Monday, November 28, 2011

For What? [Chapter 11]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 11:

Fatima Hueghlomm held the heavy receiver of the black rotary phone to her ear, dutifully listening to the determined voice at the other end of the world.

“Fatima, why?” Dora Hueghlomm paused a moment, hoping that her logic would take hold in her daughter-in-law’s mind. “Fatima, why, I say?” her old voice demanded.

“Mom, a lot of my family is still here.”

“A lot of your family is here,” said Dora Hueghlomm.

“Mom, it’s a big change. I don’t want to do this without thinking.” Fatima frowned and brought an open palm against her chest, gently resting it below her throat. “It was difficult when Idi Amin threw us out of Uganda in ’72. With nothing, only our clothes, our lives, Albert drove us across the border to Kenya in his old Mini Minor. Adam was only seven, so scared, so small.” Fatima’s weak, sad words soaked in remorse and loss. “Idi Amin claimed to be a Muslim. A Muslim isn’t supposed to harm another Muslim.”

“So that’s the rule, is it?” Dora Hueghlomm enunciated in hard stone.

“Rules,” Fatima said, a mix of disappointment and anger. “Things were finally settling in Nairobi. And now,” she paused, pressing back tears. “And now,” she stopped again, forcing her way out of self-pity, mustering resolve. “I have to think,” she said sharply.

“What’s to think?” Dora Hueghlomm asked in stern sympathy. “It’ll be better for you.” She waited, letting the correctness of her stance soak in, and then her voice softened, as if the subject had moved to its core. “And think of the boy…the boy…I see Albert’s eyes in the photos you sent.”


“It’ll be better for him,” Dora Hueghlomm argued with the silence.

“America’s so far away, Mom. And I’m alone. What will I do? There’s no one.”

“There’s everyone!” Her admonishment was riddled with tender concerns. And then Dora Hueghlomm sucked in a long, drawn breath in California.

Fatima heard the breath in Africa. She braced.

Dora Hueghlomm released the air in her lungs in a rattled series of jagged syllables. “You listen to me, young lady. I lost my Uncle Leo to those criminals in Austria!” Her voice suddenly verged on shrillness. “I lost my little boy to those criminals in Africa.”

A pause.

“For what!” Dora Hueghlomm shouted. “For what?” she said, quieter, sadder, plumbing so many deep sorrows. “May you never have to bury your child,” her voice cracked. “How many more times?”

Dora Hueghlomm cleared her throat. Her voice came back into the present with a quite dignity, demanding compliance. “Bring the boy to America. I’m here. Everyone’s here.”

“Mom…” Fatima’s sentence swerved in indecision.

“What, Fatima? What!”

“Mom…I’ll start talking to people about getting an American nursing license.”

“Good girl!” Dora Hueghlomm was elated that an elder’s good sense had been accepted. Her honed words now formed a bold, determined statement. “And I will help with this nursing license bit.”

Fatima Hueghlomm pictured her mother-in-law saying those words, her five foot frame standing like an iron bolt in her perfectly clean, perfectly ordered kitchen in West Hills, California. In her mind, Fatima saw Dora Hueghlomm’s face and eyes harden in resolute purpose as she made the statement and moved a small, strong hand to her waist, grasping her cream colored open sweater on one end and pulling it closed in one sharp, taut movement, a gesture that stamped a seal of finality on the decision that had just been made.

The picture in Fatima’s mind was wrong. Dora Hueghlomm’s sweater was not cream colored. It was light blue.

How Dare She! [Chapter 10]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 10:

The tall, wiry man with a long black beard and a stained prayer cap knitted from red and white yarn came to their Nairobi home once a week to teach Adam Islamic prayers. Ishmael was from Saudi Arabia, in his mid-twenties, the privileged and lazy son of an oil sheik, a son who had parlayed his father’s position, name and wealth into a leisurely lifestyle built around amateurish and inconsequential dabblings in theology. He had begun creating this lifestyle in Saudi Arabia, bored, but had gotten caught driving drunk in Riyadh with a busty, incoherent blonde slouched across his lap. His embarrassed family asked him to leave for a few years, giving him parting gifts consisting of a large trust fund and a choice of family real estate scattered around the world. Ishmael picked Kenya for the climate and the safaris. He had recently begun teaching Islamic prayers to local Muslim children for a modest fee, a way to earn some extra pocket money, create a potentially useful social network and perhaps, he thought, meet his first wife.

Ishmael had a long brown face with dark, lazy eyes. His nose was broad and flat. He had a hard, curling beard that started at both ears, covered the sides of his face and wrapped itself above and below his thick, wide lips. Its heavy, black mass hung down to his clavicles. Although his face and eyes had an unyielding harshness, when he spoke, his voice carried through the air in a lilting, soft dignity.

Ishmael’s loose white robe had grown light from wear, flapping helplessly in the placid breeze as he walked to the wrought iron gate of the Hueghlomm home. Although he could well afford many new robes, he clung to this one, having always been stingy in alms and spending that did not involve instantly gratifying physical pleasures for himself.

Ishmael called from outside the gate, “Mrs. Fatima! Mrs. Fatima! I am here.” His heavy Arabic accent was laced with British inflections, leftovers from a childhood of private schooling.

A thin, feminine figure appeared in the second story window. Fatima peered past the gate. “One moment, Mr. Ishmael!” Moments later, she was moving down the gray, cement steps, a proper and welcoming smile on her face.

“I seem to have lost Adam,” she said, a motherly tone.

“Ah, boys,” said Ishmael walking through the opened gate, a smile on this thick lips, nodding knowingly at the antics and ploys of young men. He followed Fatima up the stairs, carrying a Quran wrapped in green cloth at his side.

They turned into the entry and walked a short corridor, into the large family room.
“Please sit.” Fatima motioned at the chairs and sofas, inviting Ishmael to make himself comfortable. “I’ll go find Adam.”

“Shukran.” Ishmael thanked her in Arabic and reclined easily into the comfortable sofa as she left the room. He sat quietly, staring about the room, at the lovely large leafed plants, the coffee table littered with books and magazines, the tasteful and functional furniture. “Middle class,” he muttered to himself, a denigrating smirk on this face. His gaze turned to a metal wall shelf. He stood, walking towards the shelf, running his dark eyes over the items on it. He frowned at the centerpiece, a menorah. He had never seen one, and he studied it, eyes squinted in curious disdain. A wedding photo stood to the side of the menorah. A slightly younger Fatima beamed in her bright red Pakistani wedding outfit, her shoulder gently nestled against the side of Albert Hueghlomm’s black tuxedo. Her lovely bride’s outfit was emblazoned with soft, glittering patterns of gold embroidery. Ishmael looked closer and noticed Fatima’s fingers resting tenderly on Hueghlomm’s opposite shoulder. The new wife had one arm behind and around her husband in a pose that was at once both protective and possessive. Hueghlomm smiled broadly in the photograph, his teeth showing, his pasty white complexion standing out against his dark tuxedo and the burst of red next to him. Ishmael moved to look at the photo standing on the other side of the menorah. Fatima, tired and jubilant, stood cradling a newborn baby wrapped in a downy pink blanket. Albert Hueghlomm, in blue jeans, wearing a proud, happy grin underneath exhausted eyes, stood next to Fatima. He held a suitcase in one hand, a large tote bag slung around his opposite shoulder.

Fatima was suddenly back in the family room. “I can’t find Adam,” she said quietly. “Which is strange.” She put a softly closed fist to her chin, absent eyes, and said in a perplexed, questioning tone, “He knew you were coming.”

“Maybe he forgot,” Ishmael allowed.

“No, he’s very exacting,” replied Fatima. “He doesn’t forget.”

“Shall I help you find him?” offered Ishmael.

“No,” she said. “But thank you.” She crossed her arms and nodded her head down slightly. “I’m sure he’s OK. He’s just…hasn’t been himself the last few months.”

“I’ll come back at your convenience.” Ishmael smiled.

“Let me pay you for the lesson. I’m sorry my son didn’t come as agreed.”


Fatima left and brought back her pocketbook. She opened it, pulled out a billfold and counted out Ishmael’s weekly tutoring fee. She held her hand forward, the money between her thumb and forefinger.

Ishmael snapped the folded bills out of Fatima’s hands in an unobtrusive, quick blink, dropping the money safely into his breast pocket in one fluid movement. He gave Fatima a tilted nod and a thankful smile.

“Next week?” he asked.

“Next week,” she replied.

“I see your lovely photos.” He gestured toward the shelf on the wall behind him, sweeping his broad, open palm in its direction.

“Thank you,” she said.

“Why the candles?” he asked.

“It’s a menorah, a wedding gift from my mother-in-law.”

“Ah,” he said, eyes wide in acknowledgement.

They stood in ginger silence.

“You are Muslim?” he asked, finally.

“Yes,” she said.

“Your son?”

“Muslim and Jewish.”

His face fell into repose, his eyes dropped to the floor. A moment later he pursed his lips. Both eyebrows hopped higher on his forehead.

Fatima chuckled out loud.

He looked at her, no expression. “Next week,” he said, nodding his head slightly to one side.

“A Syrian Imam married us, my husband and me,” Fatima said as she slowly moved her hands to her hips. “He told us a story before the ceremony. He reminded us of the Prophet Muhammad’s Jewish wife, Safiyah, about how a few people around the Prophet ridiculed her because of her faith. Safiyah went to our Prophet with her concerns. The Prophet told her to never mind those people and that if they continued to pester her, she should remind them that as a Jew, she is a daughter of the Prophet Aaron, a niece of the Prophet Moses and the wife of the Prophet Muhammad. Being surrounded by prophets, the people who live to ridicule others had best leave her alone.”

“Of course,” conceded Ishmael. He flashed an angry glare at Fatima’s stiff form, a glare quickly hidden behind a wide smile. “So you understand our faith?” he asked, subtle tones of sarcasm laced through his words.

Fatima didn’t reply.

“I’m surprised since the ancestors of Pakistanis are said to have been idol worshippers,” said Ishmael.

“Didn’t Arabs worship the moon god Hubal and three hundred and sixty other idols in Mecca at the time of the Prophet?” said Fatima, eyes fixed on Ishmael’s.

He stared back at her, silent. “I look forward to seeing Adam next week, madam,” he said finally. “Next week?” Ishmael confirmed, smiling pleasantly.

“Next week,” replied Fatima.

So Be It [Chapter 9]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 9:

The shining black miniature Mercedes sat parked on a cement step, twinkling in the brilliant Nairobi sun. Adam raised a large rock over his head, grasping it viciously on either side with his small, determined hands. He swung the rock down hard onto the car, the impact vibrating through his wrists, into his forearms. He pushed the rock aside and glared at the remains — shattered plastic windows with both tires on one side bent out sideways, flattened at a grotesque angle underneath the car’s mangled body. Adam was disappointed that the car wasn’t more broken. He brushed its corpse into a pile with other crushed, fractured toys, reached into his cloth carrying case and pulled out a small Land Rover. He placed it onto the cement killing field, measured and set just so, his lips pursed, intent.

His mother suddenly shouted at him, staring down from the top of the steps, “Adam!”

He looked up, turned away and ran, crashing hastily into the closed wrought iron gate.

“Adam!” he heard her shout again from behind. Her slippers snapped against the hard steps as she moved in his direction. He fumbled at the gate’s stubborn handle, hitting it with closed fists, shoved it open and ran across the road, darting into the hidden alley. Adam kept running, gulping labored breaths, his face contorted in anxious escape. He ran until he was sure she wouldn’t follow, until the brilliant tall weeds on either side of him changed colors and became short, until the curves abandoned the red-soiled path, allowing it to flow in sloping straight lines that led away from roads and homes and voices, lines that emptied into an expanse of rolling, wheat brown fields.

Adam stopped, his head nodded to the earth, his hands on his hips, panting. He swallowed, looked up. The world was behind a curtain somewhere back there, behind him, he knew, but not here. Here, the sky’s gentle, azure hands held soft puffs of cotton in the far distance, at a line where rolling tan fields reached up on barefoot toes to softly kiss lazy blue eyes.

There were no witnesses.

Adam caught his breath. He refused to look back, preferring abandoned fields and infinite blue. He stumbled to the path’s edge and dropped down, hugging his knees in front of him, staring at the gravel aimlessly, at the V-shape of the red rubber straps of his flip-flops, starting in a fork at his big toe and stretching over and around his small brown feet. The fields suddenly basked in a subtle scent of sandalwood. Adam felt a rustle of air gather and move behind him. It brushed its delicate fingertips against the back of his neck in paternal faith and then trotted off into the fields, its ashen palm fading.

Adam closed his eyes and sobbed.

We Pray Your Assistance [Chapter 8]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 8:

To: United Nations Human Rights Commission, New York

We pray your assistance.

The white mans body found at Jinja Dam past week could now have a solved death. A Nile Hotel servant lady in Kampala was promised her name to be secret to explain of the many dangerous happenings at the hotel.

During first days of November this scarred lady speaks that a lorry brought many extra prisoners to Nile Hotel, one being white. She remembers him as to she was ordered to clean all things around him urgently as to leave completely no signs.

When arrived, Army officer called Kireka directed the white man to a lift which took them to room 311. They went together. There Kireka said in a very long way that President Amin was to investigate the Israel event at Entebbe Airport, especially as to Kenya’s help. Kireka said to the white man he was a Israel spy. The man said no. Kireka said to the man he was a Jew, at which he said yes. Kireka said to the man he lived in Nairobi, at which again he said yes. Kireka said the man help Israel people in a aeroplane when it escape from Entebbe. Quiet was the white man. Kireka said what happened at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi? Then he hit the white man very hard. Kireka said what is your work in Kampala. The white man said to buy sugar. His whole work was to buy sugar. Three hours they talked sugar, aeroplanes, Entebbe, Israel, with Kireka hitting the poor man when the talk was wrong. Two hours alone, Kireka questioned the papers in the fellows pockets, his money belt and his shirt. The poor lady servant sweeped around his chair and picked all papers before the man was taken to room 326 for evening sleep.

Next day Kireka and one more big officer had the white man in room 305, a room very hard to clean for its many devices on the floor. The white man was told to remove his pants and shoes and shirt and was beaten very much by the new big officer, all the while Kireka was talking again for aeroplanes and sugar and Entebbe. His blood was too much difficult to clean from that room, room 305. Then Kireka said he would kill him if he did not confess to helping enemies at Entebbe. He showed the white man a telex he said the man sent to Israel embassy at London that admitted his spying. Kireka then laughed and dropped the telex on the floor which added to the poor ladys cleaning time.

The poor white man was next whipped until bleeding again. A electric thing was turn to on and became redhot which was put on his legs and privates. The man was then saying things the servant lady learned from Sister Mary when she was little, the Lord is my Shepard, he said. Kireka himself, not the big officer, put salt and red spice on the white mans whipping cuts at which he again spoke as Sister Mary. Kireka told the man a suggestion that if he got Shs 750,000 he would be released. But the white man and all his mess was all cleaned completely and again at Nile Hotel or even Kampala his face she did not see.

The good peoples here request all readers to see with open eyes. The voice of thy brothers blood crys to you from the soil. This mans voice is only sound to your ears from the mouth of a hotel servant lady who is herself afraid and living very dangerous. But this one was a white man and since a white man maybe you will now listen.

We pray that the good people will see.

Milton Otanga

Kampala, November 1976

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bone of My Bones [Chapter 7]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 7:

Thirteen years ago, Albert Hueghlomm had limped into the spotless and new emergency admissions room at Mulago Hospital in Kampala. The hospital had been built only a year ago, in 1962.

“Can I help you?” asked the admissions nurse. Her English labored under a heavy African accent.

“Yes. I’ve hurt my knee.” Hueghlomm came around the desk to show her his injury. He placed a delicate palm over his knee. His heavy pants were tattered and bloody. The skin around his knee was torn, raw, soaked red. He grimaced slightly when he looked down at the wound.

“How?” the nurse asked.

“I fell off my motorcycle,” he said, adding in triumph, “The motorcycle’s OK.”

“Please sit,” she told him. “I’ll get someone for you.”

Albert Hueghlomm sat and waited, looking over the bare white walls. Across the room, a woman gently rocked and breastfed a baby, her back to Hueghlomm, her heavy, rounded shoulders hunched forward, cradling the infant. Her soft cooing soothed the air. A bare chested old man slouched asleep at the furthest end of the room, snoring lightly. He had contorted his wiry frame so that his whole body fit into the chair, his feet and legs folded up in front of him. A brand new burlap bag lay beside him, his thinly muscled purple-black arm threaded through its looped handles.

“Sir, please come back with me.”

Hueghlomm looked up from his chair. The woman in front of him wore a white nurse’s uniform. She had a light brown complexion and straight black hair that gently tipped the top of her soft, thin shoulders. Hueghlomm stood gingerly. The woman’s eyes were darker than he’d ever seen, the brown around each pupil almost as dark as the pupil itself.

“Can you walk or should I get a wheelchair?” she asked.

“I can make it…a few yards, at least.” He wanted to be brave.

“What happened?” She was making conversation, putting her patient at ease.

“Fell off my motorcycle.”

She gestured into a side room. He turned in and sat on the examining table.

“I didn’t tell you to do that.” Her look was stoic, all business.

"Sorry.” He slipped off the table, grimacing as he put weight back onto his injured leg.

“Please remove your pants. I’ll be able to check and treat your injury better.”

She turned and began to pull gauze and sponges and antiseptic bottles and forceps and plastic gloves and many other items and devices from a white cabinet drawer. Each of the objects made its own tap as she placed them onto a metal tray. She turned to Hueghlomm, metal tray before her, and examined his bared, bloodied knee.

“You can bend it?” she asked.


“I’m going to wash it. This will sting.” She was right.

Grimacing, Hueghlomm finally noticed her Indian accent. He made clenched conversation to keep his mind off the antiseptic bite. “You from India?”

“Pakistan. Raised in Uganda. How about you?”

“Israel. Raised in California.”

“Hmmm,” she was thinking. “Pakistan and Israel — countries created to accommodate religions.” Her sponge washed a stream of water and blood off his pasty, white knee and into a metal pan below. She looked over the cleaned wound, leaning close. “More blood, less cut,” she concluded. “I’ll put you together, Humpty Dumpty.” She looked up at him and smiled. He hadn’t guessed that she could.

“Can a serious person have a sense of humor?” he teased, being careful not to tease too hard. After all, she was filling an anesthetic injection and threading a needle for stitches.

“Our fall from the Garden of Eden wasn’t a complete one,” she explained, moving the anesthetic needle towards his knee. He watched her delicate hands guide the tools skillfully. She inserted the needle into the flesh around his wound. He grunted softly, teeth clenched. She spoke while slowly pushing anesthetic into him. “A merciful God let us take two gifts with us — the ability to laugh and the ability to fall in love. Whenever we do either of those things, we’re closer to the Garden.”

She removed the needle from his knee and placed it on the tray — “Click,” it said. She smiled at him. “So I laugh every chance I get. Now let’s wait for the injection to do its job.” She noticed his embarrassment, sitting before her with his pants off, injured, helpless. She found his vulnerability endearing, attractive.

“You don’t like jewelry?” he asked out of nowhere.

“Why?” She was surprised by the question.

“Whenever I see Pakistani women around the bazaars, they’re always wearing so much jewelry…lovely gold jewelry. But you aren’t wearing any,” he said.

“Just because they like it, it doesn’t mean I do.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I hope I didn’t offend you. I wasn’t generalizing, just wondering.” He looked down, quietly awkward.

Noticing his discomfort, she obliged an answer. “The most I’d ever wear would be a ring, a small one, with bright, pretty stones.” She ducked her head slightly to peer at his face, to see if her answer had relieved his awkwardness.

Hueghlomm shook his head in a politely restrained, stilted acknowledgement.

The anesthetic began to take effect.

“My brothers drive motorcycles,” she shared, watching his face.


“One of them races at Nakivubu Stadium.”

“So do I!” he blurted, suddenly animated. “I never win…but I love to race.”

“I thought I’d seen you somewhere before. You’re the European chap who walks around the stadium smiling before the races. I wish you’d be more careful on your motorbike.” She smiled at him.

He noticed her small forehead and high cheekbones. “There’s a small scar underneath your eye,” he said, feeling bad for her. “What happened?”

“We had roosters behind our house in Karachi when I was a little girl, maybe seven or eight years old. I got too close one day and one of them tried to pluck my eye out.” She moved her index finger underneath her eye with a slashing motion and squinted in disapproval. “I don’t like angry things, things that need to show dominance.”

The anesthetic had fanned away his pain. Albert Hueghlomm’s muscles and tendons relaxed. He suddenly felt that the day’s chase and toil had ended, that he was at home, resting. He tilted his head back and allowed himself to see her whole face at once. She was beautiful.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Yours, Fatima [Chapter 6]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 6:

Deeply hurt, navigating through a twisting whirlwind of grief and loss, Fatima Hueghlomm strove to do what she believed was right. She contacted Albert Hueghlomm’s family in California to notify them of his passing. At first there was anger, anger at Fatima’s tasteless practical joke. Anger morphed into abject disbelief, incoherent questions, demands for official confirmation. A flurry of frenzied phone calls ensued, giving distressed voice to fury, rage, accusing incredulity. All the divergent passions that accompany loss, the many branches of loving relations that had been broken, that had perished — all burned together in crackling embers, leaving behind an ash heap of dull regrets and suffering remorse.

Fatima’s beloved husband was no more — yet she realized that Albert Hueghlomm was much more than her husband. He was a son, a father, a brother, an uncle, a friend. She wanted to honor those many relationships and her husband’s family, people whom she knew only through occasional telephone calls and one brief visit to America. She asked them their wishes.

Albert Hueghlomm’s family wanted him buried in a Jewish cemetery outside of Los Angeles. Fatima agreed, asking that the plot next to her husband be reserved for her. She and Adam would attend the funeral.

Dora Hueghlomm, Albert Hueghlomm’s mother, told Fatima to select the inscription for her husband’s headstone. Fatima complied, quoting the inscription in a short, tear-soaked note —

Dear Mother,

“It is from Allah that we all come and it is to Allah that we all return.” No one can ever love Albert as much as you. I am a very close second.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

He is Gone, Chapter 5

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 5:

“Adam.” Fatima always pronounced her son’s name in its Arabic form, with an “Ah” sound at the beginning. She held back sobs as he drew close. They were together, alone, in the echoing family room of their large Nairobi home.


“Your Daddy is gone,” she said in her characteristic Pakistani accent, tears streaked down her face.

“I know. Kampala. For work.”

“No, Adam. He is gone,” she repeated, whispering, more insistent.


No answer.


“I’m sorry.” She held him, cupping his head against her chest, sobbing.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Judaism and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Chapter 4

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 4:

Albert Hueghlomm was flat on his back in jeans and a tee shirt, lying in the African sun on the cement floor of his garage. He was pushing the black rubber top of a wire onto a brand new spark plug. He spoke to his son while finishing. “You want to be sure that,” he stopped and strained underneath the motorcycle, “you’re properly seated so that,” more strain, “you catch the spark.” He finished and looked up at the wire, gently wiggling it to make sure that the connection was good.

Albert Hueghlomm had a round face with a prominent nose that held up a pair of black-framed glasses. His dark brown hair, parted on the side and barely touching his small ears, stood out against his pasty white complexion. He was of medium height and build. He spoke to Adam without looking at the boy, “Did you see the spark plug that we took out?”

“Yeah, Dad.”

“It was worn and corroded,” he said. “Did you see the old plug’s tooth compared to the new one that we just put in?”

“Yeah, Dad.”

“That’s why I had to kick the pedal so hard and so many times before the motorbike started last week. It wasn’t getting a good spark…to make the petrol fumes explode…and start the engine.” He looked over at Adam, “See? Everything’s connected. If you just look and think, in the end it all makes sense.”

Adam continued to watch his father work in the morning light. He wore a light blue football shirt, a new pair of red flip-flops and his favorite gray shorts. He had his father’s facial features and his mother’s light brown complexion. Adam enjoyed helping his father by handing him the tools that he needed to make the repairs and he had always been fond of his father’s impromptu lessons on internal combustion engines. He was a child full of curiosity, intrigued with learning. His mother often boasted to the other wives in the neighborhood — her son had started to speak before he was a year old, communicating in three languages in broken but full sentences. By the time he was six, Adam spoke fluent Punjabi with his mother, English with his father, and colloquial Swahili with the servants and locals.

Fatima seldom discussed her biggest concern about her son, and then only with her husband. Even at a young age, Adam had never used his language skills to create human relationships. Instead, he used language as a tool for data collection and analysis. She knew well his inner warmth and care. She had seen it often in how he took a tender interest in the habits and welfare of the local wildlife that frequently visited the perimeter of their home. But she had never seen him express or demonstrate that kind of overt warmth with humans, not even with his father or with her.

“Dad, I don’t want to be alone tomorrow,” Adam said.

“You won’t be. Santina will be with you.” Santina was his babysitter. His father continued, “And Mom will be back the day after I leave.” His mother was completing Umra, the smaller Haj or Muslim pilgrimage, that year, away at Mecca. “I hadn’t planned on leaving, but there’s a chance for a big sugar buy in Kampala at a good price. I should make this trip.”

Albert Hueghlomm looked at his son, realizing that his explanations hadn’t assuaged the boy’s concern. He tried another approach. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll bring back an Action Man from Kampala.” Action Man was a toy that Adam had asked for a couple of weeks ago, a plastic soldier with moveable limbs.

“OK.” Adam accepted the consolation. “How did Action Man get that cut on his face?”
he asked his father.

“Being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Albert Hueghlomm.

“Why didn’t you go to Mecca with Mom?”

His father didn’t reply right away. “I’m not allowed,” he finally said, and then stopped and wondered if there was any way to explain why to a child. He gave up and stammered, “It might not be safe.”

“If it’s not safe, why did you let Mommy go?”

“It’s safe for her.”

“But you’re bigger than her so it should be even safer for you?”

“I didn’t mean that kind of safe.”

“Isn’t there only one kind of ‘safe’?”

“There’s a lot more to what words can mean…and sometimes a lot less.”

“Then what good are words?”

“Adam,” he said and then stopped, his frustration growing.

Adam pressed, “You’re leaving. Mommy’s gone. Words don’t mean anything. And all I have is Action Man.”

“Adam,” Albert Hueghlomm’s tone was starting to become angry. He felt flustered by his son’s characteristic inquisitions and he had a lot to do on short notice to prepare for tomorrow’s trip to Kampala. “I’m sorry, Adam.” His tone softened as he caught and controlled his paternal frustration. “I’m sorry.”

Sensing his father’s annoyance, Adam let the issue drop.

Albert Hueghlomm knelt and placed his tools back into their box, wiping his hands on a shop rag, now smiling over at his son. “Hey, I know something you can do for me one day.” He stood and walked to Adam, continuing to wipe his hands on the rag, a wistful smile on his face. He leaned down to Adam lovingly. His cologne was a mixture of sandalwood and spicy tones of musk. His eyes sparkled like Christmas lights as he spoke. “One day I want you to go to Jerusalem and say a prayer for me. I’ve never been. I’ve always wanted to.” He stood straight and tossed the rag on top of the closed toolbox, smiling broadly, becoming more and more pleased with the thought of his son making a pilgrimage to the Holy City on his behalf.

“We have Jerusalem now, you know,” he beamed proudly.

“Who had it before us?” asked Adam happily.

The circumstantial irony froze Albert Hueghlomm in place.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

All Those Babies, Chapter 3

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 3:

The Nairobi streets dozed under a blanket of moonlit night by the time they started their drive home. Albert Hueghlomm drove, his wife to his left, sitting in the black leather passenger seat. Adam sat in the back of his parents’ comfortable car, a white Corsair.

“That was nice of Marty and Rachel,” said Fatima.

“Yes it was,” her husband agreed. “Thanks for coming tonight. I haven’t been to a Passover Seder in a while. They did a good job with it.”

A block of streetlight moved through the car, lighting Fatima’s face for a moment. It brushed across her husband softly, over Adam, and then quietly stole away, stepping outside through the back window.

“Mommy, I didn’t like it,” said Adam, staring into the dark.

“Jewish food isn’t spicy, Adam,” said Fatima. “We’ll get you something spicy at home.”

“No, the seder,” Adam mispronounced it see-der.

“What about the seder?” his father asked, curious. He glanced for Adam in the rearview mirror, finally finding his young eyes.

“The dead babies at Passover,” said Adam, staring back at his father. “Why did Allah kill all those Egyptian babies? Why do we celebrate the killing of babies?”

No one answered. No one said another word.

They drove home quietly, swimming through the peaceful African night. The tires crooned a soothing hum as they swept across the cooling asphalt, a thin sheen of evening dew forming on its smooth, black surface. A forest of enormous trees zipped by on one side, a dark, surrounding rim of thick trunks and wide, floppy leaves hanging like elephant ears, dimly lit in the silvery shadows of moon. Blocks of streetlight took turns coming into and out of the car, sweeping over them like an endless caravan of silent, faceless nomads. Adam watched the side of his mother’s face. The light did a sultry dance with the shadows around her eyes and nose.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Old Man from Nairobi, Chapter 2

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 2:

Adam Hueghlomm was eight years old and on school holiday. Every morning he would wake, wash, and put on his favorite gray shorts and red flip-flops. The cool Nairobi air always tasted full of blossoming vegetation when he climbed down the cement steps at the front of their house. A tall, black wrought iron fence surrounded the property. By sunrise, the street outside the gate came alive with dusty cars and busy walkers. The vegetable lady regularly passed along a couple of hours after daybreak, strolling on the gravel sidewalk, her booming voice announcing the day’s produce while she carried a heavy basket atop her head, its content brimming with shiny green, yellow, and red spheres and cones.

Adam’s mother, Fatima, came down the hard steps, drying her hands with a dark blue dishtowel along the way. She wore a long, loose cotton skirt with a gentle floral pattern. Although far from tight, her long-sleeved yellow top held her thin form more snugly than her skirt. Her straight, shoulder-length black hair shone in the morning sun, bouncing softly around her light brown neck as she walked, a burst of color moving against the gray cream of the house.

Fatima shouted over her son, at the vegetable lady, “Aye, aye!” Her husband loved spaghetti and tonight she would make the sauce with fresh tomatoes.

The vegetable lady stopped immediately outside the wrought iron gate, “Ah, mama need vegetable this day.” Her words carried the heavy soak of a Swahili accent. She lowered her basket from the top of her head and held it below her waist, grasping it steady by two side handles, tilting it towards Fatima. She invited Fatima forward with a broad smile, lips stretched across a pristine set of bright, clean teeth.
Fatima leaned into the basket and picked over the day’s produce, culling out the best tomatoes of the lot, picking up this one or that, turning each around in her thin hands, running discerning eyes over the skin, gently pressing her fingertips into the firm spheres, testing freshness. The vegetable lady watched patiently, mentally tallying her total sale. Fatima made her final selections and placed the chosen tomatoes into the blue dishtowel, holding it like a miniature hammock. She began the bartering ritual, wanting to save every possible shilling, more on the basis of principle rather than need. Adam caught fragments of the Swahili conversation.

“These look like they were picked yesterday,” opened Fatima, a subtle British accent woven through her words.

“Noooooo, no, no. They were picked todaaay,” countered the vegetable lady, her words stretched in African inflections, her dark face nodding no, gently.

“But they’re bruised and the skin isn’t tight. They must be from yesterday.”

“The skin is very tight, good lady.” The vegetable lady tilted her head, mentally selecting the most compelling images for her next sentence. “My old, old mother work soooo hard. She pick these todayyyy, no matter how much her back hurrrrrting.”

Fatima decided that she would pay the asking price today, but she continued a token negotiation so that she wouldn’t be branded an easy mark in future transactions. “Yesterday they seemed bigger.”

“Same plant, same plant. Same size.” The vegetable lady nodded her head gently from side to side and made little clucking sounds with her tongue.

“OK, OK. But only because I know you,” said Fatima.

“Madam will like these tomatoes,” said the vegetable lady, smiling, her mind rolling numbers behind her eyes like a cash register.

Paper, coins and tomatoes changed hands.

Amid the bartering, Adam watched the old man on the other side of the road. He was shuffling down the sidewalk, the same as every day, bobbing along, his face the color of eggplants, his torn, dusty khaki pants crinkling and uncrinkling in cadence with his shuffling gait, a mud-caked burlap bag clutched close to his bare, ebony chest.

Fatima and the vegetable lady parted, exchanging smiles, bidding each other goodbye in Swahili, “Kwaheri!” The vegetable lady continued moving down the road announcing and hawking her produce, “Mboga safi na fresh kweli-kweli.” Fatima turned and hopped back up the cement steps, blessing the tomatoes in Arabic along the way, “Bismillah.”

Adam stayed on his side of the unlocked gate, watching the old man. The man had just gotten to where a side alley met the road. He dodged quickly into the hidden path, the same one he vanished into every day. Circumstances fused with curiosity, creating an enticing opportunity to discover the old man’s secrets. Adam buckled under the heavy weight of temptation. He turned sideways and slipped through the gate, glancing back from the corner of his eye at the cement steps to make sure his mother wasn’t looking. Outside the home compound, he stood on his side of the road, waiting for traffic to subside. When it did, he moved forward and across the road, walking in a quick, stilted gait.

Adam turned into the side alley and moved down the hidden, red-soiled path. A blanket of stillness nestled around him. He listened to the sound of gravel crunching underneath his flip-flops. Blossoming African weeds loomed taller than him, beautiful, on both sides of the path. Then he saw him. Around a gentle curve and a few feet off the path, the old man stood with his shiny, thinly muscled purple back facing Adam, his legs slightly apart, burlap bag crumpled on the ground beside him. He was peeing into the weeds.

The gravel stopped crunching. The tall weeds disappeared. Adam stopped thinking. He followed his limbs, walking closer. The old man grew bigger. He had one wrinkled, leathery palm resting gently on his hip, the other in front of him guiding a yellow stream into the weeds, its parabolic curve visible through the thin space between the back of his legs. The button on the old man’s rear pant pocket hung by a thread and was caked in dried blood. He cleared his throat noisily and gasped a parade of deep breaths. His lungs sounded like old newspapers fluttering helplessly in a strong gust. The yellow stream made a final lurch into the weeds like a falling rope. The old man smelled like sweat, urine and salt boiling together in a teapot. He bent his knees and hunched to one side to pick up the muddy burlap bag. He suddenly turned to stone.

Adam froze, icy fear.

Slowly, almost without moving, the old man’s onyx head turned towards the little boy until his tilted visage locked eyes with Adam’s. His wrinkled, leather eggplant face slowly broke into a bright ivory smile, squinting black pupils like bottomless wells drilled into the white snowfields of his eyes. And it was his eyes that then invited Adam to come look into the mud-caked burlap bag.

Adam pulled forward, a reluctant puppet on a horizontal string. The old man’s stance and expression remained unchanged, his wrinkled coal hands holding the dirty burlap bag open by its two frayed loop handles. Adam craned his neck to peer inside. Nothing. No, wait…he heard a faint, muffled tweet, tweet, tweet. He stepped closer, gazing to the bottom of the bag. A gang of bright yellow chicks scurried about inside the bag alongside a worn and sunburned copy of the Quran.

Adam looked back up at the old man, still hunched around his own ivory smile. The old man thrust a deep gaze into Adam’s eyes, silently asking him what he thought of the content of his bag. And then his squinting, ivory-framed eyes grew together into one large eye that absorbed his forehead. Adam blinked and the old man’s face became an enormous dark pupil reflecting scenes of war and death and pilgrimage, like a speeded up old movie reel, oscillating and rushing scenes that eddied into one final peaceful tableau of the giant black cube in Mecca — still, deserted, quiet, bathed in soft blue moonlight.

Adam screamed. He turned and ran, his heart beating hard inside his throat, rushing blood that clutched at his windpipe until he almost couldn’t breathe.

He lost one flip-flop forever.

He never followed the old man again.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chapter 1, We Got Him

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 1:

“The Lord has been captured and is in our custody. He is in a secure location awaiting his trial for crimes against humanity,” read the global public release statement. Adam Hueghlomm, the prosecuting attorney, stared at the Lord in his cell, a plain looking middle-aged Caucasian man with an air of resignation and just a hint of sadness.

“I promise a fair trial,” said Hueghlomm. “I’m reviewing your five-count indictment to tally the specific charges. You’ll be given every opportunity to defend yourself. You have right to counsel. You may make a motion to disqualify me as your prosecuting attorney. I assure you that I will follow procedure, with reverence for and adherence to the rule of law.” Hueghlomm stopped to gauge the reaction of the accused, to see whether his words were being acknowledged.

Stone silence.

Hueghlomm turned to walk away.

“Six millennia!” the Lord shouted at his back. “Six millennia,” quieter now, speaking half to himself and half to Hueghlomm. “I’ve been watching you stumble about, whining, crying, killing, shifting blame and belching abuse on earth’s bounty. You spoiled, demented, half-baked irreverent child. You wouldn’t know what to do with great opportunity if she stood naked before you. God help you if true adversity ever visited you.” He stopped and looked down. Then a faint smile appeared on his face and his eyes sparkled with mischief. “Is the Fallen One available?”

“What do you mean?” said Hueghlomm.

“You said that I have right to counsel. Is the Fallen One available?” said the Lord.

“Stop playing games. There is no Fallen One.”

“You are telling me to stop playing games! Not only a lawyer, but a comedian too. How multi-faceted. Your mother must be proud.”

“My mother’s with you,” said Hueghlomm.

“Don’t bet on it.”

More stone silence. Hueghlomm and the Lord stared at each other. Hueghlomm was short, a little over five and a half feet tall with a stocky torso and thin legs. His round, light brown face brimmed with character, somewhat attractive, although not at all classically handsome. A prominent nose held up a pair of thin-framed glasses with circular lenses. His black hair was parted on the side and cut over his small ears, framing a set of dark brown eyes that conveyed a feminine kindness most times. When he fell into thought, those eyes ran a thousand miles away. Although in his early forties, less than a handful of grays had found their way into the hair around his temples. His smooth, soft face had no wrinkles. Taken together, his features often gave strangers the impression that “this is a pretty smart guy.”

Hueghlomm started to speak again, slower than before, deliberate words, maintaining a square fix on the Lord’s eyes. “Sir, you are under indictment and arrest for a number of serious crimes against humanity. You are accused of mass infanticide. You are accused of homophobic genocide. You are accused of felony animal cruelty. You are accused of violating Resolution 786 against societal leaders, against innocent women and children, and against unwitting animals, sir!”

“Am I, who am I? You’re shortsighted beyond your wildest imagination,” said the Lord, sitting back on the metal bench inside his cell, gently folding his arms across his chest.

Hueghlomm’s Cereb-Ear beeped. He gave it mental permission to sound.

“Chicken tonight, Sweetie?” Her playful voice ran through his inner ear.

“You mean for dinner?”

“No, stupid, I mean to choke.” She loved sarcasm, teasing. “You silly pervert.”

“Burgers,” he said.

“OK, but no cheese. Let’s not clog up your arteries any more than they already are, Mr. Limpy Dingy.”

“I need to go,” he said.

“Don’t get bent.” Her inflections were full of inside jokes. “Busy?”

“Yes.” He snapped his Cereb-Ear off.

“All well?” asked the Lord, looking at Hueghlomm. Hueghlomm didn’t reply. He felt that the Lord knew whom he had just spoken with. The Lord looked as if he knew that Hueghlomm knew and that he wanted Hueghlomm to know that he knew.

“It’s all in my mind,” Hueghlomm thought to himself. “He’s trying to get into my head.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


The prologue from Resolution 786

Prologue: 2036 Anno Domini

She brought a gnarled, frail hand to her wasted mouth, lying in cadaverous repose on stiff white sheets draped over a small hospital bed that sat on top of a sterile frame of gray metal tubes. Bright plastic light filled the tiny, colorless room, ricocheting in impersonal waves off four vacant walls. Her being quivered, alone, in rushing pain as she struggled to feed her papery lungs with sharp little sips of air sucked between savagely broken lips, precious oxygen dragged across an acrid, twirling black tongue. Her skull twitched with each labored breath, patches of bare scalp reflecting a cold sheen of bleached white between wispy mounds of lifeless, brittle hair. Her fractured trunk languished in a sunken crush, no breasts, bony humps of sternum studded through the top of a loose hospital gown. A set of desolate, listless hands and feet lay destitute at the ends of her surrendered circulatory system, writing their armistice in blue ice.

The hospital intercom spoke in a booming, loudspeaker voice, prompting her eyes to open a moment, reflexively, bulging spheres ailing in forced effort. The unseeing, jaundiced glass balls rolled about in a film-soaked swirl, pupils finally becoming lost inside her forehead. Her mouth and eyelids fell in unison. The lids stopped unclosed, marking a set of thin, grotesque yellow-white lines where her eyes had been. Her open mouth, coal tongue still, became an aged hollow with stubs of broken, muddy rocks ringed around its entrance.

The world’s best medical specialists had not been able to diagnose the former presidential advisor’s ailment. It had started strangely, almost three decades back. At the time, Madam Advisor had been a national figure and a key proponent and architect of the first war of the twenty-first century, a war that she argued would be won easily, resulting in the quick emergence of a Jeffersonian democracy in the heart of the Middle East, a fully functioning egalitarian state that would provide the people of the region a stable and secure beacon of enlightened ideals, a new nation, conceived in liberty and perpetually beholden to the morally superior West. So she argued.

Instead, one decade into the twenty-first century, Madam Advisor’s war had given rise to an oil rich, nuclear powered fundamentalist theocracy that ruled from the former Soviet Union to the south of Turkey, one that oppressed its women, threatened its neighbors and had plausible designs for the conquest of southern Europe. The theocracy’s passionately fundamentalist leaders detested the Western powers that had funded and nursed it through its birth, the countries that had invested an enormous treasure of life, limb and gold to vanquish the region’s secular dictators and place them, the fundamentalists, into power.

And so, as the Islamic Federation of Greater Iran grew, so did Madam Advisor’s inexplicable ailments. The theocracy’s birth pangs had come in a tumultuous maelstrom of blood, tears, sorrows, and loss. As above, so below — the anguished turmoil crossed the gossamer curtain between Heaven and Earth. The angels, disturbed, drew lots to repay the turmoil to its mothers and fathers. And so it was Azrael who collected every drop of blood spilled in Madam Advisor’s war, collected them into a bottomless grail, which he then poured into Madam Advisor’s spleen. And it was Malik who collected every tear shed in Madam Advisor’s war, collected them into an ancient chalice that he then poured into Madam Advisor’s glands. And it was Mukar who cast a net of air over every sorrow born of Madam Advisor’s war and he cast that net, full and brimming, deep into Madam Advisor’s heart. And it was Nakir who tossed a canopy of still space over every loss suffered in Madam Advisor’s war and emptied that canopy one loss at a time into Madam Advisor’s dreams.

The blood, the tears, the sorrows, the loss — all rightfully hers, pressed themselves into her body in a complex of twisted sinews that wrapped and clung to her soul like a poisonous vine.

Thirty years ago, when her ailments had slowly begun to fester, she had busied herself in avoiding responsibility for the war, hiding behind clever and contrived rhetoric founded on the ambiguities of war, the wrongness of others, the inaccuracies of information. No matter the cunning of argument, no matter the volume of assertion, no matter the minions of sophists dispatched to every media outlet imaginable, the facts remained true. The war was long and bloody. Fundamentalism had grown exponentially as a result. The world was now a much worse and infinitely more dangerous place.

Childless, loveless, friendless, alone — she decayed in a maelstrom of exhaustion, uncontrolled crying, piercing headaches, recurring infections, hair loss, eczema, and auditory hallucinations.

Her lonely descent to death’s doorstep had lasted three bone-numbing decades. Tonight, she had reached the last rung. A thin, blonde nurse with a kind face gently stabbed an anesthetic needle into to the top of Madam Advisor’s wrinkled, wasted hand, a needle made from recycled metal, metal that contained two atoms of iron from the shell casing that fired a final bullet into Adolf Hitler’s temple in Berlin in 1945. Madam Advisor’s rotating glass eyes stilled. Her worn out mouth closed and she appeared to be thinking. Her breaths came further and further apart as her mind assembled her last full thought. It was a thought about the Lord, a Lord whom she adored, a Lord whom she looked forward to finally meeting. She spoke to him in her head in devoted and loving tones, reminding him of the dire sacrifices that she had made in his cause. “Dear Lord Jesus Christ, I did all I could to follow your hallowed teachings, up to and including giving my all to your Doctrine of Preemptive Strike. That’s in the Gospel, isn’t it? Yes, I know it is, for I have given myself to you. And thank you, Lord Jesus, for loving me so.”

Her mind lost words forever behind a drape of sounds and tastes and scents and colors and she heard an antique piano recital playing along side a mix of proud parental pronouncements, affirmations that seeded a limitless ambition into her child’s heart and then…a crimson moment of searing, ripping anguish swept through her Universe and she thought that she heard a distant Echo approach and speed over her like a screaming war plane…I never knew you...It said…and vanished. Her tired lungs nudged away air one last time. At that moment, a moment without Time and outside of Space, a dozen dutiful angels stood around Madam Advisor in a perfectly symmetrical ring. They cycled about her seven times as she gasped last. Not one angel fluttered even a feather to relieve a single pang of her mammoth agony.