Salah felt as if he was about to vomit butterflies. He was married. He was a married man, sitting next to his wife, a big smile on his face. This was a thing that had happened.
The actual wedding had been a short, simple affair. The New Path required only an exchange of vows before God and the community, and beyond that there had only been words said by friends, some prayers to bless the union, and a couple choruses of “Get on with it!”
Salah was happier than he could recall being in a long time, sitting there at the head table, Mary-Ann’s hand in his. The angry young man that usually remained caged inside his soul had been replaced with a giggling, excited child, running about and laughing with the simple joy of simply being.
And Mary-Ann… she was stunning. She was wearing a blue silk dress, simple, modest, but very fitting for her. Salah was so used to seeing her in her well-worn jeans, baggy Notre Dame sweatshirt, and her favorite knit hairnet that the change was startling. She had her hair done and was all made up, and she was beautiful by any reasonable standards. More importantly, she was happy. Salah could see it in her eyes, her smiles, just they way she held herself. That was enough for him.
The Chapterhouse’s meeting hall was packed full, tables with white tablecloths lined up in a big square around the open space for dancing. One whole wall was lined with the food: in lieu of catering the affair, a potluck had been chosen, which meant that everyone had dug out grandmother’s secret recipes, which triggered that eternal struggle that burns in the hearts of all men: my grandma’s secret recipe is better than your grandma’s secret recipe. The table was weighed down with twenty types of bread, ten vats of pasta, casseroles, salads, roast beef and mashed potatoes, lamb and chicken and whatever else people could put together. For practical purposes, there was labeling for dietary restrictions. After no small amount of finagling and argumentation, a corner had been cordoned off for alcohol, so long as things didn't get too rowdy.
The head table had been host to a constant stream of well-wishers, to the point that Salah was sure his food would be cold by the time they’d finished greeting them all. The line was almost done when…no…it couldn’t be…
An old man now stood in front of their table. He was brown and bent and creased, with a hardwood cane. He had that mellowed, soft, grandfatherly look with a twinkle in his eye, the look of a man who would sit in his chair reading National Geographic and doing crosswords while watching his great-grandchildren run about.
Salah nearly leapt out of his chair. “Assalam alayka, sayyid.” The two shook hands and exchanged a short hug.
“Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatu Allah”, the old man responded, smiling. “You’re looking well, Salah.”
“Adnan…I…I didn’t think you would be able to make it!”
“People have been saying that more and more now that the Tribunal has opened up, and I don’t know why: I always show up sooner or later, except for those times when God sees that I am better suited somewhere else.”
“Wait wait whoa whoa whoa hold on…” Mary-Ann said. “Adnan? As in Adnan of the Tribunal?”
“The very same. I was Salah’s mentor when he joined the Initiative.”
Mary-Ann looked from Adnan to Salah with bemused bewilderment.
“You realize that I’m now expecting you to say something like ‘Mary-Ann, I’ve invited the pope over for coffee and donuts’ in the near or distant future? Because right now I wouldn’t be surprised if you did that.”
“Maybe, maybe.” Salah chuckled. “Sayyid, please, have a seat, have some food.”
“I plan on it. We have a great deal to catch up on.”
“They are a wonderful couple.” Adnan said to Rabbi Arnheim some time later as they stood by the punch bowl. Mary-Ann and Salah were dancing in the center of the hall.
“That they are. They’ll be happy together, I’m sure of that. Are you leaving now?”
“Yes, I’m afraid. Henry has been off causing difficulty, as usual.”
“His wolves attacked an artists’ commune on the west coast yesterday. The reports say over one hundred dead. I’m going to speak with him personally about it, and then return to Istanbul for the conference.”
“Hmm. Think it has to do with the inkblood those two found in BackdoorSoHo?” Aaron nodded towards Mary-Ann and Salah.
“Henry believes it, but I say it is better to wait and see. The blacker artists worship all manner of foul things, to the point where one and the other seem very much alike.” Adnan sighed. “But these are my troubles for tonight. Don’t let yourself be troubled when there is so much good here.”
He walked away, hobbling on his cane and vanishing in silence.
The evening went on. Good friends, good food, and good drink were had in full.
Mary-Ann stood up, motioned for Brother Ivan to pause the music and cleared her throat obnoxiously loudly.
“Excuse me! I have an announcement. I’m going to sing a song, and I’d like to dedicate this song to Salah, because he’s made a great sacrifice: he put the Queen in second place.” She swung her arms out dramatically and took a deep breath. “Christians have their hymns and pages."
Salah pinched the bridge of his nose, an embarrassed smile spreading across his face. He knew where this was going, and it was going there.
Hymns and pages. Di and Toton and Sazed and RC4 and a few other friends echoed back.
"Hava Nagilas for the Jews."
For the Jews. More echoing now, and louder.
"Baptists have the rock of ages"
Rock of ages
"Atheists just sing the blues…"
This had to have been planned beforehand.
"Catholics dress up for Mass, and listen to Gregorian chants…"
Had to have been planned ahead of time.
"Atheists, just take a pass. Watch football in their underpants…"
Watch football in their underpaaaaaaaants…
There was one mass inhalation for the last, ceiling-shaking lines.
Mary-Ann swept an arm towards Salah, a massive smile on her face.
Oh, what the hell. It was his wedding day.
“Don't have no SOOOOOOOOOOONGS!” he shouted.
The apartment door swung shut softly behind them.
“Ugh…I think I gained five pounds from all that food.”
“It can’t have helped that you drank as much as you did.”
Living room to bedroom.
“Salah, I’ve got a cast-iron liver. And you don’t drink, so I drank for ya.”
Mary-Ann flomped down on the bed.
“It’s almost like we’re reasonable adults or something. I love it.”
Salah lay down next to her, resting on his elbow.
“My mistresses’s eyes are nothing like the sun, and yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare, as any she belied with false compare.”
Mary-Ann gave him a coy smile.
“You are so classy it’s unreal.”
“I could be classier. Madame, ye ben of al beaute shrine, as fer as cercled is the mapamounde, for as the cristal glorious ye shyne…”
She laughed, punching him in the shoulder.
Life was good.