(New York: promising view from the airport)
‘He’s going to ruin the planet single handedly !’
Early morning. A soft and friendly voice came from behind me. I was still drowsy from jetlag and lack of sleep, minding my own business, smoking a cigarette and contemplating whether Nobert’s Pizza would be a good choice for a meal in the evening.
Norbert’s was one of the few pizza joints I had not tried yet. It had smelled promising the night before on my way back to Stuyvesant Avenue. You see, pizza, in all shapes and sizes, is a weakness of mine. Come the day I have to mount the scaffold for decapitation, my last request will most certainly be a pizza and a glass of red wine. Probably Malbec, Maybe Shiraz.
I looked up. An Afro American kid was waiting for his school bus and pointed to a blue heavy roaring Ford van with no one in it. “The guy does it every morning. Turns on the engine and disappears for an hour, comes back with a coffee and a pretzel and hits the road.”
‘I see! It’s a waste of gasoline!’
‘It’s a waste of our planet!’
‘Indeed it is. How old are you?’
‘You seem pretty smart!’
‘I am, but my friend Akram is way smarter. Probably smarter than you, sir.’
‘Yep!’ Could have easily become this year’s reigning spelling bee champion. But he chose not to.’
‘Hey, you wanna see my candy bar?’
Like a wizard he conjured 2 large candy bars out of his back pack . Each one larger than an average wand.
‘Great, you’ve got one for me as well?’
‘Nope, I don’t think so. One for me and one for my friend. He, look, there’s the bus. Gotta go!’
I finished my cigarette, continued minding my own business and further contemplated all possible pizza choices. Something old, Roberta’s, Di Farra? Or something new, Norbert’s? Tough decision!
Good decision! Norbert’s didn’t disappoint. Great pizza. Nothing less, nothing more.
The next morning the kid stood there again. I hid my cigarette as soon as I noticed the kid on the stairs. Not wanting to give a bad example.
I just had to ask.
‘He, kid, got a candy bar for your friend?’
‘Better than that: mom made lunch for him.’
He showed me 2 lunch boxes.
‘You seem like a good friend.’
‘Yeah, I know. Best friend ever, I think!’
‘Tell me, why didn’t your friend become a spelling bee champion?’
‘Sad story, sir. His dad, Azzam, disappeared.’
‘Come again. His dad did what?’
‘He disappeared,’ the kid said, with a magician-like disappearing gesture.
‘Yep, visited his dying father in Iran a while ago, and never got back.’
‘Ow, I don’t understand, kid.’
‘Not the sharpest knife in the drawer, are ya, sir?’
The kid made me laugh and left me utterly confused.
‘Gotta go, sir. See ya tomorrow? Got a lot to tell.’
‘Ehm, yes, I guess.’
‘Where are you from?’
‘Bye. My name is Joshua.’
As if we never parted the kid continued his conversation the next day.
‘I’ve been doing some reading on the net. I figure you of all people should understand.’
‘But, I don’t.’
‘Well, you should.’
‘Trump and your Nv-eeei, and Bart De Wiever.’
Nv-a and Bart De Wever. But he pronounced it eeei and ie.
‘Intolerant right wing politicians. Liars, elected by disappointed and exploited people.’
‘Excuse me, little man. I think there is a difference.’
‘You would think so, but actually there is not. Gotta, go.’
‘But I still don’t understand!’
‘Oh, man, what’s wrong with you? Don’t you recognize a racist politician when you see one? Bye!’
The next morning the kid was waiting for me.
‘Given it some thought?’
‘Yep, but I still don’t understand. And before you give me another lecture on politics: I’m talking about the spelling bee.’
‘I’ll tell ya.’
The kid gestured to sit next to hem, on the stairs.
‘Akram’s father fled his country years ago. It’s difficult in Iran when you’re a Christian. Came to the States, and worked his but of. Never got his papers right, but as a cheap laborer he was allowed to stay. ‘
‘Still don’t understand!’
‘Be patient, sir. In January Akram’s father received word from his dad. The man was dying. Akram’s father flew to Iran. Meanwhile Trump became acting president. He issued the travel ban, in an attempt to hurt muslims. You must have heard of the travel ban. Unfortunately just when Akram’s father was on a plane back to the U.S. To cut a long story short. No one has heard from him since. For all we know the man is in jail, dead or in hiding.’
‘Sorry to hear that. I thought that the travel ban issues had been sorted out by now.’
‘You would think so. But naah. People are afraid to talk about it. Nobody complains. Angst all around.’
‘Angst is a dutch word,’ I said.
‘I know that’s why I used it. So it would sink in. Our country is in ruins. And Trump is headed for war and civil war!’
‘Man, kid, you’re smart and a pessimist! Depressing combination!’
‘Realist is the word!’
‘I still don’t understand the spelling bee thing.’
‘Well, not that difficult, is it? Do i have to spell everything out for you?’
‘Akram is smart. Man, smart in way that is difficult to comprehend. I.Q at least 170 plus. But winning the spelling bee would draw much unwanted attention to him. So his mother forbade him to stand out. Today, in this country, with this president, it is better not to stand out. It’s complicated. Just like in the 30’s when jewish people figured they could avoid disaster by not standing out…’
‘He, kid, Joshua, don’t you have a school bus to catch?’
The kid smiled and pointed out that is was Saturday.
‘No school today. Akram is coming over to play. You wanna meet him?’
‘I don’t know. Am I going to heartbroken?’
‘Probably, it’s a sad chapter in our nation’s history. But you can buy us pizza later on. And thus Akram survives another day, whilst America becomes great again.’
‘You’ve got yourself a deal young man. I happen to like pizza!’