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SYED

 

SYED

Syed was a storekeeper in a relatively poor third world country. He had a wife, four children and an elderly mother living with him in a four-room apartment. His "store" was really nothing but a dark blue pickup truck from which he sold his goods. He and his wife grew a sufficient quantity of vegetables to allow them to sell what they could not consume. Syed also sold some scrap metal and some auto parts which he obtained from various sources. But his really big sellers were American cigarettes which he obtained in the city about 35 miles away and sold at a profit in the countryside where he lived.

Syed was now in his late thirties. He had always been poor except for the two years he had spent in America driving a taxicab in Washington, D.C... Even though he had sent most of his earnings back to his wife, he still had had more "spending money" than ever before --- or since. A minor skirmish with the law had culminated in his deportation. So once again he and his family were poor. Having meat to eat was a rarity. He had electricity in his apartment only 60% of the time. His wife made almost all of the children's clothes. Their largest expense was gasoline for his truck. Life was a burden --- but Syed really had no choice but to bear it.

His wife was a good person and could make him laugh even when times were at their worst. His children were well-behaved and attended the local school regularly. His neighbors were generally cheerful people despite the poverty that engulfed them. But all this was Syed's life --- and he accepted it with very little complaining. But while sitting in the cab of his dark blue pickup truck waiting for customers in the little town's main square he would often daydream about his time in America. He had never seen such riches! Well-dressed people would hail his cab and he would drive them to expensive restaurants where a couple could spend more for one meal than he could earn in six months here in this poor country. People in America would drive expensive new luxury cars that his whole village could not afford if they all saved up for a year.

At other times he would dream of returning to America some day --- this time with his family. It was said that in America anyone could become rich if he worked hard --- and Syed believed that that was probably true. But there had been great tensions between America and his country for a number of years now and it really didn't seem that he would be going back to America any time soon. "Hey, Syed, what kind of cigarettes are you selling today?" came the booming voice of Abdullah, the town's baker.

Alighting from the truck, Syed replied, "Today, my good friend, I have only the Marlboros and the Camels".

"Then I will purchase a pack of the Marlboro and be satisfied, God willing" came the booming voice. The sale was quickly consummated and both men lit cigarettes.

"So are we going to be attacked by the Americans soon?" asked Abdullah, "they are surely the Great Satan".

"I do not know, my friend, but I am only glad that my children are too young to be in the army and I am getting too old".

"The Americans must be such devils. I spit on them all!"

"As you know, Abdullah, I lived in America for two years of my life. Most of the people there are good people. I would not be so fast to spit on them all. Most of them could care less about attacking our country or any other country. They would be content to drive their most beautiful cars and eat at their very fine restaurants. And if you were a baker over there you would make very much money and they would even give you extra money which they call 'tips'. You would become rich over there, my friend."

"Aaah, rich --- from your lips to God's ears", replied the baker, "But I think they just want our oil over here. That is truly what I think".

The two old friends chatted for another ten minutes as the sun began to set. It was dusk now and time for Syed to be heading home. He bid his friend the baker goodbye, started the engine in his pickup and drove the three and a half miles to his home. He passed the "secret" anti-aircraft batteries that were only a block from his apartment building and parked in his usual place. His wife had already prepared dinner and everyone was seated at the table awaiting his arrival. After washing his hands, he joined them and everyone began to eat and talk at the same time. It seems his wife had obtained enough new material to make the children new shirts and dresses. Mustaffa, his eldest son had received a perfect score on his math test and his youngest son had had a fight with an older boy and both had to stay after school today. It was a normal day, God willing.

His wife asked him how sales had gone that day and he was happy to report that he had sold all the vegetables, three auto parts and five cartons of cigarettes. It had been a better than average day. His wife had made a soup that was quite good despite the absence of meat. The vegetables from their garden were prepared nicely and the bread that they had purchased from Abdullah was delicious as always. His little village was lucky to have such a fine baker.

After dinner the children and his mother had gone into another room and his wife was cleaning up in the kitchen. Syed now sat at the table alone drinking his coffee. Once again his thoughts drifted into the future. What would his children grow up to be? Would he and his wife always live in this small village? Would he ever return to America? And if he did, would he ever be rich? Would he and his wife go to fine restaurants in taxicabs? If they did, they would certainly order meat of some kind. He had heard many of his cab customers discussing how good the steaks were at a restaurant called "Sam & Harry's". If he were rich he would definitely take his wife to that restaurant! Maybe they'd take the children, too!

Neither Syed nor the members of his family ever felt the blast of the cruise missile exploding upon impact with their apartment building. The missile had been aimed at the anti-aircraft batteries, of course, but not every strike was that accurate.

Abdullah, the baker, heard the explosion from three miles away. But he didn't realize in that moment that his friend was dead and that he would have to buy his cigarettes somewhere else in the future.



Next: DINNER IN THE DINER   


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