Sûrah XII
JOSEPH
"How many a portent is there in the heavens and the earth which they pass by with face averted!"

12
JOE

1. Him again! How proudly does he walk, this African-American. Self-important. I would greet him, from politeness, except he would misconstrue. Where to hide? He comes this way. Avert my face.

2. Alas, he passes.

3. Am I sad he failed to notice me; he so comely, I so plain? Or am I angry at myself for giving this importance? Men are vain. They strut and preen and gloat and posture. How I loathe the way they view the world as theirs, and all things in it, as if women are of worth as chattel only, or as spoils.

4. And yet I envy men their physical strength, their purpose and their prowess. Would that I had not disgraced my sex by acting less like males who do not veer when set a course by Allah's fierce commandment.

Touched from behind on her shoulder, Z deflects an encroaching grip, forearm counteracting forearm, fist upraised to strike.

FRANCHONE

Whoa! No call for combat, girl; I'm only saying "Howdy."

Self-conscious of her reflex, Z dissembles, drops her guard, pretends, by circumspect degrees, to recognize him who grins; she parries with a frown.

FRANCHONE

Franchone's the name, lest ye of little faith forgot. Hi.

Z

Mister Pinkney. I remember all too well. You will excuse me?

FRANCHONE

Cold, girl. Wait.

Intent on taking full advantage of this second-chance-encounter, Franchone intercepts the flight path Z has plotted.

FRANCHONE

I was crude. I was a chauvinistic boor, a macho cad, a sexist cretin. You have every right to spurn me. I have no excuse save one—and even ethnocentric blindness is no doubt unforgivable.

Z

What does mean?

FRANCHONE

It means I'm sorry, heartily sorry, Z, for having offended thee. If you'll accept my humble apology, I'll pester you no further.

Wary of his overeager interest in her pardon, although flattered on a level she reluctantly concedes, Z inclines her head with a noncommittal nod.

FRANCHONE

Whew; I'm relieved.

He extends his hand.

FRANCHONE

Friends?

Z

No, not friends.

FRANCHONE

Acquaintances? I promise not to repeat my uncouth performance. "To err is only human, to forgive divine."

Z

I have heard this adage, but do not think it sage. Allah is the Judge of all we humans do. Lo! He, only He, is the Knower, the Wise.

Franchone pulls a face as if to say 'You got to be kidding.' (Scripture, quoted by Reverend Pinkney, was tough enough to take.) Determined, though, to reestablish affable relations, he converts his 'dubious faith' into 'fictive approbation.'

FRANCHONE

Well spoken. "Vengeance is Mine, saith the Lord." Folks ought not to trespass on Jehovah's Righteous Realm. Still, I owe you a dinner—plus change from the one you paid for. Let me make amends; relieve the grudge you bear me. "Please, baby, please, baby, please," to borrow a well-worn imprecation.

Z

Your speech is most unusual.

FRANCHONE

For a Black, is what you're saying? Not all we "niggahs" think "mutha-fucka" functions as an adjective, noun, and verb.

Z

What I meant was, in your chosen idioms and words. Have you authored many books?

FRANCHONE

I mostly bullshit. Whoops; too frank. I mean I'd like to author many books... Mind if I tag along?...In fact, I've started something recently: Franchone Pinkney's Work-in-Progress.

Redirecting his jaunty stride, Franchone falls into step with Z's unhurried pace, as she accepts his company (and tacitly his apology).

FRANCHONE

Where're we headed; anyplace particular?

Z

Toward the Bay, I believe.

He checks their whereabouts: Market and Van Ness Streets.

FRANCHONE

From here?

Z

Is far?

FRANCHONE

A goodly stroll. I'm game, however, if you are.

Walking curbside, shielding Z from traffic to their right, he lifts his arm, inviting her to take his shirt-sleeved elbow. Z declines, although the gesture's quaint formality strums a pleasant chord.

5. It is unreasonable; my attraction. It defies all explanation. What I value most in people is their core not their facade. This man has caused too many hearts to throb, for mine to be of consequence. Foolish is a woman who cannot rule her pulse.

The couple pauses at a public sculpture prominently displayed on a large rectangular dais in front of Symphony Hall. Z is first to express aesthetic appreciation.

Z

She is beautiful.

FRANCHONE

She?

Franchone does a double-take at the outsize abstract bronze, unconvinced its forms are recognizably human, let alone feminine. He stoops to read the placard.

FRANCHONE

"Large Four-Piece Reclining Figure." Inconclusive here.

He reexamines the shapes in search of likely evidence.

FRANCHONE

Hm. I guess if these are breasts, then there's her head and torso?

He runs his hand the length of what appears to be a thigh, pausing (inadvertently) at the sculpture's disjoined crotch, his focus suddenly shifting to a man across the street whose gaze seems fixed on Z like a heat-seeking missile.

FRANCHONE

An admirer?

Z, aware of Franchone's hand at its indiscreet location, is slow to follow his eyes—which detour back to hers, steering her glance to someone... blocked by a passing truck... to no one; the man he saw has disappeared.

FRANCHONE

False alarm.

With an upturned palm Franchone suggests that they continue, allowing Z to take a modest lead. Pivoting, once she moves ahead, to ward off would-be followers (none seem in pursuit), dawdling to appreciate Z from behind.

Girl does have good points, anatomically speaking. Flesh is well-distributed, if veiled by those funky threads. Clothes are a trifle roomy, not to mention odd. Like maybe they're secondhand (?); neither size nor style quite fits. Appear to be more like a costume than an I-Me-Mine ensemble. That's it! Z's in disguise—the plot of my novel thickens. Five feet four, a hundred and thirty pounds, waist dramatically tapered making her hips look full, her shoulders broad (strong support for a bust whose dimensions I've yet to ascertain). Ears devoid of holes; might be significant; she balks at perforations? Muslims likewise look askance at tattoos—none anywhere in sight. And didn't I read that women from the Middle East practice depilation? The method used traditionally that of plucking? Hm; I'm picturing armpits, moreover pubes, naked as navy beans. Speculation, on my part. Okay; 'wishful thinking.' Never liked going-down on a lap overgrown with hair—catches in the gap of my two front teeth.

6. Pathetic is this man with his pornographic subtext.

7. Yes, I sense his ogling and the motive it betrays. That I have let him, twice now, undertake the role of haughty escort, casts a purple pall upon my virtue. "Lo! Ye are a froward folk who know the righteous path and take it not." Mine, indeed, shall be an awful doom.

Once again she feels a hand make contact with her person (Franchone, come abreast, has deftly linked their arms)—her flinch no less pronounced but lacking self-defensiveness.

FRANCHONE

So, you're Muslim?

Z

Is rhetorical?

Franchone arches both his brows.

Z

You know the answer. Why proceed to ask the question?

FRANCHONE

Whoa; that's harsh! I only meant to open a topic for conversation.

Z

I suggest, then, that you disengage my arm.

Less put-off than held-in-thrall by Z's emphatic phraseology, Franchone turns her girded bicep loose.

FRANCHONE

You sure you're a foreigner?...Sorry; another "rhetorical" question. You're not speaking your native language, though. "Adage?" "Disengage?" You got a photographic memory for words, or what?

Z

Is this a compliment?

FRANCHONE

More like praiseful incredulity, woman. What gives?

Z

What means "what gives"?

FRANCHONE

"What means" incredulity? First define that one.

Pausing on the sidewalk, Z assumes a pensive air—eyes obliquely shut, their lashes subtly fluttering—and recites a definition, as if reading it from the inside of her lids.

Z

"Unwillingness or inability to believe."

FRANCHONE

Incredible.

Z

Similar. "Too extraordinary and improbable to be believed."

FRANCHONE

Try 'perspicacious.'

With eyes still shut, Z hesitates... then performs.

Z

"Having judgment or keen understanding; acutely perceptive." It is idioms I find difficult to comprehend. Also slang.

FRANCHONE

From this point on I'll stick to—use unremittingly—Standard English.

Z

Please, no. It is better for me to learn colloquial forms of speech. "What gives"?

FRANCHONE

Means explain something.

Z

Ah. Is true my memory is proficient—photographic, when I study well.

FRANCHONE

You've certainly studied English. Why?

Z

Of necessity. English threatens to bully the entire world. One cannot overcome an enemy, if ignorant of its tongue.

FRANCHONE

Whoa! That's rad—short form for radical. You a counter-revolutionary, girl, or what?

Z

I am a woman who believed her homeland good and true and pure until the crows of Western thought sent flocks to utter blasphemies.

FRANCHONE

Amen, Sis—short for Sister.

Z

You use mockery? This is typical of your countrymen's crude irreverence; Americans who nothing sacred, save their legal tender.

FRANCHONE

"In God We Trust." But, hey, you left out apple pie, which our native sons revere; the whole of our sweet-toothed nation sings praise to homemade apple pie. Woman, lighten up—which translates don't take life too seriously. Be growing yourself an ulcer with pent-up bile like that.

Z has said enough—too much. Both she and Franchone walk, their thoughts (in opposite corners) kept to themselves.

8. "Lo! none despaireth of the Spirit of Allah save disbelieving folk." Why confide in anyone lost to Allah's Counsel, much less bother holding discourse with a hormone-driven male?

Woman's got a chip the size of a redwood on her shoulder. Wonder how it got there?

9. Wasted are the words addressed to those who recognize women as toys, pets or livestock.

Finding out is likely to be trouble. More than it's worth?

10. Machismo, how I hate its swaggering double-standard! And how I love the proof we gave to our comrades' sexist lie; the two of us, Homa and I, sole women at camp.

Research. Shirk the work, face another A-B-D; All But Dedication to my fledgling work of fiction. Better a thorny protagonist to pursue than an easy lay.

11. Fierce and smart and committed, were Homa and I, no less so than our brethren. And yet our gender damned us. Disapproved of and despised, we were forced to earn esteem through trials designed to humiliate.

So, she tenses up when touched; meaning sour on men?

12. "Pawns," is what she called us. Homa felt our training was a pretext for the fact that we were deemed to be expendable. "Means to others' ends," is how she saw our role. Whereas I would argue pawns are queens, if 'perspicaciously' played, for all who serve in Allah's army rise in rank commensurate with the selflessness that signals genuine submission.

Sour or predisposed to same-sex shenanigans. Not sure I'm inclined to explore that deviation. Dykes give me the creeps, like bigots wearing hoods—lynch you with a look from their prejudicial eyes.

13. "Sacrifices," Homa countered, one-time-use subordinates, destined for distinction only through extinction. For her, half true. A faulty car bomb blasted Homa into blood-besotted bits... the designated target left unscathed.

Stretch a little. This is San Francisco, after all, "Babylon by the Bay," aka "Gay Mecca." Where's the thrill in research if conclusions always rubberstamp the norm?

14. At least, when charged to implement, Homa proved no coward.

FRANCHONE

Long-ass way. Still eager to go the distance?

Z

Leave, if you are tired. I like to walk alone, as was my intention.

I think I've been dismissed. Nothing like enthusiasm to fuel an author's efforts. Hell, who needs this snooty babe? I'll find another subject. Why waste Friday night on a woman who's... downright plain? Especially next to Naja or Denise—though Eartha's no looker: Mother Eartha, globe-like as in globular, fertile as a furrow of overturned soil. Z, if that's her name, has the temperament of a mine field.

JOE

Spare change?

Waylaid by a homeless man, Franchone frisks his pockets.

FRANCHONE

Sorry, man; I'm clean.

JOE

How's about a dollah? You gots a dollah, ain'cha?

Franchone palms him a bill.

JOE

Yo' o-kay. A real gent'man.

He addresses Z.

JOE

Lady, you got here a firs' class A o-kay gent'man by yo' side. Tonight you give 'im a extra taste, on me.

They edge on by.

Z

What means "extra taste"?

FRANCHONE

You don't want to know.

JOE

Spare change?

Franchone glances back and sees the vagrant with his hand out toward Z's misnamed "admirer."

FRANCHONE

You two know one another?

Z's panic-stricken look confirms they do. She hails a cab. One stop immediately.

FRANCHONE

Whoa; what gives?

Z

Enter. PLEASE, COME QUICKLY!

Franchone clambers in. The cab pulls away. The stalker, stranded in a crosswalk, fulminates internally.

AHMED

"Oh ye who believe! Take not the Jews and Christians for friends. They are friends to one another. She among you who taketh them for friends is one of them. Lo! Allah guideth not wrongdoing folk."