rose heavily and fell. My breaths were growing ragged, each one more and more of an effort. I couldn’t find air to speak, so I only shook my head no.

Yusuf lifted the helmet and spoke into the microphone. “Destruyelo todo. Light it up.” He looked at the hovering helicopter, raised a hand, and made a gesture, swinging his fist in a circle, then popping his fingers open.

Twin streaks of fire lanced from the hovering helicopter toward the main house. A split second later the building exploded in a massive fireball that shook the earth beneath me. I shut my eyes against the tremendous yellow and red brightness. A blast of hot air and sheer force bowled me over onto my back. Looking at the sky, I saw clouds beginning to gather. Or was that my vision turning gray? Another explosion came, then another. Judging from the direction of the sound, the chopper had blown up the torture house and the prison villa as well. Black smoke rose into the sky, blotting out the clouds. Or was that my vision turning black?

I moved my lips. No sound emerged, but the shahadah was on my tongue, gracing my final moments. Another explosion. I saw no sky anymore, only darkness. I didn’t know if my eyes were open or closed. Another, more distant explosion. Closed. They must be closed. I’m done. It’s all you now, Ya Allah. It’s all you. The thought brought with it relief and grief, two opposites that should never go together but somehow did.

Yes, my eyes were definitely closed.

* * *

I dreamed.

I stood alone in a dark building, wearing only my underpants. I belonged in this lifeless, gloomy place. I had no business in the world of the living anymore. Patches of purple and motes of crimson swirled before my eyes. Something about the space – the way the sound of my breathing echoed, perhaps – told me the building was huge and empty. In the distance a doorway opened, and I squinted my eyes against the rectangle of light. The figure of a woman stood silhouetted, her hair billowing. She began to walk toward me, her footfalls the only sounds in the cimmerian space. She stopped in front of me, and only then did I see that she was Safaa. I turned my back, not wanting to be seen, not wanting my failure, shame, and near-nakedness to be exposed. She placed her hands on my back, her fingers firm and warm on my shoulder blades. I exhaled a sigh of relief and tipped my head back, overwhelmed with feelings I could not describe…

I walked into an expensive restaurant and saw Safaa sitting alone at a table. She looked elegant and beautiful in a vanilla white hijab and a long-sleeved white gown that glittered with tiny diamonds. I sat at another table and watched her surreptitiously. She kept glancing at the door as if she were waiting for someone. She had a small dish of caraway seeds and was arranging them on the table to spell something. A white limo pulled up outside and she stood. A tear more brilliant than any of the diamonds she wore ran down her dusky cheek. When she was gone I went to the table to see what she had written, but the seeds had been disturbed, and I couldn’t read the words…

A spider-borne disease wiped out everyone in the world but me, Safaa and Hajar. I wanted to fly to another planet, but Safaa refused to come with me…

My crazy friend Niko came up with a scheme to sell stolen vacuum-packed salmon to the Kuna Indians. The cops were after him and he wanted me to take the salmon and finish the job…

I was a special investigator for the police, looking into a murder at a rich man’s mansion. A witness handed me a gun in a plastic bag and said, “This is the murder weapon. The murderer’s name is Zaid Karim”…

I stood amid the ruins of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. All the glass tanks had been shattered and the fish lay flopping on the ground. Their eyes rolled toward me as they said, “Save us, Zaid.” But I could not because I had no water to put them in…

I lay on my back in a hospital bed, unable to move. The lights overhead hurt my eyes. Tubes ran into me, and monitors were attached to my chest. I was bandaged practically from head to foot. I heard a sound and rolled my eyes. In the bed next to mine, Niko lay on his back. His eyes were closed and his chest rose and fell slowly…

Except I didn’t think that last one was a dream…

I opened my eyes and again found myself in the hospital bed. Maybe I made a sound, because a voice said, “Zaid? Zaid, habibi.” It sounded like Safaa, but of course that was impossible. Or was it? I was so confused. I heard a chair scraping and the sound of footsteps. Before the footsteps reached me, my eyelids became suddenly as heavy as lead curtains, and I tumbled into a silent and subterranean sleep.

* * *

I awoke to the sound of bird song, and the feeling of warm sunshine on my face. For a long time I lay with my eyes closed, listening to the trills and calls. Was I in my apartment at Ashlan Meadows, where I lived with my wife and child? Was it Saturday morning? Was Safaa making breakfast?

I opened my eyes and immediately knew I was not in my apartment. The ceiling was way too high, and built of huge wooden beams. I lay in a king-sized behemoth of a bed with fluffy pillows and a quilted comforter. The room was spacious and high-ceilinged, with huge wooden timbers supporting the ceiling. Islamic art, of all things, hung on the walls – beautiful paintings of domed masjids and ancient cities. Set amid the paintings, a row of delicate yellow orchids grew in a carved wooden planter mounted on the wall. A border of green and blue tiles with Islamic geometric designs ran along the walls at the base.

The room smelled of lemon and jasmine. I turned my head to the left and saw a floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door that opened onto the most beautiful place I’d ever seen in my life. The glass door was open, and a cool breeze blew in through the screen door behind it. This was definitely not Panama city, though the air was still humid and damp.

A bodyguard stood just outside the door, facing away from me. He wore civilian clothes – jeans, boots and a buttoned shirt – and I didn’t see a gun, but his posture and bearing were unmistakable.

In the foreground, a huge, grassy expanse sloped down to a large blue lake. The green sweep was interspersed with tall mango trees ripe with fruit. In the background clouds of mist poured down from the tops of forested hills. It was like a scene from Paradise, or like one of those nature posters they sell for ten dollars at the record store.

El Valle de Anton, Panama

A horse went by at a gallop. A girl of perhaps fifteen years sat atop it, laughing and calling out to someone. She wore a riding outfit with black boots and a form-fitting red hat with a small bill. A moment later two other girls came into view, riding at a trot. They were Oris and Anna. But who were Oris and Anna? How did I know those names? Another child came into view, this one a much younger girl riding a pony that was led by a short, middle-aged man with almond-brown skin and wearing a cowboy hat. This last child was Hajar, my daughter.

Seeing this I laughed out loud, because this was obviously a dream and a weird one at that. If Safaa were here as well it would be perfect, as if my subconscious where throwing my every hope into one sweet narrative, whether it made sense or not.

This thought had no sooner touched my mind than I heard Safaa’s voice.

“Zaid?” she said. “You’re awake? Alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah!”

I turned my head to the right and there she was, rising from a rustic sofa hewn from whole tree limbs and covered in blue and green cushions. Her eyes were tired and her spring-patterned green and yellow hijab was askew, as if she’d been sleeping in it. She rushed to my bedside and took my hand in hers. She bent down and pressed her forehead to mine, saying, “Habibi, I’m so happy you’re awake. When I thought I’d lost you I…” Her voice broke into a sob. “It nearly crushed my heart.”

I laughed again, though my throat was dry and my voice rusty.

Safaa’s face colored. “Why are you laughing?”

“Because,” I said, “this is such a crazy dream. How did I come up with this?”

Safaa’s mouth fell open, then she laughed and punched me in the chest. “You jerk! This isn’t a dream.”

“Ouch!” That punch really hurt. It set off dull aches throughout my upper body. Was a person supposed to feel pain in dreams? I couldn’t remember. And who were those girls, Oris and Anna? I should know, it was on the tip of my tongue… something about… Tarek. My friend Tarek Anwar.

It all came rushing back. Tarek, Tarek was dead. And I’d been hired to find his daughter. And… Panama. Niko. El Pelado. Ouagadiri. El Demonio.

I was dead. I was dead, and this was Jannah, Paradise, with Safaa telling me she loved me, and Hajar, Anna and Oris all riding horses together. It could be nothing else. But then why was there an IV in my arm, and why did my body hurt? A sense of panic rushed through me like a flash flood. Something was wrong. Something was wrong with the world. Was this all an illusion? Was I trapped in some bizarre, hyper-real nightmare?

I tried to sit up and immediately grimaced and fell back. It wasn’t that I was in pain, though now that I became more aware of my body there were indeed vague, ghostly pains in my left leg, left shoulder and right side. But what shocked me was how weak I was. I was like a newborn kitten. I lay in bed, breathing hard from the exertion of trying to sit up. I was so confused, and although this house, the mountains outside, and the fact that my family were here were all lovely, my confusion over what was real and what was imaginary disturbed me so much that my breathing became rapid and shallow. “I need to wake up from this,” I moaned. “I need to wake up.”

“Habibi.” Safaa came close again, taking my face in her hands and kissing me. Her lips were warm, and tasted of pineapple. I’d wanted this for so long. I’d yearned to feel her touch again, to be safe and comforted in her arms, and yet I was strangely unmoved by it. Her kisses did not stir my heart, and her presence, rather than comforting me, set my nerves on edge, like the pins and needles one gets when their limbs fall asleep. Yet more evidence, I thought, that this Safaa was not real. If she were my Safaa, I would be more excited.

She stroked my cheek. “You’re not asleep.” She kissed me again. “Does this feel like a dream? You were injured very badly, but you’re alive.”

She felt real, tasted real, looked real.

“But the real Safaa doesn’t love me anymore,” I said softly, to myself as much as to to her. “And if this is real then what is this place? Why am I not dead?”

“I can answer that,” a man’s voice said.

I looked to the doorway to my right and saw none other than Yusuf Cruz. He looked just as I remembered from prison – tall, gaunt and bearded, with introspective brown eyes – except instead of the army greens we’d worn in prison, he was dressed in tan slacks, a Hawaiian shirt, and sandals.

Seeing his face, a memory rose in my mind like a hot geyser. Yusuf standing over me wearing a jumpsuit and pilot’s helmet. El Demonio’s house exploding, and a tremendous fireball mushrooming into the sky…

“We are in the town of El Valle de Anton, in the mountains of Coclé province, in Panama. The tourist agencies call it Crater Valley. And this is my home.” He gestured to the sliding glass door and the expansive lawn, trees and lake outside. “You are here because this is where Allah decreed you should be. That is what you taught me, yes? That Allah is the Planner and Master of all things?”

El Valle de Anton, Panama

El Valle de Anton, Panama

Unbelievable. This dream, this hallucination, kept throwing apparitions at me. It would not release me, and it angered me. I looked to Safaa, challenging her. “How could you be here? And Hajar? It doesn’t make sense.”

She held my hand between hers and caressed my palm with her fingertips. It tickled. “You don’t understand, Zaid. It’s been three weeks since brother Yusuf rescued you. You were terribly wounded. You nearly died. You were in surgery for four hours, then the ICU for a week, and recovery for another week. Yusuf tracked down your parents and they called me. We came straightaway. You’ve been in and out of consciousness, but this is the first time you’ve been lucid.”

I stared. So… this was real? I survived? And what about… “Niko,” I said sharply. “Where is Niko?”

“He is alive,” Yusuf said from the doorway. “He was here, but he has returned to Panama for now.”

Niko was alive… I let that sink in. Alhamdulillah. He’d been so badly wounded, I was afraid that he – wait a minute. I looked at Yusuf. “You said, ‘he’s alive.’ Not, ‘he’s good, or he’s fine, or he’s well.’”

Yusuf looked down. “Yes. He was shot twice, you know. He will have a long recovery. You can see for yourself when you are well enough.”

Twice? I hadn’t known that. There was something else Yusuf and Safaa were not telling me, I was sure of that. Another thought came to me. “You blew up the compound.”

Yusuf set his jaw. “Yes. And good riddance.”

“There were civilians in that house. Service employees, and an elderly couple.”

My tall friend went very still. “I did not know that.” He made a small, apologetic gesture with his hands. “Casualties of war. If I had known… Well. I did not know.”

“Maybe you didn’t care, huh? Maybe the opportunity to kill a rival drug dealer was too good to pass up. Mission accomplished.”

Yusuf frowned. “I am not a drug dealer. I was true to my word, hermano. All my businesses interests are legitimate.”

I snorted. “Is that why people turn pale when I mention your name? I appreciate you helping me, but as soon as I can walk I’ll be on my way.” Suddenly I was fed up with all this talk. “I want to see the girls,” I told Safaa. My tone was harsh. After all the months of hostility and icy contempt from her, I didn’t understand her reasons for being here, or for showing me all this affection. I didn’t trust her, I realized. That was a first. I’d always trusted her implicitly, ever since we were kids. But when I’d called her before going to Ouagadiri and she wouldn’t talk to me, that had been the final straw. My feelings for her had gone as cold as a prison cell in November. And as for Yusuf, I didn’t believe a word out of his mouth. With the reputation he had, and this clearly luxurious estate he lived on, how could he be straight?

“Anna, Oris and Hajar,” I repeated. “I want to see them.” I rubbed my throat. It was so dry that it hurt to speak.

“Okay.” Safaa spoke in a placating tone, as if I were an octogenarian with Alzheimer’s, insisting that I wanted to talk to Charlie Chaplin. “I’ll go call them. And I’ll get you something to drink.” She left the room.

Yusuf dragged a heavy log-hewn armchair across the room and sat beside me. “You did a great thing, hermano, saving those girls. I always knew you were destined for greatness.”

I gave him a flat look. “I’m disappointed in you. I believed you were done with crime. I thought you were sincere.”

Yusuf smiled. “I’m telling you the truth, hermano. I am done with crime. I own a real estate development firm. We have major projects all over Panama.”

“Then why is everyone afraid of you?”

He sighed. “You can thank my ex-wife for that. Berliza, I told you about her? She was the one who was into Santeria. Anyway, when I went to prison she took over and ran the cartel in my name. As a woman, she would not have been taken seriously. So she told everyone she was acting on my orders. She was more ruthless than I ever was. She killed people by the scores. She ordered the assassination of the deputy minister of justice. She killed a lieutenant who betrayed her by shooting him with a grenade launcher. She did all this in my name.” He gave a disgusted shake of his head. “I didn’t know about it until I got out. Then I divorced her. I have a new wife now, her name is Yasmeen.” He smiled. “She makes me very happy.”

“And now? Is Berliza still running your gang?”

“It’s not my gang. And yes, Berliza is still in charge. We have a…” He threw his hands up. “An unspoken agreement. She lets me live, and I allow people to think I am still in charge. I am helpless in this matter, hermano. If I spoke against her publicly she would destroy me faster than you can say hasta luego. Perhaps she would go after my family. Power has gone to her head. She has become a gila monster.”

“So you’re out of the crime business, but you just happened to have two assault helicopters available?”

“No,” he said patiently. “I heard from brother Qayyum that you were asking about me. He’s a good friend. I traced your steps. When I learned about El Pelado’s death, I guessed where you were going. I bribed a Colombian general to let me borrow those choppers for a few hours. It was pure coincidence that I arrived when I did. You can thank Allah for that, not me.”

“And the bodyguard?”

“I’m not a drug dealer. But many people think I am. That creates enemies.”

Three girls came running into the room, followed by the teenaged girl I’d seen riding at a gallop outside, and a petite Muslim woman in her thirties, carrying a baby boy with alert black eyes. The woman had fine Spanish features, and wore an expensive looking riding outfit.

Hajar dashed straight to me, leaped onto the bed and threw herself onto my chest, wrapping her arms around my neck. She wore sneakers, leggings, and a touristy Panama t-shirt. Her hair was extra curly, maybe because of the the humidity here in Panama.

“Mommy was afraid you would died,” Hajar informed me. “I could tell. But I knew you wouldn’t died, because you promised. But you have too many boo-boos, Baba! You have to not play rough with the Panama people.”

“Okay.” The weight of Hajar’s body on my chest hurt, but I gave no outward sign of that as she snuggled into my chest.

Anna Anwar came close to the bed – I noticed that Oris made a motion as if to pull her back, then let her hand fall – and held my hand where it rested on Hajar’s back. “Thank you Uncle Zaid,” she said seriously. “Thank you for saving me.” Her skin was a beautiful cocoa shade, her eyes the color of fall leaves just turning from green to brown. She seemed, if not happy, at least not terribly traumatized. Perhaps, living with Angie, she’d become used to hardship and chaos.

Oris was another matter. She stood with the teenaged girl against the wall, beneath a painting of the green dome of Masjid An-Nabawi. Oris looked a million times better than the last time I’d seen her. She was well dressed in a long green skirt and an expensive looking blouse that was too big for her. She’d gained a few pounds, which was a good thing, as she’d been skin and bones when I saw her in that nightmarish villa. But her eyes darted this way and that, and the dark circles beneath them spoke of haunted days and sleepless nights. I could only guess what El Demonio had done to her. She would have a long and hard road back, I was sure.

Safaa returned with a glass of water. She held it to my lips as I drank greedily, then pulled it away, saying, “Slow down. Let’s leave room for some food.”

At the mention of food, my stomach rumbled loudly, like a sleeping komodo dragon that had just awakened. I was, I realized, hungry enough to eat the entire annual food export of Panama.

Hajar reached up and grasped my ear lobe, caressing it between two fingers like she often did. “Baba,” she said, “you’re so old and warm.”

“Oh,” I told her. “I have some bad news. I lost Little Deer. I’m sorry, sweetie. It was stolen from the car I was riding in.”

Hajar lifted her head and regarded me solemnly. “That’s okay, Baba. Maybe the person who stoled it needs somebody to love. And Little Deer will make him happy.”

I smiled. “Yes. Maybe.”

“Have you met everyone?” Safaa asked. I shook my head, looking to Yusuf.

“I’m sorry for my rudeness,” he said, stepping forward. “I didn’t want to intrude. This is my wife, Yasmeen.” The petite woman stepped forward and Yusuf draped an arm around her shoulders. The difference in their heights was remarkable.

Yasmeen gave me a tight smile that did not quite touch her eyes. “Please be welcome in our home,” she said in accented English. “Is a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise,” I said. “Encantado. I am grateful for your hospitality.”

Yusuf gestured to the teenaged girl who stood with Oris. “Nora, my daughter. She’s been teaching the girls to ride.”

I greeted her and thanked her for her attention to the girls. She must be Yusuf’s daughter by his first marriage, as fifteen years ago he had just entered federal prison. He would have missed most of her childhood. I wondered how he’d managed to repair that damage, or indeed if he had.

“And my son,” Yusuf concluded, rubbing the baby’s head. “I named him after my personal hero.”

“Ma-sha-Allah.” I thought back to the many conversations we’d had in prison. “Uhh, that would be ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab, right?”

“Yes, he is my hero, but I mean my other hero. Zaid.”

“Yes?”

He laughed. “That is my son’s name. Zaid.”

“Oh.” I didn’t know what to say. I was his hero? I didn’t feel like a hero. What good had I done Tarek Anwar, or Angie Rodriguez, or the civilians who’d been killed on Ouagadiri, or even the young guard who’d been shot by Cowboy for his reluctance to execute me, Niko and the girls? Speaking of Niko, what good had I done him? What were Yusuf and my wife hiding about his condition? I’d dragged him into this whole mess, and he’d been shot and nearly died. Hero? I felt a wave of bitterness wash over me, and my eyes welled up with the intensity of my self-loathing. I was no hero.

Yusuf smiled, no doubt mistaking the reason for the tears in my eyes, thinking that I was moved by his naming the boy after me.

I suddenly felt tremendously weary and weak. My embrace of Hajar loosened, and the ceiling spun above me.

“Zaid?” I heard Safaa say, but it seemed to echo from the end of a tunnel. Hands lifted Hajar off my chest. I heard voices and the shuffling of feet. I thought I might pass out, but the ceiling gradually wound down and came to a stop. When I recovered my senses, I found the room empty except for me and Safaa, who stood beside me, holding my hand.

I disengaged my hand from hers. “I want you to leave.”

“What do you mean?”

“Take Hajar and go back to California. When I’m well enough to travel I will bring Anna to her grandparents. I’ve paid Hajar’s child support and more, so I expect full shared custody of Hajar going forward. I’d like to see her every weekend, and I’ll pick her up from school on Tuesdays and Thursdays as well. Maybe I’ll take her to the park or something, then bring her home. We can discuss a divorce settlement later.”

Safaa stared at me open-mouthed. “You don’t know what you’re saying. You’re delirious.” She put a hand on my forehead, checking for a fever.

“I know exactly what I’m saying. I almost died here, and if I had I would have died alone, not only physically but emotionally as well, because the woman who should have loved me abandoned me instead. I’ve tried with you. Allah is my witness, I have tried. But I have nothing left. I’m done trying.”

“But.. I…” She straightened and nodded. “I see what you mean. And I’m sorry you had to go through that. But I haven’t made myself clear. I want us to get back together. I love you, Zaid Karim Al-Husayni. I want us to be a family again.”

The words washed over me like a cold wind. They should have left me gibbering in ecstasy, but instead they made me want to retreat into myself. They made me angry. “Tell me something. Do you still think I had an affair with Karima?”

“No. Not anymore.”

“Really? That’s interesting. What changed your mind?”

“Uhh…” Safaa stammered and looked as if she’d rather pick up a rattlesnake and make out with it than answer the question. I met her eyes with a blank stare and waited.

“Farah Anwar,” she said finally. “She’s telling everyone that you had something to do with Tarek Anwar’s death, and that you stole ten thousand dollars from her and ran away.”

Infuriating, but not surprising. Was there no end to that woman’s mischief? “And?”

“And, well, I know you loved Tarek and tried to help him. You would never do anything to harm him. And I came here, and I see that you not only found Anna like you were hired to do, but you pushed harder and farther than anyone could have asked.”

“Ahh.” I snorted and shook my head. I’d thought I was done being disappointed by Safaa, but a fresh wave of it rinsed my heart in vinegar and left me grimacing. “Now I get it. You came down here to see if I really stole the money like Farah claims.”

“No! I mean, maybe. Only a tiny bit. But now I see that Farah lied.”

“So you finally figured out that she’s a chronic liar, and you deduced that she lied to you about me. Congratulations. You win the door prize, which you can collect on the way out. You do not, however, win me.”

Safaa gave me a pained, confused look. “Why are you talking like this? You’ve never spoken to me like this, ever.”

I dropped the sarcasm. “I told you, I’m done. Don’t you understand, Safaa? It’s easy to believe in someone when you’re confronted with evidence that they’re truthful. But marriage is supposed to be more than that. It’s supposed to be believing in someone because you love them. Because they’re your twin soul and your heart, and you trust them. Because they’re the shoulder you lean on, the person you want to stay with until you walk together in the tall grass of Jannah. You and I had that once but you threw it away on the word of a bitter old woman. I didn’t destroy our marriage. You did. What you feel now is perhaps regret or guilt. The realization that you made a mistake. It’s not love. I don’t know when you stopped loving me or why. Maybe you saw me struggling as a taxi driver and a P.I. and concluded that your hopes for me were misplaced, that I’d always be poor and struggling. I don’t know and I don’t care anymore.”

Safaa began to cry. “Do you… do you not love me anymore?”

I felt like a heel and a cad. I couldn’t stand to see Safaa unhappy. I never could. But everything I’d said to her was true.

“I do,” I told her truthfully, my tone more gentle now. “You are a mountain in my mind. For so long all I’ve wanted was to lie in your green meadows, listen to your streams, feel the trembling of your granite when you avalanche. I still want that. I want to lose myself in your spring, summer and fall. I just don’t want to be frozen alive by your winter. I don’t want to spend my life searching for the hidden pass that leads to your heart, then end up like the Donner Party, cannibalizing myself. I-” Words failed me. I was more tired than I’d ever been in my life. I felt that my bones would turn to powder at any moment, and my heart melt like wax.

“I can’t anymore,” I whispered. My lower lip trembled and tears trickled from my eyes, though I wasn’t even sure why. I was just so overwhelmed. “I have nothing left. Take Hajar and go. I divorce you.”

If Safaa made a reply, I did not hear it. My eyelids came down like stage curtains at the end of a show, and I fell asleep.

* * *

Next: Chapter 18 – A New Light

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

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

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Wael Abdelgawad's novels can be purchased at his author page at Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Wael-Abdelgawad/e/B071CYWVDM?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1579756718&sr=8-1Wael 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.

53 Comments

53 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Amatullah

    September 28, 2017 at 3:31 AM

    Allahu Akbar!
    No words.
    Too emotional right now to comment…maybe

  2. Avatar

    SZH

    September 28, 2017 at 3:39 AM

    A roller coaster of emotions. An emotionally sickening spiral of ups and downs throughout has made me dizzy. Now I just want the “Return” to be more positive than this one (and longer, of course :-P ). Although what Zaid is doing, seems like a right thing to do. And he has been getting “subtle” hints in last few days. Even then, I would like him to have a better judgement.
    Brother Wael, your story-telling is immensely captivating, and it has been on a ascending track. What was slightly less polished, is now shining bright. The “first-person” story telling format has done more good to what I thought.
    May Allah give this more to you. May Allah bless you and your family in all aspects of life. JazakAllah Khair.

  3. Avatar

    Abu Hirsi

    September 28, 2017 at 3:44 AM

    Assalamu Aleikum brother Wael
    Brilliant. Masha Allah Tabaraka Allah.
    ” I don’t want to spend my life searching for the hidden pass that leads to your heart, then end up like the Donner Party, cannibalizing myself”
    The mountain, meadow, spring analogy truly poetic. My brother Alhamdulilah Allah has given you a talent. Continue to use the medium for Dawa and get our brothers and sisters back into our ancestral habits of reading and seeking knowledge. Thank you for sharing with us your book for free when we should really buy it to support your efforts.
    May the Almighty Allah bless, protect and guide you always. Allah Yahfadhak.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      September 28, 2017 at 4:07 AM

      Abu Hirsi, you’re welcome. And by the way, I’ve already made some changes in response to your earlier comment about race. I’ll try to be more attentive to that Insha’Allah. Jazak Allah khayr.

      • Avatar

        Abu Hirsi

        September 28, 2017 at 5:07 AM

        Brother Wael
        Jazak Allah Khairan for your superb writing and for your patience.
        I am looking forward to read more of your books. I am particularly looking forward to how you will weave a Sura or Ayah or a Sahabi story into your writing. You have truly begun a new genre of writing. I cannot think of any writer old or new who can deploy all the tools that mesmerize your readers, Some cannot even breathe! Masha Allah Tabaraka Allah. Keep up the great job.

  4. Avatar

    Akhil Jamal

    September 28, 2017 at 11:12 AM

    Man … I will say this ….. Your stories made me wake up every day and live till the next day…. And you my dear friend will get 30% credits … Which is huge and I ll tell this too, gives some much needed meaning to this struggling life …. May God bless you mahn … And make some more of these … And make our lives better till that last beat in your heart bro … Thank you !

  5. Avatar

    Maryam Moeen

    September 28, 2017 at 1:50 PM

    Amazing!! Love it; but what’s next!?!?!??! AHHHAH!! The series is coming to end, Amazing!

    Jazk for the experience with you suspenseful stories; you know how to keep your reader till the end, like not taking my eyes off my laptop till I’m done!

    Very well done!

  6. Avatar

    Layyinah

    September 28, 2017 at 2:47 PM

    As salaam alaikum Brother Wael, I am sure that there’s not much to the comments on your skills. I am also disappointed that the story is nearing it’s end. This is definitely one of your gifts, readers truly connect with characters and don’t want to reach the end. You’re also a master at cliff- hangers. Glad that everyone made it out alive EXCEPT their marriage. I’m still holding out for the happy ending. Finally, as previously mentioned, thank you for allowing us the pleasure of reading your books for free. I look to the final chapter and your next story, in shaa Allah.

  7. Avatar

    Layyinah

    September 28, 2017 at 3:00 PM

    correction:

    As salaam alaikum Brother Wael, I am sure that there’s not much to add to the comments on your skills. I am also disappointed that the story is nearing it’s end and this chapter was so short! ?. This is definitely one of your gifts, readers truly connect with characters and don’t want to reach the end. You’re also a master at cliff- hangers. Glad that everyone made it out alive EXCEPT their marriage. I’m still holding out for the happy ending. Finally, as previously mentioned, thank you for allowing us the pleasure of reading your books for free. I look to the final chapter and your next story, in shaa Allah.

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Maryam Moeen

      September 28, 2017 at 9:26 PM

      Same, I was really shocked that everyone survived except their marriage. I still have hope that Zaid comes out of his coldness he has entered. It probably hit Safaa’s heart like an arrow when he said “I divorce you!!”

  8. Avatar

    Umm Ismael

    September 28, 2017 at 3:19 PM

    Tears in my eyes…. Amazing alhamdulillah! No words although i had wished that the details about the compound had not been so graphic. I felt nauseous and couldnt get them out of my mind for some days since I have a daughter- subhanAllah! hasbi yallah.

  9. Avatar

    Maryam Moeen

    September 28, 2017 at 9:20 PM

    Oh my god!! I read over the amazing parts again! Br, No you’ve got to be kidding me please let them get back together I don’t want a divorce. Brother you know that is is permissible in Islam but a very discouraged act, I’m just saying this because I too overwhelmed. Shaytan (Dead El Demino) will be really happy if they don’t get together. Also, it can hurt Hajar; to live with one parent and not the other.

    Please bring it to a good ending, I know you already will, but please end the last chapter by them spending a happy life together, and on a Saturday morning. A scene where they spend time together as a family.
    Also, one more thing Br. Wael; Did you delete a chapter “Crater Valley” or did you change the name? I was wondering where did that chapter go?

    Jazk, Br. Wael for understanding.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      September 29, 2017 at 12:20 AM

      Thanks for your comments Maryam. You are correct, the name of the chapter was changed.

  10. Avatar

    Bint A

    September 29, 2017 at 12:50 AM

    Hmm… I’m wondering about this constant theme of the hero being knocked out until the point of death and then dancing with death in a prolonged period of unconscious recovery and continuously dreaming until they wake up in a haven of bliss. I’m wondering what the story is behind this theme if you don’t mind sharing :)

    It happened with Hassan and it was a novel ending. Then it repeated with Zaid….
    This time it didn’t have the same impact though. I guess I was looking for something least expected…. and I have also been hypothesizing what happens in your story at crucial cliffhangers (as a brainstorming exercise) and I also came up with the solution of some outside force (army, police etc.) intervening at the exact moment of need. I thought that would be too cliche so dismissed the idea. But then…that was exactly what happened. Yusuf Cuz coming to save the day didn’t really feel welcome for some reason. I felt that he was an outsider and didn’t really fit in with the story….maybe since we didn’t know too much about his character so didn’t develop an affinity to him. The plot twist of Mr.Green on the other hand, was totally different and very welcome since we were familiar with his character and the shock when the two identities converged was brilliant.

    My suggestion is… (not sure if you can still do this) is to try an alternate ending to the story if possible. Or go back and try to add more tidbits of Yusuf Cruz throughout the story (other than a mystery character one hears about offhand). like actual glimpses into his life or stories where he comes up.

    One thing you can utilize perhaps is what you mentioned at the end about Yusuf tracing Zaid’s footsteps. you could perhaps weave in accounts where there is a ‘presence’ throughout Zaid’s altercations at different moments and Zaid is unable to explain what or who caused it. a disturbance perhaps, or some clues left behind that don’t quite add up, a presence of a ‘guardian angel’ that the reader couldn’t possibly equate with Yusuf Cruz because we are made to think he’s a criminal. Some more mystery, but the idea is that Y.C,’s final appearance is not an anomaly but something that has been building up throughout

    Just some suggestions :)
    Sorry for performing a literary analysis on your story…but it just needs a bit more to have that brilliant impact at the end -like a person smacking his lips after a finishing a particularly gratifying end to a latte :D

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      September 29, 2017 at 1:09 AM

      Bint A, your points are totally valid and you’ve given me something to think about.

    • Avatar

      S. Hassan

      September 29, 2017 at 4:35 AM

      I agree with BINT A 100%.
      Amazing story!!!

  11. Avatar

    Abu Hirsi

    September 29, 2017 at 5:07 AM

    Assalamu Aleikum Warahmatulahi Wabarakatuhu
    Dear brother Wael:
    I cannot thank you enough for sharing with us your nail biting/hanging on the edge of the abyss/high excitement writing. I am writing to request you to continue to be you and not dilute or change any of your creativity. If you listen to any of us your writing will cease to be Wael’s. Take all the suggestions with a grain of salt and write the way you write. Human Beings will never be satisfied regardless. As per Hadiths our praises and criticisms should be have no effect on you.
    Some readers would want the stories to end the way they want or fantasize. Some cannot handle certain scenes which vividly bring the story to life. This is not their story or writing. This is Wael’s. Write the way you do best and let us deal with our own hangups/limitations/fantasies. Let us grapple and react to the story each in our own way. Jazak Allah Kheyran. Jumuah Mubaarak

  12. Avatar

    Sarah

    September 29, 2017 at 11:14 PM

    Assalamu alaykum

    I am loving the story so far mashaa Allah. I am kind of sad about him and Safaa, but I do feel like she was excessively cold to him throughout on very little basis, so I guess she deserves it.

  13. Avatar

    Wael Abdelgawad

    October 3, 2017 at 2:37 AM

    As-salamu alaykum everyone. The final chapter of Zaid Karim P.I. is not ready this week. I’m working on it, but it will be at least one more week and possibly two. Sorry for the delay.

  14. Avatar

    Maryam Moeen

    October 3, 2017 at 2:41 PM

    It’s okay take your time! I just hope it ends with them coming back together and all of that amazing stuff! The ending will be good I can’t wait!

  15. Avatar

    Al

    October 4, 2017 at 11:48 AM

    First time commenting, long time reader.

    Though I’m annoyed at zaid’s sudden coldness towards his wife (even though she had it coming, treating him like that for so long), I feel like it fits his character which has elements of ghuluw/extreme-ness to it. He was extreme in his love towards her and he was sudden and extreme when he decided he wasn’t going to take it anymore.

    Loved his connection to Allah. Really related to his struggle in refining himself. Altogether his thoughts and internal dialogue made him very relatable, more so than Hassan I think.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      October 4, 2017 at 1:56 PM

      Jazak Allah khayr, Al. I will use your observation, if you don’t mind.

      • Avatar

        Maryam Moeen

        October 5, 2017 at 1:41 PM

        No!! Brother I would want them to come together as a happy family again as Avid Reader did i have aso stated hadiths about it. Also, it will hurt the kid living with one parent and not the other and there are a lot disruptions when there is a divorce.

  16. Avatar

    Avid Reader

    October 5, 2017 at 6:58 AM

    Regarding Zaid’s concept of marital relationship, it seems like it borders on the romantic and not enough pragmatic. Specially, if he claims to always keep Allah in mind, he should remember that Allah says:
    “And live with them honorably. If you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing and Allah brings through it a great deal of good.” [Nisa’a:19]

    Also, the Prophet said: “The best of you is the one who is best to his wife, and I am the best of you to my wives.” [Sunan ibn Majah Hasan]

    Moreover, it is natural on the part of the wife to feel disillusioned if the husband has problems supporting her financially. So, Zaid should carry no grudge against Safaa on that account as Allah says:
    “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means.” [Nisa’a:34]

    BTW, for all this support for Safaa and being upset with Zaid, for the record, let it be known that I’m not a female:-)

  17. Avatar

    Naseera

    October 6, 2017 at 1:22 PM

    This was an incredibly well-written story which I really enjoyed. I enjoy reading Jo Nesbitt and I believe this was even better. I hope the reason for his presidential pardon is not forgotten in the final chapter. Thank you for a great read.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      October 6, 2017 at 1:27 PM

      Thanks so much Naseera. The story of the presidential pardon will be told in another Zaid Karim book, Insha’Allah, if I choose to continue the series.

  18. Avatar

    Maryam Moeen

    October 7, 2017 at 8:40 PM

    No!! Brother I would want them to come together as a happy family again as Avid Reader did i have aso stated hadiths about it. Also, it will hurt the kid living with one parent and not the other and there are a lot disruptions when there is a divorce.

  19. Avatar

    Maryam Moeen

    October 10, 2017 at 10:02 PM

    Aoa,Br. Wael when will the last and most amazing chapter come out?? Can’t wait for it. Is it will be awesome. I might sound like a foo l because; I’ve repeated it a dozen of times, please end it with the whole family coming back.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      October 10, 2017 at 10:58 PM

      Maryam, I’m about 2/3 done with the chapter. I just completed a sci-fi novel I was working on, so I can turn more attention back to Zaid Karim, Insha’Allah. One more week, I would say.

  20. Avatar

    Abu Hirsi

    October 11, 2017 at 5:13 AM

    Assalamu Aleikum Akhuuna Wael AbdelGawad
    Jazak Allahu Kheyran for everything that you do for the community as far as the free books that you share with us, fulfilling other resultant roles as the resident morale booster and Chief shrink and most important for your masha Allah abilities to listen and respond appropriately to all each of us. You are exhibiting the Quranic Ayah: “Wa Quluu Linasi Husnaa”. Allah Yahfadhak.

  21. Avatar

    Ahmed Rashed

    October 11, 2017 at 4:56 PM

    I really, really liked this episode. . . especially the end. Some may not like Zaid’s words to Safa, but “actions have consequences.” The helicopter rescue was a shock, that is the only negative feedback. However, if you do like one of the other people suggested and drop hints of Yusuf in other previous episodes, it works out well. I plan on buying your book on Amazon, brother. May Allah bless you and your writing, habib.

  22. Avatar

    Maryam Moeen

    October 11, 2017 at 9:00 PM

    Aoa, Br.Wael; Jazk for letting me know the date your last, final and amazing chapter will be published. Just one request even before reading the last chapter please end it with the family coming together in unity.
    Oh yes, I read about you sci- fi novel on your page. I think I already told you this; a few years back my IS teacher used to read to us as a whole class, about Layth and Khadija. This year I gave in the series of yours books to read in class, if that’s fine. I hadn’t ask so I wanted to ask just to make sure.

  23. Avatar

    SZH

    October 12, 2017 at 2:56 AM

    People commenting here, asking to “save” Zaid’s marriage. I also want that, and hope for a some-what-happy-ending.
    With that hope, I would like to remind what Abu Hirsi (in some comments above) said. “…. This is Wael’s. Write the way you do best and let us deal with our own hangups/limitations/fantasies. Let us grapple and react to the story each in our own way….”.
    Take your time. Be yourself. Write the best of which you can. I know that all these stories somewhat reflects your life and observations. We, most of us, want the story to take the less bitter path. Thank you.
    And also, take all your time to write the loooongest last episode. I have got my “Pieces of Dream” to Pakistan. I will be finishing that.

    • Avatar

      SZH

      October 13, 2017 at 5:20 PM

      Alhamdulillah, read the book “Pieces of Dream”. None of my words can justify the book’s quality. The details and additions to the Layth’s story is a loving aspect of the book. Anyway, I cannot fight off the sensation of “impending doom” to Layth’s. :-D
      Khair, a great book. I will like to read the other parts as soon as possibe.
      That being said, I have completed the book, now, where is the last part of Zaid’s saga?

      • Avatar

        Wael Abdelgawad

        October 13, 2017 at 5:47 PM

        Jazak Allah khayr brother, I appreciate your feedback on Pieces of a Dream. Please do me a favor and leave a review on Amazon.com. The last chapter of Zaid Karim is 3/4 done.

        • Avatar

          SZH

          October 17, 2017 at 5:35 AM

          Wa iyyaka. I will try to write a nice review there. Cannot review it like it deserves, but will try to do so.
          Zaid’s story needs your time. I am imagining you writing and erasing words, sentences and paragraphs. I hope that it will turn out exactly as you outlined the whole story.

      • Avatar

        Maryam Moeen

        October 14, 2017 at 6:01 PM

        Gaw lee; you don’t have to be sarcastic.
        You’re in Pakistan?? Man how I wish to visit Pakistan, been there when I was a kid; but I don’t remember a lot. How can anyone forget the beloved Junaid Jamshed he will always be in our hearts. I was the first though to pay tribute to him. I have posted videos on my YouTube channel, username below.
        Br. Wael I saw your channel and Salma MashaAllah the magic table trick and the chant. Soo cute MashaAllah.

        • Avatar

          SZH

          October 17, 2017 at 5:42 AM

          Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to be sarcastic. I apologize.
          Yes, I live in Pakistan. We have been riding a roller coaster, for 70 years. :-D

  24. Avatar

    Kulz

    October 14, 2017 at 4:38 AM

    This part of the story was amazing. First the helicopters and then Hajars arrival and then Zaids description of how marriage should be. Tears! So many tears! Absolutely heart wrenching!!

  25. Avatar

    Maryam Moeen

    October 18, 2017 at 12:10 AM

    Br.Wael when will the next chapter come out??

  26. Avatar

    Maryam Moeen

    October 19, 2017 at 10:09 PM

    Okay IA!

  27. Avatar

    SZH

    October 23, 2017 at 5:48 AM

    Today is 23rd of October… And I have finished Dan Brown’s book in the wait of Zaid’s last part.
    If the chapter is complete, hurry up. If something is remaining, then, no rush.

  28. Avatar

    Maryam Moeen

    October 24, 2017 at 4:01 PM

    Me too!! I’ve been waiting, I check every day. It’s okay it’s worth the wait.
    But SZH you never answered my question about the beloved Junaid Jamshed. I love him. I was the first one to pay tribute to him. Check out my channel I have a few videos of him, and please subscribe. I saw you channel Br. Wael you daughter is soi cute Ma!! The magic table trick also the chant for her.Aww the chant is soo cute MA!!

    • Avatar

      SZH

      October 25, 2017 at 2:07 AM

      Oh, sorry I didn’t.
      JJ is an icon of positive change. The way he left his career at the highest peak, it make him a symbol of sacrifice and beloved in eyes of people. I frequently hear his nasheeds and get inspiration. Also, I have checked your YT channel. MaShaAllah you have quite a collection of his.

      • Avatar

        Maryam Moeen

        October 25, 2017 at 3:38 PM

        Oh I know right!! I love him!! May you plaese subscribe. I will be posting more IA it’s just I have been busy these days, I had PSAT today. I love him, he is an amazingly, incredibly idol for all off us to follow, IA!!

  29. Avatar

    Luqman

    October 25, 2017 at 1:33 PM

    Maa shaa Allaah, I’m just always wondering what it takes to be you, amazing story, inspirational.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      October 25, 2017 at 1:42 PM

      Jazak Allah khayr, brother. It just takes practice and a major investment of time, that’s all! And I still have much room for improvement.

      So, everyone, the final chapter of Zaid Karim is complete. We’ll publish it next Tuesday the 31st of October Insha’Allah, if MM has no objection.

      • Avatar

        SZH

        October 26, 2017 at 2:14 AM

        Spoilers please…. :-P

        • Avatar

          Maryam Moeen

          October 26, 2017 at 8:20 PM

          No spoilers please oh come on just 4 more days, almost there tag along. We’ll get there together as MM readers. IA!

  30. Avatar

    Maryam Moeen

    October 25, 2017 at 3:44 PM

    Oh my god!! Finally I’ve been waiting forever!! I checked continuously every Tuesday. Thank God I know the amazeness will be there for next week.

  31. Avatar

    Sahra

    October 30, 2017 at 4:51 AM

    One more day inshallah
    I haven’t been saying much but I was checking ever time and now we are coming to an end. Brother Wael please let us know when your new sf book is published as already read Pieces of a dream, JazakaAllahu khayr again and btw my favourite parts are the ayahs the Hadiths and the story of Salman al Farazi ofcourse

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#Culture

Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas | Book Review

In the second decade of the 21st century in America, Muslims consider themselves “as American as apple pie,” don American-flag hijabs, and consider their presence and participation in American politics as a crowning achievement. There is little to no resemblance between the majority of the American Muslim population today, and the very first Muslims who landed in America – not as privileged individuals, but as enslaved people at the hands of vicious white colonizers who had already decimated the Indigenous population and who had no qualms about destroying the lives of their slaves. Dr Sylviane A. Diouf’s book “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” tracks the journeys and experiences of African Muslims who found themselves shipped aboard slave-trafficking vessels and taken to the other side of their known world. From their induction into the Transatlantic slave trade, to their determination to uphold the five pillars of Islam – regardless of their circumstances – to the structure of the enslaved Muslim community, their prized (and dangerous) literacy, and their never-ending resistance against slavery, Diouf illustrates in incredible detail the powerful and painful experiences of enslaved African Muslims, and the legacy that they left behind in the Americas.

This review of “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” will focus on the unique qualities and formidable faith of the very first Muslims in the Americas, and the legacy that they left for Muslims in the Americas today.

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In Chapter One, Diouf begins by answering the very first question that arises when considering the path of enslaved African Muslims: how did they end up enslaved in the first place? Slavery already existed as an institution in Africa, though vastly different from the horrifying standards of the European slavers. Between the existing slave trade, military conflicts that created prisoners-of-wars who were then sold as slaves, and the European propensity for kidnapping innocent people, many Muslims found themselves swept into the Transatlantic slave trade. These same Muslims were the ones who provided us with much of the knowledge that we have today regarding the American slave experience. Most African Muslims were literate, due to the religious and cultural importance of education; of those enslaved, many were religious scholars or students of knowledge. They described how they were captured, the torturous journey of the slave caravans across the continent, and the even more horrific experience of the slave ships themselves. These men also documented their lives as slaves, and indirectly, provided deep insight into their own inner nature. 

Despite the intense pressure and demands on African enslaved people to renounce their ‘heathen faith’ and be inducted as Christians, African Muslims demonstrated a commitment to Islam that should cause modern Muslims today to feel deeply ashamed in comparison. The very first words that Job ben Solomon (Ayuba Suleyman Diallo) uttered, after running away and then being discovered in Pennsylvania, were the shahaadah; Omar ibn Sa’id wrote numerous Arabic manuscripts, in which the shahaadah was always found (Diouf, 2013, p. 72-73). When Catholic priests tried hard to educate slaves about Christianity as part of the conversion process, the African Muslims were both resistant and unimpressed; they were already familiar with many Biblical stories, thanks to their Qur’anic education. Of those who seemed to have accepted Christianity, many did so only outwardly, while confirming their belief in Allah and His Messenger in every aspect of their lives. Indeed, in Brazil and other areas where there were large concentrations of Muslim slaves, the Muslims established underground madaaris to maintain and pass on their Islamic knowledge and education. Muhammad Kaba Saghanughu was a man whom the missionaries had thought was successfully converted when he provided all the right answers to their pre-baptismal questions – eleven years later, in a Baptist Missionary Society notebook, he wrote a 50-page fiqh manual in Arabic that encompassed the rulings of salaah, marriage, and other topics. 

Slavery did not stop the African Muslims from maintaining their salaah in whatever manner they could manage, considering their circumstances. Some did so in secret, while others insisted on upholding their salaah in public, to the extent that these incidents were recorded by the descendants of slaves and slaveholders alike. In Brazil, the African Muslim community – both enslaved and freed – held together so strongly that they were able to secretly establish Salatul Jumu’ah and attend gatherings of dhikr, even in the face of intense scrutiny (Diouf, 2013, p. 88-89). 

Perhaps one of the most greatly moving examples of enslaved African Muslims’ dedication to their Islam was that even in the midst of the utter poverty of slavery, they found a way to uphold zakaah, sawm, and Hajj. In Brazil, it was recorded that the Muslims would end Ramadan with the exchanging of gifts, no matter how simple they were; in truth, these gifts were zakaatul fitr and zakaatul maal.

In other areas, the descendants of Muslim slaves recalled that their parents and grandparents would make rice cakes called saraka at least once a year – saraka was a corruption of the Arabic word sadaqah, and the rice cakes were a Jumu’ah tradition in West Africa. (Diouf, 2013, p. 92-94) In Ramadan, many Muslims sought to fast; indeed, despite the incredible hardship and lack of nutritious food that the slaves already endured, there were those who fasted voluntarily outside of Ramadan as well, often by pretending to be ill. They knew that their situation meant that fasting – in Ramadan and outside of it – was not obligatory on them, and yet, to them, no circumstance was bad enough to warrant not even attempting to observe Ramadan. Hajj was another pillar of Islam that was both impossible and no longer obligatory on the enslaved Muslims; yet in Brazil, in a house that was used as a masjid, there were illustrated depictions of the Ka’bah – demonstrating the emotional bond that the African Muslims had with the Sacred House. 

Throughout Diouf’s book, the overwhelming theme that arises is the fierce commitment that enslaved African Muslims had to Islam. It was not superficial, shallow, or easily shrugged away in the face of difficulty. Instead, the African Muslims held onto their belief in Allah and their daily, lived practise of Islam, even when they had every excuse to relax their obligations. They upheld their Islamic and cultural dress code, not just at its minimum standard of modesty, but in a way that clearly demonstrated their religious identity (Diouf, 2013, p. 101-110). They found ways to make prayer mats and dhikr beads; they gave their children Muslim names in secret, when they were expected to present themselves as Christians; they even strove to observe whatever they could of the Islamic dietary code, by refusing to drink alcohol or eat pork – Ayuba Diallo went so far as to only eat dhabiha meat that he himself slaughtered (Diouf, 2013, p. 119-122). The enslaved African Muslims valued their Islamic identity above all. Even in slavery, they knew that their ‘izzah came from their Deen – and so did those around them, who noted their unique bearing in the face of the horrors of slavery. 

The story of the African Muslims who were enslaved and brought to the Americas is not merely a history lesson, or a token homage in honour of Black History Month. It is a story that echoes the persecution of the earliest Muslims in Makkah, and applicable to Muslims today. Muslim minorities in the West are often all too eager to complain of our difficulties and to seek religious exemptions for our minor inconveniences. Yet who are we in comparison to the earliest African-American Muslims, who endurable the unspeakable? Who are we, with our privileges, with our very freedom, in comparison to those Muslims who were stripped of everything and everyone they knew and loved, and who still held ever tighter to the Rope of Allah? One may say that it is unfair to compare us and them; that to recognize their struggles should not mean invalidating the challenges we face today. Certainly, we face numerous different fitan that are very different from what they experienced, but the truth is that we should compare our attitudes with those of our predecessors. We should be ashamed of our own weaknesses in times of privilege compared to their strength in times of oppression. More importantly, we must learn from them what it means to have such a relationship with our Creator and our Deen that we are capable of surviving and thriving in even the worst of circumstances. 

May Allah have mercy on the enslaved African Muslims who endured one of this Ummah’s historic tragedies, and may He make us of those who demonstrate their strength of love for Him through every tragedy of our own.

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#Culture

Searching for Signs of Spring: A Short Story

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

Golden Gate Bridge at night

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

The Smoker

Cigarette butt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Drive the damn car,” Smoker said.

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

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

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

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

Randa did not reply.

The Threat

Prison visitors window

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

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

The man smirked. “Hot date?”

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

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

“Bachelorette party.”

“Better not be any drugs there.”

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

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

“Eat poison and die.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Phone Call

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

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

“She didn’t invite me.”

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

“What if Motaz shows up?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Because I just spent the last three years-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t think it means that.”

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

Prayer

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

San Francisco Islamic Society Mosque

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

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

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

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

The Party

Yemeni food mutabaq sandwich

Mutabaq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bridges

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

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

Golden Gate Bridge at night

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

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

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

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

Randa walked.

THE END

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

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

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

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The Beginnings Of The Darul Islam Movement In America

I was raised in the Darul Islam movement; my father Shaykh Abdu-Karim Ahmad, was one of their Imams for a time in Philly. So was my cousin Shaykh Ali Ahmad. Both who are still alive today. There are many narrations yet to be told, that shed a little light and context, about Muslim America today.

Much of the history about Islam in United States of America and of the pioneering Muslims upon who’s shoulders we stand, has never been told. Some of them unfortunately may never be told and may die with the death of those who were there. When it comes to American Muslim history, the narratives of those who lived it is more poignant than that of those who only heard about it. As in the hadith of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), “He who is told is not like he who has seen”.

Much of what is written about Black American Muslim Sunni pioneers is written about us but not by us. 

One story that has remained largely unchronicled is that of the Darul Islam movement. Darul Islam was an early indigenous Sunni Muslim community made up of Black American Muslims and converts to Islam. At its height, it comprised 25-30 Muslim communities and masaajid across the country. It was started by Rajab Mahmood and Yahya Abdul-Karim, who were formally attendees of the famous State Street Mosque in Brooklyn, New York in the Atlantic Ave area west of Flatbush. The State St, Mosque which was started by was Dawud Faisal, a Black man who came to the United States from the Caribbean to pursue a career in jazz music, became a beacon for early Muslim immigrants as there was already a spate of Arab businesses along Atlantic Ave near third street, not far from the Mosque. My father used to take us to Malko Brothers bakery on Atlantic Ave in the early sixties where we would buy pita bread and halal meat from one of the other stores. It was one of the few places you could buy pita bread on the East Coast and there was no such thing as a halal store in America then.  

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Partially because Shaykh Dawud was black, and perhaps because of his jazz background and affiliation, the Masjid also attracted Black American converts to Sunni Islam. Many early Sunni Muslims were associated with and came from jazz musicians.  The Legendary John Coltrane was reported to have been a Muslim, he was married to a sister named Amina and his daughter was named Na’eema. My father performed her marriage in New York in the 1980’s. It’s rumored that he never publicized his Islam because it would have damaged his career as it had done to so many others. Hajj Talib Dawud, who started a masjid in Philadelphia (not related to the Darul Islam movement), used to be a trumpet player for Dizzy Gillespie. 

Meanwhile, , there was a chasm between immigrant Muslims who were new to the country. Converts to Islam, who were overwhelmingly Black, were new to Islam.  In 1960, Shaykh Dawud hired a teacher who was Hafiz al-Quran named Hafiz Mah’boob — he was associated with the Tabligh Jamaa’ah movement— but he was Black or looked black. The young African American converts, Rajab Mah’mood, Yahya Abdulkarim, Suleiman Abdul-Hadi (my uncle and one of the founding members of The Last Poets), Muhammad Salahuddin, and others. were drawn to him, He was “down” with educating the brothers from America and he used to teach them Arabic and Islam. It was a different time then and the immigrant, mainly Arab Muslims, and the Black American converts to Islam were from two different worlds. There was an unspoken uneasiness. Eventually Hafiz Mah’boob suggested that the African American brothers go and start their own masjid.

Rajab Mah’mood and Yahya AbdulKarim eventually left the State Street Mosque and started their own Masjid in Brownsville, one of Brooklyn’s toughest neighborhoods, they named it Yasin Mosque, and that was the beginning of the Darul Islam Movement in the United States. That’s also just the beginning of the story.

I was born and raised a Sunni Muslim in Philadelphia, PA; my parents converted to Islam in the 1950’s.

I was raised in the Darul Islam movement; my father Shaykh Abdu-Karim Ahmad, was one of their Imams for a time in Philly. So was my cousin Shaykh Ali Ahmad. Both who are still alive today. There are many narrations yet to be told, that shed a little light and context, about Muslim America today.

History matters. 

Taken from the Upcoming Book. “The History of the Darul Islam Movement in America” 

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

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

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