Sûrah II
THE COW
"Allah is Informed of what you do."

2
HAMBURGERS

1. "Beautified is the life of the world for those who disbelieve; they make a jest of the believers."

2. So true; America the Beautiful. All here is lovely; yet we who credit its Creator are rashly mocked.

3. I am Z.

4. Z is my pen name, not my given name. I must speak my heart disguised. A refugee, I am, from country and conscience both.

5. This is Arabic.

6. I compose my thoughts in stanzas, echoing the Qur'an, each idea numbered. You are reading a translation like the one that I have here. Much is lost, however. English serves the truths of Al-Islam not well.

7. Please excuse my clumsiness, then, in trying to bridge the gulf between our two cultures.

8. I do speak English, having studied many years in school and with my tutors. Yours is a language frank, expressing anything and everything, though grounded in the literal.

9. Oh! A woman passes outside this bus, her motor scooter racing, her hair unfurled from her helm like a liberated flag.

10. "Your women are a tilth for you (to cultivate) so go to your tilth as ye will..."  So quoteth Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, in our Glorious Qur'an.

11. Is cause to ponder.

12. Unlike Christians, who are apt to bend the Word to suit themselves, we Muslims cast our faith in the perfect mold of Allah; Allah's slaves. This is a title of distinction; slaves of Allah are divine, albeit solemn in our dutiful humility.

13. Yet I have doubts.

14. Mine, therefore, will be a painful doom. A fate I must accept, although I feel it needs be documented. Sharing it with others may foster understanding. Or serve, at least, as an antidote for my wanton-woman lies.

15. A woman lies in self-defense.

16. A woman lies to wage aggression.

17. Lies, I believe, are poisonous. To you, I will not tell them.

Holy cow! I just caught Glorianne's attention with my patented Pinkney wink; her black-lace lashes lowered like vestal-virgin veils. Add chastity to her attributes—unless my groin projects. Modest to a fault. Pure as the driven snow. Strike that. Pure as what? Damned if I'll resort to tired clichés. Prose by Franchone Pinkney shall be nothing but original!

18. He is staring.

19. Three seats forward sits a young man who regards me impolitely. Conceited, is his posture and the gesture he has made, his one eye twitching shut above a thick-lipped smile.

20. Dark is his complexion. A face that loves the mirror.

21. Comeliness is a bane. We who are not pretty are blessed in soulful ways. Twice blessed if our forms but little show.

"Please Exit Through The Rear Doors."

Oh, oh! She's getting off. I'll miss my chance—or be late for work. Fucking time-clock! Fucking slack-ass job! She's slipping through my fingers. Strike that. Dodging Franchone's query. I'd better make my mind up quickly; give chase or conform, pursue my Muse or goose-step off drudgery.

FRANCHONE

Yo; hey; wait up!

Z turns but does not break her stride as Franchone exits the bus. In a bound or two he easily overtakes her.

FRANCHONE

Name's Franchone. Hi. Franchone Pinkney. Not a man who'll waste your time. Fact is I'm curious, downright shocked to find a White gal called to Islam. You from the hood?

Z

Please, excuse me.

FRANCHONE

No problem; fine. Keep your private business private, and. never talk to strangers, 'specially those with gapped teeth; see?

Franchone, using his index fingers, lifts his upper lip. Z, despite herself, looks at his gummy grin.

Z

There is a gap.

FRANCHONE

Nah! Really? Never was one before. Maybe I've grown sinister. Wanna a piece o' candy?

Z

Please, I am...

FRANCHONE

Late, I'll bet. Same here. Late for work. I bailed out six blocks early—just so you could brush me off, I gather.

Z

What means "brush me off"?

Z's ingenuous question would appear to confirm Franchone's deduction.

FRANCHONE

Where you from; you don't know "brush off"? No; don't tell me. Middle East? Or maybe... Turkey? I see incense, odalisques, a thousand and one Arabian Nights. Bet you've ferried down the Bosporus, strolled through Istanbul's bazaars, sipped chai in Eyup at the Cafe Pierre Loti.

Z recoils. She has received this recitation with a growing apprehension, disconcerted by its indiscreet clairvoyance.

Z

Let me pass!

FRANCHONE

Hey, don't freak out; I made that up. I don't know squat where you're concerned.

He steps aside, his palms upturned in a deferential gesture.

Warily Z restrains the urge to flee.

Z

Truly, you were guessing?

FRANCHONE

Was I right; you're Anatolian?

Z

I must go.

She tries to pass, as Franchone, walking backward, keeps apace.

FRANCHONE

Hold your horses. I've amazed myself. Let Franchone take another stab. You're hungry, right? I'm famished. Let's grab a burger.

Z

Please, no. Your work awaits, you said.

FRANCHONE

Oh, that. It's just a stupid job-job. What's mere livelihood when compared to the Great American Novel—fledgling form? Besides, I'm late "just one more time," so saith the Boss-man, Pinkney's canned.

Z

And what means canned?

FRANCHONE

Fired, sacked, discharged, let go, laid off, as in given the bum's-rush boot.

Z

You must go. I feel at fault.

FRANCHONE

Relax; the fault is entirely mine. Whereas the credit goes to you for firing my imagination. A thousand thanks. Make that a thousand and one, if you'll let me buy you dinner.

Z

Your speech is odd. I know the words, but not what they connote.

FRANCHONE

"Connote"?

Z

Is wrong?

FRANCHONE

Is right. Is most articulate. How's about it? Grub's awaitin'. There's a place just round the corner: loads o' customers, lots o' light—I swear my motives are the opposite of ulterior. Unless you'd rather not be seen with the ere-long unemployed.

22. This man is much insistent upon making my acquaintance. With his mouth he fosters confidence; with his eyes he earns distrust. He tries to see what clothes are meant to hide, disclaiming crude intentions.

23.  I will find a means of leaving when he least expects my flight, for it is better to escape such rakish company.

The "Golden Calf Cafe" is not your typical greasy-spoon, nor does it offer haut cuisine at upscale prices. I'd place it somewhere in the middle: ample portions, decent value, basic burgers, mud-thick milkshakes, fries from Idaho spuds—un-skinned, and Coca-Cola served in bottles not rip-your-lip cans. Decor? Formica; namely countertops, tabletops, floors, walls, and ceilings of brown-and-white Formica—gilded—in a rawhide pattern like a Guernsey cow stampede. Now there's a metaphor! Girl's inspiring! We're having dinner. I've renewed my 'seer' routine, though "Z" (unlikely name) evades my crystal-ball conjectures.

FRANCHONE

You're single.

Z neither disavows nor affirms—her expression deadpan.

FRANCHONE

You're a graduate student... on a fellowship... School of Journalism... UC Berkeley. "Z" is a nom de guerre.

Inscrutable, Z fails to flinch.

FRANCHONE

Unless it's your initial. Z for Zinnia. Z for Zelda. Not a student; you're a spy. The Z means Zero. Double Zero, like Double-O Seven.

Franchone interrupts himself to attack his burger lustily. Z maintains composure while picking at her salad.

FRANCHONE

How 'bout a hint? Just nod for every hit or shake your head like this for misses. Or... would you feel more at ease if I just quit?

Z

No; is curious to be guessed upon. And the food I like; is tasteful.

FRANCHONE

You've hardly even touched it. What're you nibbling at?

Z

Walnuts.

He shifts his plate between them.

FRANCHONE

Have some fries. You wouldn't go to a shop for baklava and order pizza. Can't escape the Calf and miss out on these spuds.

Z extends her fork and skewers a proffered fry.

FRANCHONE

Don't forget the ketchup.

She dips the crinkled tip in a pool on Franchone's plate.

FRANCHONE

They're the specialty here—homemade. As are the milkshakes. Forty flavors.

Z

May I order "Ba-boo-nana?"

FRANCHONE

Order anything you want; your every wish is my command. One's Muse ought never to have her slightest whim denied. May I get personal?

Z resumes her noncommittal, poker-faced facade.

FRANCHONE

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'd say you're a virgin?

Outraged instantaneously, Z protests.

Z

You go too far!

FRANCHONE

Sorry, sorry. Simmer down.

Z

Bold, are you Americans. Impudent and vulgar!

FRANCHONE

Whoa.

Z

For shame!

FRANCHONE

 said I'm sorry.

Z

Insolent and uncouth and grossly disrespectful! Allah is informed of what ye do.

Z is on her feet, now, ransacking her purse. She finds a twenty dollar bill and drops it beside her napkin. As patrons watch obliquely, she takes her leave.

FRANCHONE

Okay; I take it back. You've LOST your hey-who-cares virginity.

Franchone's parting shot does little to save his face. Affecting nonchalance, he resumes his paid-for meal—the money left behind like a retroactive slap.

I once met a coed from Turkey
Whose manners turned out to be quirky
I took her to supper
Guessed no man had tupped 'er
When I said so the girl went 'berserky'.