A Modern Pilgrim's Tale


The apple pie seems a fitting American Thanksgiving gift to my Muslim housemates.

The token treat for my Nigerian friends rivals the Pilgrims' offering to Native Americans , me being a white, Irish Catholic kid from Philadelphia. I hear them being called “terrorists,” including once from a college graduate African-American “Christian” woman no less.

When I wake in the morning, I listen to the recorded prayers, known as the zikr, blaring from Idayat’s basement room as I change the cat litter. The loud praise to their God equals the chants sent out through the loud speakers placed high atop towns in the Middle East and North Africa.

Bucola walks around the house hunched over with her infant son, Malik, tied around her back in a blanket, her fingers combing her prayer beads no different than the rosaries my mother gripped daily.

I take 5-year-old Karimot out trick or treating for her first Halloween, dressing her in the clown outfit, the one with the rainbow fuzz balls lining the front as she tries to grasp the concept of the American holiday.

“Gerry, people give you candy?” she asks.

“Yes Karimot,” I say. “People give you candy.”

*

I walk through the door nightly after a long day, my little friend sprinting to me, cheering my name “Gerry! Gerry!”, jumping up and down like an excited puppy. We sit on the couch where she ties my thinning hair up in little rubber bands as we discuss our days at the office and kindergarten.

So I give it no thought when Idayat and her husband ask what channel CNN is on.

“One hundred,” I reply.

They know before I do. We watch in horror the Paris terrorist bombings and shootings, the dead, the wounded, the huddled weeping. We sit aghast together silently before the landlord's giant flat screen television as the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles bounce off our faces.

My new friends stand numb, a sincere ache in their eyes for the French people. And when President-elect Donald Trump calls for a ban of their people or says they should be on a registry, I think of my own Irish ancestors fleeing the deadly famine of 1840s and facing “Irish need not apply” signs for jobs as they arrive in America.

Yet the slurs don't affect us. Idayat still organizes the recyclables and I feed the landlord’s cat.

Sunday mornings our religious beliefs fork as I sit on the couch sipping a mug of coffee while watching television preacher Joel Osteen quote the Bible stories of Jesus. My friends come down the stairs in their flowing garb, hijabs on their heads, headed to the mosque.

They return after 10 hours, sleepy children in tow, as I grab the stroller lifting it through the front door. And I realize that we exist on common ground in our belief in a power greater than ourselves without the need to argue over whose God is better.

*

Bucola taps on my room door.

“Sorry to disturb you,” she says. “Idayat is having contractions.”

I jump up as Idayat and her husband pile into my car and we drive to the nearest hospital where four hours later she delivers a baby boy, our newest American.

I return the next morning, reaching down to gently kiss the baby on the forehead, allowing it to grip my fingers with his tiny hands.

Welcome to America my little friend.


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