He could still hear the bell ringing as he walked outside. Fifty minutes to kill until recess ended. All the other children ran ahead eager to make the best of their limited time. The kid took a deep breath and walked over to the red brick wall on the side of the building. No one really came to that area. There wasn’t much room to play. But this particular child wasn’t going to be doing any playing. Rather, he used to walk over there every day and wait for recess to end. He stood there with his arms folded and his eyes fixed on the gravel.
“Isn’t gravel supposed to be black? Why does it look so gray? It must be really old.” He thought to himself. As the boredom began to set in, he began kicking around a broken piece of rock on the playground.
One of the other children approached him. He was chubby boy of average height, although his bad posture made him look shorter. His brown uncombed hair dangled over his eyes as he approached with his skinny sidekick.
“Hey that’s my rock!” shouted the chubby boy.
“No, no it’s not. I found it.” The kid responded timidly.
“I put it there yesterday for safe keeping. You stole it.” The chubby boy continued to shout.
“Okay fine, just take it.” Said the kid. He knew the chubby boy was lying, but he did not like confrontation nor was the rock worth anything to him. He started to walk away.
“Hey! Where do you think you’re going!” The chubby boy was still shouting. He picked up the rock. He raced forward and struck the kid in the head.
The kid fell over. “OUCH! What did you do that for!?”
The chubby boy laughed, “Because thieves have to be punished.”
The kid, “I didn’t steal anything. Maybe if you’d get your stupid hair out of your eyes you could see clearly and stop being so stupid all the time!”
The chubby boy turned red.
“Are you just gonna let him say that?” Asked the skinny boy.
“Of course not. I’m gonna clobber him.” The chubby boy was no longer shouting. He grabbed the kid by the shirt and raised his fist to punch him. But the skinny boy was too fast. The chubby boy got a face full of knuckles and toppled to the ground. He began crying.
“Just leave me alone. Take your stupid rock and go away.” Said the kid.
That is when the hall monitor arrived on the scene. “What happened here? Are you okay?”
“He hit me, he hit me!” Shouted the chubby boy.
“He did, I saw!” Yelled the skinny boy.
“Alright, you’re coming with me.” The hall monitor said glaring at kid.
“But he hit me first!” screamed the kid. “Look I’m bleeding!”
“Okay, I’m going to take you to the nurse, then we’re all going straight to the principal’s office.”
Not long after, the kid found himself sitting across from the chubby boy in the principal’s office. The principal was the most generic man you could possibly imagine. He was everything a textbook principal should be and look like; or at least that’s how the children perceived him.
The principal had been talking for quite a while. The kid had not been paying attention.
The principal continued, “You will both receive in school suspensions for a week. We have a zero-tolerance policy on violence. This is completely unacceptable and I am very disappointed in both of you. Both of you need to learn to behave. Whatever problems you both have can be solved in a more appropriate manner. Again, I am very disappointed in both of you. You are dismissed.”
As the students stood up to leave the principal looked to the kid, “Are you smiling? You want to tell me what is so funny?”
The kid answered, “Nothing. I’m just happy recess is over.”
It was an invitation to a social festivity.
To which my reply was brimming with positivity.
A small discontinuity to living in exclusivity.
On the way, I had already decided not to stay.
Why I am this way? I dare not say.
Above the entryway, there was a sign on display,
“Come in and let’s play the light away.”
Much to my dismay,
There were no people here today.
Replaced by dolls!
Dolls over here dolls over there.
All here to play?
Lifeless bodies yet spirited eyes.
Haunting the room with glass paired stares.
A sinful half existence.
Neither here nor there.
Unholy indulgence, a repulsive air.
I shut my eyes, I stumbled aside.
Yet I could not ignore what I abhor.
I snatched up a porcelain horror.
In the glass I could see, endlessly;
A loop of my reflection looking back at me.
I dropped the mockery.
I turned the wall mirror assuredly;
Expecting to see a doll version of yours truly.
All I could see was genuinely always me.
The scene spans distantly, meeting it’s calculated end on all sides.
Streams retain their clarity, returning deposits of dirt to their designated locations.
And in their disciplined freedom, trees chase the brightness of the sky.
What freedom has a wayward soul confounded to wander the muddied wilderness?
A habitat as it were, a home with a single design flaw.
Where all doors are sealed, not an open bedroom remains.
The aberrant captive.
My soul retreats into my daydream.
Then, I miss the friends I never had.
He continued down the dirt path.
A wall of trees to the left and to the right.
Why do they say if there are no people with you
that then you are alone?
Is humanity so engrossed in conceit?
That their presence is the determinant.
He gazed across the forest.
Is a tree alone when it stands in solitude?
He stared ahead.
Is the apparent path the only path?
Must a path be defined by dirt?
What more is concealed behind the trees?
It is he who stands alone in a crowd who knows no better.
But true companionship knows it’s companion even amidst the absence.
I stared across the table at the unfinished burger. There were two, maybe three bites left. He was taking his sweet time.
I looked up at him, “Will you hurry up? We’re going to be late.”
He looked back at me, “Don’t rush me. You’re not supposed to rush while eating okay.”
I was getting annoyed, “We’re going to miss the prayer.”
Taking another bite he said, “Google says it’s a five-minute walk. We have ten minutes until it starts.”
“You’re disgusting, don’t eat with your mouth full.” I responded.
Finally finishing up his food now, “Alright lets go.”
We left the building and started walking towards the mosque. I could see the sky fill with shades of orange and red as the sun began to finish its descent. I could hear my friend’s voice behind me as I began to walk faster and faster, “Wait up. Don’t walk so fast man. I just ate”. I slowed down a little allowing him to catch up.
“Have you ever been to this mosque before?”, I asked.
“Nope, In this city for the first time, same as you”, he answered.
We kept walking. While I was looking for the mosque, my eyes happened to catch the scene of a man sitting on the curb in front of an unremarkable building. As we hurried passed him, I heard his voice, “You don’t wanna go that way. That’s not the place you’re looking for.”
My friend looked at me, “That was rude. He was talking to you.”
I answered, “I don’t have time to talk to some guy on the curb. We are going to be late.”
My friend shook his head, “You need to chill.”
I saw the mosque in front of me now. It was an ordinary building with only the Arabic writing on the door to set it apart. A strange feeling came over me as we walked in. Still in a hurry though, I did not want to waste time figuring it out. I put my shoes on the shoe rack and hurried into the prayer hall. The feeling became stronger. Something really wasn’t sitting well and I felt a strong urge to leave. I could not ignore it now. Suddenly, I felt my friend’s hand on my shoulder.
I turned to him and he whispered, “Dude, why are the women in here?”
I looked around to see that he was correct; there were women everywhere. My first instinct was to think that we were in the wrong place, but I also saw men everywhere. The men’s and women’s prayer areas should have been and are normally separate.
He whispered again, “Let’s just leave.”
I nodded in agreement and we started walking out. As we approached the exist a young woman stopped us, “hey! Where are you going?”
I answered, “Oh we just had to…”
I was interrupted by a young man accompanying her, “They’re leaving. You know.”
She rolled her eyes, “Well I thought so, but I just don’t like to make assumptions. You think you’re better than us so you won’t pray with us. Is that it?”
I was never good with confrontation and I had no idea what to say. Luckily my friend answered, “If you don’t like to make assumptions then don’t. We don’t judge you. Don’t judge us. Excuse us.”
With that he grabbed my arm, and we rushed out. I stared at the floor the whole way out, still trying to shake that strange uneasy feeling.
I heard the door closing behind me followed by my friend’s voice, “I guess we can just go back to the hotel room and pray there.”
I nodded. Then, I saw him again. That same man stood up from his seat on the curb and said, “Oh, I see you guys are back. I told you not to go in there. Come on now, everybody’s waiting for you.”
My friend and I exchanged confused looks. He answered the man, “Who exactly, is waiting for us?”
The man smiled, “Everybody. I asked them all to wait to start the prayer because I knew you’d be back.”
Thoroughly confused, my friend asked, “Who are you?”
The man grinned as he motioned towards the “unremarkable” building behind him, “Asalaamuwalaikum, I am the Imam of this mosque.”