The Theorists (2)


Yusef is a twenty-year-old pre-med. He’s from Saudi Arabia. He lives all alone in America. His family wasn’t very religious – by Saudi standards, not at all – but he still finds America very loud and fast. He studies most of the time. He really wants to be a doctor. He talks to his little sister on Skype almost every night.

He keeps getting invited to mosques, or to have dinner with the Muslim student group. Once he got invited to another student’s house for dinner, and it turned out he was trying to set him up with his sister. It’s gotten to the point where, to brush them off, he’s had to be pretty honest: he’s not much of a Muslim. Which is hard for him to say. Not the least because, religious or not, he feels like a Muslim – and feels like he’s having to deny a part of himself, in order that the part doesn’t subsume the whole.

He’s walking home to study and he sees a homeless man coughing a lot. He stops, swallows, but then goes over to help. He sits the guy down and takes his vitals, then calls an ambulance and waits with him for it to arrive. The EMTs don’t treat him very well. The homeless man gets indignant, they yell at him. Yusef gets between them, the EMT pushes him, Yusef punches him and he falls out of the ambulance. The homeless guy tells him to run. Yusef runs.

He feels terrible. A little scared, a little guilty. But mostly just out of control. He couldn’t control the situation. He couldn’t control himself.

There’s a knock on his door. It’s the police. They ask him if he knows anything about a Muslim man assaulting an EMT. Yusef stares at him. He looks pained. He says, “I’m not a Muslim.” The police move on.

He calls his sister, but has to apologize: he’s too emotional to talk.

He goes out for a walk. He sees a police car stopped at a corner, the cop interviewing a group of young Arabic kids. The cop leaves. Yusef asks, and they say the cops were looking for the Muslim. They start giving him a hard time, pushing him towards an alley, until Yusef balls his fists and jumps on them.

He shows fairly well. He certainly injures one or two of them. Then there are sirens, he runs, hides in a dumpster for an hour, then walks away.

On the news he hears that the Muslim struck again, beating up three neighborhood kids. He feels terrible. But then people on the street are interviewed and talk about how the kids were part of a gang that is terrorizing the neighborhood. Police still promise to crack down, on what appears to be vigilante justice.

Yusef is walking home from school and he notices, not just lots of police, but lots of young Arab men loitering in groups. They’re well-dressed, conspicuously not wearing the hoodies that Yusef favors. They’re giving lots of people a hard time.

Yusef goes into a halal market and asks: they’re part of the gang, the Zulfiqar, from which the three boys had been beaten. You can tell them because one of their pant legs is ripped at the ankle. And they’re harassing everyone. The store owner says they even harassed his daughter on the way home from school. His whole family lives above the store.

Three of them come into the market. They start flexing their muscles. They break things. They demand protection money. The shop-owner says he already paid.

Yusef comes up behind them and smashes a chair down on the first one’s head. The second one turns, Yusef spins and catches him on the side of the head. The third produces a gun. He knows he can’t do anything, he’s caught, he’s done. The store owner rushes him. The thug turns, and shoots the store-owner.

Yusef screams, charges him, knocks him down and beats him to a standstill. Then he runs to the clerk. He’s still alive. Yusef finds the wound, makes a tourniquet with the store owner’s belt, sterilizes it with alcohol from the shelf, then runs out the back when he hears sirens come up.

He runs. He goes upstairs. At the end of the hall there’s an open door. He runs through an apartment. Grabs a hoodie from a peg, pulls it over his bloody shirt. He goes out onto the fire escape. He looks around, wild-eyed, then here’s a gasp. He turns. There’s a person looking up at him.

She says, it’s you. She’s looking at him with such admiration. It’s a little girl. And she’s wearing a hijab.

He stares at her.

Yes, he says. And nobody’s ever going to bother you again.

He runs down the fire escape and into the night.

He goes home. He talks with his sister. She teases him, asks him if anyone else has tried to marry him to their sister. She asks him where he is. He says, I wanted to be a doctor because I wanted to help people. I tried to help people, but every time I did, someone got hurt.

Did you still help them? she asks.

I think so. Yes. And the people that got hurt were bad people.

She says, remember some of the things you’ve talked to me about? Cutting off a person’s arm to stop cancer from spreading. Quarantining a sick person so they don’t get other people sick. Sometimes you have to hurt people. But if it’s for their own good, it’s just what you have to do.

I trust you, she says. You’ll be a good doctor.

He tells her he loves her & signs off. He looks down at his prayer rug, looks at it a good long time. Finally he kneels down on it and opens a book.

Then you see it’s an anatomy textbook.


~ by davekov on 3 July 2013.

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