A Ramadan Tale

 

By Rion Amilcar Scott

Near the end of the first day of my third Ramadan, Omar went to the store as the sun set and returned at the brink of the moon, bearing everything I requested except the dried fruit.

I specifically said dried apricots and raisins. When he left I had just started to grow hazy and loopy. Everything else: the band aids, the cotton balls, the toothpicks, the headache medicine, and even the tampons could have waited for some other time.

It’s important, I told him before he left, my voice grainy and low. I saw him cut his eyes at me, those always accusing eyes, always annoyed eyes, always assuming that my suffering is exaggerated eyes. But how could he argue against the sunken moats that circled my pupils, making my eye-sockets appear as empty as a skeleton’s?

We’ll have nothing to break the fast with if you don’t pick up the fruit, I said. We’ll have to starve until I finish cooking.

On fast days when I cooked, I always waited for the sun to set before starting dinner to avoid the torture of the spices making my mouth water and my stomach roil. Make something that’ll cook fast, that’s what Omar taught me.

Jesus, Omar, I said, riffling through the bags he set on the edge of our peanut-colored kitchen table. If you’d go to the grocery store when I tell you to we’d actually have some food in the damn house. Why’d you even ask if I needed anything if you’re just going to ignore the most important item I ask for?

Omar shrugged and walked from the kitchen.

You better not rush me on dinner either, I said. I see you didn’t forget to pick up your printer cartridge. Maybe you can print us out some dates to break the fast.

Instead of cooking, I rooted through the pantry and then the refrigerator like a tiny rodent in search of a scrap of something small to steady my gaseous head. I couldn’t find even a single cracker, or raisin or hard candy. Omar breezed by with a grunted, Excuse me, and slipped his hand into a shopping bag that must have slid from the kitchen table to the floor. He pulled out a tin of peanuts and tossed a handful into his mouth. The fucker.

The smell from the nuts wafted toward me like a noxious brown cloud and slightly turned my stomach. The smell was enough to activate my allergies, tickling the roof of my mouth and the back of my throat. I fought the urge to slap the canister from his hands; that would have just spread the allergens all over her kitchen, engulfing me in a hive-inducing peanut prison.

Sorry, Kadijah, Omar said, his mouth filled with a chunky, disgusting peanut paste.

I rooted, knocking over jars and cans. In the back of the refrigerator I found a sad square of American cheese. I unwrapped it and shoved it into my mouth with such animal ferocity that I surprised even myself. Only after I had wolfed the entire square did I recognize my new savagery.

Later, as I tossed chicken wings into the stew, I felt my stomach bubble and I wondered just how long that slice of cheese had been in there.

As dinner approached, my head turned into a bowling ball, my torso a scarecrow’s, and I balanced this all on toothpicks. Stumbling into the dining room, I wobbled and clutched the wall. Drunk—I remembered vaguely how being drunk felt—from my stomach’s airy emptiness. I spoke and my voice resembled the croak of a bullfrog.

Dinner’s ready, I called.

Omar smacked his hands to his thighs and shot up from his seat and his exuberance annoyed me. It was as if after all his sitting and not bothering to help he was saying, Finally.

Wait, I said. Gotta brush my teeth.

My husband frowned and sighed, his face turning into the face of ten old men.

Oh, stop scrunching, I said. You look like a troll. I woke after sunrise. Your fault really. Keeping me up with your nonsense.

I guess all those sounds were moans of complaint, huh?

When I sat, Omar gripped his spoon like a spear. First, he bowed his head and opened his palms. I watched and followed as if I still needed him to take the lead. After a moment he looked at me with serious and questioning eyes. I spoke haltingly in my still broken Arabic, laboring over each syllable. Within the words I was finding a groove and smoothing out my pronunciations when the clinking of metal on porcelain broke my stride. I stopped praying altogether and looked up.

Omar, I said sharply. You could at least let me finish my blessing. Are you that damn hungry?

Calm down, Deej, he replied. Allah knows my heart. Besides, you were taking forever. It was a long ass day, wasn’t it? Figured you’d want to eat.

Sorry, Omar; trying to get it right.

Did you also pray for the millions of bacteria you gave a reprieve to this morning?

What?

You let them have a stay of execution when you didn’t brush this morning. I imagine those things in there multiplying up a storm in that hot-ass crucible you call a mouth. Bet you could fight Godzilla with that breath, girl. Good thing you don’t have to go anywhere.

Don’t make fun, I said. You were in your office all morning long doing God-knows-what and didn’t even have the courtesy to wake me. I bet you ate before sunrise, didn’t you?

I’ve been telling you for three years, Allah doesn’t care if you brush your teeth while the sun’s out. That has shit to do with fasting. You been listening to Angie, but she’s hasn’t been a Muslim any longer than you and she never knows what she’s talking about, on any subject.

I’m not as sure as you are; why risk facing judgment for something as silly as toothpaste? Besides, it’s not just Angie, Koz says it too.

Koz is a clown. Koz likes to fuck with converts. He thinks that shit is funny. Koz is an asshole. I’ve had the misfortune of knowing that asshole, Ali—I don’t even fucking know why I’m calling him Koz (stupid fucking name)—all my life. You listen to too many assholes.

Yeah, like that first asshole who told me about all this stuff.

Whatever, Karen. Why don’t you ask Rocky about the toothbrushing thing?

So disrespectful. I’m not asking Imam Rahman. For him to stare at me with those wolf eyes? Please.

Old Islamic proverb: Better to ask and feel like a fool once then to walk around with foolish funky breath all day because some asshole convert told you to.

We sipped slowly and blew into our steaming spoons, letting the silence spread and settle over us like a blanket of dust. Sometimes it seemed as if I was somewhere far away, say, Mecca and he was here and since I was out of sight, I registered as just a speck of sand on his mind. But since I wasn’t far away, since I was in front of him, whenever he realized he had me, a wife, I existed as a simple annoyance to be ignored and, failing that, endured.

So…have you decided where you’re going to make your zakat this year? I asked.

I’m not making zakat, Omar replied.

Umm…what are you talking about? Why not?

Because…umm…I’m not fasting?

You’re not fasting?

Do you pay attention to anything that goes on around you, Deej? I’d rather not get into this right now. I really don’t feel like discussing this subject again.

I just don’t, you know, like doing it alone. You’d think you could sacrifice just a month so we could do one thing as a family.

I could tell Omar was thinking about getting up, storming from the table in a theatrical display of false anger. So many conversations since we married ended that way. Either him or I putting on a performance worthy of a Broadway stage. He started doing it, I picked up his silly pattern and followed along. This was often much easier than wading into the swampy thicket of husband-wife banter, but then all that fake anger usually hardened into real anger, eventually forming a thick callus of resentment. I grew so tired of these types of conversations.

Did you hear anything from anyone today? he asked.

I marveled at how easy it was for him to throw out a question that pretended to have a whiff of concern, but was really just a masterful turn of the knife.

Speaking of things people don’t feel like talking about, I replied.

I mean—

People don’t hire women named Khadijah Aziz. Another wonderful gift you’ve given me, Omar.

Why don’t you send out a few applications as Karen Spencer?

Oh my God, Omar. I hope you’re kidding me. Next time you apply for a job you should send out applications as some other O-name. Like, um. Why don’t you become Orenthal James? See if that gets you a job quicker than Omar Aziz.

You’re ridiculous. You have a problem, I came up with a solution. I don’t have another name in my back pocket; you’re lucky. Omar Aziz has a job, by the way; neither Karen Spencer nor Khadijah Aziz has one. My money can only take us so far, babe.

How was work, today, baby? Did you procure anything special, my handsome Procurement Specialist?

Work was work. And you can mock what I do all you want, I don’t care. It’s not my life, just eight hours of my day. It’s how you can play-starve instead of real-starve like so many folks out there.

Well, listen to you.

Anyway, Deej, Omar said. You got your hair done today?

You like? I framed my shiny new curls with my tiny hands. The shine and the curl were fleeting things, I knew. Fleeting things that were so satisfying when they were around and so broken down when they were gone. In Omar’s eyes I could see the straight, stringy, dull, and flaky flatness that would settle upon my head in the next few days. He looked at me now as if that were all he ever saw.

Nothing says the sober spiritual study of the holy month like a new ‘do.

Man, Omar, you’re really in asshole mode today. Can’t you just say, Deej, you look beautiful and be done with it?

You’re always beautiful to me.

That’s so stale.

You just asked me to be stale. Anyway, I’m expressing my feelings.

No, I said. That’s not expressing your feelings; that’s just something people say.

On the second Friday of my third Ramadan, I walked through the doorway after juma to see my husband eating the turkey I had prepared for dinner. Omar stopped mid-chew to meet my glare with a smile, his mouth dusted with crumbs.

I wore a silken scarf that concealed the top of my head and my ears. Omar often said it made my face look like a cute floating thing. I wondered what he thought of my face now that it carried a look of disgust.

What? Omar asked. All I get is stares nowadays like I’m some kind of alien.

He took a deep swallow of grape juice, the thick liquid making a disgusting swishing sound as it passed through his throat. I replaced my eyes with hot pokers and jabbed them into Omar’s flesh; the stares turned from hot pokers into rooting worms digging beneath his skin.

What’s wrong with you? he asked, his voice rising high with irritation. Want a piece of my sandwich? It’s good. I used your turkey.

Can’t, jerk. The sun is still out.

Oh, shoot, I forgot, he replied. The blinds are closed. There’s no sun in here. I asked Angie, and she told me you can eat during the day as long as the blinds are closed.

I’m tired, I said, leaving out the of you I desperately wanted to add. I’m going to take a nap.

Ahh, Omar replied. The easy way out.

Do you have a problem with me?

Problem? No. Hey, you know all that stuff I bought last week. You haven’t even used any of it.

So?

I mean, if you didn’t need it I could have saved my money. It’s not like I have a lot of money to be spending on everything, especially since you’re not exactly contributing. You didn’t even thank me.

Thank you for buying everything I asked for except the most important thing that I really needed that night. Thank you, Omar Aziz.

Like, take the tampons for instance—

This is the worst conversation I’ve ever had.

—you’re not gonna need the tampons?

I went into the bedroom and tightly shut the door behind me. It was a moment of strong urges. The urge to lock the door. I resisted that. The urge to text Koz, first with a theological question; Koz would answer and then add some mild flirtations for me to swat down. The way he looked at me sometimes, as if he could devour me whole. I saw him on the steps of the masjid before juma. He nodded. His eyes like two gaping wolf mouths. We parted ways—me downstairs to pray with the rest of the women and he upstairs with the men—and he flashed through my head during the prayers. It was nice to be looked at that way, not all the time, but at that moment it was nice. Koz seemed to know when to turn it on and off.

I let the urge to text him shrivel away and die a quiet death. Then there came the urge to leave the room and seduce Omar. Did I really have that urge? To come out barely dressed in the fancy underwear I hadn’t touched in years. Flitting about. Doing chores. Ignoring Omar until his hands grasped every inch of my body. Maybe. If so, it was a fleeting urge. Anyway, sex is haraam during the holy month while the sun is out. But I had imagined that every night me and my husband would be twisted into impossible positions. Every Ramadan night.

Who would want to make love to someone who acted the way Omar did anyway? Just as I had promised myself to apply to at least one job a day during Ramadan—(I trusted the holy month to put my whole life in order)—my pledge to have sex with my husband every evening could not be sustained. We had only managed one night—the first night—and he fell asleep on top of me, his body suddenly growing heavy, clammy, and cold from the sweat slick. I shook him off and he turned onto his side, snoring. He hadn’t been in long enough to leave a baby behind. Probably for the best. Malik—as we had agreed to name the boy we imagined coming from my womb—had had a tough go of it the last couple times it seemed he was on his way.

I hated when Omar fell limp and asleep while we tried to make love. No bigger unintentional insult. He was blameless though. Overworked. How could I even express the anger in my heart at his slight. I thought of complaining about Omar’s romantic listlessness in the morning, but I could already hear his reply, You try working overtime every fucking day! It always came down to that, didn’t it? His utility and my uselessness.

The urge to seduce Omar evolved into a desire to pleasure myself. I passed my hand between my legs, but when I opened my eyes, I saw the room flooded with light, evidence of the sun, God’s eye. This would have to wait until he closed it. That was the moon, God’s eye cloaked in a fallen eyelid.

I gave in to sleep in the late afternoon and woke that night just after sundown. I stumbled to the kitchen in a drowsy haze to dig through the cupboard above the refrigerator in search of the dried apricots I had bought for myself. When I didn’t find them, I ransacked another cupboard. And another before rummaging through the rest of the kitchen and then the living room. I called out to Omar, but my voice echoed and the apartment lay thick with darkness. Odd, I thought. Had he really stepped out while I slept without rousing me? Without waking me with a kiss as he usually did? Indeed I was alone.

I remembered, as I searched, the first time I fasted, back when my name was Karen. Had it really been three years? It didn’t start so bad, but as the month trudged along, during the daylight hours, it felt as if my stomach had begun to attack me. Some days, I’d watch the dying light, thinking that Allah would forgive me a dried apricot or two before he pulled the shroud of darkness up from the west. But if Omar could be faithful without complaint, so could I.

It was only during Ramadan that I longed for the insistent pull of my menstrual cycle. Now, instead of being a disruption, it offered a few days off from the fast. How wonderful it was to be a woman, this time, at least.

There were a couple days though during that first fast, whenever shooting pangs became unbearable, that I shamefully hid in Omar’s office with a bag of raisins, popping them here and there into my mouth. It was all new to me, so Allah wouldn’t mind much. Back then I foolishly looked to Omar almost as my spiritual leader. I worshipped him, my personal God. I ate quietly and fitfully peeped out the room, hoping he was not on his way. I feared his judgment almost as much as I feared Allah’s.

One evening during those days, Omar came home just before sundown. He strode up behind me and touched my shoulder as I sat on the couch watching Seinfeld with an empty bag of raisins in my lap. I didn’t hear him arrive and jumped when he touched my skin. I was so full. Stuffed with raisins. Who would have thought that was even possible? I had absentmindedly chomped through the entire bag.

Karen, he said, I appreciate you doing this with me. I never had a girlfriend who took this much interest. Would you like to have iftar with my family tonight? You haven’t seen my mother in a while. Omar’s mother, that wonderful woman who would later teach me how to say I love you, in Arabic. It was her idea. We ate lunch together and she said, Look, Karen, whisper it to him like this: Ana baħibbak. I said it to Omar and he watched me blankly, before putting it all together. Where’d you learn that? he asked.

From Allah, I replied. He bothered me all night, asking where I had learned it. Finally, I told him: Let’s just say that it’s good to have a mother again.

A mix of emotions swarmed my belly, then my head as Omar stood over me asking about iftar. Sinking guilt and joy. For a moment I forgot the bag was there. What a strong man, I thought. Determined and pious. Was pious the word? There was at least something sturdy in his demeanor. Spiritually sturdy. I nodded even though I wasn’t sure what iftar was.

If he had seen the empty bag of raisins on my lap, he didn’t acknowledge it. That was the last time I cheated. I took shahada not long after that. When it was time to change my name, it was Omar who suggested I take the name of the prophet’s wife.

This night though, it was the missing apricots that made my head, already gaseous and spinning from my airy stomach, churn like the gears of a great machine. I had flipped over every cushion, looked under every piece of furniture, even took several books from the shelf. I kicked at the sofa and let out a primal yelp.

Exhausting every crevice of the house, I stumbled upon Omar’s office. I pushed open the door gently and swept the room with my sandy, reddening eyes. There next to the computer lay a package of dried apricots, hollow and devoid of fruit.

I fingered the crinkly plastic, my face drawing tight. Then I gasped, feeling my limbs becoming suddenly shrouded in ice. I knocked the package to the floor and reached for the papers on my desk. They were forms. Official looking. Full of rectangular boxes.

In the box that read Former Name, my husband had written: Omar Aziz. New Name: Odin Arnold.

My eyes went back and forth between the two boxes, barely comprehending the letters on the page. After some time they were just symbols, devoid of any meaning. I gripped the pages tightly as if they were sheets of metal. The edges wrinkled. I sputtered a mix of staccato sounds. A flutter inside my chest and then inside my belly.

When Omar walked in behind me he yelped like a puppy and I jumped, dropping the papers to the floor.

What are you doing going through my stuff?

Sorry, Odin, I replied, picking up the forms from the floor. What the hell is this?

He snatched the papers from my hand.

I don’t go through your stuff. What’s wrong with you?

Odin? You’d trade a good name like Omar for a stupid name like Odin? And this is how I have to find out that you’re trying to turn yourself into a stranger.

They’re the same thing. Four letters.

That’s dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. I’m not calling you Odin. Umi didn’t name you Odin.

And your mother didn’t name you Kadijah, Karen.

Omar was the highest follower of the prophet. Odin is nothing.

Thanks for that wonderful halaqa lesson right here my office. Did you know that there are five pillars to Iz-lum?

My point is that your name is an honorable name.

Odin is a god. The Allfather.

Oh, so you’re God now?

I want to be what I am.

And Arnold? Arnold? Where the hell did you even get that for a last name? It’s so…so…goddamn meaningless.

It was my father’s name before he converted. You know that. Or you should.

I never thought my husband would be ashamed of being Muslim. Sorry, don’t ask me to understand that.

In case you didn’t notice, I’m not a Muslim. Haven’t been for a while. When was the last time I went to juma without you dragging me? Cross River Masjid, Inc, will thrive without me. Deej. I’m sorry, but I just never even feel the need to pray anymore. Just because you were born into something doesn’t mean you have to do it for the rest of your life.

All of a sudden, you have no faith? That makes no sense. Imam Rahman says—

Good God, enough with the Imam Rahman stuff.

My family doesn’t even hardly talk to me anymore. I gave up all my friends, all my family, for you. So we could do Islam together. This is selfish. How could—do you even believe in God anymore?

Look, Kadijah, every time I turn on the news there’s some terrorist somewhere named Omar saying something crazy. They just nabbed four Omars in Canada.

Did not.

Sure they did. They were plotting to blow up a pig farm.

Such amusement bubbled up from my cavernous stomach. I tried to hold my face steady, but laughter came sputtering out.

This is not a joke, Omar. This is not funny.

Then why are you laughing?

I chuckled later while I washed the dishes and thought back to our conversation. Laughter was what I needed. It cut through the angry static that had become my thoughts. I laughed during the commercial break of a sitcom that was so terribly unfunny it only deepened my rage. An advertisement for pork, the other white meat, played. I welcomed it with chuckling.

I giggled again lying next to Omar just after we turned out the lights.

You know I still love you, Omar, I said staring up into the darkness.

Even though I’m not a Muslim?

Even though you think you’re not a Muslim. When you realize you’re being silly, you’ll change your mind. Allah will welcome you back.

And you’ll be there for me, huh?

Yes. As will Koz and Angie and Imam Rahman and the whole Masjid community.

Anywhere Koz and Angie and Imam Rahman are is a place I don’t want to be.

Then we were quiet.

Do you still love me? I asked, like a fool.

Of course. Why would I stop loving you?

There’s not some Norse woman you’re changing your name for?

Naw, she’s Christian. Her name’s Karen.

Outside, a chorus of dogs barked back and forth. A cat screeched.

I’ll never call you Odin.

Omar kissed my cheek, then my lips, then my neck. I knew exactly what he would do and the order he would do them, but still I let out an unexpected shudder. He lifted my nightgown and yanked at my panties. I was glad it was night.

The alarm clock went off early at 4:30 a.m., about an hour before sunrise. I rose like the undead and stumbled to the dresser to quiet the clock, then settled back into sleep, easily and peacefully. When I rose later, long after sunrise, I barely remembered waking or silencing the alarm.

When it all settled over me, I stared up at the ceiling contemplating the failure I had become. I was up and groggy, eyelids blinking back the encroaching sun’s rays. I had no job, a long day ahead, one of foul breath and no food or water and, worst of all, a husband who was turning before my eyes into a Norse God. I laughed, bitterly. How appealing that sounded in the abstract. But I didn’t want a Norse God, I wanted the chubby Muslim mortal I married.

That morning, I passed a dry, rough toothbrush across my teeth and tongue. At the same time, Omar spit a frothy green mixture of saliva and toothpaste into the sink. Traces of a smirk hung across his paste-smeared lips.

This isn’t funny, I said angrily. This is your fault. You and your stupid penis.

Pew, your breath stinks, he said holding his nose.

Real sensitive, Odie.

Show me where in the Qur’an it says you can’t brush your teeth after sunrise? He shook his head. Stop taking advice from dummy converts. No idea what they’re talking about.

Fuck you, Odin, I said.

Omar laughed and pretended my words had wounded him, placing his hand to what he said was his wrecked heart. I had long stopped listening to him though. I went into the room to straighten up before prayer.

On the third Wednesday of my third Ramadan, Omar returned an hour before sundown to see me sitting at the dinner table licking chocolate from my fingertips. A Milky Way wrapper and a cup of tea lay spread out like evidence on the table in front of me. I happened to be watching Law & Order, and Omar turned into an interrogating detective.

Aha! Omar said, a smirk curling the right corner of his mouth. This is how you been getting through Ramadan?

Omar, I said. Weren’t you supposed to be home early tonight? Did you forget—

No, you forgot that the sun doesn’t go down for another hour.

Ricca and her husband and son—I always forget their names—are coming for iftar and—

You never told me we were supposed to have comp—

And Angie and Koz are coming t—

You gotta be fucking—No, Deej, you never told me this before because I would have said that they can go eat somewhere else. I had a big lunch today, I’m not even hungry. Iftar’s a sham tonight, anyway. You’re not even fas—

Stop being a child, Omar. My period is here. What’s your excuse for not fasting? Oh, that’s right, Thor is your God or something. We have to get ready for our company. Could you clear your books and all your junk from the living room? Sun’s almost down, they’ll be here in a few.

I swept out of the room and into the back, leaving the candy wrapper and teacup there on the table to see if he would pick them up. I sat on the bed and closed my eyes, hoping to connect with something, but all I heard was my husband out there grunting and sighing, making a show of picking his socks and books from the floor.

And maybe I did forget to tell him Angie and Koz and them were coming for dinner. Yes, I did forget or rather, neglected is a better term. Angie called me to have ice cream one night, the night after I learned Omar was thinking of becoming Odin. Come on, ‘Deej, she said. I’d feel like a pig having it by myself. She met me at a self-serve spot near my house, and Angie could always make the laughter spout flow.

My boss is so inappropriate, Deej, Angie said as she ate the strawberries off her ice cream. This bitch keep telling me about her husband falling asleep on top of her during sex. What the fuck am I supposed to say? No shit like that ever happened to me. That’s some boring pussy for something like that to happen.

I tried to smile, but the most I could muster was a closed-mouth grimace.

What do I tell her, Deej? Angie asked. She just gonna keep asking.

I don’t know, Ang, but look. I shouldn’t say this, but Omar—I stopped. I looked down, waiting for Angie to break the silence, but she never did. So I told Angie everything. I told her about the name change and the distance I felt from my husband and how I’d hoped we’d get pregnant during Ramadan. I told her about the Maliks. I had never told anyone but Omar about my miscarriages. I told her about how useless I felt playing empty stomach to the breadwinner. I told her about the family that won’t speak to me most of the time and how when they do, they’ll only call me Karen. Angie nodded, but she couldn’t relate. Her family loved the idea of her having religion, any religion at all. Angie always joked that her Baptist mother would have preferred a Satanist to the atheist she had once been. I told her how attracted I felt to Koz, but I played it off as if it were a schoolgirl crush. She could relate to my attraction to Koz; what woman couldn’t relate? But I wasn’t supposed to be attracted to Koz. She assured me that it was fine to hold such feelings as long as they weren’t coupled with action. I went quiet and Angie said, There’s something else, isn’t there? Maybe, I said. And then I told her about Omar falling asleep during sex.

She fell quiet.

Do you think about Koz, when y’all are getting it on? she asked.

Angie!

Girl, it’s not a big deal. It’s normal. I’ve thought about him when I was with other dudes.

It was only one time, I said. And it’s because he’s working constantly because I’m out of wor—

You don’t have to explain anything to me.

Angie said this because she was supposed to as a friend. And after I told her all, I felt empty and drained. Angie looked at me as if she pitied boring-me, and I could barely meet her eyes.

Deej, Angie said. Once we had an intervention for my Uncle Bird when drugs got to be too much for my mother to handle. I planned it.

Did he stop using drugs?

Um, eventually.

The rest of our time together Angie and I plotted our intervention while the sweet, smooth ice cream eased down our throats; it would be during iftar one night, just a small group of us from the masjid, so we wouldn’t overwhelm Omar. I’d cook some of his favorite foods and while he was enjoying it, Angie would ease into the gentle confrontation. It all made so much sense while we sat there and licked at our spoons. We felt drunk off of cold sugar and our tiny conspiracy, which to us felt as vast as the universe.

So you can see why I forgot to tell Omar that Angie, Koz, and Ricca and her family were coming for dinner?

Ricca, her husband Rashid, and their son, Luce, were the first to arrive. Luce was on the cusp of three and full of life and personality that bubbled up past his mischievousness. He shot past my legs when I opened the door, ignoring my calls for a hug.

You just gonna ignore your Auntie Deej? I called as he threw himself onto the couch next to Omar.

Omar grabbed Luce and tickled him and wrestled him a bit, and I think I felt my ovaries twist watching my husband with the child.

Angie and Koz arrived together. She gave me a crooked smile as she stepped into the apartment, saying my name loudly as if I stood across the street from her. She opened her arms and pulled me in for a tight hug. I resisted the urge to say, You saw me the other day.

My husband nodded at Koz at first, until Koz said, That’s how you greet me these days?

Omar reached an open palm toward Koz, who grasped it and pulled my husband into a bear hug.

Let’s eat, Deej, Koz said. I’m about to collapse.

Luce sat atop a pillow in a chair between his mother and father. He held a tin full of change, and every few moments he’d shake it, to his parents’ annoyance. I couldn’t help but stare at the boy. He looked like the secret answer to everything, a glowing child floating in the expanse of space.

He shook the tin and Ricca leaned to remove it from his tiny hands. I tapped her arm and whispered, Oh, leave him.

Somehow, everything he said came back to his robot brother, who lived in the upper corner of his room. Before the dinner started his mother asked him to say the blessing, and it began with bismillah and ended with Luce thanking God for his robot brother.

And as Luce seemed to be growing bigger and bigger eating his chicken and rice and carrots and raisins, my husband seemed to get smaller and smaller, crumpling into his chair. He shuffled his food around the plate. I could feel him beating his feet beneath the table. To me, he appeared used and spent, as if at any moment he would flop onto the floor.

Koz and Angie and, sometimes, Rashid, spoke among themselves at one end of the table, while Ricca and I spoke at another. Every few moments, we would all come together to laugh at Luce’s outbursts, his tin shaking and his chatter about the exploits of his robot sibling. Omar was lost to our world. He had fallen from our universe. Perhaps he sat there perched somewhere up on Valhalla, confused by the mortals and their earthly concerns. Luce told us of his robot brother flying him to school, and Omar sneered at him the way I’d never seen a man sneer at a child.

Then Omar spoke for the first time that evening.

Luce, tell me about that can, Omar said.

The boy looked solemnly down at his plate, perhaps he even trembled as if he had heard his name called in a roll of thunder. Poor child, intimated by the grumbling man atop the mountain. I wondered when Omar had become so gruff, an unapproachable voice of the dark clouds above.

Rashid said: Come on, buddy, tell them about the moon can.

Luce still didn’t move, his eyes scanning the intricacies of his carrots. I could see the lines of irritation move like waves of heat across Omar’s face.

Hey, Koz said. How about your Uncle Ali drop something in there for you, huh?

But we haven’t even heard—

Koz interrupted my husband by peeling two $20s from a stack and leaning over to dunk them into the can.

Isn’t that so nice? Angie said.

We didn’t hear what it’s for, Omar replied. The kid could be begging money to buy his dad some cookies or something.

Excuse me, Omar, Rashid said, jabbing a finger toward my husband. I don’t know if you realize it, but it’s incredible how out of line you are right now.

I’m sorry, Rashid, Ricca, I wasn’t trying to cast aspersions on your child, but—

Luce, Rashid said, go ahead and tell everyone about the moon can, please.

Some people don’t have enough—Luce paused—enough to eat.

Which people, sweetie? Ricca asked.

The people who don’t have enough to eat, Luce replied.

Okay, my husband said, reaching across the table and tossing $3 into the boy’s can. Looks like that’s the best we’re going to get out of this one.

Are you always this much of a dick to your guests? Koz asked. Guess they do it differently up on Valhalla.

What’d you just say to me?

Wait, Angie said. Stop. This is not how we’re supposed to get into this.

Get into what? my husband said, and then he glared at me. One of his eyes widened and didn’t blink. It looked dead against his ashen face, but the other eye grew fiery. If it had released a cleansing flame, turning us all to ash, I’d have scarcely been surprised.

Ali spoke: This is about you—

Ali, Angie said. Please calm down and let me—

No Angie, Koz said. I’m going to speak on it. This is about you, Omar, being weak and silly and turning your back on your family and your community and your Go—

Because I thought about changing my name?

To some shit we used to read about in Thor comic books when we were kids? This is real life, man. There is no hammer of truth out here, or whatever the fuck them Norse gods carry.

Now Omar, Angie said. I want to focus this discussion—

Discussion? Omar said. We’re not having a discussion!

We are, Angie said. And you’re here with friends so don’t be afraid to talk about anything, from your name to your faith in Allah, to the sexual, you know, performance issues you and Deej have been having—

Angie! I called.

After I spoke—shrieked, really—I felt my voice becoming lost in my throat. Luce shook his tin as if to rally the argument that was now taking shape.

When Omar sneered at me again, I looked away from him. Anything to avoid meeting that world-burning eye.

My husband tried to speak: Nothing I do is any of your—

Rashid, Angie, and the loudest of all, Koz, spoke over him while Luce shook his tin.

We’re only approaching you like this because we’re concer—

Nothing I do is any of your—

Continue on this path, brah—

Nothing I do is any of your—

—and this will be your Ragnarok, chief.

Nothing I do is any of your—

My husband stood, becoming taller than a mountain.

Y’all got some fucking nerve. Nothing I do is any of your concern. You treat this religion shit like it’s superstition. Rashid and Ricca, you don’t worship God. You worship your kid. Angie, the mosque is a goddamn social club to you. And you, Koz, you’re the fucking worst one. You don’t even believe this shit. Allah is a good luck charm so you can whore around and smoke weed and not feel bad about it. You’re not my community, you’re a bunch of misfits.

Do they not see the birds suspended in mid-air up in the sky? Koz said. Nothing holds them there except Allah. There are certainly signs in that for people who have faith. That’s the last word I got to say to you on all this, but hey, I guess when you see Huginn and Muninn flying around, you’re not the type to wonder who put them there.

You’re a dick, Omar replied. That’s my last word I got to say to you on this.

My husband watched me like I was the stranger who just shoved him into traffic; I waited for his judgment from on high, the fires of his Hel flaming from that burning pupil, but his blazing eye grew cold. He turned and walked to his study, slamming the door behind him.

I hung my head over my clammy chicken, saw its pastiness looking up at me in mockery. I felt Angie’s hand over mine and heard her whispering in my ear, Think you should call Imam Rahman? Tell him dessert’s off.

We became ice giants, Omar and I, the frost between us so thick I didn’t dare lift a finger to chip it and neither did Omar, Odin—whatever he called himself now.

And I understood, I suppose. I responded to his thoughtless, though unintentional, betrayal, by backstabbing him, willfully, even gleefully in some moments. We addressed each other out of extreme necessity only. Refusing to say each others’ names.

Sitting on the couch one Tuesday afternoon in the last week of my third Ramadan, my limbs became sore and heavy. Time dragged. Everything dragged. My empty stomach expanded, becoming cavernous. It, not the hollow expanse that was once my husband’s love, became all I could think about that afternoon.

Gas bubbled up through my chest plate. I belched loudly and excused myself even though no one else was around.

I patted my belly. Empty. So empty. There was supposed to be a child in there by now. A boy named Malik that my father, Michael Spencer, would take into his arms and hold, and Malik would make Michael forget that we had different names for God.

How elusive that Malik, slipping dead three times from my womb. I cried each time, but Omar was like spiritual steel. That’s how I wanted to be. Like some of the earth’s hardest substances, so these emotions would collide with me and die.

How long since Omar had mentioned Malik? How long since he had mentioned trying again? Maybe Odin didn’t at all share Omar’s dreams. Or my dreams: Malik and Luce running around with their Ramadan moon cans. Maybe Omar now believed in nothing and then how could I even raise a child with him? Maybe the Maliks were messages from Allah, telling me that Omar wasn’t what he seemed; that all his spiritual sturdiness had just been a facade I should have easily seen through.

Maybe nobody’s that spiritually sturdy, huh? Maybe after the Maliks he got back to life and normalcy for my sake and what he really needed was my hand on his back making sure he didn’t stumble.

On Saturday I tried to engage my husband as he walked out the door. Where are you going? I asked.

To the courthouse, he replied. Changing my name.

How could I not see then the horror in his face? The desperation in that dead eye. The weak flame in the other. It’s Saturday, I said.

He didn’t respond. He left. I chalked it up to cruel chain-yanking. But, no. He wanted me to feel the well of hurt he always dragged with him and sipped from. I could never see his for my own.

When he came home this day, this last Tuesday of my third Ramadan, before he could get into the door, I said, Is it Malik? Has that been what it is with us?

` Omar didn’t even shrug, didn’t even look at me or curse or say, as I expected: No, it’s not Malik, it’s Koz and Angie and Rashid. It’s you.

He said none of that. Instead, he held up a bag of Peruvian chicken from our favorite spot down the corner.

You hungry? he asked. Want some food?

Will that get you to talk to me?

Omar left the food on the table and joined me on the couch. I could smell the scent of seasonings and soft chicken flesh twining through the air. It made me stomach growl. I swallowed a swish of saliva.

Who said I’m not talking? he asked.

Then answer me, Omar. What’s wrong with us?

Shh, he said rubbing my stomach, playing in my belly button the way I liked. I gave up talking too much during the day for Ramadan, he said.

I felt I should have shoved his hand. Told him to stop. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, focusing on the rough and smooth of his hands crawling over me. My skin warmed as if the sun’s rays were peeking in upon me. The sun’s rays—I had forgotten them, but they were still sneaking through the blinds. And while they did, all my desires that were now going wild―for food, for drink, my hunger for this man next to me―would have to go unfulfilled.

Instead of pushing him away though, I tossed back my head and tightened my closed eyes, watching the light dance against the vast black expanse of my eyelids. Like stars and shining heavenly bodies hurtling from the big explosion that started it all.

If I could keep my eyes closed long enough, I thought, I could travel back to the beginning, back to the source of all that light, and one day I’d tell Omar all about it.

 

*

Rion Amilcar Scott has contributed to The Kenyon Review, Crab Orchard Review, PANK, The Rumpus, The Washington City Paper, Fiction International, and Confrontation, among others. He was raised in Silver Spring, Maryland and earned an MFA at George Mason University. His collection, Wolf Tickets, is forthcoming from Tiny Hardcore Press. Presently, he teaches English at Bowie State University.

Share this: