02-02-2007, 06:04 PM
Ameer ul Mu'mineenReply
By Z H Khan
I had been looking for my roommate Dawud for an hour and a half before I finally found him. I had checked the dorm, the campus library, the prayer hall and the cafeteria. If I had been smarter, I would’ve checked the bar first.
Sister Hina had called my cell phone at 8 o’clock that evening, and I admit I was surprised when I heard her on the end of the line. I never thought she would’ve called a brother, she’s not that kind of sister.
“Brother Asim,” she said quietly, “I think you should find Brother Dawud.”
I asked her if everything was ok. In the two seconds of silence that followed, I could practically see her chewing her lower lip the way she always did when she was nervous. “Well, umm, see Shereen kinda screamed at him in the middle of the MSA meeting and then she left.“
Shereen, she was engaged to Dawud. Actually, Shereen got engaged to David, who then took his promise to convert to Islam for her seriously, and then became Dawud.
“Was it bad?” I asked.
I heard Sister Hina exhale loudly.“God. By the time she stopped screaming at him, I was ready to cry. He sat there looking dead for ten minutes after she left, and then he walked out too.”
I was thinking to myself when Hina said, “So, are you going to find him? I think he needs, you know, somebody right now.”
“I’ll take care of him. Thanks for letting me know. AssalamuAlaikum.”
Hina said Walaikum Assalam softly and hung up. I closed my binder and gave up on the idea of getting any studying in tonight. I had skipped the MSA meeting precisely because I had wanted to study, but so much for that idea. I may have been the Amir, but the MSA practically ran itself and they didn’t need me to oversee the meeting, especially when I had a big test coming up.
I decided to look around in the dorm first. First I went to Muzammil’s room, but then I remembered that Muzammil would be at the meeting. So then I went around to Josh’s room to see if Dawud was there. The door was open. Josh wasn’t in, but his roommate Sergei was there, picking at Josh’s guitar and looking not entirely there.
“Where’s Josh?” I said, not wanting to waste any words on the miserable pot head.
Sergei turned his head to me deliberately and said, “I think you mean, what’s Josh? That’s a good question? What exactly is Josh? And who let it happen?”
“Is Josh with Dawud?”
“Is Josh with Dawud?“ Sergei threw his head back and laughed insanely, “Don’t be stupid man, Josh is dating that fat chick from Champaign-Urbana ”
I slammed the door and went back to my room to put my coat on. The walk from the dorm to the library was cruelly cold. It hadn’t snowed yet, but the wind whipping off the lake felt cold enough to crack my face in half. My teeth were rattling around in my mouth and my fingers were blue by the time I got inside. I can’t remember why I never took my gloves with me anywhere. I looked around the reading room and didn’t see Dawud. I quietly asked the librarian if a white guy with a beard, a prayer cap, and a tattoo had come in tonight. She looked at me like I was slightly insane and said no.
So I left the library and went to the prayer hall. It was just a room with a carpet and a bookshelf, but it was warm and quiet and Dawud liked hanging out there. I hung out there too, it was a good place to relax. He wasn’t there though, no one was. The Isha prayer had been finished a long time ago.
My last stop was the cafeteria. That took a long time to check. It was an immense hall packed with a visually confusing jumble of chairs and tables and people. It was impossible just to scan the crowd and find someone. You had to do a table-by-table search without somehow staring and freaking out the people who were eating there. Plus the smell made me feel nauseous and the heat was getting to be too much since I still had my coat on. I left after half an hour. I went back to my room and called a few mutual friends. None of them had seen Dawud.
I went to the beach and walked up and down the strip of sand that unofficially belonged to the college campus. The wind was blowing so hard that I might as well have left my coat at the dorm. I felt it blowing up my shirt and down my neck. I didn’t see anyone the whole time, they were all probably inside, warmer than I was. I figured Dawud would have to be insane to be outside on a night like this, and since he was sane the last time I checked, I decided to head back to the dorm.
I made a quick dua that Dawud would be ok, and I went back to studying. At ten o’clock, Hina called me again. “I found him,” she said urgently, “He’s sitting at the bus stop in front of the McDonald’s, you know, by the EL tracks. You know where I mean?”
“Yeah yeah, I know where you mean. You were looking for him too?”
“Uh well,” Hina said hurriedly, “I was just driving and I saw him, so I called you. He’s kinda obvious....”
Yeah, Dawud was pretty obvious looking. He was almost six foot three, he had blonde hair but a reddish beard. He had two dragon tattoos, one on each forearm, and numerous holes marking where his ears used to be pierced all the way up to the top. He also wore a white prayer cap. He never took it off. “What’s the point?” he would say, smiling, “I’ll just have to put it back on when I pray like an hour from now.”
“I’ll get him,” I said, suddenly remembering that I was still on the phone with Hina. ‘Thanks. AssalamuAlaikum.”
I put my coat back on and left. The bus stop that Hina was talking about was five minutes from my dorm. I could see Dawud from a block away, huge and glaringly white under the streetlight, sitting on the bench without a coat on. He was in short sleeves, too. When he left the room earlier this afternoon he had been wearing a sweater and a jacket. I wondered where his sweater had gone. He was no longer wearing his prayer cap.
I parked the car and jogged across the street. “Hey Dawud,” I said, “What are you doing here without a coat on?”
Dawud raised his hands and shrugged elaborately, and I could tell right away that he was drunk. I had seen him drunk often enough before, when he was David the Drinker and not Dawud the Disciple, as his former friends called him these days. I hadn’t seen him drunk for months though, it had been five, maybe six since he had given it all up and taken Shahada, the partying, the smoking, even the clubbing and drinking. The drinking had been hard. Before Shereen, David was the kind of guy who made it to the end of every beer-bong at every party. He was wildly proud of being able to consume inhuman amounts of alcohol, and didn’t care at all what kind of stupidity he had been up to when he was drunk. In the land of drunken college goof balls, he was king.
He was definitely drunk now though. He grinned at me wildly and threw his arm out, gesturing to me to take a seat. I sat down. “Guess what,” he said, then rubbing the side of his face. “Guess what happened to me.”
“I already know brother. Come on let’s go back to the dorm and talk about it there.”
“No no, I’m ok here man. The guy driving the bus said this was my stop, so I’m stopping here.”
“You’re gonna freeze to death.”
“I ain’t cold,” Dawud said indignantly.
“But I’m cold.”
“To hell with you. Lissen, guess what happened to me today. I got drunk today.”
“I figured that out already,” I said, standing up and pulling on his arm. He held his arm out and let me pull on it, but he didn’t budge.
“You know what else?”
“What?” I said, putting my arm around his shoulders to hoist him up. He still wouldn’t budge.
“Shereen hates me.” Suddenly Dawud stopped smiling. “She called me a card-carrying Islamo-fascist. Asim, what’s an Islamo-fascist?”
“I don’t have a clue. Come on, my car’s over there. I’ll take you home.”
“I don’t wanna go home,” he said belligerently. “I wanna know what the hell I am that I shouldn’t be that Shereen should hate me that, that-”
Dawud broke off, too confused to continue his own sentence. I gave him a final tug and then gave up and sat down next to him. Dawud reached into his pants pocket and pulled out his prayer cap, and then put it on. Then he crossed his tattooed arms over his chest.
“I thought I was being good Asim. I was really trying.”
“You have been good. You’re one of the best people I know.”
Dawud looked up at me and grinned. He was red in the face, and smelled heavily of beer as he fell onto me and almost suffocated. I patted him on the back a few times and then tried to prop him back up again. I don’t know whether he was falling asleep or just being affectionate, but I had a hard time getting him to sit up.
“Let’s get back to the dorm and sleep it off. Things will be better in the morning.”
“No they won’t man,” Dawud said, shaking his head emphatically. “Look I may be drunk but I’m not stupid. I know what just happened, my Shereen just dumped me and now I’m drunk. Did I already say I was drunk?”
“Yeah, you already said that.”
“I did everything she wanted me to, you know? She said stop smoking, so I stopped smoking. She said no more other girls, so I kissed them all goodbye. I really did. I kissed Anna, but Sophie slapped me.”
“Your fingers are blue, at least wear my coat.”
Dawud laughed and pointed a finger in my face. “Now who’s drunk? I couldn’t wear your coat on my left leg ”
It was true, Dawud was a head taller than me and at least a foot wider.
“She said no clubbing, and I was like, what the hell, I met you at a club But I quit anyway.” Dawud suddenly became very solemn. “Then she said no drinking. And I stopped. I did.”
Dawud suddenly stood up. I stood up quickly, hoping to catch him if he decided to fall or run out into the street. “What?” I said.
“Let’s go, it’s too hot here.”
I took Dawud back to my car and pushed him into the passenger seat. The ride back to the dorm went quietly, and when we had arrived and I had managed to push Dawud into his bed, he fell asleep immediately, still wearing the prayer cap.
When I woke up the next morning, late, I was in such a hurry that I forgot to check on Dawud. When I got back to the dorm after my classes, he wasn’t there. I didn’t see him in the prayer hall for either Zuhr, Asr, or Maghrib. By dinner I had started to worry. I pulled out my cell phone and called Sister Hina. She answered after a few rings.
“Hello? Assalamu Alaikum,” I said, “Did you see Dawud this morning?”
“Walaikum Assalam,” she said, obviously worried, “No, I didn’t, but you know that the lecture hall holds over two hundred people. He could’ve come in late and sat in the back and I wouldn’t have seen him.”
“What about Shereen? Have you seen her?”
Hina paused again. I should’ve asked someone about Shereen, but I forgot. Shereen and Hina were both cousins and polar opposites. I don’t think they could stand to be around each other.
Hina said calmly, “When I left the study hall this afternoon I saw her there.”
“Do you know her number?”
Sister Hina gave me Shereen’s number and I said thanks and hung up. I was relieved that Hina had given it to me so easily, but I don’t know why I should‘ve been worried to begin with. Hina didn’t have a mean bone in her body, really. I think she was incapable of scowling. The one time I ever saw her offended was when a bunch of Bible-thumping Christian missionaries crashed one of our MSA picnics. The picnic was separated, so the one male missionary came over to our table and the two female missionaries went over to where the MSA sisters were sitting on a blanket in the shade and eating and chatting and playing chess.
I don’t know what the female missionaries were saying, but it was probably the same thing their male counterpart was. Come and be cleansed by the blood of the lamb. Your Koran is inspired by the devil. The Bible is love and truth. Jesus loves you. Jesus saves. Our MSA is a pretty laid-back group, so we made a few attempts at intelligent religious discourse without getting offended. But the missionary wasn’t interested in discussing the logic of the Trinity with us, he just kept telling us to be saved. Well, that gets tired real fast, and some of the brothers were starting to get annoyed. I was trying to figure out a way of getting rid of him when I heard a scream come from the direction where the sisters were sitting.
I got up fast and went to see what was going on. The rest of the brothers, and the missionary, followed behind me. What I saw was just amazing, SubhanAllah. The sisters were all on their feet, facing off with the two female missionaries. Most of the sisters looked shocked, several of them looked angry, two of them were purple. Hina and Afshan both, they were dripping with grape soda. Some of the brothers had large plastic cups of the same purple soda in their hands, and as they stood watching their eyes darted from their glasses to the girls’ stained scarves and shirts, trying to figure things out.
One of the female missionaries, her nametag said Amy, quit snarling for a second and looked up to see the male missionary. Then she maneuvered herself so that she was just standing behind his elbow. The other female missionary, her name tag said Shana, drew herself up indignantly and pointed a long, bony finger at Hina and Alma. “They were cussing at Jesus in their language ”
Alma looked so mad I thought she would explode. “And what language would that be?” She stood leaning forward, challenging them with her winter-white skin and green eyes to guess. Alma was Bosnian. Hina stepped in front of Alma and shook her head. “This is a misunderstanding, “ Hina said, holding her palm out towards Shana apologetically, “We did not mean to insult you, and we would definitely not be cussing at Prophet Jesus, salAllahu Aleihi wasallim.”
Shana, whose face softened slightly when Hina began apologizing, regained its hardness the moment Hina said the blessing for the Prophet in Arabic.
“I heard you say something,” she said resolutely, her lips pressed into a thin line.
“And then,” Alma said, seething, “You threw a glass of pop in our faces.”
I looked to Richard. His face had colored and he had wrapped his arms around Amy protectively. May Allah forgive me, but I wanted to drown all three of them in grape soda for their stupidity. Fortunately, Hina took the initiative so that I wouldn’t have to.
“You probably heard me say Bismillah. Muslims say Bismillah when they begin things. It’s beginning things in the name of God, so that God blesses your intentions and your actions and keeps you from evil.” Hina blinked a few times and then wiped away a drop of grape soda that was trickling past her eye. We waited for Amy or Shana’s response. Amy sniffed and burrowed into Richard’s shirt. Shana shifted her body so that it was in a slightly less aggressive pose. Richard shot me a hateful look and then said, “Come on ladies, I think it’s time we were going.”
Sister Hina wiped her hand on a dry part of her skirt and extended it towards Shana. Shana stared at it, and then her, and turned on her heel and stalked off. Hina was left standing there with her hand out.
That was the one time I saw Sister Hina offended. I’m sure she was burning on the inside like the rest of us, but she never showed it. She moved her hand slowly back to her side and shook her head. I’m sure she dealt with Shereen in the same way, with very quiet patience. I prayed that Allah would grant me the same and I dialed Shereen’s number. She answered the phone by saying, “Yeah?”
“Assalamu Alaikum Shereen, this is Brother Asim.”
There were a few uncomfortable seconds of silence as I registered the tone of her voice and the snapping of her chewing gum.
“I’m looking for Brother Dawud. Have you seen him?”
“No.” She was irritated with me, and wasn’t trying to hide it at all. “Anything else?”
“No,” I said sharply, letting her know that I was just as irritated with her. “Assalamu Alaikum.”
She hung up.
I shook my head. I had never really liked Shereen before, but now I was starting to hate her.
“She’s got these eyes man, these big black eyes that are deeper than forever...” Dawud said to me one day a few months back, after he become my roommate but before I met Shereen. He was waxing poetic with both his feet on the wall above his bed. “And she’s always talking about Islam and stuff, she’s trying to make me a better person. I’m gonna change for her, I’m gonna do it man, I’m gonna make her proud.”
I wondered how the heavenly creature he described could have tolerated Dawud the Drinker long enough to win his heart and then convert him to Islam. To tell the truth, for a long time I was very jealous of what he had, and I avoided any discussion of her, and never asked to meet her.
I did get to meet her though, and without even asking for it. I had been waiting for Dawud outside his class because he and I were supposed to attend an Islamic lecture at the Muslim Community Center. We were going to take my car, pick up two other brothers and then all go together.
Dawud came out on time and we started walking towards my car. I was looking ahead and listening to him talk when I suddenly heard him gasp and stop. When I turned to look, I saw two hands with long, bronze fingernails covering Dawud’s eyes. He was grinning from ear to ear and he put his hands over them and said, “You think you surprised me? I knew you were coming Didn’t I, Asim?”
The girl who had snuck up behind him pulled her hands free and both Dawud and I turned to face her. I was shocked when I saw her, not because I had never seen anyone like her, but because she was not what I was expecting to see. She had long, straight hair that was black at the roots but orange on the ends. Her eyes were heavily made-up to look at least twice their natural size, and her waxy-looking lips matched her nail polish. She was wearing a tiny black t-shirt, it wasn’t a belly shirt, but I could see parts of her stomach. Her jeans were tight too, like they had been painted onto her body. I lowered my gaze more out of shame than of habit.
I had been expecting one of our MSA’s many jewels, beautiful, intelligent, modest sisters that turned a brother‘s thoughts, not to lust or fancy, but to loving marriage and fatherhood and praying jamaat together, standing shoulder to shoulder, feet to feet. I know it sounds uncouth, but the feeling you got from looking at these sisters came from the heart, not the pants. That’s what I was expecting, but that isn’t what I got. What I saw was what we sometimes call ‘Brown Trash,’ one of thousands of Pakistani in our university alone who retained nothing of Islam but their names, and even that wasn’t always consistent. They were also called orange heads because there wasn’t a single one of them who hadn’t tried to dye her hair blonde and ended up with orange instead. I’m not biased against Pakistanis, seeing as how I myself am Pakistani, but I have to shamefully admit that when our sisters go bad, they don’t seem to hold anything back.
She coyly reached out and fingered one of the buttons on Dawud’s shirt. “Where are you going?” she asked, resting her weight on one foot and causing one hip to curve out suggestively.
“To MCC, there’s gonna be a guest lecturer there, Siraj Wahhaj. That guy is awesome, MashaAllah. You want to come?”
Shereen wrinkled her nose and playfully pushed Dawud. “I hear lectures in class. This is after class.”
Dawud smiled at her like a love-sick puppy. Normally I would avoid such a cliché, but to this day, I still can‘t think of anything that would describe the sappy smile on his face any better. “Come on,” she said, grabbing his shirt with both hands and walking backwards, “Take me out to lunch.”
Dawud shrugged at me and headed off with his arm around her shoulders.
I had seen Shereen many times since then, but had not come to like her any more than I did on that first day. In fact, I was liking her less and less, especially since last night. And I still didn’t know where Dawud was.
I decided to drive down to the arcade. It was kind of childish for two university students to be pumping quarters into the video games, but Dawud and I used to go there a lot. I didn’t think he’d be there now, but I thought for sure that he would be at one of his old hang-outs, and I was going to visit all of them, except for the bar.
As soon as I walked into the arcade I was hit with the familiar smell and sound of it. The air was thick with cigarette smoke, explosions, crashes, beeps, howls and cheers from the machines and from the guys standing around the machines and frantically pushing buttons. I found Dawud, finally, brandishing a blue plastic gun at a screen full of living dead. He was clicking away at the trigger and the zombies on screen were flying to bloody little electronic bits. I watched him for a few minutes. He was so intent on the game that he didn’t notice me, even when I put seventy-five cents into the machine and picked up the other gun, the red one, and started shooting along with him.
We fought the undead for a while. They popped up on the both sides of the screen in tandem, and it was our job to shoot them before they got a hit off of either one of us. I was doing pretty good, but Dawud was missing a lot of shots. I took a few hits because I was shooting at the zombies on his side of the screen instead of mine.
We were both killed at roughly the same time when a fat zombie threw an axe at us and ended the game. I put my gun back into its plastic holster waited for Dawud to do the same. He lowered the gun, slowly, and then set it down on the console instead of putting it away properly. Then he looked up at me, and said, “Oh,” and then looked away quickly.
“Come on,” I said to him, hitching my thumb in the direction of the door. “Let’s get out of here. My eyes are burning.”
Dawud put his hands into his coat pockets and followed me out. I got into the car and unlocked the passenger side for him. He sat down, still not looking at me. I wasn’t sure of what to say. I couldn’t just cheerfully punch him in the shoulder and say something cheesy like, “Dawud, you may have lost your fiancé, but you don’t have to lose your faith ”
I must have been thinking for a long time, because I heard Dawud clear his throat and say in a hoarse voice, “Uh, Asim. Where are we going?”
I put the key into the ignition and started the car. “I don’t know yet. You tell me.”
Dawud nodded. I waited for him to tell me a destination, and when that failed, I just put the car into reverse and left the parking lot. I didn’t know where I was going when I started driving, but I figured that anything far away from the campus was good. I got onto Lake Shore Drive and put on some speed. Dawud seemed to relax a bit as I was driving, he leaned into his seat and sighed. Just as we were passing Soldier Field, Dawud said to me, “If you’re waiting for me to start talking then you can just find me a Dunkin Donuts. You don’t have to drive all the way to Indiana.”
I nodded and tried not to smile. I turned around and found my way to a Dunkin Donuts. I parked and we walked in together. Then Dawud sat down while I ordered us a dozen donuts and two black coffees. I brought the cups and boxes to the table and set them down. Dawud opened the box immediately and found what he was looking for, a Boston-cream filled, and bit it in half. He closed his eyes and exhaled through his nose as he was chewing. I don’t know too many people over the age of ten who enjoy donuts as much as he does.
When he had finished his first donut and followed it with three more, he wiped his sticky fingers on a napkin, took a sip of his coffee and said, “Thanks Asim, you’re awesome.”
Yep, that was me, Awesome Asim. I nodded at him and said, “So, you gonna talk to me now or do I have to put more donuts into the slot?”
Dawud nodded solemnly and picked up a Sunday Special. He stared at it and said, “You’re not going to kick me out of the MSA, are you?”
I shook my head. “What for?”
He blinked a few times while still contemplating the donut. “For being a sorry drunk son of a-” Here he looked up at me and smiled. This was an old game. I was supposed to interrupt him at all the right times so that all of the obscenities were replaced with me yelling out, “Dawud ”
“Dawud...” I said.
“And a lazy, worthless piece of-”
“And a -”
“Dawud, stop ” I said this a little too loud maybe. He looked up at me, surprised.
“I want you to be serious for once and talk to me. What’s going on with you and Shereen?”
Dawud looked at me wearily and then crammed the entire donut into his mouth and started chewing it laboriously. I had to wait for at least three minutes for him to swallow it down and then drink some coffee. When he finished, he wiped his mouth daintily on a napkin and then set it in his lap. Then he grew serious.
“Shereen broke off our engagement,” he said quietly.
“Because...because....” Here Dawud blinked and looked down at the table between us.
“You don’t have to tell me the reason,” I said.
“It’s because I wouldn’t hold her.”
“You wouldn’t what?” I asked incredulously, that couldn’t possibly be the real reason.
Dawud’s face darkened. “Nobody’s supposed to touch Shereen like that, not even me until we’re married. Or, until we were gonna get married. And I told her that and she got mad as hell. I wouldn’t kiss her either. She almost killed me for that, but I was like, Baby I want to save it all up so being married will be special. She was like, ok whatever, but she still didn’t dump me. That was like a month ago.”
I nodded and Dawud continued.
“Then she started getting on my case about everything. About my beard, about the MSA meetings, even about praying. I was in the prayer hall last Friday standing in the last line, waiting for you to begin when she comes up behind me and puts her arms around me. I kinda pushed her away, I know I shouldn’t have but what am I supposed to do? What was she expecting me to do?”
“What happened then?” I asked and took a bite of my donut.
“You started the prayer and I said Allahu Akbar. She must’ve left cuz when the prayer was finished she was gone. She didn’t say anything to me then. She’d been mad at me, not talking to me since then, and yesterday the uh...stuff, hit the fan. She came into the middle of the MSA meeting wearing this red shirt that was showing everything, and she had these low-cut jeans on too. Everyone stopped talking when she came in. She sat down next to me and put her hand on my thigh. Everybody tried to ignore it and but she kept messing around. She was doing it on purpose too, dammit.”
Dawud rubbed his forehead with his sticky fingers and then rubbed his sticky forehead with a napkin exasperatedly. He continued, gesturing angrily with the napkin.
“She was definitely doing it on purpose. I’ve never seen this shirt before, and she’s never come to an MSA meeting before, and suddenly she dances in there shaking her butt like a **** hooker and putting her hand up on my thigh.”
“What did you do?”
“I tried to push it off. And then she stood up and slapped me. Then she started screaming at me, at all of us. About how we’re a bunch of **** fundamentalists and we think we’re all righteous but she knows that we’re all just a bunch of liars and showoffs and hypocrites. She said some pretty harsh stuff. Then she left. I was just stunned. I’d never seen that side of her before. I mean, she got me into this Islam thing but then she goes and starts screaming about it. If it’s anyone’s fault that I’m a Muslim then it’s hers.”
I swirled my coffee around in the bottom of the paper cup and waited for Dawud to continue, but he just sat there looking pissed. I wanted to ask Dawud if he was going to stay a Muslim. I know it was Shereen who got him to convert, but she had nothing to do with what he did afterward. All she did was change his name and introduce him to her parents. After that he sought out the MSA himself, taught himself how to pray and did everything he thought was right without anyone reminding him or forcing him. I hope Allah forgives me for saying this, but he was already a better Muslim than half of the ones who attend the Juma prayers. He never lied, he never lost his temper, sure, he was as big a goofball as ever, but goofiness is not a sin. Shereen was his only obvious indiscretion, and he was even cutting down on her.
“Do you regret converting, Dawud?” I asked tentatively.
Dawud put both of his forearms on the table and leaned forward with his head hanging between his shoulders. As I stared at his sleeves I pictured the tattoos that I knew were hidden underneath. Two big ones, dragons curling all the way around from his wrist to his elbow in an explosion of blue flames.
I was afraid that by asking about Dawud’s faith instead of his love life I had made myself look callous, or overly fundamentalist, like I didn’t care about him so much as I cared about him staying in the MSA. Maybe it was callous, but I know that a man’s faith is precious, and Dawud’s status as a Muslim was worth more than a hundred Shereens any day. Dawud didn’t answer my question. I felt my stomach start to tighten.
I picked up another donut. Dawud did the same and finished it in two bites. Dawud swallowed and licked his fingers and then leaned back against the booth. He was thinking. I could tell because he wasn’t smiling. He frowned when he was trying to think, and he bounced his knee underneath the table. I got up and brought us back more coffee.
He took his cup and held it, not drinking, but just looking at it. I peeled back the plastic tab on top of my cup and took a sip. Then Dawud said, “After I left the meeting I went to her apartment. She was there, sitting on her bed and putting on lipstick, I could still tell she was mad as hell though. I saw her getting ready to go out in the stupid red shirt and I just lost it. I screamed at her, I really did. I was like what the -uh, friggin hell, you tell me to convert to Islam and then you tell me not to practice it. You don’t do half the things you tell me I’m supposed to be doing and then you come to an MSA meeting dressed like a **** prostitute and start messing with me in front of everybody. Then she said screw my MSA and my Islam. And she called me an Islamo-fascist and told me that just because I had to be a Muslim doesn’t mean I had to be a saint. She said I was taking it all too seriously, that I was making her look bad in front of her family cuz I was some sort of extremist.”
I must’ve made a face then, because Dawud looked up at me earnestly and said, “But that’s not what I think of the MSA. Really it’s not. I never thought you guys were freaky fundus or anything. Not even when you thought I was a **** drunkard.” Dawud grinned at me and I relaxed.
“You know what I’m worried about Dawud?”
“That Shereen is gonna ask you to choose between her and Islam.”
Dawud laughed out loud. It was good to see him genuinely smiling about something, even though I didn’t see anything funny in the situation.”
“And you’re afraid that I would choose Shereen?”
I nodded. He made it seem silly now, but yesterday, it was a scary thought.
“She never gave me a choice Asim. I think it’s because she knows she already lost.”
Alhamdulillah. I relaxed, but I still had my worries. “Then why did you go off and get drunk?”
Dawud’s smile fell and he sunk into the booth a few inches. He started bouncing his knee again.
“I got drunk...,” he said gradually, “I got drunk because it felt good to get drunk. Well, maybe the first drink was because I was mad about losing Shereen, but the next ten drinks were all about saying to hell with everything. And I am sorry I did it, I really am. But I’m never going to do it again, I swear to God, never. But I still got my weaknesses you know. It’s still hard for me sometimes. I might stumble every now and then, but I’m never gonna fall down for good. Come on Asim,” he said, teasing me, “you think I’m stupid or something?”
I grinned at him and nodded emphatically. Dawud laughed and said, “Come on, let’s go home.”
I slid out of the booth and we went back to my car. I opened the door from the inside and let him in, and then I buckled up. He turned to me when he sat down, and he said, “You know what, Asim?”
Yep, that’s me, awesome Asim. Just then my cell phone rang. I looked at the display before I answered it. It was Sister Hina.
Muslims say Bismillah when they begin things. It’s beginning things in the name of God, so that God blesses your intentions and your actions and keeps you from evil.
May Allah forgive me for my sins, but I said Bismillah and I handed the phone to Dawud and told him to answer it.
And three months later they were engaged.
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