Call the Cops

By Jennah Fakhouri

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What do pedophiles look like? I’d never had much of a reason to contemplate that question before. My mind scrambled to form an opinion. Pedophiles should look like grotesque monstrosities, as ugly on the outside as on the inside. They should have the grin of a predator, not the smile of your next door neighbor. My mind whirled. Pedophiles should look…strange. Yet, this man with the baseball hat and the boy-next-door smile did not fit that description. Not in the slightest. His eyes were an unexciting blue and besides his height, he was utterly ordinary. Could it be? Could my preconceived notions be wrong? I did not want to believe it, but the evidence was right before me. This ordinary man was not so ordinary after all.

It was a chilly night in La Jolla, San Diego. I remember the bite of the air, even in mid-summer. My family and I were at a Lebanese restaurant in a small plaza than screamed ‘suburbia’. Everything was wonderful. I was blissfully happy thanks to the nature of Californian spirit. My young cousins were spread out to my left on the long outdoor table overlooking nothing in particular. It should have been an uneventful night, but fate had other plans. It all started when we noticed a man hovering near our table. The children (who were the closest to him) squirmed uncomfortably. Children are amazing like that; they always know when something is wrong. My big brother tried to intimidate the man through the awe-inspiring power of his laser-jet eyes. Understandably, the man was unimpressed and decided that he did not quite feel like moving just yet. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, my brother offered him some of our food. The man scarfed it down hungrily, but did not budge.

“Could you go somewhere else?” my brother pressed.

Blissfully, he moved away. Everything should have been alright after that but it wouldn’t be much of a story if it was.

The events of the night accumulated rather quickly after that. The man (let’s call him Jack) was never far from my sight. Although he was now a couple of shops away, I could feel his every movement. It was like my internal heart alarm was telling me that this man was not what he seemed. I tried to voice my concerns to my family but I was in that in-between phase between a child and an adult and was given a pat on the back for my concerns. However, it soon became apparent that I had reason to gloat. As soon as an attractive young lady left her car, Jack was right on her heels. I’d never seen anyone being stalked before and was utterly blown away by how well-prepared Jack was. He stepped gingerly so as not to alert her to his presence. I leapt out of my chair, ready to jump into action. Thankfully, that was not necessary. The waiters and waitresses all materialized by our table, as if called. Concern was written all over their faces. As one Arab to another, the head honcho admitted to my father that Jack had been lurking around their restaurant all day.

“We’ve already called the police several times,” he said, “but they haven’t responded yet.”

I’d turned my attention towards the manager for a second but quickly whipped my head back towards the man and his prey. A waiter from another restaurant had quickly ushered the girl inside, while casting furtive glances towards the seemingly-innocuous Jack.

“We’ve got to call the police,” I said, my heart beating too fast. “He must be a pedophile.”

Phones were snapped opened and 911 was promptly dialed. My father and my uncle had taken it upon themselves to watch Jack until the police arrived at the scene. The predator became the prey as they attempted to stealthily follow his every step. They followed him into a convenience store. I thought this was a foolish practice as Jack might have a gun. However, my fear for the girl in the restaurant was stronger.  I would not be able to live with myself if I’d let anything happen to an innocent while I looked on.

While the alpha males of our pack were looking out for the good of the people, I fretted. I could not help it. My heart was galloping in my chest with a mixture of excitement and fear. The herd of servers remained close to our table, eager to see this adventure unfold. I couldn’t blame them. While we waited for the cops to show up, the waitresses told us all they knew about the man.

“He’s been hanging around here all day,” said a curly-haired Lebanese girl. “We’ve been trying to make sure he doesn’t leave until the police get here.”

“One of the workers in another shop said he left a bag of (I’d really prefer if you used your imagination at this point) in their store,” said another waitress.

I was absolutely astounded. The man must have preyed on young women before. To think: that could have been me! The seconds seemed to pass by slowly as we waited for the police. Jack and his stalkers were still ambling about, unseen. I tried to busy myself by calming down my slightly hysterical young cousins who kept asking about their father’s whereabouts. The mind-numbing practice of speaking to children was refreshing. It allowed me to do something about my nerves.

After a long while, Jack and company exited the convenience store. Jack was walking very purposefully towards the main road, I noticed. He must have sensed that something was up. However, Jack was not to escape that fateful day. Karma, or perhaps Divine Intervention, decided that the despicable person who stripped the innocent of their virtue was not to get away. Three police cars, their sirens blaring, raced into the plaza. Jack looked stopped in place, his face slack with shock. I remember thinking how ridiculous he looked with his baseball hat on at ten o’clock in the evening. It still amazes me how my brain had the capacity to think of something so nonsensical during a dire situation. The police officers leapt from their vehicles and forced Jack against the hood of one of their cars. He was promptly read his Miranda rights, handcuffed and forced into the back of the car.

The excitement died after Jack was escorted to his doom. I still wonder about his fate, sometimes. However, I will never forgive Jack for stealing my naiveté from me. He taught me that appearances can be deceiving and all of my interactions with new people are marred by his memory.  I hope the law serves him the justice he deserves on behalf of all of those girls he raped and battered. The damage Jack has done to my mind can never be mended. I used to think bad people only existed in movies. Now I know better; bad people are all around me.

Surviving a Storm

By Shamma Kabital

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The audience thunderously roars, their claps resonating like the thuds and patterings of heavy rain. I am a frail rabbit amidst the storm, shuddering with angst, as a lightning bolt of terror strikes my meagre form. I’m at my first poetry reading. It is my turn to recite, and I am afraid.

You see, I have always been introverted in nature; reserved and quiet, living in my own bubble of fantasies and dreams. Needless to say, I was never a people’s person. Social interaction has never been my strong suit. Naturally, I never really shared my literary works with ones beyond my own little party of friends and family, nor did I ever feel the need to. At least not until that particular morning last week in which I assumed participating in this poetry recital would be a good idea, for some indecipherable reason. How bitterly I regret my decision now!

“Miss Shamma, are you there?” My name is called a second time. I reluctantly force myself to rise and walk towards the stage, precariously ascending the steps. The withered wood creaks beneath my feet, as though it is whining in pain or cringing in second hand embarrassment, like it knows what’s coming. I sync my strides with the pounding of my heart; the longest walk of my life, and finally stand in front of the waiting microphone. My usually sharp mind is clouded with unease. My pupils dilate upon resting on the daunting sight of the audience, their anticipatory gazes piercing my veil of confidence; well, all that is left of it.

My quivering lips manage a soft “hello”, and a rather lame introduction: “My name is Shamma. I am fifteen years old and I’ll be reading out to you a poem of mine.” I sigh heavily and mutter quick prayers beneath my breath, ready to start, until I come to the realization that I’ve forgotten all the words. My hands start to tremble uncontrollably, like an earthquake, and I curse myself for not thinking things through. Droplets of sweat slide down the sides of my face, and I use my sleeves to blot them dry. I haven’t a single notion or clue on what to do next. Acting on impulse, I grab the microphone and to the audience mumble, “I’m sorry, I can’t do this.” before dashing off stage, as tornadoes of self-doubt and belittlement whirl through my complex head.

My mother finds me hiding in the bathroom. Cautiously, she comes forward and tenderly strokes my face without a word, understanding all. She then pulls me into her soft embrace, and I want to stay there forever, safe, secure, and happy in my mama’s arms. She finally lets go, and the trance is broken. Somehow, reality always finds a way to interfere. She grabs my hand, looks into my eyes, and in a whispery, windy voice asks, “Shamma, why are you afraid?” I gulp, pondering a while before shakily replying, “I’m not sure, but I think it has to do with my fear of failure. I fear not meeting others’ expectations, or even worse, not being able to meet my own. I’m afraid of making mistakes, of messing things up, so I try my best to keep avoiding.

You know me, Mama, I’m a runner. I don’t face challenges, I escape them.. and I know you hate that; I hate it too. But I’m not like you, Mama. I’m no leader. I’m no challenge-facer nor risk-taker.” I pause and take a ragged breath, trying to process what I’m saying, before resuming, “I’m a coward, Mama. I’m nothing more than a coward living in a world of my own; a prison-cell of my design. I don’t belong…” My voice breaks down towards the end as a silent tear trails down my shame-reddened cheeks.

A few minutes pass, and Mother remains silent, so unlike her loquacious nature, and I am grateful, for it gives me time to regain my composure. Finally, she begins: “Shamma. Dear Shamma, listen to me and listen carefully. You are unique. You are special. And I know one thing for sure: you are definitely not a coward. You are my daughter and I know you. I know how brave and smart you are.  My dear, you’ve got the heart of a lioness, the mind of a philosopher, and the prudence of a queen. So raise your head,” I obey, “because one day, you will find your place in this world and you will do big things, I guarantee that. But first, you must find yourself, and the initial step in doing so is driving away your fears, or even better, facing them head-on. Only then will you discover where your true strengths lie.”

I nod, and with a reassuring smile, she lets go of my hands, turns around, and walks out the threshold. I thoroughly contemplate my mother’s brief snippet of wisdom as my lingering doubt is gradually replaced by waves of unanticipated confidence. Mama is right, I think to myself, I’ll never achieve anything sustainable in life if I let myself be hindered by petty worries and trivial doubts. I mustn’t let fear steer the wheel; I mustn’t let fear be my puppeteer. I realize now that if I let my fears control me, it’s a recipe for lifelong misery. On the spot, I make a spontaneous decision.

I step back onto the stage, mustering every last ounce of confidence within me, and proudly introduce myself to the audience once more. I spot my twinkly-eyed mom in the crowd and mouth a silent “Thank you” paired with an appreciative grin. Feeling apprehension sneakily crawl into my voice, I immediately dismiss it and carry on reciting my poem with a steady tone and utter clarity. I am energized by the crowd’s glorious applause upon my conclusion of the piece. I’ve survived a deadly hurricane. The skies are now clear and the sun is shining. What a triumph! What a victory!