in Roshnpur

Still smiling, Zeshawn enters the masjid of Roshnpur right before the jummah prayer. As soon as his bare foot touches the cool stone floor, he senses trouble. A young man sitting in front of the masjid begins to cough loudly.  After coughing, the man immediately turns his face to the left and spits to let out the extra liquid that accumulated in his mouth. Even before the pouch saliva could reach the stone floor, the imam turns at once to face him.

“What did you just do? Don’t you know it is sinful to spit in a masjid?” asked the imam,  Muhammad Riaz, who leads the congregational prayers and taught the children of Roshnpur the basics of their faith.

The man steps back and looks around for help. His eyes meet those of Zeshawn, whose smile comforts him.

“Is it?” asks Zeshawn, acting dumbfounded. Slowly, he goes to the purification area and fills up a small bucket with water and hands it to the young man. “What if I showed you that the Quran permits spitting in the masjid?”

By now, most of the townsmen had arrived and were watching the young man wash out the spit and push the water towards the exit with a mop made of thick straws wrapped at one end with a strip of cloth. Riaz, glad that this time Zeshawn would be proved wrong, quickly brings the Quran.

“No it doesn’t,” says Riaz, “You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t I?” asks Zeshawn, “last time I checked, we went to the same school for religious learning.”

“Right, and you were always too busy questioning our beloved teachers to listen to what they actually said,” retorts Riaz, as though accusing Zeshawn of blasphemy.

The statement provoked the townsmen to begin talking in hushed tones. The rumors about Zeshawn’s behavior in madrasah were slowly proving to be true.

“Enlighten us, Zeshawn,” Riaz says loudly before Zeshawn has a chance to respond, “where does it say that you can spit in the masjid?”

Zeshawn takes the Quran and begins to look closely at the curved words. He really didn’t understand the language and everyone knew that, but people were too enchanted to point out that small factor. When Zeshawn turns the page, he realizes that two of the pages are stuck together. Immediately, he sticks his thumb and forefinger into his mouth to moisten them. Slowly, he touches the pages and rubs them between his two wet fingers in an effort to take them apart. The pages peel off from one another to reveal a hidden sea of words. Riaz and the townsmen lean in thinking that surely the proof must be on this page.

“Here it is,” announces Zeshawn.

“Where?” asks the Riaz, clearly familiar with the Quran.

“Well, right here,” says Zeshawn, pointing to the place where his fingers had just touched. Before the imam could speak, Zeshawn continues, “if my saliva is clean enough to touch the pages of the Quran where we can do nothing but let it dry off, why was the same liquid too impure to touch the stones of the masjid from where it can be cleaned off fairly easily?”

The rest of the townsmen begin speaking to each other about Zeshawn’s answer as he quietly moves away from the center of attention to a discreet corner and begins to pray. Following suit, other townsmen also begin to offer the supererogatory prayer right before the sermon.

Riaz resentfully, albeit a bit awestruck, closes the Quran and returns it to the shelf in front of the masjid. He continues to the far Western end of the masjid and takes his place near the minbar from where he will give the Friday Sermon.

As a general gesture, many of the men frequently asked Zeshawn to lead them in prayer or at least to become an imam. His knowledge was equivalent to the knowledge the imam had–they both were the only truly educated people in the village. However, Zeshawn constantly relented that he was in no position to take on such a huge responsibility although everyone knew his relationship with Riaz during their school years was the real reason he did not take on the responsibility. Besides, Zeshawn’s recent dream was to travel.

It was proper etiquette that no one knew Aasiya and Zeshawn were trying to conceive their first child. Three long months had gone by and the couple was beginning to get fidgety; month after month, Aasiya spotted the signs that she was not, in fact, pregnant. Zeshawn had made up his mind, he wanted to retain the happiness in his marriage, he wanted to travel with Aasiya, and eventually find a child that needed a home even if that meant traveling from China to Africa.

Zeshawn looks up as Riaz begins to give his sermon and mentally begins to make preparations for the long journey ahead. He wanted to travel westward, towards the holy cities. Maybe that would help lighten the burden. The sermon ends and the call to prayer commences. After the prayer ends, everyone greets each other once more before heading home.

Right before reaching his home, Zeshawn spots a camel spider crawling up the side of his neighbor’s door. He would normally not think of harming any animals, but Zeshawn recognizes the patterns of poison reaping from the spider’s skin. Looking around for some way to kill it, he spots a knife-like clay brick sticking out of the wall. He quickly pulls it out and jams it into the spider.

“What have you done?!” says a jinn who appears out of thin air in the form of a man, “You have killed one of us!”

“What?” asks Zeshawn, turning to face him as the spider disappears before his eyes.

“You have killed a jinn!”

“No, I haven’t! I killed a poisonous spider!”

“It was a jinn in the form of a spider––don’t you know that jinns can take any form they please?”

“Don’t be silly, everyone knows that, but how was I supposed to know this was a jinn?”

“Oh, you will be tried in our court right now. Follow me.”

Zeshawn reluctantly follows as the rest of the town has gone to sleep, everyone else is catching up on the noon-time nap as the sun begins to decline and the temperatures cool. He wonders if he should just run away, but his curiosity gets the better of him. How many others can say they’ve seen a jinn in person?


Respond to in Roshnpur

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