These Uber tales (and Lyft too) are true. I have changed the names, and sometimes I combine stories from different days into a single, more cohesive narrative. However, aside from that, these events are all accurate; word-for-word, just as I experienced them.
Tonight: Trying to get married; bigotry; destiny and dua’.
[Previously: Uber Tales 1]
Friday, July 22, 2022
Standing Next to a Mountain
I have a pickup in the Madera ranchos, an unincorporated rural area outside Fresno, and as I hop on the highway and head north like a bullet from a long gun, I’m feeling frazzled and fragile.
My daughter Salma turned sixteen two days ago. She had a big party with a dozen of her Muslim friends, and all went well, alhamdulillah. These girls all went to Islamic school together from 1st grade to 8th grade, and they continue to be best friends. They are a cadre, a troop. I’m grateful for that. My daughter is growing up, and I’m proud of her. She is bright, funny, and sweet, mashaAllah. Alhamdulillah for her.
That’s not what has me frazzled. I am engaged to a beautiful, faithful, intelligent Colombian woman. She lives in Bogota. We plan to marry this winter, inshaAllah. However, so far, we cannot find any imam who will conduct the nikah. Today, on her own initiative, she left her work on her lunch break and walked to a nearby masjid called Masjid Istambul.
She met a Colombian convert named Pablo Rodriguez who at first welcomed her. Jumu’ah had not yet begun. When she told him of her engagement to me, however, his attitude changed. He said that Egyptians and Pakistanis are liars, and that he would never recommend a Latina woman marry an Egyptian. Furthermore, he told her that I have not been following the “rules” with her and therefore I am not Muslim, (It’s not clear which rules I violated). She felt shocked, sad, and upset.
When I heard this, my heart sank to my shoes. I explained to my fiancé that probably Pablo Rodriguez, as a convert, had had some negative experiences with immigrant Muslims. Maybe immigrants had excluded him, or acted condescending toward him. Also, maybe he has seen Latina sisters taken advantage of by Arab or Pakistani men who only want a visa to settle in Colombia.
Whatever. I will work it out, inshaAllah. Like Jimi said, I’m standing next to a mountain, and I chop it down with the edge of my hand. And with the power of dua’. One thing aiding the other. Only Allahcan change one’s qadr, and He does so in response to dua’.
You’re Probably a Hajji
I get to the Ranchos. An old man walks up a long country driveway very slowly, leaning on a cane. He gives me $20 and tells me that he doesn’t need the ride, he called an ambulance to take him to the hospital.
7:45 pm – I pick up a moderately drunk couple at Slammin’ Sushi. We get to talking about Uber drivers and the man says he’s never given anyone a bad rating except this one “hajji” woman in L.A. who was uptight. I know right away he’s either military or ex-military. Among American soldiers in the Middle East, “hajji” is a nickname for any adult Arab.
It’s not clear to me if this man is using it simply as a descriptor or in a derogatory way, so I say (playing dumb), “What’s a hajji?”
“Just something we say in the military,” he replies. “You probably know what it is, or you wouldn’t have asked. You’re probably a hajji yourself, right?”
I confirm that I am Arab and that my ancestry is Egyptian.
“I knew it,” the man says.
“How were the pyramids built?” the woman demands in a challenging tone.
I reply that the construction of the pyramids was a seemingly impossible task with the technologies of the time, and that the precise methods the Egyptians used have still not been discovered.
“Exactly!” the woman exclaims. “And what about their medical knowledge?”
“It was very advanced for its time.”
“So what’s the truth about that?” she demands.
“What do you mean?”
She turns to her husband. “You see? He’s not going to say. He’s part of it.”
Dua’ Changes Destiny
8:15 pm – I pick up a chubby, late 20’s Latina in a sundress. Her name is Anabel. She tells me she hasn’t driven in three years because of a car accident. She was struck by a drunk driver as she was driving with her three young children. All her children were injured, including the baby, who suffered a head injury. The woman herself was in a coma for three months.
“My hand still doesn’t work right, see? I’ve had multiple surgeries on it.”
I offer some sympathetic words, and Anabel says, “The part I don’t understand is why God let it happen. I’m religious, I go to church every Sunday, I always have, even before the accident. So why did God do this to me?”
I ponder a moment, then I say, “Have you considered that maybe all of you, or some of you, were destined to die?” I know this is a provocative statement, and I hope she’ll let me clarify and not just slap me from the back seat.
“What do you mean?” she says stiffly.
“In my religion, which is Islam, we believe that matters like life and death are predestined. But we also believe that prayer can change destiny. You went through something terrible, but consider that you all survived. That’s a huge gift. Perhaps if you hadn’t been someone who believes and prays, that wouldn’t have happened. Maybe you or the children would have died. Maybe God saved your lives because of your prayer. Look at the gift you’ve been given. You survived a coma. You haven’t been cursed, you’ve been blessed.”
We arrive at her destination. There’s a big Mexican man in a cowboy hat standing on the sidewalk waiting for Anabel, but she doesn’t get out. I look back. She is watching me thoughtfully. I glance at the big Mexican, hoping he won’t think I’m bothering his girl. She continues to study me. Finally she says, “Thank you.” Then exits the car.
Cold Coffee, Ibuprofen and Maghreb
I’m tired, and my head hurts. In fact, I was tired before I started my shift. My daughter, who recently turned 16, said to me just as I was about to leave the house, “Baba, remember when I was ten years old, and I wanted to pick one of the flowers in front of the library? You said, ‘If everyone did that, there would be none left.’ Well, it’s the same with your work. One or two nights won’t hurt you, but driving every night will burn you out.” She’s right, but let me pick one or two more flowers, then I’ll stop.
What I love most about this is that my daughter remembers something I taught her. Our children are living gifts that Allahgives us. Trusts that He places in our hands. And one day, if we love them and raise them right, we hear truth and common sense coming out of their mouths. And when we’re sick they care for us, when we’re tired they lead us to bed and cover us up. If that isn’t a miracle then I don’t know what is. It’s the greatest thing there is, and the greatest sign of Allah’s mercy that I can think of.
I take a break, and buy a cold mocha coffee at 7-11. I down a couple of ibuprofen, then I park in the lot of a mini mall and pray Maghreb on the asphalt. All the stores are closed. This is a rough neighborhood. But I’ve seen worse. Like the PLO commander in Hassan’s Tale, I trust that Allahhas my back.
9 pm – Maya is 22 or 23 and dressed like a boy in baggy shorts, tank top, and short hair. She’s going across town to the liquor store, then her hotel room. She tells me that she recently got out of prison. “I had a lot of anger issues,” she says. “I was violent with people. I’m taking anger management classes now.”
I share with her my own thoughts, that no matter the provocation, unless it is an outright attack, there is always a nonviolent solution. Even if that means walking away to the tune of insults. Not because you are afraid, but because you know that responding with violence, while it might seem satisfying in the moment, will destroy your life. “I say this,” I tell her, “as someone familiar with violence, and as someone more skilled at personal combat than 99.9% of human beings.”
“You have to learn nonviolence,” I continue. “It doesn’t just happen. You have to practice it like you would practice kicking a football.” (I got that from Dave Wolverton’s astounding sci-fi novel, On My Way to Paradise. A book that changed my life).
She thanks me for the conversation, and tells me that she never wants to go back to prison again.
Stoned and Loopy
9:30 pm – I pull up in front of Yard House to pick up Kennedey. There’s a young Asian woman with blonde hair smoking a joint and wandering aimlessly around the parking lot, but she’s drifting away. I get out of the car and look around. No one else in sight. The Asian woman wanders back a few minutes later, with a friend, then appears to see me for the first time and says, “Uber?”
Kennedey hates her name, says it’s a man’s name. She’s going to Woodward Park -a huge urban park that closes at sunset- but doesn’t know why. “Tell the truth,” she says, “You thought we were a couple of ratchet bi***es.” Her whole demeanor is stoned, loopy, and ditzy. And I’m dropping her off in a deserted park at night.
Turns out there’s a free concert in the park. Kennedey leaves behind a tube of expensive mascara.
9:45 pm – Picking up Noah at this same concert, but the app is frozen. I drive around, restart my cell service, shut down all active apps, restart the Lyft app. Finally the app kicks in and I zero in on Noah’s group. They’re on the wrong side of a barrier and I call them and tell them to walk to me. Four young men and women pile into the car, talking too loudly because they’re drunk. “Rock is dead in our generation,” Noah bemoans. “But Kings of Leon!” one objects. “Yeah,” Noah agrees. “Kings of Leon. But aside from that, rock is dead.”
One Ride After Another
10:20 pm – The sky is dark, dark blue. Indigo, like the bottom of a tropical sea. No moon at all, just darkness and heat. The temperature is still 90 degrees. My shirt collar bothers me.
The indigo night rolls on, or maybe it sweeps in like the tide, deepening with every hour. I am a tiny submarine whirring my way through the darkness, which rises miles over my head.
One ride after another. I can’t keep track anymore. It takes all kinds to make the city spin. Long shift, long night. A man gets in reeking of weed. When I drop him off he asks for a light because he dropped his gun and his drugs. I turn on the roof light without comment. I’m not even phased.
A barefoot, twitchy young man in a dirty white shirt is making a 7-11 beer run. He asks me to buy the beer for him as he has no ID. I refuse. Somehow he finagles the beer, and on the way home stares at me intensely from the passenger seat. Finally he says, “I hella wanna arm wrestle you right now, even though I know you’ll kick my a**.” Again I decline. When I drop him off he says, “Thanks for the ride, even though I’m a douchebag.”
A young man whose entire life used to consist of getting stumbling drunk every night has now been sober for two years, mostly by accident, because he moved to Fresno and didn’t know anyone to drink with. He’s highly intelligent, talks fast, strings ideas together like I-beams. In these two sober years he has risen through the food service ranks until he is now a sous chef at one of the best restaurants in town. He tells me that 7-11 sells cold-pressed apple juice, which is good for the health, and it’s the best deal in town.
I pick up a man in a wheelchair at the ER. He is paralyzed from the waist down. With his massive arms he lifts himself out of the chair and into the front seat of my car. He instructs me on how to dismantle the chair, which I do. He smells bad but I don’t care. There but for the grace of God. When we arrive I reassemble the chair. Again he swings himself through space. Superhuman. May the wind be at his back.
The Skeleton of a Giant
A muscular, sunburned man with a crew cut is beating up his well-dressed blond girlfriend in the backseat, literally punching her in the face. I tell him to stop, but he doesn’t. I pull over, yank open his door, haul him out and pitch him onto the sidewalk. He starts to get up but I deliver a step-in round kick to his thigh that leaves him rolling on the ground, moaning, and clutching his leg. I drive off. I close out the ride and ask the woman if she wants to go to the hospital. She says no, gives me an address and I take her. She doesn’t thank me, and I don’t require it.
It’s well past midnight now. People go to parties, go home, go to work, talk, argue, sit silently, flirt with me, ignore me. The city is the skeleton of a giant, and I am an ant scurrying along the bones, slipping in and out through the eye holes. A man throws up out of the window on the freeway and I wash it off the side of the car with a water bottle. He passes out in the backseat. He’s going to another bar, but instead of taking him there I wake him up long enough to get his home address, and change the destination myself. When we arrive he mutters, “ love you to death,” and stumbles into the dark.
I get a ride down to Kingsburg, a half hour south of Fresno. The Swedish City, they call it. Population 12,000. I take another break. The AM PM market has a deal going on: sandwich, chips and a soda for $5. I buy a tuna sandwich, gas up the car, and eat in the lot of a mini mall, in front of a hair salon. Then I head back to Fresno with the app on.
The Power of Dua’
3 am – I don’t want to do this job much longer, not only tonight but in general. At times I’m very down on myself, asking myself what I’ve done with my life that at my age I’m still driving drunks around in the haunted hours of the night. I remember my own advice to Anabel, which seems an eon ago. The power of dua’. O you who believe, why do you say that which you do not do? I need to take my own advice.
Last ride. I pick up a private nurse at a residence. She’s a late 20’s African American woman. I ask her if she gets enough sleep, working the graveyard shift. “I have to sleep before sunrise,” she says, “If I see the sun, I’ll never get to sleep.” She tells me that all her life she’s had problems with sleep. She used to have sleep paralysis, and would wake up unable to move, with the sensation that shadowy figures were moving about in the room, even though she couldn’t see anything.
Even now she sleeps with her face to the wall because the shapes of the clothes in the closet scare her. I ask her why she doesn’t close the closet door. “I don’t have one,” she replies. When I drop her off I see why. She lives in a dilapidated apartment complex that looks like it should be condemned and torn down.
That last ride creeped me out. Plus, I can’t keep my eyes open. I want to recline the seat right here and sleep, but this is a bad neighborhood. As I drive home I cycle through my stay-awake behaviors. Slap my right cheek 20 times, left cheek 20 times. Open the windows. Sing out loud: “I GIVE MY SALAAM TO THE MOUNTAIN…” Pinch my earlobes, then pinch my inner thighs until the pain makes me gasp. And… I’m home. Alhamdulillah.
* * *
Uber Tales will appear once a month inshaAllah.
Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!
See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s fiction stories on this website.
Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.
The post Uber Tales #2 : Hajjis, The Power Of Dua, And The Indigo Night appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.
Source: Muslim Matters