Monday, December 10, 2018
Oils & Incense Part 4 by Author & Educator Umm Juwayriyah
When Marc and Jaleel walked through the door they stopped to wipe their feet off on the door mat. A man came walking up to them. Zuri was busy with customers but she slipped away immediately as she saw the man approaching her boss. She wanted to get there and warn Jaleel. But it was too late. The man had beaten her again.
"Mr. O'Brien," Jaleel sulked. "What can I do for you, sir?"
"Chad. Really, my first name is fine. Just call me, Chad. Can I uh call you Jaleel?"
"No! We're not friends, Mr. O'Brien. So what's up? What do you want now?"
"Fine, Mr. James. Have it your way. I am here to talk numbers. I've been authorized to make you an offer you're not going to want to turn down this time."
Marc and Zuri looked at Jaleel to see what he was going to say next. What would he be willing to do, if the numbers were actually too good to turn down?
Jaleel walked Mr. O'Brien to the back of the store and they disappeared behind the double doors. They'd gone to Jaleel's small office to speak privately. Marc and Zuri both pondered over the unscheduled meeting and what it would mean for them both. Zuri needed her job just as much as Marc. But for Marc this place was his saving grace. It was only his first day. He already felt settled and safe though. He felt like he could make it. If only Jaleel could hold on to the store.
"What you staring at me for?" Marc quipped feeling agitated. "I don't know nothing either," he finished with a softer tone.
"Don't be snappin' at me!" Zuri huffed. "Me nuh ...."
"Speak English!" Marc teased then ducked right before Zuri threw a duster towards his head. "You a hot head all right."
They both went their separate ways to finish their work. Zuri found her way back to the cash register and Marc headed to the storage room. He still had inventory to sort and stock. He wasn't sure who Mr. O'Brien was, but he knew good enough that his kind always brought bad news to these kind of neighborhoods.
"Mr.James, I honestly believe this is the right decision for you and the Muslims in this community! You all have done a lot of good, especially for our Somali immigrant residents. The resources you folks provide are greatly appreciated. This block would've been just another blight in the city full of drugs and hoodlums. You guys have kept it clean, prospering, and safe. Now we have a super investor eyeing it thanks to your efforts! We can all benefit from this deal, Mr. James! I am assuring you that the city will help Heavenly Couture and the mosque relocate some where just as nice."
"That's not what we want, Mr. O'Brien! This is our block! This is where our people live. They go to school here and work and pray right here. I can't speak for the Imam, I can only speak for Heavenly Couture. We need to be here and you know it. Do you know how long it took me to buy this place? I can't just move out and start all over again. My customers would never respect me leaving the block for some....what ya'll trying to build anyway? Condos that my people won't be able to afford that will push them out the area, too," Jaleel argued as he stood up. "What exactly is this super investor trying to shovel onto Blue Hills Ave?"
"It hasn't all been decided. But a mega plaza is in the works. A big box shopping center with a movie theater and other upscale stores. Look, I understand your concerns, Mr. James. The mayor values this community. You may not think I do, but I do as well. I want the best for all of our city residents. I helped you, just like I helped the Imam expand the mosque. But when MGM built that casino up in Springfield, Hartford took a hit that we can't easily bounce back from with just local businesses. The mayor is adamant that this is Hartford's big chance to get back in the game and bring some real money, investments, and jobs back to the folks here on your block especially! The investor is offering you and the Imam a lot of money --- look at this offer, Mr. James! You need to take it and you need to be ready to help us relocate the mosque, too. The city is going to buy up this block and everything around it eventually. You guys won't even be able to pay the taxes, if the city decides to triple the price - and trust me, they will! I don't want to see that happen to you folks. You're good people. I know story, Mr. James. You've overcame a lot. Heavenly Couture has done well and you should see this as the mayor's thanks to you. Help us and we're going to make sure you and your community have a decent place in the city long term. They'll be more opportunities to follow and I'll see to it that you're included, Mr. James. Just not here on Blue Hills Ave any more!"
Mr. O'Brien handed Jaleel the offer letter before he stood up, grabbed his briefcase, and headed for the door. "I'll give you a ring at end the of the week," he announced before letting himself out of the office and closing the door behind him.
Jaleel was vexed. He was in an uncomfortable situation with little wiggle room to handle it. Back in the days, he'd handled it swiftly and unmercifully. He was being bullied by the very same professional, white collar city officials he'd worked with and paid to get Heavenly Couture off the ground. He'd followed their rules. He dotted all the i's and crossed the t's. He owned his store and paid for it with legal money. Now the city was trying to snatch it all away from him. Jaleel glanced down unto his desk at the offer letter and picked it up. He read the offer over and over again and stopped at the number each time: $300,000! That was almost triple the amount he'd paid for it just three years ago. It was a lot of money. Too much money for a old hustler to have at once he'd thought. But if the mayor was determined to get the block by any means necessary, what choice did he really have to go against a giant? Maybe he could put Heavenly Couture on online and scale the business that way with Marc's help? It was an option. He'd have to talk to the Imam about it later tonight at the masjid. He already knew what the Imam was gonna say though.
Stand your ground for the sake of Allah.
Jaleel felt like he was always being dragged into fights. He was getting too old to keep fighting. He honestly was ready for that ease after difficulty Allah promised. He had bigger dreams. He had a wife, his mother, Zuri and Hashim to take care of. And now Marc, too. He couldn't keep fighting for everybody's causes and forsake his own blood.
"Salam. Iska Warran, habibi" A familiar voice purred in his direction as the door opened and closed. She held up a paper bag that was soiled with oil stains on the bottom of the bag probably from the containers of vegetable curry stuffed inside. Jaleel sat back in his chair and looked her up and down slowly admiring his wife, Hodan and their companionship. "Hungry?" she teased as she walked towards him seductively. Hodan unzipped her long black parka and tossed it over an empty chair to reveal a fitted gray full length dress that hugged her full hips. She paired her dress with black tall leather boots, a black leather belt, a loose black silky hijab, and gold drop earrings. Hodan was a charming woman in her husband's eyes. She had a round face, brown skin, and chinky dark brown eyes. She cupped her husband's face with fingers that were stained with deep black henna, gold rings, bracelets, and the sweet scent of a land he belonged to. She lightly kissed his lips.
"Always hungry for you."
Jaleel rose from his chair, walked over to his door then locked it.
It was almost time for Asr prayer when Marc came back out to the front floor. He knew the shop had another few hours before closing, so he wanted to get back to the masjid up the street. He looked around for Jaleel but couldn't find him. Marc knew he had to leave him if he was going to catch the prayer on time.
"Tell Leel I'm up at the masjid. I'll be back," he informed Zuri who was sitting behind the counter reading.
"No problem," she responded without looking up to acknowledge him.
Marc was amused. He stole a full glance for the third time today as he zipped his jacket up and stuffed his hands into his pocket before he exited the store to battle the cold once again. As soon as he stepped out the door he doubled back through them again. "Hey, Zuri? You want to walk up to the masjid with me?"
Zuri slowly lifted her head up and her eyes met with Marc's. She smiled. "Yah, I would like to," she answered appreciative as she closed the book she was reading from. "Let me get my coat," she told him without her full accent before walking over to the closet and grabbing her closet.
"You think Leel will be mad at us for leaving the store like this?" Marc asked her.
"He's here. His wife is here to. They'll manage, I am certain." Zuri explained.
"Word. I didn't see her. Where they at?"
"My aunt is always around, trust that. But I am gonna lock up. Just in case they ..."Zuri's words trailed off as they both excited the doors. She locked the store and started down the street with Marc. Zuri walked in silence with Marc on the opposite side of the sidewalk. They left room between their thoughts and themselves. It was colder than she expected, but she was thankful for the fresh the air that let her clear her mind and center herself. She'd known guys like Marc before. Tough guys who loved the streets more then they loved themselves. They had no connection to their culture or their families. But many of them were also full of beauty and potential and loved unlocked. She had gambled before and lost out. It was her sin. She wouldn't fall into that same lizard hole again, enshallah. But still. Marc was intriguing and pretty and tall and Jaleel's cousin. He'd still have to prove himself worthy.
"I'll be outside after the salat waiting for you," Marc announced before he walked up the stairs and held the front door to the masjid open for Zuri.
"Okay, see you, enshallah," she said before entering and heading for the women's prayer hall.
Marc hadn't expected Zuri to come with him. He just asked for the heck of it. It was freezing outside. He didn't have a car or much money in his pockets to impress Zuri with. He suspected Zuri knew more about him than he knew about her. After all, her aunt was married to Jaleel. She was technically apart of Leel's family and he was helping her. Kinda like how Jaleel was helping him as well. Still there was something about her that he liked. She was the first Muslim woman he'd met. May be there would be more. May be he wasn't interested in meeting others. Marc was already praying his future had Zuri in it.
"Salamu alykum wa rahmatullah," the Imam offered when the prayer ended. "Brothers, before you go we have an announcement to make! Please let your family members know that tonight we'll have a small, but very important community meeting. We need you all to give us your input! We'll have a light dinner and refreshments. Please come out, child care and translations will be provided by our sister Zuri Warsame. We're going to try to get a text message out but spread the word about the meeting to other sisters and brothers in the community, enshallah. See ya'll later tonight, enshallah. Salamu alykum wa rahmatullah."
The Imam left the podium and Marc stood up to finish praying. He knew he would come back for the meeting. He wanted to know what was so important for the Imam to call an evening meeting? After he finished praying, he walked out into the hall to gather his shoes. Before Marc could sit down though, he saw Zuri with a young boy playing by the steps near the exit sign. He hurried up.
"Salamu alykum," Marc offered Zuri and the young boy. "You're a baby sitter and a translator, too? You got like umph-teen of jobs. This one of your daycare kids?"
"Yes, I have a lot of responsibilities. But this handsome lad is Hashim. He's my son," Zuri explained before planting a kiss on her son's forehead. "He goes to school here. I try to help out as much as I can. Give salams Hash to Mr. Marc!" Zuri urged her son. The little boy looked no older than five or six. He extended his small hand as Zuri zipped up his coat and put his hat over his head.
"Salamat," the little boy offered. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Marc." Marc laughed as he shook Zuri's son's small hand. He noticed the little boy had missing teeth in his mouth
"Nice to meet you, too, little bro. You like going to school, man?" Marc asked. Hashim shook his head up and down. "That's cool. You gotta stay in school to learn everything you can." Marc instructed the little boy. If only his own father had told him the same. If only he had a chance to even meet his father, things might have been different for him.
"You ready, Marc?" Zuri asked.
"Yeah, let's get back."
Zuri had insisted on carrying her son for most of the walk. Marc watched her struggle half the way before he couldn't take it anymore. He grabbed Hashim out of her arms and easily hoisted the little boy into his embrace.
"I do it every day," Zuri huffed clearly out of breath and patience. "I am not weak."
"Didn't say you were." Marc responded.
"I can carry my child," Zuri quipped even though her arms were pleasantly relieved. She stretched them out and shook them.
"I saw you. The point is you shouldn't have to." Marc said turning to her. "Besides where's your husband?"
"Really? You bold now?" Zuri fronted like she was offended. But she had wanted the opportunity to be clear and transparent with Marc. She wanted him to know her truth.
"I guess, if I need to be."
"I am very divorced. Since I was pregnant with Hashim his dad has been locked away. I take care of my boy by myself. Well, my aunt Hodan and Jaleel, they help me, too. The masjid helps too. He goes to their school part time and I homeschool him the rest and work with Imam Ousmane. It's cheaper that way."
"You waiting on him to get out?" Marc was intentionally being bold now. He knew the game. When he was locked up, most of his boys had women on the outside. They sent them letters, put money on their books, and even drove hours or took the bus to go see their men behind bars. Nobody ever came to see Marc.
"I said I was divorced. We haven't talked since I had my son. And I hope that he never ever tries to talk to me again," Zuri explained.
"You didn't answer my question."
"You don't know what he did to me."
Heavenly Couture was open and lively once again when they reached it's doors and entered. Customers were browsing the racks of merchandise, some were sitting in the back drinking tea with Jaleel, while Hodan rung up customers' orders. Hodan's lit up and she smiled brightly when Marc entered. She walked up to him, greeted him then eagerly reached for Hashim from his arms. Another woman was sitting but stood as soon as she saw Marc. She was an older woman, plumb, and wide eyed. She was dressed in traditional Somalian clothing. Marc noticed her eyes trailing his every move. He decided to go back to the storage area and finish his work for the day.
"Marc?" Jaleel called. "Hey, I wanted you meet someone."
Jaleel helped the older woman up from her chair and grabbed her arm tightly as he guided her towards Marc. Tears began to wash the woman's face and she began reciting words Marc couldn't understand. He was taken aback by the whole scene. The woman was clearly emotional as she stood in front of Marc.
"This is my mother," Jaleel revealed. "She just got here in town from traveling and hanging out with some of my siblings in Minnesota. It was a long flight."
"Oh, cool. Nice to meet you, Ma'am. Does she uh speak English?" Jaleel asked noticing the blue and yellow Baati dress, long circular blue hijab, gold nose ring on her face, and black and orange henna staining hands and arms.
"Yes, I can speak the English! I am Ayaan and I am very happy to see you today, Marc! Your eyes are brighter than the moon. Just like I always hoped for you. You look very strong and tall and I know you will do well with Abdul-Jaleel, enshallah. I am very happy to see you today," the crying woman repeated.
Marc was overwhelmed. Hodan snapped a picture with her I-Phone as Ayaan hugged Marc. Zuri was holding her son and Marc could see the tears welling up in her eyes as well. Jaleel was shaking his head. He didn't want them to make a big deal out of today. He wasn't ready to tell Marc everything yet. But leave it to his Momma and Hodan to low-key throw a surprise family reunion for a man who didn't know he was family.
Marc turned back to Jaleel puzzled. "Am I missing something, Leel?"
"Nah, you good. These people crazy. My wife, Hodan, she just likes welcoming the new employees to the store's family. My mother is just happy that we have a little more help now that business is really been picking. Told you I've been working non-stop since I got home, 50 and 60 hours a week some times. But this weekend I'mma take off with the wifey and leave you here. Ain't that right, babe?" Jaleel lied. Hodan extended her hand to Marc and then shook his hands.
"Welcome, welcome, Marc. We waited a long time to meet you. I do like to throw really nice parties to welcome our guests, and I am good at it. You know, I handle the accounting for Heavenly Couture and also I handle our imports of oils and goods from all over Africa and the Middle East. I have few things - some gifts for you from Somalia and Dubai. We're all really happy to have your help. You speak Somali or Italian?"
"No, I can't say that I do."
"No, problem. Zuri will teach you, enshallah. There some food over on the side tables in Jaleel's office. Please, go help yourself. We'll talk later."
Marc shook his head and started off towards the storage room. He felt their eyes on him. He knew they were all watching him. He knew he shouldn't turn around, but he just had to. They were all watching him. He smiled politely before he opened the door and went to put his jacket away. That had been the strangest meeting of his life. What had he gotten himself into with these people. And who were they?
"He's not ready yet, Ma! Don't start messing with him yet. Give him time to unwind and get into his life. Ya'll gotta give him time to get know us. He don't need to carry any more of his past right now. He gotta stand up first." Jaleel urged.
"He's ours, Abdul Jaleel!I can see my brother in his eyes! He should know before they get here. You and me and Hodan, we must tell him together," Ayaan pleaded.
"And they wouldn't be coming if you didn't tell them. It's too much. You gotta tell them he's not ready yet. We mess around and end up sending him right back onto the block if we don't do this right. I need more time with him," Jaleel argued.
"Ay, he's a strong one from a strong, noble tribe of good men. He will trust the truth. But dishonesty will cripple him," Zuri inserted. "Tell him who he is, Jaleel. Tell him the truth."