My car battery dies today, so I call AAA. A tattooed technician in his mid 40s arrives. He is blond, Southern accent thick, and his hands are deeply rutted with grease and the trials of a Battery Service Tech.
I will call him Joe.
Joe is jovial and helpful. He starts to flirt a little bit. What he sees in the shape of me is a blond woman with size 0 purple spiral ear gauges and tortoise shell glasses.
“Are you a student?” he asks, as I live close to campus.
“No, not anymore,” I say.
“You graduated already?”
“Oh, yes. Many years ago.” Joe smiles at the cryptic reference to my age. He wants to ask how old I am, but he doesn’t. Instead, Joe makes small talk in the form of bar/drinking jokes. I laugh, for I recognize he is trying to pass the time, to appear interesting. I laugh because men rarely flirt with me.
We keep chatting as he tests my battery to discover it is completely dead. Kaput. Long overdue for a replacement. I am relieved to know the matter is that simple, for I had feared something worse. As if on cue, as if to remind me of my blessings, my adhan app announces that it is time to pray. It is only slightly audible over the diesel engine roar of Joe’s Dodge Ram service vehicle, but he hears it.
“What is that?” he asks, poking his head up from underneath the car’s hood. “Is that your phone?” Joe looks confused, “What IS that?” he inquires again, as melodic Arabic crawls out from inside my purse.
It takes me a minute to realize that it is, indeed, my app. “Oh, yes, it is me,” I confess, as I reach inside my purse to silence my phone.
He laughs, “Wow. I thought for a minute I was hearing aliens or something.” Aliens? I think, the call to prayer, a battle cry of an alien republic.
My battery is successfully installed, and he suggests that I climb into the cab of his truck as he runs my credit card. My drivers license is also required.
Joe gets into the cab next to me. I hand him my identification. In the picture, I am covered in the hijab, the traditional Islamic veil. He looks at it for a moment before commenting, “Oh, well that is…different.” Joe starts to say something else, but he can’t find the words.
“Um…yeah,” I say as I turn to him and smile. This is the point of “no return,” the moment things become more interesting, or contested, or confusing, or completely alien.
He stares at my picture for a few seconds before asking: “Are you an Israelian?”
I wonder why he thinks I am Israeli – Israelian — and not something else, like an Iraqian or Afghanian or Arabian. Or alien. Now it is my turn to laugh. “No, I am just a Muslim,” I clarify. Islamian, I want to say.
Joe looks at me, and thankfully, he smiles. “Oh, you converted?” he asks.
“Yes, I did.” There is a moment of baffled silence, and then I joke, “I bet you never thought you’d have a Muslim woman sitting next to you in the coolness of your truck’s cab?”
Joe says it doesn’t matter what “race” I am. “In my line of business,” he replies, “all that matters is that you can pay!”
He then asks how to pronounce the name on my drivers license. “Is that Kala?” he says as he looks at my name, Kelli. My perfectly American, white girl name is now seemingly foreign, as Joe is confused by my race and what syllables define me.
The silence between us is thick with something that wasn’t there before. I make small talk and ask him if he wants to stay in the area or move elsewhere. I tell Joe that I’d drive right on out of this city had I a more reliable car. Considering the context, I think any discussion about moving through time and space might bring some relief to the matters at hand.
“I want to move to Texas,” offers Joe. I comment that Austin seems nice. He starts to explain how Texas is about to secede from the United States, how it is big enough to do so, and has enough resources to sustain its own economy. I realize that I am in an enclosed truck with the kind of man who is excited about Texas being its own independent territory, and he has a Muslim sitting next to him, and that Muslims probably won’t be welcomed in the kind of Texas that no longer desires to be part of America.
We start talking about tattoos. “Your kind doesn’t believe in tattoos, does it?” I throw my head back and laugh. My kind. I think. Finally, I have a type. Then I show him the three I have: one on the back of my neck, two on my upper arm. Joe tells me that he has work all over this body, that his cousin is a tattoo artist, and he lives in Texas.
My credit card is approved. Joe fills out the paperwork and the battery warranty. As he writes my phone number down on the sheet, he looks up and says,
“Hey, did you realize that your number has the Mark of the Beast in it?”