So. It all began when the prophet Mohammad, peace and blessings be upon him, came for a visit to my house for some pizza and video games.

I'd had the cheese and garlic pizza, with the pan-style crust with mozzarella crammed inside, and he had the regular old original crust topped with lots of vegetables, a lot of them olives, onions, mushrooms, and green peppers. He really likes those peppers a lot, so I always make sure I have some in the house in case he decides to come over.

So anyway, there we were: me, lounging on the couch with my feet propped up on the little wooden folding table and he, sitting in his red and gold robe, cross-legged on the carpet. I told him, as I always do, that he doesn't need to sit on the floor, and that he's a guest in my home and thus, can sit on the couch next to me. In fact, if anything, as a guest, the roles ought to be reversed completely. And, as always, he just smiles and responds that I am a lady and therefore, I should get the couch, and besides, he likes sitting on the floor. He's used to it.

I don't recall what exactly we were playing that Friday, but I think it was probably Gran Turismo. It's the only two player game I own that's not an RPG or a fighting game. You see, he's never liked role playing games, and these days fighting games tend to make him feel a bit uncomfortable. He really, really, loves puzzle games, though. I remember he couldn't stop playing Tetris when I showed it to him. Right then, I sort of wished I'd gone through the trouble of renting a nice two player puzzle game (I can't think of any, but there's gotta be one out there somewhere).

You know, to be courteous.

And because I was feeling more than a little guilty.

As I sat there, button mashing as my virtual indigo Mitsubishi GTO turned another tight corner, neck in neck with his champagne colored Jaguar, my ulterior motives and untold admissions began to slowly creep up on me. Eventually, my mind wasn't on the game anymore at all. When Mohammad's Jag zoomed past the checkpoint for the third time without any trouble at all, he frowned and paused the game.

"What's the matter?" I asked him. "You were just about to win the race."

He just looked at me silently for a moment before saying, "It wouldn't be a fair win. Something troubles you. Tell me, what is it that's on your mind?"

I glanced back guiltily at my pizza box and ate a couple of slices very slowly, hoping that maybe, if I didn't say anything for a long time he'd get bored an change the subject. He didn't, though. He didn't push the subject either, he just crossed his arms and let the subject hang like a saturated cloud in the air between us, silent and awkward.

I still don't know why I even thought not answering would work. That never works with the holy types. They aren't the sort to just let something go, especially if they think it's something important.

And this was. This was very important.

Well, there was no getting around it. I was going to have to tell him sometime. "Listen, can we talk?"

"Of course. You can always talk to me, you know that."

"Good. Um…do you mind if we, like… go for a walk while we do it? Like, around the Wal-Mart down the way?"

He says he doesn't mind at all and that his legs were beginning to fall asleep anyhow.

The way he's so easygoing about it makes me feel even worse about what I was going to do.

On the way, we didn't say much. We stopped quite a few times as he paused to greet and feed the cats. He fed every cat he saw, especially the stay ones. He really likes cats, and they like him. They're always brushing against his heals, purring, and getting strokes under the chin in return. As a result, all those cats now cumulate around my house, hoping Muhammad will stop by and give them handouts or a good stroke behind the ears. (They never accept anything from me, though. They just stare at me for a while, then take off.)

I remember while we were walking he stopped to give the old pit bull by the Johnson place a bit of water. Surprised, I said, "I thought you didn't like dogs."

"I don't. But that doesn't mean I want to see them go without water. It's hot out here, after all."

People gave us looks when we finally made it to Wal-Mart. I guess it's fairly understandable. I mean, a girl my age and an unrelated man his age walking around alone together, people are gonna think things. And sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, people were able to tell who I was with and took care to walk well around us. Some of these people glared, and some actually gave me this strange, pitied look as they realized that I walked with Mohammad. (Oddly enough, it's the pitying people, rather than the glaring folks, that got under my skin. Still do, actually.)

If he ever noticed the stares he was attracting, as we wandered between aisles 13 and 14, he didn't show it. In fact, the only time I ever saw him talk to anyone else other than me while we were out was when someone else actually spoke to him first - usually wanting to know if he really is who they think he is, and then wondering why he's not wearing a turban. (Neither of us could make heads or tails of why everyone thinks he wears a turban.)

We don't get to the purpose of out outing until we're walking in aisle 25, among the gardening equipment and potted flowers.

"So," he said, "what's the matter?"

"Well, here's the thing. You…well… you're really, really nice and.. This isn't easy to say, and I don't want you to take this the wrong way…"

"You should simply come out and say it. Whatever it is, it can't be worse than fretting over it the way you've been doing."

"Well… Mohammad, it's like this: I'm breaking up with you."

His pace slowed a bit. "I see. I have to ask. This isn't about those unsavory characters in Persia and Mesopotamia, is it?"

I was so flabbergasted by that I didn't even remember like I usually did to remind him that those countries aren't even called Mesopotamia or Persia anymore. "What?! No! no, no, how could you even say such a thing? Listen, I've known you for, like, eighteen years, now. I know you don't associate with people like that. That's not what you're about, that's not what you support.

"I like you, I really do. It's just that… I don't think we really gel together anymore. It's just not working anymore, I think. The spark is gone. Anyway, I don't think I was ever really that good a follower for you in the first place. I mean, I don't keep my appointments four out of the five times a day, and even that one time a day I skip out on just because I wanna sleep in. I can hardly ever even manage to do something as simple as fasting properly during Ramadan. I always end up accidentally eating grapes or something. I keep slipping up on my promises, and I've never even been to a mosque. What sort of friend am I if you visit me all the time, but I never visit you? I still like you, though, I like you a lot. You're a really good guy. I like your sincerity, you don't ever get swamped down with any of the other materialistic crap - oh, I'm sorry - all the junk others get tied down with. I always knew where I stood with you because there was never any miscommunication between us, no mistranslations. You know?

"But hey, we can still be friends, can't we?"

"Of course we can. I must admit, though, I'm more than a bit disappointed."

"I know. So am I. I wanted to make it work. I still do, but the thing is, if I even have to do that much, if I have to try and force it, then I've no business being involved with you at all. I mean, I shouldn't try to uphold a commitment I'm not committed to.

"It's not you. It's me."

"I understand."

I can't tell you how glad I was to see that he wasn't cross with me. Even better, he wasn't disappointed in me. Sure, he was disappointed, but not in me, exactly. It was nice to know.

"What will you do now, then?" he asked.

"I'm thinking about seeing other people. I thought about looking into Buddha, maybe."

"Hm. I've met him a few time. Nice fellow, but he tends to be on the move a lot. But a very nice guy."

"I'm, um… also thinking about seeing Thoth."

The prophet's brow furrowed, "I'm sorry, I don't follow."

"He's a god of wisdom, from Egypt. He's associated with the moon and magic and writing. I'm wanting to be a writer too, so I think we'll be good for each other. Lots in common and all that. And I dig his ideas, and the whole ma'at concept as well."

"So he's one of the Old Ones." It was a statement, not a question.

"You're disappointed?"

"I cannot approve of you're seeing the Old One, you know that. Our philosophies clash to greatly. Can I ask why you'd choose to follow…them?"

"They just appeal to me, that's all. Thoth especially. I like the basic philosophies and the way they do things. I can relate to it, I can really dig it."

"I see.'

"I still don't know for sure if I'll hook up with the Egyptian pantheon yet. I'm not really sure of anything just now. But still, if I end up going that way, it's okay, isn't it? Even if we're not together anymore, we're still cool, right?" Despite myself, I could feel a lump gathering in my throat. "Please. I just want things to be cool between us."

He smiled then, and placed a hand upon my shoulder. "We are. Don't worry. We're so cool, we put the cucumber to shame."

"Thanks. I still feel kinda bad about it, though. I mean, if there was ever a time you needed support, what with all the stuff going on right now and the bad press.. I feel like I'm abandoning you in your time of need. And it's gonna look real bad, like I'm leaving because you're not treating me right or something."

"You should not dwell so on what others think. People will think what they will, regardless of how much we wish otherwise. You know the truth. I know the truth. And that's more than enough, is it not?"

I smiled back at him. "Yeah. Yeah, It is. I'm glad we had the chance to talk like this. I feel a lot better now. But it's a holy day, and I'm sure you've got stuff to do, so…"

"Yes. I suppose I should move on toward other matters."

"And you know I still got your back, right?"

"Naturally."

We hugged. I'm never going to forget that hug as long as I live. It was tight and strong , so supportive and so warm against my skinny little frame. It's exactly how a good hug ought to be.

"As-salaamu alaykum(1)," he said.

"Wa-alaykum as-salam(2)"


(1) Peace be with you

(2) And also with you