More importantly, Allah, being ever merciful, would not give me the bad juju-karma to choose the one occupied car among all the millions stranded on this highway, right?
I refuse to check the back seat. No one in their right minds would sleep in an abandoned car under the blazingly hot midday sun. You’d dehydrate in a minute, wouldn’t you? Of course, I abandoned my own water bottle in my mad dash for the “safety” of this car. My throat sticks and sweat beads my brow at the thought.
I glance up at the overpass. The Gorgons are following my trail of dust down the slope, in simian leaps and jumps. I duck back down.
“They’re coming, little brother,” says a crackly male voice in Arabic, and then, adds, “Alhamdulillah.”
‘Thank God?’ Does the crazy voice from the back of the car want the Gorgons to find us? I tell myself I’ve misunderstood him. I’ve spent my formative years with a bunch of British ex-pats’ kids, after all. I know crap about street idiom. Maybe he’s being sarcastic or ironic.
Which prompts me to check, honestly – if he’d just stuck with the creepy pronouncement of imminent doom, I could have contained my curiosity. Sarcastic use of Allah’s name, however, deserves a peek. I maneuver across the seats on my elbows until I can see between them.
I’m not sure what I’m expecting. Someone’s abandoned grandparent? A leper? A bug-eyed mental institution escapee?
What I see is a naked torso, covered in bluish-black, old-school ink tattoos. No representative pictures, of course, that would be haraam. Instead, there are spirals of Arabic script that run into lines and clusters, like someone’s doodles on a notebook for a particularly boring subject. I can read Arabic, but nothing I see makes much sense. From what I can tell, he’s covered in gibberish.
Shifting, I strain to see his face. One naked, bony arm covers his eyes. Tattoos circle that too, though I can almost make out a phrase or two at his wrist – a line from the Holy Qu’ran? Or someone’s phone number? Or some screwed up combination of both?
Spikes of bleached-blond hair stick up from his head, like fuzzy knobs. He lifts his arm long enough to catch me staring. His face is gaunt, shrunken. His eyes glitter out of deep hollows.
He looks nearly dead.
A Gorgon slaps at the window, making me flinch.
“Don’t worry, little brother, we’re not halal,” he rasps, covering his face with the crook of his elbow again. “They won’t eat us, though I wish they would.”
I’m about to ask him why he hasn’t run, when I see the gleam of something metal on his legs. Braces? “How long have you been here?”
“In this particular car? A couple of hours,” he says. “But in hell? Forever.”