Sûrah XXXIII
THE CLANS
"It is no sin for them thy wives to converse freely with their fathers, or their sons, or their brothers, or their brother's sons, or the sons of their sisters or their own women, or their slaves."

33
SORORITY

AMY

Well, look what the cat dragged in!

Despite the posture Zahra typically strikes (exuding a standoff air), Amy rushes to embrace her like a long-lost friend.

AMY

You score, or what?

ZAHRA

What means "you score"?

The roommates part.

AMY

Get laid, you silly goose.

They sit. A pair of kitchen chairs is arranged at obtuse angles.

AMY

Who's the lucky guy?

Zahra, still confused by how an egg and goose are apt, falters. Amy, fidgety, lights up a Marlboro.

AMY

Is he nice?

A cloud of noxious smoke escapes. Another, put on hold, procrastinates...waits to be expelled with Amy's consternation.

AMY

Come on; tell. We've all been frantic; you skipped out without so much as a sayonara. At the very least, you could leak a few juicy details. What's his name?

Amy's gray exhaust enshrouds her identically tinted hair, a sort of cobweb halo hovering almost prettily—were the sight of a woman smoking less objectionable to her roommate who refrains from passing judgment (being taken to task herself, in fact accused and sentenced to death by one of Allah's Servants).

ZAHRA

He calls himself "Franchone" and he is full of pride and arrogance.

AMY

Must be Black, with a name like "Franchone." Good in bed?

Bemused by Amy's idiom, Zahra stares without retort... until the meaning, by inflection, filters through.

ZAHRA

Is sex you mean! Do you presume that I would stoop to such unscrupulous behavior, give my virtue, out of wedlock, to an infidel, doom my soul to exchange Eternity for some passing peacock fancy?

AMY

To each her own.

The haughty tone of Zahra's outburst serves to wall her off from sympathy; there is something disingenuous, Amy feels, though lets it drop.

AMY

Okay, where did you spend the night?

Aware of sounding too defensive, Zahra condescends to offer an explanation.

ZAHRA

In a park. Is called the Golden Gate, I think, beside the ocean. Very beautiful. Very cold.

AMY

I'll bet. In that?

Zahra follows Amy's glance to Etta's light-weight jacket.

ZAHRA

It sufficed; I am no weakling. We were trained to suffer more.

AMY

Who's "we".

Averse to answering questions that encroach upon her history, Zahra nonetheless is tempted to elaborate.

ZAHRA

We at the camp.

Amy, sensing reticence, does not pressure for particulars; Zahra, put at ease, seems ready to confide.

ZAHRA

Our trials were many. Can you hold your breath for a hundred seconds then release it and make no sound? Or let a scorpion crawl the length of your arm without flinching? Have you thirsted? Not some insignificant yearning for a soda; I mean craving, from tissues dry and shriveled as a sun-baked cow patty? What of sleep? Have you been wakeful two, three days with only hunger for distraction, fought the devil's own temptation to trade-in duty for a catnap's leave? Have you lain buried in the sand and sucked each breath through a hollow reed until the heat and crushing weight became so painful to your chest that even heartbeats hurt for want of ample space? I do not boast. These tests and others I have met to strengthen body, mind, and spirit, and to conquer irreligion in all its evil modes. Lo! The path of Allah's Righteousness guides not disbelievers.

AMY

What a speech! And what a crock! I'm not disputing that you've done all that. Here's to you. What I doubt is, that commercial for your sexist Muslim God. I mean, Islam is worse than backward when it comes to rights for women.  Wearing black from head to foot when it's a hundred in the shade? Getting stoned—to death!—for offenses mostly trivial? Donning veils? I mean, the list goes on and on; Islam is fucked if you're a female.

ZAHRA

Your opinion rests on ignorance.

AMY

Hey! I got my GED! And I have sense enough to keep myself from starving, if I don't have to, or from letting someone plant me like a turnip; what's the use? So you've gone thirsty; so you don't freak out when bugs are on your body. You can hold your breath for minutes, hours; so what? Who cares! Big deal!

Though unacquainted with the parlance used in Amy's shrill rebuttal, its translation is implicit; Zahra gets her roommate's gist. The role of women in Islam, if misconstrued by those outside it, has, for one who lives within its strictures, spurred misgivings.
 

ZAHRA

True; Islam requires...

AMY

And what about owning slaves—that "right hand possesseth" crap?

Amy mentally bites her tongue; this uttered phrase incriminates. Zahra, taken aback, is once more on her guard.

ZAHRA

Where did... Have you read...?

AMY

"The Glorious Koran"? Those lines you highlighted. Yeah; I skimmed it. That book endorses slavery.

ZAHRA

Also true. But in a context wherein owning slaves was commonplace.

AMY

It still sucks! If God is Good and Wise and Knows All Things you'd think he'd badmouth slavery. You'd also think he'd know that the Earth revolves around the sun. You've got that marked in half a dozen places. How could Allah get it wrong? Or was Muhammad the one who goofed about astronomy?

ZAHRA

Is unfair. Long years of study raise such queries. You are rash to judge so harshly.

AMY

You were rash to call me ignorant.

ZAHRA

What I meant was misinformed. To know Islam is to engrave ones heart with Truth.

AMY

No way, Jose! It's bad enough that men control things here on earth. Why give them Heaven? I object to all religions that insist on God being male.

The fact of gender is implicit; God is God but also masculine. It was Zahra's diplomat father who, ironically, raised this issue, adamant that his only child should reach her full potential irrespective Muslim mores, with their emphases placed on men.

"The gift of knowledge comes from Allah as the sun bestows its light. Does light discriminate man from woman whenever it illuminates?"

Was this sage?

"Are creativity, logic, reason to be sacrificed, or suspended, so that dogma can prevail untested and unchallenged?"

They would argue.

"It is better to acknowledge disbelievers as our brethren—be their ways ever-so misguided—than to clamor for their blood. Who is to say, when one beholds a truth that another sees as false, which view is right, when Allah only is the Knower, the Wise?"

They disagreed. The Word was written. Unequivocal was each dictum of the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him; perfect was the Law. And though the Hadith or exegesis of Muhammad's transcribed verses, sometimes varied, who were mortals to construe Immortal Quotes? And who dare doubt the Angel Gabriel's strict dictation?

Zahra does her best to counter Amy's argument.

 

ZAHRA

I balked, too. Most men are hateful in their domineering. Women must resist them. Were the world a peaceful place, male stewardship might be credited; it is not. But we have let our men mislead us much like sheep.

AMY

Speak for yourself. The only man who ever misled me was Greer. You two ever talk? Guy's got a butt-burr when it comes to the ERA—that's the Equal Rights Amendment. Thinks a woman's place, if not exactly 'in' the home, is 'near' it. Doesn't gripe so much about equal pay for equal work in theory, but he does think men are better-suited for better-paying jobs, and that careers should be reserved for housewives once retired. Fucked up, or what? I swear, his la-de-da vocabulary gets me more pissed off than yours—Sorry. 'Snooty' is what I mean. He's smart, so we must all be dunces. Men will do that; they're so bottled-up when it comes to their emotions that they strut around like Quarterback Einsteins—brawn and brains combined—without a clue they're self-defeating, like offsetting penalties.

Amy crushes out her cigarette by way of punctuation.

AMY

We were talking about your mystery-man, Franchone. He really didn't hit on you?

ZAHRA

Oh, no; there was no striking. All he did was lay on hands.

AMY

I'll bet. You didn't have to nine-one-one 'im. You know, call the cops?

ZAHRA

Of course not. He was froward, I admit. But in the end, I fell asleep.

AMY

You mean to tell me this man, what? Gave you a back rub, a massage? And all he got from you in return were blasé snores?

ZAHRA

I do not snore.

AMY

You don't put out, I gather, either. When do Muslim's get it on? Have 'sexual intercourse.' Gee, you're dense, sometimes.

ZAHRA

Is after marriage only.

Amy

Holy smokes, you're not a virgin, are you?

ZAHRA

Twice, now, I am asked this! Are Americans so outspoken with regard to private matters that they cannot understand how impolite they are?

AMY

We're blunt. No "dirty-little-secrets" go uncovered here. We flaunt our cheesy vices. Sex and violence, our obsessions...

ZAHRA

What has sex to do with violence?

Amy pauses.

AMY

Just a phrase. You know, like what, like toast and jam, like horse and carriage?

ZAHRA

Are not those related?

Amy searches for a better simile.

AMY

Night and day, then. Total opposites. Love and hate. Whatever. See?

(recantingly)

I guess it is a little twisted that we always link the two.

Arrested by a memory, Amy shares her thoughts.

AMY

Ever been date-raped? 'Course not. I have. Happened August 4th, last year. I told him "absolutely no" and really meant it. But we were drunk. And he was big as a fucking Mack truck. I gave in. He humped and humped. I sort of drifted out of myself and watched it in disgust.

ZAHRA

You did not fight?

AMY

I guess I could have. He'd have hurt me worse. As it is, I still get nightmares.

ZAHRA

This was done to you, and still you speak of sex without despair?

AMY

I "speak" of sex, I just don't do it. Haven't. Not since August 4th. Not with a man, that is. You'll keep this quiet?

Zahra nods.

AMY

You promise?

Zahra nods in a way she hopes conveys sincerity.

AMY

Don't tell Greer; I may have mentioned we were tight, once. It was off and on, but passionate. Well, I thought of it as passionate. Then, last night, I 'reassessed.' You swear you'll keep a lid on what I'm about to tell you?

Zahra, spellbound, does a slo-mo instant replay of her nod.

AMY

I'm bi. Capiche? You know, bisexual? Getting off with both?

ZAHRA

I know the term 'bisexual.'

AMY

"If it's wet, it's right," is how Cassandra phrased it. She's my lover. We had drinks then went to her place. It got late. She made a pass. It felt like sisters, almost. Nothing much was said. We shared her futon. Next thing I remember we were kissing. Things got hot. I mean, you come, you come; it doesn't really matter who incites it. She was good at oral sex but so was Greer; a tongue's a tongue. What freaked me out was doing her while she was doing me. Narcissus. The myth from ancient Greece—you know, the youth who loved himself? I kept that story in my head the whole time Cass and I went at it. Seemed like I was licking me was licking mine was licking hers except that hers and mine were virtually indistinguishable. Weird, huh? Rad! And now I'm wondering; am I gay or bi or straight or who-knows-what? I know for certain I'm confused.

Amy lights a second cigarette, her first toke deep, drawing in the smoke like a genie to its bottle.
 

ZAHRA

I am, too.

The smoke explodes in a sort of dragon's snort through Amy's studded nostrils as she cocks a semi-skeptical brow at Zahra.

AMY

Right.

ZAHRA

Is true. I am uncertain, much as you are, my experience also limited, but I do believe we have this trait in common.

DUKE

Back so soon?

Having entered through the side-street door (which subsequently SLAMS) Duke descends to the kitchen, crab-walking down the stairs.

DUKE

Any worse for wear?

An unvoiced 'later' (read on Amy's lips) suspends the tête à tête. Duke pulls up a chair and straddles it in reverse. Looking one to the other, he eyes the duo pointedly.

DUKE

I interrupt somethin'?

AMY

I was just about to tell her.

DUKE

Ah.

Arms crossed, Duke tilts his seat.

DUKE

Don't mind me; go right ahead. Anything you leave out, I'll help fill in.

The mood has changed. Before specifics are imparted, Zahra guesses why.