Islamic Fiction Contest Winner - 2012
My Neighbor's Many Guests
By: Soumy Ana
Last month, I was watching my favorite show on TV when a loud knocking heavy as a mass landed on my door. I shrieked in surprise. Probably the landlord maintenance or the postman I thought.
For good measure I looked into the peephole. “Blast!” I exclaimed in disbelief.
A gazillion of ideas jumped at me. I retreated from the door trying to make as little noise as possible and went hiding in the bathroom in case someone would look through my windows. There on the other side of the door stood a man with a beard and a turban. Is he Sikh? I wondered. Hindu or something? Aren’t Sikhs supposed to wear a dagger at all times? Is he preaching? Wait a moment, Miriam, I said to myself, are you profiling?
A big bang made me jump out of my skin. I shivered in horror connecting the noise next door to the male apparition. I gasped. O, no! A new neighbor! Ya Allah! Keep me safe!
I called my best friend right away and explained everything.
“Amira?! What shall I do? Don’t Hindus hate Muslims?” “Let me see”, she answered. “Isn’t that the way around?”
“Calm down, girl! Shut your blinds and for God's sake don’t open the door to anyone! I’m coming over.”
Soon, I heard a rap at the window of my apartment.
“Shushsh! Miriam!” Whispered my upstairs neighbor and classmate. “Are you in?”
I quickly crossed the room and opened the curtains. She was with her boyfriend, trying to melt into the glass door. They looked behind them as they talked and she was trying to hush him while talking to me.
“Did you see the neighbors?”
“I think they are Muslims or something.”
“Muslims? No, not Muslims.” I jotted surprised. “What makes you say that?”
“Well. She has this thing over her head.”
“Did you talk to them?”
“No, but I’m pretty sure.”
“I think they are Sikh,” I protested, meaning. “Come on, I should know, I AM MUSLIM.” But I still thought hiding it was best to keep low profile. There were lots of red necks around the area.
“Really? Sikh?” she pondered aloud. “Yeah sure they’re sick! Listen, we just passed them. I smiled at the mother and the little girl and she just scowled and push her daughter behind her as though my smile alone would harm her child. Yeah, so I stopped smiling at them. I try to give everyone I meet respect, but if it’s spat back in my face, don’t think I’m going to give you another chance of politeness.”
The boyfriend protested in agreement. “One thing is for sure, I’ll never trust any of them enough to turn my back on them. Their religion mandates that I am converted or killed.”
My mouth started to quiver in anger. I was going to reply when Amira crept behind them. She humored:
“Your kindness was out of context. She can’t teach her children to hate you and want you dead or converted with you smiling and stuff. You were completely off base… You should be ashamed of yourself…” She clapped her tongue in disapproval. “Besides I’m pretty sure they are not Muslims. We can see half her hair and her belly button.” She winked at me because of my bandana that clearly could not pass for a conventional hijab.
A week later, Amira was visiting again as she did almost everyday being my class buddy and all. My upstairs neighbor Emily was studying with us. After half a day, we took a break.
While I poured the coffee and Amira stuffed her mouth with the snacks, I declared mysteriously:
“I don’t get my next door neighbors. I mean, what reasonable, legal reason could my new neighbor have for having 15 or so visitors over the course of the day every day?”
Amira lifted an eyebrow. I knew exactly what she was thinking. I added quickly: “I know I sound like a stalker, but I share the hallway with them and I’m living alone, you know… their door is directly across from mine…”
“How would you know that, about the visitors?”
“I did not pay attention at first. I sure do not have anything to do with them, but I first noticed the visitors because each time their door opens, my door bangs back because of the air pressure change. The first days, I thought, hey, they are moving more stuff in, great! However, the frequency hasn't changed.
I have not sat at my peephole and watched each person go in and out, but I admit, periodically, I will get up and take a gander; it seems to always be a different person coming in, and each person HAS A KEY! I have seen at least fifteen separate individuals with keys.”
Amira said as a matter of fact. “Ask them about it. If you don't feel comfortable with that then ask the landlord to look into it.” Emily said passionately. “Go with your gut, girl. Something doesn't seem right. I've had friends experience similar events. In each situation it has involved the distribution of drugs.”
Amira enforced. “I think you're filling in the blanks when you shouldn't. If he's creating a nuisance based on the amount of noise this creates, then it's an issue.”
Emily shook her head. “If things are as you describe them, I don't think you're overreacting. I think you're justifiably suspicious. My first thought was that the guy's a drug dealer, but everyone having a key makes that, highly unlikely. I can't think of a terribly good explanation that fits all the facts, though.” She looked a little frightened. “What should we do, though? I don't really know. We have no evidence of wrongdoing, so calling the police will get us nowhere.”
“I originally thought drug dealer, too, but then why rent a huge, corner apartment, when a 400 square feet studio is available right around the corner at less than half the price? That is my rationale at least.”
Amira asked as she was helping herself on the celery. “How do they look like?”
“Tie and upper class looking.”
“Maybe they are Mormons?”
“Highly unlikely. I have never seen Mormons with turbans.”
Amira yawned. “I find the whole thing vicariously exciting which tempers my elation with a twinge of disgust. I really hope things work out for you.”
I was upset by my best friend’s cynicism, but I kept my mind open.
Emily said thoughtfully. “Maybe it's a courier service. Have you tried reverse lookup for his phone number? Some sites let you look up the numbers of your neighbours and then you can lookup his number in Google to see if it shows up anywhere. However, couriers look pretty distinctive.”
“It just doesn't make sense, and it sounds like you all are trying too hard to come up with a nefarious explanation for this behavior,” exploded Amira who did not like accusations because she had suffered her share of racism. She burst out: “That might be a mail drop. I once had a landlady that did this. People who, for whatever reason (I never asked), didn't want to disclose their real address or needed an address-of-convenience gave her address instead. For a fee, she collected or kept their mail until they came to get it. Resulted in lots of strangers turning up at all sorts of odd times. You might wonder why they wouldn't just get a PO Box or something, but some folks have their reasons for keeping things... unofficial. Doesn't necessarily explain everyone having a key, unless it's the same key hidden somewhere outside, of course. And this is pure speculation.”
Emily ignored that. “Guys! I’m hooked! I know, he’s a bookie. He's a bookie!”
“The bookie idea crossed my mind too.”
“Wait! She added, jumping up and down. “I forgot about that but I once lived in a place where the elderly couple in the flat below me had a very similar pattern of visitors, some of whom had keys, and I too wondered what on earth was going on (I was actually starting to think they were running some sort of brothel!) It turns out that they worked for a small charity, and their fellow charity workers were dropping off collections and picking up leaflets, and such.”
“That’s brilliant,” I exclaimed somewhat reassured, “but would you give to a Sikh’s charity?”
I was truly considering calling the police when my crazy upstairs neighbor made me change my mind.
Some days later, Emily knocked at my window as she always did.
“Eh! I’ve got their cat!” She beamed. “Would you help me baptize it? I can’t sink it in.”
“Ugh! May I have this poor kitty?” I took the trembling animal in my arms and started patting him, eyes coming out of my head. “Really!!? Why would you want to do that? A cat?”
“Jesus was sent to save all of us, didn’t he? And I mean all of us.”
“Dang... I left the door open for that one, didn’t I? The Bible was not written to provide an endless resource of catching out of context sounds bites and own liners. In my experience, the ones who water down the word of God are generally those with compromised lives. Let’s see what you can come away with next, dude.”
“At least I do not make sure I make all those “good Muslims” friends of yours (you know all the moderate, peace loving) feel secure in their neighborhoods so they will never inquire about the Truth.”
Why does she keep thinking these people are Muslims, I wondered.
“Never mind,” I said. “Go up and leave their cat alone!”
The next day I decided to confront the man in the hall of the building. I decided to bypass my fear of Hindus. I thought Muslims also triggered all kinds of emotions. I should be more understanding. With this in mind, I made small talk with the next doors’. When I talked to the man, he looked like I was torturing him with hot pokers when he answered me - he winced. Very weird. He was not a people person. He did not even look me once in the eye. Did he want to hide something from me? I asked him what he did, told him I was a student lawyer besides other things. He said he had his own (non-specific) business. I said, “oh, that's neat, do you work from home?” He said “no.”
I had a call in to our management office right away.
Finally, one day someone knocked at my door. A little man looked at me a little embarrassed. He blurted out.
“Would you have the key of the mosque? I seem to have lost mine.”
I stood gazing at him and shook my head while I managed to say.
“Assalam Alaikum … I’m sorry.” And O was I truly sorry…