The Future Of Secularism: Chapter 26


Friday afternoon. 4.30.

It was another nice day outside, a bit chilly, but a coat would do just fine. I stared out my window, my hair still wet from the shower I just took. She told me she wasn’t ready, she didn’t want it, she wasn’t sure, or that she never wanted anything... but that was a lie because she did. Her feelings changed, even if she would never admit that to me (or, more importantly, to herself). Because the things she said sometimes, the things she did and the way she acted, they all betrayed interest. Maybe her family or her friends talked her out of it. Maybe she talked herself out of it.

She called me again, just to see how everything was. She was, I believe, either desperate for attention - or she was seeking to be very nice after she had decided she would kill a dream of mine (albeit one I didn’t very much mind waking up from). But I didn’t want her to call. I wanted to avoid her face. I wanted breathing room. I wanted to vanish from the world for two weeks so that I would never know of her until my heart had hardened over all the spots made soft by the thought of her. I didn’t want her to be sensitive. What the hell was I, dry skin? 

I called Khattab on the phone, after making sure my mother wasn’t on the phone - she wasn’t, she was out, she had gone shopping. He asked me what was up and I said, "She said no."

There was silence. I think he was relieved.

"I can spew nonsense about how we all have to keep moving, but I don’t know what to do, Khattab. I don’t know where to go. Nor is this entirely metaphysical, because really, I have nowhere to go."

"How do you feel right now?"

"Well," I thought deeply - and this time even more quickly, "I guess Allah has things planned out for us, and we just gotta move on, right?"

"Yeah man… we have to struggle against whatever situation we find ourselves in, but we must realize, at a certain point, that things are out of our hands. You have to believe in it. It’s the only way to stop nihilism, the kind that comes when we realize we’re not Saladin."

I laughed; he asked why, but I only begged him to continue. So he did... "I’ll show you a book by a man named Izetbegovic and he has the best explanation of destiny. But you will learn to love it, because you will be able to slide through life and it will make things easier."

"It hurts Khattab."

And it did. 

"Nobody said it wouldn’t hurt."

Nobody did. 

I feared that eventually all the memories of her would drop like bombs and blow me apart. I was placed inside my own anguished emotional firestorm, till my happiness left me and I became like Dresden - deserted.

"She told me," I told Khattab, "that she wanted to be friends. But I don’t know if I ever really wanted her. I think more than anything it was infatuation. Or maybe it was love but it died when I realized how she was."

That wasn’t the end of it, though, because here on the frontier there are no last things. Only moments, hesitations and things taken from us till we perish. We’re always ready for death and so maybe never really ready for it.

"Not even philosophy can save you," Khattab told me. "But feel blessed. She liked you, or so you thought, and you spent a lot of time together. I remember that... it was the time you ignored me" and he began to laugh, but lightly so as not to offend me... "But things changed, and you told me how confused you were about her. A lot of time has passed, several weeks really. Maybe she’ll come running back. Girls do that a lot, but don’t let this one do it to you. You have to be stronger than that." 

"It feels," I said, "like God chose this day on purpose."

"You mean Friday?"

"Well," I said, "Suddenly I went to a class... for Qur’an. The first time and it hit me hard. Harder than anything she said had hit me, and so I wonder about it."

"God has blessed you, dostum." He sounded as if he were nodding. "He wants you to do something better."

 "I feel so purified that I feel empty. I don’t even know who to talk to... uh, except you. I talked to Absal yesterday and I feel like there is this gulf between me and him."

He interrupted my next thought: "There’s a new cafe over by Avenue Enver Pasha. They play very nice traditional music. We’ll go get dinner."

He hung up. I looked over at the phone again, and thought of calling Absal, but I knew there would be no point. I grabbed the keys to my car (now safely Qur’an-less), grabbed a good CD and I left a note for my mother: Going out to eat with friends. I left the pluralization: it was a lie but it would be well worth it.