The Moon and the Muezzin

Me and Abdallah are slouching in dirty plastic chairs outside an auto garage. I'm nursing a plastic cup of lemonade that Abdallah bought for me from a street vendor, and I tilt it toward me and crinkle up my nose as I strain to see the bacteria that I know are swimming around in that water. Then I shrug and toss it down my throat. A little cholera never hurt anyone, right?

Abdallah brought me here because I'm looking for a car. And there can't be a place anywhere with more cars than there are here in this gritty, grimy patch of desert south of town, where dozens upon dozens of car dealers have sort of haphazardly set up shop in big, steel-framed tents, neon signs and lights shoving dusk back up into the sky where it belongs.

The cars are lined up two or three deep beneath high canopies and they spill out into the streets that look like they were thrown down sometime in the 80s by guys who got the job because they were good at herding goats. The thousands of dudes milling from one lot to another and haggling and backslapping and smoking have all parked their cars along these streets, and they're stacked a couple deep as well, so that traffic can only slowly snake by through one narrow, crooked, clogged automotive artery, and every once in awhile you hear someone's side mirror snap off.

Now me and Abdallah hold our empty cups of cholera, listening to the sounds. The crackle of rubber tires slowly rolling over loose gravel. The sharp, staccato stabs of an animated Arabic conversation between the cholera salesman and a guy who doesn't want any sugar with his cholera. The soft squeak of an index finger tracing a dent in the door of a car parked just a few feet away.

And the call to prayer pours from a mosque somewhere behind us down into the cacophony. A few men shuffle toward the mosque, and the garage doors slide shut in a steely racket as required by law, but most people seem to carry on their business. A religious policeman ambles by. His beard is frizzy and splotchy and suddenly my own facial hair feels pretty formidable. He glances at me and can probably tell I'm damned, but he turns to Abdallah and tells him he should go pray. Abdallah says okay, but he doesn't really move. The policeman looks up into the sky with an expression that seems to say, I remember the good old days when I could whip punks like this with a stick, and then he moves away, more resigned than angry, and Abdallah turns to me and smiles like a kid who's staying up past his bed time to watch Married With Children.

The moon is huge and full tonight, hovering above the garish lights of this autoplex, and the muezzin keeps calling the faithful to prayer, but nobody really notices the moon or the muezzin. But I do. And I like the idea that maybe the big moon is rising in response to the muezzin's sweeping song, that maybe I'm the only one in the whole world watching this celestial slow dance. Then I turn to Abdallah and I ask if I can buy the next round of cholera.