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Chapter 18
Islam followed right behind, hardly a year later. I was fifteenyears old and I was exploring my hometown. The Muslimquarter wasn't far from the zoo. A small, quiet neighbourhoodwith Arabic writing and crescent moons inscribed on thefacades of the houses.
I came to Mullah Street. I had a peek at the Jamia Masjid,the Great Mosque, being careful to stay on the outside, ofcourse. Islam had a reputation worse than Christianity's –fewer gods, greater violence, and I had never heard anyonesay good things about Muslim schools – so I wasn't about tostep in, empty though the place was. The building, clean andwhite except for various edges painted green, was an openconstruction unfolding around an empty central room. Longstraw mats covered the floor everywhere. Above, two slim,fluted minarets rose in the air before a background of soaringcoconut trees. There was nothing evidently religious or, for thatmatter, interesting about the place, but it was pleasant andquiet.
I moved on. Just beyond the mosque was a series ofattached single-storey dwellings with small shaded porches. Theywere rundown and poor, their stucco walls a faded green. Oneof the dwellings was a small shop. I noticed a rack of dustybottles of Thums Up and four transparent plastic jars half-fullof candies. But the main ware was something else, somethingflat, roundish and white. I got close. It seemed to be some sortof unleavened bread. I poked at one. It flipped up stiffly. Theylooked like three-day-old nans. Who would eat these, Iwondered. I picked one up and wagged it to see if it wouldbreak.
A voice said, "Would you like to taste one?"I nearly jumped out of my skin. It's happened to all of us:
there's sunlight and shade, spots and patterns of colour, yourmind is elsewhere – so you don't make out what is right infront of you.
Not four feet away, sitting cross-legged before his breads,was a man. I was so startled my hands flew up and thebread went sailing halfway across the street. It landed on a patof fresh cow dung.
"I'm so sorry, sir. I didn't see you!" I burst out. I was justabout ready to run away.
"Don't worry," he said calmly. "It will feed a cow. Haveanother one."He tore one in two. We ate it together. It was tough andrubbery, real work for the teeth, but............
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