The Gods
May 5, 2012

Once, there was a little boy who lived in New York City
And the one thing he loved more than anything else
More than anything in the whole world
Was friendship

His obsession started in the third week of September
It was his second day of fourth grade
And it was show-and-tell
The little boy sat glued to chair
With his eyes to the blackboard
        There was magic happening
Child after child was called and presented
Each more nervous than the last
        Gulping
With just enough conviction
        To pull their feet together
But not enough courage
        To keep them from shaking
Applause was the music of friendship
And the drumbeat of acceptance

Tyrone
        Stamp collection
Kayla
        Purple feather-pen
Michelle
        Watercolors
Jimmy
        Dinosaurs
Caroline
        iPod
Kiara
        Headband

One by one the children presented
Their worldly and otherworldly possessions
Humble offerings met with expecting half-smiles
For the gods of peer pressure facing them in box formation

Finally, it was the little boy’s turn
He walked himself to the front of the classroom
“Hi, I was assigned the letter ‘T’ and I brought in my favorite t-shirt”
Carefully he unballed the gray cotton fabric
Wrinkled like crinkles on a crumpled paper
Bright blue slanty squiggles danced on its well-worn front
“It says ‘Allahu Akbar’”

The room gasped and exhaled in unanimous lock-step
Expressions sank from anticipating smirks
To uncomfortable contortions of agitation
The little boy stood perplexed and confused
Accusations flew over his head
“You can’t be my friend!” one boy said
“My parents told me never to speak to Maslins!”
“Yeah!” another confirmed
“You killed my dad.”

The little boy ran outside and into reality
A product of factors beyond his control or reading level
“How many ‘i’s are in suicide bomber?”

Abdul Mohammed started school 6 days after September 11th
The day evil brought down the towers and dignity for all

From then on, his life became a prison
With friendship taunting from beyond the cell
High-fives stung like slaps from lack of contact
He would sit on the playground and have staring contests with the sand
Counting God’s promises to go forth and multiply
Until they kicked it in his face and knocked his hopes to ground zero

But Abdul was a thinker
While others sat and laughed and jumped and cried
He occupied his time with just the first and the last
Struggling with everyday problems
Like why they called him towelhead
When his never left the bathroom
And what Father meant when he said
“Working poor should be an oxymoron”

But Abdul was a thinker trapped in a world of doers
Living in the 8-to-3 ghetto under the grade school Gestapo
He dared not speak even when spoken at
Planning for his next offering to the gods
To please those with just enough knowledge
To sow seeds of hate
But not enough wisdom
To nurture tolerance

And then Abdul Mohammed wrote something in his diary and fell asleep:

We must not lose the runways to the ruthless
Or we’ll end up leaving the whole world blind and toothless