Here’s a piece I submitted to last year’s Muslim Writers Awards competition. It didn’t win but I still enjoyed it nonetheless, and now that competition’s long since over I can post it here without breaking their rules. I think…
“Yeah but… that’s not how popular people do. Won’t my mates think I’m being boring?” Faïz (y) protested. “I mean, how can you enjoy yourself without booze?”
“Let me turn the question around: how do you enjoy yourself with booze?” Faïz (e) retaliated. “Who defined enjoyment as drinking alcohol? Is it in the Oxford Dictionary?”
“No course not. It’s just that… well I have to fit in don’t I? If I come across as pious and righteous people will think I’m being arrogant and old-fashioned. Some will even think I’m lying ‘cause I’ve never been the religious type.”
“Will they?” Faïz (e) asked. “To be honest, it’s completely irrelevant what they think of you. By giving up alcohol you’ll feel better, think more clearly, and be living more in line with Allah’s laws. And I know that’s what you REALLY want. After all, I am you. And did you know people, even non-Muslims, generally respect people who are consistent with their own values?”
“Euh…” Faïz (y) said. “I dunno. I don’t really see that.”
Faïz (e) nodded in acknowledgment. “OK, I understand your doubt. But just ask Jhacamaiel & Varasayo. Ask them what they think specifically of Muslims who practise the diyn (religion) compared to ones who don’t. They’re your – our- best mates so they won’t have reason to lie to you.”
“Yeah I’ll do that,” Faïz (y) said half-heartedly, “but even if that’s true yeah, I still like alcohol. I enjoy it.”
“No you don’t,” Faïz (e) corrected. “Remember I’m you in 15 years time and I still remember what you – we – shouted when we first tried beer. We shouted ‘I thought this stuff came from plants. Tastes like it came out of a dog’s infected bladder!’ And I know you still think so; what you really enjoy is the prospect of being out of control of yourself, of being able to forget your normal life, and the attention it gets you. The actual taste of alcohol itself, and the smell, is enough to make you hurl. Literally.”
“Alright alright shaykh (scholar) Faïz,” the younger one conceded. “But! Scientific research proves moderate alcohol drinking is good for you, even more than being a teetotaller. AND Allah tells us there’s benefit in alcohol, and it’s only bad for us if it intoxicates us, therefore moderate drinking as in drinking without getting drunk is halāl (permissible).” He crossed his hands and smirked at his own intelligence.
Faïz (e) smirked back and crossed his own arms. “Now this is where I’ve done my research. The verse in which the Almighty says there’s SOME benefit in alcohol also mentions there’s some harm therein which outweighs its benefits. And if you notice Allah never says that benefit has to come from drinking it. Alcohol does have other uses.”
Now Faïz (y) didn’t trust his elder self. “It do? Like what?”
“Does, not do. It’s a pretty effective antiseptic. Why do you think hospitals’ liquid soaps contain it?”
“Really?” Faïz (y) interrogated.
“You should know, with the number of times you’ve visited mates who’ve gotten into ALCOHOL-related accidents,” Faïz (e) half laughed. “Kind of ironic isn’t it?
“AND as for the scientific research you touched on, it doesn’t compare what it says it does. I was once asked to partake in one such study that measured the health of teetotallers, light drinkers, moderate drinkers, heavy drinkers & bingers. I was put in the heavy drinker category, and when I saw the teetotaller group drinking booze I noticed the research wasn’t really being done right. In other words,” he continued as he saw the confusion on his younger self’s face, “they were testing people who were normally teetotallers but started drinking for the purposes of the study.”
“What’s the point of that?” Faïz (y) wondered.
“Even to this day I don’t know,” the elder Faïz shrugged. “But to be even more honest, booze is boring. You know how some people say they’ll give up something bad when they’ve had so much of it for so long they just get sick of it? That’s exactly right for us. You realise you don’t know anymore why you do alcohol and you notice non-Muslims and Muslims alike who seem to live happier more fulfilling lives than you without it.”
Faïz (y) thought he now had his future self cornered. He replied with, “I thought you weren’t allowed to reveal secrets about the future.”
“Why did you think that? I didn’t tell you that did I?” Faïz (e) said smugly. “Besides, I wasn’t talking about your future just then. I was talking about your recent past. For the past fortnight you’ve been pondering on your life, your adherence to the diyn, your purpose in this world, and… Why do you look so surprised? Remember, I am you!” At that Faïz (y) shook himself out of his wide-eyed stupor to listen to his elder self’s words of wisdom. “Keep questioning, keep doubting, and follow up those questions and doubts with a desire to learn. Seek answers, become a knowledge-aholic and inshāällah you might become… me. Do you see what I did there?”
“What, with the knowledge-aholic? Yeah, don’t worry, I got that word play. That’s the kind of thing I would’ve said. You’ve definitely got my sense of humour.”
Faïz (e) sighed in relief as Faïz (y) finally understood that he was his future, and upon his exhalation he began to fade away. At that point a bright line of white light as thin as a strand of spider silk blazed horizontally across the younger’s entire field of vision.
“Huh?” Faïz (y) wondered. “What’s going on?”
“Our time together is coming to an end,” Faïz (e) said, his voice suddenly much quieter as the line of light seemed to split his body into upper and lower halves. His thick fleecy black beard and shoulder-length dreadlocks began to turn matte and grey, and the white line of light became wider and brighter, separating the two halves of his body further and further.
“But there was so much I wanted to know!” Faïz (y) said, unconsciously raising his voice. “Do I become a better person? Do I find my place in the world? Do I get a good job? Do I marry a gorgeous honey and have lots of likkle pickney-dem (little children)?”
“Live and find out,” Faïz (e) whispered, managing a smile as his wrinkling shrivelling skin bled into the growing white line of light. His beard and dreads were now platinum silver and quickly fading into the hue of new snow. His jade green robes seemed to unravel and be sucked like spaghetti into the even larger white light, and what was left of his body simultaneously decomposed and evaporated into the air, which was itself becoming less and less distinguishable from the almost ubiquitous white line.
“Tell me more man!” Faïz (y) bellowed. He reached out for the little wisps and crumbs of the elder him, which somehow formed a smile and blended into his hands. And that’s when the remaining Faïz began to feel his own body numbing, first the hands and feet, then the arms and legs, and finally the whole body.
He would have flown into a hyperventilating panic… but his heart was too numb. He collapsed onto his back, staring helplessly into the now omnipresent inescapable white line which had taken over his whole field of vision, and all was silent. Until…
“Faïz! Faïz! Wagwan wit ya bro? You ain’t dead, you can’t be dying on me!” This was the familiar voice of his best white friend Jhacamaiel, whose face sprouted out of the white light.
“Wake up pal! That’s right, come back to us!” came the voice of his best black friend Varasayo.
Realising this was no longer the bar floor he was lying on, Faïz slowly cranked his head to look at where he was. Large clean white walls and ceiling, bright lights, beds on either side of the one he felt himself laying on… hospital. Though he’d never seen it from this view before, not as a patient. All his mates, plus some of their mates he didn’t know, surrounded him and kept their eyes on him like hawks to inspect every detail of his vital signs.
“Oh my God! Please be OK Faïz! Are you OK? Faïz!!!” cried Raani, the Tamil girl so much duskier than himself who normally responded to his snide wisecracks with her own witty banter. But now she was clasping his hand as if it were keeping her alive, and her quivering bloodshot eyes glared into his with shameless worry. Why was she so concerned? Was it possible that she, whom Faïz had pretended to overlook for so long, had feelings for…?
Faïz (e)’s voice whispered in the younger’s head one last time, “Live and find out.”
© ONE TAWNY STRANGER 2013