Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Three men in Astoria.
I must have looked Muslim that day.
"Assssalaaamalaikum Sister."
I butchered it with the old Urdu pronunciation I just can’t shake and secretly don’t want to.

Small businesses generally remind me of camping stores. The shelves here were divided into squares holding Islamic gear- DVDs, headscarves, hadith quotation collections, full hadith collections so you can pick and choose like herbal remedies- the same books weighing down our shelves and hearts back home.

Some titles:
Hell and Heaven
Hell & Judgment
Hell and Shaytan
Hell and Punishment
Hell and You
Hell and Your Burning Spirit Corpse
Hell & Your unanswered cries of pain

I’m waiting for some newer, sexier titles, as is the way with academia.
Like, make me take your class.

Hell and the Politics of Agony and Eternal Regret.
Hell & Rhythmanalysis of Your unanswered cries of pain and eternal suffering.
Heaven & Your Eternal Absence in it.

So anyway, a little girl was squatting beside a shelf of “Adam’s World” DVDs and asked “do you want a movie?” She appeared to have sprouted from one of the white bearded Arab men conversing with the African(-American?) cashier.
“Nooo, not today.” I was looking for the Arabic-English Dictionary.
“Do you speak Arabic?”
Even in speaking with a child, I was suspicious of her motives. Did she own the store? Would she judge me? Yessss.
“Maybe…no. No, I don’t. DO YOU?”
She gave me an “are you kidding me” face reminiscent of when I answer questions by pointing to my nose.
“What’s your name?” I asked and prepared my palate to pronounce it correctly.
I failed. It was so outlandish I can’t even remember it. At least eight vowels. All in a row like little starving children at a kitchen bench.
“I’m Shifa’ ” Naaailed it.
Now the cashier addressed me and the girl was promptly pulled away like an attentive Backstage Drama Club was at work.
“Ooooh I wish I was good like youuu.” He kept saying it.
I looked around. It seemed he was speaking to me.
“This is a dictionary.” It was green. Could’ve been a Qur’an, admittedly.
“Where are you from? I from Senegal. Born in Senegal, raised in France, lost in America.”
I laughed heartily, sincerely, and tried to start paying for my dictionary.
“You know, they charge $45 for this at the NYU bookstore, you’re getting gypped!”
I thought about a possible substitute word for “gyp.” Nothing came.
“You know though, I came to this country and just fell apart. Everythin’, everythin’. Before, I was so good. I was soooooo good. Doin’ everythin’ right. But I got like I thought I was better than everyone else. Now I see I’m just a man, like everyone. Now I have that humble- I can be humble because I’m lost.”
He enunciated his T’s in a pretty way.
“Yeah, it’s hard.” My Buffalo accent sounded disgusting after his monologue. I think sometimes I emphasize it just to gross myself out.
“And you know, sometimes my friends they ask me why I like the white women not the Black women I tell them I don’t knoooow, I just like the white women and they say what if there’s a white woman and a black woman and the black woman is prettier, watchu gonna pick I say okaaaaaaay the black woman. Hehe.”
“So really you just like beautiful women.”
I’m not sure if he understood my accent.
“…I wish I was good like you.”
I looked down at my paid-for dictionary. My dictionary.

What ever happened to the boys? The sons of that guy in Bryant Park I met last summer when Samia couldn’t find me at the movie. I heard him speaking Arabic on the phone and got all excited and said something about it and he asked me why I was studying Arabic all the way over there in Morocco. “Why not in New York- there are more Arabs here than Lebanon!”
“Lebanon is small,” I replied.
“I have two sons. Both of them can teach you Arabic- for free.”
I thought about his proposition. “At the same time?”
It was a joke. I wouldn’t say he eyed me wearily, but he definitely eyed me.
In any case, I don’t think he replied.


mummyjaan said...

Shifaa' is definitely a beautiful name!

Mason McFadden said...

You're brilliant. Your work is fascinating and important.