The special Boosting the Signal feature week for the NIWA 2015 Anthology Asylum continues! Today’s post is a piece from author William J. Cook. In his story “The Last Refuge”, Qunbula, a splinter group from Al-Qaeda, has destroyed Seattle in a nuclear holocaust. A firestorm of anti-Islamic hysteria is sweeping the country, and the newly established Patriots Administration is rounding up Muslims on the west coast and confining them to prison camps in Montana and Wyoming. Hamza, the registrar at a community college near Portland, is on the run with a very straightforward goal: trying to survive as he grapples with the growing virulence around him, even from children. A very timely story, I feel!
Lunch in the Burger King was terrifying. He knew his American history. A dark-skinned man huddled in the corner with a suitcase? He imagined sitting at the counter of a whites-only diner in 1950 Alabama. Children were the worst. While grownups would usually look away when they saw his darker skin and hair, children would stare at him and point. They had already been taught profiling by their parents.
“He’s one of them, Momma, I just know it,” a tow-haired boy about his daughter’s age whispered loudly, while tugging at his mother’s sleeve.
Hamza hunkered down lower and rushed to finish his sandwich and fries. This is my country! he thought helplessly, eager to get out from under the watchful gaze of the unforgiving child. I’m an American citizen! I served in the Army! But something vital had ruptured, some organic kinship with this boy and his mother had dissolved. The threat these people felt from all things Muslim was projected onto Hamza. Soon someone would stand up and point an outstretched arm at him, shouting imprecations at the stranger in their midst. He envisioned uniformed Patriots crashing through the glass doors, guns raised.
Through it all he imagined his daughter’s confused face, her eyebrows arching, her lips quivering. “Why Daddy? Why don’t they like us anymore? I go to school with them. We play jump rope and volleyball together. They came to my birthday party.”
How could he have explained this dark secret, this violence at the heart of things, to a ten-year-old girl—or to his wife for that matter? Despite his grief, he was glad he would never have to.
In a moment, he was up and hurrying out of the restaurant. In his haste, he caught his suitcase in the double doors and the clatter drew all eyes to him. He saw several people reach for their cell phones.
Again he ran.