Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 5, Scene 4b

TOC page here.

Mustapha and Diana drive up on young Muslims serving food to the homeless, and we get this exchange:

It was a smooth operation, too: a pickup truck with boxes in the bed, ready to go. A beefy guy, whose parents might have come from Pakistan or India, dressed in standard Atlanta hip-hop gear, shared lunch assembly duty with a black kid in what Peter liked to call the “full Muhammad”: a long white djellaba, skullcap, scraggly beard but no mustache. But this kid, like the girl in the black hijab who was handing out plasticware, was American black, unlike the girl on drinks duty, who was even darker African black. The girl handing foam clamshells to the park’s inhabitants had roots in Syria or Lebanon, but could have passed for a white girl if she took off her own gaily-patterned headscarf.

The American black girl spotted them for cops right away. “You can’t mess with us: we got every right to be here.”

Mustapha grinned. “We wouldn’t dare; and we don’t want to, anyway. You hear about that fellow who got himself killed last night?”

She frowned. “You think you going to hold the Muslim community responsible for that?”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Because we will not tolerate–”

“You’re misunderstanding us,” said Diana. “We’re just wondering if you’d ever met the victim.”

She looked back and forth between them, still suspicious, then said to the boy in the robe, “Brother Omar, you want to take my place?” Once away from the crowd, she said, “We all watched the news. None of us recognized him. But we do our charity down here, and what I understand is these folks don’t wander up that way. We are here to fulfill our obligation to Allah.” She put the emphasis on the first syllable instead of the last. “By delivering alms to the poor. Jihad is within, not without. We saw his brother say he had an alcohol problem. Alcohol is haram, but even if he was one of us, the solution wouldn’t be to kill him like that. Brother Mustapha—he’s our imam—said that killing someone in that way is totally forbidden.”

Mustapha nodded. “Well, we’re on the same side, there. Your imam have anything to say about what was written on Mr. Dawson?”

“He said it was definitely from the Qur’an.” This got two equal syllables instead of the emphasis on the second one. “But it wasn’t, like, a verse you hear that often. I can’t read that fancy writing.” She dropped to a whisper. “Tell you the truth, I can’t read Arabic at all. I’m trying to learn.” She pointed up at the GSU building across the street. “Taking classes there. But I got dyslexia real bad. Even reading in English gives me a headache. And Arabic? It goes backwards. Right to left.” She said shook her head, sadly. “I can’t even.”

They stuck around to talk with the homeless, but those few of the men who admitted to having met Alex Dawson had nothing useful to offer, other than praise for the Muslim group, who evidently handed out more and better food than most of the Christian missions, and never preached to them. The Pakistani boy, Sherif, turned out to be the chef, and very shy, except on the topic of food.

But even after all the men in the park had seconds, there was plenty left over: biryani rice, curried chicken, that paneer creamed spinach stuff. Maybe not his personal favorite, but Diana lived and died for Indian food, so Mustapha pretended not to check out GSU coeds while Diana ate her weight in lunch and licked her fingers.

Back in the car, he growled, “One word about Brother Mustapha,”

She laughed, stifled a belch, let it go. “I wouldn’t dream of it.” She got out the tablet as he headed toward the capital. “Ooh, Henry Buchanan from the shelter killed a guy when he was seventeen.”

“Why does that totally not surprise me?”

“Only did five years. Voluntary manslaughter. Let’s see… it was a bar fight. Killed a guy with a pool cue.”

“That’s Man One, not voluntary.”

She paged through some more. “Dimed out a couple of dealers for a reduced sentence, it looks like.”

“Maybe this one ain’t so complicated after all.”

She burped again; he cracked a window. “How did he fool Dawson? And how does he know Arabic?”

“I hear they teach it in prison.”

And that’s the end of the chapter. A lot of this is color: the descriptions of the young Muslims, the setting at Georgia State, the descriptions of food. We like a novel not just because it’s telling us a story, but because it’s giving us a feel for people and places; this is less true in genre fiction than in literary, but it’s still useful here, because a scene like this pulls us in to what Atlanta is like.

But hidden within the color is a nugget of information: these young Muslims, like Dave the imam, have no interest in imposing their faith on anyone else—even the most laid-back version of their faith. But notice that we only get this nameless young woman’s point of view here. She speaks for the group, but none of the other group members speak (except Sherif, about food, and that’s off-stage), so we as readers can take her POV to be that of the whole group, or we can wonder if one of them might have something different, not to say but to do.

And then we get back to Henry Buchanan, who’s clearly capable of killing a man and has enough self-regard to reduce his sentence. Let’s see how much more suspicion he generates.

On to Chapter 6.

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  1. Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 5, Scene 4a | Julian Cage

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