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Here is an excerpt from "Trinity, God, and All the Rest"
It was on the 6th day of the 8th year of his dedication to Ramadan that Taariq broke his fast with a jar of water & 3 tokes of a blunt.
The Imam back home would not be pleased
He remained stalwart on the food fast, his body doing it’s usual re-adjustment. There was an Italian hoagie waiting for him in the fridge for Iftar come sundown. Yesterday it was roast beef & brie. He’d bought them both at the outskirts of his neighborhood’s Organic Market, him feeling to treat himself with sandwiches made with real meat instead of the gas station bodega meat he’d grown accustomed to. It’s been difficult not drinking alcohol during his shifts at Cactus Jack’s and it was fixin’ to be a long 24 days. It was advised that during times of trial & temptation one should engage in prayer, but it’s hard prayin’ in these desert streets. The job was really starting to get to him having been there more years than he allotted himself to get back on his feet after being stranded out in the Nevada sands…God…what was it…5 years ago?
“Damn, has it been that long?”
He and a group of friends had come to Vegas to do the usual thang. One thang led to another thang & he found himself face down on the side of the road in the badlands. It was then he realized that he had no wallet, no cell phone & only a raggedy rolled up $20 to his name. The high afternoon sun scorching the back of his neck was that which roused him. It was the smell of Cactus Jack’s wings that helped him decide what direction to walk in as he had no sense of where he was or where civilization lay. About 2.8 miles later he strolled onto the dusty parking lot of Cactus Jack’s. He’d never been more grateful in his life as he was when he opened the door to the cool blast of air conditioning within. Jerry was working behind the bar. Of course he didn’t know him then, but it’s hard to think of him as a stranger now. Taariq walked to the bar and had said
“Excuse me, can I please get a large glass of water?”
Taariq gulped the water down fast, the sensation of coming up for air felt after he was finished. Jerry asked
“Been out there long have ya? What’d you do? Get plastered n’ pass out in the desert?”
“How’d you guess?”
“No guess, back a yer neck’s toasted all the way to the front. How’d ya end up like that?”
After a second full glass of water Taariq told Jerry all he remembered. When he finished, Jerry hummed a deep little tune to himself before saying
“So, no wallet, no phone, no nothin’ huh?”
“What you gonna do for money and shelter?”
“Well what do you think about this? My barback’s been out on a peyote bender spirit journey wit ‘is tribe I figure. Need someone to fill in ‘til he gets back. Interested?”
“I am, mind if I sleep in the bar after closing?”
“I absolutely do. That ain’t no way for a man to live. My sister owns a motel a few miles up the road. She’ll give you a good rate if’n I ask her to ‘til you get back on your feet”
“Thank you, I did not know what I was going to do”
“I’ll have Margaret fix you something to eat in the kitchen. After you finish you get to start before the rush”
“There’s a rush?”
“Damn right there is. My wings are the most kick ass in the state. You some sort of Arab?”
Taariq had hesitated at his sudden directness
“Yes I am”
“Thought muslims didn’t drink?”
“I am my family’s continuing shame”
Shortfeather, the barback who was AWOL, came back 3 & a half weeks later. He’d apparently taken this sort of sojourn before & Jerry never bothered to fire him because he usually came back more spiritually adjusted & his absence was always covered by some providence. But soon after his return Jerry rolled his ankle and needed someone to cover him for the following weekend & Taariq had been bartending there since.
He gently put the blunt out in the porcelain ashtray. Margaret did not like people smoking in her rooms but she’d taken a liking to Taariq over the years. Him slippin’ her the d from time to time hadn’t hurt either. She’d always charged for the space, them working out a monthly rate that was more than fair. Sure the space wasn’t truly his, but there was something nice about coming home to fresh sheets & a made up bed every night.
While cupping his face with his hands he groaned into them, regretting breaking his fast. It was the first time it happened since he’d begun practicing Ramadan & he was only mildly disturbed as to how easy it was to break. There was no real reason as to why he did it, he just wanted some water & felt like getting high. After years of remaining diligent there should have been more to it. Shouldn’t it? It didn’t matter now. He’d resigned himself to continue on with his fast for the next 24 days and pray Allah would forgive this minor transgression.
Last nite he’d taken care of one of his customers after he’d fed her one too many shots of the Mescal. Lucky for him (or her) she was staying at the same motel. Normally he would have tried to bed her but he didn’t feel it was appropriate sleeping with someone so woefully impaired. Once he found out where she was staying Margaret let him into the room & he laid her in the creaky bed, slipping his phone number into her back pocket in case she needed anything. Margaret & he returned to his room to share an orgasm. Though he did not love her, she was familiar & enjoyable.
Stepping outside his room brought him face to face with another dry bright desert morning. He inhaled the clean air, savoring it’s secrets.
Being out here felt right in a sense he couldn’t fathom. Maybe it was ancestral, but he felt more at home here during his 5 years spontaneous exile than he ever did in Philly. He hadn’t bothered reaching out to his family & it would seem they didn’t bother looking for him. He expected that from his father, Talmud, who’d spoken constantly of disowning him. His mother Shaadia though, he thought she would at least attempt. He knew though that if she did not have Talmud’s blessing it would be difficult for her to even try. Muslim women are not afforded the same freedoms as their Jesuit counterparts. He went back inside, dropped to the floor right into plank, working his way into cobra. Yoga helped to synchronize, steady his breath to the rhythm of the essence around him. Visualize the day ahead. There were a few hours before he had to go into work. Plenty of time to center his core with movement and meditation. He’d been wanting to go into the desert for a few days now, but you can’t do that with a time limit ahead. The desert requires complete devotion. He scooted into downward dog, spreading his shoulder blades out through the stretch, lungs doing the same. He rolled onto his back, stared up at his painted ceiling losing himself in it’s pattern. Was it time for a nap already?
He woke about 47 minutes later. Enough time shower himself awake before take a leisurely walk to work.
Heat waves hazed in the horizon as Taariq shuffled through the familiar sand. A few vultures hovered over the lands in the distance. There were always vultures hovering over the desert, always something decaying out there. When he got to work there were about 2 people at the bar with Margaret taking care of them
“hey there yourself handsome”
“isn’t this Jerry’s shift?”
“It is, he ended up hanging out with Shortfeather after closing last night. Woke howling at the sun and in no state to deal with regular people not intoning with their ancestors”
“you’re a good sister”
She slid him a bar napkin with some writing on it
“I went through all the freezers, wrote down what you need to restock for your shift”
“You are something my love”
“don’t talk like that ‘less you mean it”
There was a whiff of seriousness to her tone. They had both agreed to not use the L word in each others presence, which was fine by him yet it still slipped out. What was that about? Her sultry look was enough to let him know things were cool and that he should go get his beer supplies before he took her on the counter in front of everyone.
Taariq had just wheeled in the boxes of beer to load in the bar cooler from the walk-in when the front door opened. When he looked up & saw the silhouette of a hijab against the bright sun of outside he knew before she even uttered his name
He’d never seen his mother move with such speed before. They almost collided in the middle of the bar in an embrace of pure love
“All praise to Allah that I have found you”
“No, do not speak. Let me look at you. Are you real?”
He had forgotten her eyes, a piercing gray even through her tears. She looked up at him intently, holding his face in an almost painful grip. She looked older than the five years he’d last seen her. During that realization he knew he’d done this to her & he was ashamed. How did he let his selfishness come to this? She pulled him in for another long hug before he separated, asking
“How are you here? Father would not allow…”
“I left your father, Allah forgive me, to look for you. It took me 2 years to gain courage & the funds to do so but once these were granted…”
“He believed you dead. I implored him, assured him you were not”
“How did you know?”
“You are of my body. I knew you were not gone as one knows their right hand isn’t missing”
“Mother, I am sorry. I thought it best if…”
“No, none of that matters now. Allah has answered my fervent prayers. I told him I did not care the reason of your absence, all I wanted was to find you & it is done. Oh Taariq, my son, you cannot imagine the joy I feel seeing you again. What is that smell?”
“Margaret’s probably just got a batch of wings done”
“Who is Margaret? Your wife?”
“No, God no. She’s the cook here & I stay at her motel”
“She’s a cook & own’s her own business? An industrious woman. She probably should be your wife”
“Don’t tell her that. Would you like me to get you some wings? They’re fantastic here”
“You’re still fasting for Ramadan?”
“Of course I am, are you not?”
“I am I just thought with the search…”
“Especially because of the search. Allah blesses the devout. I am glad you are at least still living His way”
“It is the best way to live”
Taariq could not control what happened next. His entire body seemed to burst with tears. He hadn’t remembered crying in his mother’s arms like this since he was a boy. In this moment he was nothing but a son happy to see his momma
Later in the evening, when the Sun retreated to it’s home in the west, Taariq & Shaadia were sharing a large plate of Caribbean Jerk wings with a side of Waffle fries & two large waters. Jerry had come in to cover Taariq’s shift after hearing about his mother. Margaret, after delivering the wings personally to the table, sat and spoke with Shaadia for a bit. At first Taariq was a shade uncomfortable but relaxed as the ladies began speaking as if they were old friends with Shaadia thanking Margaret profusely for accommodating her troublesome son. When the dinner rush started to pick up Margaret excused herself from the table back to the kitchen. Once alone, Shaadia, with her knowing look & sly smile said to her son
“You’ve had relations with that woman”
His mother was always frighteningly perceptive. It made lying to her an effort in absolute futility
“There are strong feelings there”
“no, definitely there are”
“She’s not Muslim”
“feelings do not care. You should do right by this woman. Not many, muslim or no, are willing to feed & shelter a man boy such as yourself. I understand why you didn’t want to come back home”
“No she is not the reason why”
“Not all of it, but she is part of it”
“possibly, but I did want to return home”
“No you didn’t, or you would have. You’ve found a semblance of peace here. It’s definitely quieter than Philadelphia. And these wings. Tomorrow’s fast will be difficult knowing these are so close by. And you say Margaret makes them all?”
“Every one, she insists”
“A woman of integrity as well. She is closer to my age than yours but I could call her daughter”
“Please stop talking like that, it’s not that way between her & I”
“Just the sex?”
“Just the sex…well…it’s different mom. We’re more than lovers but not quite…I don’t know”
“And not knowing is the most knowing you know of yourself”
“I spoke to Margaret earlier and she said she could get you a room tonite”
“I’m not staying with you?”
“I have a single bed. You’ll be more comfortable in your own room”
“I’ll be comfortable wherever you are”
“The room is right next to mine”
“Too old to share a bed with your mother?”