Monday, January 30, 2012

La ilaha illallah [Chapter 30]

I'm posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 30:

Adam Hueghlomm had one brand new U.S. Army boot on the Baghdad road and the other one up on an ancient, broken curb. He wore the comfortable blue jeans and the loose gray T-shirt that he had on during the long flight over. He basked in the early morning desert sun, eating a spicy samosa — cooked potato cubes mixed with green peas wrapped together inside a triangular shaped, deep fried dough crust. He washed down the local snack with a small bottle of soda pop that was at room temperature. Even in early childhood, he had found that the two tastes complimented each other impeccably — spicy, fried eastern treats mixing together on his eager tongue with gulps of fizzing, sugary western soda pop. The label on the soda bottle admonished “Do Not Sell Individually.” He had bought it individually.

He knew that he shouldn’t be out here, but he wanted to see the city and the people. And he was hungry for spicy food, something that he couldn’t get in the troop mess hall.

The streets were beginning to wake up with hawkers, pedestrians and cars. Hueghlomm finished his samosa, wiped his hand gently on the side of his pant leg and downed the remaining swig of soda. He looked about for a trashcan for the empty bottle, gazing around the concrete office buildings across the street, the mosque down the way, by the tall palm trees, through the alleys and curbs and all around the shops. No trash can.

Someone suddenly grasped his earlobe from behind. Hueghlomm turned sharply. It was a small, wiry old Arab man. The sun had turned his brown skin to leather and he had a wispy, gray beard under a prominent nose with flared nostrils. He was smiling ear to ear. His stained teeth looked like Stonehenge, large rectangles spaced far apart. He was wearing a black and white Palestinian headscarf. He held steady to Hueghlomm’s earlobe, pinching it painfully between his weathered thumb and index finger.

“Say ‘La ilaha illallah,’” the old man instructed forcefully. Hueghlomm stared at him dumbfounded, mum. The old man repeated, louder, “Say ‘La ilaha illallah!’” It was an Arabic phrase, a basic article of faith in Islam that translated into “There is no god but God.”

Hueghlomm muttered the words, gazing wide-eyed and stunned at the old man grasping his earlobe. The old man insisted in heavily accented English. “More loud!” Hueghlomm repeated himself, louder. The old man laughed a hissing “ha, ha, ha” full of mischief and dirty jokes. His breath rasped with tumbleweed dryness, his sharp, pinpointed eyes were twinkling desert stars. He let go of Hueghlomm’s ear and handed him a small loop of prayer beads. The white string was flimsy, but it held the plastic, neon-green beads well enough.

Recovering, Hueghlomm thanked the old man in Arabic. “Shukran.”

“Journalist?” the old man asked in splintered syllables.

Even though Hueghlomm had gone out of his way to dress unobtrusively, something about his carriage or demeanor must have betrayed his foreign upbringing. “No, not a journalist…just hungry,” replied Hueghlomm.

“My name Mohammed,” said the old man.

“Adam,” said Hueghlomm, touching his own chest, pronouncing his name with the characteristic long “ah” sound at the beginning, the sound that his mother had always used when saying his name.

“Baba Adam,” the old man said, nodding approvingly, making reference to Adam, the Father of Mankind in the Quranic Garden of Eden.

“Why?” asked Hueghlomm, one palm facing up in the rising desert sun. Although he wasn’t explicit, the old man knew that Hueghlomm was asking why he walked about the streets of Baghdad grasping strangers’ ears, insisting that they profess allegiance to God.

“One day I die,” explained the old man. “I sick. I die and I come back. My wife, she hold my hand while it happening. I paining very hard, but then no pain, no any pain.” He moved his palms in front of himself, like a baseball umpire calling a player safe. “I see garden. My pretty mother,” he reminisced lovingly. “She sitting there. She make her hand to tell me, ‘Come, Mohammed.’” He moved his hands in front of himself, making inviting gestures. “My father, he also there.” The old man’s voice suddenly grew stern, “He tell me hard, ‘Go back! Your work still left to do. Not yet,’ my father say.” The old man raised his wrinkled finger and waved it side to side underneath Hueghlomm’s nose. “Not yet. I say ‘Baba, please, I stay with you.’ But he say, ‘Not yet.’” The old man stopped and swallowed. “Then he come and lift me and put me back to my wife.”

“Your father?” asked Hueghlomm.

“No, no!” The old man spoke like Hueghlomm hadn’t paid attention, like he had missed the entire point.

“The Prophet,” said Mohammed. “Prophet Jesus.”


  1. Thanks, Sarah. I actually remember writing this vignette a few years ago...I was in a hotel room in Vegas.