Saturday, June 12, 2010

Exerpt from Chapter Two


Up at Crowne Plaza we looked down on the dark bay of Shatti, the humid scent of the sweet winter air intermixing with the perfumed oud on human bodies and the faint breath of alcohol. Moving through the bar somewhat awkwardly, Audrey and I followed my mother as she diplomatically pushed her way through with the vested staff. To secure us an outdoors table overlooking the under lit pool so that she could have her cigarette was quite the chore. Not to mention that the kitchen was closed so my mother had to use her not-so-subtle arts of persuasion to get them to make an exception for us. The fact that we had been travelling forty-eight hours solid was well tossed about, as was our ‘Muslim-ness’. Perhaps this could score us a better table and some pity, my mother winked at Audrey.

Audrey and I were perfectly exhausted, despite having slept the day. The night has a haze on it, when I try to remember in depth and in detail. Too tired to be embarrassed by any references to having known-so-and-so, and ‘we’ve been coming here for years’ ect, the night almost had a surreal, relaxed air to it, as if I were drunk on something truly. Like this country before a hurricane hits it.

Only a few events stick out clearly. That Audrey was starving and looking forward the formidable taste of familiar associated with fish and chips, and that I was not hungry.
My mother sat in her sleek, black tank top leaning back in the chair, smiling and laughing with us as we related with her what events from the five years previous she had not known. Audrey guarded her delicate self from the cigarette smoke with a menu pressed before her socially. As the mere mention of fish and chips had enticed her, she had no intention of using it as anything other than a shield of politeness.

Reading the menu I discovered the fish was battered in beer and informed Audrey dully of this fact, noting that because of our religious practices, she might not want to eat it.
My mother raised objection to this fact, stating that the alcohol would be cooked-off. I, of course, God forgive me, could not stop myself from stating that respected Islamic scholars reject the cooked-off alcohol argument, and argued further that the beer on the fish sticks was not to be terribly well grilled off in open flame. Audrey sat helpless between us too, my mother trying desperately hard to win her, I realize now.

It is not that I wanted to be the bearer of bad news, or to control Audrey, as my mother then suggested. It was after all, just fish sticks. I would have been Audrey’s friend even if she ate a giant roasted boar with an apple in its mouth on a spit over an open fire while dancing drunk in a grass skirt and bikini top. We Muslims don't eat pork or drink alcohol afterall, they are very small diet constrictions, not drastic ones. My place was only to advise, and I sat back in my chair.

Audrey, not wanting to displease my mother or herself, did not know what to do, but she ended up ordering something other than fish sticks, for which my mother blamed me.

It had nothing to do with Audrey’s own conscience in my mother’s mind, and everything to do with my meddling.

Poor Audrey, who has no mind of her own! I sat thinking sarcastically in silence, while Audrey picked at her egg rolls with a dessert fork timidly.

My mother, further annoyed by the fact that I remained rather un-phased by her displeasure, pointed to an Omani man sitting a-ways from us, dressed in a white dishdasha.
“Look!” she exclaimed in triumph. “He has no problems eating the food here. And he is a Muslim!”

I looked to where she pointed. Sure thing, he was Omani, and Muslim by birth thus, and he was eating fish sticks.

But he was also holding a flagon of beer in one hand.

I looked to my mother, one eyebrow raised as best I could manage without looking insanely retarded and said “I don’t think he is the best example to go by. He’s drinking a pitcher of beer, Mum.”

This kind of example, to a Muslim, is like having the serial killer Ted Bundy be your friendly neighbourhood watchman.

The irony did not relate across the cultural divide, obviously, so she decided to end the conversation thusly by puffing back on her cigarette and curling up in her chair elegantly.
I sat back in my chair likewise, somewhat less elegantly because I was too tired for airs or graces.

She sat forward to butt out the stick in the glamorous Hollywood regency style ash-tray provided by the hotel and observed with absolute assurance: “You are an extremist.”
I laughed in my head, ‘as if she is an expert on Islam’ but chose wisely to say nothing.
I am an expat of course. But I know very well, living ten years in a Muslim country doesn't make you an expert on Islam. Maybe on Muslims, but in general, they aren't a fixed perfect mark of what one or the other should or should not be.
.... [more to come]

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