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Day of the Dogs, Part 14: If One Day I Am Shipwrecked

‘If one day I am shipwrecked,” he whispered, “and a typhoon breaks my sails, bury my body near the sea in Venezuela.” The words comforted him.

Published

Vía España, Panamá, Panama

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

This is chapter 6 in a multi-chapter novella.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13

“Mamá knows things” – Nur

Ancient Knowledge

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SAMIA DIDN’T NEED TO ASK WHY HE WANTED MELOCOTON’S DNA. Instead she said, “Take your shirt off and tell me what you see.”

“You can’t wait for me to shower before you jump me?”

She clucked her tongue. “Just do it.”

He shucked off the shirt. Samia’s hand went to his wounded shoulder and he pulled back, expecting it to hurt, but when she touched him, moving her fingers lightly across the skin, there was no pain. He pulled her hand away to study the wound… except there was no wound. Only a scar about a centimeter wide, and not a bad scar at that, but the kind you might expect if you scraped yourself on the corner of the car door. The flesh surrounding the scar was pink and new.

He probed the area with his fingers. There was no pain. Samia wanted to know what he saw, and he told her. “It was the krägä bianga.”

She frowned. “You mean the medicine woman? When did you see her?”

He told her, briefly, about his visit to his mother’s house the night of the dinner party, leaving out the fact that Celio Natá had been there and had practically ordered him to become a governor and move to the wilderness.

“SubhanAllah,” Samia whispered. “Ancient knowledge.”

“I guess.”

“There’s no guessing. The evidence is here.” She rubbed his shoulder. “Knowledge comes from many places. We forget that. Nowadays people think knowledge only comes from laboratories, computers, universities. But Al-Ghazali said that anyone who believes that unveiling the truth is the fruit of well-ordered arguments belittles the immensity of Divine mercy. The same is true for well-ordered technology, for sure. Truth, in other words, as well as understanding, insight and vision, all flow from Allah’s mercy. That’s why, in that hadith about the bald man, the leper and the blind man, the blind man was the only one who was grateful to Allah.”

“I don’t get you. What blind man?”

“Don’t you remember from school? To summarize, and I’m paraphrasing, the Prophet sal-Allahu-alayhi-wa-sallam told a story about three Israelites: a leper, a bald man, and a blind one.”

She sat cross-legged beside Omar and told the story:

Leper, Bald, Blind

In order to test the three men, Allah sent an angel to each one separately. The angel asked each one what he wished for most, and what he would like to own. The leper wished for good skin and a cure for his disease, and to own camels. The bald man wished for a beautiful head of hair, and cattle. The blind man wished to be able to see, and for sheep. Each was given what he asked for, and over time their animals multiplied until they were wealthy.

Later the angel returned in the form of a poor traveler. First he went to the leper and said, “I am a poor man, at the end of my rope on my journey, without recourse except to Allah and to you. I ask by the One who gave you a good complexion, good skin, and wealth, for a camel whereby I may complete my journey.”

But the man said, “I have many obligations.”

The angel said, ‘I seem to know you. Weren’t you a leper, destitute and shunned by society? And didn’t Allah help you?”

But the man said, “No, I’ve always had this lovely skin, and I inherited my wealth from previous generations.”

The angel said, “You are a liar. May Allah make you as you were.” So the man was returned to his leprous condition, and stripped of his wealth.

The angel went to the bald man with the same request, and the man similarly lied and denied Allah’s favor, and was returned to his previous condition.

But then the angel went to the formerly blind man with the same request. And the blind man said, “Indeed, I used to be blind, but Allah restored my eyesight. Take whatever you want for the sake of Allah.”

* * *

“Do you see my point?”

“That we should be grateful?”

“And?”

He snapped his fingers. “Generous.”

“And?”

Omar was suddenly tired. Samia’s tendency to lecture did not always come at ideal moments. “I don’t know.”

“I’ll tell you, it’ll just take a sec. The blind man was given the vision to see the truth of things, and therefore could not deny that truth. He saw that all mercy, not only his ability to see, and the sheep he’d been given, but the light streaming from the sun, the uniqueness of each raindrop, the first cry of a baby, even the decomposition of bodies in the earth, is all a mercy from Allah, and that furthermore our own ability to understand these things and speak of them is yet another manifestation of rahmah.”

Omar’s was struck by the irony of Samia telling a story about a blind man gaining his vision. A thought came: Why can’t an angel come to her? Suddenly his eyes filled with tears, and he pressed his palms into them to hide it.

Mistaking this as a gesture of weariness, Samia caressed his curly hair and swung her legs off the bed, but Omar said, “So the krägä bianga is a manifestation of Allah’s mercy?”

“Why not?”

“She’s not Muslim.”

“Since when is Allah’s rahmah restricted to Muslims? Don’t the non-Muslims love their children too?” She clapped a hand on his knee. “Take a shower. I’ll make some apam balik.”

At the mention of apam balik, his stomach stuttered into gear and his mouth watered. He realized for the first time since waking how incredibly hungry he was. He grinned. “I should get sick more often, if I get apam balik for breakfast.”

* * *

He spent a few hours on the phone with his assistant Belem, and then doing research on the internet on DNA genealogy tests. He was pleased to see that the companies only wanted saliva samples, not blood. For sure Tio Melo would not willingly give him a DNA sample – the old man was obstinately private – but maybe Omar could somehow trick him into giving a saliva sample. The problem, however, was that the testing kits apparently needed about two millimeters of saliva, which was a lot.

Mamá Knows Things

Those few hours of work exhausted him. He took a noontime siesta, and woke to the feel of a small, sticky hand pushing his cheek around like baker’s dough. Opening his eyes, he saw Nur in his IIAP preschool uniform. While Omar had been sick his mother and Masood had been taking the boy to school each morning, and Nadia had been bringing him home.

Nadia was a lifesaver. Even in normal times, she picked Nur up every day, because the preschoolers had class until 1 pm, and Omar and Samia were both at work until 5. Since Nadia’s son Jameel was Nur’s classmate, she’d take Nur home with her, and Omar and Samia would fetch him on their way home. She had never asked for payment or reward. She treated Nur like a member of her family.

“Hey Nunu. How was school?”

Nur stuck out his bottom lip. “Bad.”

“Why?”

“Brother Ahmed didn’t give me a gold star sticker, and I cried. I told him that when I grow up and become a man I’ll buy my own stickers and I won’t give him any.”

“Aww, come here.” Nur hopped up onto the bed and Omar kissed him on the temple. “Were you scared when I was sick?”

“No, because Mamá said you would be okay, and I believe her because Mamá knows things.”

“Don’t I know things?”

“Yes, but not as much as Mamá.”

Omar grinned. Truth from the mouths of babes.

She’s Gone

Samia wanted him to take another day off work, but he was too far behind, and she too was needed at the office. So they returned to their routine the next day, with Omar driving Nur to school, and himself and Samia to work.

When they stopped in front of Nadia’s house to pick up Nur that afternoon, Omar stayed in the car. “You go,” he told Samia. He didn’t want to risk seeing Halima. They’d parted on such uncomfortable terms.

Samia shrugged. “Okay.” She stepped out of the car, unfolded her cane and snapped it open. When the door opened, Nadia and Samia exchanged cheek kisses, and Nadia waved to him. If Halima was there, she did not show her face.

When Samia returned with Nur, she had an odd look on her face.

“What is it? Something wrong?”

Samia hesitated. “Nadia says Hani showed up a few nights ago, banging on the gate and shouting. She threatened to call the cops but he went down on his knees and begged to see Halima. He was crying.”

“Crying?” Omar was incredulous. He’d never seen Hani cry in his life, even as a kid. For some reason he was repelled and disgusted by the thought, maybe because he found it impossible to believe the man was sincere.

“That’s what she said. Anyway… Halima went with him. She’s gone.”

Omar’s face became as flat as the road beneath them. “Of course she did.” Without another word, he started the car and pulled out into traffic. He felt bitterness and anger settle over him like a leaden blanket. He tried to tell himself that he was angry at Halima for making bad choices, and angry at Hani for being abusive and manipulative, but really, what were they to him? They were neither his children nor even good friends. They were adults, free to screw up, free to make the worst possible choices, free to be rotten, evil or simply stupid. To hell with them.

Even blind, Samia could read his moods. His silence was, to her, like the empty sky in a painting, portenting either the peacefulness of the day or the electricity in the air. When Nur tried to tell him about the latest trouble Fairy and Jameel had gotten into, his mother shushed him, saying, “Papá has to concentrate on driving.”

He turned on the radio, thinking to distract himself. A news announcer’s basso profundo voice intoned the daily ode to all the sadness and turmoil in the world: the Israelis were bombing Gaza. Syria was coming apart. In Europe, right-wing parties were winning seats. In Panama, a government minister had been arrested for selling protected forest land to a lumber company, and the inmates of La Joya prison were rioting.

Omar made a fist and punched the radio button, shutting it off.

Team Magma

Vía España, Panamá, Panama

Vía España, Panamá

He made his way down Vía España, the bustling one-way downtown thoroughfare lined with stores, restaurants and hotels. He drove aggressively, blasting the horn as if it were a sonic weapon that would disintegrate everything in his way. His family ignored him. Samia had put on her cherry red headphones and was listening to the Quran on her phone. Nur was drawing on an Etch-a-Sketch.

He turned up a long driveway and into a large parking lot.

Samia lifted her head. “Where are we?”

“Price Smart. I told those Venezuelans by the Centro that I’d bring them food and water on Saturday, but I missed it.”

“You were sick.”

“They don’t know that. I don’t want to be yet another person messing them over.” He parked under the awnings that shaded the lot, and turned to his family. “Anyone want to come?”

Samia shook her head. Nur did not even look up. “Hey buddy,” Omar said, forcing a cheerful tone. “You don’t want to come with your Papá?” Price Smart had free food samples, plus a food shop that sold frozen yogurt and Mexican churros. Usually Nur enjoyed coming here. But the boy spoke without looking up from his toy: “No, you’re being a Team Magma.”

Omar pursed his lips. “What does that mean?”

“That’s what the kids say.”

“Which kids?”

“Fairy.”

“Of course. But what does it mean?”

“Nothing.”

Samia pulled one headphone cup away from her ear and said, “Leave it, honey.”

With an exasperated sigh, Omar opened all the car windows – it would turn into a sauna otherwise – and went into the store. A half hour later he emerged with a cart laden with five-liter water jugs, cooking oil, canned foods such as tuna, sardines and beans, an assortment of fresh fruit and vegetables, and a scattering of hygiene products like toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap.

If One Day I Am Shipwrecked

He parked across from the Centro Islamico, directly beside the lot where the Venezuelans were camped. It must have rained last night, because the field was sodden with mud. The scene was much the same as last week, except that in addition to the tent and lean-to that had been here, two new tents had sprung up. One was olive green and appeared to be military issue, while the other consisted of nothing more than a tarpaulin hung over a clothesline strung between the wall of the property bordering the lot, and a stake in the ground.

The toothless old man with the ball cap still sat out in the sun. The thin woman with frizzy hair that he’d seen last week was cooking on a hot plate plugged into an extension cord that ran through a hole in the wall to the property next door. Omar wondered if the people who lived in that adjacent property were donating electricity, or if the refugees were stealing it. Not that it was any of his business. There was no sign of the two children who’d been playing football, nor of the weatherbeaten woman in her forties to whom he’d given the money. A tall teenage boy with brown hair cut close to the scalp was limping around the field with a black garbage bag, collecting discarded bottles and cans.

Omar exited the car and went around to the trunk to unload the goods. From inside one of the tents a woman was singing in a voice as clear and sweet as spun sugar, yet with an undertone of deep melancholy and pain:

I carry your light and your scent on my skin.
I carry the foam of the sea in my blood
and your horizon in my eyes.
And if one day I am shipwrecked
and a typhoon breaks my sails,
bury my body near the sea in Venezuela.

As Omar stood listening, the teenage boy spotted him. The youth dropped his bag, shouted and began running toward Omar with a hitching gait. The singing cut off abruptly. Omar watched, puzzled. When the boy was within seven or eight meters he reached down, scooped a handful of mud and flung it at Omar.

Muddy field The mud struck Omar in the chest. It was wet and soft, and stuck to his shirt. He looked at his chest in shock, and when he looked up and opened his mouth to protest, the boy had already flung another handful. It hit Omar in the face, some flying into his mouth and down his throat. He gagged and bent over, coughing. Another gout of mud hit the car, splattering the side windows, and Omar heard Nur’s muffled voice crying out.

The fact that this punk was scaring his son enraged him. He straightened up and strode toward the teenager, who was bending down to scoop another handful of mud.

“Stop that!” Omar shouted. “Are you crazy?”

In response, the boy let loose a string of insults in a reedy, quavering voice, and chucked the mud. This time Omar sidestepped, letting the mud fly past, and a second later he was on the punk. He gripped him by the front of his t-shirt, lifted him onto his toes – the kid weighed practically nothing – and bellowed in his face. An instant later the older woman – the one he’d given the money to – was there, pulling on Omar’s arm, saying, “Let him go, please, he thought you were here to hurt us.” Only then did Omar’s mind register the bruises discoloring the boy’s face, and the wide, dilated eyes. The kid was terrified. People had emerged from the other tents and lean-tos. They were all women and children, and all looked frightened.

Omar released the youth and stepped back, breathing hard. His anger drained away. As a reward, the boy made a fist and hit Omar in the face. The punch struck his cheek, but there was no power behind it, and it felt like a flick from a fingernail. Omar looked at the boy and said calmly, “Don’t do that.”

The older woman gripped the boy’s face. “Stop! This man is a friend!” She turned to Omar. “I apologize. Some men attacked us two nights ago. They threatened to burn our tents. My son tried to stop them and they beat him. He thought you were with them.”

Samia called out behind him. Omar turned to see her approaching, swinging her cane back and forth. Her pant cuffs and nice Oxford flat shoes were stained. Behind her, Nur sat in the car, his face pressed to the window.

“What’s happening?” Samia called out. “Leave my husband alone!”

The appearance of a blind woman feeling her way across the field seemed to take the aggression out of everyone’s sails.

“I’m fine!” Omar called to her. He jogged to her and put an arm around her shoulders. “It was just a scared teenager.” He led her back to the mother and son, and introduced her.

The woman, who had been reluctant to give her name last week, now smiled and took Samia’s hand. “I am Graziela. This is my son Chiki.”

Omar explained that he had supplies in the car. Graziela called out a few names, and two women in their twenties appeared and accompanied Omar to the car to unload the goods, as Samia remained talking to Graziela.

Later, on the way home, Samia told him that while Graziela had been grateful for the supplies, she’d said that what they really needed was legal residency so they could get jobs. Some of the refugees had left children behind with grandparents or aunts, but could not bring them over without papers. “One man from their group went back to Venezuela,” Samia went on, “but Graziela says most of them were starving there. And the violence was terrible. Graziela was robbed ten times in the last year before she left, including twice in one day! But no one here will help. A UNHCR rep came by, took their names, and never returned.”

Listening to this, Omar knew that he had to help these people. But he didn’t know where to start. He looked at Nur in the rear view mirror. The boy was biting his nails, something Omar had seen him doing more often lately. “Hey Nunu,” he said. “You weren’t scared by what happened back there, were you?”

Nur shook his head. “No. But I thought you were going to beat the boy up, and I didn’t want you to.”

Omar let out a ragged breath. The thought of his son thinking of him, Omar, as a bully, shook him. He gripped the steering wheel tightly. When he glanced at Samia, she was not listening to Quran. Instead she seemed to be looking right at him, though he knew she could not actually see him.

“It’s okay, honey,” she said. She put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s all going to be okay, inshaAllah.”

Escaped Convict

When he pulled up in front of his house, there was a police car parked along the sidewalk. It was unmarked, but possessed the telltale identifiers: long antennas, bull bars on the front, and a spotlight attached to the passenger’s side window. Celio Natá stood beside the front gate, arms crossed, talking to two men in suits. Omar opened the gate by remote, drove in and parked. He told Samia he’d be right in, thinking that this was one of those moments when he was glad she was blind. Then he felt immediately and powerfully ashamed for having such a thought, and said several istighfar.

He strode out to see what was going on.

When he introduced himself as the homeowner, one of the suited men flashed a detective’s badge, and asked if he knew Celio. Omar had the impression that they were about to arrest the old man. When he told them that yes, Celio was his uncle, they seemed disappointed.

One of the officers gestured casually toward Omar’s face and shirt. “What happened to you?” He was a big man with an oversized belly and a heavy shadow of beard growth.

“Oh.” Omar looked at his mud stained shirt. “Stupid teenager.”

La Joya Prison, Panama

La Joya Prison, Panama

“Huh. Anyway, there’s a riot going on at La Joya prison.”

“I heard about it on the radio,” Omar said. “So?”

The detective shrugged. “Some convicts escaped. One was a man named Nemesio Bayano. Do you know him?”

Omar stared at the man. “Nemesio escaped? How could that happen?”

The detective lifted his bottom lip as if to say, Meh. Who knows?

“So you know him?” said the other cop, an equally tall man with a muscular physique and military haircut.

“He’s my paternal uncle, and he’s a piece of garbage.”

“He hasn’t contacted you?”

“No. Why would he?”

“Because -” The detective took a small notebook from his breast pocket and flipped it open. “According to inmate Bayano’s case manager, he is known to have made repeated statements about wanting to kill his nephew, Omar Bayano. He is, quote, pathologically obsessed with murdering his nephew, and has stated his desire to dismember him and feed his body to dogs.” The man looked up, his face as impassive as if he’d read a weather report.

Omar didn’t know what to say. He looked up and down the street, as if expecting to see Nemesio advancing up the sidewalk with an axe. Only then did he notice another police car – this one marked as such – parked across the street.

“What are you doing about it?”

“Everything,” the muscular detective replied. “Half the police in Panama are pursuing the escapees.” The man handed Omar a card. “We’ll leave a car out front. Call us if your uncle contacts you.”

Omar watched the detectives drive away. He’d hoped never to hear Nemesio’s name again, let alone possibly have to confront him. So the man had been sitting in prison all these years, blaming Omar, stewing and filling with hate, while Omar almost never even thought of the man. What had the detective said? He is pathologically obsessed with murdering his nephew, and has stated his desire to dismember him and feed his body to dogs. Despite himself, Omar felt his skin crawl. He was not afraid for himself. But what about his family? Should he get out of town for a while? But he’d already missed a week of work. And what about his mother? She would have to be told.

Hot Chocolate

Celio cleared his throat. Omar turned. His uncle wore a gray suit with a black shirt and no tie. He had a scent to him, something that made Omar think of tree smoke. For a second he wondered if it was something Puro Panameño could distill and sell, and he had to consciously silence that part of his mind. Not everything was a marketing opportunity.

The old man’s clothes looked like they’d come off a thrift store rack, which Omar considered a mark in his favor. Any leader of a nation who bought his clothes off the discount rack was clearly not in it for the money. And that’s just what Tio Celio was, a leader, even if his people were not sovereign and did not have a seat at the U.N.

But that didn’t mean Omar was happy to see him. “Tio Celio.” His tone was brusque bordering on rude. “What can I do for you?”

“Perhaps I can do something for you.” Celio did not uncross his arms. He possessed a stillness that spoke of power coiled and waiting, in spite of the advanced age apparent in the lines on his face. “I will bring a man down from the comarca to act as your bodyguard.”

Omar snorted. “I don’t need that.”

“Of course not.” Celio’s face was unreadable. “Because how could an illiterate Indian protect you?”

Omar looked at the man askance. “What did you just say? That is not what I was thinking. What do you want anyway?”

“May we talk inside?”

Omar found he could not say no. How do you tell a jaguar to walk away and leave you alone? How do you argue with a mountain? He sighed. “Sure.”

At the door, he told his uncle to wait, and ducked inside. Nur was at the kitchen table, opening a box of colored pencils, and Samia was making him a peanut butter sandwich. She was still wearing her hijab.

“Cariño,” Omar said, using the Spanish word for sweetheart. “We have a guest.”

“Who is it? Should I make something?”

“No, don’t bother.” Omar fetched Celio and ushered him in, bypassing the kitchen and taking him to the living room. “You want something to drink? Guava juice? A Pepsi?”

“You have hot chocolate?”

Omar nodded. He went upstairs and washed his face and hands. His hands were shaking. It wasn’t fear. There was too much going on, and it was overwhelming him. Ivana shooting him, Tio Celio’s crazy demands, his illness and the terrible dreams that had accompanied it, this business of Tio Melo’s DNA, almost beating up some poor refugee kid, and now, of all things, Nemesio – the man he despised most in the world – loose and coming to kill him.

He took off his socks and made wudu’, imagining the water carrying away his sins, along with his stress and anxiety. By the time he was done, the shaking had stopped. ‘If one day I am shipwrecked,” he whispered, “and a typhoon breaks my sails, bury my body near the sea in Venezuela.” The words were longing and mournful, but they somehow comforted him.

After changing his clothes he went to the kitchen to prepare the chocolate. Samia was seated with Nur, who was telling her about his drawing. “It’s a city with buildings all on fire. The people who live inside are made of stone, so the fire doesn’t bother them.” The boy’s description set off an echo in Omar’s mind, and though he could not think of what it reminded him of, he shivered. A dream he’d had, maybe.

Hot chocolate He set the water to boil. This was not a common drink here in sweltering Panama City, but he knew it was popular on the chilly mountain slopes of the comarca. His mother used to make it all the time, and he kept some for her visits. Not the store-bought brands, but genuine dark cocoa powder, ground from Panamanian cocoa beans. He made two cups, adding milk, sugar and a touch of chili powder.

“Honey,” Samia said quietly. “Who is that?”

“Nobody. Just… Nothing.”

“What do you mean, nobody?”

Omar did not answer. He returned to Tio Celio, setting the cups on the living room coffee table, which was oval-shaped. There was no sharp-cornered furniture in the house, for Samia’s sake. Celio was on the love seat, and Omar sat on the sofa facing him.

“This is good chocolate,” Celio said, taking a big gulp. “You made it Ngäbe style. I’m surprised.” The old man’s eyes settled on the eight stunning ceramic tiles hanging on the living room wall, one row of four above another. They were blue, and carved in the shapes of varying geometric patterns. “Those are Moroccan. Berber, I would say.”

Omar was surprised. “How did you know that?”

“I have been there. I met with Berber leaders to discuss the common cause of indigenous autonomy. I have been to many nations, many continents.” Celio studied Omar’s face. “This surprises you. You think I am a backward Indian. An illiterate savage.”

Omar’s face grew hot. “I do not think that. How dare you come into my house and -”

“You do. Maybe you don’t realize it. But I saw the loathing on your face when the krägä bianga was treating you. I saw the scornful look you gave the girl, Maura. And I heard what you said to your wife just now. That I am nobody, nothing. This is why you refused my offer. You look down on us indigenous people, as so many do. You deny this part of your heritage. You might know how to make Ngäbe chocolate, but that’s as far as it goes. Your blood is empty. You are a bigot. Yet it is not us you are ashamed of, but yourself. I am not angry with you, but I am sad. Anyone who is prejudiced against his own genetic code deserves only pity.”

Omar was shocked beyond words. He set his chocolate down on the table, hard enough that it sloshed over the side. “Don Celio,” he said, and though he used the man’s honorific – why had he done that? – his voice was as sharp as a knife. But he found that he didn’t know what to say. Deny that he was a bigot? Was there any point to that? Apologize? He’d done nothing wrong.

Before he could conjure anything meaningful, Samia appeared, her face tight with anger. “I don’t know who you are,” she said, “but it’s time for you to leave.”

Celio nodded slowly, considering this. For a moment Omar feared the man might refuse. But Celio stood and bowed to Samia, perhaps not realizing that she could not see him. “My apologies for the disturbance, señora. I will let myself out.” He strode toward the front door, then turned. “Child Omar. Your Malcolm X said, ‘We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.’ Ask yourself. Do you accept every part of yourself?” With that, he departed.

Blaming the Victim

Samia rounded on Omar. “Who was that? Why did he speak to you that way?”

Omar glowered. “I don’t want to talk about it.” He was deeply troubled by what Celio had said. Was it true? Was he a racist? Did he hate the Ngäbe part of himself? Discrimination against indigenous people was a nearly universal Latin American phenomenon. Was he infected by it? He felt like he’d been struck in the chest by a wrecking ball. But Samia knew very little about his mother’s side of the family, and he didn’t feel like getting into the whole mess right now.

“I see.” Samia tapped a finger on her forehead, then came to him, finding him unerringly. “Lie down. Time for a massage.”

“I don’t want to.”

She pushed him down. “Do it.”

Omar let out an exasperated breath and lay on his stomach on the sofa, turning his face sideways so that his cheek pressed against the cushion. Samia half-kneeled beside him, one knee pressing into the sofa cushion beside his hip, and began to massage his shoulders. She worked on the upper part of his shoulders and neck first, alternately applying pressure with her palms, and digging in with her fingertips.

She’d learned to do this from a sister named Sawdah, a Panamanian who had studied some kind of Japanese massage in New York. Sawdah held seminars in her home for women only. Samia had proven an apt pupil, and ever since then she often used her skills on Omar.

“I got this new gadget at work,” she said as she used her knuckles to dig into a particularly tight spot above Omar’s left shoulder blade, “called a line reader. It’s the size of a computer mouse. I run it over any printed page, and it reads the text out loud. It’s fantastic. It can read a spreadsheet, a letter, anything.”

Omar grunted. “So you could use it to read Islamic books too?”

Samia’s fingers ceased their work for a moment. “SubhanAllah. I never thought of that. I can read books again! Although the device’s voice sounds like a woman on opium.”

She worked lower, using her elbow to dig deep into the large muscles of the middle back. Omar found his anger at Hani, his shock and indignation at Tio Celio’s words, all fading with each dig.

“You must be pretty upset with Halima, huh? She’s a terrible person.”

He frowned. “No. She’s a victim.”

“But she went back to her abuser. So stupid, right?”

He knew she was baiting him, but he couldn’t help it. “Yes. It is stupid. But it’s her problem. It’s like a drug addict, you can’t help them unless they want to be helped.”

“So you think she wants to be abused?”

“She must.”

“Did you?”

Omar sat up. “Excuse me?”

“You were abused. Your uncle used to beat you. Did you want that?”

“I was a kid.”

“You were a teenager. Teenagers run away all the time. Plus, you were a karate student. You could have fought back or called the police. You could have told people, told your karate teacher, Principal Suwaylem, your friends’ parents.”

Omar leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees. He hated talking about this. Finally he said, “I didn’t think I could do all those things. I felt… I don’t know.”

“Try.”

He kept his eyes on the floor. “I felt trapped and ashamed. I thought people wouldn’t believe me. I didn’t know who to trust. I didn’t want to abandon my mother. I didn’t know where to go. I even thought that if I left, Nemesio might come after me and find me, and hurt me even worse.”

Samia reached out and cupped the back of his neck, squeezing. “I understand.” She didn’t have to say anything else. He understood the unspoken message: It’s the same for Halima, and for every other victim out there. Don’t hate them for their weakness. They are no more to blame than you were.

He sighed and relaxed, reclining into the sofa. “You’re right, cariño. Nunu did say that you know things.”

“Did he? He just knows who makes the apam balik around here.”

Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 15:  DNA Doesn’t Lie

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 – 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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Wael Abdelgawad's novels can be purchased at his author page at Amazon.com: Wael is an Egyptian-American living in California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including, Zawaj.com, IslamicAnswers.com and IslamicSunrays.com. He teaches 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.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Angela and Tariq

    January 13, 2021 at 5:38 AM

    Jazak Allahu khairan for posting these. I’m really looking forward to each new chapter and it is a wonderful break from the current news cycle.
    I just noticed a few chapters ago (around part 9) Samia is described just as Omar’s wife, and when Halima and Hani were re-introduced, then I realised it was Samia from school.
    Now I can really see Samia in their marriage dynamic but I found it really jarring as the Samia in earlier chapters was nothing at all like Samia in childhood.
    Anyway jazak Allahu khairan for the fiction we are reading along and waiting for the next chapter!

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      January 13, 2021 at 11:45 AM

      Angela and Tariq, when I first wrote it I thought it would be a clever surprise to spring, that Omar’s wife was the same Samia from school. But in retrospect I see that it doesn’t quite work and doesn’t add anything. In the final draft, inshaAllah, I will amend it so that we actually see the development of their relationship and personalities from school to marriage.

  2. KJ

    January 17, 2021 at 2:05 PM

    As-salaamu ‘alaikum,

    So, I binge-read most of the installments. Samia seems drastically different and somewhat unnaturally altered physically, but I can identify other similarities between who she is now and in her teens. For some reason, I keep imagining this current Samia as taller than the teenage Samia. Perhaps a few mentions of her height and physique might be helpful so we don’t think of her as this tall, skinny lady, if that’s not how the intended portrayal is. I had an idea about her physique as a teen when “her chubby fingers” were mentioned. But in retrospect, I also think making another reference to her weight might have been appropriate, given the comments from other characters on her current phsyique. She seems to have passed a phase wherein she learned to be more calm, humble towards others, and approach people in a way where they don’t feel she’s being a know-it-all. I would be curious to hear a bit more about Samia’s family situation. Omar also appears to have grown in understanding that not everyone is out to get him or is condescending towards him; this contrasts with Hani’s attitude and how Omar listens to his wife, versus how he initially viewed her in high school. These are certainly difficult lessons to learn in life for many of us… I actually thought from the beginning of the story that he would somehow marry Samia despite his crush on Halima. Oh, and I know this is fiction, but this older, wealthy Omar almost seems flawless and invincible. He appears as the “perfect gentleman” who is always ready to defend and stand up for his values despite their repercussions. To some extent, he reminds me of Hassan.
    Thank you, Brother Wael for your stories. They’re refreshing and enjoyable to read. JazaakomAllahu khairan.

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      January 17, 2021 at 4:08 PM

      Sister Khalida, I really appreciate all your thoughtful, creative and analytical comments. I will definitely refer to your comments when I write the final draft of the story, inshaAllah.

  3. KJ

    January 17, 2021 at 2:20 PM

    I do wonder if Nemesio hired Hani to kill Omar….

  4. Mohamed

    January 18, 2021 at 6:17 AM

    Salaamu aleikum Brother Wael,

    When will the next installment be out for the Day of the Dogs: Chapter 15…?

    Jazzak Allahu khair for this wonderful series full of self-knowledge, laughter, wisdom, life lessons including islamic lessons in patience, perseverence and learning to forgive while moving forward…Allahu akbar, masha-Allah and may Allah increase you in your blessings…Ameen

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      January 18, 2021 at 2:19 PM

      Mohamed, wa alaykum as-salam. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. Believe it or not, comments like this help me to understand my own story better.

      The chapters normally appear every Wednesday. However, I’m not sure I will finish this week’s chapter in time. It’s about 2/3 done at the moment. We’ll see.

  5. Aisha

    January 19, 2021 at 3:47 PM

    Jazakallah for the chapters…I really look forward to the updates….I also wanted to ask does Nemesio not know about Celio and his reputation given that he is related to Omar nd had lived with them for quite some time?Or was he never aware of that nd the fact that he has been in jail for all that time he did not learn about the success of Omar’s mom nd her re-entry back into her tribe thus Omar was royalty and he shouldn’t mess with him…

  6. Wael Abdelgawad

    January 19, 2021 at 4:01 PM

    Aisha, that’s a good question. My guess is that he doesn’t care. He hates Omar so much that he wants him dead, and doesn’t care what happens to him as a result.

  7. Wael Abdelgawad

    January 20, 2021 at 4:15 PM

    Sorry guys, I need one more week for the next chapter. It’s almost done but I have a key scene to write and don’t want to rush it.

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