Thursday, August 11, 2005

Chapter 2: September 1, 2030

It started life as an ice cream truck. Now it was painted with red crescents and served a higher purpose. The call to prayer filled the cul de sacs on this Saturday morning. Young men playing soccer in a backyard let the ball lie and turned to face East on their knees. Finding the direction of Mecca was easy in Denver. You just turned away from the mountains. Women with dark black faces in long white dresses with colorful head scarves stopped drinking their iced tea at patio tables. They knelt in the front yard, toddlers in hand. Here and there an American or a Chinese immigrant would take a deep breath and quietly watch the spectacle. Younger outsiders who’d lived in the subdivision a while, like Eunice, who was sitting in the bay window, could distinguish which of the five daily prayers it was by now, although the actual words remained undecipherable. The old people who couldn’t afford to move out remained befuddled by the phenomena. It caught them unexpected every time. Here and there a dog barked. In the pauses, the highway over the hill hummed with morning traffic on this perfect crisp morning that was just starting to heat up. The hum harmonized with the rhythmic chant emanating from the van‘s speakers. In a few minutes the van fell silent and it was over. The young men resumed their game, a bit more studiously, while the women restarted their conversation by fits and starts. The bystanders went about their business. The sound of the highway and the dogs faded into the background.

Eunice went back to her book. Her mother’s Harry Potter books might be getting a little yellow, but anything that helped her keep her mind off the argument her parents had had last night when father had learned about Jerrica’s little holiday, was welcome.

A little later, the mail woman came. She was a veteran of one of the wars President Bush had fought in the Middle East. She wasn’t missing any arms or legs or fingers, but her face had the grim set of someone who’d braced against snipers and bombs and mortar launches one time too many. Eunice went to meet her. Their family always had the largest stack of mail in the neighborhood. Her father was a property manager, and with the start of a new month came new utility bills for each unit, rent checks from tenants were reliable enough not to require weekly visits in person, bills from maintenance subcontractors, and the usual run of business and personal junk mail. Eunice silently cursed the judge who had decided that unlike junk faxes, e-mails and phone calls, that there was a free speech right to send junk mail. The decision was the bane of everyone with a mailbox, but it was also credited with saving the postal system from extinction.

Three doors down, the mail woman dropped a fragile, single aerogramme and a supermarket flier into a box labeled, “George Muhammad”, one of five boxes near the front door. The central drop box was abandoned when more and more families started moving into each house. The aerogramme had an address neatly printed on the front in child like block letters, overwritten with a red Nigerian postmark. Inside, deep black expressive Arabic script written with fountain pen flowed across the page.

14 July 2030

God Is Great.

May the blessing of Allah protect you from all harm. The remittances you are sending are greatly appreciated. Your sister now has her own hut and a new washing machine. I have been able to bribe the local state dentist into approving a new pair of dentures for me. Your nephew is doing well at the American school in the city. His English sounds almost like the American soldiers who occupy our fair land. He has also memorized the part of the Koran known as “The Heifer” and won an award from his teacher for the best recitation in his class. It must be hard to make payments from your bankruptcy and still send money home as well. But, I don’t know how we would survive without you. It looks like this year may be another drought.

Your brother has been conscripted by the government. He is going along quietly so that he learn the enemy’s ways from the inside. The risks are terrible, however. Conscripts are being put on oil well duty without proper training. Seven conscripts from Kumo were killed in a refinery blast last week. One had visited our mosque as part of a music group after coming back from his Haj, just before he was conscripted.

Conah will tell you when it is time to take the next move.

Sleep well in God’s Hands.

Your father.

George touched his cigarette to the thin paper and lowered it into the ashtray next to his plastic seat on the front walk. The space did not deserve the name porch. He watched as the message from far, far away vanished into ashes. Security really did matter in cases like this. If a Naval intelligence officer found it, he might use it to figure out who Conah was, and to break all of the cells under Conah’s command. George wouldn’t live to see the next month if that happened.

George made his way to a coffee shop built in a garage a few doors down and plunked down a few dollars for small cup of thick coffee. He felt in the waist band of his trousers under his loose blue work shirt. The pistol was there, loaded, just in case. Then he reached down to the pocket of his muddy, cement spattered chinos. Inside was a scrap of paper with a phone number belonging to a man he knew only as Conah.

George picked up the copy of the Highland's Ranch Free Daily from the next table. He flipped through a few pages until he came to the headline: "Yucca Mountain Shipments To Continue Weekly Through 2032." He took a deep breath and then began to read the article carefully.

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