Over at the Karims’ house that evening, Ibrahim was sitting alone in the bedroom that he shared with his older brother, Saad. Saad was a freshman in college who also worked part-time at the local Blake Brothers Bookstore.
As Ibrahim began working on his English homework, he debated whether to call Christy, the girl who had stopped by his locker that afternoon. He was really tempted to, especially since Saad would be at work until 9:00 pm that night, so he had their bedroom all to himself. He could hear Nur and Elham talking next door. For the past year, Ibrahim had been almost infatuated with the idea of being a member of the “popular” crowd in his class. He also really wanted to have a girlfriend. It seemed like all of the popular guys had really cool girlfriends. Of course, Christy, being one of the cheerleaders, hung out with that group of kids.
After fifteen minutes of unfocused reading, he decided to make the call. He went out to let his parents know and found them talking in the kitchen.
“Hey, Mom, Dad, is it okay if I use your phone? I want to call Ali,” he said. Ali Hussain was one of his friends. He was one year younger than Ibrahim.
“Sure. Is there some reason you don’t want to use the phone in the family room?” Mr. Karim asked.
“Well…” His mind scrambled for a reply. “If Nur hears me, she’ll interrupt us so she can talk to Nadia.” Nadia was Ali’s older sister.
His father shrugged. “Okay. Don’t be on too long.”
Ibrahim walked into his parents’ bedroom and then took the cordless phone into his own room. After closing the door and laying back down on the bed, he quickly dialed the phone number before he lost his nerve.
“Hello,” said the girl at the other end. “Hi, is this Christy?” he asked.
“Ibrahim? Of course, it’s me. This is my own private cell phone.”
Wow, Ibrahim thought, she’s got her own cell phone. Aloud, he said, “Great. So what’s up?”
“Nothing. What’s up with you?” she replied.
“Well, I’m just trying to do some English. I have a lot of reading to do for that class.”
“I’m sure it’s easy for you. You’re so smart. I bet you have an A in biology without even trying.”
“So do you still need help with that?” Ibrahim asked her.
“Kind of. But I don’t really care about biology. I’ll do okay. Mrs. King likes me. I really just wanted to talk to you,” Christy said.
Ibrahim could almost picture her, sitting in her bedroom, talking on her cell phone. He hoped none of her friends were there with her. “So what do you want to talk about?” he asked, trying to sound casual.
“Our date. When’s it going to be?”
“What date? Did I ask you on a date?”
“No, but I’m asking you. I really like you, Ibrahim. I want to go out with you sometime,” she said.
“Like when?” he replied.
“Like tomorrow if you want.”
“Maybe after we get back from Thanksgiving vacation,” Ibrahim said. “Because tomorrow’s our last day this week.”
“Okay, well do you want to come to a party this Friday night? One of my brother’s friends is having one at his house. We can go together if you want.”
“I’ll see. I’d have to ask my parents. We may be going out of town. I’ll call you back, okay?”
“Bye.” Ibrahim hung up the telephone. He leaned back against his pillow to think.
That evening, Khalid was at his part-time job as a cashier at Super Foods, one of the grocery stores near his house. Usually he worked one or two evenings a week (less during soccer season) and on the weekends. However, because this was a short week of school, he was picking up some extra hours. The store was open on the morning of Thanksgiving and the Friday after as well. He had offered to work on both days, so he would get the extra holiday pay.
Whatever he earned went to his car insurance and gas, and anything left over he put into a savings account for college. He knew he wouldn’t be able to save enough by the time he graduated in one-and-a-half years, but he hoped that with one year of full-time work after that, he would be able to start his studies. Any time he could pick up extra hours, he tried to take advantage of it.
All afternoon, the store had been especially busy, but now that it was later in the evening, things had slowed down. As he worked, Khalid thought back to the end of the school day when he had seen Ibrahim talking to a pretty blonde sophomore at his locker after school. She had appeared to be flirting with him and had touched his arm several times during their conversation. Khalid had meant to call his friend and make sure every- thing was okay. He worried about Ibrahim because he knew that sometimes his friend struggled to balance his religious beliefs with his desire to fit in and be popular at school. Khalid kicked himself for not taking the time to call Ibrahim before he came in for work.
A woman with a cart full of groceries came to his cash register, and Khalid busied himself ringing up her purchase. As she pushed her cart away, his supervisor approached with some change.
James was one of two supervisors at Super Foods, and he got along really well with Khalid. He was in his mid-forties and liked to discuss history and to learn about different languages. He was always asking Khalid how to say things in Arabic. Plus, he pronounced Khalid’s name perfectly, unlike most people who called him Kaleed.
“Mr. Khalid, what’s up? Are you making a lot of money for us tonight?” James greeted him.
“Of course. I only recommend the most expensive products,” Khalid joked. He turned off his light.
“I know. That’s why you’re so good.” James opened the cash register and began distributing the rolls of coins.“Actually I heard something really nice about you the other day. Frank Martin— he’s one of our regular customers. Maybe you know him. He’s a really nice older man, uses a cane. And he always comes to drink coffee in the deli. Poor guy. His wife has Alzheimer’s, and he takes care of her at home. They’ve probably been married more than fifty years. Anyway, the day he was here, he said it was raining outside and even though we were so busy and you didn’t have a bagger, you made him wait for a couple of minutes so you could finish with the people behind him and then you carried his groceries out and loaded them in his car for him. The next morning when he came here for breakfast, he told me all about it. He was just so happy.”
“Wow, that was so nice of him.” Khalid was genuinely surprised. He clearly remembered the incident. He silently reminded himself to thank Mr. Martin the next time he came in.
Just then, he noticed a group of four kids from his high school, walking past his register on their way into the store. Before he could even acknowledge them or say anything, one of them said, “Look, it’s the Muslim terrorist.”
“Hi, Saddam bin Laden,” another one added as they all laughed. “Maybe we’ll suicide bomb you.”
Khalid had learned long ago to take these kinds of comments in stride and not to let them bother him. He knew they were just ignorant teenagers. James, however, was incensed.
“I’m sorry, what did you just say?” James demanded. “Nothing,” one of the boys smirked.
“Nothing? I don’t think so. Tell me what you just said. Say it again. Come on.”
“We didn’t say anything,” he lied again. “Who are you? Al Qaeda?”
By that time everyone was watching them. James was in his limelight. “You didn’t say anything, huh? That’s funny, because I heard you call this young man—my employee—a Muslim terrorist. I heard you call him Saddam bin Laden and then threaten him. Name calling is completely unacceptable and childish. And what’s more, we don’t allow anyone to threaten our employees. That’s called intimidation, and it’s a crime, a misdemeanor. Now get out of my store, and if I ever see any one of you in here again, I’ll call the police.”
The four teenagers silently filed out the doors, muttering to themselves. With that, several of the customers waiting in line began applauding.
James nonchalantly went back to filling the coin slots, and Khalid, slightly embarrassed from all of the attention, turned his light back on.
“I’ll walk you to your car tonight,” James told him as he walked away. “Just in case.”
As Khalid continued to work, he thought about the incident. He thought the students were younger than him, probably sophomores. In general, he got along very well with everyone, especially since he was one of the best soccer players on his high school team and he was active in the student council. He was actually fairly popular, although he had experienced the occasional racist comment regarding his religion and country of origin. But, like most of the Muslim teenagers he knew, it was just something you had to put up with. He had never thought to react as angrily as James had that night.
The grocery store was open twenty-four hours, but Khalid always finished work at 9:00 pm or 10:00 pm. That night it was 10:00 pm. Just as he was clocking out in the break room, exactly as promised, James showed up to walk him to his car.
“I know I’m probably being overprotective,” James admitted. “But I would expect the same thing from David’s supervisor.” David was his seventeen-year-old son. “And I would feel absolutely terrible if something happened to you.”
“Nothing’s gonna happen,” Khalid assured him. “Those guys are long gone. Stuff like this, it happens. Just today, some kids at school did the same thing to my sister. You know, they just talk. They don’t do anything.”
“Well, it’s still terrible. And your principal needs to do more about it. This isn’t the 1960’s anymore and racism is racism— whether it’s directed against blacks or Hispanics or Muslims,” James declared as they put on their coats. “I’m writing a letter to the editor about this. Or maybe I’ll complain to the city council.”
They slipped out the back door and into the employees’ well-lit parking lot.
Generally, most of the other employees underwent a shift change at 11:00 pm, so Khalid usually left by himself. He had to admit, it was kind of nice to have some company for a change.
“So are you still trying to learn Arabic?” Khalid asked, changing the subject.
“Na’am. Shway,” James laughed. “Aw, who am I kidding? Those are about the only two words I remember.”
Khalid laughed, too, as they approached his car.
“Thanks a lot, James,” he said gratefully. “Have a good night.”
“You, too.” Just as James turned to walk back inside, a car playing loud music suddenly screeched to a stop at the end of the parking lot. One of the people inside on the front passenger side threw something at them from his open window and then shouted, “Look at your new sign, terrorist lovers!” The car raced away.
James noted the license plate number, and he and Khalid looked up at the store sign. Just then, Khalid noticed that object that had been hurled at them was throwing sparks. It was a firecracker.
“James, watch out!“ Khalid shouted, pushing his supervisor back as it suddenly exploded. He turned his face away and tried to shield James as well.
“Are you okay?” James demanded. “Yeah. Just a little shook up. Are you?” “Yeah. Look at the sign.”
Khalid looked up again at the lighted sign for Super Foods. Painted in graffiti over the name were the words “Arab lovers” and “Home of the Terrorists.”
“They will not get away with this,” James vowed angrily. “Those are the same kids that were in the store before. I recognized one of the girls. She comes in here all the time with her mother. Well, she won’t be coming here again.”
“It’s okay,” Khalid said. “I’ll come here early tomorrow morning before school, and we’ll fix the sign.”
“We will do no such thing. I’m calling the police tonight. And the newspaper.”
“We don’t want to make trouble or make things worse,” Khalid protested.
“They’re the ones making trouble. We could have been seriously hurt!”
“Well, Alhamdulillah, we weren’t.”
“Yes, but I’m still calling the police. Go on home. I’ll talk to them,” James told him.
“Okay.” Khalid unlocked the door and climbed into the driver’s seat of his 1992 Toyota Corolla. He felt really drained, like he had worked more than just six hours. Plus, he was still kind of shook up. He started the car, still in a fog, and headed home.
When Khalid arrived at his house a few minutes later, his parents were still up. They usually waited up for him when he worked.
“How was work?” Mr. AlAmery asked in Arabic as Khalid slipped off his shoes and joined them in the family room. His mother muted the television. Although both of his parents spoke English, the family still always spoke in Arabic at home.
“Terrible,” he declared. “These kids from high school made some really anti-Muslim comments to me while James was giving me some change. And he got really upset about it and kicked them out of the store. And then when I finished work, he walked me to my car, and the same teenagers drove past us and threw a firecracker at us.” He went on to tell them what they had spray- painted over the sign and how the customers had applauded when James initially kicked out the troublemakers. Khalid smiled wryly. “They must have waited two hours in that parking lot for me. I wonder what they would have done if I didn’t finish until midnight or 2:00 am.”
“I can’t believe this.” Mrs. AlAmery shook her head. “First Elham and now this.”
“Well, I told him there’s nothing we can do about it,” Khalid said. “I mean, it’s just the way people are. Luckily, stuff like this doesn’t happen very often. I told James not to call the police.”
“Well, he should have called the police,” his father said emphatically. “This was wrong.”
“I know, but what can you do? People are stupid.”
“But it’s different in America,” Mr. AlAmery insisted. “Even if some people don’t like Islam, we have freedom of religion here. That’s why we came here—why the Hussains are here and other people.”
“There’s no freedom here,” Khalid said bitterly. “They say there’s freedom, but there isn’t. You’re only free in America if you look and act like everyone else. For anyone different—there’s no freedom.”
“Anyway, so what are they going to do about the sign and the other stuff?” Mrs. AlAmery interrupted. “Isn’t it a crime to spray paint on the store sign and throw a firecracker?”
“I think so,” Khalid sighed. “James called the police. At least he said he was going to. I left.”
“Well, I hope that they find those teenagers and punish them,” his father declared.
“James said he’s going to call the newspaper, too. I told him not to. You know, I don’t want to make this worse. But he said he didn’t think it would. I don’t know.”
“I never expected people would be like that,” his mother said, shaking her head. “Especially here in Iowa.”
“But most people are okay,” Khalid reminded her. “Like James. And all the people in the store. I was really embarrassed when that stuff happened, but now when I think about it, I feel so good that all of those people supported me like that. I mean, I didn’t even know most of them, they were just customers.”
“Yeah,” Mr. AlAmery agreed. “That’s really nice.”
“Well, Khalid, why don’t you go on upstairs and pray and get ready to sleep?” his mother suggested. “I think Farid’s still awake, reading or something.”
“Yeah, I am tired,” he admitted. He headed up to the bedroom he shared with his younger brother.
Where to get Muslim Teens in Pitfalls and Pranks!