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Tonight: A debate with a Christian, a woman flees abuse, and a black couple argue about their personal experiences of racism.

(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)

Previously: Uber Tales 1 | 2 |

 

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Welcome to the Future

5 pm – My head is a battlefield where self-affirmations engage in combat with feelings of failure. Is everyone like this, or is it just me? I write and I teach martial arts. I take my daughter to school and pick her up. I prepare meals and eat with her. I am a source of support and love in her life. I drive my mother to the store and pick up her medications at the hospital. I’m present. I believe in these choices, but none of them pay well. I’m sometimes broke, and that’s not a good feeling at my age.

On the plus side, my last book, Zaid Karim Private Investigator, has been selling more copies lately. I’m not sure why. I received a $100 royalty payment from Amazon recently – the largest ever for me. If I could increase it by x10, it would be a decent side income.

It’s late afternoon in a 100+ heatwave. Welcome to the future. Climate change is real. In the Quran, Allah

subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)
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commands us to maintain the balance with justice, and not to damage the scales. Yet we have unbalanced the earth’s ecosystem nearly fatally. The price we will pay is only beginning to be felt.

The car is washed and vacuumed. I have my coffee, ibuprofen, sugarless gum, mask, disinfectant, car jack, jumper cables, handheld vacuum, barf bags, and pocket knife. Let’s roll through this town like a cannonball.

Guns in an Elevator

A man with a degenerative limb disease that no longer allows him to drive goes to the bank, then to a friend’s house. The friend is not home, and the man is angry. He asks if I can wait until his friend arrives, but I already have another ride waiting. So he asks me to take him home. He lives in a large house on the far northwestern edge of Fresno, and tells me he makes a lot of money selling equipment for hydroponic gardening.

I pick up an old Okie -a white farmer whose grandparents came from Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl years- at Elliot’s. He usually drinks with Yugoslavian friends but they didn’t show. I tell him Yugoslavia doesn’t exist anymore. He says he knows, his friends are Croats and Serbs. He’s known them for decades. During the breakup of Yugoslavia, when their people were fighting each other, the friendships became strained. One night they all visited a casino, and in the elevator an argument broke out. The Croats and Serbs reached for their guns. The Okie -picturing a scene of roaring gunfire and death in the packed elevator- put out his hands and said, “Guys, drinks and steaks are on me!” It worked. Though a deafening shootout in a crowded elevator would have been pretty cool, from my perspective.

Hence the Quran

Albert is a born-again Christian, a stocky man in his thirties with a shaved head and babyish face. He asks about my name, and whether I am Muslim. He says, “I know you Muslims believe in Jesus. If that’s true, then you have to believe everything that he said.”

“You don’t know what he said,” I reply. “You have no accurate record of his words.”

“We have his words in the Bible as recorded by the apostles.”

“Modern scholars,” I counter, “agree that the books of the New Testament were not actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and that the authors are unknown. Further, it’s clear that certain passages have been copied from one book to another. And in other places, accounts of events like the resurrection contradict each other. These are not accurate historical accounts, and certainly not something on which to base a religion.”

He’s growing agitated. “Whoever the authors were, they were inspired by God. We have to believe that, because God would not just leave us without guidance for the rest of eternity.”

“You’re right, He would not. Hence the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad

ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)
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.”

“No.”

He has no more to say, and merely grunts when he exits. Sometimes I think it’s sad, that Allah

subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)
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sent the Quran and the Prophet
ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)
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, in part, to call the Christians back to the truth, but they are so wedded to this horrendous concept of the divinity of ‘Isa
'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)
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that they can’t see the truth when it shines right in their eyes.

Metaphor for Powerlessness

In between rides I listen to an audiobook I borrowed from the library, about a wizard named Harry Dresden. He was killed, and his soul must now return to earth in spirit form to find his killer, otherwise people he loves will be hurt. But how will he accomplish anything when no one can see him, and he cannot affect the material world? As a story it’s quite entertaining, but as a metaphor for powerlessness it’s haunting.

An important distinction is that Harry is not a ghost, which would be a copy of his living self. Rather he is an actual soul. If he is destroyed in this world, he will be gone forever.

(I’m not promoting the book’s theology. I just like the characters and story).

At Least There is This

A broad-shouldered, gender-bending Latina heads to the Tower. She’s alone, and I caution her to be careful, as the Tower at night is not safe. “Don’t worry,” she says. “I don’t drink. I only do drugs.”

The sun sets, and a slender crescent moon shines in the west. It’s beautiful, and I want to tip it on its back and use it like a hammock. Just drift off amid the orange glow and silence, and sleep like the innocent or the mad.

I pray Maghreb in a quiet neighborhood park, with a single old-fashioned lamp flickering. The grass was just watered, and my jeans get soaked. But it’s a good kind of soaked. If I sometimes doubt my purpose and my deeds, at least there is this. I can always turn to Allah

subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)
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. I can count on that.

“I Like Being Powerful”

9 pm – I practice martial arts moves on a dead-end side street and drink a coffee, then chew two Tums for indigestion. I found another imam in Bogota, a man named Shaykh Mumin, who could possibly do my nikah in December inshaAllah. I texted him but he has not replied. Now I message him on WhatsApp, offering to teach a free weekly English class for the community. Back to work.

* * *

Harry Dresden’s ghost has found a man who can see him, a spirit summoner and sometimes scam artist named Mort that Harry looked down on in the past. The man wants nothing to do with him. Harry is reduced to begging for help from this man that he previously disdained.

* * *

I pick up a young Latina, returning home from a visit to a friend. Sometimes I ask random questions related to the stories or books I’m writing. I ask her: “Suppose you’re a telepath, but you keep it secret because being a telepath is a crime. You serve on a starship. Because you can read minds, you know that one crew member is in love with you, and another wants to kill you. Would you do anything about this knowledge, or pretend not to know?”

Her answer doesn’t fit the question. She says she would approach the person who loves her because, she says, “I always go after what I want. I don’t give up. I like being powerful. I like having power over people. Do you think that’s wrong?”

Something about her response demands attention, like a blinking red light. I tell her that going after what you want is a good trait. “On the other hand,” I say, “there are times when you have to know when to walk away. In a relationship, for example, if the other person doesn’t treat you well. Sometimes quitting is better than staying.”

The girl is silent for the first time. I hit a nerve, and I don’t want to push, but I add one more thing: “I speak from personal experience. You stay because you think you can help this person, you can save them, and by doing so you validate yourself. But they only become more abusive.”

She is silent, so I let it go. A few minutes later she speaks up and reveals that she is in an abusive relationship. The man doesn’t love her and doesn’t treat her well. He doesn’t talk to her, and only uses her for sex. She goes out to visit friends to get away from him. But she doesn’t know what to do.

No wonder she’s desperate for personal power. “I think you know what to do,” I tell her. “And if you don’t, ask God. Then follow the guidance.”

The Smell of Death

After Harry helps to defend Mort’s home against an assault by other spirits, Mort agrees to help him. He puts Harry in touch with his old friends, and, acting as a go-between, subjects Harry to intense questioning until his friends are satisfied that he is truly Harry. It also helps that the cat can see him and keeps rubbing against his invisible legs.

* * *

I take Leticia to work at Foster Farms, the chicken processing plant on the southern edge of town. I remember her, I’ve picked her up twice before over the years. She’s half Asian, a quarter Mexican, and a quarter Apache. She complains that her married supervisor, a middle aged man, wrote her up for dressing inappropriately, even though inside the refrigerated factory she wears a knee-length coat and jeans.

I hate going to Foster Farms. The entire area smells like death. Workers stream in and out of the place. Uber vehicles are not allowed past the front gate. The road is potholed from the constant truck traffic.

After I drop off Leticia I gas it on the rough country road, speeding like a bullet train with the windows open, trying to get rid of the smell, and letting the Valley heat fill the car like a Saharan ghibli.

Fleeing Abuse

A young African-American woman wearing a fast food uniform secures a baby in a car seat, and two bags in the trunk. She’s been crying, and her eyes are puffy. She asks me to wait, and goes back into her apartment building, leaving the baby with me. She’s gone for more than five minutes. It’s an awful idea to leave a baby alone in a car with a stranger. This woman is not thinking clearly. For a moment I wonder, what if she never returns? I sit there, car idling, talking softly to the baby, who smells of baby powder and vanilla. The baby gazes back with curious eyes and a serious expression, as if speculating what role I will play in his future.

The mother returns carrying a trash bag full of clothing. She is going to the city of Hanford, 45 minutes south. She is fleeing an abusive boyfriend. She left work in the middle of her shift, picked up the baby from the sitter, rushed home, and packed her bags. She’s going to stay with a friend that her boyfriend doesn’t know. She cries as she tells me this. Then we sit in silence, with the sound of smooth jazz to keep us company. When we arrive, I take her aside and give her $40 cash, the cost of the ride. Her friend, another young black woman with a nice country house, thanks me.

* * *

Mort’s house is destroyed and Mort is abducted by an evil spirit called the Corpsetaker. The Corpsetaker intends to possess Mort’s body and take over, thereby becoming physical once again, but needs Mort to agree to this, and intends to torture him until he does. Harry’s assistant Molly comes to his aid. The Corpsetaker turns her attention to Molly, intending to possess her instead, as Molly is a powerful wizard and therefore a much more appealing host. The two of them battle within Molly’s mind as Harry watches. Molly finally defeats the Corpsetaker.

Driver, Not A Social Worker

 

11 pm – A middle aged white woman with missing teeth and sciatica is moving out of a motel on the outskirts of Hanford and returning to Fresno with her three grandchildren. I help her load all her belongings into the car. Clothing, diapers, marshmallows, half used crayons. Her leg pain is so bad that she must lie down on the back seat, with the kids sitting on top of her. It’s a ridiculous scene and quite illegal. But it gets me back to Fresno, so I’m not burning gas on my own dime.

A skinny old woman goes to a methadone clinic downtown. The clinic is closed. The woman had an appointment at 11:30 am, and she’s so drugged or mentally zoned out that she thought it was 11:30 am now, when it’s actually 11:30 pm. Apparently the dark sky didn’t register on her brain. I take her home, and when we arrive she exits and marches down the street. Does she know where she’s going? I consider going after her, but I already have the next ride waiting. I’m a driver, not a social worker. Where are her children? Maybe I’m making excuses, but what is my obligation, really? The woman is alone every day. If I walk her to the door of her house, she’ll still be alone. I drive on, feeling guilty.

Pink Shoes and Pink Mask

I ferry a Colombian woman to the airport. Her long black hair is done up in French braids, and she’s wearing a black dress with pink shoes and a pink mask. She asks me repeatedly if I’m single, and when I tell her that I am engaged to a Colombian woman she becomes even more interested. When I drop her off she asks for my number, supposedly so she can call me next time she needs a ride. I tell her no, she should order the ride through the app.

I arrive at a rundown apartment complex next to a mortuary. Most common businesses in the ghetto: liquor stores, bars, smoke shops, auto repair shops, mortuaries and churches. There’s no one around but a teenage Hispanic boy with an eyebrow piercing, holding a musical instrument in a battered case. I ask if he’s my passenger. He asks what the destination is. I tell him I won’t know until I start the ride, but the name on the ride is Carlos. He says that’s his uncle. Okay, great, your uncle Carlos ordered the ride for you, let’s go. But he’s nervous and doesn’t want to get in the car, and walks away. Fine. I cancel the ride and move on.

A young African-American mother is taking her son to the Cheesecake Factory for his birthday. They’re dressed in their Sunday best, and are very excited. She turns on the dome light and doesn’t stop taking selfies the whole way, of herself and her son. When we arrive I give the boy a pack of gum and wish him a happy birthday.

Experiencing Racism

12:30 am – The night’s still as hot as a coyote’s breath. I arrive outside an open-air country music concert where people are milling, drinking, and stumbling about. I park in the middle of the crowd and call out for Brianna, my passenger. A sixty-ish black couple approaches. The man is tall and powerful, wearing a cowboy hat. He asks if I can take him and his wife home, and he’ll pay cash. This is against the Uber TOS, but I do it sometimes. I tell him I have to wait five minutes for Brianna, and if she doesn’t show I’ll take him for $20. The man, whose name is Andre, stays on me, asking every fifteen seconds if I can take them now. It’s not that he’s pushy, more like he’s anxious to get out of there. When there’s 30 seconds left he literally counts the seconds down, then they immediately jump in my car.

Right away they begin arguing with each other. The wife is unhappy that they left the concert early. The story comes out: The couple selected a pair of chairs at the concert, and set their things on them while they went to buy snacks and drinks. When they returned, a group of while people had taken the chairs and dumped their belongings on the ground. Andre and the white men argued. The police appeared and immediately confronted Andre in a hostile manner, ignoring the white folks. Andre happens to be a federal law enforcement officer with 30 years on the job. He pulled out his badge, and the cops simply walked away. They did not apologize, and didn’t question the white people. At that point, Andre made the decision to leave the concert.

“We paid a lot of money for those tickets,” the wife complains. “Two hundred dollars! We should have stayed.”

“Baby, you don’t get it. If I didn’t have my badge, there’s no telling what might have happened. Those cops could have shot me.”

“They could have shot me too.”

“Why would they shoot you? You’re a petite woman. I’m a six foot four black man. The threat to you is not the same as it is to me.”

“They could have shot me anyway.”

“Plus,” Andre goes on, “What if those guys tried to start a fight with me again? I have thirty years on the job, I’m not going to risk it all because of some yahoos. You don’t get it baby, it’s not the same for you. I have to be careful all the time, I can’t risk a wrong move. These white folks will murder me.”

“But by leaving we let them win. We paid money for those tickets. We could have moved to another spot. You think I’m not angry too? But I’m not letting anyone run me off.”

“I can’t afford to be angry! That’s what you don’t get.”

And so on. They’re both dug in, not listening to the other. The husband is peeved that his wife doesn’t seem to understand how dire the threat is. And the wife, I’m guessing, feels like her husband is discounting the gravity of her experiences. Suddenly the husband asks me: “Driver, what do you think?”

They are both silent as they wait for my reply.

I say, “Obviously I can never understand what it is to be black in America. What I can say is that you’re different people with different life experiences. Your perspectives are different, and that’s okay. You don’t have to respond to an event in exactly the same way. The main thing is that you don’t turn against each other. You need to be each other’s friend and supporter, especially at times like this. The harder the world hits you, the more you love each other.”

We arrive at their home shortly after. They both thank me repeatedly. The husband gives me $20, while the wife tells me to wait, and enters the house. The husband says to me, “She don’t understand what it is to be a man, you know? Whatever happens out there, I’m responsible for protecting both of us.” I say, “That’s a man’s burden. But the women have their struggles too, and we’re as blind to theirs as they are to ours.”

The wife comes out and gives me another $40. I pocket it and roll on. The $60 is nice, but if I were a psychologist I’d make $200 an hour. I’m in the wrong profession. Seriously, though, I wouldn’t want to be a psychologist. The stories I hear with Uber are more than enough.

Taking His Chances

Harry has accomplished his mission. The angel Uriel comes to him, and tells him a mistake was made, that he was taken from this world too soon. Harry is given a choice: he can come to work for Uriel himself in the hereafter; or he can take his chances with what comes next. Harry opts to take his chances. I won’t tell you what happens next.

Stop Smoking

Long cross-city trip, ending in the countryside west of Grantland. At one point the road is closed, becoming gravel. There’s no easy detour, so I sidle the car around the barriers and roll carefully through the gravel, dropping the passenger off across the street from an almond orchard, which is handy, since I need to pee (I keep a water bottle in the car for hand washing). As I leave, a rabbit runs across the road in front of me. I hit the brakes, and there goes another rabbit, and another, just following the first, not even looking. Silly bunnies.

A young man smells strongly of marijuana. He rides in silence, looking at his phone. After I drop him off I drive with all the windows open, letting the wind whip through the car. It’s very late now and I fly, chewing up the road like a churro.

A dark parking lot next to the railroad tracks off Maroa. A group of young people sit on a car, smoking and drinking. One is my passenger. She’s an obese young woman, no more than 18 or 19 years old, on her way to work as a waitress. She coughs wretchedly the whole way, asking for one napkin after another, until I give her the whole package. Between coughs she says, “I’m not sick. I have asthma and I smoke, and this happens sometimes.” I tell her, “You need to stop smoking right now, before you kill yourself.” She says, “Yeah… I used to be an athlete.”

It’s almost 3 am, and the restaurant where I dropped the waitress is near my home. I disinfect the car liberally, throw out the remaining napkins, and go home. Ayiboona, ta’iboona, abidoona, li rabbina hamidoon.

* * *

 

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 #3 : Religious Debate, Alone With A Baby, Reacting To Racism appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Source: Muslim Matters