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In A Lonely Place

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

By:Abdulmajid Abdullah Ahmad Dabbas

The atmosphere at the upscale Bullock's Department Store was charged with electricity. It was the day before Christmas, and a gathering storm of anticipation fevered both workers and customers alike. It was Jamil Suleiman's first Christmas in America, and his heart beat a quick tempo as he was swept up in this heretofore-unknown contagious delirium.

He received orders from almost all of the departments in the store. Even by running, going without lunch, and skipping his coffee break, he could not keep up. Mr. George Shroeyer, his boss and head of the wrapping and shipping department, was snapping orders faster than they could be filled by his skeleton crew.

"Take this parcel to the customer desk; a woman is waiting there. Hurry, hurry, hurry!" he yelled, clapping his hands and swinging his head. "Also Miss Collins from the confectionery department just telephoned to say that none of you boys have stopped by there for the last hour, and that there are over thirty boxes with the number increasing every minute!

"Move it! Get going! Come on! Go to second level lingerie and bring down their boxes. Hurry!" he hollered, still clapping his hands nervously.

"Jamil! In the furniture department a lady is waiting near the fountain to be helped to her car with a magazine stand."

"Oh, Jamil! Mr. Green says suits are still lying around in the men's department. Also, Mrs. Patterson just telephoned for the third time to complain that women's dresses are piling up badly. You'll have to get a move on!"

"Jamil!" called Monty, a co-worker. "Help me push this hamper. Mason is on the dock waiting to finish loading the delivery truck. I'm afraid that if he waits two minutes longer he'll come after me like an angry bee! Come on! Give me a hand!"

Late that afternoon Mr. Shroeyer asked Jamil to hurry off to the perfume department to pick up a gift-wrapped package. Because he was so busy, Jamil asked whether Melvin could be sent instead. "I'm sorry, but he can't go. He asked permission to go buy his mother a present and hasn't returned yet." The mere mention of the word mother anguished Jamil's heart and made him feverishly homesick.

The old man paused for a while and added, "Oh, boy!" I really envy you, Jamil! Aren't you lucky to be far away from your family and friends! You don't have to buy presents and worry about these stupid and ridiculous formalities!"

These ungodly, thoughtless, cruel, insensitive and inconsiderate words cut through Jamil deeply. As he hurried off to his tasks, his mind could no longer be contained by this store in Pasadena. In the month and a half since Jamil had started working here, never had the duties been so numerous and demanding, never the pressures so tense and nerve-wrecking. Yet they had told him Christmas was fun and easy going!

* * * * *

The previous afternoon at five o'clock Jamil had observed Mr. Shroeyer carrying a carton of sealed Manila envelopes. The majority of the wrapping and shipping staff, both men and women, flocked around his desk. As he called each name, an employee stepped forward, signed his name, and was handed a pay envelope. Mr. Shroeyer shook hands and exclaimed, "It was a pleasure knowing you. Glad to have you on our Christmas crew. Hope you'll join us again next year. Merry Christmas!" The process continued until over twenty-four people had been dismissed.

Jamil was a little dismayed. "How will we manage tomorrow with so few crew members?" he wondered as he stood watching his boss put the empty boxes away.

"Who will help with the work tomorrow, Mr. Shroeyer?" Jamil queried in earnest wonder.

In reply he got an indulgent smile and a wink from the older man. "Tomorrow is the day before Christmas. The activity will be light, and the fever of buying will calm down since people will have done the bulk of their shopping. You boys have earned a little rest. You, Monty, Frank, and Melvin can coast tomorrow. That is a promise."

"How do you know?" Jamil asked earnestly.

"How do I know?" Mr. Shroeyer replied with a defensive attitude. "Well boy, I'll tell you. After eleven years in this business, you learn a whole lot. Our shelves are practically empty." He pointed to them with a jerk of his head. "By ten o'clock tonight there won't be a single box waiting to be wrapped!"

When Jamil left work at midnight, sure enough, the shelves were completely empty. The following morning the wrapping and shipping department was in frenzy from the moment the doors of the store opened. Everyone in it was feverishly running. Even Mr. Shroeyer found himself compelled to run to various sections of the store more than once in order to pick up one or two gift-wrapped packages! Carrying parcels to a car, Jamil looked at Mr. Shroeyer and gasped, "You should have said we would be racing again today--not coasting!"

"Oh, I'm sorry, Jamil! Really, I can't understand what happened. I've never seen it like this before," the older man said by way of apology.

* * * * *

"Boy! I'll sure be glad when it's all over. You'd think a person would learn. Yet every year I wait until the last moment to buy Thelma's present," the customer exclaimed, snapping shut his lighter and blowing out the smoke. "She's my wife," he explained with a smile. Jamil placed the large, heavy box in the trunk of the man's car, and wished him a Merry Christmas!

"Well, it's true," another customer was saying, "Christmas does flatten the pocketbook, but I get such a kick out of surprising my wife and the children. The looks on their faces tomorrow morning will make me feel like the happiest human being on earth! Wow! There's nothing in the world equivalent to giving and receiving," he said as both he and Jamil walked to the store parking lot, their arms loaded with gift-wrapped packages.

Everyone was talking with eager enthusiasm about the "Greatest Tomorrow" as if it were the Day of Salvation or the Great Judgment Day . . . about plans . . . about gifts still to be bought, or those long hidden away and ready . . . about friends and loved ones. It was all happy, thrilling, excited talk.

* * * * *

Ever since the newcomer had started working at Bullock's Department Store as a Christmas helper, he had heard constant talk bearing one way or another on the coming season--Christmas this, Christmas that! He listened to discussions of how merchandise would be displayed, how the store would be decorated, what items could be expected to sell the best, which departments would have the highest turnovers, and so on.

It had never bothered him, for it had so little to do with the way he had always known Christmas. He had always thought it was a religious day honoring the Baby Jesus. Having never celebrated it like this, he was a little taken back at the way everyone spent money on lavish and expensive presents for their loved ones. It had never occurred to him that everybody shopped with madly excited abandonment!

* * * * *

In Jamil's town, Salt, people generally did not give gifts at this time. Instead, they visited one another, bearing only greetings and warm affection. They shared Turkish coffee, tea, pieces of toffee candy, cigarettes, good conversation and plenty of good wishes. Children received raisins, dry figs and mixed candies to carry home in their pockets. In exceptional circumstances they might be given half a ta'reefeh piaster! Jamil had been poor, it was true, but even the wealthy Christians did not exchange expensive and fancy gifts. They gave money, rice, sugar, tea, coffee or some clothes to their needy relatives. How lavish and loud Christmas in America seemed in comparison to Christmas back home in the East!

* * * * *

Now that Christmas was almost here, each word seemed to reopen a deep wound, exposing buried memories causing Jamil the most acute pain. Christmas Eve and "Tomorrow" had always been a very precious time to him and a sacred occasion to his heart; and he liked it to be a time of deep love and friendship.

As the day progressed, the lonely, young man felt a growing uneasiness and increasingly nostalgic feeling. He feared the approach of evening would bring loneliness and agony. He wanted to shut it all out and stop imagining how unbearable and smothering a torment it would be! Change was difficult. Right now he grievously longed to be at home with his family and beloved friends in the East!

How about tonight when he would be truly alone! The mere idea horrified him . . . made him tremble . . . filled his heart and soul with misery and defeat! All this hustle and bustle made him feel scared, alone and distant from all he knew and understood. In spite of the crowds, the swiftness and excitement, and even the exhaustion, memories were welling up in him dangerously. If only he could keep on running and running until he was in Jordan in his mother's warm comforting arms.

"Oh, Mother, how beautiful and great you seem to me, especially now!" Jamil thought miserably!

"Oh, to be able to close my eyes and suddenly open them in Salt -the little town where I came from! But there were countries, kingdoms, seas and oceans between Pasadena, California, and Salt, Jordan, hopeless miles and miles. Oh, God! Stand by me now. Please! Please! I feel so alone . . . so frightened in the huge crowds!"

* * * * *

"Jordan! Oh beloved and adorable sweetheart of mine! How elegant, serene, lofty, majestic and beautiful you are! A handful of earth from your meadows, a grain of sand from your desert, a bouquet of wild tulips from your mountains--any of these is dearer to my heart and soul than the whole world with its wealth, glory, and splendor. Oh for the fragrance of your wild mint, oregano and oleander! It is more aromatic and more sensational than the finest Parisian perfumes.

A loaf of homemade bread baked in your countryside bakeries is more delicious, more succulent and more tasteful than bread made in the finest bakeries in the world. I long for a taste of it; for a sip of your water; for a smile from your charming daughters! You are the apple of my eye, the light of my heart. I adore you, cherish you and love you dearly. Oh, Jordan, you are my first and only love. I worship you. I prostrate myself and kiss the divine ground which is you. My heart is truly broken without you!"

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Chapter 2

Jamil's father, Suleiman, was not originally from Jordan. He had come from beyond the Jordan River with his grandfather Youssef and grandmother Kurmah when he was just three and a half years old. Youssef's son, Ibrahim, who was Suleiman's father, was killed by British soldiers before he was twenty-five years old--gone but not forgotten!

In 1919 the Palestinians had revolted against the British mandate, demanding independence and the withdrawal of British troops from Palestine. The British refused, and a wild, fierce underground resistance movement was formed. Jamil's grandfather, Ibrahim, joined up and subsequently played a distinguished role in the revolt. British intelligence penetrated the rebel movement and paid good money for information leading to the capture of the ringleaders of the dissidents, alive or dead. They kept their eyes wide open, and their agents infiltrated every corner of the country.

One dark rainy night Ibrahim disguised himself in woman's clothes and came down secretly and to his house from his mountain hideout. British soldiers were waiting for him. He had just finished leaning his rifle against the wall and started to untie his shoelaces when he heard a loud hoarse voice.

"We know you are inside!" a British officer shouted at him in heavily accented, broken Arabic. "Put your hands over your head and come out! We have surrounded the house. It is better for you to surrender and live!"

"Shame upon you, you villainous coward!" Ibrahim shouted back at him, raging with anger. "You parasites and cockroaches! Get the hell out of our country and leave us in peace!" Then he rushed to his rifle and from an opening in the wall showered the surrounding police with bullets. A short exchange of fire, and the courageous was dead. His wife perished with him, trying to protect her husband.

Oh! If only people in this world knew how much heartache that caused the family of this noble man and woman! But who outside their village would weep for the fallen or had even heard of their tragedy, and who even cared?

* * * * *

Suleiman's grandfather, Youssef, decided to flee Palestine with his grandson before he, too, was killed. He was anxious to save Suleiman, the son of his only child. As the Palestinian revolt engulfed the whole country, Youssef fled across the Jordan River to the safety of the East Bank. Trans-Jordan was also under a British mandate, but there was no rebellion there.

Youssef, busied himself in his new life in Salt, trying to reconcile himself to the loss of his son as he and Kurmah devoted themselves to their grandson's happiness. They bought a house on a small piece of land and Youssef took up his former trade as a butcher. People admired and respected him highly for his honesty and decency, and they also sympathized with his tragedy.

Youssef could not know, as he was saying farewell to the land of his fathers and grandfathers, that waves and waves of people were mobilized. Their hearts and minds were filled with biblical myths and deep, black hatred. Men and women came from every corner of the globe with nothing in their minds and hearts except the idea of massacring the inhabitants of Palestine or forcing them to flee and leave their homes, property, villages and cities so they could confiscate them and claim them as their own!

Twenty-five years later fate would ordain that thousands of the remaining original inhabitants--men, women, and children--would be slaughtered in cold blood. Hundreds of thousands would be compelled to leave their ancestral lands and communities under threat of arms, exiling themselves across the East Bank of the Jordan River. A quarter of a century later, multiplied numbers would be shamelessly slaughtered and compelled to flee, just because they were Palestinians!

* * * * *

Suleiman's grandfather Youssef died a few years after his flight; his wife, Kurmah, died a year later. Suleiman himself was only sixteen years old and had worked in his grandfather's butchery for some time and was being groomed to take over the business. However, that type of work satisfied neither his ambitions nor his overweening ego. Therefore, he joined the Jordanian Army.

Suleiman's regiment was stationed in Jerusalem. During the War of 1967, he was killed along with many colleagues. He died at the hands of Zionists, just as his father before him had perished at the hands of British gunman as he sought to preserve not only his own land and that of his ancestors but also the land of every Palestinian. Jamil was only five months in his mother's womb at the time of his father's death. He never knew him. Jamil's only links to his father were the stories his mother told him.

* * * * *

At his father's passing away, a great sadness entered their home! Aminah, Jamil's mother, devoted herself to molding her son in his father's image. Mr. Suleiman had left them the small house in which they lived and where the mother planned to remain forever and a small piece of land which they rented in return for a part of its crop. Aminah also owned a small manual Singer sewing machine which had been a part of her dowry and from which she realized a meager, but adequate living for herself and her son. In fact, through her sewing she actually provided a better living than many of the men in the small town.

Jamil had helped too each summer vacation by working in the small, humble shop of one of his father's friends. He swept, delivered groceries, brought water in cans from the public faucet for his boss's home, and sprinkled the dirt road in front of the store in an attempt to tame the relentless and irritating dust.

Though she was illiterate, Jamil's mother knew very well the importance of learning and was quite concerned that her son would have a good education. In this way, Jamil might have an opportunity to obtain a high position in the government or elsewhere and put an end to the suffering, humiliation and poverty which they endured. Often she would sit up late, though her eyes were tired and her body fatigued from the day's sewing, simply to keep him company and encourage him, while he did his homework. She even promised that, if he was a good student and applied himself well, she would somehow send him abroad to Europe or even America, when he finished secondary school.

* * * * *

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Chapter 3

Jamil had always lived next door to Mona and her mother, who like Jamil's mother, had never gone to school. Mona's father, Zaidan, had died while performing his duties as a tax collector in the service of the government's mounted police.

The only revenue the government of Trans Jordan had at that time was the taxes levied on livestock, namely sheep and goats, and crops including fruits and vegetables. This revenue was the only means of survival for the government. Because the people would conceal the truth from the government and not reveal the right number of their animals nor the right amount of their crops, the government would send tax collectors escorted by mounted soldiers to enforce the law and to protect the tax collectors from the people who would not allow them to collect the government's due!

The tax agents were usually sent unexpectedly in order to surprise the herdsmen and the crop owners. These visits took place during the summer months because people left their homes to live in black tents on their land and beside their grazing animals. The taxes were paid at the end of summer after the landowners and livestock owners had sold their crops and products. Estimating the value of the crops was not a problem because everything could be seen. The problem was with the livestock because owners could show the government agents part of the herd and hide the rest!

Mona's father, Zaidan, was one of the mounted policemen who escorted the tax collectors. One day he and Mahmoud, the tax collector, were hiding behind a huge pile of stones late in the afternoon, watching from their hiding place and waiting anxiously for a particular shepherd passing along this rarely used road as he returned home with his herd. No sooner had the sheep entered the fold than the two government agents were standing at the gate counting the herd.

The two agents demanded their host to provide them with a sleeping place, food and drink as their due right as representatives of the government, thinking that the weight of tradition might not be sufficient in this case.

"I strongly believe that the government has no right--nor is it fair--to tax us on what we have earned with hard labor and sweat for an entire year!" said the host, Nemer, bitterly to his two guests after dinner.

"The government does not take taxes to line its own pocket. It uses them to pay the salaries of those who safe guard you, your family, your property, and your country." The tax collector spoke calmly and quietly, and tried to be convincing. He paused for a moment to watch the effect of his speech on his host and then added, "It is also spent on teaching our children history and mathematics and especially to read and recite the Holy Quran."

"My children don't believe in such nonsense. They have no time to go to school; they help me in the field. Also, I do not want the government to protect us. With my rifle I can protect my own family! No one would dare to threaten us or our property!" he said arrogantly while jerking his head toward his rifle which was hung on the post supporting the black tent.

"You say this because you are an ignorant and pig headed moron!" retorted Zaidan, Mona's father, provoked and angry!

"You insult me in my own home. Your stomach has not yet digested the meat of the lamb I had killed for you, you big donkey!" the host said and rushed like a storm to his rifle. Before Mahmoud could stop him, he fired at Zaidan's heart and killed him on the spot!

The life sentence to which Nemer was sentenced did not help Mona and her mother bring back the man they loved and cherished, nor did it diminish their agony and their suffocating nights of solitude and sufferings! Mona had only been a toddler and the mother and daughter had since lived on a small monthly compensation.

* * * * *

Jamil never forgot that dear and precious day when he was very young! When he returned home from school one afternoon, his mother told him that they had been invited the next day to the neighbor's house to help celebrate the Holy day . . . Eid Al - Meelad . . . Christmas!

"Although I am not her closest friend, she has selected us to be her guests of honor!" Jamil's mother said with joyful pride.

"Isn't she the one who sent us last week a large plate of stuffed cabbage and marrow, Mother?"

"Yes, son, she is! And the week before that, she sent us a large bag of oranges and lemons. Do you remember? She said one of her distant relatives owns an orchard and sent her a box full of them!"

"Haven't you ever sent her anything in return, Mother?!" queried Jamil.

"Of course I have, dear!" She felt slightly insulted! "Do you think your mother is cheap and has so little pride and dignity that she would accept gifts from strangers but not return? I filled the same plate with raisins and sent it back to her. When she sent us oranges and lemons, I sent her a good amount of sugar!"

"Allah bless you, Mother! I am proud of you! You are a wonderful woman and sweetheart! I love you very, very much!"

"You too, Dear! You are the love and hope which have sustained me since your father's death. If it were not for you, I would not have known what to do with myself and not survived my grief!"

Jamil was moved by his mother's talk; he came closer to her and put his arms around her waist and rested his head on her breast. She surrounded his shoulders with her hands and looking into his face pensively said, "You look exactly like your father with your slim body, curly hair and intelligent eyes. You are also thoughtful just as he was. May Allah rest his soul in peace."

Suddenly Jamil drew back from her admiring her radiant face. "Do you think, Mother, that Mona's mother likes us because you and she are widows, and Mona and I are fatherless?"

Aminah was shaken by her son's acute and penetrating question. Initially she did not know what to say. In a few moments she replied; "I really never thought of it that way, dear!" Pausing to wet her dry lips and collect her thoughts, she added, "I always thought that the real reasons were that I never revealed or repeated conversation the way most of the women in the neighborhood do! I do not interfere in anyone's affairs. I keep my mouth shut, always mind my own business and never criticize nor talk badly about any one. Whatever evil I see or hear, I keep to myself. I have never repeated any slander about anyone."

What had really prompted Aminah to deliver this long speech was that she had noticed her son was listening to her carefully and attentively. She had a wonderful feeling that she had taught her son a lesson in ethics, good behavior and how to deal with people in order to gain their love and respect! She was happy . . . very happy! She also felt proud of herself as a mother, as a woman, and as a widow who had kept her honor and her husband's sacred memory.

Then she added with more enthusiasm and courage, "Because of all this, people love and respect us!"

Jamil said nothing; he only raised his face to his mother's and kissed her warmly on her cheeks and forehead!

* * * * *

Although Jamil had lived all his eight years next to Mona he never remembered caring about or even speaking to her before that evening! He used to see her and her girlfriends as they passed his house on their way to school or played in the dusty streets, or as they shrieked at each other, accusing one or another of cheating at games.

Jamil was a friend or a playmate with all of the boys who lived in his neighborhood. The same was also true for the girls. But tonight when he and his mother were received by Mona and her mother, he felt completely different! After they had shaken hands and exchanged sweet smiles in a warm and affectionate welcome, he began to sense very strong brotherly feelings toward his little neighbor. He wished with deep sincerity that she had been his sister or that he had a sister like her!

The little boy did not fully understand these feelings, nor did he try to; it really didn't matter to him. All he was thinking about was the rich dinner he was going to eat and the dessert he could not very often expect at home, for sweets were very rare in Aminah's larder! If it were like their Eid Al-Fitrr or Eid Al-Hajj, there would be plenty of meat; and, oh, was he fond of meat! He could eat a whole lamb if he had been offered one! He would also be given raisins, figs and candy and would play with Mona until it was bedtime. Now he had something to which to look forward!

* * * * *

That evening a custom was established between the two households that was to last for many years to come. These two young friends grew up side-by-side, playing together and studying together. He, being the older one, helped her with her homework problems such as the pronunciation of difficult English words, difficult arithmetic exercises and many other assignments. She went to an all girls' school and he went to all boys' school. Since the two schools were not far apart, he waited for her on most days. She was like a sister to him. He was the brother she longed for and needed for affection, help and protection. Each child, in effect, had two mothers.

They shared everything, including each other's religious Holy Days. They considered themselves especially lucky and extra-fortunate for having four Eids: Ramadan, the Pilgrimage, Easter, and Christmas. Four times a year they ate to bursting; four times a year they had all the meat and sweets that they could possibly devour! Very often the little boy deeply wished that those four magic and immortal days would repeat themselves again and again during the slack days of the year!

* * * * *

Jamil never forgot a certain Christmas of his childhood. Christmas Eve had arrived and Mona and her mother had come over for dinner and a pleasant evening. His mother had cooked many wonderful dishes that filled the small house with their marvelous aroma.

Later that night, Mona suddenly reached toward him, offering him something wrapped in a page of old homework, its red-marked correction still evident.

"Happy Ramadan, EidSaeed!" she said, her eyes never leaving his face. He stood looking wonderingly at the object in her outstretched hand.

"Take it and open it. It's a gift for you," she urged.

He took the offered gift and did as she had asked, uncovering a beautiful pair of green socks. Jamil was so confused and embarrassed that he failed to find the words to thank her. His bewilderment and amazement stemmed from the fact that never before had he received a present from anyone except his mother. Moreover, socks were considered an unnecessary luxury.

* * * * *

Parents usually bought their children clothes only on these special occasions. That year his mother had bought him some inexpensive striped material made of hemp. From this she had made Jamil a suit with short pants and a brown shirt made of matching soft cotton. He could also remember receiving new brown shoes and a new kaffiyah, headdress with its accompanying egal to hold it in place.

As long as he lived Jamil would never forget strutting pretentiously along the bumpy, pot-holed roads of the little town with its dirt-filled alleys and humble homes, wearing his new suit of very inexpensive material. He flaunted his adornments like a peacock in front of his companions and acquaintances, especially the girls who were near his age, as if to say to one and all, "Feast your eyes and indulge your senses! I am Mr. Jamil, Mr. Wonderful himself!"

* * * * *

This sweet little gesture of Mona's began a practice between the two families of gift giving on respective holy days. As they grew, their brotherly and sisterly love and the corresponding gift exchanging blossomed. The peak of his happiness came some years later when on the eve of Easter his mother bought a beautiful, red silk material and made Mona a lovely dress as a special gift. This inspired even greater love and respect between the two families and made Mona and her mother exceedingly happy and very grateful.

* * * * *

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Chapter 4

On the eve of his departure for America and after the friends and neighbors who had wished him good luck and a bright future had left the house, Jamil entered the kitchen where his mother and Mona and her mother were sitting. He noticed that his mother had carefully tried to conceal her abundant falling tears. He also noticed that the other women's eyes were red from crying, and that they, too, tried to hide their tears.

Barely able to speak through her tears and grievous weeping, Jamil's mother said, "I shall miss you very much. I am drowning in the knowledge that you will be so far away. I feel that I am smothering and losing my mind. I miss you even before you leave. I cannot live without you." Then she burst into hysterical sobbing.

"Please don't speak like that, Mother. I am going to miss you too--even more than you can possibly know!"

After licking his dry lips, Jamil added, "You will be with Khalti Aunt Aminah and Mona keeping each other company and supporting each other . . . but me! Who is going to cheer me up in a strange land? I am not going to know anybody there. God only knows how much suffering and grief I am going to have to endure! "

"So take me with you, Jamil. Please, please! I also cannot imagine staying here without you! Who will help me with my difficult lessons; and give me true brotherly advice when I badly need it?" said Mona wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. Between her tears, she added, "Who will stop the naughty boys from harassing me with their rude words? I was so thankful to God that he had sent me a compassionate and protective brother to care for and help me; and now you are going to disappear and leave me to struggle alone!"

Mona's words saddened him enormously, and left a deep ache in the pit of his heart! It was very true that Mona was exceptionally beautiful, and appealing to the boys! Many, many times Jamil had to fight or argue with some rude, vulgar, wicked and ill-bred boys who had waited for her to pass by, and then bothered her by telling her how sexy and provoking, how thrilling she was, and how they wished to make love to her! Their impudent and offensive words used to make Mona cry and become depressed, due to her hypersensitivity and strict religious upbringing.

"The naughty boys tease and flirt only with the beautiful and charming girls like my dear sister! Isn't that true Khalt, AuntZainab?"

When Jamil realized that his joking remark had not cheered up the women nor brought smiles to their faces, he added, "You are a big girl now, sister, and can take care of yourself. I am sure of that! I have great faith in you!"

After a pause in which he hoped to observe the impact of his words on her, he added, "Who is going to write mother's letters to me? And who is going to read mine to her? Who is going to be with our mothers to comfort them in their loneliness?"

"Yes, dear," his mother replied. "Who is going to read Jamil's letters to us and write ours to him?"

"But you know, Jamil, we females are borne with broken wings and are members of an inferior class in this cruel society. People always take advantage of us! We have no male to protect us!" said Mona.

"What is this nonsense? Where did you hear those big empty words-- inferior and superior?" Fiery sparks of anger flew from Jamil's eyes. He was provoked by her sad and depressing words! Perhaps he was not angry at Mona's thoughts; perhaps he was just furious at the fate and circumstances which found all four of them with practically no relatives!

"Nowadays there is no difference between men and women except by virtue of education and diligence! On the other hand, I am very sure that as soon as you finish secondary school, many young men will be thrilled to death to ask your hand in marriage."

When Jamil saw Mona's lowly manner and sorrowful look, he realized that she regretted what she had said! Receiving no comment, he continued, "You know our mothers are living only for our sakes and in the hope of seeing us grown up and established in life, standing on our own two feet."

"I know that! I am sure of it," the unhappy girl said sighing. "But it is awful, too awful. It is very difficult for us to accept the idea of being without you! We can't face it!"

"You must, Mona. We should not be selfish. We must think of those who have sacrificed their lives and happiness for us; we must. This was always my mother's plan. She wanted me to have something more in my life than I could achieve by staying here. Don't you think she is sacrificing something too?"

"I am to blame! I planted the idea in his mind! I wish I hadn't! It started as a joke. It is very painful!" Jamil's mother said, her eyes full of tears.

"I accepted the idea because of the encouragement all three of you gave me. However, I am willing--very willing--to either cancel my plans or postpone them," Jamil said sincerely.

"Of course not, dear!" Mona's mother said angrily, looking blamefully at the other two women. "You are unfair women! Silly emotions and stupid talks will not lead anywhere! You are both making it very difficult for the poor boy!" At this point Jamil's mother and Mona burst out crying and sobbed hysterically.

The distressed young man allowed them to release their inner turmoil. He listened, feeling their words cut him apart like a knife. Finally he said, "Oh beloved ones! I want the three of you to be proud of your son and brother; and I want to always remember and value how much moral and emotional support I received from my two mothers and sister!"

His mother opened her mouth to speak, but he continued, "The time will pass like a dream. I will study very hard in order to finish my education in the shortest time possible. I want to come back quickly to my four beautiful sweethearts. I know they will be waiting for me impatiently."

The three women were startled and looked at each other with stunned expressions. Their faces turned pale and their hearts quickened. They fixed Jamil's face in their gaze, trying to penetrate it to discover who the fourth sweetheart could be! He had never mentioned anything to them about his being in love with a girl or even interested in one. Their hearts flamed with happiness that the youth who was dear to their hearts and souls was in love, but they felt sad and disappointed that he had hidden it from them all that time! How clever and farsighted, they thought.

He paused a little. He wanted them to wonder. Then he smiled and said as if delivering a romantic rhetorical speech, "The fourth sweetheart is Jordan . . . the sweetest place to my heart! The mere mention of it inflames my heart. To me it's the most charming and invigorating place on earth, and it offers me the hope and happiness that no other place could possibly match. Even my ears are enchanted at the sound of her name . . . Jordan! It is the place for which my soul sings!"

Jamil looked at them for a minute after his speech and added, "But that is nothing compared to the way I feel about you--my three beautiful, precious, elegant and marvelous sweethearts!"

Mona interrupted his thoughts, looking at her mother as if she were asking her permission, but addressing all of them. "I have been thinking . . . I will finish secondary school in two years. Could I join you in America then? We would both get good educations and came back to serve our beloved country!" she said enthusiastically, hoping to convince them.

"Mona! What has happened to your mind! Have you lost your senses? Have you forgotten that is impossible?" Her mother shrieked at her furiously. "Even if I agreed, which is impossible, what would our friends and neighbors say and what would they think of us?"

"We always worry about what other people say and think of us, as if we are just living to please and satisfy them!"

"Of course, dear!" said Mrs. Zainab filled with zealous enthusiasm. "We are part of these people, and what they say and think of us is very important and essential in our lives!"

"But these people would not care at all if we had nothing to eat! They wouldn't even say, 'May their souls rest in peace' if we died of starvation! They would mark us with their nasty remarks if we had done things which weren't in their interest, and would tell us what we should and what we shouldn't do!"

"This is human nature, dear!" Mrs. Aminah said trying to ease Mona's anger.

"How angry and frustrated I am! I hate these people and wish I didn't live among them!" Mona ejaculated.

"You're a girl, my beloved sister, and I know your mother, as a good conservative Christian would never allow you to go to school outside of Jordan without her going along with you. Girls stay home and study at local universities. Isn't that true, Khalti Aunt Zainab?" Jamil said.

"She would allow me if she knew I was with you," Mona replied confidently.

"No, I would not! You are very mistaken, dear!" her mother retorted angrily. Mona started sobbing passionately.

"A degree for a girl is her marriage . . . being a wife! Her treasures are the children she births. The right and normal place for a bint is in her husband's house cooking, washing and raising children!" She paused for a second as if to watch the impact of this sermon on her daughter, and then continued. "My only hope in life is to see you happy in your husband's house! Believe me, my beloved ones; every time I offer my prayers and every night before I go to bed, I pray to Allah with deep sincerity to grant you a pious, honest and loving husband to love and cherish you!"

"We are very sure of that my sister, Zainab!" Jamil's mother responded. "You live only for Mona, and I live only for Jamil. Their comfort, happiness and future are our most cherished wish!"

"We know that! We are sure of it!" Mona said. "But remember, Mother, that during yours and Khalti Aunt Aminah's time and even before that, women didn't need to go to school because even most men never went to school. Education was a luxury even for wealthy people; but nowadays it is a must, yes, it is a must for boys and girls alike! Believe me, Mother!"

"I do sweetheart, I do; but I still believe whatever university degree a woman gets, and whatever position in life she may reach, her right place is her home with her husband and her children!"

"You still have two years ahead of you before you finish secondary school," Jamil said. "Why don't we all wait until then to decide? If you still think you should get a higher education, then you can go to a local university and still live at home with your mother."

"That is an excellent suggestion," his mother said, feeling happy that someone had found a solution for the complicated, obstinate problem! "Thank you very much, habibi! You always have a masterly compromise.

After a few minutes of melancholy, repugnant and burdensome quietness had passed, Mona broke the silence. "Jamil, do you think you will be able to come to see us next year, as many students do during summer vacation?"

Jamil was about to bring to her attention the fact that his going to America had cost his mother a large amount of money, and that she had had to borrow most of it. In order to pay those debts back, his plans were to work during the school holidays. He hoped even to work part time during the school year. He was on the verge of explaining to her their hopeless and irremediable case, but he caught himself, realizing he would destroy her utopian dreams and distort her innocent and naive thinking. He did not want to wound her delicate and sensitive feelings and blast her hopes by shocking her with severe reality. So he cowered behind his silence and bribed her with a falsely assuring smile.

After a pause during which Mona's head was bent forward, pressing into Jamil's chest, as had been her habit when she felt petulant and wanted something of him, he answered, "Maybe so. Give me these few months to study the situation in America." The thought crossed his mind that it was dishonest to give this lovely girl he loved so dearly any false hopes, but the only way he could think of protecting her from the fierce reality of the situation was to delay answering her immediately.

"Jamil," Mona had a shy question in her voice and her head came up so her eyes could search his, "do you suppose all the girls there are as beautiful as I have read and heard? Do you think they all are tall blondes with blue eyes?" She continued with wounded misery in her eyes, "I'm afraid you won't ever think of us here at home--not even of your mother who loves you so dearly."

"You are asking so many peculiar and painful questions, dear! You are making it so difficult for the poor boy!" her mother said reproachfully.

"Please, Sister Zainab!" Aminah said; "let her ask her brother what she wants."

Jamil felt terribly saddened. His feelings were hurt and his pride and devotion for the three women were diminished. After a few minutes of silence he replied, "No power on earth . . . you understand . . . no power can make me forget my adorable and beautiful two mothers and sister," He placed his two hands on Mona's shoulders, patting her as he had done throughout their growing up years when she had needed assurance and security!

"Remember, I need your help and your mother's courage and patience desperately," he said in a tone both sincere and amicable. "Who else can write mother's letters to me and read mine to her? And who else would cheer up my mother, bringing up her hopes, and keeping her company those during the lonely and dreadfully long days? Without your help it will be impossible for me to go. If it weren't for the two of you, I would not have left Mother alone!"

He held Mona's tired face with his gentle hands, kissed her forehead and holding her at arm's length said, "I love you very much--as much as one could love his sister! You are, and always have been, my precious friend and sister. No one in the entire world can ever fill or take your place in my heart or my life." His eyes flooded with burning tears, which he fought strongly to conceal.

"We know it, sweetheart! We are sure of it!" his and Mona's mother, said together.

After Mona and her mother had said their final good-byes and gone to their home, Jamil stood for sometime gazing at the wall with a heavy heart and depressed soul. He excused himself to leave the house for few minutes in order to breathe some fresh air, but spent much of his last night wandering in the silent, dusty streets and roaming the dark alleys before he could go home to his own dear mother to comfort and to be comforted by her. His last evening together with her was an unbearable and agonizing time; yet he hoped to gain enough comfort to last through the painful years of separation.

* * * * *

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Chapter 5

The innocent young man arrived at the port of New York one day before his college was to start. His schedule was to take the plane to Los Angeles and then to go to Pasadena, California, where he had been accepted at the community college. He was impressed by the magnificent public parks, the skyline of the great city and the wide, clean tree-lined streets. He could scarcely take in the fabulous and luxurious department stores and endless streams of cars and subways. All the exciting activities and wild mad rush of life made a striking contrast to his own small town with its narrow, dusty, dirt roads, houses that appeared to be mere sheds in comparison with those he saw before him, and simple people with their slow, easy-going, humdrum lives. His mind was completely captured and he ended up by staying five extra days in this amazingly enchanting and exotic world called New York! Oh! New York, New York . . . what a wonderful and charming city!

As for the city's cosmopolitan women, the young man was intrigued by their swanlike necks set on firm, slender, shapely bodies and their prominent bosoms on display, provocative and challenging. Their long hair rippled down their shoulders and long slim legs drew the eye up to seductive thighs. Woe to the sensitive and tenderhearted, to the victims of pent-up emotions susceptible to beauty and enthralled by the charms of these gorgeous creatures! Woe to him who responded to the fragrance of their perfumes, to the appealing femininity, soft skin and seductive voices


For Jamil, the streets of the city were like lakes or rivers of perfume. Whenever he passed a woman, her fragrance wafted enticingly to his a fragrance that intoxicated his entire being. He never met a woman without longing to give way to passion and fling himself on her breast. This memory would stay with him forever. Deposited by a bus on a broad street in the heart of the throbbing, even rabidly seething city, Jamil felt that he had landed in one of the fables of Arabian nights in which women had nothing better to do than adorn themselves, groom and perfume their beautiful bodies, and feverishly and lustfully wait for their dominant lovers to join them in games of self-indulgence, love and gaiety!

He had entered the Paradise described in the Holy Books, fulfilling his highest hopes and imaginings, and meeting the nymphs of Paradise face to face. At the same time, Jamil's strict and straitlaced religious upbringing told him that these fancies, desires and imaginings were sinful. He was lacerated by a deep sense of guilt and a fear of wrongdoing! So he cursed the devil and sought refuge in the Lord, asking pardon and the atonement of Almighty God for the evil of the accursed Satan, who stealthily whispers temptation into the hearts of mankind and especially to Jamil on this day.

In the beginning, Jamil saw the women of New York as perfume soaked pillars of ivory or light. As they strolled through the streets, it seemed that their soft and graceful bodies were dancing, scarcely touching the pavement. Their melodious voices were like the song of the siren . . . the nymphs of paradise! When they targeted their eyes at a man, it was as though they shot arrows at the heart of the beholder who became the victim of their feminine charms! And when they bestowed a smile on the transfixed Jamil, they cast a spell on his mind, set his heart on fire and fanned the emotions in his breast to a white heat.

* * * * *

When Jamil left New York, he had wished that he hadn't had to depart, and that he could stay there forever! He wanted to continue wandering the exotic streets, enjoying the luxury of satisfying his cravings and starvation for beauty by feasting his eyes and senses on the elegancy and charm of fascinating women while indulging himself in their femininity and perfume!

He wanted to devour the huge buildings and the fancy department stores, the likes of which his little town never dreamed of having! He decided to travel by bus across country so as to see this enchanting new land. This doubled his pleasure and increased his happiness, but it delayed his schedule. When he finally arrived in Pasadena and went to the college to enroll, he was more than two weeks late. After much discussion, it was decided that he had better wait for the spring semester. In the meantime, he would take a non-credit course in English for foreigners at a night school and try to obtain a driver's license with the help of the Turners, his new landlords.

Upon his arrival in Pasadena, Jamil was given temporary hospitality by Elias, a student from his hometown who was the son of a distant acquaintance of Mona. Elias was a full-time student of computer science. He also worked in a gas station full-time, so Jamil saw very little of him. His accommodations were modest, and Jamil slept with his legs tucked up underneath him on a couch that was too small.

His host could not spare any time to help him find his own place, but showed him how to use the daily newspaper to look for vacant rooms. Jamil suggested that both of them might move to a larger place and share the rent, but Elias refused. He did not pay for his room in cash but in kind, tending the lawn and watering the garden. Jamil thought that such an arrangement would be ideal for him as well, but Elias was not optimistic that Jamil would be able to find such a situation, for it was uncommon.

Jamil would rise early and get the newspaper to check the advertisements for a furnished room at a rent he could afford. Then he would go to the public telephone at the corner of the street since there was no telephone in Elias's place. He had to overcome two mountainous obstacles: the high rents, too high for his modest budget; and the necessity of locating housing near public transportation. In most cases, a car would have been needed to get from the room to the college or wherever he wanted to go. A week and a half passed before Jamil found a place that met his needs.

* * * * *

One morning, Jamil woke up feeling ill at ease and dispirited. A gnawing emptiness gripped his soul. He was occupied by deep feelings of nihilism and nullification. In spite of the fact that he had a strong intuition that he had a good chance with the first number on the list, he dialed it reluctantly.

"Good morning. This is the Turner residence." A female voice answered the telephone and seemed to Jamil to be from another planet. It was the voice of an angel came back from heaven - one he knew very well. He had heard the voice in his mind as a child, when he was ten years old and reading the fables of the Arabian Nights! He would drift among the velvet clouds of his imagination atop the peaks of pristine magical mountains. He dwelt with his charming consorts or sat on an old boulder outside the city conversing with the moon, revealing to it his worries and his afflictions!

Returning to reality, Jamil explained why he was calling, and asked if the room was still vacant.

"Yes it is, and you are the first one to inquire."

He asked about the location, but she responded with a question. "What do you do, sir, if I may ask?"

Jamil told her that he was a student from abroad and had been attending an evening course in English for non-native speakers and would start classes at Pasadena Community College the coming spring.

"The room is modest, but probably ideal for a student because it is on the bus route that passes your college--just two blocks from the bus-stop."

When he told her that he was from Jordan, he sensed that the voice of the woman softened and became even sweeter and more charming.

"Do you know where Jordan is?"

"Of course I do!" the woman said with a catch in her voice. "Who does not know the homeland of our Savior . . . our God . . . Jesus Christ!"

"Astaghfir Allah al-atheem! (May God forgive us!)"Jamil said reluctantly.

"Pardon me? I didn't understand!" The woman's voice was loaded with charm and gentleness.

"I am saying the room sounds very nice!"

"I am sure that the room will be to your expectation and you will be very happy here. It is also near a shopping center and a huge supermarket," she added with a happy tone.

"May I ask how much the rent is?"

Her reply surprised Jamil! Unlike all his other prospects, she did not name the figure desired, but asked him first to come and see the room and then offer what he thought it was worth, or what he thought he could afford.

"If the room is missing anything I will acquire it for you."

The down-hearted Jamil was speechless; burning tears jumped from his eyes like showers of rain! The woman's kindness and generosity, the sweetness of her words and the charm of her voice inflamed his emotions!

"My husband and I are Sunday school teachers and we will soon be leaving for church with our two children. Otherwise, I would come and pick you up in my car. We would like you to have lunch with us!"

She asked where he was calling from, and he told her he was at the corner of Lake Avenue and Colorado Street.

"The house is easy to find. Continue north on Lake towards the mountains until you reach Orange Grove Avenue. Turn left and walk five blocks. The house will be in the middle of the sixth block. It is less than twenty minutes on foot."

"It sounds easy to find! Thank you very much! You are very kind!" Jamil said with burning emotion and falling tears!

"We'll expect you for lunch then," she said. Before he could respond, she had hung up.

Jamil put down the receiver slowly, transforming into a mass of brokenhearted, feverishly intense homesickness and loneliness. He was unable to hide his tears and began to sob frantically like a small boy who had lost his mother and his security.

It was the first time since coming to America that anyone had taken any time or thought for him. It brought back the feelings he experienced back home where his Mother, friends and neighbors cared deeply for him! He truly missed these warm feelings but had been too busy in his mind and his life to think too much about it. Something from his past . . . it just took a minute of true consideration for him and his situation . . . and his emotions erupted.

Time passed-- he did not know how long--until a continuous rapping on the telephone booth brought him back to his senses. A woman outside wanted to use the telephone. He left the booth, apologized to the woman, and wiped away his tears with the back of his hand. He wandered away, directionless, with bleeding heart and suffocating soul!

Over the past two days, violent feelings of loneliness and homesickness had possessed him as he yearned for his mother, Mona and her mother and his homeland. Familiar faces, places and happenings had haunted his memory. Now he felt as though he had metamorphosed into an ethereal mist and was waiting for a draft to carry him away!

* * * * *

As soon as Jamil entered the Turners' house, the four of them greeted him warmly and truthfully. They showered him with very polite and intelligent questions. They asked him about his family, his homeland, his schooling, his hobbies, and why he had chosen California in particular, how he found America, and if it was as he had expected it. He believed that they were genuine people and felt as if he were a very close relative or friend returning from a long trip! They were very warm and extremely friendly, simple and humble people in spite of their wealth. Their concern pleased Jamil tremendously, lessened his feelings of solitude and expatriation, and made him feel, now, secure and peaceful.

From the first moment, the guest was enraptured, charmed and captivated, by Mrs. Turner. It was more than her beauty, for she was graceful and delicate with a honeyed voice and radiated a calm spirituality and depth. She was indeed the tender-voiced angel of his childhood dreams when he used to sit at night in the darkness, sometimes in cold winter nights, on a big rock, overlooking the deep and wide valley outside the city and have a secret, emotional conversation with the stars.

She was in her early thirties, Jamil guessed; her husband was fifteen or so years older. As he understood later, they both had worked for a local real estate company, where she had been his secretary before they got married. It was a first marriage for both of them. After their wedding they had left the company and set up in business together. From the exclusiveness of their house and its furniture, the luxurious cars they owned and the clothes they wore, Jamil realized that they were clearly well off.

To Jamil's surprise, the room rent was only $50 a month. It is true that the room was small, but the furniture was not at all bad. He had checked out many other rooms far less comfortable than this and the asking prices had been much higher--$100 to $15O. He was touched when they told him they would take no money from him until he had found a job; and through their church connections, for they were both very active in their local church, they would try to find some part-time work for him.

"We would like to ask of you one simple favor," the wife said timidly and shyly. "If you have no objection, we would appreciate very much if you could babysit our children one night a week while we are at a church meeting." Jamil accepted with alacrity and happiness.

The lucky young fellow believed that his mother's prayers had been answered and that these lovely, generous and hospitable folks had been sent to look after him through divine intercession.

* * * * *

A deep friendship sprang up between Jamil and the Turners. They found him work and often invited him to dinner or took him with them to church functions or on picnics. More than once they took him with them to the beach and to mountain and desert resorts to spend a night or two. Mrs. Turner even did his laundry and ironing, cleaned his room many times, made his bed and changed the bedding. Their two sons, Chris, aged eight, and John, five, were very kind and considerate.

They became fond of Jamil and he became as fond of them as if he were their older brother. He told them that from childhood he had wished earnestly that he had a younger brother and used to envy his friends who had more than one brother. Now his wish had come true and he had two younger brothers instead of one! He would sit with them and spin tales of his childhood in his homeland--of his family, his mother, and his hometown, and of his reading, his dreams and ambitions. They would listen attentively. The time they spent together was wonderful and made him forget his pain, loneliness and sense of isolation.

* * * * *

The staff in the wrapping and shipping department of Bullock's Department Store started working at 8:00 a.m. and never stopped before 10:00 p.m. Many times they continued working until midnight. Jamil learned that, due to the Christmas rush, the department staff had been working these irregular and long hours for two weeks previous to his being hired. Tonight the store would close its doors at 6:00 o'clock because it was Christmas Eve!

* * * * *

Finally the store doors were closed and locked and the frantic hubbub of activity came to a startling halt. In the wrapping and shipping department, every employee carried what he or she had purchased as gifts that day and filed out, hurrying homeward. Jamil heard them gaily calling, "Good Night!" and "Merry Christmas!" or "Have a nice Holiday!" to each other.

Their exhaustion, sweat and lack of sleep seemed forgotten in the happy anticipation of things to come. Some returned the greetings and some did not. Each, like a soul on Judgment Day, was really concerned only with himself and his activities as he hurried to get gifts home and in their places under the Christmas tree or delivered to another tree in the home of a friend or loved one. Each seemed pressured by duties still to be carried out in that other world away from the store--meals to prepare, parties to attend, or people to visit! . . . This was not the case with Jimmy Sanders who was in charge of Parcel Post and the assistant to Mr. Shroeyer. He went to each person to shake hands and give warm, personal, sincere wishes.

"Jamil, I hope your first Christmas here will be very enjoyable!" he said, taking the other's hand in his own two. "We all will enjoy the day of rest after these past few hectic days. Goodnight and God bless you and make life's hardships easy on you! I'll see you Thursday."

His kind and sentimental condolences stirred up Jamil's deep hidden emotions. He smiled to his friend, thanked him warmly and wished him the same! Jamil sometimes envied Sanders, as his friends called him, and the kind of life he must lead. He always seemed happy and was always smiling and friendly, joking with the others. Such a carefree human being must have no problems to burden him


The young man also noticed that Sanders was a conscientious employee--active, industrious and full of vigor. He was always sharp and well dressed, clean-shaven, charitable and polite in his manner. He was never one to use profane language; but most of all, he was generous and humane.

Jamil figured that Sanders must be in his early thirties. He was tall, very thin and wiry, giving the impression of perpetual motion and boundless energy. He also recognized that Sanders was moderately handsome, with blonde, wavy hair and intense brown eyes. Apparently many girls thought so too, for when Jamil and Jim were in the cafeteria, he noticed the girls looking at him flirtatiously. This had at first shocked Jamil due to his strict cultural background. He was filled with admiration for Sanders when he saw him ignoring them except for a friendly hello. There was a gold band on his left hand. A number of times Sanders had, for some reason, insisted on treating Jamil to refreshments. He would not take no for an answer. It could only be assumed that Sanders had plenty of money and no other obligations in life except his wife.

* * * * *

Jamil was washing his hands at the basin in the corner of the wrapping and shipping department, absent-mindedly rubbing them with soap and preoccupied with his own thoughts. He kept his face to the wall so these thoughts would not be legible to anyone there. Finally he was alone in the room with his boss, Mr. Shroeyer, who was removing his work shoes and putting them in a drawer, a part of his nightly routine. He tossed the shoehorn to the back of the drawer, making a loud noise which startled Jamil and brought him back to reality!

The scene was the same tonight as on any ordinary night. It was part of Jamil's job to stay behind each evening to turn off the lights and close up this section of the store. Usually the two men chatted briefly during these last few minutes of each day. Tonight, Mr. Shroeyer saw only the back of the other.

"I'm so glad this confusion is all over! Whew, I've been under terrific pressure the past two months! You know by now, Jamil, that our department is the most important section in this store--you might even say the center, the backbone of the whole store. If we cease to function, the whole place will go to ruin.

"Take the salespeople . . . they show the merchandise, receive the money, write a receipt and their job is finished. The receiving section opens the boxes and counts the contents as merchandise comes into the store, and they mark them with our store price tag and send them to the proper section. "My department must bring the sold goods to the center, check them with the sales slip, often wrap them appropriately for various occasions, and then take them in hampers to the shipping dock to be picked up by United Parcel Service trucks to be delivered. Sometimes we carry them ourselves to the customers' cars or take them to their homes! What could be more important?"

Jamil had tuned out the familiar story at the start. Mr. Shroeyer was through brushing his suit, threw the brush in its drawer with a clatter, and locked it. From the sound, Jamil figured the old man was gathering the packages from the locker.

"Before I became head of this section, there were always many mistakes made, parcels lost, goods damaged, and wrapping paper stolen, but since my coming we have had no further slip-ups."

Mr. Shroeyer's footsteps were going away at last. Then he seemed to pause by the door and added routinely, "Don't forget the lights in the storage room. Good night, Jamil!" A few steps sounded only to halt again. "Merry Christmas! Be sure to have a nice day." The steps retreated until no more sound came from the room or echoed down the long hall.

Jamil felt the silence tonight so strongly that its intensity seemed filled with overpowering loneliness. The large vacated room, so recently alive with activity, was reduced to the size of a cell pressing in on him, bewildering and frightening him. Loneliness was particularly hard to bear tonight when everyone else was headed toward friends or loved ones. Here he was alone in a strange land where there were few, if any, close friends with whom to spend this momentous night.

Suddenly he heard steps coming from the hall and he recognized Mr. Shroeyer's limp. His voice reached Jamil, preceding his entrance into the room. Maybe, just maybe. . . . Oh, Lord, please fulfill my humble wish! . . . . Maybe he had come back to extend an invitation for the evening! Jamil turned and faced him.

"Jamil, I must be getting absent-minded. I was outside visiting with Miss Pinkerton when I remembered I hadn't told you what I bought my wife, my daughter and her son on my shopping spree today. I'm a bit late so I'll just say the two women are to have the best French perfume, and the boy a beautiful teddy bear! Of course, my wife bought a lot of things for the four of us."

Mr. Shroeyer was well pleased with his ego, and needed to feel important. "Was he boasting about himself or was he expecting more of me?" Jamil asked himself.

"Well, good luck. I didn't mean to detain you. Oh, by the way, it isn't wise to go out tonight and drink too much. Too many people are already full of that old Christmas cheer from a bottle!" He chuckled as he waved over his shoulder.

Jamil was alone with the last of his hope gone. He wished he could cry and release the deep emotions of his heart. He snapped off the lights and closed the door. When he walked the curved path to the street past the charmingly exquisite white Christmas tree with gold ornaments of all sizes on its huge branches and a blue light flooding it, its cool beauty gave him a measure of comfort. The brisk December air and the beautiful heavens sparkling with stars like diamonds refreshed his spirits and he felt like taking a good walk.

* * * * *

From the first meeting of Mr. Shroeyer and Jamil, the seeds of what would become a profound friendship were sown. When the clerk from the personnel office introduced Jamil to Mr. Shroeyer and presented his time card, the Irishman knew from the other's dark complexion and curly hair, his unusual name, and his polite and clumsy manner that his new Christmas help was an Arab.

Jamil's English was heavily accented and tended to formality. He was unfamiliar with everyday idioms and would use florid and grandiloquent words, forswearing simplicity. Mr. Shroeyer used to say in good-humored explanation, "He's just arrived from the old country," as if he was unconsciously apologizing to others for Jamil's heavy accent and rough mannerisms!

At first the youth thought that the older man was attracted to him because he thought, as many people did, that he was from the Holy Land. He had only to mention to people that he was from the land of Christ's birth and they would instantly look up. But as time passed, Jamil wondered. Mr. Shroeyer was nominally Catholic and proud to be from Northern Ireland. But the derisive and scornful comments he made about churchgoers, calling them "Those shallow, ignorant fools who use their mouths instead of their brains" led Jamil to suspect that his friend was agnostic or perhaps even an atheist.

Mr. Shroeyer had immediately perceived Jamil's simplicity and his good nature. He was impressed by his energy and industriousness and by his respect for his elders. They discovered two common interests: one the masterpieces of world literature, which Jamil had been reading in translation since he was nine years old; the other the politics of the Middle East. Long conversations took place between them about the intricacies and difficulties of the region.

It was not long before Mr. Shroeyer and Jamil were inseparable. Their discussions went on ceaselessly through mealtimes, morning and evening breaks, and in and out of the workplace. Sometimes Mr. Shroeyer's British wife Thelma who worked in the customer service office would join them. She did not take part in the conversations, preferring to work on a piece of knitting or embroidery.

The Shroeyers had no children of their own, but had adopted Mr. Shroeyer's niece who had been orphaned in Ireland. Her parents were killed accidentally during an exchange of shots between the Irish Republican Army and the British troopers when they were passing through one of the streets of Dublin. She was now twenty-eight, married to a U.S. marine and had a four-year-old daughter.

Jamil confessed that he was indebted to the old man from whom he had learned so many interesting and wonderful things about life and the world in general. The man was indeed an ocean of information, an encyclopedia of knowledge! In Jamil's mind his friend had only one shortcoming, something that diminished him in Jamil's eyes-something which Jamil wished from the bottom of his heart he would change. This was his obsessive love for Great Britain and all things British. Jamil believed that an obsessive love of one's country was an individual's right, but could not extend his approval to embrace expansionism or superiority of any one country to the detriment of others.

Mr. Shroeyer maintained that Britain had bequeathed to the world--not only to her former colonies in Africa and Asia but also to Europe and the United States--all the achievements of mankind. He affirmed that all enlightened political traditions had sprung solely and directly from the Magna Carta. "If it were not for the Magna Carta, the whole world would still be drowning in an ocean of darkness and ignorance!" he said with great zeal and enthusiasm. "It is the bible of civilization . . . enlightenment . . . democracy . . . freedom . . . liberty . . . equality . . . fraternity . . . and more. Name it and you have it!"

To Jamil's astonishment, Mrs. Shroeyer completely agreed with everything her husband said, not only about this matter, but also about all other matters, big and small! Sometimes she helped to explain his ideas and clarify his thoughts if she felt that the listener hadn't understood what her husband had meant! "If it were not for Great Britain," claimed Mr. Shroeyer, "the world would still be living in barbaric and cannibalistic darkness."

By contrast, he found American culture superficial and the American people to be lazy and arrogant. "If it were not for the wealth of their country, they would be just a bunch of hogs and bums!" Jamil wondered if Mr. Shroeyer would reveal his beliefs to his American friends, or just say it to him!

Jamil believed that the Arabs had suffered drastically from British, French, Italian and American imperialism. Once Jamil got up his nerve and commented angrily; "Your Empire is largely responsible for the terrible happenings that have befallen my people and my country!" But the old man smiled and took it in good spirit.

* * * * *

One day the old man told Jamil something that saddened and shocked him. Mr. Shroeyer, a Catholic who had lived in Northern Ireland, was opposed to the independence of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom. This had cast him at best as a traitor to the Irish Republican cause and at worst as a British agent. Because of his views, the Irish Republican Army had ambushed him one night and left him for dead with six bullets in his legs. Miraculously, he survived but lost his left leg. He would have to use a wooden prosthesis and would not be able to father children.

After his recovery, he angrily moved to America, because he did not want to live with the kind of stupid people who "did not know their asses from their mouths!" He was afraid for his life in Ireland because he was a man who could not live without freedom of speech, and he was by no means a quiet man! He loved to give his opinion, and he always thought he was right!

* * * * *

Jamil had been hired only for the period before Christmas; but when Mr. Shroeyer learned that he was a university student, he offered him part-time work; evenings, weekends, and school holidays. "But I advise you strongly to change your major from literature to a practical scientific subject. Underdeveloped countries cannot use literature graduates as they are mere dreamers!" Mr. Shroeyer said.

Jamil politely apologized, but would not change. "I have no head for science. I am a man of dreams, illusions, fictions and fantasies," the student of literature answered. "If I were to be deprived of those dreams and illusions, I would feel my life had no real meaning!"

* * * * *

Lake Avenue was crowded with people who, like Jamil, were either leaving their work at one of the many pretty shops along the streets or were customers loaded with last minute purchases. They were all hurrying home to dinner, to a tree and to the same warm happiness he knew back home as Christmas Eve. He could not help overhearing their conversations as he passed them on the sidewalk. The women spoke of the food yet to be prepared, last minute wrapping to be done after the children were safely tucked in bed and relatives and friends expected.

Cars were moving slowly along the side street under the shimmering fairyland tinsel high above them. When he reached Colorado Street, he saw the same anxious faces of people with different names going different places, all in the same frenzied rush. He sensed an undertone of impatience in their briskness. He thought perhaps it was because they were tired. The hour was late and some would surely be caught unprepared.

The distance to his room from the store was about three miles. It was his custom to ride the bus, but he decided that on this evening he would rather walk as he had no reason to rush. No Christmas tree or family or excitement awaited him. He was doomed to suffer a serious bout of homesickness, loneliness, and sorrow. It was better to walk and watch the others who were around him as somehow it made him feel he was part of them; but in a corner of his mind he remained lonely. If only he had someone with whom to share this evening! How he longed to see a familiar face, a friend, someone from home, anyone!

The place was full of people and yet one could feel so alone. He felt emptiness at the pit of his stomach and his whole body ached. The buses that passed were overcrowded and many more people at each stop were waiting for a ride homeward. He was in no hurry. The whole evening lay in front of him with no one waiting to share whatever it might bring.

When he reached Fair Oaks Avenue, he turned north and suddenly became aware of the quiet, almost empty street. This just increased his emptiness. The large iron gates in front of the dark surplus and secondhand stores had a gloomy, abandoned look. Shadowy objects of all sizes and shapes reflected various degrees of light, giving them a sinister appearance. He almost felt scared. The street appeared as dark and lonely as his heart. He wanted to run.

Instead, his mind turned to his dear mother and to Mona and her mother. He smiled to himself as he remembered the gift Mona had always tried to hide from his sight so that he could not see the way she had wrapped it--always making it better each year as she grew in years and cleverness. She would place it quietly on the table in front of the pine bough they had gone to the surrounding hills to collect.

At the sides of the greenery there were always white candles to make the sitting room more festive. At the back of the table there was the Nativity scene that to this woman and her daughter represented the whole reason for Christmas! Oh, what a joy Christmas was for them! He wondered how they felt tonight. Would they think about him? Would they miss him as much as he missed them?

They always received many visitors, both Christians and Moslems. The aroma of food cooking would fill their small house. The stuffed cabbage would be ready, holding the heat until it was time to eat. The pieces of lamb would certainly be shimmering in a buttery broth wine with tomato paste, onions, potatoes and spices. The rice would be steaming and ready for butter. The wonderful smell and sound of chicken frying in butter on the hissing kerosene stove would be irresistible. The smell alone would make one hungry.

Jamil remembered the time he had spent deciding which dish was his favorite. He always impatiently hung around the kitchen, laughing and joking. He remembered that every year it seemed to him that his mother was not hurrying fast enough. When he was very young, she had an awful time keeping his hands out from under the cover of their dessert, the kanafeh!

* * * * *

As he walked along, Jamil suddenly realized his immediate hunger. For lunch he had eaten a bowl of chili beans with crackers in the store cafeteria. He had gobbled it down hurriedly and with considerable disinterest. Now he realized with distaste that he had only canned food in his cupboard. He would pass the grocery store in a matter of seconds; but, somehow, he could not bear to see any more people just now . . . no more happy faces going to secret places and having no interest or concern for his loneliness.

He again busied his mind with images of the table, set for only three for the first time in so many years. Thank Allah; Mother would not be alone in her grief. He could trust Mona to talk cheerfully to help keep all their thoughts off the empty place at the table.

After dinner was done and dishes were washed, the three would sit around the crèche. In the candlelight, they would recall familiar Bible stories starting with the Birth of Eesa (Jesus) in Bethlehem and continuing to his childhood in Nazareth followed by His ministry and miracles. Mona and her mother, both good Christians, would join Jamil's mother and tell her those old stories they loved so much.

How very odd and lonely it made Jamil feel to think that he was in a Christian land, so he always had been told, and was roaming the streets like a stray dog, dreading and therefore delaying the return to his lonely, cold and dreary room. His steps had grown shorter and his pace had slackened. If only Jack, one of his colleagues at work, had not gone to Bakersfield at the last minute to be with his family! If only the Turners had not gone away! Of course, he was really happy for his friends . . . happy that they, at least, had someone who wanted to be with them tonight and tomorrow. But he couldn't help feeling abandoned and insignificant. He climbed the stairs, pushed open the unlocked kitchen door, and turned on the lights.

He looked at the table. No mail! His disappointment was as keen as a blade, for, without really knowing it, he had expected at least a few words from home. There had been a letter from his mother, in Mona's hand of course, only a week ago, telling him how much she would be thinking of him and how she hoped he would have a friend with whom to spend this first Christmas away from home.

Mona had, as usual, written her own message to him, but those letters of last week did not help him tonight. "Ever since you left, I have been thinking of a gift to send you this Eid Al-Haj j (Pilgrimage Festival), but every time I had an idea I found it a mere trifle and would say to myself, 'What could I send from our poor little town to Jamil, far away in the surreal, fairytale, out-of-this-world land that he has described to us?' I'll send what I finally decided you couldn't buy in the fancy store where you work and I can only hope that you will like it. I don't believe there is anything more you could possibly need from us."

Jamil remembered these words and a knot of pain and overwhelming frustration began eating away at his insides. Oh, if only they knew! He put the key in the latch and entered his dark bedroom. It was every bit as cold and drearily desolate as he had imagined. He closed the door on the undisturbed darkness and a bitterly cold shudder went through him.

Back in the kitchen he set about preparing a bite to eat. He opened a can of spaghetti and put it on the stove, then put some water in a small pan and put it on to boil. Later he would add a half box of frozen peas. With a piece of toast and a glass of milk, this would make his meal. He managed to eat a few bites with milk to wash them down, but as he drank, he found that even swallowing the liquid required too much effort.

The room suddenly felt stifling. It seemed as if a cruel beast with an enormous, cold iron hand had grasped Jamil's mouth in a ferocious and savage manner, causing him to gasp for air until he felt he could no longer breathe. He grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair; and leaving the food on the table and the lights on, he ran down the stairs, two at a time. He kept running until the streets swallowed him in the lonely, gripping, mesmerizing secrets of their horrifying darkness. He soon slowed to a walk, but pushed his weary body aimlessly until he was jarred from his thoughts by a voice calling his name.

There on his left was a shabby old car slowly pulling up to the curb and stopping. He went to it and bent down. Instantly he recognized a friend from night school, a Korean named Lee. Sitting beside him were two fellows he did not know, but they also were foreign. His friend made no effort at proper introductions and the boys simply greeted each other and let it go at that.

"It seems you have nothing to do tonight, Jamil. Why don't you come with us?" Lee paused for a second as if to see Jamil's reaction.

Jamil thanked Allah that someone had come to alleviate his suffering and torture and to liberate him from his self-destructive loneliness. He reached for the back door, grateful that someone had come to share this sacred evening, this night that had almost crushed him. He felt like one of those lost and burdened people who raise their hands to heaven petitioning God for release, guidance, and mercy.

Just as he started to turn the handle, for no known reason he asked, "Where?"

"To Los Angeles to see a Burlesque Show," answered one of the two nameless passengers. "There are some good ones down on Main Street."

"It is hot and sensational," volunteered one of the men. "You will never forget it," he said with a laugh like cackle.

"What is it?" Jamil asked uneasily. "I mean the thing you call 'bar lisk'!"

"Oh, Jamil! You've been here long enough to know about such things, surely." All three were chuckling horribly. "It's a show with naked women dancing. Boy! It's good! It makes your blood boil, your body tremble and your juices flow."

Jamil felt as if he had been hit severely! Disgust and revolt filled him and nausea threatened to overtake him. He trembled, feeling that his religious beliefs had been walked over, dragged in to the dirt and thrown into the gutter. His eyes clouded and then flooded with burning tears.

"Tonight?" he asked feebly, meaning, "Surely not on this sacred night!"

His friend Lee looked at his watch. "Sure! It's still early. It isn't even nine o'clock yet."

"Thank you, but not tonight anyway. Maybe another time," Jamil said dispiritedly and stepped back up on the sidewalk. He never looked back. He pulled the collar of his jacket up against the sudden chill that had filled the night, drowned his soul, and overtaken his heart. As his tears flooded his cheeks, he could barely see his way! Oh God! Your mercy and your forgiveness! I am sad to the very bones!

* * * * *

Crushed and defeated, Jamil did not know how long he had been walking when he actually bumped into a man.

"Oh, I am sorry! Very sorry! I . . . ." Jamil recognized the voice that cut him short.

"Look who's roaming the streets on such a lovely night!" Sanders said as lighthearted as always. "No doubt the sheik of the tribe is out making sure that his harem is safe and pampered."

"Oh! Hi, Mr. Sanders! It is very nice seeing you again!" Hearing Jamil's sad tone of voice, Mr. Sanders said brightly, "It's really a wonderful night for a walk--just brisk enough and with a blanket of stars twinkling down to warm our hearts this very special night."

"Yes, it is. I walk quite often here, just as I used to at home in Jordan." Jamil managed to sound just a bit glad and enthusiastic.

"Listen, my good friend!" Mr. Sanders' face lit up as he continued. "For a long time we have wanted you to come to visit us. Come with me now, if you can spare the time, and make our night extra-special. I've told my wife and children so much about you, and the little ones want to see you, you know--that handsome Arab who rides around on a camel surrounded by a group of veiled girls, and wears what they insist on calling a tablecloth around his head. What better night for them to see you and hear about the Holy Land!"

"Do they really think that?"

"Come on!" Sanders took Jamil's arm gently. "If you don't mind, I need to buy some extra bulbs for the tree at the drug and sundry store on the corner; then we'll go home, and they will be very happy to see you. Please don't say no!"

While he was waiting, Jamil, with trembling body, shivering heart, and quaking hands, lifted his eyes to heaven and, opening his hands in front of him in Arab fashion, he prayed with feverish emotions:

"Our Almighty God, who is present throughout the universe,
And he who knows the movement of every ant.
Hallowed be thy name.
Sanctified be Thy Beloved Mohammad,
From the bottom of my heart and with all my being,
I thank Thee for sending me someone
to assuage my loneliness and ease my alienation."

* * * * *

Jamil stood next to the huge glass window of the drug and sundry store, leaning his back against the wall, waiting for Mr. Sanders. He was watching the changing colors of the Christmas lights in the opposite store windows, and observing the few cars passing him on the wide lanes of Colorado Street with its elaborate and luxurious Christmas decorations and fancy store window displays.

He was recalling now his mother's warm, simple and naive prayers at the eve of his departure! They were very plain and primitive; but he had felt that they were sincere and pious coming from her grieved and worried heart! She had looked up toward heaven with eyes full of tears; and in a very humble tone of voice had said, "I pray from the bottom of my heart and with all my being to the Almighty Allah to send you an honest and faithful friend, who is able and willing to help you when you are in distress and in desperate need of help, you Jamil, son of Aminah, daughter of Falha, the humble servant of God, who seeks only His graciousness and His mercy."

Jamil strongly and faithfully believed that his mother's prayers and the blessings she invoked upon him were always answered and fulfilled! Even when things didn't go the way he desired and he was saddened and maybe downhearted because of happenings in his life, he knew they were only temporary. He was destined to pass through them, and they would always be in his best interest and for his protection. . . .

* * * * *

"Guess who I brought back with me folks!" Mr. Sanders called voice full of love, warmth, and compassion, yet with pride as if he were introducing an important guest at a reception, or as if he were a besotted lover reunited with his sweetheart after an agonizing separation. As soon as Jamil and Mr. Sanders entered, three young children ran forward like three little white fondled lambs and started gazing at the strange creature.

"Jamil, I would like you to meet Linda, our eight year old sweetheart; and her mother's right hand; and Dan, our four year old whirlwind; and this is Jack, our middle man. Everyone, this is my dear friend the sheik of Arabia, Jamil Suleiman. He left his camel, with four of his wives on its back, in their Palanquin, parked in the driveway!"

Both boys hurried for the window, but their father scooped them up. "I mean in his driveway, not ours!" he chuckled.

Little Dan quietly walked up, took Jamil's hand, and led him toward the far corner of the room where the Christmas tree stood glowing. He reached to a low branch and touched a red teardrop ornament and said, "Isn't this a pretty one? I put it on the tree all by myself."

"You are a hero, my friend! I am proud of you!" Jamil said in Arab fashion.

Dan pulled Jamil down and whispered in his ear as he pointed to a small package, "This is for my Mom. I made it for her. Santa is going to bring me a red tricycle for my very own and I bet he'll bring the electric train Jack wants too. We went to the store where Dad works, and we sat on Santa's lap and told him about things, 'cept Linda wouldn't talk to him 'cause she thinks she's too big. Now she won't get what she wants, I bet!" He shook his head several times!

"Danny, are we going to keep Mommy waiting all night? She would like to meet Jamil, too," Mr. Sanders said.

Jamil had noticed when he entered the room a young woman sitting in an armchair not far from the tree. She had stood soon after her husband had mentioned her, but she did not come forward. She seemed to be letting the children enjoy their guest first.

"Dear, I want you to meet Jamil. I found him in front of the drug and sundry store, and I told him how much you all have wanted to meet him. He was good enough to come and share this special evening with us."

"I am the one to thank you for being so kind and generous to invite me," Jamil said politely in his humble and courteous Arab manner.

"Jamil, this is Helen, my Madonna and my trophy. I found her some years ago in a gift shop filled with precious treasures. I obtained the most precious one!"

Jamil averted his gaze, keeping his eyes downcast and looking into the distance according to Arab custom. Because he had been taught from childhood that it was shameful and taboo for a man to look at a strange woman, he avoided sin by averting his gaze from a woman's face, whatever her age might be. Such depravity was assured by society and punished by God Almighty. Looking at a woman kindled desire that turned to lust, and the transgressor would pay for his insubordination by suffering eternal torments in hell.

But, oh! How he loathed and detested the heavy and unbearable social and religious bondage which burdened him to the breaking point. Time after time he tried to be release himself, but to no avail. These customs were in the very blood running through his veins. He was entrapped by the heavy responsibility of it all. Even though he wished he could throw this responsibility to the wind, he was engulfed by guilt at even the thought of such a thing, so would have to remain the proverbial stick in the mud and adhere to the straight road of his beliefs.

"How do you do, Mrs. Sanders?" Jamil shook the soft hand proffered, keeping his eyes to the floor. It was firm and warm.

"We are all so glad that you consented to come. Won't you be seated, please?" Mrs. Sanders said as she sat back down


"We spoke of having you with us tonight, but my sister Margaret and her family were expected; and, as you can see, our house is small. They called this afternoon to say that little Debbie is down with the flu, just a mild case, fortunately, since she's so small." She paused to push back a lock of fallen hair from her forehead, Jamil noticed from the corner of his left eye. "I know that the children would like to ask you questions. We all would!"

"Daddy told us a lot about you," Linda said, "We are all very excited to meet you!"

"Me, too."Jamil said, "I did not know that Mr. Sanders had such a lovely family!"

"I wish you had brought your camel with you! I am so anxious to see one!" Dan said with disappointment in his voice and on his face!

Jamil smiled but said nothing.

"Oh, wait!" Helen interrupted, turning her head in the direction of a closed doorway and calling, "Mother, would you come here a moment, dear?"

A petite woman in her sixties entered the room, drying her fingers on the edge of a terry cloth apron with Happy Holiday s printed across it in gold and with poinsettias in red and green here and there. She had beautiful gray hair and appeared as though she had just stepped out of a beauty salon. Jamil noticed that her smile lit up her eyes and a heavenly glow emanated from her beautiful face. She walked in a timid, reluctant way, as if she needed extra encouragement.

"Yes, Helen, the refreshments are just about ready. The cider is spiced and heating slowly. Oh, well, I . . . "

She had seen Jamil. Mr. Sanders introduced his mother-in-law and asked her to sit down until she needed to run away to the kitchen again.

For the next half hour or so, Jamil was literally showered with questions about his homeland and his family, their way of celebrating Christmas, and about the small town on the hills over which a star once had twinkled its secret message to a waiting world. He enjoyed their interest and answered as amusingly as possible, relaxing in the cheerful Christmas mood of this happy home. He felt that he was a valued person once again as he gratefully accepted their friendship and love and shared in the cherished traditions observed by this precious family. Everything from the past--his depression, Katherine, George--had just faded into insignificance!

Jamil found that he liked this kind of attention. Very few people in America had bothered to even be polite, much less to ask him about his homeland or his culture. One little woman at the store, a sweet older saleslady, had jokingly asked about his harem and how many wives he had waiting for his return. His answer was always the same. With a devilish twinkle in his eyes, he would say that he was seriously considering taking her back home with him as his tenth wife. He enjoyed this harmless flirting in her department.

Grandma stood, and, reaching for Linda's hand, lifted her gently from the floor. "Come, dear! Jamil needs to get his second wind, so let's take care of the food and drinks."

"What a strange expression!" Jamil thought.

The girl soon returned from the kitchen with a shiny silver tray with paper plates decorated with sprigs of holly berries, each holding a good-sized piece of cake. She went directly to her mother and bent down, offering the tray.

"Jamil," Helen said with warm enthusiasm, "I do hope you will like the cakes. Mother cooks such good things for us, especially this time of year. She makes two kinds. You must try them both. The light-colored one is made with apple cider and is loaded with nuts; the darker one is traditional fruitcake. Both are excellent, but, since I don't like citron too well, my-favorite is the other."

Then she asked her daughter, "Which is mine, dear?" At that moment Sanders stepped in front of his wife, choosing a plate from the tray and very carefully placing it in her hands.

"Thank you, dear," she said looking up.

Jamil, just at that moment, could not help himself and stared fiercely at Mrs. Sander's face. She was majestic, heavenly, elegant and radiantly loving. He was ashamed and felt guilty for breaking with Arab custom, but could not take his eyes away. "Such a wholesome, radiant, beautiful face!" he thought.

Jamil's emotions were in tumult; he shed tears, yet his mind and soul remained frozen in shock as it struck him: Helen was blind! He saw it in the lifeless, lackluster stare in her eyes. He was stricken, stunned, and stupefied!

"Oh God the Almighty!" he exclaimed to himself; "I seek your mercy and beg your forgiveness. Keep us from the unexpected and deliver us from heavenly and earthly calamities."

He realized that Helen had not seen Sander's loving face looking down into hers with compassion and admiration. She had only known it would be so. She was secure for she felt the love given her. The love and happiness in that charming noble face came from her heavenly smile and not her eyes.

Jamil had not been aware that Linda had offered him the tray and, failing to get his attention, had placed a plate on the small table by the sofa. By its side sat a cup of hot mulled cider. Still he sat motionless, held hopelessly in a grip of sorrow and depression.

Mr. Sanders must have seen the perplexed and heartbroken look for he said, in a deep and serene tone, "Helen had an accident and lost her sight because of it. We are all very fortunate and grateful to have her still with us; always making us happy and in good spirits by lavishing her affection and concern on us!"

"Oh," Helen said in a bantering tone, "I'll just bet there are times when you don't think any such thing."

"Oh, Honey, don't say that! God only knows how much we all love you. Our love grows stronger and deeper every day," her mother spoke with a hint of sadness in her choked voice.

"I'm certain of that, Mom," the charmingly elegant daughter replied with a smile. "Faith in God and your love are the only two reasons that keep me going."

"Not only you, Mrs. Sanders; faith in God and love keep me going on too!" Jamil whispered to himself. "If it were not for Mother's, Mona's and her mother's love, only Allah knows what would happen to me in this dreadful and cruel time!"

When she received a soft chuckle as an answer from her husband, Helen said in a serious voice, "Yes, Jamil, the accident was two years ago today. Jim had, at my insistence, flown to San Francisco the day before to be with his invalid uncle and his wife who were living in the Berkeley Hills. He was to join us at my aunt's house in Santa Barbara for Christmas Eve."

Mr. Sanders excused himself for interrupting his wife and said, "Mother asked me before her death to visit her brother and his wife every Christmas and to spend the day with them. I promised her and have, so far, kept that promise."

"For as long as I can remember, we would spend Christmas at my aunt's house in Santa Barbara one year; and the next year, she and her family would spend it in our house in Laguna Beach. That year it was our turn to go to her. Mother joined her sister two days earlier," the wife said.

"We have kept this custom ever since our marriage. One Christmas we'd stay with my mother-in-law and one we'd join Helen's aunt," Mr. Sanders explained.

"Jim would never have let me start out alone with four children if he had known it was raining. Even though it was only a good sprinkle, he would have wanted us to delay our trip. We had baby Mark then; he was only seven months old."

"Of course I would never have let you!" Mr. Sanders exclaimed.

"We were in high spirits that morning. The car was loaded with all of us and our things, and we were really looking forward to a wonderful Christmas. The rain increased, a bit and I found I was relieved when the pressure of the freeway was behind me. I knew the road so very well and had always loved the hills and the open highway through them."

She looked directly at Jamil who was in his turn wondering if she could see him in her heart instead of her eyes! She continued, "Every time I drove through those enchanting hills, I pictured them as if they were meadows of green grasses . . . bouquets of flowers . . . a necklace of pearls. What a genuine master piece of painting, created by an ingenious artist . . . our Lord!"

Jamil was fascinated by her eloquence and elegant descriptions! He wondered whether they were results of her advanced education, or whether she had developed her skillfulness in speech and artistry of words as a result of her blindness!

She brought him back from his wonderment when she added; "When we reached Thousand Oaks, I became alarmed, for it had started to pour, and visibility was all but nil. I began to panic. Mark was awakened by the din on the hard top and began crying from fear and annoyance." Mrs. Sanders paused for a long time as though she could hear, from out of somewhere, a baby's cry.

"The other three were so good; they were excited, yet happy and content as though the rain outside made a cozy little world for us inside. I . . . I went on . . . I . . ."

Silence . . . The only noise in the room came from the light clicking of little Danny's spoon against his plate as he cleaned the last bite from it. Jamil felt a crowded, suffocating feeling in his chest by the slow build-up of dread and fear in her delicate and charming voice. He almost wished she would not go on!

"I should have known better. I should have stopped and not gone on. I would have my baby by me tonight; and I could watch the marvelous change in my little loves as they grow and grow; and Jim . . . you dear, wouldn't have to work so hard and so long to pay for the doctors' bills. I could also have stood beside you, supporting and helping you, morally and financially, to raise the children, instead of both them and me being a heavy burden on you! But, you see, all our loved ones were there at the end of that road, waiting. You never think it will really happen!"

"Sweetheart! What are you talking about! You make me feel terribly sad, knowing that you feel this way!" The husband got up from his chair, kissed his wife on her forehead, and put his right arm around her shoulders.

"Believe me, Love . . . I never felt complete satisfaction, fulfillment and accomplishment of my mission in life until after you had that accident."

He paused for a moment, licked his dry lips then added; "It is true that at the beginning I was terribly scared, especially when I realized that I was going to face the responsibilities of the family alone; but soon I got over it, having you and your love, I started feeling relaxed about it, knowing how wrong I was!"

Jamil thought deeply about the incredible love this family could generate between one another. It seemed impossible, but he had seen it, felt it and shared it. He felt like crying; and there was nothing here, in this sacred sanctuary of a home, to make him hold back the tears.

The young man wondered how beautiful affection could be found in such a cold and material society . . . in such a gun-barreled gangland where money and power are its gods . . . whose worshippers devour one another! But wasn't this the same everywhere? The lowly youth contrasted the Sanders' family with those worshippers of greed whom he had known throughout his life in both the new and the old countries.

"I went ahead slowly. The Canejo grade lay ahead and was the last major concern I felt about the road. I was going around a curve. Once around it, I could see a grader on my right on the shoulder, no doubt abandoned for the holiday. It was of little concern to me and would present no problem. Suddenly, I could see just in front of me a ribbon of mud slowly flowing over the right-hand lane, and I could not avoid it. Apparently the rain had washed a large amount of dirt from a small construction site. The car went into a slide. Jim had told me what to do in such a situation, and even in my panic I remembered. I believe I did everything possible. The grader seemed to get larger and larger, a great blob of yellow looming ahead. I managed to miss the edge of it; but by then, the unprotected edge of the road was almost under us and a sheet of rain covered the empty void seen from the window--the last scene I was ever to see. "

As she talked, Jamil could feel his heart falling with the car and its occupants. He felt a compelling need to comfort and console Mrs. Sanders, but before he could say a word she apologized. "I am so sorry! I have no idea why I got into that story tonight. Jamil, you can see why we feel we have so much for which to be thankful. God, in His goodness, has blessed us with an extra measure of love, peace and contentment."

Jamil rose from the sofa, feeling numb, dizzy and disoriented. He felt the bleeding of his heart, the choking of his soul, and pain squeezing his being so that he could hardly breathe! He asked to be excused, almost apologizing for being a trespasser in their lives, especially on such a blessed night! "I must go now. I am sure it is late for the children since Santa comes to bring their gifts tonight. You don't know how much I have enjoyed being here with you this evening; it meant a great deal to me. Thank you so very much.

"But, Daddy, we didn't have our music!" Jack, the quiet one, was, tugging at his father's sleeve. "Can't we hear our record?"

"Well, now, we didn't, did we?" Mr. Sanders looked at Jamil and asked, "Would you mind staying just a little longer? We have this tradition of listening to our Christmas record, and even sing along on Silent Night and Jingle Bells. Of course, I'll drive you home afterwards."

"Sure! I would love to stay!" Jamil said earnestly.

Mr. Sanders put on the record, and organ music immediately filled the room. All eyes seemed to turn toward the tree, now the only source of light in the room. The twinkling lights played upon the shiny colored ornaments--the balls, birds, and Danny's beautiful seed teardrop-- and lastly, on the pure white angel crowning the top.

Jamil now sat unobserved and the room came more sharply into focus for him. Mrs. Sanders was right, he realized. It was a very small house. Where could all six of them sleep? Where could any of them find any portion of privacy? Fortunately, it was not cluttered with furniture, and what was there was comfortable and seemed to Jamil to be in good taste. He wondered if the Sanders owned this home. Yes, this was a home in the true sense of the word. It had the wonderful things his home in Jordan had--comfort, harmony, peace, warmth and love. Lots and lots of love! It had laughter and joy and giving and sharing.

His eye went back to the treetop, to the quiet serene expression on the angel's face. There was the faintest smile on the lips; the eyes were closed as though in deep meditation. The hair was the faintest shade of red with a tiny tinsel halo gleaming and dancing among the strands.

Now the music came from all around him. Different voices swelled in a song about bells jingling. He could not catch all the words and some he did not know, but he could understand the happiness in the voices of the singers and the quickening beat as the children's voices savored the notes and followed the strong deep voice of their devoted father. This he could understand.

Next Jamil heard a carol sung by many women's voices about the little town on the hills where Baby Jesus was born. Several tunes followed which were familiar to him, having heard them every day, many times, for the last six weeks at the store. But now he could hear more clearly the lovely words without other noise to obscure them.

The sight of the children and their mother put Jamil at once in touch with the most intimate of his feelings--emotions so precious he'd never dreamed he would experience them here in America! Just for a second he tried to imagine what it would be like being blind, but found he was afraid to do even that!

"Get ready, Mother," said Linda excitedly. "You must lead your song."

The gentle tones of Silent Night came forth softly, slowly and clearly. The grandmother, the children and Mr. Sanders were all looking up at Helen as they sang at her feet. She was leading clearly with the tenderest notes. Their voices were under hers, softly, as a gentle support to her wonderful, sweetly fragile one.

Jamil was an ocean of clashing and boiling emotions; he pictured all of them as if they were a group of hermits or monks in their white oriental outer open robes--pure, pious and worshiping in a hermitage at a temple of love with a hymn of praise and exaltation of the unity of Allah, the Almighty! He was seeing Helen now in half-profile. Her skin was luminous with a radiant light as she too 'looked' with her sightless eyes toward the angel. His eyes went again to the angel on the treetop.

"Hallelujah!" Jamil shouted from the depths of his being with all of his strength; but only his inward consciousness heard it. Yes, there was a resemblance, a great resemblance between Helen and the angel. Both possessed a shiny, heavenly and luminous radiance. Helen's eyes were closed softly and her long lashes rested on her cheeks. Her hair, a more vivid, lively red than the angel's, framed her pale face. Jamil could not help wondering what she saw in her mind's eye. What she had brought with her into the sudden world of perpetual darkness to "see" and to treasure all through her remaining days?

When the record was finished, no one moved for a long, long moment. Mr. Sanders looked at Jamil and, once again, saw him absorbed in Helen's face and its gleaming counterpart. He stepped over beside his guest and let his eyes make the same comparison. "They're lovely, aren't they? I found them both in that same little gift shop ten years ago. I took them both home with me to bring beauty and life to my drab rooms and lonely life." Then he placed an arm around his three children who were getting up from the floor.

"We all love and cherish our angels, Jamil, and we try very hard to give back some of the light and warmth they radiate out to us, brightening the corners of existence where darkness would be without them.

"Yes, Daddy," Linda commented, "our one angel is only a Christmas angel and comes out of her wrapping only to guard our tree once a year." She paused and then added in a very grown up tone, "Really, she has no light of her own unless we put her where the tree lights will shimmer on her hair." Jamil, startled, was overwhelmed and astonished by the little girl's intelligent remark.

Mrs. Sanders had quietly stood and faced her family. "We two are more alike than any of you dear ones can know and may sense. You see, I too, only reflect what I am given by those who care for me. I only give back the love and the affection that come to me from all of you to warm me and put life and joy into my existence!"

Tears stood on the edge of a happy cascade in Jamil's eyes. He would never be able to forget this lady's words to her family. "If someone said such a thing to me, indeed I would regard it as a wonderful present on this special Christmas night," Jamil thought. What a difference these words meant to him now in his loneliness! When he thought about it, he reflected love, warmth and caring when he was with his mother and Mona and her mother, because that was what they gave to him; but nobody so far had given him much love or thought here in America.

Yes, there were the Turners and Katherine, but he never had the experiences of intermingling and interweaving emotions! This was probably why he wouldn't reflect much to them either. Now he understood why he could not get close to people here.

Thank you so much, Mr. Sanders, for this explanation. You moved me deeply, I will never forget you and your family Your presence dispelled much of the loneliness and the despair! You truly made me feel at home . . . not only in your house but also in America itself!

* * * * *

The shops were closed and the flashing Christmas lights, like scattered necklaces, decorated their front doors and windows, flashing on and off spontaneously. The streets were empty except for a lone pedestrian whom Jamil imagined must be consumed and crushed with loneliness and had no way to dispel his feelings except by wandering through the streets, as he had done earlier this evening.

Oh, God! Help him! He must be very miserable, like a stray, lost man with no one to love and without family with whom to spend the holiday. The man went forward in the freezing cold December with his hands chilled, progressing like a drunkard-slipping, falling and getting up, then falling again. He continued aimlessly like a lost abandoned dog. It was a wearisome night. A harsh wind that froze a person's uncovered parts was blustering from the towering range of snow-clad mountains which loomed like sentinels above the city of Pasadena and many other cities, observing every movement of their inhabitants.

Warm Christmas music was drifting softly and dreamily from the car radio. Mr. Sanders drove his old Japanese car very slowly as if he wanted to be kind to it so as not to wear it out or, perhaps, to lengthen the journey to Jamil's residence. There was no doubt that he was enjoying the music and the story he was telling Jamil in his lazy drawling voice.

Jamil, too, was relaxed in the passenger seat beside him, not uttering a word. Deep down, Jamil was wishing the journey to prolong itself, the car to keep going on its way and Mr. Sanders to continue his narrative with the music uninterrupted for a long, long time--at least, until early morning.

"I was spending a quiet Sunday in Laguna Beach, a town the very mention of which brings calm, release, and peace to my spirit and makes joy and hope spring up in my heart. I was alone there for the first time in many years after Claudia had left me, may God forgive her. She was the girl who had always been there with me, and with whom I had spent enjoyable and happy days.

Because you are a new arrival here, Jamil, perhaps you don't know this beach city, or maybe you have not even heard of it. It's very beautiful, peaceful and magical. People from all over Southern California come there to spend their weekends for rest and relaxation. They come to enjoy the warm sun and the clean water and to delight in the views of its charming beaches and magical views. They come to visit its fine restaurants, indulging themselves in outstanding foods of many kinds and flavors. They also visit its curio shops with their unusual, strange and rare goods for sale both summer and winter.

It is a town with a huge number of artists in it--existentialists, Bohemians, freethinkers, expressionists, and surrealistic painters. They live their lives there, exhibiting their paintings and drawings, mounting their exhibitions and spreading their philosophies.

"I was sad and angry at the same time. I wanted, if it were possible, to cry out from the deepest part of my soul to give vent to my feelings of frustration, and of being beaten and thwarted. I wandered along the beach and the streets of the city aimlessly, like a wounded wolf. I had been pierced in the depths of my pride, manhood and honor. Anger blinded my eyes, and I could not see what was in front of me!

"One day previously, Claudia, my girlfriend, had telephoned me and frankly told me that she was dissipating her life, wasting her time and spending life to no purpose by staying with me! I was not the kind of man whose friendship she could enjoy! I was not the one she would like to marry; my ambitions were small; my aspirations limited! My education was not advanced--only two years at a university. I did not have wealth or social position!"

Jamil noticed Jim's tone changing as he hesitated to complete his sentence; "To her, I was nothing . . . less than nothing. In brief, we were not compatible, according to her. I was not good enough to go out with as a friend. She could not be intimate with me, much less consider the possibility of having me for a husband! She asked me to forget her and not to try to get in touch with her. She bade me farewell and wished me luck. She now thought she had found herself a suitable man."

Jamil found himself saying "I am very sorry to hear that my friend! Your story makes me awfully sad!"

"I asked her, 'What about our great love for each other and the years we have spent together fashioning or dreams and building our hopes?' She said those years had been a waste of time. The dreams were nothing more than adolescent castles built on sand and vanishing like the clouds or the foam of the tide sinking into the sand."

Mr. Sanders relapsed into silence as if he were trying to collect his scattered thoughts. "Jamil, all that I have said in an attempt to accurately describe to you my anguished state of mind can not describe to you the shock and torture I went through. Of course, I tried many times to reason with her; but she slammed down the receiver of the telephone as soon as she heard my voice. I went to see her at her apartment, but she refused to even open the door. I tried to break down the door and she called the police. They wanted to prosecute me, but she would not press charges and I was released.

"I tried using mutual friends as mediators but without success. I spent more than a week shut in my room refusing food and not talking to anybody. Truly I wanted death. My mother, who lived with me, tried to cheer me up and to convince me that no girl under the sun was worth a man dying to get. Finally, God guided me by illuminating my heart and showing me the light. I decided to forget her as one who was superficial and frivolous."

There was a period of silence, which Jamil thought lasted for hours before Mr. Sanders went back to his narrative.

"Any way, on this quiet Sunday when I was roaming the beach cities and the streets of Laguna Beach aimlessly, I remembered that the following Friday was my mother's eighty-sixth birthday, and that I must buy her a present. I remembered that the best place for meeting her request was this very city, since there are many shops displaying rare and unusual gifts.

"My mother has a strange and peculiar hobby; many people think it is an odd and weird one. She is absolutely crazy about collecting teapots with decorated porcelain cups from China, Japan and India. She has a very large collection of rare pots and cups. The most precious gift a person can give her is a teapot with its accompanying cups--so much so that our apartment is full of them, exactly like a gift shop! In every spot in our flat you will find teapots on display with the cups. Even in the bathroom on the top of the towel cabinet there is a Chinese set.

"At the beginning of their married life together, my father liked this hobby of my mother's and encouraged her, but in the last ten years of my father's life, this expensive hobby became a source of argument and quarrels between them."

Mr. Sanders stopped suddenly. They had reached some stoplights. Jamil noticed that the number of cars going along with them or coming towards them on the other side of the road could be numbered on the fingers of his hands during this time! He also hadn't observed any human being walking in the street anymore.

"I would not be exaggerating if I told you that I entered every gift shop in the town. I knew the streets and shops like the back of my hand from all the times I had been there to visit Claudia. I had almost given up finding a suitable gift for my mother that matched my budget. Many times in the past, Claudia had helped me pick out a gift for Mother from the shops in Laguna Beach or from Chinatown in Los Angeles.

"I was as pleased as if I had found hidden treasure when I remembered that there were more gift shops in a special quarter along the road toward San Diego in another part of town. The shops in this city do not close on holidays or weekends since they make their living from visitors and tourists.

"There I entered a small, out of the way shop, but it was a very attractive place with everything well arranged as a real gift shop should be. As soon as I entered, a strange sensation possessed me. I felt that I had found a place close to my heart. It was as though I had known the place for some time and felt happiness there for reasons I did not understand! As I entered, the owner greeted me with the most attractive and charming smile I had ever seen! I felt as if I had known her all my life.

"I described to her what I needed. Without saying a word, she went inside an adjoining room and returned carrying a box. She opened it and took out a teapot, placing it on the table with the cups surrounding it. I gasped with joy for its beauty, and because I could never have imagined finding such a lovely gift. Without asking the price, I asked her to gift-wrap it. She passed it to a woman standing nearby who was watching us, and asked her to please wrap it. I knew from the strong resemblance between them and from the glint in her eyes as well as her smile that it must be her mother.

"We talked together for more than half an hour, though it seemed like seconds because of her beauty and sweetness and the joy I felt. We spoke of the city and its charm, of gift shops and Christmas presents, and of those who had strange hobbies--like my mother! Helen, for that was her name, told me that there were many like my mother who spent a tremendous amount of money on this hobby; and that there are even people who spend their savings on it.

"She also told me that she lived with her divorced mother, that she was an only child, that they got their living from their shop, and that their home was within walking distance! I invited her to dinner the following Saturday, but she invited me to supper at their home that very evening.

"It was a wonderful dinner and an excellent evening. I felt as if I had known the two women since the day of my birth! I left their house, but in my heart was a strong desire not to leave it! I sensed warmth, affection and a love I had not known the likes of before. Our views were complementary and our thoughts alike. When she spoke, she expressed what I felt inside as perfectly as if I myself were speaking! I left as if I was walking on air or flying among the clouds!"

Jamil wanted to comment, but he found himself speechless!

"The following Saturday while Helen and I were concerning ourselves with leaving the house to go to supper together, and her mother was standing at the door saying good-bye to us and wishing us a good time, I felt a wrenching pain in my soul because I was leaving the mother on her own and not taking her with us. I suggested that the three of us go together, but they laughed and were against the idea, saying she would look like a chaperone. The mother wanted us to be alone and to have a good time. I insisted and they refused for a time, but finally acquiesced. It was a magical evening that I will never forget!

"Believe me, my friend, from the moment I set eyes on Helen, I did not think of any other woman and never went out with another one. Love, respect, and appreciation of her have grown with the passing of time. Perhaps she doesn't realize it, but I love her more now than the day when she charmed the eyes-- my eyes, that is--that looked on her."

Jamil was well aware of the sacredness of Mr. Sander's narrative, and did not wish to interrupt his thread of thoughts; but he felt that he should say something to let the man know that he was fully aware of what he was relating! "There is a saying in our language that nothing in life makes us nearly as great as greater pain! When Father died, Mother thought she would never survive after him; but with courage, determination and faith, she pulled out of it, much stronger and more capable!" Jamil finally said.

"I do not want to go on so long as to bore you, Jamil; but I will say that the story of my meeting Helen is the most thrilling one that I know, and it is the one story that I never tire of telling! Every time I tell it, I feel as if I am starting a new life!" Mr. Sanders ceased talking for a long time. Jamil turned his head to the left and saw a big, bright smile on the face of his friend.

"I sold my mother's collection for a fortune. We put an advertisement in the paper, and I was astounded at the huge number of people who had the same hobby and were willing to spend great sums of money on teapots." He laughed and added, "If I had listened to the advice of Helen and her mother, I could easily have gotten twice as much from the sale."

"The plan was for me and Helen to live after our marriage with my mother, in spite of her being strong enough to do things for herself; but I felt she needed someone to look after her. Mother suggested that she live in a retirement home, and Helen and I live alone; but I refused outright for I could not imagine myself far away from her.

"We were planning to get married on the anniversary of the day we had first met; but due to my mother's death, I was unable to live on my own, so we got married three months after her death--only five months after we had first met. The time had passed as a moment because of the depth of our happiness. We then spent two weeks in Mexico, and I really felt as though I was in the heaven that religious books talk about, a heaven on earth.

"We decided to sell the house we had inherited from my mother and to live with my mother-in-law in Laguna Beach because of the great love I had for that town. I would try to find work and Helen's mother would keep her gift shop."

Mr. Sanders chuckled and shook his head several times. "Sometimes, Jamil, Destiny has plans for us that are different from our own. I got a job at Bullock's Department Store. One day I took Helen to the perfume department to buy her a present. As you know, they have the rarest and best perfumes from Paris. Because I was an employee, we would benefit from a discount.

"Helen was a perfume connoisseur. Before making her selection, she and the department manager discussed at length the composition of the various perfumes and how the fragrances create individual scents depending on body chemistry and PH balance. The manager realized that Helen had extensive knowledge, good taste and the potential to become an outstanding sales assistant because of her warm personality, good character and courteous manner.

She offered her a sales position, fully confident that in a short time Helen would be qualified to step into the manager's position while she herself traveled to Europe to purchase perfumes. Later Helen might join her on these trips to learn the skills of purchasing and the secrets of where skilled perfumers can be found. Eventually she might even become the one responsible for purchasing all the perfumes for Bullock's Department Store.

"The salary she offered was more money than Helen and her mother made together from their gift shop. We accepted the offer, of course. My mother-in-law decided to keep her shop in Laguna Beach because she liked the city and enjoyed her business immensely. We spent every weekend with her. After God blessed us with our third child, we tried to persuade my mother-in-law to sell her shop and undertake bringing up the children. She was reluctant; but after Helen's accident, she accepted that there was nothing else to do. If not, we would have faced problems we could not have solved."

Mr. Sanders turned into the driveway at the Turner home. Jamil thanked him for his generous hospitality and for the wonderful evening he had spent with his family.

"I shall never forget this precious occasion! You have opened my mind and heart to things I previously could not understand," Jamil said with sincere appreciation.

"It was a rare night that I will never forget as long as I live. Believe me Jamil, we all are exceedingly happy you spent the evening with us," Mr. Sanders said putting his right hand on Jamil's shoulder. "It was really a treat for us! What is more enjoyable and exiting than spending Christmas Eve with a dear friend from the Holy Land? We all would like you to come very often, and the children would love to ask about your camel and your harems!"

" Insha Allah! If God is willing! I would love very much to see them too! They are such lovely children!" Jamil smiled and shook Mr. Sander's hand.

* * * * *

Much cheered by the warm friendship he had enjoyed, but still deeply missing his family and dear friends in Jordan, Jamil entered the big, silent, empty house, his eyes swimming in the darkness. He threw himself into the huge leather sofa in the sitting room outside his bedroom and drifted into thought. He was still affected by the tragedy of Mrs. Sanders' blindness and the softness of the young children with their downy skin. This patient and struggling family had created happiness from a situation of despair.

He wondered how it could be possible that a world that possesses such greatness and power could also spawn so much evil and brutality. How could the womb that had nourished and born such warm-hearted people as the Sharps, the Sanders and the Turners also have born criminal rulers and predators that hunt the hearts and souls of weaker beings?

How could the same world produce those who endure great difficulties and exhibit endless virtues such as love, generosity, self-denial, faithfulness, devotion and compassion for others also produce those whose black hearts are filled with hatred, maliciousness, contemptuousness, prejudice and arrogance?

How could leaders who control vast amounts of inexhaustible natural resources, advanced technology and great productivity producing monstrous amounts of wealth choose to use their power and supremacy to subjugate weaker beings, preferring bloodshed over peace?

* * * * *

Relaxed, Jamil entered his own room a little after midnight. He found it too cold and lit the heater. He did not feel lonely, despairing, and melancholy now. Those emotions had been lifted from his heart and soul. He sat on the shabby old sofa and started opening a box wrapped in pretty paper--red with gold candles glowing--that Linda had given him at the door as he was saying good-bye. He remembered a brief moment of whispering between her and Mrs. Sanders just as he was about to leave. The little girl had given him a gift in the name of friendship, fraternity, and love. This gesture by the small child made him feel quite special. His heart was lifted to see the small child being taught the gift of giving and sharing, knowing as he did that the habits of life and development of character begin when you are young!

Jamil rose from his seat to put the Sanders' gift on the shelf. He was filled with happiness and a sense of contentment. Just then his eyes fell on a large sheet of colorful paper on the bed. It was hiding something. He picked it up and noticed two small packages under it and a note that had been written on a used envelope.

"I hope you don't mind my going into your bedroom. I didn't put your mail in the kitchen today for I was afraid you might eat out, or come home late and not see your package from home and our small remembrance. Paul, the boys and I all wish you a very merry first Christmas in our country. Once again, we are all so sorry that things did not work out as planned. We missed the pleasure of having dinner with you, Jamil.
Sincerely yours,
Mrs. Turner."

Sure enough, there was the package from them and next to it the one postmarked from home with Mona's familiar handwriting. Jamil's mind was, however, on another gift he had received this night. He, like the shepherds of long ago, had been fortunate enough to enter a small, humble abode where he had discovered the greatest gifts for which the whole of mankind is searching: love, harmony, and everlasting friendship. There his faith was restored, for he had glimpsed the face of God! Tonight-this very special night-- he was not just celebrating Christmas but the new life he had found!

The End

About the Author

AbdulmajidDabbaswas 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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