Hzanna was somewhat piqued after the evening and it wasn’t the pinot. It had all turned a bit fluffy. Never mind, it was a nice meal and she blamed the imbibing of just a mouthful too much alcohol that made her friends step over the limits of what could perhaps better have been left alone. The vegetable confession would soon be forgotten. Perhaps club venues were at fault. All those lights, the faux bon jolliness of it all, the whole place somehow reeked of failure; a downgrading of what getting together ought to be about. These couples’s sittings together in the lounge, waiting for the meat raffles to start. Why the vacant staring at the blown up TV screens, the yawningly emptiness of it all? It was called ‘a night out’. Hooting of the locomotive and the rattling of coins, somebody had a reprieve from permanently losing money, their home and family. Hzanna thought it more of a night lost.
She still remembered, sitting around with friends in Gozo. It was different then. This was another world though, just as valid. Was it? Perhaps it was still settling down, finding its legs.
Hzanna’s husband thought that the pork crackling could be the catalyst for a renewed business venture. He was working on it, doing back of the envelope calculations. Hzanna noticed his familiar furrowed brow. Deep in thought, he had to weigh up the sensitivities amongst his customers that were opposed to pork and those on the other side, that loved pork and for whom crunchy crackling might well be a most desired snack. Still, the Islamic community was far more tolerant than most thought. They stayed away from pubs and gambling but did not object to those that did frequent those venues. If some chose to eat pork, so be it. For Muslims it is an unclean animal, doesn’t even produce cud, and would happily eat human excrement. But, if there are those who bought pork and ate it, let them.
He decided to seek council from one of his best friends, Mustafa, a devout Muslim and known for his endless storytelling, a wit that made the world in Rockdale laugh, and a born raconteur whose parents came from Lebanon.
Mustafa has his own business. It is a good business, somewhat hot in summer but a bonus in winter. He had a Doner Kebab with Falafel franchise tucked in between a newsagent and a T.A.B. It couldn’t be better positioned. Even if it wasn’t sign-posted Halal, it was expected to be so. No self respecting Doner Kebab merchant would ever sell pork kebabs. The T.A.B shop of course would not hold too many Islamic customers for Mustafa’s Kebabs; they would never step inside any horse betting shop. On the other hand, many, especially the locals, some of whom might have lost a bundle but still liquid enough would queue up to purchase a kebab. For those, the ache of a loss would be compensated with a tasty Kebab roll.
Mustafa would be busy slicing the lamb or chicken with a mountain of pre-sliced onions proudly showcased under a small glass cabinet. The spicy aroma of freshly chopped parsley, coriander tomatoes would spread far enough to entice others as well.
Opposite Mustafa’s take away was a massage establishment ‘Sally’s Therapy’ discretely advertised on a flickering pink neon sign. The entrance was hidden at the back. There was a steady toeing and froing of tense looking men, seeking spinal relief or just getting a full service for all sorts of undefinable stresses or ailments. Whatever they received from Sally, it did not lessen their appetite. Most seemed ravenous or at least very hungry afterwards. Mustafa was busy with the ever diminishing rotating pyramid of compressed meat, heating the pide, packing it with the fore-mentioned onions, parsley and tomatoes. ‘With or without chilli sauce’, was the burning question. Most ordered ‘with’.
While Mustafa was catering for the hungry and Sally for those in pain or lost for love, Mr Azzopardi decided to seek council from his friend Mustafa. ‘What would you, do my friend, about my idea of nice salty pork crackling’? Mustafa, who in his alcove of rotating towers of meats, (not unlike the swirling dervishes of his youth) always took time for philosophical discussions, no matter what the subject.
He was devout but not one suffering from idée fixe. His tolerance towards others and beliefs was generous and he had, in his Doner Kebab world, met many different types of people, of whom to be tolerable of. Some were better than others but he wasn’t easily upset or disappointed in the general environs of Rockdale’s mankind.
His parents had come from a war torn country and embraced their new country without condition or bias. Indeed, his parents had wholly accepted this new world but insisted on the children to stick to Islam and a general following of the Quran. Not that they were at all fanatic. ‘It soothes your soul’, they used to tell their son Mustafa. It doesn’t do much harm to have a belief in what is good, have respect for the world you live in. ‘You don’t get respect out of thin air, they often added. ‘You have to earn it”.
Mustafa sometimes riled his parents,’ my idea of what’s good might not be yours’, he said. ‘We all share what’s good if you don’t do harm to others,’ his mother added. Well, I don’t, Mustafa shot back quickly.
He had however, in a moment of weakness of spirit but not of body, darted across the road to seek the healing and stroking hands of Sally. He had stuck ‘back in twenty minutes’ into the rotating compressed lamb tower but otherwise left his stall open. Afterwards, with his pleasure subsiding, his conscience nagged a little. Had he now failed in the department of ‘respect’? Sally seemed accepting and cheerful enough. ‘I give pleasure for money’, she simply stated. He found himself now questioning his moral stance, the essence of his beliefs. How could something that felt so good be possibly bad? Could he now also be swayed to accept pork crackling next? For many, the eating of crackling also felt good! What next; pork chops?
What will become of me now, Mustafa asked himself?