A Bad Guy

A book’s got to have a villain, right?  Here’s a short piece featuring the villain of the book I’m writing now: Hijab.  It’s in the first-draft stage, nearing 30,000 words, so lots more writing and even more revising lie ahead.

He drew back the three-wood and right away it felt awkward and so he abandoned the swing, brought the head back down to the ball.  Breathe.  Legs, hips, arms, a pendulum.  Smooth pendulum.

The Coho breathed in slowly, exhaled, and at the end of the exhale he swung, felt his body and arms pivot back as one unit, shift forward, weight and momentum along a single line, and when the head met the ball and the pendulum pushed forward in its arc and he heard and felt the crisp smack he knew he’d hit the sweet spot, didn’t have to look to know the ball sailed straight and true.  His eyes caught the ball at its apex, and for a moment he tensed.  He didn’t want an extraordinary drive, just a normal one, which for him was very good.  The ball dropped sharply down at the edge of the green, bounced, dribbled and stopped 10 feet to the right of the pin.  He suppressed an outward show while inwardly a big smile swelled, reverberated down to his feet.

“Well, hell, you sonuvabitch,” proclaimed Morris.  “Guess I’ll have to put it in the hole.”

But Morris didn’t trust himself, used a two-wood, drove his ball 190 yards, beyond the green, bounding off the tip of the little rise, over the sand trap and disappearing off the cliff into the ocean below the 16th hole of the Port Royal Golf Course in Southampton, Bermuda.

He’d rather Morris had placed his ball on the green, the score being tied with two holes to go.  The pressure would have been sweet.  Now he’d already won, provided he avoided blunders.  And he would not blunder.

At the cart his phone was blinking.  He looked at the screen, saw it came from Oswaldo, a simple text:

Call me now.

“Business,” he said to Morris.  “A minute maximum.  Why don’t you try again?  I’ll give you a mulligan.”

“I’ll take a drop when we get down there.  But while you’re talking I’ll take another poke at it just for the hell of it.  Won’t count it.  We’ve got two more holes, plus you’re going to choke on that putt.  I can feel it.”

“Choke?  When have you seen me choke?”

“Just now, looking into my crystal ball.”

“You’re quite the contortionist, choking on your own balls.”

“Try this for contortion: fuck yourself, Coho.”

The Coho moved a few steps beyond the cart, took a drag from his Pall Mall red, sent the call to Oswaldo.

“I’m in a meeting,” he said.

“Seattle branch manager just checked into a San Diego hotel.”

“You’re sure it’s him?”

“I’m watching the bell hops take his bags.”

He looked past the cart, watched Morris slice his second drive, but at least the ball settled on dry land.  The 16th had psyched another golfer.

“So why are you calling me now?” he asked Oswaldo.

“Just want you to know.”

“I told you to call when his heart stops beating.  Do not bother me until then.”

“Yeah, sure.  I’ll get back to you.”

“Thank you.”

In the cart they drove to the green, where he sank his putt.  Morris chipped onto the green, two-putted, gift-wrapped him a three-stroke lead.  When they returned to the cart, Morris pitched a clip with ten $100 bills onto the Coho’s seat, shook his head, pressed his lips together.

“There’s still two holes,” said the Coho.

“You got it.  Hell, you know this course better than I do.  You ever in Boston, look me up.  I’ll bring you to my club.”

“You’re on, but hold your money for now.”  He tossed the clip back onto Morris’s seat.

On the 19th hole, just as the waiter brought their drinks and he paid with one of Morris’s hundred dollar bills, Oswaldo called.  The man was efficient.

Dispelling Stereotypes

Researching as I write the first draft of my newest novel, Hijab, I am learning interesting contradictions between what is often portrayed versus how real life actually plays out.

As those of us who write fiction understand, conflict sells.  Those who practice journalism also understand–that’s why salivating diatribes and waving placards featuring xenophobic anger earn the headlines while quiet gestures of welcome seldom make the news.  Following contemporary reports, we might think conservative Christians find common cause in barring the door to refugees, but dig a little deeper and we’ll find it’s not always true.

Some of the most dedicated embracers of Muslim refugees happen to be Christians–and not just your liberal United Church of Christ folks, but Evangelicals, too.  Google “Christian Churches Welcome Refugees,” and you’ll find a whole bunch of hits.

Relevant Magazine, which brands itself as “the leading platform reaching Christian twenty- and thirtysomethings,” recently posted an article, “Nine Reasons Why Christians Should Welcome Muslim Refugees.”

“Jesus calls on us to leave behind our tribalism,”  exhorts the writer.  “(Jesus) didn’t say, ‘Welcome foreigners as long as they are Jewish (or Christian)–because that didn’t make sense.  In that time, foreigners, by definition, were almost always of another religion and culture.”

This past December 13 was designated “National Refugee Sunday.”  Hundreds of Evangelical pastors encouraged their congregants to contribute toward the resettlement of refugees in the United States, focusing especially upon Syrians and other Middle Eastern countries.  A leading advocate, We Welcome Refugees, encouraged Christians to demonstrate their faith by opposing state governors who supported Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban.

“Now is the church’s moment,” proclaims the We Welcome Refugees website.  “Jesus made explicitly clear in his parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:21-37) that the Great Commandment to love our neighbors compels us to love all those who are in need, not just those who share our ethnicity or religion….When the church responds with welcome to those of other religions, traditions, they are much more likely to be drawn to Jesus; to the contrary, if our response is one of misplaced fear and hostility, we risk repelling these individuals whom we believe God made in his image and loves uniquely.”

In my novel Hijab, the protagonist is a female Syrian refugee whose entry into the United States was greatly facilitated by a Christian family.  In addition to telling what I hope will be a good story, I hope the book will help dispel stereotypes and foster empathy.  It’s good to know that–contrary to the impression one may have from reading media reports and mean-spirited Facebook posts–many Christians actually do follow the teachings of Jesus.  In regard to the specifics of welcoming Muslim refugees who’ve been traumatized by war, I have no way to know whether the percentage of self-identified Christians who  do so constitute a majority or a minority.  Let’s hope it’s a majority.  After all, Jesus’s words are pretty clear on that subject.

Hijab–my next novel

What did I do during the December holidays?  How ’bout pages and pages of plot and character notes for a new novel, my third one?  I’m giving it the working title Hijab.  It features a young Syrian refugee who has an unusual side job: she’s a “honey trap” detective who specializes in catching cheating spouses–that is, until one of those cases goes terribly wrong.

Here’s an excerpt to provide insight into the protagonist.  Right now the novel is at first-draft stage.

Later that night after Douglas fell asleep Nawar rose from bed.  She picked up her purse from beneath the nightstand, brought it to the dining table, turned on the small light above the stove.  She withdrew the phone, clicked through the photos she’d taken.  Shadowy but visible.  Sufficient for the task.

Next she took out a tan colored wallet, unsnapped it, reached for the slot at the top of the right side, pulled out three of her own photos. She’d been a fool to leave them there.  If the man had grabbed her purse instead of demanding it, if he’d run, she’d have lost all that remained from her life before America.  She felt a quiver in her shoulders, and she balled her left hand into a fist.  She rose and turned on the full kitchen light, peered at the snapshots of what her life once had been.

When she fled Homs she had only the clothes she wore and a purse, and in her purse she carried two photographs.  She had bent over Syad lying motionless on the ground, a neat trickle of blood dribbling from the hole beneath his eye, rifle fire snapping, the pant legs of men and the jilbabs and skirts of women blurring in flight left and right.  The smell of burning, of death, of fear.  The wetness of tears.  A hand grabbed her arm, pulled at her, but she yanked free, threw her arms around his bleeding head.  The hand returned, and another one on her other arm, and the two hands pulled so that as they tugged she lifted Syad, would have clung and forced them to drag the two of them, except someone else, a third person perhaps, stripped her hands away from her beloved Syad and his head fell back to the pavement and it was the last time she ever saw him on the last night she ever passed in Homs.

The two of them, Syad and Nawar, occupied the first photograph, she in a long-sleeved white gown and a white hijab to hide from his view the arms and shoulders and neck that he alone among all men could view later the night of the photograph, later when he would claim her and hold her. They believed with every kernel of life in the message inscribed inside each of their wedding rings:

Always.  Forever.

What a handsome husband she had caught.  A strong chest behind that steel-blue tuxedo, the white dress shirt and bowtie.  A neat dark brown beard, short and as she’d learn later that night, scratchy.  Eyes bold.  A heart fueled by the thirst for justice.

She set the photo on the table and the second one on top of it–a family portrait, she at the age of 15, her father seated in a chair, her mother behind him, her 12-year-old brother next to her looking over the photographer impatiently and next to him Murjanah, curly haired at the age of nine.  Her father insisted that she be educated, encouraged her gift for languages, never teased her about the BBC radio tape recordings she made and mimicked in the mornings before the rest of the family rose.  More than anyone, he celebrated her appointment at the international school.  He let her decide the man to whom she was drawn.

When she allowed Syad’s friends to sneak her across the border into Jordan, Nawar thought she had spared her family.  She would not reside beneath their roof and therefore they would not be held responsible for her resistance.  But less than a year later she learned the bombs that fell from Syrian Air Force jets did not discriminate on the basis of political allegiances.  Her family was dead.

The third photograph.  Who would have expected it?

A second wedding in her life, this one with Douglas.  In America.  She smiled, and the lines of her smile touched a pathway that soothed the soreness of her heart.

With Douglas maybe she was secure here in this nation but when the next day came nobody could know how reality would unfold.   Anything could happen at any time.  She looked around the kitchen as though one of the cupboards or drawers could provide a shelter for the images of the people precious to her life, but the notion of leaving the house without them seemed to freeze her heart.  She thought of another place, the file with their travel documents, and she retrieved from it a money belt that she vowed to wear everyday now for the rest of her life.  Another person might laugh at her but not Douglas.  He would understand.  If someone were to shoot her or if a bomb dropped from the sky she’d go to the hospital or die on the street with the images of her loved ones tight against her body and in her wounded or dying breaths she would feel them flowing to her soul.

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