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

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

Axe

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

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

Zombies

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s nonsense,” Yahya commented.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yusra!” Samira exclaimed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But why not?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

Try the Bak Bak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stuff it, you beer-blooded clownmeister.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What? What did they do?”

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

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

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

“Yup. The guy’s a predator.”

“Did you call the cops?”

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

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

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

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

* * *

Next: Part 4 – The Psychology of Forgiveness

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

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

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

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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.

Wael Abdelgawad's novels can be purchased at his author page at Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Wael-Abdelgawad/e/B071CYWVDMWael 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.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    R

    January 16, 2020 at 2:01 PM

    Alhamdullilah. I’m glad you’re back with the story! There was a comment in Part 2 about the mystical aspect of Yahya’s character. I got the sense that his sisters coming into the story may reveal more about that so I’m keeping posted on that. One thing I noticed and maybe misread, I thought the baklawa was knocked out of Amelia’s hand (“went flying”) but Chad was eating it at the end while contemplating his revenge…which I like the symbolism of eating the sweet gifts while pondering his unsweet plan. Looking forward to the next part.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      January 16, 2020 at 3:57 PM

      Thanks for the comment. Chad knocked away the one piece Amelia offered him, not the plate. I added a few words to clarify that.

  2. Avatar

    Fatin Asnan

    January 18, 2020 at 2:09 PM

    Assalamualaikum, I just found out about this series through the MM newsletter and mashaAllah I was glad I decided to read it. As a fan of short stories and fiction (I also write a few pieces!), this series is incredibly riveting with Islamic messages and lesson infused here and there. I especially love the plot because it doesn’t delve too much into political discourse but rather the plot evokes personal stories and relationships that are relatable. I am excited to read the next part inshaAllah!

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      January 18, 2020 at 5:38 PM

      Sister Fatin, wa alaykum as-salam. I really appreciate your comment, since this is exactly what every novelist strives for – to impart excitement and knowledge, not through lecturing or discourse, but through the plot itself. May Allah grant you success with your own writing as well.

  3. Avatar

    Leanna

    January 18, 2020 at 10:35 PM

    As Salaam Alaykum again Brother Wael, looking forward to the next part, of course. I am curious how you write so realistically the skewed thought processes of a racist. It’s quite disturbing to read and know that people like this exist…may Allah protect and guide us all.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      January 22, 2020 at 11:42 PM

      Leanna, I’ll reply to you and Umm Ibrahim together, as she wrote:

      “Assalamu alaikum Br Wael, I really appreciate your purposeful fiction masha’Allah. Question: As a writer, how did you develop Chad’s character. How real of a depiction is he – do you see many Chads out there? His mannerisms, problems, thinking …”

      Chad was easy to write. I have known people like him, maybe not as extreme but along the same lines. He is a budding extremist, uneducated and ignorant, frustrated in his personal ambitions, justifying his failures by blaming others. Someone like this could go three ways in life: he could become educated and change; he could stay the same; or he could mix with the wrong people and become radicalized. We’ll see how it goes.

      I drive for Uber on Friday and Saturday nights. I based Chad on real people I have driven, especially young folks from the neighboring town of Clovis. I have received several one-star ratings based only on my religion or race. It may be that some older people feel the same way, but they have the common sense to keep it to themselves. The young racists have no such compunctions.

      • Avatar

        Leanna

        February 26, 2020 at 7:37 PM

        Thanks for answering

  4. Avatar

    Umm Ibrahim

    January 19, 2020 at 4:44 PM

    Assalamu alaikum Br Wael, I really appreciate your purposeful fiction masha’Allah. Question: As a writer, how did you develop Chad’s character. How real of a depiction is he – do you see many Chads out there? His mannerisms, problems, thinking …

  5. Avatar

    Moosa

    January 20, 2020 at 4:15 AM

    Assalamu Alaykum Br Wael. I have read all your previous work on Muslim Matters and I have thoroughly enjoyed them. It was easy to feel a deep connection with the protagonists and relate to them. I am finding that to be a bit difficult with Yahya, the main character. His actions seem to be too over-the-top to be realistic. His giving his shoes away while half dead and later discharging himself from the hospital without any pressing need to do so.
    I feel two-minded on his forgiveness of Chad. Yes, personal forgiveness is a great thing but the man is obviously a threat to his family as well.
    Just my thoughts. Jazakallah for the enthralling reads.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      January 24, 2020 at 2:54 AM

      Thanks so much for your comment brother Moosa. Yahya is not like most other people. Some people might consider him saintly, while others might consider his behavior irresponsible or extreme. We’ll see how it goes inshaAllah.

  6. Avatar

    Sehide

    January 20, 2020 at 1:23 PM

    Salam alaikum, thanks for continuing with this story! I really like how you make us live the characters´thoughts…i hear them speaking in my mind, and it sounds real and realistic!
    One q: Somewhere along the line its mentioned that Yahya was guided to Islam, but then his sisters have arabic names…so was he born muslim and came back to being practicing, or did he revert?
    I like how he has dreams and visions. And i like how clearly the hypocrisy and irony of Chad´s thoughts, ideas and actions come through.
    Keep going, I cant wait for Part 4.
    Wasalam.

  7. Avatar

    SZ

    January 22, 2020 at 10:32 AM

    After a long, really long time….

    MaShaAllah beautiful plot and style, as it always has been with your writings. I have the usual complaint, the length is too short and the parts should be more frequent.. ?

    The mystical side of Yahya seems like something Hassan had, the “snaking”. As fictional it was, this seems similar. Like a super power. I am sure the further character development will enhance and deepen the story.
    Can’t wait to read all of it. InShaAllah.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      January 22, 2020 at 11:45 PM

      Nice to hear from you brother. I think you mean Hassan’s “ghosting”, heh heh.

      Part 4 is ready but there may be a delay until part 5 is ready. I am realizing that I don’t know Yahya well enough. I need to delve further into his childhood.

  8. Avatar

    Umm Ibrahim

    January 31, 2020 at 12:01 AM

    Part 4???

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      February 1, 2020 at 12:20 PM

      It’s ready to go. Just waiting on MM’s publishing schedule. I’m sure it will be posted soon inshaAllah.

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#Culture

Trump And The Holy Gobble: A Tongue In Cheek Short Story

When Donald Trump tries to impress a secretary and is exposed to aloo gobi and black pepper, what follows could mean the end of the world.

Aloo Gobi

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories. This story is satire, i.e. humor. You’ve been warned!

That’s Why They Love Me

The EEOB

The EEOB

With Secret Service agents guarding his flanks, Donald Trump exited the White House and headed across the street to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which housed the majority of the White House staff offices.

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“Mr. President,” the Special Agent In Charge protested. “I wish you would eat in your private dining room, or at least in the Navy Mess. It’s safer than the EEOB break room, of all places.”

Trump gave the man a condescending smirk. “You don’t understand what it takes to be a great president. I have to let my workers know that I care about them, bigly. I’m the best at that. No one has ever been better than me at being good to their workers. That’s why they love me.”

The SAIC rolled his eyes. He knew the real reason for the president’s desire to hang out in the EEOB break room. One of the new EEOB secretaries, a petite Russian immigrant blonde named Natasha Petrova, was a former “actress” known to her fans as Natasha Lipps. It wouldn’t be long, the SAIC expected, before Ms. Lipps – err, Petrova – would be made a presidential advisor, which would naturally require personal briefings with the president.

Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, strode beside him. Trump was fed up with the man, who kept trying to talk to him about the need to cover up his affair with Stormy Daniels.

“Can’t we just get the Russians to eliminate her?” Trump demanded.

The Nuclear Football

“Well, heh heh,” Cohen stammered. “That’s not really-”

Trump waved him off. Maybe it was time to fire the dopey dummy, if he couldn’t get things done. As they entered the EEOB, Trump turned to his aide-de-camp, a tall and muscular man wearing a medal-festooned military uniform and a beret. The man carried the nuclear football, and was always at the president’s side.

“Give me the football.”

The nuclear football

The nuclear football

The aide hesitated. The football, a Halliburton Zero aircraft-aluminum briefcase with a protruding antennae, the whole thing further housed within a thick leather satchel, contained a device that the president could use to launch nuclear missiles from any location. It was quite heavy. Besides, the aide knew that Trump only wanted to show it off to Natasha Lipps – err, Ms. Petrova.

Trump snapped his fingers. “Give it, loser.”

The aide handed it over, watching with satisfaction as the president listed to one side, nearly falling over.

In the break room, Trump, out of breath from the exertion of carrying the football, beamed with satisfaction. He’d timed it perfectly. Lipps was making herself a coffee. He admired her figure, resisting the impulse to grab part of her anatomy.

A few other employees sat at the cafeteria-style tables, eating sandwiches and chatting. A brown-skinned young man stood beside a humming microwave oven. They were losers, all of them. They weren’t the president. He was! They didn’t have people all over the world reading their Tweets. He did! Something smelled good, though. He looked around, trying to identify the source of the delicious smell, when the staffers noticed his presence. They all jumped to their feet, and one man saluted. Mental note: promote that guy to presidential advisor.

Natasha Lipps gave him a wide smile. Trump leaned forward even more than he normally did, all his attention focused on the Russian woman.

“Look what I have,” he boasted, grunting as he hefted the case. “The nuclear football.”

“You are such a poverful man,” Lipps purred in her Russian accent.

Cherokee People

“Something smells good in here.” He gave her a wink. “Is that you?”

“I vish it vas, Mr. President. Is Ahmad over there.” She nodded to the brown-skinned man. “He alvays bring delicious food.”

Trump frowned at the man, who had just taken a meal out of the microwave. Ahmad? Wasn’t that a Muslim name? He turned to Cohen. “Do we still have any Muslims on staff? I thought we fired them all.”

“I don’t know, sir. The White House has thousands of staffers.”

“Arrest him. But bring me his lunch. It smells really good.”

“I don’t know if that’s strictly legal, sir, there are laws-”

Trump silenced him with a chopping motion. “Hey, you. Ahmad.”

The brown-skinned man froze. “Yes, Mr. President?”

“You’re not Muslim, are you?”

Ahmad’s eyes shifted left and right. “I’m from California.” Which was technically true.

Trump made a face. “Just as bad.”

“I believe he is Indian,” Petrova whispered.

Oh, that was fine then. Trump had been dealing with Indian-owned casinos in Atlantic City for decades. “Cherokee people,” he sang out loud, “Cherokee trii-iibe. Hey chief, what are you eating?”

Aloo Gobi

Aloo Gobi

“Aloo gobi, sir.”

Holy gobble? What the heck kind of a dumb name? Getting back to more important matters, he set the football on one of the tables, touched his thumb to the biometric scanner, and popped the case open.

Inside, a special laptop computer was custom-fit into the case. The upper panel came on automatically, displaying a map of the world, with all the major cities marked with glowing dots. The lower panel contained a keyboard and a large red button, along with two smaller buttons, one labelled YES and one NO.

Allergic to Pepper

Trump grinned at Natasha Lipps. “Guess what this does? I could destroy the planet from right here if I wanted to. Pretty hot, huh?”

“Is vonderful.”

“Mr. President, sir!” the aide-de-camp protested. “This is highly irregu-”

Trump sneezed into Natasha’s face. It was a wet, jet-propelled sneeze. Her smile flickered for an instant, then returned as bright as ever as she wiped his spittle away. Trump scanned the room. The dark-skinned Indian guy had a hand-held pepper mill and was grinding pepper onto the holy gobble.

“Stop that, you moron!” Trump snapped. “I’m allergic to pepper.”

The man gazed at him pleadingly, and gave the crank a slow-motion turn. “But I like a lot of pepper on my food, sir.”

Trump let out a tremendous sneeze, one that shook him all the way down to his spinal cord. This time he felt himself losing balance, and reached out a hand, which landed right on the nuclear football’s red button. A loud beeping noise sounded, and lights flashed on the screen, along with the glowing words:

CONFIRM MISSILE LAUNCH = YES
ABORT = NO

Trump prided himself on being a positive person. No one had ever been more positive than him in all the history of the world. He didn’t believe in the word NO. He pressed the button for YES.

Arrest That Man

Everyone stared in horror, except for Ahmad, who used the distraction to give the pepper grinder three fast turns. Then he sat, said a quick dua’ and rapidly began to eat his aloo gobi.

“Dear Heaven,” the aide-de-camp breathed. “The Russians will retaliate. We’ll all be destroyed.”

Trump smirked. “You think I would point missiles at Russia? They’re pointed at Mexico and China. Immigration problem solved, plus we win the trade war! Am I the smartest or what?”

The aide-de-camp studied the laptop screen. “One of the missiles is off target. It’s headed for California.”

Trump nodded smugly. “I always keep one aimed at San Francisco.” Grinning widely, he crooned, “Goodbye, Pelosi!”

The SAIC tapped his earpiece. “We’re getting word. The Chinese have launched a retaliatory strike. We’ll be hit in fifteen minutes. We need to get you to the bunker!”

Ahmad took out a portable prayer rug, set it down and began to pray. “Alhamdulillahi rabbil aalameen,” he intoned. One last salat before the end of the world. He would meet his end with dignity.

“I knew it!” Trump pointed. “Arrest that man. For being Muslim, and for eating holy gobble.”

Cohen sighed, and Natasha Lipps – err, Petrova – began to cry.

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

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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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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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