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Present and Tense: Black crows

My phone was ringing off the hook. Marissa from the European Union, Kevin from the Foreign Office, and Shokomoga from the Council for the Defence of Minorities all requested my immediate attention. I was on a yacht in the Pacific, trying to put the final touches on my spring collection and stop my wife from …


My phone was ringing off the hook. Marissa from the European Union, Kevin from the Foreign Office, and Shokomoga from the Council for the Defence of Minorities all requested my immediate attention. I was on a yacht in the Pacific, trying to put the final touches on my spring collection and stop my wife from firing Abbas, my bodyguard of 20 years. Abbas, who lost an eye in Ramadi last summer, was trying to make a professional comeback as part-sailor, part-chef.

“I just don’t like the way he makes my vegetarian burger. It crumbles at the edges, the onions are not chopped right and the lentils are undercooked. Why don’t you give him back his old job?

Abbas was standing five feet away, his face – minus an eye and part of the right jaw – wearing a guilty expression. “First of all, he’s half blind, not half deaf. Secondly, he cannot shoot straight anymore. He is likely to shoot us if we give him back his gun. I whispered.

I am loath to fire my help. Turnover is already high. Magdi died in a bombing in Lebanon last year. Ahmad is in the Caribbean in US custody. And Bertolucci is somewhere in Vienna training Western Resistance Squads. “You’re taking sides, I chided him in our last phone call. “How many times did I tell you? In our business, we encourage ethnic strife. We don’t actually join the ranks. Never join the ranks. Then I had to let him go.

The callers wanted me to do something about women’s fashion. “They’re scaring us, we cannot even see their faces, Anita from the Green Party, Anita who spent most of her life protecting fish, seashells, and the Monotogoma monkey, has joined the chorus.

“How can they scare you if you can’t see their faces? Did they make threatening gestures? Did they make obscene phone calls? Did they double park? I needed to know.

“No, but they keep driving their cars into trees. And in supermarkets, they take too long to shop. Then at the cashier, it takes them an hour to find their credit cards. The women can’t see. They’re a menace to western civilisation.

“What exactly do you want me to do? I asked.

“Talk to them.

“Do you have their phone number? I needed to end the call, for my wife was shoving her burger in Abbas’ face through the wrong nostril.

“It’s right here. 512 112 1112.

I snatched the burger out of my wife’s hand just in time and hurled it into the sea. “There goes my jawbone implant, Abbas groaned as a pink and metallic object hit the water. Don’t ever try to settle a domestic crisis in the middle of an international one, I made a mental note.

“Women under the Veil, a lilting female voice came over the phone, “how can I help you?

“Hello there. I am calling at a bad time?

“No sir, we’re open 24/7 right now, giving advice to politicians and the public on how to deal with us.

“I have been receiving many complaints about you and I wonder if you can help me.

“Sure thing – that is why I am here.

“I have been asked by three Britons, one former Yugoslav, and two Scandinavian officials to talk to you about the veil. We’d like for you ladies to remove it in public. We’re not against the veil as such. You can cover your face while you sleep, or even in the shower, but why do you have to wear it in public. It’s a bit unfriendly, don’t you think?

“And what is friendship? Is friendship a smile in the face or a song in the heart? Is it a rose in the hand or a ray of light piercing the dark of the night?

“.???

“Have you ever seen the sun glistening through the thin muslin fluttering against your cheeks? Have you ever laughed from the heart at the neon lights of a shopping mall, so hard that you couldn’t tell your driver’s license from your immigration card? Have ever been alone and yet walking among the bustling masses?

“.???

“The flock of black crows glides in silence over the lush meadows as it did for a thousand years. And yet the meadows are gone now. Only the flock of black crows keeps coming back, driven by the wind of hope, reaching for the unreachable.

Suddenly it dawned upon me all at once. This veil-wearing is a cult in the making, not a religious phenomenon as I originally thought. Religions mutate all the times, and frankly I don’t care which way they go so long as their followers keep buying guns from me. But cults – that’s a different story. I have a soft spot for cults. Cults are a mixture of the insane and the poetic. Cults are an individualised presence in an impersonal world. We have created the impersonal world. People like me have. People who run corporations, people who take the big contracts, people who send others to do their shopping at the mega malls they partly own.

My wife, having disappeared since I inadvertently mutilated Abbas, was sun tanning at the other side of the boat. I took a piece of muslin and draped it gently over her face. She smiled, or so I thought. Then I had an idea for my new collection.

Nabil Shawkat’s recent book, Breakfast with the Infidels, has been translated into five languages and sold upwards of 27 copies, all at gunpoint.

Topics: Gamma Islamiya

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