Islamic Fiction Contest Winner - 2012
IWA Member Category
You Jist Never Know
By: Judy Nelson-Eldawy
"Howdy, darling! Get me some coffee, would ya?" the trucker bellowed, flashing the waitress a roguish grin and allowing one lid to droop over a bloodshot blue eye. VA to El Paso wasn't the easiest haul, especially closer to El Paso when the sameness of the desert got to you. One of the perks, though, was Maisie’s TA—an open secret to the savvy driver. Some of the best grub in the country plus clean, homey shower facilities and double fill-up points redeemable for not just drinks but wireless service or goods—you’d be stupid not to stop. Most all truckers did.
The trucker, one "Grizzly" Devine by name, scanned the room for an empty table when he was hailed from the counter.
“Griz! Grizzly! Over here!" called his friend, an older stick thin fellow going by the unfortunate nickname Biscuit, owing to his love of the same. Get a group of men together and once past the posturing and jockeying for position, nicknaming seemed to be an essential part of the male bonding experience.
Grizzly ambled on over, a big, slow moving man sharing a physical as well as temperamental resemblance to his namesake.
"Hey Biscuit! Ain't this a surprise? I thought I'd be having just a screen for company. How's the missus and that boy of yours? Where you heading? And what's good on the menu?" asked Grizzly as he sat down on the stool, dropping his computer bag at his feet.
The waitress set down the coffee and a menu. Biscuit, having finished his meal, politely waited while Griz got himself settled and made his selection.
"Ok, darling, I'll have the meatloaf special with mashed potatoes, collards and cornbread. How 'bout keeping me company with some dessert, Biscuit?" asked Grizzly.
“Well, in the interest of being neighborly, I suppose I could choke down a piece of lemon chess," grinned Biscuit, who'd just eaten two. "And keep the coffee coming."
The waitress trudged off with the order and the friends got down to the serious business of swapping gossip, though both preferred the term "information exchange.”
Truckers were the 21st century’s cowboys—lone rangers riding the wide open highways instead of prairies, wrangling freight instead of cattle and dealing with lowdown, thieving rustlers who tried to hijack the loads.
Running into a friend was a rare treat. The waitress brought the food and the next couple hours were pleasantly occupied in railing against company pay cuts, mapping locations of speed traps and sleep spots and the doings of mutual acquaintances and family.
"Biscuit, I got a situation I wanna run by ya," said Grizzly soberly. "I've been thinking on it lots lately. You might remember me telling you 'bout Travis, my baby brother? I'm kind of worried 'bout him."
"Whoa, I ain't seen you look this serious since that letter from the IRS. Is Travis sick?" sympathized Biscuit. "No, he ain't precisely sick. He got into this new religion and he started changing. Not changing bad, mind you, just he's gotten weird. I've been thinking 'bout talking to one of those brainwashing guys. I saw a show about them after that disaster at Waco."
"Weird how, Griz? Did he join the Harry Krisnas and start panhandling in the airports or take to wearing hair shirts and beating himself bloody?" asked Biscuit.
"No—he became a Mooslim," said Griz glumly. "We were all upset at first cuz of those suicide bombings and stuff. But he swears up and down that those guys are terrorists and have nutthin' to do with real Islam. He took out that Ko-ron and showed us where it said that their god, Allah, said not to do things like that. Not to be aggressive but just to protect yourself and stuff and not fighting women and kids and old people. I can respect that. I mean, defending yourself is a Constitutional right; blowing up innocent people is just murder. He's not a terrorist or anything—I’d stomp his tail into next week, if I thought that."
"Ok—so what's the issue here?" asked Biscuit.
"He's different. He doesn't want ta watch the game and toss back a few with me anymore or go shoot pool. He doesn't come over for supper—says he doesn't eat pork or drink and doesn't want to make things hard for me. Says he doesn’t do birthdays anymore or holiday celebrations.
“When he does come over, he starts talking kinda funny. I say, ‘Trav, lets go fishing tomorrow—whadya say to that?’ ‘Inshell-lah,’ he says. Or when I told him 'bout Charlie breaking his leg, he says ‘Hum-doo-lah it wasn’t his neck.’ Huh?" Grizzly sighed gustily, shaking his head.
“Oh, and he wants to be called Abdool Ramen now. What's wrong with Travis? Momma'd take a switch to his britches if she were still with us, God rest her soul. I feel like I'm losing my brother, Biscuit, and I ain't got a lot of family to lose. I think burying Momma shook a screw loose, ya know?"
He shifted uncomfortably on the seat and twisted away from his friend, stretching hugely and popping his spine in the process. Biscuit signaled the waitress to freshen the cups and thought about how to reply.
"Death makes a lot of people reflect on their lives, Griz. How old's the kid, anyway?"
"Thirty,” said Griz.
"So he is not a kid then. Sounds like he’s making a lot of cosmetic changes but he's still talking with you, right?" "Yeah—he keeps throwing his religion in and talks lots about straight paths and Allah and saying Jesus is a man and a prophet." He ran his fingers through his thinning blond curls and scrubbed his face with his paws.
"I'm afraid he's gonna fry like a trout," murmured Grizzly so softly as to be almost inaudible.
Ignoring that, Biscuit clarified, "So what's wrong is he's not Christian anymore and he changed the relationship between you two."
"That's 'bout the sum of it," agreed Grizzly.
"Do you know any Muslims other than your brother, Grizzly? Or anything about Islam other than what Travis told you?" asked Biscuit.
"Not really. That pizza joint in Claysville is run by an Egyptian fellow who might could be Mooslim. He's seems decent enough for a furr'ner. Why ya asking?" said Griz. "Sometimes it's easier to see things and learn about things from people who aren't so close to us. I don't think I ever told you but my sister married a Muslim. He's a real good guy and treats Cindy and the kids well. Mom thinks he can do no wrong. Anyway, some years ago, Cindy ups and becomes Muslim too," said Biscuit.
"NO! You don't say!" exclaimed Grizzly. "Goes to show you jist never know of folks troubles. I'm real sorry, Biscuit."
Biscuit nodded his appreciation of the sympathy and continued on. "It was a shock and I'll allow as how I was hopping mad for awhile. Becky made an appointment with a therapist cuz she couldn't deal with me. The doc said part of my anger was due to thinking Cindy was rejecting us and of her changing how we all relate," Biscuit paused a moment and smiled. "Also, it was downright embarrassing to be seen with her looking like a giant crow in black from head to toe," he reminisced. "Worse was her acting like she was a foreigner who'd never grown up right in Norlina, NC." He shook his head over the strangeness of it all and continued, "She’s still a bit odd with the scarves and long skirts but she's back to having some color and sass. It's not so bad now.”
Grizzly guffawed. "Travis don't wear no scarf but he'd fit right in with ZZ Top with that beard he's growing. So, you think talking to some other Mooslims would be good?" asked Grizzly.
"I do,” affirmed Biscuit. "It helped me especially when I visited with Ahmed’s kin in Egypt. They're just regular people muddlin' along like the rest of us. Once I got that and realized Islam really isn't all that strange from Christianity, things got lots better.
“Hey, you want to talk with Cindy? She can answer your questions and give you web sites and whatnot.”
"Well, I don't want to be a bother," hedged Grizzly.
"No bother," said Biscuit, taking out his cell phone and punching the speed dial, “She won't mind... Hey Sissy, how's it going?"
Biscuit paused a minute to listen before replying.
"Fine. Listen, I have a buddy here who needs to know about Islam. You got a couple minutes?...Great. His name’s Grizzly,” said Biscuit as he handed over the phone. He signaled for more coffee and thought what a good thing it was that minutes after 9 PM were free.