Sûrah IV
"Marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four."


A woman's voice: "Franchone... I know you're there. Pick up the damn receiver... Pleeeeease?... Come on, Franchone, my battery's running low... Damn."

A woman's voice: "Hi there, Everlast. This yo' heavy-bag cravin' a little mo'e punishment. I be home 'bout six this eve'nin'. Whyn't yo'all drop by?"

A man's voice: "You're canned, asshole. And don't show up here looking for your final check. We'll mail it to you. Got that Franchone? Your check will be in the mail, meaning don't hold your breath."

A woman's voice: "Mister Pinkney, this is Sarah Hare at Executive Temp. Pick up... We have an assignment for you. Please call a.s.a.p. You have our number."

A woman's voice: "Franchone, are you home? This is your mother... No? Well I just wanted to thank you for this lovely card. That was very thoughtful, son. Momma loves you."

A voiceless hang-up.

A voiceless hang-up. 

A woman's voice: "Fifteen seconds is not enough time to leave a decent message. This is Naja. You remember? We met at Red Rock, June sixteenth. I was wearing the same swim outfit you were—yours a little darker. I was ho..."

A woman's voice: "I told you so; your machine cut me off! I'll try to make this snappy. Saturday next, same time, same beach, same birthday suit. Meet me by the spring, come rain or come..."

A voiceless hang-up.

Franchone pokes "erase" then "rewind" on his antique Message Minder, clearing it of tidings, attributing the hang-ups (mistakenly) to Z.

I'm in the phonebook under Pinkney. Only four of us. One Franchone. Mayhap my short-fused Muse regrets her less-than-diplomatic exit. I sure do. For once I'm drawn to virtues other than Eartha's lips, Denise's nipples, Naja's backside; Z's intelligence trumps whatever she lacks in looks. Plus she's intense, so highly charged she's like a live-wire, sends out voltage that declares "approach with caution," "hazardous to your health." Not that any female poses a threat I couldn't meet, as in deflect, better yet subdue with chivalry unrivaled... whenever I'm not behaving like a billy goat in rut. Acknowledge, if you will, Franchone, an inbred insecurity. Call it Post-Traumatic Shanghai Syndrome—in Spades—my Black Man's Burden. Always talk LOUDLY, act me-first, greet White's with "Spare change?" piss in public, and be vigilant twenty-four-seven for the subtlest racial slur. In other words earn the White-world's castigation, own endemic stereotypes, prove, at every opportunity, to be oafishly inconsiderate, and never, ever let people call you nigger—unless, of course, 'dey' ours.

Franchone, stripped to his V-shaped waist, bends over, lays siege to a barbell, and executes a clean-and-jerk, deltoids bulging with impressive bulk and sheen. Up goes the weight, as feet shift parallel, arms, extended fully, underneath, the lift held one... two... three... long seconds before he allows the bar to drop. THUMP; the mat, on which he stands, absorbs an audible shock (much to the chronic consternation of his docile downstairs neighbor).


1. "Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded."

2. The men were virile, strong, and courageous at the camp to which I fled against my father's prohibition, my mother's tearful counsel.

3. Fierce was my desire to show that women, too, are capable of conditioning mind and body for waging holy war.

4. "Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward."

5. Why not on me? On us? Are women any less devout than men? Are we inferior? Can males contend they are not of females born? Wherefore does a man derive his muscle, wit, and prowess if he disavows his mother's wellspring-loins?

6. I saw clippings posted proudly in the hallways of our compound: flaming autos, shattered storefronts, kidnapped infidels, and hijacked planes. These were successes, righteous acts of retribution meted out to those whose flagrant disbelief made sins all the more untenable.

7. "Then take them and kill them wherever ye find them, and choose neither friend nor helper from among them."

8. This, our Creed, gave us sure sanction to avenge without remorse or hesitation.

9. "And for disbelievers We prepare a shameful doom."

10. Is this not plain?

11. Yet, when the moment was upon me, I did falter. Why? What stopped me?

12. Was I frightened? Yes, but not of death; my life had been foresworn, consigned to Allah on the eve of ultimate self-sacrifice.

13. Mine, instead, was fear that I might fail. Grave tests confronted me.

14. First came Customs: had I sufficient funds, valid visa, round-trip ticket, names of sponsors, friends and relatives (albeit fake) should I be asked?

15. Could I confirm my reservations, be convincing if cross-questioned, maintain calm, and recite my cover story with consistency under duress?

16. And if my person were subjected to a search (my foremost worry) would I sweat, commence to tremble, blush or turn pale, stammer, flinch? A thousand signals might betray me, months of training irrespective. There are profiles deemed 'suspicious' that inform 'potential risks.'

17. And though my gender served to shield intentions so-called terroristic, there are documented cases of women fedayeen.

18. "Persecution is worse than killing."

19. To be caught before completing that which destined me, I prayed, for undisputed martyrdom, was not a fate my conscience could condone.

20. How, then, refuse?

21. How dare I doubt my indecision was and is a desecration of the precepts Al-Islam, in all its wisdom, doth profess?

22. "Lo! those who believe, then disbelieve and then (again) believe, then disbelieve, and then increase in disbelief, Allah will never pardon them, nor will He guide them unto a way."