Missionary Impossible Part I



Avenue Kleber.


The Saudi ladies fall silent at the call to prayer.


I see some of their lips moving as they listen to the Adhan.


The words of response play in my head: “There is no strength or power except from God.”




It interrupts our small party for a moment, but the ladies know the ritual; they leave the room in a staggered fashion to perform the ablutions and prayers.


They will need to cover the hair they have done up for the get-together and slip an abaya on in order to pray.


Our hostess orchestrates the whole thing. As the room she has set aside for the prayers clears, she comes and nudges another woman who files out of the room.


I love to see her like this, without the hijab she always wears to the classroom.


She has cut her hair short, in a pixie-cut, and her pants are so tight she must have rolled them on.


In class I catch glimmers of this fashion-conscious woman: in the way she ties her hijab into a bow or how she navigates modesty without looking totally out of place in Paris.


Not that she’s walking around all that much.


The driver drops her off at school in the morning and picks her up in the afternoon.


On a rare occasion we’ll go out.


We walk down the Champs-Elysees to the Buddha Bar to lounge for a few hours until her husband demands that she go home. He is probably out at Victor Hugo, but he wants her home.


Arm-in-arm we wander around the Champs-de-Mars and she confesses her ambition to have a hair salon.


“That’s ridiculous,” I respond. “Your sense of smell is so sensitive you’d quit after two minutes!”


She laughs freely, then, in the way that I love. Followed by that look: the how-do-you-know-me look.


How do I know her?


She is an Arab and I am an Anglo-Saxon.


And yet, here we are in Paris.


We head back to avenue Kleber where she cooks kebsa for her husband and I gaze out the window at the people in the street below. If I look left I can see the Arc-de-Triomphe.


But I don’t have time.


Her son wants to play.


I refuse to join the video game so we race up and down the long hallways, scrambling for the ball. We kick it; we throw it, we struggle together.


My friend’s husband raises his eyebrows and asks her, “Do we have one child or two?”


I tell their son about Solomon’s wisdom and God’s grace bestowed up this son-of-David.


My friend asks if I am trying to convert him.


I am insulted.


“How dare you!” I say, piqued by her impudence.


She sidles up to me and rolls her eyes.


She smiles.


“I’m just checking.”


It’s not till months, perhaps years, later that I realize how unique our short season on Kleber really was. Arabs and Anglo-Saxons cohabiting. What a world.