Faith and Rights at the 99 Cents store

99CentsStoreA guest post by Latifah Abdullah

My nearby 99 cents store has become a religious battleground. A man who signs up voters has set a table there. I have seen him more than once. On the last occasion, I tried to ignore him when he began speaking as if he knew me. I politely replied that I believed he had the wrong woman.

Aware of the falseness of my denial, he shook his stubby sausage fingers too close to my “space,” as if he were a school marm and I, a bad student.

“Oh no! It was you!” he said. “I’ll never forget the rage in those eyes.”

He followed me to my truck and began handing my bags to me from the shopping cart while letting the whole world know, at the top of his voice, that I had cussed him out good on a previous occasion.

This renewed exchange, which I had sought to avoid, began to annoy me. I stopped my busywork and glared a warning shot directly to his soul. There was a reason I had been angry before. He had taken the occasion of seeing me on “his” turf, on a former occasion, to attack my religion, made obvious by the scarf on my head.

When I glared, he instantly stopped mid-rant and regrouped. After gathering his composure he reminded me of all the things I said to him that day. “Ill never forget how you cursed me!” That was foul . . . yeah, real foul . . . but I just wanna say have a good day . . . oh and Merry Christmas. . . .” He curtly looked away, but waited . . . and waited. I gave him no response. His eyes side glanced me, wondering why there was no reaction.

After some pause, I calmly said, “I’m not biting!” Then I added, “But I do want to tell you this: Don’t stop any mother who is minding her own business and accompanied by two children at the time (my daughters were 17 and 15) to tell her how Jesus is the way and she is going to hell!”

A subtle signal he made beckoned two church ladies who approached, yelling, “In Jesus’ name. In the name of Jeee -zus -ah!”

The ladies began hugging and high-fiving the preacher-voter man but they never looked at me. Other shoppers acknowledged the blessed name of Jesus while walking past this scene that was turning into an all-out revival.

When I tried to walk around the man to get to my car door, he stepped in my path and stirred the pot once more, asking me a question that was dumb ass because he already knew the answer: “You’re Muslim, huh?”

I decided to acknowledge our past. “Okay, so I cursed you. Yes, I did. But do you remember my advice to you or do you only remember the bad stuff?”

He lowered his head and nodded, mumbling, “’Be Jesus-like!’”

“Exactly,” I agreed. “Did I approach you and say you’re going to hell? NO! I came into the 99 cent store looking for ricotta cheese. Last time, too, you recruited church ladies to harass me. You told me I’m destined to hell and you provoked my response by blocking my path and attacking me and my babies. Tell me this, if my husband had been here either time, would you have stepped in my path?”

“Oh, I guess that is why you called me dick-less last time,” he said in some bitterness.

I nodded. “And would you have pulled strangers into our conversation to gang up on me?”

“That’s why you called me a vagina in a three-piece suit?”

I could tell by his tone that my words had eaten at him.

“And finally would you have declared my eternal abode to be hell because I don’t know Jesus if my husband were here?”

“Oh, that’s why you called me a punk-assed bully!”

I had more to say, but that third insult I had allegedly hurled at voter man shook me. I inhaled and apologized for my foul mouth.

“I honestly don’t remember saying all that,” I told him. “I don’t want to be hypocritical. If I want you to be Jesus–like, I should be Muhammad-like. Prophet Muhammad once went to check on the welfare of a bully who customarily spread thorns and trash in his path. When the prophet walked down the same path one day and found it clear, he worried about the bully. He went to the man’s house and found out his harasser was ill. The bully was touched regards by the gesture of his enemy. However, I wish you would stick to getting voters and leave citizens alone. I just wanted some ricotta cheese. Let me do me and you do you. Or as Allah subana wa taAla states, to you be your way and to me be mine.”