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Easter Egg

An excerpt from the same title in the trilogy,
Beads of Memory

By:Abdulmajid Abdullah Ahmad Dabbas

Chapter 1

Melancholy, dejection and loneliness were my only companions as I sat slumped low in mind and spirit in an old, overstuffed armchair in my lowly room in Pasadena, California. It seemed as though there was nothing in the room but my misery. The air that hung over my head was seeded with a wrathful spirit. It hovered over my bed, incubus like, seeming to pin me down so that I dared not move. I was thinking about this day--my first Easter Sunday in America. I was extremely disheartened, tormented and dismayed by my conviction that now, after twenty-one years, a deep-rooted, cherished custom was, for me, ended . . . finished . . . gone . . . perhaps forever!

The occasional Easter hymns with their melancholy music coming from my transistor radio that lay on my oak dresser reinforced my despair and added weight to my already heavy heart! But I tried to close my mind to them. The words of the songs barely reached my consciousness; yet the melodies stirred memories within me, filling and crowding my whole being until I felt I must gasp for the next breath! There was nothing I could do to prevent myself from giving in to heartache. That first unconscious trickle of emotion gathered itself into a wind that pushed forward violently, insistently, leaving me clutching my chest and gasping for air!

A great depression weighed upon me. It had been gripping me since I had awakened to an overcast sky and to the belief that a cruel, hopeless and lonely day lay ahead of me. I gazed fiercely at the opposite wall as though to pierce the boundary of my room, as though willing myself into a more desirable, kinder, more compassionate and more understanding world, back to the land across the seas, oceans and continents from whence I came . . . the land where customs were more familiar and faces dearer and nearer to my heart. Half an hour later I felt emotionally exhausted, but more relaxed. Instead of counting sheep I had begun to count Easters, picturing my first, second, third… and so on, adding each successive mental image to the first.

The few months I had spent in this wild, mysterious and strange land as a student seemed like an eternity to me, and my heart very frequently ached with unshed tears of loneliness punctuated by occasions of genuine fright and mental anguish! Homesickness and the yearning to see my homeland and loved ones had become a dark, terrible abyss over which I would have to stumble until my education was complete. Nevertheless, I had been grateful for the opportunity to study abroad until today, when I thought it had become too great a burden to withstand. Of course, I had had an inkling that I might suffer from loneliness.

I had chosen to live in a rooming house so that I might feel the wonderful presence of people close around me and surround myself with the familiar noises of a large family without having to give up all of my precious privacy to strangers. I had found such a place on Orange Grove Street in Pasadena. All in all, it was a very convenient setup. The house was within walking distance from the city center, and I had my own rather spacious and well-lit room. As the dining area and the kitchen lay just beyond my large sliding door, I was, in fact, close to a sea of activity--a sea, however, which had ebbed out earlier this particular morning to visit an ailing aunt and which wouldn't be back until evening. Yes, this was my first Easter in America. I was alone for the first time since the beginning of memory. I felt abandoned, forlorn and crushed by the weight of the large, silent house.

As a Muslim, I had never celebrated Easter Sunday. Yet I had awaited its arrival as anxiously and with as much excitement as my own Ramadan and pilgrimage to Mecca. This day had been given to me long ago as a joyous gift from my wonderful and dear Christian friends. I had unheedingly strung these precious gifts together, each year adding one more bead to the slender thread of my memory to take with me wherever destiny would cast me in the years to come. They were very precious and dear to my heart.

My mind started gently fingering the beads as I remembered Mother counting her prayer beads, exalting Allah and making petitions to Mohammad, His messenger, the Seal of the Prophets, with the passage of each one on its path around the infinite circle of love and adoration. A great yearning came over me and clutched at my vitals as the beads of memory circled in and out of the lost days of my childhood. But my circle of beads also held in its power great joy and happiness. The nostalgic magic seemed to pick me up and carry me out of my room and beyond the reach of loneliness and self-pity. My mind returned to memories deeply engraved upon the table of my heart.

Why, I don't know, but that charitable and pious woman, Eadih, our Christian neighbor in Jordan came to mind in a flash. Her son Elyas and I were best friends and classmates at the government school. That elegant and gracious woman never returned home from Sunday services empty handed. She always stopped at Mr. Kewan's store and bought us some special treat. I remember waiting for it anxiously and impatiently! I loved her dearly.

In spite of the fact that Eadih and her husband, Salameh were not wealthy, they used to slaughter a huge lamb every Christmas and divide it among their poorer neighbors. Along with the lamb, they would also purchase huge sacks of sugar and rice and divide these to share as well. Some of their neighbors counted the days until Christmas and the blessing of the foodstuffs from this family.

This practice and other charitable deeds, I have been told, began with this couple upon their marriage more than twenty years prior. They were continuing this practice when we moved to the Capital. Six months later we received the grievous news that Elyas had become ill and suddenly died. His doctors were quite puzzled at the time, but this mysterious illness was later known to the world as cancer. Soon after Elyas' death the parents, oh grief! joined their son in the Kingdom of Heaven.


One day when I was five, Mother said to me as she was putting on her outdoor clothes and shoes, "Son, I want you to stay with your sisters while I pay my respects to a few of our neighbors. It's their Eid Easter feast today."

"Oh! Is it Eid today, Mommy?" I asked, alert and brimming with excitement. "Are we not celebrating too?"

"No, dear, we're not celebrating, but our Christian friends and neighbors are, and I am just popping around to see them and wish them well this Easter. It is a holy day for them," she answered as she stood up, ready to go.

"Do they pass around goodies like we do on our feast days?" I asked eagerly.

"I'm sure they do; and if I can, I'll bring some back home for all of you," she said smiling and shaking her head.

"Yesterday I saw many of the Christian girls carrying trays of knafeh, and ka'k to the bakery," said my sister Amirah, describing the thick, sweet pastries savored only on special holy days by our Christian neighbors.

Mother's loving gaze fell warmly upon the circle of upturned faces before her. As she finished bidding us good-bye and started across the room to the door, I jumped to my feet, tossing onto the hard kitchen floor my only toy, a ball she had made me from pieces of old cloth. It made a thudding sound.

"I'll go, too! I'm clean enough!" I announced, holding both hands up for inspection as I slid between Mother and the door. Mother looked down at my beseeching face, and a thin veil of resignation covered her countenance as a small sigh escaped her lips. "Wallah I swear . . . your shoes are in such bad condition . . . Well, alright then, get them on quickly and wash your face. I'll wait for you. Hurry up!"

Perhaps my shoes were the reason Mother had planned to go without me! Those shoes--those shabby brown shoes--had their own story. I did not understand the quietness in Mother's voice. I was indignant at her thinking of going without me. Was I not her youngest son? Were we not inseparable? Did we not always go everywhere together? It was true, I had gone everywhere with her since my older brother, Karim, had started school. We had shared practically everything together.

In those days, our small trips outside the house were for the sole purpose of visiting relatives and friends, and, of course, going to the marketplace. It was not customary for a woman to be seen in the marketplace or in any other part of the city alone, especially a very beautiful young widow like my mother; a widow who had already received several proposals from well-to-do and distinguished men, but who had always refused them for the sake of us, her children.

Mother's refusal to accept the offer of her many suitors sometimes puzzled friends and relatives, but she always maintained that she couldn't begin to imagine an intimate relationship with another man besides our father. We also understood she was demonstrating her loyalty to us, since step children in our culture, at that period of time, were invariably treated as extra house servants thrown into the marriage bargain, rather than as family members.

I was privileged to go everywhere with her, for it was well known that parents of Eastern origin hold sons dearer than daughters. Tradition has it that when a son marries, he and his bride will stay in his parents' home to live and work by his parents' side. In a manner of speaking, sons bring them a richer harvest in their autumn years. I don't know why Mother had planned to go without me on this particular day. Perhaps she felt my clothes and shoes were too shabby. My shoes had their own painful, heartbreaking story, which remains with me so vividly, so vigorously, to this very day.


Chapter 2

One day the previous year, Mother had come to my older brother Karim and me and said, "Yallah! Come on, boys; let's go to Abu Salim, the cobbler, to buy you both a pair of new shoes." I couldn't believe my ears, and thought I was dreaming!

"Are you serious, Mother?" I asked, overflowing with happiness. Seeing the expression on her face, I immediately jumped up, kissed her on the cheeks, and prepared to go.

"But we don't have any money, Mother," Karim observed directly.

A sad smile spread over our mother's face, weathered, yet still full of life and hope. She said soothingly, "We will get them on credit just as your father, may his soul rest in peace, used to do."

Karim replied, "I know that father used to buy from Abu Salim on credit all year long, and repay all the debts at harvest time. But now, Mother, we have no crops, not even any land! We can't go and ask him for anything!"

"Now, now . . . I have great faith in Allah," Mother said with the deepest conviction. "Don't worry; He will take care of us. I am sure He will . . . very sure!"

"But how is that possible, Mother? We can barely manage to feed ourselves. How can we pay for two pairs of shoes? It is a lot of money!"

While the verbal battle raged between Karim and Mother, I stood there quietly, praying to Allah with burning desire that my brother would agree to go. After all, we were in desperate need of new shoes. For months we had been enduring the ridicule of our playmates because our toes peered out from the tips of our shoes like members of a starving family from the window of a derelict hovel. Finally Mother had the last word and we left for the cobbler's shop together.

At the cobbler's, after a long debate and much convincing on Mother's part, Abu Salim agreed to sell us two pairs of shoes on credit. But that was only after Mother assured him that she would pay the bill on time, just as my father used to do. As if suddenly struck by an angelic vision of my father, remembering his integrity, and the way he made sure to pay his debts completely and on time, Abu Salim even offered to replace Mother's worn out shoes. She refused graciously, however, as the commitment might be too much, and she wanted to be a woman of her word.

My father used to buy all of our shoes from Abu Salim, often purchasing shoes for the field hands who worked for him. He always insisted on custom fitted handmade shoes of the finest quality leather and would never accept anything else. He avoided buying the shoes that were made from used tires because they got very hot as you walked on the blistering ground, causing your feet to feel like a piece of barbecued meat, especially when socks were considered to be an unnecessary and luxurious commodity.

This day Abu Salim refused to give us custom fitted handmade shoes, so we were forced to select a pair of shoes that were hanging from the various nails that speckled the walls. My brother chose a pair with camel soles and calfskin uppers tipped with red leather. Wanting a special style that would stand out and would make an impression on my playmates, I settled for a pair just like his, but with a red heelpiece on each shoe. Mother suggested that we should wait until we had returned home and washed before we put them on. Karim agreed, but I couldn't wait and slipped them on right over my dirty feet. The world could not contain our happiness as we prepared to leave with these new treasures.

Just as we were about to depart with a new spring in our steps, an overpowering stench engulfed the workshop. We all turned in unison to see where the smell was coming from, as if beckoned by the unpleasantness of the disgusting odor. The stench was so formidable that one could not help but notice it. With each breath we inhaled, we became more curious as to what could possibly produce such an awful stink.

We focused our attention on the outside of the cobbler's shop where we saw a large man with a huge head, big hands and a very long, dirty beard. He strode into the shop exuding the powerful odor of the habitually unwashed. Trailing along behind him was a boy of Karim's age. Without even the most minimal greeting, he jerked my brother Karim's new shoes from where they lay on the cobbler's bench. Examining them carefully, he handed them to his son to try on. Karim stretched out his hand to take them from the boy, but the man shoved him aside harshly. Karim and Mother looked at each other in astonishment. I could barely control my tears. We expected Abu Salim to stand up for our agreement and us. Instead, his eyes avoided us as he asked the boy if the shoes were a proper fit.

"Do you like them, young man? They are good . . . very good. I think they will last you the whole year," Abu Salim said with great enthusiasm.

I looked back and forth from Karim to Mother, then ardently prayed to Allah that the shoes would not fit this boy who had so suddenly destroyed our happiness. In response to Abu Salim's inquiry, however, the boy nodded his head several times, and a broad smile spread over his dirty face. His father then asked the price of the shoes. At Abu Salim's response, the man offered him half the amount my mother had been charged.

In the course of their haggling, Abu Salim gradually came down in price and the man came up a little. Again, crossing my fingers, I prayed to Allah this time that no deal would be struck between the two. Unfortunately, my prayers again went unanswered. The bearded man and his boy left with my brother's shoes. I felt a great bitterness rise within me as though my heart and soul had walked out the door. I caught the expressions of pain and embarrassment on my mother's and brother's faces and perceived their suffering to be greater than mine.

Crestfallen, we searched through the rows and rows of hanging shoes for another pair in my brother's size, but to no avail. Finally Abu Salim, perhaps a bit embarrassed by his recent lapse in etiquette, suggested that we return after ten days or two weeks when perhaps another pair might be found among the batch currently being made, for we had no hope of finding another pair that day. For a split second, I wished my mother had never suggested this trip to Abu Salim's today, for we had been very happy beforehand.

I suggested to Mother that I leave my shoes until Karim could also return home with his, but Karim protested strongly, saying that it would be best for at least one of us to have a pair. I looked at Mother. She said nothing. Abu Salim advised me to keep them, as there was no guarantee that we would find another well-fitting pair for me upon our return. Taking his advice, we took my shoes and left.

On the way home, silence hung heavily in the air as though we were walking in a funeral procession. I watched Mother's tears cascading down her cheeks, making small hot splashes on the ground by her feet. Although her face twisted in pain, not even a murmur accompanied the silent flood of tears. The rest of the day passed without a single word from Karim in spite of the efforts put forward by the rest of the family to cheer him up. Even though I was very young, I understood that he and Mother were both suffering greatly.

Later, in the dead of the night, whether before or after midnight I couldn't tell since we had no clock, I was awakened by the sounds of my brother's muffled tears. We slept side-by-side and, though he tried to conceal his tears from me, his emotions were straining to be released as if he were an erupting volcano. I didn't utter a single word, but silently joined him crying, the hot tears flowing down my cheeks like firebrands.

The bond between us was strong and as durable as forged steel. Although the difference in age was very little, I had always greatly respected and revered Karim. I looked to him for everything from the time that we lost our father, and I sought his advice, guidance, and blessing in every undertaking. Karim treated me as if I were his own son rather than his brother, and I looked up to him as if he were my father. He had to grow up early and be the man of the house, Mother's advisor. He was an idealist in his thinking, a moralist in his behavior. I always looked at him as my ideal and my guide. He accepted responsibility for our family's well-being without complaint.

Many long years have passed since that day; yet I can see Karim in front of me vividly, as though in a home movie shot just yesterday. In one frame I see the brute that shoved Karim to the floor and took his new shoes from him. Over the years, I have replayed this film in my mind literally thousands of times. These images have never lost their power over me.


Chapter 3

At last Mother and I departed to visit the homes of our Christian friends. The Sulaimans welcomed us at the outer door of their home where we removed our shoes and placed them on the porch. After the formalities of handshaking and after Mother had exchanged kisses with the women folk and the profuse greetings so dear to our hearts and so eloquently expressed in our language that it would make a goat blush, we were ushered into the parlor which was strictly reserved for guests. We were invited to take a seat on the beautifully covered, thick mattresses which bordered the floor of the room. A huge, brightly colored cushion adorned the head of each mattress so that a guest, if he so chose, could seat himself sideways, thus propping himself up comfortably on one elbow if he so desired.

Hearing the incessant chatting of the adults, I was impressed by the fact that, on the surface at least, perhaps Christian holidays were really no different from Muslim Eids. I was neither included nor interested in this talk, so I let my mind wander. I speculated on the possibility of this good family giving money to small boys on such occasions, as I admired the beautiful red and blue flowers woven in profusion on the velvety rug under my bare feet. "How soft and luxurious!" I thought. Surely they would have a little extra, even half a piaster, for a good boy who so rarely had coins to hold or treasure, or even to spend on candy at Mr. Kewan's store where my older sisters often took me on shopping trips for household necessities.

Whenever we went there, Mother would give us an egg or two, or a large handful of grain, barley or guinea corn to use as barter for the kerosene that fueled our lamps. We were too poor to have a cooking stove--unlike our wealthy Christian neighbors who had their own shop--so we had to rely on wood for cooking. Rarely did we barter for the candy so temptingly displayed in glass decanters set in colorful rows on the shelves of the small grocery store. We seldom had anything left over with which to barter. The thought of this tasty array set my long-neglected sweet tooth dancing. I became obsessed with the whereabouts of the candy waiting to be passed around.

Miriam, the teenage daughter of the family we were visiting, asked me, "Have you collected many eggs and candies, Jamil?"

I jumped at the question, embarrassed and afraid that she might have read my thoughts. My gaze directed downwards, I couldn't manage a reply. I just stood there, shaking my head.

"Do you mean you haven't collected any eggs during all of the Easter holiday? That's what you are supposed to do!" she persisted, disbelief in her sweet voice.

What could she possibly mean? Oh, Allah, I know what she meant! They must offer eggs instead of goodies, expecting us to go for ourselves to Mr. Kewan's shop and use them to barter. What a disappointing and odd way to celebrate! Then all at once, the exciting possibility of it all suddenly came to me. I imagined myself standing in front of those magic containers, making my own choices, freely and unhurriedly. In a way, it seemed as if eggs, like piasters, had power. Boy, these Christians are mighty smart! I became excited once again.

Miriam was a tall, slim, charming girl with two deep, dancing coquettish dimples that thrilled the heart and provoked the emotions of any admirer. She did not pursue her questioning, but rose with graceful elegance from her place beside me and left the room, giving a barely perceptible nod in the elders' direction as she passed.

This charming young lady had always captivated my boyish senses with her slender, graceful figure and beautiful long black hair, rich with the highlights of ground cinnamon, tied into two flowing braids. Her smile was sunshine itself and her cheeks glowed with the health of ripe apples. When she looked right at me, the breath would catch in my throat as I felt her laughing eyes fairly envelope me in their pure sweetness. For me she was the living symbol of girlish vitality and grace. In spite of the fact that I was just a little boy and did not know the real meaning of beauty, I nevertheless took great pleasure in looking at Miriam's charming face and lively eyes. It was as if I were admiring a work of art.

Soon she returned to the room carrying a pretty basket full of objects, familiarly egg-shaped. I glanced at them. "Oh, what is that?" I thought to myself. What an array of magical color! There were differing shades of brown, from golden tan to dark reddish tones. Some had beautiful patterns on them in leaf-like tracery; others were as smooth as velvet.

I sat, transfixed, as Miriam bent down to me, holding the basket by its long handle and waiting for me to select one, but I could not seem to reach out to take one. Mrs. Sulaiman must have seen my hesitation, for she said encouragingly, "They're colored eggs for you to eat. Haven't you seen them before? Help yourself, dear."

"Take one, son," Mother echoed reassuringly. "Aren't they pretty? He's never seen colored eggs before!" she told our hosts apologetically.

It was true; I had never seen anything like them. What a waste of life, living all this time without having colored eggs! The tawny shades were indeed beautiful. But how did they expect me to choose just one! With much deliberation, I picked one out--a solid, dark reddish brown one just like the ornamentally decorated gonbaz I had long admired and dreamed so long of owning at the dressmaker's market stall. As Miriam once again left the room, she placed the basket on a shiny silver tray that rested on a small-carved table in one corner of the room.

When I heard the familiar hissing of the kerosene stove coming from the kitchen beyond, I knew instinctively that Turkish coffee was being made. I studied the egg I had chosen, cradling it gently in my hand. I felt Miriam's presence only when I saw, from under my lowered lids, her dainty feet before me. She held in her hand the handle of a basket, a twin to the first. It was piled with the sweets I had anticipated: candies, figs, raisins and small, round homemade date cookies which I readily took in handfuls and stuffed into my pockets.

Cups of steaming, thick bittersweet coffee were served to the adults next, with large chunks of toffee to accompany them. I joined in by taking out a cookie and slowly nibbling on it. It was during this lull in conversation that a brilliant idea struck me. I rose quickly to my knees, took a firm hold of Mother's chin and pulled her down toward me, whispering my idea into her surprised face. Our host, perhaps momentarily inattentive to the women's talk, noticed this bit of action and certainly could not miss Mother's confused embarrassment. He kindly asked her what was needed.

"Oh, it's really nothing," my tenderhearted and precious mother promptly assured him. "He is saying how glad he is to come with me and wish you a happy Eid."

And I, equally sure that the moment of opportunity was rapidly escaping my grasp, blurted out, "I just asked if I could take some eggs for my two little sisters. That's all."

No sooner had these words escaped my lips than the room filled with laughter and my face became red with embarrassment. I wished the ground would open up and swallow me. Why had I opened my mouth! Everyone was staring and chuckling heartily. Oh, Allah, let me out of here! My ears grew steaming hot and my face flushed red even though I knew the laughter was friendly and good-natured, for these were very amiable people.

"You have a son to be proud of, Aminah. Not every five-year-old would be so thoughtful and conscientious!" declared the man of the house, who had no son of his own. How grateful I was to that kind, generous and understanding man! I had calmed down a bit by now, and his words made me realize I was indeed quite right to openly consider my brothers and sisters. After all, why should they miss out?

Miriam had done her mother's bidding and, as we left, she presented us with a pottery bowl containing many eggs and a handful of mixed sweets. I looked up to give my own good-byes, and Mr. Sulaiman stood beside me. With a smile and a wink he placed in my hand a half piaster, delighting me to such heights of ecstasy that only my careful training restrained me from dancing. I raised my arm in farewell and called, "Eid Sayeed! Happy Easter!" The smile on my face more than matched his. I had a warm, contented feeling inside me as I left their house. I was indeed happy that I had come to visit.

Before that afternoon was over, Mother and I went to several friends' homes to wish them "Happy Easter." Twice Mother waited while I ran home to deposit in a safe place the pocketful of goodies I had been given which she would divide among us later that day. By now I felt very excited. What a wonderful, eventful day it had turned out to be! After our evening meal, the eggs I had collected were distributed among us all.

My sisters were enchanted. Seeing what a hit the eggs had made, I asked, "Mommy, why don't we celebrate this feast day and buy colored eggs?"

"Because we are Muslims, son. This is a special day for our Christian brothers."

"Then why don't we just become Christians?" I eagerly suggested.

Mother sat down and drew me close to her knees. "My dear, things are not as simple as that. Life is not just black and white. The pretty eggs do not make the people's religion. They are merely symbols that stand for new life to the followers of Christ. Christians and Muslims believe in the same God, but we do not believe that Jesus was crucified. We believe he was taken up to heaven by Allah." And so this simple, illiterate woman explained to a little boy the difference between our beliefs in the best way she knew how.

In Muslim countries at that time, we were taught from childhood by our parents and in schools that Muslims and Christians are brothers and we are all God's children worshipping the same God. It became a standing joke in our family and the neighborhood that I had interrupted her at that point by suggesting that if that were the case, then we had better change our religion.

"What's that . . . that thing Allah did to Jesus?" I asked, my head cocked to one side.

"Well, to be resurrected only means to come back to life after being dead. It's hard to understand, children, especially at your age."

"Oh, Mom, Of course I know about it!" I answered with grownup assurance. "Like when Uncle Hamdan hit his chicken over the head and it died. After a few minutes it was resr . . . resrec . . . it came back 'cause I saw it walk away."

"No, stupid!" my younger sister, Ammoon, lisped, stamping her small foot emphatically. "It's like when Miss Fauzi tied a rope around that naughty old cat's neck and swung him rapidly against a rock several times until he died 'cause he ate her chickens. When she went inside the house, the naughty cat got up and ran away. He was surakted. Right, Mommy?"

"That mischievous cat was resurrected, all right," Karim clarified, "but not by Allah. It was Satan that gave him nine lives so he could continue to eat more baby chicks." Karim thought for a moment, then added with a scholarly air, "Allah would only bring a human back to life, right Mom?"

"But, Mom, our Prophet Mohammad died too, so why couldn't Allah bring him back to life so we could have Easter?" I asked, showing off my powers of reasoning.

"God didn't want to bring our Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, back to life because he was a human being, and it is natural for humans to die," Mother said.

She paused for a moment and then continued, "We Muslims believe that Jesus Christ, peace be upon him, is a messenger of God like Moses and Mohammad. We also believe that Jesus' Mother, the noble Maryam, may God bless her soul, was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus. God sent him as a sign to mankind and to give us mercy."

I am quite sure that none of us children understood what Mother was saying or were interested in her explanation, but she kept on talking. "Because Jesus Christ is from God's Spirit, our Christian brothers believe that he is the Son of God. We Muslims disagree because we believe . . ." and she began to recite verses from the Holy Quran :"In the Name of Allah the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. Say, O, Mohammad, 'He is Allah, the One, the Self-Sufficient Master whom all creatures need. He neither eats nor drinks. He begets not, nor was He begotten. And there is none co-equal or comparable unto Him.'"

She gently and humbly passed her opened hands over her face as a sign of respect and added, "Our Christian brothers also believe that Jesus Christ, peace be upon him, was crucified and taken up to Heaven. But we Muslims believe that he was neither killed nor crucified, but that he was taken up to Heaven alive to be with God. This, my beloved children, is the only difference between them and us. We are all children of God, and we all worship one God even if we have different viewpoints."

"Is that why, Mom, you are always encouraging me to go with my friend, Ibrahim, to his church?" asked Karim.

"Of course, son. I urge you to go with him every time you can. We Muslims consider the Church like the Mosque. Both are God's temple and both are places to worship Him."

"You know, Mom," Karim said, "every time I hear men and women reciting hymns at the church, I feel great happiness and peacefulness, exactly the same feeling that comes over me when I hear Imam reciting from the Holy Quran at the Mosque."

"Of course, Son! That is why I tell you we all, Muslims and Christians, worship the same God, and the Mosque and the Church are His temples." Mother licked her dry lips and added, "I was visiting our neighbor, Eadih, three Sundays ago when Father Hanna, their Priest, came to visit them too. After she, her husband and her son kissed his hand and placed it on their foreheads, I did the same. When Father Hanna asked why he did not see me at church and learned that I am a Muslim, he placed his right hand on my head and, raising his eyes upward said, `Our Heavenly Father, bless this meek woman.' I was very pleased."

Many years later after we had moved to the capital and bought our new house, history repeated itself. It was the third day of the Christmas celebration, and mother was paying a visit to our Christian neighbors to wish them 'Merry Christmas' as she did every Christmas and Easter. Since it is the custom in our part of the world that Muslims and Christians exchange visits on religious occasions, the neighbor's house was full of men and women from both religions.

While everybody was eating sweets and drinking tea or coffee, the hostess's priest came to wish them a 'Merry Christmas.' After the Muslim visitors were introduced to Father Salameh, Mother asked him to do us a great honor by visiting our house and blessing it. Father Salameh assured Mother that he would gladly bless her home after he returned from Rome. He was leaving for the trip in only a couple of days, but expected to return in two weeks' time. He was going to a clergymen's convention. Then he smiled and added, "I am hoping to have an audience with our Holy Father, the Pope."

The good man kept his word. Soon after his return, he came to our house on a Sunday afternoon. A young man who was with him carried a large, beautiful censer to every corner of our house, leaving the sweet smell behind. This made all of us exceedingly happy and thankful.

In spite of the fact that many years have passed and many ups and downs have taken place in my life, I still remember clearly as if it were last night, Father Salameh's radiant face and charming voice as he recited most earnestly and enthusiastically some verses from the Holy Bible. My thoughts rounded back again to our conversation on Christians and Muslims.

It seemed that little sister Ammoon felt left out when she said angrily, "So we are Allah's chicks, Mom! Right?" Showing off my powers of reasoning again, I said, "Chicks, stupid, are children of chicks, but we are children of Mother and Father."

Mother smiled, looked at my sister and myself and said, "My dears, we must remain Muslims because we understand that we are children of Allah. However, if people are good like us or our Christian brothers, Allah doesn't mind what message we choose to believe." With an amused but understanding look she added, "We can have eggs any time you like. You need not worry, my beloved ones."

"Can we do that without being Christians, Mom?" I asked incredulously.

"Of course, sweet heart; we have plenty of eggs and onion skins. We'll boil them together any time you like," she replied.

At these words, I felt sharp disappointment that such a magical thing should come about in so ordinary a manner. "Why, surely they come from some secret store known only to the Christians!" I thought. I ran to my mother, embraced her knees and started weeping bitterly. "You know just about everything, don't you, Mommy? You know that we want some eggs!" I glanced over my shoulder at my siblings for confirmation. They were all nodding enthusiastically.

Mother kept her word, and on a few occasions we and our Muslim friends had all the brown eggs we could hold. But it seemed there was always some excuse for not having them again. It was only after I entered high school and our brother Karim was easing the financial difficulties with his salary that I fully understood that Mother had always tried to keep from us how very poor we had been.. Those precious eggs and chickens were practically the only means of support for our family after Father's death.

After all these years filled with a wealth of education and varied experiences, I marvel that an illiterate woman who didn't know how to read or write, and who never went to school, could explain to us her children, a complicated theological concept! I always ask myself and wonder!


Chapter 4

Thinking and talking about the coming of each Easter occupied much of my time during the following years. Last Easter had endeared itself so much to my heart. It was embedded in my memory forever. Sometime at the end of winter, Mother--I suppose to still my questions--bought me a basket from a street vendor. Cheap though it no doubt was, it was to me, at least, the most beautiful one in the whole world. It was mine! When it was given to me, I was told that the following Easter I would be old enough to go by myself and that I would be given plenty of warning in advance about the date. I therefore secured my basket in a safe place and checked on its condition frequently, even tiptoeing out of bed at times so as not to awaken the others and reveal my secret.

Dreams of colored eggs came often to me at night. Some were strange and remarkable. My favorite was one I dubbed my "Fairy Dream" in which I stood in front of a hillock of the tawny beauties. As I admired them, they suddenly started moving, as though heavy with life ready to emerge. Sure enough, there was a gentle tinkling sound as each egg cracked in zigzag lines across its surface, heralding the entrance into the world of the contents of each one. Moonlight lay on the scene before me. I watched spellbound as a large yellow butterfly fluttered from a shell. Soon more butterflies and birds of many colors emerged and spread their beautiful wings. The tinkling sound of cracking shells continued, and each note held until all the bell-like tones blended in a strange melody of heavenly beauty. It reminded me of the sound of ice melting from the frozen branches of winter, each crystallized drop falling melodiously upon the icy ground below.

A deep note sounded and I glanced at the lower part of the mound where a large egg rocked frantically. Soon it broke with the sound of a plucked cello string in the deepest register. As the shell fell away to the grass, a dainty gazelle, her long slender legs folded under her body, arose wobbly and uncertain. I could not turn my head fast enough to catch each new orchestral sound or to see the arrival of the fluffy chicks, the rabbits, the pure white lambs and other small creatures. Inspired with new life, they danced, cavorted and gamboled on the grass where the small mound had been a few moments before. The air and earth before me was crowded with movement of unimaginable grace, all the small wings and frolicking legs in rhythm with the music. How long I stood watching, I could not tell. Time was at a standstill. I believe it was the change in the moonlight that made me raise my eyes, for the sky had clouded over, leaving only a concentrated moonbeam slanting down in spotlight brilliance on the enchanted life below.

With fascination I watched as the butterflies began drifting upward, their colors growing in intensity as they fluttered within the boundaries of light. The birds, still singing, soared and floated, held captive by the rhythm and cadences played by the heavenly pipes. The chicks, like butterballs, rolled and tumbled in and out amongst the hopping rabbits. The lambs and velvety gazelles went leaping and bounding playfully up the magic path to heaven! I looked about me. I was alone. In my dream I stepped fully forward into the circle to join my little friends or, at least, to better see where they had gone so freely and happily, but darkness was all around me.

Now I was sitting up in bed, rubbing my eyes. What had awakened me? I heard our shepherd dog, Kattash, barking furiously in front of the house, probably at a passing cat. I was ready to go out and kick the stupid fellow, but decided instead to ask Mother not to feed him for a few days. I fell back on the bed, trying to recapture the dream. It was the first of many times that I went through the dream, eyes wide open. It was mine, after all. It was one of the brightest beads on my string.

In our small town, rumors flew in typical mid-eastern fashion: throughout the neighborhood, from house to house, on the lips of idle men and women. Very soon, people would stop me at my play and ask about my basket and about that "wonderful dream." It is amazing how things get around.


The next Easter morning dawned at last. Mother, during her early morning prayers, heard me and met me at the hiding place. She persuaded me to wait for our Christian friends to enjoy their breakfast after they had returned from the church's early services. "Impatience is a trait of the devil," Mother replied with the traditional rebuke to impatient and restless children.

On hearing this, I knew I had to be just a little more patient. I had waited so long for this moment, but I wouldn't have to wait too much longer, just until after breakfast, then I could pay my more than willing respects to them. After all, it was they who had brought this very exciting day to life for me. Before our visit last year, what had I known of Easter and Easter eggs and of celebrations in the spring of the year? I was elated beyond belief to be participating in their festivities and I felt that I would burst with excitement if I didn't get there soon.

Every time I knocked at the door of a friend's family, as soon as someone opened it and his sight fell upon me, he would cry out excitedly in a loud voice as though calling every member of the family to announce the presence of a celebrity or dignitary. "Jamil is here with his basket!" Like a flash of lightening, the members of the family would surround me, showering me with various questions about my basket; where had I bought it, how much it cost, how many eggs I had collected so far, and so on.

A truth was born in me that day as I went from door to door: the one thing which I found myself hurrying to see was the secret happiness radiating out to me from joyous faces. The simple eggs were but an added joy for me, Warm smiles were showered on me as I merrily called, "Eid Sayeed!" I felt a part of something large and marvelous. My Christian friends were sharing this gladness with me, a small Muslim boy. Each happy home was but one more white, shiny bead of memory.

I also learned that day that all beads cannot be pure white, nor can we exclude the dark ones from our circling string. Mother was right when she told us that life was not just black and white. These simple words became very real to me that day. I knocked at the door of a humble home and waited a long time for a response. I could hear Mrs. Sirhan inside. I was thinking of leaving when the door opened. After I greeted her happily and smiled generously, I noticed the frown of annoyance as she looked down into my face and then at the basket. Without uttering a single word, she disappeared for a moment and then returned carrying something which she carelessly tossed toward the basket and then abruptly closed the door. She had said not a single word to me. Then I saw a chunk of bread in the dirt where it had accidentally fallen.

I put down my partially filled basket and quickly picked it up and wiped it clean on my clothes. But, inside me I could only feel sadness and disappointment. Because we were taught that bread is the staff of life, the evidence of Allah's goodness, I kissed it and placed it on my forehead. I repeated this cleansing and kissing three times as Mother had taught me. How could anyone toss bread like that! How could someone have the nerve to disgrace God like this!

Mrs. Sirhan had made me feel like a beggar. Insulted and humiliated, I ran off with amazing speed, paying little heed to my eggs, the two blocks to my house and to my mother. "Mommy! Mommy! She threw bread at me like I was a stray, mangy street dog! It fell in the dirt!" I gasped through my falling tears, smearing them away with the back of my hands. "You needn't worry, though, because I brushed it away, and I also kissed it and put it on my forehead. Mrs. Sirhan is a mean old woman! May Allah take her soul to the fire of Jahannam! Why, she almost made me forget all the others who were nice to me. How . . . how could she be so utterly horrible, I really don't understand!"

One of Mother's lovely smiles spread across her face like the whisper of dawn's first light, and she gently and compassionately said, "Well sweet heart! We must always think the best of others, son. You know she's not a happy person anymore. She is lonely and sad since her son's death." Mother put her arm around my shoulder. "In the years ahead, the smiles of the happy ones will crowd out the memory of this one woman's unhappiness. I think of it like a small cloud sailing in front of the sun which drifts past and is forgotten leaving the warmth and light to fill the sky." She stood momentarily and added as an afterthought, "You blessed the bread well, and I am proud of you."


I carried on with this custom until I became a teenager and entered secondary school. I abandoned the basket though I continued to visit my Christian friends, who presented me with not just colored eggs, but also a small bowl into which I discarded the shells. I took the eggs with affection and tenderness for they remained to me the objects of amazement, longing and love. Strangely, they also began to offer me an accompanying glass of local brandy which initially I rejected, for I was, after all, a committed Muslim; but I eventually succumbed and sipped it in their company, delighting in the inner warmth and glow that the liquid engendered in my body, one that complemented the conviviality of the occasion perfectly.

In the Muslim world, the child is taught, when he becomes seven years old, to pray five times a day, to fast in the month of Ramadan, and to learn by heart some simple verses from the Holy Quaran in Arabic in order to recite them during the prayer times. These are the Pillars of Islam. There are many others, too, that apply to all children no matter their gender or native language, whether they are literate or not.

"Glory be to God and exalted be His Name; the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful and the Most High; Who has created man from the dirt--created human beings and all that exists. He Who lifted up the highest heaven and spread out the earth and proportioned it."

How precious and special to me those little eggs were! I put them tenderly into my pocket, treating them as carefully as if I were handling a precious pearl or a rare work of art, or as if I were a musician holding my lyre as though it were something holy and sacred; or even like an enthralled lover with his beloved, frightened that his least touch might harm her. They reminded me of my childhood, those days emblazoned on my mind's eye in the glory of their simplicity and contentment. I put the eggs tenderly in my pocket.

My friends' parents always laughed when they remembered and reminded me of those nostalgic days when I came to their homes and both young and old surrounded me, pressing me with questions about the dream in which my eggs changed into birds, doves, pigeons, gazelles and rabbits. I laughed and they laughed with me! How I wished for those beautiful and happy days to return, but the curtains had closed on those pretty scenes and there was to be no encore, save in the vistas of my mind's eye!


Chapter 5

My thoughts circled wheeled and turned homeward like a flock of gulls homing toward the shore at day's end k. I was still alone in my room here in Pasadena, California, on Easter day. How ironic and piteous it seemed that here in America, a country I thought to be Christian, I was not celebrating a Christian holy day as I had always done in my own Muslim world. I felt like an outcast. I felt a longing to be with someone who knew me, someone who understood the simple pleasures of this life that I had enjoyed in the sincere, unprejudiced manner that I had been encouraged to follow. For around twenty years I had practiced this custom that was dear to my heart and refreshing to my soul.

I could not remember a single Easter that had gone by without visiting my beloved Christian friends, wishing them a happy Easter and eating an egg or two with them and sometimes drinking a glass of brandy! This was the first Easter I would spend without saying those beloved words, "Happy Easter", to the people who had given me so much joy and happiness! This would be the first Easter I would spend far from my family and friends.

Who knew, I might well die in this country far from home and not see any of them again. And even if I did not die, I would experience many long years of loneliness and separation before I would see any of them again. For the first time in my whole life I felt like a stranger, forlorn and crushed, totally alone and afraid. Sorrow that overwhelmed my soul and a fear filled my heart - a sense of separation that tore me apart inside, melting my innermost being. Then I suddenly felt a fierce longing for my Mother, a desire to cast myself into her lap and to smell the special scent of her heavenly odor, so that she could pass her hands over my head rhythmically as she recited from the Holy Quran.

I longed to seek help and guidance from her quiet eyes and to receive assurance and security from her shining smile. All I needed to expel this blinding sadness was to put my arms around her waist so that I could look at her beautiful, radiant face. Such things, when they came to my mind, brought me peace, calm and serenity.

All at once, I sensed too, a powerful desire for my brothers and sisters, for my relatives, my friends and my neighbors, and above all, for my beloved homeland. I felt that I loved them vehemently-yes, passionately. I knew that I loved them more than I loved myself. I was gripped by a love for all of them. Before that day I did not realize the extent of my love for them. I never realized I would lose them and that their loss would tear my heart to pieces and light a blazing fire devastating my innermost being and emotions. For the first time in my life, I felt that I lived for them and in the hope of returning to be with them once again.

Oh Allah! Why had I come here? And how could I get through this life without their encouragement and support! How did I ever believe I could survive in my new life, by myself, without my family . . . my all! I felt sickened by fear. A profound sigh seeped through my body as the last traces of receding memory trickled into the darkness of the past like a quiet wave sliding off the beach and into the midnight sea. My heart cried out for consolation, for justification for my presence on Orange Street in Pasadena, California,, and encountered the irrevocable knowledge of the Almighty's predestination working inscrutably in my life.

I curled up in my chair and pulled my legs close up to me as if some snake or wild beast were trying to bite me. I felt that I was completely alone in this tremendously huge and equally complex world. It was as if I were going to suffocate from my fear and loneliness. I wanted, if it were possible, to cry out from the depths of my heart and at the top of my lungs to plead for help. I felt like a small child who had lost his parents. Suddenly I felt that my huge world had begun to shrink, hemming me in and leaving me without space for my own body! It seemed it would break my bones and suffocate me. I couldn't breathe, my limbs began to quiver, my eyes blurred. I turned inward I called upon God asking for His help and protection.

For as long as I could remember, I had been in the habit of calling God's name and asking His blessing on everything I did. It was inevitable that I would call on God's name before beginning anything. Mother had trained me to do this since I was a child. She had said to me, "If you want God to bless you, my son, always say, 'May this please God and my parents.'" I carried this out and continued to do what my mother had taught me. And so I had always felt security, peace and tranquility within. It had been a habit, but now I was calling out in earnest.

At home I turned to face Mecca five times a day and prayed. Some days it was more than five times. Often I would perform extra devotions above and beyond my duty, and carry out vigils lasting through the night. My mother had trained me in this way since my seventh birthday. She had been compensated for the death of her husband by the love of her children. So I always observed what she had taught me.

Alas! I had not prayed once; I had not called upon God once; and I had not fasted a single day since leaving my country to board a Greek steamer in Beirut harbor. I had forgotten God, becoming completely oblivious to Him. I had completely forgotten my Creator. I had neglected my obligations and so he had forsaken me. How wretched and ashamed I felt now! I remembered this with great depression, despair and sadness.

In the Muslim world, the child is taught when he becomes seven years old to pray five times a day, to fast in the month of Ramadan, and to learn by heart some simple verses from the Holy Quaran in Arabic in order to recite them during the prayer times. These are the Pillars of Islam. There are many others, too, that apply to all children no matter their gender or native language, whether they are literate or not. "Glory be to God and exalted be His Name; the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful and the Most High; Who has created man from the dirt--created human beings and all that exists. He Who lifted up the highest heaven and spread out the earth and proportioned it."

That day I was the only person left in the huge lodging house. All the other lodgers had left for places in Southern California to spend time with a loved one, a relative or a friend. Even Mrs. Lewis, who had seen ninety-three summers and was semi-paralyzed and who leaned on a stick to walk, had gone out and was spending the day with her friends at a retirement home in Glendale.

I suddenly became aware of a repetitive sound that broke through the silence of the house. The telephone was ringing. I dutifully slid back my door and crossed the hall to the telephone. With shaking legs and trembling hands I picked up the receiver. In answer to my low, indifferent salutation, a voice asked, "Jamil? Are you all right? You haven't had bad news from home, have you, Jamil?" The woman's voice expressed high anxiety and deep concern.

It was as if the woman's question increased my pain and stirred up emotions buried deep within me. I wanted to cry over the telephone, but my sense of manhood and my embarrassment held me back. Despite my turmoil, I tried with considerable difficulty to sound calm and normal. "Oh, Mrs. Sharp! Happy Easter! I'm just a little tired, that's all." I said, telling only part of the truth.

"We just got back from church. Laura called just as we were leaving. They had to go to Riverside. Her father-in-law is seriously ill and was rushed to the hospital! We decided to find something here at home for dinner. It'll just be a little late because of the change of plans, but we would love to have you join us; it'll just be the four of us."

I gladly accepted her invitation and went to prepare myself, neglecting, in the excitement of the moment, to take along a small token of my appreciation for Mrs. Sharp and her daughter. I didn't feel quite so alone now. Someone had at least remembered me. Mrs. Sharp would come for me at about three o'clock and drive me the few miles to their pleasant, warm home in Arcadia.


I was first introduced to the Sharps through my college. One morning Miss Elder, my English Instructor entered the classroom and explained that I was needed at the main office. I was met by Mrs. Hamilton, the Foreign Student Advisor, and was so overjoyed. She explained to me that I had been chosen to be the dinner guest of an American couple at their home.

I had spent a number of very interesting and enjoyable Sundays and evenings with them. Their only child, their four-year-old daughter, Sandra, and I had quickly become good friends, and she had generously returned my affection in full measure. I had given her a small olive wooden caravan, carved in Bethlehem and she was always carrying it in her hands or dangling one of the camels from her pockets.

I had not cared for Mrs. Amy Sharp at our first meeting. In truth, I had hated and despised her. She seemed to be far too haughty. Her presence was overbearing and she always appeared overly proud of being an American. "The world nowadays is following in America's foot steps in every aspect of life! We are the absolute leaders of the world and its inspiration! The people of the world want our mercy," she said one day.

She flaunted her beauty and femininity and made no attempt at modesty when it came to her wide knowledge of different religions and civilizations. "I have read a great number of books about the various religions and civilizations of the world. I know what I am talking about when it comes to religion," she had claimed another time.

I had felt that she despised foreigners, especially those from the Third World. But it soon became clear to me that I had made a dreadful mistake, and that she was a really wonderful, compassionate and religious lady, curiously simple and humble to the highest degree; someone who wanted the best for everyone and who was sympathetic to every stranger she met. She helped everyone who needed help, whether it was help of a material or spiritual nature. She had high moral standards and many praiseworthy characteristics. Upon reflection, I suppose I felt she was too capable of judging me wrongly, for she was so knowledgeable about all races and creeds, and I preferred to be taken for who I was.

I was invited to their house for a number of delightful and enjoyable evenings, and together we enjoyed many tasty and delicious meals. I felt as if I were back home in my own country. I considered Mr. and Mrs. Sharp my brother and sister here in America. I really felt at home. Their small daughter, Sandra, reminded me of my sister's daughters back home, children I dearly missed. Often the Sharps would take me with them on short weekend trips to the desert or to the mountains, or to see friends and relatives. Through them I got to know a number of people who were of great help to me later on.

As long as I live, I will never forget Mrs. Amy Sharp's significant and wonderful aid to me. It happened when I was in desperate need of a job. Having just arrived in America, I was job searching day and night. Leaving her daughter with a baby sitter and neglecting her home life, she spent two entire weeks with me, scouring Pasadena and the surrounding cities for a job. Every morning she would pick me up and we would go in search of work from department stores to supermarkets, submitting applications and inquiring about any possible job opportunity until we found my current job. She even insisted on lending me money which I paid back when I received my first paycheck.

After another delicious meal, and Mrs. Sharp refusing help with the dishes, Mr. Harold Sharp and I retired to the living room where I sat in my favorite chair, one which suited my tall frame. The evening had come early on this dreary day, and a damp spring chill filled the air. Mr. Sharp put a match to the waiting kindling. We spent a few minutes chatting about small, mundane matters as one does when physically comfortable and satisfied. But soon we dropped into silence. I sat dreamily watching the flames, their welcoming warmth permeating my whole being as I sat with eyes and mind half closed.


Chapter 6

I recalled how we had spent those long, frozen winter nights crowding around the fireplace like chicks huddled around a hen for warmth. Mother fed the fire with the wood gathered during the summer, carefully cached away in the cellar for just such times. Impatiently we would wait for the teakettle to boil, the official sign of the evening's birth, while my aunt would regale us with heroic tales of warriors and saints, pious acts of self-denial and heart-rending romance. Always ready with a joke or story to keep us laughing or to rivet our attention with drama and suspense, my mother's eldest sister, who was never married, had moved into the big house at the same time that Mother married Father. To my child's mind she, like the fireplace, had been part of the house and was equally essential to its architecture.

Gleefully we excavated little caves of glowing coals in the fire to roast the acorns that Mr. Naji, our ploughman and neighbor, kindly brought in from the fields at day's end. The piping hot nuts would taste especially rich and smoky when washed down with cold water and were a standard favorite. Unlike the rich who could afford chestnuts, or even knafeh sometimes, and for whom tea was not such a high and precious luxury, roasting the acorns and listening to my aunt's stories was the only entertainment poor people, such as we, had on those long cold nights. Knafeh is wonderful! It is like cheesecake. It is a mixture of shredded wheat, white cheese, butter, pine nuts and syrup cooked together.

I remember once Karim, after eating his share of the acorns and taking a large swig from the communal jug of water, smacked his lips rhythmically and delightfully and asked fervently, "Do you think chestnuts could possibly be more delicious than our acorns?" Chestnuts were things encountered in schoolbooks and seen in produce shops, but nothing, any of us had ever actually tasted.

"Of course they are," shot back my sister Amirah in exasperation, as if pained by our brother's obvious ignorance. "Why else would the rich pay money to eat them?!"

Mother's mild voice cut in smoothly, calming the scowl brewing on Karim's brow. " No, Amirah, my sweet; you are mistaken. Allah, to Him be glory, created both acorns and chestnuts to be delicious, just in different ways. He made chestnuts to be planted and harvested and bought in the market just for wealthy people. But He specially planted acorns in the wild forests and mountains so that even people without money could enjoy His gift and marvel at His kindness and mercy. He concerns Himself with all things, even with the well-being of the ant in the wilderness."

"Indeed, Allah is great and very understanding!" said Karim in wonder and with contentment!

Mother's gracious words fitted themselves into our hearts the way the acorns had satisfied our stomachs and all in the room thanked Allah for His concern for even the humblest of His creatures. A few nights later, when everyone was pampering himself in bed keeping warm, the whole area was covered in snow, which looked like a bird's gown. But through the window, the cold air and snow created a glistening blanket of sugared-ice.

On snowy days almost all of the activities of the city--government offices, schools and shop--ceased to function. In order to keep warm and to avoid the severe cold, most people stayed in bed throughout the day, getting up only to eat, drink or pray. On such days, our neighbor, Naji, did not go to the fields, so acorns were not brought to our home. Mother, however, surprised us one evening by giving each one of us a handful of chestnuts saying, "Now I want you children to judge for yourselves, whether there is difference in taste between acorns and chestnuts." We all agreed that there was no difference in taste between the two!

In spite of our being very poor, Mother always tried her very best not to let any of our cravings go unsatisfied, even if it wasn't exactly what we had in mind.


It wasn't until many years later that we learned the extent to which Mother had sacrificed her possessions and comfort to protect us. She had sold household goods--even pots and pans--to ensure that our immediate needs were met. Most striking was her jewelry, a Middle Eastern woman's pride and mark of social standing, painfully sold off piece by piece, in order to remain financially independent of my uncles. These same three uncles, my father's brothers, had claimed ownership of our land and vineyards after Father's death, looting our livelihood as surely as any invading army.

In order to reinstate the traditional family culture, and with the intention of making things "tidy," they pressured Mother to choose a new husband from among the three of them. When she refused, they found therein an excuse to loot our property. Their goal was not especially well camouflaged. Traditionally a widow's children become servants of the new husband, his other wives and children. We would have been, therefore, put to work as field laborers. Although her own life could have been much more comfortable had she gone through with a second marriage, Mother told her brothers-in-law to take our property on the condition that they leave us--her children--for her.


Chapter 7

The only noises that stirred the air were the occasional rustling of my host's newspaper as he scanned the latest news, the crackling of the fire, and from the kitchen the sound of dishes being washed, though muffled by the closed swinging door. Louder still was the choppy, clattering noise as little Sandra hopped and slid her caravan across her make-believe Sahara, the tiled kitchen floor, as she kept her mother company. Nevertheless, I found it difficult to stay awake.

How long I was dozing I do not know, but suddenly a gentle, angelic voice roused me, and brought me back to reality!

"Happy Easter, Uncle Jamil!" little Sandra was standing in front of me leaning against my knees. Her eyes danced as she greeted me and held out a basket filled with a spectrum of colored eggs, not just in shades of brown.

"I colored one for you," she said as she placed the basket on my knees. "This one!" She pointed to a green egg on the top. "Uncle Jamil" was written on it in a guided childish scrawl.

I was overwhelmed by the surprise and stared stupefied at the red, blue and purple eggs and at my green one on the top. I recognized that here, in America, they would be considered more beautiful than ours back home, but I did not believe anything could quite match those tawny shades or the wonderful smell of the kitchen as they cooked with the onionskins.

All the colors were starting to run together as I fought in vain to keep back the tears, which now filled my eyes and choked off all words from my throat so that I could not thank my dear little friend for her magnificent gift to me. I strongly felt she must not see my tears for she might think I did not care for her gift. She would not understand that they were rather tears of happiness and gratitude, and that my heart had been released from suffocation and the terrible hold of sadness.

The tears were a reflection of the joy I had once seen and known on other happy faces as a small boy holding a similar basket far away--a joy I now saw repeated in this innocent, angelic beautiful face. Oh, the wonderful memories of my childhood! Once again my mother's wise words had proven correct. The distant crushed, lifeless face of Mrs. Sirhan was crowded out by the memory of the friendly smiles from happier times in my childhood.

I stood up and took the basket from Sandra's hands, put it carefully on the chair, and picked up the little girl. I held her close to me with her face turned carefully from mine and quietly walked around the silent room as the tears spent themselves.

Later in the evening on that day of happiness, joy and new life when I had returned to the solitude of my own room, I again came to realize that the new life I had chosen for myself far from my homeland and loved ones, was full of new hope and promise. The past with its haunting memories would somehow fall into place and peace and gratitude would blend with fulfilled hopes in this Christian land. All would be well with me.

Although I had forgotten my Creator, He had not forgotten me. Though I had failed to seek Him with my whole heart, He had not failed to watch over me. Perhaps through this day with its gift of friendship and love, I would come to know His love for my life in a deeper way. As God had heard my humble, sincere prayer and words to Him that very morning, I felt ready to restart again my new life in America.

The End

About the Author

Abdulmajid Dabbaswas born and reared in the ancient Jordanian city of Salt, where he graduated from the local high school. This school was once the highest institution of learning in the whole of Jordan and consisted only of male students. At that time, the government was the only employer in Jordan. Any young man who aspired to hold a prominent government position had to complete his secondary education at the school in Salt before going abroad to take advanced studies in one of the universities in a neighboring Arab country or in Europe. Prime ministers, judges, cabinet members, school teachers, chiefs of police and other high ranking government officials received their secondary education at this school. This was the case until the year of the Palestinian Nakbah calamity in 1948 which shook the Arab and Islamic worlds and awakened them from their rosy dreams and deep slumber.

The author lost his father when he was five years old. His mother, who was not yet thirty, was two and a half months pregnant with his little sister at the time. His father had owned multiple farms throughout the country where he grew field crops such as wheat, garbanzo beans, lentils, barley and corn and garden produce such as tomatoes, cucumbers, fuggoose, watermelons and cantaloupes. He also owned vineyards and olive groves. He also had raised cattle and other kinds of livestock. Each farm had its own staff and laborers. In addition to these responsibilities, he had been the Mokhtar, or local head, of his family tribe which numbered more than 1000 people. The author's mother and her children could have enjoyed a comfortable life had it not been for the three brothers of her deceased husband. They schemed to take the property, possessions, and family of their dead brother. They informed his widow that she must choose one of them to marry and thus become the brother-in-law's second wife. Her husband's estate would then go to the chosen brother, and her children would be required to work for free in the fields. However, this would also mean that the children would not be allowed to attend school. This did not bother the brothers-in law, whose own children had not attended school for even one single day.

This proposal insulted and infuriated the young widow. She adamantly refused to enter into such an agreement. She sharply informed them that under no circumstances would she accept a marriage proposal from them or an outsider. Her only goal was to raise and care for her children. For two long years, not a week went by without a visit from one of the brothers-in-law, demanding that she leave the children and return to her parents. Usually these visits ended in a fight where one of them would repeatedly insult her and beat the children. When she approached tribal leaders for help, they stood by the brothers-in-law who were more influential than a young widow. Due to the great authority that the culture afforded to the tribal leaders, the local court was unable to do anything to stop the abuse. The circumstances eventually became so unbearable that the mother forfeited her rights to the estate provided that her children could

When he was in his mid-twenties, the author left Jordan to study in America. Though his purpose was to further his education, he came on an immigrant visa because student visas at that time required financial backing and sponsorship. The only communication he was able to have with the people he had left behind was through letters which were delivered via sea mail or air mail. He was unable to speak to them by telephone for twelve years because of the lack of technology. Today it is possible to telephone his family and friends in Jordon a dozen times a day.

He received a BA in English Literature from California State University and his Masters in Middle Eastern languages and literatures from the University of California (UCLA). Following his graduation, he taught the Arabic language and Islamic studies at UCLA and in community colleges located in Pasadena, Los Angeles, Covina and Hollywood.

After returning to his native Middle East, he taught English at the Teacher's Training College, United Nations, Jordan and then at King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. At the time of writing his two novels in English, Beads of Memory and August Rain, the author was a faculty member at the University of Jordan. The author is now a member of the California Writers Club. He has also written four novels in Arabic: Fee BiladAssamniWalassal(In The Country of Milk and Honey), Teeh Professor Dahshan(Professor Dahshan's Diaspora), FabakatWaBakait(She Wept and I Wept Too) and Ana Al-Maloon (I Am the Accursed).

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