Does God exist?
“You come to work late one more time and you are fired! Scratch that… don’t even bother to show up!”
In the middle of a cold American winter, a single white car skidded dangerously on a deserted highway in the State of Connecticut. The time was 6am and the streetlights had no chance against the dark sky and pounding snow. Visibility was minimal and the white and yellow doted lines on the road were all but gone. The 1995 Mazda suddenly hit a pothole and went over the curb. The driver feverishly swung the wheel and tried to steer the car back on the road but the hind tires dug into the grass and the car refused to budge. Abdul cursed under his breath and threw a desperate glance at the time. 6.15am. If he didn’t make it to work by seven he would have to kiss his job goodbye.
He revved the gas and swung the wheel from left to right but the hind tires only dug deeper into the snow. The smell of burning rubber drifted into his nose and he knew that he had to stop. He was stuck! Quickly, he put on his gloves and hat and jumped out of the car to inspect the situation, but the snow coming down was too thick and it hurt his face. He jumped back into the car; his only consolation being that the heater was still working. But then again, he was a sitting duck on the highway: a nice target for an eighteen-wheeler to ram him off the road. There was nothing else he could do but pray to Allah for his safety.
At 6.45am, a police cruiser arrived and hooked up a towing cable to his car. “There’s a blizzard warning son: New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts… you need to get off the road!” the cop yelled with a frown. Within five minutes, Abdul was back on the road again, driving at a snail’s pace and not wanting to end up in a ditch. Going back home was not an option if he was to save his job.
He arrived at work at 7.15am and quickly clocked in. He grabbed a pair of headsets and announced on the radio. “This is Abdul. I’m sorry that am late, but am committed to growing one customer at a time and raising sales to the highest level.” He knew that all the employees in the building could hear him as everybody wore a pair of headsets.
It was a retail store that sold school supplies and office accessories. Most of the employees were the geek looking kind and Abdul was no exception. His gaunt frame never allowed him to play sports as a kid and he had totally avoided swimming, especially after other children had made fun of his protruding rib cage. His thick glasses didn’t help much with his looks but underneath all that was a brain as sharp as a razor. Here, in the store, the world loved geeks. Outside there, was another story.
The radio crackled to life as Abdul walked into the sale’s floor. “Abdul, please report to the office.” The voice was not unkind but the power behind the words was unmistakable. It was the manager’s voice! They were going to let him go and he knew it. The other employees on the sales floor turned and gave him sympathetic looks. Abdul smiled uneasily and tried his best to look brave.
The front door suddenly opened and an old lady walked in, brushing snow from her purple trench coat.
The radio crackled again. “Customer just walked in, let’s take care of her.”
Abdul quickly replied. “This is Abdul. I’ve got it.”
“No Abdul. Let somebody else do it!” It was the manager’s voice on the line.
Abdul took off his headset and turned off the radio. Then he walked over and greeted the old lady. “Good morning ma’am. It’s pretty rough out there ha?”
The old lady made eye contact and appraised him. “Oh my,” she exclaimed. “I didn’t think I would make it.”
You and I both. “How can I help you today ma’am?” Abdul followed the lady around the store.
“I need a gift for my daughter, mmmm, something technical and fancy. You know how these kids are today, spend all their time on the computer.”
Abdul knew. He was one of those kids. “How about a kindle?”
“That sounds like a good idea.” The old lady nodded in agreement.
“I will show you what we have and then we can go from there. No rush ma’am, we will find that gift for your daughter.”
The old lady smiled. “That would be wonderful young man.”
The purple trench coat and Abdul casually strolled around the store and engaged in comfortable conversation. At one point, Abdul looked up and saw the Manager watching him from across the room, a worried expression on his face. Abdul ignored him and turned back to his customer. For her age, she had a beautiful smile that instantly resonated with the young man. She bought a Kindle Fire and other accessories for her daughter and Abdul walked her over to the cashier. The lady paid for her stuff and left the premises happy and satisfied. Abdul put on his headsets and made the call.
“This is Abdul. I have just assisted the nice lady. She bought a kindle fire, pens and books for her daughter. She promised to come back and see us again.”
There was silence on the radio for a minute. And then suddenly the manager’s voice. “Thank you Abdul. I need to see you right away!”
Abdul sighed. It was time. He gave the store one last sweep. He was going to miss this place after working there for five years. He had arrived in America six years ago and this had been his first job as a student. He had liked it and enjoyed fixing computers. But that was then, and this was now.
“Have a sit Abdul.” The Manager watched as the young man sighed into the black chair, a look of resignation on his face.
“Why Abdul?” The manager asked.
“It’s the snow sir. Every time it snows I come late. I’m from the Middle East Sir.”
“I’m sorry Abdul, you have been in America for what, ten years now? You are a good worker but we have to let you go,” the Manager clasped his hands on the mahogany desk and stared at the young man.
Abdul waited, but no other words were uttered. Five years of meager students’ wages … and it all came down to this… one sentence. Something was wrong with that picture.
Abdul stood up and placed the radio and headsets on the desk, then he walked into the store and out of the building without uttering a single word or showing emotion. The wind howled and threatened to pick him up. It had stopped snowing but the roads were a mass of white. The old Mazda swung back on the road and glided along in silence. The radio was turned off; the heater was up on a full blast. The car skidded dangerously from left to right but this time, the young man inside didn’t care whether he crashed or not, he punched the accelerator. Something inside him had died in the office.
The first thing Abdul saw when he got home was the eviction notice on the door. The Landlord was giving him twenty-four hours to pay rent or get his stuff out. He ripped the notice and crunched it into a ball, then walked into the apartment.
“Hi Abdul, you are home early.” A female voice greeted him and he stared at her in surprise. She was packing her clothes into a suitcase.
“You are going somewhere?” Abdul asked. She looked like she had been caught with her hand in a cookie jar… embarrassed.
“I didn’t want you to find me here,” she said as she threw her hands up in exasperation. “I can’t do this anymore.”
“Can’t do what Rahab?” Abdul looked like a coma patient who was struggling to wake up. Nothing made sense anymore. The world was twisted.
“You know what I mean.” She struggled to soften the blow. “We have been dating for two years now. When I met you, you were full of promises and I believed you. But now, two years later, I realize that promises are all that you have.”
“Why now Rahab?” His eyes pleaded with her but she did her best to avoid eye contact. Rahab quickly closed the suitcase and walked to the door.
“I don’t want to do this Abdul. I don’t want to argue. Find me when you get your life together.” The door slammed shut and she was gone.
Abdul took a step towards the door but then stopped as he realized that she was right. He had botched his American dream and every corner he had made had turned out to be wrong. And now, the last stroke was about to happen… an eviction.
Abdul walked around the apartment and thought about all the fond memories that he and Rahab had shared. He shuddered as he heard an engine come to life outside, and knew that Rahab was history. How had he fallen so hard so fast? What to do next was the question.
He called his parents in the Middle East and asked them how they were doing. They were happy to hear his voice and asked him when he was coming home. He promised them soon and told them that he loved them. He hanged up the phone. There was one more thing to do.
Abdul dug under the bed and fished out his mat. He lay it in the middle of the living room and knelt down facing Mecca. He closed his eyes and saw the endless yellow of the desert, he could smell the camels…the pin of a grenade, gunship helicopters, people running and shouting, explosions everywhere. He began praying feverishly, “Allahu Akbar!” Allah is greater...
By the time he finished praying, he felt it inside his every bone, and he knew that he was ready. His eyes glazed over and everything around him suddenly looked dark and trivial. He did not belong here. He was no longer a part of this world.
He grabbed his traveling suitcase and unzipped the secret compartment. Inside was a prepaid phone with a secret code. He dialed the number and the phone rung three times before it was answered.
“I’m ready,” Abdul said. “Let the will of Allah be done.”
The following day at exactly noon, a parcel arrived at his doorstep. He opened and stared at it for a very long time.
He had grown up in a terrorist camp in a small country in the Middle East. As a little boy, his village had looked normal to him, just like any other. He had gone to school everyday and in the evening ran home to his mum’s waiting arms. His dad had tucked him in bed every night and occasionally read him a bedtime story. They had been a happy family. And then the American drones had arrived and everything had changed. What had once been a thriving village turned into ruins and dead bodies. His parents had been killed and he had been whisked to safety through a secret path in the mountains. The word terrorist had been introduced to him for the first time in his life and he had known then that he would forever be branded.
Coming to America had been a great joy for Abdul, a fulfillment of his adolescent dream, and he had come to like the people and the country. People were just people no matter their race or religion. He had slowly convinced himself that the fault of a few should not be blamed on the sum. But what he had not anticipated was the suppressed coldness in the pit of his belly. He had always blamed the Americans for the death of his parents and now, finally, the anger had boiled to the surface in a frenzy of emotions. Death was written in his eyes. It was him against the world. Abdul took the suicide belt and strapped it on. He then jumped into his car and drove towards his job.
The world whizzed around him as he drove and nothing made sense any more: the trees, the vegetation… the people: a Wal-Mart store, a mall… they all stifled him. What was the point of living if death was the ultimate goal? Who decides on the when, where and how? Who made the play on his parents? Who decided that it was time for them to go? Abdul shook off the lingering gloom and focused on the task ahead.
One more turn and he would arrive at his job. Something caught the corner of his eye and Abdul half turned and looked outside the car window. It was an old woman sitting at the bus stop. Abdul looked again and realized that it was the same old woman he had assisted the previous day. The poor thing would freeze to death. Abdul turned the car and drove for her.
“Come on, get in!” Abdul yelled as he rolled down the windows. “You will catch your death out there. I will take you home.”
The old woman looked up slowly. Her teeth clattered and her hands trembled as she reached for the door. She wore the same purple coat from the previous day. The old lady got into the car and Abdul cranked up the heater.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
She turned and stared at him as though seeing him for the first time and recollection dawned on her face. “I remember you young man,” she said with a smile.
“Yes, I remember you too. Did your daughter like her gift?”
The old lady just smiled.
“You have a beautiful smile,” Abdul complimented.
“Turn right here and go down the street for ten miles,” she said as she pointed a crooked finger. Abdul obeyed and the car cruised through the melting snow.
“Are you a student?” the lady asked as she rubbed her hands together.
“Yes. I’m a computer science student. Abdul’s eyes lit up like they always did at the mention of computers.
“So why aren’t you in class now?”
“I dropped off this semester to pay off outstanding tuition balance.” Abdul’s voice had a tone of dejection and the old woman decided not to prod.
“I did psychology in College,” she said pensively.
“Oh!” Abdul exclaimed. “Did you have to write a thesis paper?” He had taken a few psychology classes and he knew the drill.
“Yes. I wrote about the existence of God.” The car skidded a little.
“What was your conclusion?” Abdul was curious.
The old woman looked outside and was quiet for a moment. “I will tell you a story,” she said. “There was once a little girl who totally believed in God and went to church every Sunday.”
Abdul leaned back and listened keenly.
The lady continued. “This little girl was always happy and full of life. She giggled and laughed a lot. But one day she grew up and went to college. She became very smart and started applying logic to the Bible stories. She realized how ridiculous it was for a man to walk on water or for water to be turned into wine. She stopped going to church and reading the Bible… she stopped believing.”
Abdul gave the old lady a quick glance. Was that little girl you? “What happened to her?”
The old woman shrugged. “She pursued her career diligently and became the best at what she was doing. She put her head down and the days of her life blurred into each other. But… she was lonely. She had money and fame, but still she was empty. She laughed less and giggled no more. Life meant nothing to her anymore and she missed the happy little girl that she used to be.” A single tear ran down the old woman’s face and Abdul felt for her.
“Turn here,” the old lady said.
“What happened then?” Abdul asked as he turned the car.
The old woman waited for the car to stabilize. “The little girl realized that, even though some of the things in the Bible couldn’t be rationalized, she was happier with God than without Him.”
“Wow!” was all Abdul could say. “What did you conclude on your thesis paper?”
“We are here!” the old lady suddenly announced and Abdul looked up for the first time and his jaw dropped. It suddenly dawned on him that they were in Greenwich, one of the richest neighborhoods in Connecticut. Abdul had read about it in a magazine, that even Oprah used to live here.
A huge gate creaked open and the car coasted into a driveway leading to a house that looked more like a palace. Green grass, flower beds... motion detectors.
“Wow! You live here?” Abdul was puzzled. “But you don’t even have a car?”
The old woman smiled. “Material stuff honey. Cars do not define who we are. There was a time when I was a little kid when we didn’t have cars.”
Her words made his head spin and he stared as they stepped out of the car. He rung the bell and a few seconds later the door unlatched itself. He pushed it open and walked onto a red carpet.
“Halo!” he yelled. “I’ve brought your mum home!”
Silence. And then he heard footsteps echo down the hall. He followed them and found himself in a living room. A movement above caught his eyes and he saw a beautiful young woman descending from a spiral staircase. She wore a gorgeous blue gown with glittering necklaces around her neck. Her hair was held elegantly on top of her head making her look taller than she was. Abdul looked down at his blue jeans, the holes showing ashy knees… a haggard expression.
“Yes,” the lady said. “How can I help you?”
Abdul smiled. “I brought your mum home!” He turned around but there was nobody there. He took a few steps back and looked down the hall. It was empty. The old woman was gone!
“She was…” Abdul’s voice trailed in confusion.
“Is this some kind of joke?” the lady of the house looked angry.
“No. I swear,” Abdul pleaded frantically. “I found her freezing at the bus stop and brought her home. She was at my store yesterday and she bought a kindle for her daughter.” The words rushed out of Abdul’s mouth and he desperately wanted to be believed.
The woman’s eyes narrowed at him. “What was she wearing?” she asked.
“Ah,” Abdul hesitated. “A purple trench coat and a beautiful smile.”
The lady’s face softened a little but still she looked skeptical. “What did you guys talk about?” she asked. “What did she tell you?”
“Ah… her thesis paper!” Abdul looked up with excited eyes. “She told me about her thesis paper… the existence of God.”
“And what was the conclusion,” the lady started pacing the room.
“She was about to tell me the conclusion, but then we arrived here. You must believe me!” Abdul’s heart hammered away.
The lady stopped pacing. “What was the conclusion?” she asked again sternly. “She told you about her paper and what she wrote about, right?”
“Yes ma’am, she did,” Abdul admitted.
“So what’s the conclusion?” The lady raised her voice like a lawyer budging a witness. “What was the conclusion young man? Does God exist or not?” Her voice echoed down the hall and back. Silence. The air was thick with tension. The next few minutes felt like an eternity as Abdul tried to ground himself. He closed his eyes and a calmness descended inside his body. There was something strange about the house. It was missing something … the laughter of children, the idle hum of a TV, the smell of cooking. An old woman’s face suddenly appeared in Abdul’s vision. She had been trying to tell him something. Abdul took a deep breath, opened his eyes and then slowly replied.
“Does God exist? Conclusion. The answer to whether God exists or not lies deep in the core of our conscience. The decision to accept the existence of God is not always an epiphany or a light bulb in the head but sometimes a life long struggle. We constantly fight against it and believe it when it’s convenient for us. Eventually, it’s a choice we make about how we want to spend the rest of our lives: with or without God.”
The lady of the house stared at him mouth agape, and then suddenly she smiled. “That was beautiful. What did you say your name was?”
“Abdul ma’am. My name is Abdul.” A muted sigh escaped his lips.
The lady placed both her hands on Abdul’s cheeks and then she started crying. “She had a beautiful smile!” she said, quoting Abdul’s words.
“I have to go now,” Abdul said feeling uneasy. Nothing made sense anymore.
“And where would you go Abdul? Mmmm. To your apartment?” Abdul suddenly remembered the eviction notice and his face turned grave.
“Look around you Abdul. My mum brought you here for a reason.” The lady raised her hands and gestured around the huge house. “This is now your home Abdul. I will take care of you and get you through college. I know you are very far from home. You can call me Miss. Loreta. This is my mum’s wish. That’s why she brought you here.”
Abdul couldn’t believe his fortune. The thought of someone paying for his college made his heart pound like a drum. Suddenly, the darkness around him vanished and he felt life flow into his eyes. The chandeliers were beautiful: the couches were white and suede; the tables were glass… everything in the house was antique.
“Thank you ma’am,” Abdul said with a sense of relief and Miss. Loreta hugged him warmly. “Come, I will show you to your room.” She took his hand and led him away.
“Miss. Loreta?” Abdul’s voice was full of hesitation. “What happened to your mum?”
She squeezed his hand until it hurt but he pretended not to notice. The tears poured freely down her face.
“She went to buy me a birthday gift on that fateful day, and never came back home. They say, the blizzard got her.”
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...