See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s different tales.
This is a multi-chapter novel. Chapters: Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20
“Go home, Omar. Go home, go home.” – A frog
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They have been on Via Argentina, an particularly good road with nicely maintained condominium buildings, quirky retailers and eating places, and a grassy island within the center. Parked automobiles lined the highway, and there have been zero free areas. Ivana placed on her blinkers and got here to a useless cease in the precise lane. Immediately horns started to blare as site visitors backed up, and indignant drivers have been compelled to merge into the opposite lane.
Omar bought out of the automotive and walked up a driveway that led into an underground storage belonging to an condominium constructing. He stopped in entrance of the little woman who sat dejectedly on the driveway curb, her field of gum packets on the bottom between her dirt-encrusted naked toes.
“Hello Amelia. Do you remember me?”
She squinted up at him. “The burned guy.”
“You still peeling balls?” From the best way Amelia had used this expression final time, Omar assumed it meant down in your luck and broke.
She made a small but complete hand gesture that mentioned, “This is my world.” And, “What a stupid question.”
“You want to come with us? Get some food?”
Her eyes narrowed additional. “You’re not a vampire?”
She lowered her voice to a whisper. “They go after street kids.”
“I’m standing in the sun.”
He beckoned. “Come.” By this time the cacophony of automotive horns had risen to a crescendo. Drivers rolled down their home windows to shout curses at Ivana, reviling her parentage and evaluating her to each despised animal they may consider. The woman picked up her field of gum.
In the confines of the automotive, it was apparent that the kid had not bathed. Omar sat in entrance, whereas the woman sat in again with Samia, her brow pressed towards the window as she watched the road go by, her field of gum clutched in her lap.
“What’s the plan?” Samia requested in English, so the kid wouldn’t perceive.
Omar sighed. “I want to feed her. After that… I don’t know.”
“No restaurant will let her in,” Ivana replied, nonetheless in English. “She have no shoes, and she smell bad.”
“Someplace with outside tables.”
Ivana grinned. “I know a place.” Switching to Spanish, Ivana seemed over her shoulder on the woman. “I was a beauty queen.”
Amelia mentioned nothing.
“And I’m descended from Castilian royalty.”
The woman seemed impressed. “Your car is pretty.”
Ivana gave a happy nod. “Why did you say you don’t have parents?”
Amelia returned her gaze to the road. Speaking in a monotone, she defined that her mom had been killed in a theft when she was small, and her father had gone to Colombia to search out work, leaving her along with her grandmother. That was two years in the past, and he or she had not heard from him since.
Two older cousins, one eighteen and one sixteen, satisfied her to journey to Panama with them. They had a distant aunt dwelling right here, and thought she may maintain them. They employed on as unpaid swabs on a livestock provider – a kind of ship – carrying reside sheep from Brazil to Mexico by means of the Panama Canal. Their job was to scrub the animal waste. But the ship was not sufficiently ventilated – “the air got bad,” as Amelia put it – and the eighteen 12 months outdated died, together with one seaman and a number of other animals.
When they deserted ship in Colon and located their strategy to Panama City, the aunt wouldn’t take them in. She’d not too long ago gotten married, and her husband mentioned he wouldn’t flip his home right into a beggars’ den. The sixteen 12 months outdated cousin turned to prostitution, and pressured Amelia to do the identical. Amelia refused, and so they parted methods. She bought gum from morning to sundown, and at evening slept in an deserted constructing on the Tumba Muerto.
Ivana seemed horrified. “Prostitution? You can’t be more than ten years old. Your cousin should be shot!”
The woman shrank from Ivana’s anger. “I’m fourteen,” she mentioned defensively.
Omar was surprised. Fourteen? She didn’t look older than 9 or ten. She have to be chronically malnourished.
When they stopped at Nadia’s home to select up Nur, the boy hopped into the again seat. “Who are you?” Nur requested.
“Oh.” Nur opened his backpack and took out his Etch-a-Sketch. “Want to draw?”
Amelia smiled for the primary time since Omar had met her. “Sure.”
Omar watched with pleasure. Surely Nur was conscious of Amelia’s physique odor, and positively he may see her soiled toes and dusty, raveled hair. Yet he behaved usually, as if unaware of these items. In that second, Omar’s coronary heart swelled with love for his son. Tired, he put his head again and closed his eyes.
Someplace To Eat
When the automotive stopped and Omar opened his eyes to see their vacation spot, he shot a scowl at Ivana. She’d introduced them to Panama Viejo Snacks and Lottery. Tio Melo’s store. Correction – Santiago Francisco Bayano Benjumeda’s store.
Ivana shrugged. “It’s someplace to eat, primo.”
Uh-huh. They all sat on one of many benches: Omar on one finish, then Samia, Nur and Amelia. Omar didn’t wish to enter the store, however he gave Ivana cash and he or she went inside.
She emerged with a big sack and proceeded to distribute wrapped tuna sandwiches, takeout packing containers of rooster chow mein and cabbage dumplings, potato chips, cans of guava and apple juice, and bottles of water. In spite of the Cuban sandwich earlier, Omar realized he was hungry once more. He took a rooster chow mein and dug in with wood chopsticks. Melo’s – argh, Santiago’s – Chinese meals was scrumptious, and after Ivana’s story Omar knew why. The man had spent greater than 20 years in China.
Ivana squeezed in on the tip subsequent to Amelia, and the 5 of them sat in a row like birds, consuming. Amelia wolfed down her tuna sandwich, barely pausing to chew. Omar observed her sneaking one other sandwich out of the bag and hiding it below the bench.
“Slow down,” Samia mentioned. “You’ll make yourself sick. There’s plenty of food. You can have as much as you want.”
Melo emerged from the shop and stood in entrance of them. His face, which had at all times appeared ageless, was now etched with fear traces. He glanced at Omar, then seemed away. “How goes the struggle?”
“I don’t know, Santiago,” Omar replied. “You tell me.”
Omar noticed Santiago’s Adam’s apple go up and down. The outdated man appeared to wither below Omar’s unblinking stare.
“Che Guevara used to say,” Santiago mentioned, “that the true revolutionary is not guided by hatred, because that is not revolution but vengeance. Nor is he guided by ideology, because that devolves into dictatorship. No, the true revolutionary is guided by love. Maybe…” He paused and wiped his brow. “Maybe I loved your father so much that I wanted a better world for him. I grew up in the ramshackle, bloody streets of Portobelo, in violence and poverty. Maybe -” his decrease lip trembled and his voice broke, and tears started to stream from his eyes. “Maybe I wanted more for Reymundo and all other children like him. And maybe I was utterly, stupidly wrong.”
Ivana set her meals on the bench and went to the outdated man, embracing his slender kind. Santiago stood along with his arms at his sides, accepting the embrace passively. Ivana held out a hand to Omar. “Come, primo.”
Omar felt such a roiling combination of feelings that he thought they’d mix like chemical compounds in a nasty science experiment and dissolve him. Ivana beckoned once more. He seemed to the individuals beside him and noticed Nur and Amelia watching him, whereas Samia sat along with her head tilted in that approach that indicated she was listening intently.
Who Am I?
Who am I? he thought. And who am I elevating my boy to be? He remembered Samia saying, “I feel like there’s an inner sickness consuming you. My instinct tells me the only cure is forgiveness” And he considered Tio Niko’s phrases: “I will tell you a secret. Some of the flock… have been with you all along. They never stopped loving you… You know them by what they do.”
What had Santiago Benjumeda really performed? He’d been a buddy since Omar was younger, caring for him in little methods, bringing presents to his household, persisting as a giver of kindness.
Even as these ideas handed by his thoughts, he realized they have been superfluous. He was now not indignant. The resentment and bitterness that had consumed him have been gone. They’d been catalyzed by his survival of that crippling weeklong despair, and by his mom’s story, and his uncle’s dying, and had been remodeled into one thing else. An understanding, maybe, that everybody made horrible errors, everybody was ashamed, and everybody struggled to return to the sunshine.
He went to the outdated man, placing an arm round him from the opposite facet. For a second the energy appeared to depart Santiago’s legs, and he sagged. Omar reacted rapidly, circling his arm round Santiago’s again, clutching him. His grandfather returned to himself, and stood straight once more. Tears nonetheless ran down his cheeks, and he appeared afraid to take a look at Omar. Omar stunned himself by pulling Santiago’s head towards him and kissing the person on the temple.
No one spoke apart from Samia, who whispered to Nur, “What’s happening?” Amelia watched with curious eyes, at the same time as she continued to eat.
A bunch of youngsters have been hanging out in entrance of the store. Two women approached Omar. One smiled shyly. “You’re Omar Bayano, aren’t you?” The two women giggled.
“Yeah. How do you know me?”
“From the news. You killed that escaped murderer. Can we have your autograph?” The woman produced a faculty pocket book that had been folded in two, and a pen that wrote in 5 colours concurrently.
Omar didn’t see any level in correcting the woman’s model of occasions. Sighing internally, he signed the ebook.
“How come you’re at this place?” the woman requested.
Omar indicated Santiago. “He’s my grandfather.” Saying these phrases felt like talking with peanut butter coating his mouth. It would take getting used to.
“Tio Melo is your grandfather? Oh my God!”
“I’m his cousin,” Ivana mentioned proudly. “I’m also the former Miss Cuba.”
The women shrieked with delight and gave the pocket book and pen to Ivana.
Omar’s cellphone rang. He answered it and listened as his mom spoke in a unusually calm and managed tone. After a minute he hung up and seemed round on the group.
“The Black Knife is gone. Celio Natá has passed away.”
Don’t Worry, Primo
“You just saw him an hour ago!” Ivana exclaimed.
“He was in bad shape.”
Samia got here to his facet and slipped her arm by his. “You gave him what he needed to be at peace.”
“What do you mean?”
“You promised to work for his people, and that comforted his heart. And you gave him the testimony of faith, and that comforted his soul. He was able to move on.”
Omar remembered how all the strain had drained out of Tio Celio’s physique after reciting the shahadah. It was as if the person had been greedy a lifeline with all his energy, and had determined he didn’t want it anymore.
“The Ngäbe-Buglé elders are meeting tonight. Mamá wants me to come. She wants to arrange an Islamic funeral for Celio, but the elders are refusing. She wants me to show them the video and explain what it means.”
The youngsters swung their legs and chatted about werewolves and one thing Amelia referred to as La Ciguapa – a lady along with her toes going through backward, who may hypnotize males into following her into the woods, the place they disappeared. What was with this child and monsters? She was going to provide his son nightmares.
“I’m not sure what to do about the girl,” Omar mentioned in English.
“Don’t worry, primo,” Ivana mentioned confidently. “I will deal with her. I have a plan.”
Omar shrugged. Weariness was setting in, and he couldn’t suppose clearly. “Okay.”
Santiago touched his arm. “What about me and you? Are we… alright?”
Omar studied the outdated man. His grandfather. “Samia’s been wanting to organize a picnic at the beach. We’ll call you.”
When Ivana pulled into their driveway at house, Omar spoke to Amelia. “Do you mind going with this lady? She’s my cousin. She’ll take you wherever you want to go.”
“Is she a vampire?”
“What?” Ivana shot Amelia a disapproving look. “I’m black. Did you ever hear of a black vampire?”
Amelia screwed up her face, pondering.
Omar shut the automotive door and waved as Ivana drove off, going too quick as regular.
He’d performed loads for his first day off the bed. It was all he may do to carry out wudu’, pray Asr and fall into mattress, setting his alarm for simply after sundown so he may pray Maghreb and attend the assembly, which was being held at his mom’s home.
The assembly was already underway, and it was bedlam. A 30ish lady in a purple nagua gown, sneakers and a straw hat pounded the desk. “Don Celio was a good Christian servant! It would be an insult to bury him with some heathen tradition.”
Ximena leaped to her feat. “Are you calling me a heathen? I believe more than you, because I worship only God! As for Don Celio, he never set foot in a church. He used to say that he and God had a mutual pact to leave each other alone. He never professed any faith until he converted to Islam.”
“Which I still doubt,” the girl within the hat mentioned. “It sounds like a fairy tale.”
“It’s not,” Omar mentioned, and so they paused, taking a look at him. There have been eight individuals there: Omar’s mom; the Krägä Bianga; Governor Amauro; a person with a once-broken nostril and naturally spiky hair that stood up like cactus spines, who Omar acknowledged as certainly one of Don Celio’s sons; two different males Omar didn’t know in any respect; and the indignant lady within the hat. There was no signal of his mom’s husband Masood.
Ximena launched everybody to him, beginning with the spiky haired man, who, she mentioned, was Ismael, the brand new king of the Ngäbe-Buglé individuals.
“What about Nicho?” Omar requested.
The indignant lady waved a hand. “He’s a drunk.”
“Finalizing Ismael’s appointment,” Ximena mentioned, “was one of the things we met to do.”
“I have been elected to the Council of Elders.”
“Against my wishes,” the indignant lady mentioned sourly. “You are not Mama Tada. You are not even Christian.”
“Then get out of my house and go,” Ximena mentioned hotly. “And forget about receiving any further funds from me.”
Amauro made a soothing gesture. “Easy, Ximena. You are one of us, it’s done.”
This was a facet of his mom Omar had by no means seen. He remembered her slapping Nicho when the person grabbed his shirt. She’d at all times been submissive, or so it appeared to him. But she had modified. It was as if, in confessing her appalling weak spot to Omar, she had allotted with it, rising remodeled from the chrysalis of fact. She was performed being trampled. This realization moved Omar, and he felt an odd factor stirring in his breast: pleasure for his mom.
The different two males, Omar realized, have been governors of the opposite two Ngäbe districts, whereas the girl was Zuli, excessive priestess of the Mama Tada – the native Christian cult of the Ngäbes. Mama Tada, Omar knew, was based in 1961 when a Ngäbe lady named Besiko noticed Jesus and Mary trip as much as her on a motorbike. The faith emphasised disengagement from outsiders, and abolition of alcohol, spouse beating, and fences between properties. Half the Ngäbe individuals adopted Mama Tada. They even had their very own police drive. This priestess Zuli most likely commanded extra affect than Ismael would as king.
“Show them the video,” Ximena urged.
Omar performed it. When it was performed, Zuli scoffed. “He was drugged. He didn’t know what he was saying.”
“Play it again,” Ismael – the brand new king – mentioned. Omar performed it.
“Explain it,” Ismael requested.
Omar defined the fundamentals of Islam, emphasizing the truth that Muslims believed in Jesus and Mary, however as a Prophet and a holy lady, not as divine beings.
“What is it you wish?” Ismael wished to know.
“He must be given an Islamic funeral,” Ximena broke in, “and buried in an Islamic cemetery.”
Kissed by the Wind
The room broke out in an uproar. Zuli’s face turned pomegranate purple as she shouted that Don Celio may by no means be buried outdoors the comarca. Ximena hollered again that Celio’s religion have to be revered. Ismael seemed considerate. In spite of his odd, vaguely punkish look, Omar thought he would possibly make a superb king.
“I have a proposal,” Omar mentioned. The argument continued, so he repeated himself extra loudly. Finally eyes turned to him. “Give him a Christian service, and bury him on the comarca, but not in a Christian graveyard. Bury him in a wild place, on the side of a mountain perhaps, caressed by the wind.”
Virtually on the similar time, Zuli snapped, “Unacceptable,” whereas Ximena mentioned, “How is that a compromise?”
Irritated, Omar mentioned, “Excuse us,” and took his mom into the bed room. “Mamá, you’re on the council now, and I’ve committed to working with them. We need their good will. The Prophet, sal-Allahu alayhi wa-sallam, said that the Muslim who dies in a fire is a shaheed. Celio died from the effects of a fire. His soul is in Jannah. What does it matter if they give him a Christian service? It’s only his body. We can pray for him ourselves as well.”
His mom patted his cheek. “You were always wiser than me.” When they returned to the lounge, she introduced her settlement with Omar’s proposal.
“In that case,” Ismael, mentioned, “It will be done. I think my father would like being on the side of a mountain, kissed by the wind.” He smiled at Omar.
Zuli grumbled, however the choice had been made. Omar solely hoped that the priestess wouldn’t show to be an enemy sooner or later.
Three days later, Omar sat on the again of a strong brown stallion, making his approach up a path on the ridge of a mountain spur. His horse was tethered to the one in entrance of him, which was ridden by an skilled Ngäbe horseman, so all Omar needed to do was sit nonetheless and benefit from the trip. The mountain fell away on the perimeters, its steep slopes coated in oak timber, magnolias, umbrella-shaped ceibas, huge guanacastes, and bamboo and ferns within the understory. The solar was harsh and unbroken. Birds chattered and sang. Now after which an opossum, armadillo or ñeque waddled or bounded out of the best way, or a sloth rustled within the leaves of a tree.
Samia was within the metropolis, engaged on Indigenous and Refugee Advancement, the identify they’d given to the brand new group they’d arrange. In Spanish it was Adelanto de Indígenas y Refugiados, or AIR for brief. Breathing this pristine mountain air, Omar discovered the identify acceptable. AIR would assist individuals breathe, metaphorically talking.
Puro Panameño had given them a grant to get began. They’d already rented an workplace in Bella Vista, and Samia had signed on as basic supervisor. Naris Muhammad would seek the advice of within the effort to cease the federal government’s development of the Pared Blanca dam on Ngäbe land. Omar felt that is likely to be too huge of a chew for AIR to chew. But the Ngäbe governors insisted it was a high precedence. Aside from that, AIR was establishing a classroom to show literacy and laptop abilities to Venezuelan refugees and Ngäbe laborers, in addition to a meals donation program. These have been the sorts of issues Omar felt they need to be doing to start out. Time would inform.
As Omar climbed larger, banks of mist billowed down from the mountain peaks, coating his pores and skin. Behind him, the Pacific Ocean was hazy and blue far beneath. They handed tiny, impoverished Ngäbe hamlets. Stray canines appeared half starved. Higher up, they handed espresso, cocoa and corn farms, some planted in skinny, stony soil, the place the yields have been undoubtedly poor. The Ngäbes weren’t mountain individuals initially. They had as soon as lived on the coasts, however upon the arrival of the Spaniards had fled to the highlands to flee genocide.
Celio Natá was buried not on a mountainside, however in a big meadow surrounded by forest. A easy gravestone had been engraved with a cross. The meadow was full of women and men. There was not a single white or Latino face in sight.
Priestess Zuli gave a brief sermon in Ngäbere, of which Omar understood one thing about everlasting salvation within the blood of Christ. Ismael adopted with a couple of phrases of reward, and the service was full. There was no coffin nor even a shroud. Celio’s physique, adorned in the usual Sunday outfit of slacks and buttoned shirt, was lowered into the grave. People shoveled dust in by hand, and Omar pushed his approach ahead so he may take part. The soil was wealthy and black.
Immediately, individuals started to drink. Even youngsters could possibly be seen guzzling onerous alcohol. When Ismael wandered over to him and shook his hand, Omar expressed his shock. “I thought Mama Tada banned alcohol?”
“Not all of these people are Mama Tada. Anyway, even the priestesses overlook the drinking on days like this.”
People gathered into knots the place they sang and danced. Fights broke out among the many younger males, and nobody appeared to care. Some wept brazenly, utterly in contrast to the usually stolid bearings of those individuals. It was pandemonium, and it made Omar very uncomfortable. He retreated to a quiet spot the place he sat below a tree and waited for the entire thing to burn itself out.
These is likely to be his individuals by blood, however the cultural variations have been huge. He didn’t know if he would ever absolutely perceive them. The fact was that his individuals have been the Muslims. That was the lifestyle he grasped and beloved, and Muslims have been the individuals he understood, even those who have been closed-minded, racist, or provincial. But this was the path he’d chosen and the deal he’d made, and he needed to belief that Allah would information him on this path.
The Eternal Life
Hours later, he was in his automotive, driving again towards the town. He was exhausted. His eyes have been just like the stage curtains closing on the finish of a present. He was attempting to return out for an encore, however they wouldn’t let him. The automotive weaved a technique and the opposite. Frightened, Omar sat up straight and slapped himself within the face to remain awake. There was no approach he’d make all of it the best way house.
Rather than go immediately house, he exited the freeway into Arraijan, and made his strategy to the Islamic cemetery. It was after darkish, and the cemetery was unstaffed at the moment, however the gate was secured with a easy mixture padlock, and Omar knew the code. He entered it, drove in and parked within the small lot.
The cemetery grounds have been bordered by lush timber encircled with flower beds. Thick grass grew over the graves. The particular person graves had plaques set flush into the bottom. The cemetery was not brightly lit, however Omar knew the placement of his father’s grave in addition to he knew the format of his own residence. He sat on the grass beside the grave, and made dua for his papá, that Allah would widen his grave, fill it with gentle, forgive his sins and make him one of many individuals of Jannah.
The evening frogs and crickets have been as loud as an orchestra. The occasional chicken referred to as, and fruit bats flicked previous overhead, emitting tiny squeaks.
“It’s been a strange time, Papá,” he mentioned out loud. “Sometimes I wish so much that you were here. I want it more than food or air.” But his father would by no means be right here, on this earth. It was the opposite approach round: sooner or later it might be Omar becoming a member of his dad.
His eyes traveled to the clear grass bordering this grave. His mom had bought this whole row. One day she could be buried subsequent to Papá, and Omar and Samia past, and maybe their youngsters past that. It was a sobering thought. Everything got here all the way down to this. He considered an ayah from Surat Al-Ankaboot: “And this worldly life is nothing but diversion and amusement. And indeed, the home of the Hereafter – that is the [eternal] life, if only they knew.”
Where was his father’s soul proper now? What wondrous issues was it seeing? What actuality had unfolded earlier than his father’s eyes? What horrible truths did he know, however couldn’t share?
A cicada set free a loud buzzing name, and a chicken answered. The frogs had grown even louder, and one appeared to have discovered a drainage pipe, amplifying its voice. “Go home, Omar,” it gave the impression to be saying. “Go home, go home.” Nur would possibly already be in mattress, however Samia could be ready up. Samia, his coronary heart outdoors his personal physique. His companion in love, grief, life or dying.
He kissed his personal palm then rubbed it on the grass over his father’s grave. “I love you, Papá. I will watch over your father Santiago, and your grandson.”
He remembered his provide to Santiago to affix them in a picnic. A picnic sounded great proper now. They must do this quickly.
The evening air had woke up him. He rose to his toes, and headed house to his household.
Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 22 – The Conch (the ultimate chapter!)
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See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s different tales on this web site.
Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – together with Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – can be found in book and print kind on his writer web page at Amazon.com.