Published Dec 01, 2001The Muslim loves candy floss. He says it reminds him of the pink-tinged clouds that hover above the horizon when the sun goes down on a clear day. It should be a corny thing to say, but somehow, when he says it, it isn't. The Muslim loves a clear day on which you can see forever because he likes to be able to view the position of the sun or the moon in order to know when and in which direction to pray. (As a backup he always has his trusty compass with him, which points him in the precise direction of Mecca.) The Muslim doesn't like rainy days at all, and can in fact become quite despondent when it's overcast. It's funny, because I'm practically only happy when it rains, and I never pray.
I often refer to the Muslim as "the Muslim" because while he is perhaps only one out of approximately one and one half billion Muslims in the world, he's the Muslim to me.
At the CNE I buy the Muslim and myself a couple of candy flosses, but when I turn around to hand him his, he's disappeared. He sometimes does that when I'm with him in a crowded place like a mall or a supermarket disappears as if he's evaporated into thin air. He always turns up again somewhere close by, but I never see how he got there or notice when he left. This time I wander around a little to see where he might have materialised, and suddenly I spot him about a hundred yards away, kneeling in front of a hot dog stand with his head to the ground. I guess when you gotta pray, you gotta pray. I sit on a fence nearby and wait for his ritual to be over, which in public usually only takes five or ten minutes, eating my candy floss and holding his. Nobody on the crowded fairground seems to be paying much attention to this tall handsome man with the close-trimmed beard standing up and genuflecting over and over again while speaking under his breath in Qur'anic Arabic. Maybe it's because we've inadvertently come on South Asian Day and there are undoubtedly a lot of Mulsims here, or maybe he's hiding behind his cloak of invisibility. When he's finished he catches my eye immediately and swaggers over with his freakishly long arms dangling at his sides, takes his candy floss and tears off a chunk with his big straight white teeth. He smiles his thousand megawatt smile, and my heart flutters, but it could just be my sticky valve, which I swear some day is going to put me in an early grave.
As we wander around the fairground, kids come over to talk to the Muslim, as usual. Sometimes when we walk down the street little children will come up to him and hold his hand. I swear it's like dating the living Jesus. It's getting late, and we've already gone on half the rides, so I decide it's time to drop the Ecstasy. Not that with the Muslim I really need it. The Muslim isn't sure about doing it in public, but I reason with him that the place will be closing down soon, so by the time it kicks in it'll almost be time to leave. Based on this faulty logic, we drop the pills together. While we wait for the effect to kick in, out of the blue the Muslim starts to talk about cats, saying that maybe he should get one. When he was growing up in East Africa he was never allowed to have a pet; the only one he ever had was a lame pigeon he found in the gutter that he adopted for a while. To this day, pigeons are his favourite bird. I tell him that in the West witches use cats as "familiars," conduits to the other side that help them with their magic. He says he'd like a black cat, but only one that has a white mark on its chest, otherwise it might bring bad luck. I tell him he should name her Pyewacket.
Then the Ecstasy kicks in. We head for the Hurricane, one of the gnarliest rides on the midway. It's like a Ferris wheel, except instead of seats there are cramped, enclosed pods each with its own steering wheel that allows you and your partner to do a complete 360. As the Muslim maniacally spins us around and around, I snap pictures of him hanging upside down laughing like a mad man. Considering the hardships that he's currently enduring in his life, it always amazes me that he can tap into such joy, not just now, on a mind-altering substance, but every day.
Back at my place a few hours later we decide to go for a walk in my neighbourhood. As we're strolling and talking, a black cat appears out of nowhere and starts to walk beside us about ten feet away. We walk and walk and the cat continues to doggedly follow us (so to speak), so we finally stop while I try to approach it. I notice that it has a white spot on its chest. It lets me pet it, but it's a little skittish. I try to turn it over to see if it's a male or female, but I can't tell, which makes the Muslim laugh. The Muslim names it "Sheba" after the African Queen, because I just had a review of a Mae West biography published in a national newspaper that day and in it I mention that the Queen of Sheba was her ultimate idol. Sheba continues to accompany us for about a half an hour, always keeping a slight distance. Even when we cross a busy street she comes scampering behind us, all the way back to the vicinity of my apartment building. But when we reach the back entrance, she stays about 50 feet away in a construction site lot, observing us from afar, then disappears. The Muslim says that if he sees Sheba twice more, he's going to adopt her as his cat.
Several weeks later I decide to take the Muslim up north to my parent's farm for Thanksgiving because he's never celebrated it before. He picks me up in his car with the Qur'an blasting on the tape deck as usual, sung in Arabic in a mellifluous and mysterious male voice. We end up getting lost several times, but it adds a little adventure so it doesn't really matter. Finally on the right path, we stop at a Tim Horton's so the Muslim can pray and I can get me French Vanilla Cappuccino that comes out of a machine, to which I am currently addicted. The Muslim likes his coffee too, but none of that fancy Starbucks stuff he prefers the good old-fashioned donut story variety, with lots of white sugar. I snap some pictures of the Muslim praying on his mat on the cold tarmac right behind a big Chevrolet truck. People are looking at us as if we're a little crazy, but it doesn't feel like we're going to be tarred and feathered. I imagine if we started kissing in the middle of the parking lot, however, it might be a different story.
It takes us about an hour-and-a-half longer than it should to get up to the farm, because although you could plop the Muslim down in the most Allah-forsaken landscape and he could still tell you the precise direction of Mecca, he isn't very good with maps or directions in general, and I'm even worse. We finally arrive about eight o'clock in the evening. Mom, of course, has kept our dinners warm, which we dig into while the family tries to figure out what the hell I've dragged home this time. Actually, even though I'm relatively old, I've never brought a guy that I've been having a relationship with up to the farm before, probably because I'm hardly ever in a relationship. My two younger sisters, one of whom has her sweet French Canadian boyfriend with her, are circling around the Muslim, taking him all in. It's pretty funny because although I haven't mentioned anything, everyone automatically knows we're more or less together, but as usual with my family, nothing is overtly discussed. My little sisters say, "Oh, you two can sleep in the back room on the pull-out couch," bending over backwards to get me into bed with the Muslim. It's so cute. So I say, "No no, I'll sleep on the couch in the den, and he can sleep in the back room." I don't want to get them too excited. Besides, my Dad, who's a retired farmer but still gets up at five or six every morning, has to go through the back room to leave the house, and I don't think he's ready to see me in bed with Osama Bin Laden. Actually, he probably wouldn't mind that much. He and my mother will have been married 50 years next February, so I guess they've seen pretty much everything by now. I'm the one who's being conservative.
That night, after everyone else has gone to bed and the Muslim and I are watching television, I walk across the room and glance at this big glass vase full of marbles and it literally jumps off the table it's sitting on and smashes into a million pieces, scattering a ton of marbles all over the floor. The huge racket wakes everybody in the house. My groggy mother and sister come down to see what all the commotion is about, and the Muslim watches in wonder as they calmly get out the broom and dust bin and clean everything up and go back to bed as if nothing ever happened. The Muslim says it's good luck when you accidentally break glass because it means the way is clear for something new in your life.
After we go to bed, I sneak into the back room and have sex with the Muslim. It feels weird to be fucking in the house that I grew up in after all these years.
The next night we have a wild goose for Thanksgiving dinner. The French Canadian plays a game of cribbage with the Muslim and me before we head back to Toronto. We get lost again somewhere in the vast suburbs north of the city in a premature snow squall that makes us really feel like we're in the frozen north. Having been raised near the equator in Africa, the Muslim isn't very fond of the cold.
The Muslim enjoyed Thanksgiving so much that the next night I take him to my friend Pepper's parents' place for yet another Thanksgiving dinner. I also think it's a good idea because Pepper is Jewish and the Muslim can be vaguely anti-Semetic in that sort of Middle Eastern way, automatically associating Jewishness with Zionism. So it's a good education for him. The Muslim has a great time.
At a Chinese restaurant the other night, the Muslim is telling me he always gets more than one fortune in his cookie. So I choose first and get one puny, mediocre fortune, and when he opens his, he has five different fortunes, which I've never seen happen before in my life. Not only that, but they're all like, "you will have good health and fortune," and "you will live forever." It's crazy, but true.