He rolled over and nuzzled his pillow. Through the thin membrane of his unconscious, he saw not the pillow, but mounds of coppery flesh, sweaty and firm, and appropriately stimulating. He could not see a face on this nameless form because he concentrated only on those luscious, satiny curves. His lips sought out that moist crevice he knew would bring them both the most pleasure. A smile creased his lips as he kneaded his face into white linen, kissing its softness, inhaling the fresh scent of a spring morning, but a noise drew his awareness up from the depths of his tantalizing vision. Beyond the borders of his dream, barely noticeable but growing louder, he heard the pulse of an alarm clock.
His eyelids fluttered and one opened. Sunlight poured through a window like melted butter, spilling onto his face, making him squint. The combination of warm rays and cool breeze drifting through the open window pampered his face. It felt strange to lie in the sun, smelling sweet scents that permeated the air. Through the yellow glare he saw the flashing red diodes of a clock—7:00.
His first reaction—a deep feeling of loss and a desire to return to the satiny skin he had been kissing—fled after a second, expanding into a moment of wonder. He became caught, as often happened, in that void where his consciousness was aware but his identity—his personal history—had not yet reentered his body. He lay staring at the clock, feeling the sunlight warming his face, wondering where he was, and more importantly, who he was. Now with both eyes open, he lifted his head and scanned the room, searching for clues to his identity.
Books, posters, computer gear, and general clutter gave the impression of a classic frat-house bedroom, one vaguely familiar. He read the spines of books standing at attention on the shelf—Sartre, Camus, Graham Greene, Thoreau, Isherwood, Maugham, and Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy. His eyes rested on a name scribbled on a notebook lying on the floor near his bed: Sayen Hommet. The name meant nothing to him. Then his gaze shifted to a small, silk prayer rug, the intricately patterned rug his own mother had woven at their family loom in Tripoli and given to him at his circumcision. In a flash, his memory ignited and his personal history crashed down on him, a millstone crushing his chest to the point he strained to breathe.
Yes, he thought, Sayen Hommet, medical student, Muslim. After ten years of living in this country of unbelievers, he still had these problems waking up because he simply could not adapt to days not measured out by the shrill calls of the muezzin. He had owned a watch with an alarm set to mark all the hours of prayer, but he had pawned it a year ago. He glanced at the clock again and realized he was much more than a Muslim medical student—he was late!
He leaped from his bed and ripped open the top drawer of his bureau, searching for clean underwear. Moments later he bounced across the room on one leg, pulling on loose-fitting slacks while at the same time running an electric razor over his face. There were no clean shirts in the closet. He dashed to a pile of clothes on the floor and lifted a shirt to his face, sniffing. He threw it aside and lifted another shirt, which smelled worst than the first one. He lifted a third and slipped it on, not bothering to smell it. He stepped into a pair of loafers and raced out the doorway and down the hall to the bathroom where he meticulously washed his hands, feet, and face at a sink. After returning to his room, he kicked off his shoes and stood before his prayer rug, which lay along an axis facing holy Mecca.
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar—God is great. He sank to his knees, bowing into the first prostration. “I bear witness that there is no God but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” His deep voice murmured like the rumbling of distant thunder. Within the room’s stillness, the air trembled, making the light shimmer. “God is great, the merciful, the compassionate.” He could feel the blood circulating through his body as he opened himself to the universe and let God flow into—or perhaps out of, he was never sure which—his being. “There is no God but God.” Now came the part he loved most, that feeling of oneness with the Almighty, joining with the pulsating energy that binds all things together. His mind floated in a sphere of calm wonder. Eyes closed, breathing from deep within his diaphragm, he felt his soul smile.
Moments later, a rap on the door and a harsh voice ruptured his bliss. “Hom, get it in gear. You’re late again!”
Sayen dipped his forehead to the rug once more before jumping to his feet. He donned a white lab coat, slipped into his shoes, and grabbed his backpack as he raced out the doorway and down the stairs.
Seven frat brothers huddled around a table eating breakfast. Doug Housman slathered butter over his toast, added a generous helping of grape jelly, and brought it to his mouth at the instant Sayen dashed through the kitchen, speeding toward the back door. Sayen grabbed Doug’s toast as he flew by, and crammed it into his mouth as he burst out the doorway.
“Hey, bitch,” Doug screamed after him, “where’s the fifty bucks you owe me?”
Sayen sprinted to the curb where he always parked his Austin Mini Cooper, but he stopped cold before he reached the sidewalk. Before him, a yellow tow truck lifted the front end of his Mini off the pavement. “Hey, that’s my car.”
The tow-truck driver leaned out of the cab. “Was your car. Now it’s the bank’s.”
“What the hell am I supposed to do now?” Sayen said to nobody in particular. He studied the driver, a bear of a man with a grease smudge slashed across his cheek, wondering if anything could persuade him to lower the vehicle. The brute was too big to threaten, and Sayen had no cash for a bribe.
“Pay your bills,” the driver snarled.
The truck jerked away from the curb and sped down the street. Sayen threw his hands in the air. “With what?” he yelled. “Do you have any idea how much Stanford tuition costs!”
Three minutes later, Sayen raced across campus on a borrowed skateboard. He recklessly dashed between fast-moving cars, bumped one student who dropped her books and screamed expletives, and almost ran down a toddler. He flew all out, heedless of oncoming danger or the carnage he left behind.