by E. Lily Yu
Read by Rajan Khanna
Originally published in McSweeney’s Quarterly 45.
Three days before Mr. Fareed Halawi was washed and turned to face the northeast, a beatific smile on his face, he had the unusual distinction of entertaining the angel Gabriel at the coffeeshop he operated in the unfashionable district of Moqattam in Cairo. Fareed was tipped back in his monobloc chair, watching the soccer game on television. The cigarette between his lips wobbled with disapproval at the referee’s calls. Above him on the wall hung the photograph of a young man, barely eighteen, bleached to pale blue. His rolled-up prayer mat rested below. It was a quiet hour before lunch, and the coffeeshop was empty. Right as the referee held up a yellow card, a scrub-bearded man strode in.
“Peace to you, Fareed,” the stranger boomed. “Arise!”
Fareed laughed and tapped out a grub of ash. “Peace to you. New to the neighborhood?”
“Not at all. I know you, Fareed,” the stranger said. “You pray with devotion and give generously to the poor.”
“So does my neighbor,” said Fareed, “though that hasn’t helped him find a husband for his big-nosed daughter. Can I get you a glass of tea?”
“The one thing you lack to perfect your faith is the hajj.”
“Well, with business as slow as it is, and one thing and another…” Fareed coughed. “Truth is, may God forgive me, I’m saving up to visit my son. He’s an electrician in Miami. Doesn’t call home. What would you like to drink?”
“I have come to take you on hajj.”
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