Sûrah XXXIX
THE TROOPS
"And him whom Allah sendeth astray, for him there is no guide."

39
HONOR GUARD

At the Lower Haight flat:

AMY

It's true that Zahra's living here has put us on the spot; this Ahmed guy sounds creepy, could be even murderous. But we've committed to 'catching' him; right? 'Killing' him 's out; too risky—maybe in self-defense, if it comes to that; chances are it won't.
We lock him up; we call the cops—they'll no doubt haul his ass to jail, or at the very least deport him—either way, our problem 's solved.

GREER

It's not "our" problem. He's an alien; she's an alien; let 'em nuke it out on Mars. Why turn our household into a battleground for some babe with a phony name? "Z" isn't "Z," remember; she's "Zah-ra". Had to find that out ourselves. This cock-'n-bull about assassins is a goddamn ruse. What if we take Ahmed out and Zahra takes a powder? We're left holdin' the bag—the 'body' bag—which I say 's fucked.

JUDY

Provided we, like, do what we all said we'd do when Zahra offered to pack her bags and split, and we said no, we'd help. Some "help." We sit around thinking up excuses.

PISTOL

Who is "we"? I took her over there. Duke's rehearsing the plan right now. He's stripped the studio, got the door rigged, got our "alien" settled in. We each start shuttling 'inconspicuously' tomorrow morning. Where's the risk? It seems to me the only ass on the line is hers.

At the SOMA studio:

DUKE

Three short rings, two long; that'll be the signal when it's us. You hear a different ring, it's time to swing into action. One more run-through:

Kill the lights.

Go into the studio.

Switch on the CD.

Now the lamp.

Make sure the dummy 's sitting upright.

Come back out.

Buzz open downstairs.

Duck into the niche behind the door.

He enters—Wait—He hears the tape.

You bide your time until you see his shadow pass.

Then SHOVE
for all you're worth!

The bolt! You've gotta throw that dead bolt.

Done; he's trapped; no sweat; breathe easy.

Call us on this cell.

We'll take it from there.

1. So optimistic, so American is this take-charge, can-do plot. But Ahmed, sealed inside a bank vault, could escape.

Zahra, scanning cork-lined walls of the would-be trap cum soundstage, checks for signs of weakness—knowing who must be contained, if Ahmed follows one of the roommates, rings the bell (to the only entrance), climbs the stairs, mistakes the (back-turned) manikin for the source of Zahra's voice: "Put the groceries on the counter, will you?" crosses the dim-lit space and launches his attack without a moment's hesitation—so she, behind the door, can slam and bolt it shut.

2. Improbable, this scenario.

Yet the scheme does have its merits. Zahra's roommates, cast as lures, are incidental to the bait. Her isolation likewise places her, alone, in mortal jeopardy—once her whereabouts are determined; the key is Ahmed's cunning.

Zahra drags her outstretched hand along the dark enclosure's surface as if measuring its dimensions...

3. Are they equal to the task?

...as if recalling her detention long ago in confines similar, just as tenebrous insofar as hers was a punishment (less deserved).

MOTHER

To the closet.

DAUGHTER

No.

MOTHER

You heard me, Zahra.

DAUGHTER

NO!

MOTHER

You will obey! You must be taught that girls ought not bring shame upon their families

DAUGHTER

You should be proud of me.

MOTHER

For fighting? Solving problems with your fists? It is for boys to vent their spleens with such stupidity.

In she went:

  • the room quite spacious
    wall to wall it took her short legs several steps to pass through darkness—rich in textures, thick with rustling wafts of redolence

  • clothes hung everywhere
    Mother's, Father's, each distinctive in its aura—feminine, masculine recognizable by their fabrics' feel and scent

  • floorboards polished
    glowing blond along a crack underneath the door, this light-source comforting to a twelve-year-old—charged, found-guilty, harshly sentenced. Her transgression? Playing with boys had earned this exile to the wardrobe. Un-contrite, she felt victorious, having made them rue their slurs

  • atmosphere hushed
    as if the dresses, suits, shirts, blouses, scarves and neckties uttered whispers to absolve their persecuted guest whose "shameful sin" had been to claim (amid the boys' vainglorious quotes) that girls were NOT "unclean"—her pending menses unforeseen and irrespective

  • solitude forced
    yet almost welcome while she reexamined arguments in rebuttal; boys were dirtier—seldom washing, always dressed in grimy shirttails, spitting; belching, clearing nostrils left and right with nasty snorts. How dare they label her unsanitary!

  • sequestered albeit safe
    allowing thoughts (and hands) to roam uncensored (privately) unobserved, as she remembered punches, kicks and scratches, plaintive cries for mercy—theirs; outnumbered she had triumphed; her opinion had prevailed

  • until she felt the damning stain inside her panties
    touched it, tasted it. Grown alarmed, she crept on knees and elbows toward the narrow band of daylight to inspect her fingers' color—red with menstrual blood, besmirched—thereby confirming irrefutably Allah's Perfect Judgment.