2005 Book Reviews
Rating: ••• (Recommended)
Click on title or picture to buy from amazon.com
Lorraine Adams’ debut novel, Harbor,
explores the lives of Arab Muslim immigrants in
His name was Taffounnout Beighazi. They called him Ghazi. Mourad took to him. From the first, even on the cell phone, Ghazi had made the wood goat smile. While Rafik was running home in a taxi fearing Heather’s wrath, Mourad was nodding and bobbing like a boat in a sunny sea. By the time Mourad and Aziz got home, Heather and this Ghazi were drawing pictures on the kitchen table in place of language. She already had taught him how to say fox bitch. Mourad laughed so hard that Heather touched Ghazi’s shoulder to make sure he was real. How had it been that Rafik had never mentioned him? He was not like the others. Heather had to drop her eyes; his looking at her was searching. Rafik said something in Arabic, and Mourad and Aziz and the Three and this Ghazi laughed and shook their heads.
“Aziz,” Heather kept on, “you never said anything about this Ghazi.”
Aziz upturned his palms. She turned to Lahouari.
Lahouari’s eyes were lit. “He is one who might win,” he answered.
“Win?” Heather cocked her head.
“The rules,” Lahouari tried.
“Ghazi finds ways where others find walls,” Rafik helped.
Ghazi had had fifty-eight
days in the hold. No committee greeted him. No one called in a tizzy of worry
to wonder if he arrived. He had shoes, socks, shirt, dry pants in a plastic
bag, and American dollars in the pockets. He came in January, swam through
ice, and hailed a cab to
Ghazi was his mother’s favorite. The last few years, arthritis that had plagued her as a teenager and then subsided had flared. She was in bed more than not. Her husband, Ghazi’s father, was cold, often gone; it seemed odd to Aziz that Ghazi would have left her side. As they drank and talked longer into the night than usual, Aziz kept waiting to hear Ghazi’s story. But Ghazi was more interested in all of them. Aziz could see that Heather, the Three, Mourad, even Rafik—all were telling Ghazi more than any of them had told the others. There was something in him that loosened them, left them unstrung and breathlessly alive, wanting morning to come so they could tell him more.
Aziz and Ghazi were at Del Fuegos, a Mexican restaurant. Heather had clipped a help-wanted ad and driven them there at lunchtime. Ghazi was wearing pressed jeans and a new sweater. Aziz was wearing a suit. There were two dishwashing jobs open. The owner was a John Hill; there were no Mexicans on the premises. “You two look Mexican,” Hill remarked. “You work hard, I move you up to waiting tables.”
Aziz spoke humbly and respectfully. Ghazi repeated, as they had rehearsed the night before, what to repeat. Hill put them to work on the spot. Their pay was $4.95 an hour. Aziz’s best suit pants were drenched in the first thirty minutes. Ghazi was whistling and dancing like a cartoon bear from the start.
Del Fuegos did a fast business, and when they finally stopped at 1 a.m., they had not moved from their stations beside the industrial dishwashers. Aziz’s arms felt like mashed apples. Ghazi was grim.
“They intend to kill us,” he observed.
“Yes, that is the plan, I believe.”
“But it is good to work.”
They were waiting on the sidewalk for Rafik to come get them. Aziz imagined him at Reach, forgetting.
“It is good,” Aziz agreed, rubbing his hands for warmth.
“You have talked to your mother since I came?” Ghazi asked.
“No. I talked to my father.”
“And he says?”
“He says your father tells him you are dead.”
Ghazi nodded. “I expect this.”
“Ghazi, what happened?” Only two of them. Maybe Ghazi would talk to him.
“You know my father.”
“Yes,” Aziz said, sad. Ghazi’s father and Ghazi were closed to each other.
“He is what he is,” Ghazi said. Aziz waited. He could not read Ghazi’s face. It was a face of one with something behind his back. Ghazi’s father was military intelligence; he might know of Aziz’s tour of duty. So could Ghazi’s brother, some lieutenant colonel, though where, Aziz could not remember. Had they sent Ghazi?
“Your mother?” Aziz finally said.
“Really? When you left she had improved?”
“Yes. You should speak to your mother. She will say how much better.”
“Ask her to find out for me.”
“That your mother—”
“Is still okay.”
There was a pause. Aziz stomped his foot. The night cold bit at his ears. How to touch here and not there, to nudge Ghazi where he could get a better look at him without Ghazi noticing. He thought of hinting at Soumeya, but no, not yet. Besides, Rafik would be driving up soon. Or maybe not. Rafik with his women. Aziz guessed Heather knew and no longer cared. But Rafik—it might help to find where Ghazi stood on him.
“Listen. Rafik, he—”
“So you know,” Aziz said, surprised.
“Yes,” Ghazi said.
“Do they know back home?”
“Who, his parents? No.”
“You learned of it from—?”
Ghazi’s face was blank.
“One who was with Rafik in
Aziz knew it would be strange in Ghazi’s eyes to ask more. He veered instead.
“He is still . . . Rafik.” Aziz shook his head. “I worry. I have smelled hash. The clothes. The suitcases.”
“Heavy. Locked. Maybe hash. Maybe something else. I know he is stealing suits. And underwear.”
“French and Italian. Steal here, sell somewhere else.”
“Underwear,” Ghazi mused. “An opportunity I had not imagined.”
Aziz had to laugh. Ghazi shook his head and smiled.
“Goddamn,” he said.
“Kamal is in it with him,” Aziz said.
Gamal. He knew him in
“Not from Arzew?”
Aziz had no idea. He raised his shoulders and shook his head. It worried him, now that Ghazi asked, that he did not know.
“Kamal—how can I tell you?” Aziz said. “He lived with Rafik. Went after Heather with a chair. There was some fight long between them. Hit me by mistake trying for her. After that, he left.” It was too much to tell of the hospital, the burns, Linda, the move.
“No, somewhere in
Ghazi blew on his reddened knuckles for warmth. “So Mourad made Rafik get rid of the hash.”
“No, I did. But now I think he rents a storage.”
“Here they have businesses where you rent a small room and get a key and put things in it. Rafik has one.”
“We will steal the key and find out what is in it.”
“Cousin, we—” Aziz began. Ghazi made these jumps.
“I think we will do this.”
“But he will know”
“He will not know”
“I do not want to know.”
Just then Aziz saw Rafik approaching in Heather’s BMW. “He is here,” Ghazi said, as if that settled it. Aziz felt stiff. He had turned wrong in the conversation. Fixing it was unlikely.
Rafik opened the car door and the radio blasted into the coldness. He turned it down and gave Ghazi a slap on his back, saying, “You need the kind of hot I just had.” Ghazi did not grin, as Rafik wanted him to; Aziz could tell Ghazi was calculating.
“Hot can always be found,”
Ghazi finally said. “It is getting close enough to warm, without burning,
that matters to me.” Rafik was unimpressed. Aziz wondered if that was meant for him. If so, what did
it mean? He could not see Ghazi’s face in the dark. Aziz
twitched. His eyes hurt. His toes hurt. He sat on his hands, hoping for
warmth; soon he was asleep. When they got to
Ghazi’s? Aziz cursed his sleeping.
Inside the gloves, his hands were sweating. The rubber was thick and black. The cuff of one was torn, and Aziz worried it might split further. Should he take it off and turn it inside out? Dropping a plate would be bad. A stoned Cuban with a deep tray of dishes came toward him. Behind him, John Hill was upbraiding an elderly busboy, black-skinned, silver-haired. Aziz looked at Ghazi. With the water rushing and Hill barking, talking was impossible. Ghazi looked back, then directed his head toward Hill and mouthed, “Shitbag.”
John Hill was on them. “You boys keep good time.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Aziz.
“We like,” Ghazi contributed.
As John Hill walked back out to the floor, Aziz closed his eyes. John Hill would hate them soon enough, no matter how they bowed.
Ghazi tapped him. He spoke in Aziz’s ear.
“Rafik is in shit.”
“He charged over five thousand dollars on a credit card this morning.”
Aziz looked around, afraid someone had heard. Not a one could care. He was embarrassed. “Are you sure? Do you know this new money?”
“He bought two suits.”
“Only two. I swear to God.”
“He is crazy.”
“You say he does not work.” “No. Not now. He did.” “What work?”
“A moving company in
“When did that stop?”
“When Mourad came, he had not been working. When the Three came he was not. He took me there after the Djara. So he has not worked since the Djara.”
“The Djara? Took you where?”
“I met—no, I saw a woman, she looked like Djara. We were at Reach, and that night Heather made me take her to Reach—”
“And Rafik took you where?”
“To the moving company.”
“Where he worked.”
“He said he worked there.”
“But you think no.”
“The men seemed fake to me. Called in for show. It was that night I found the smell of hash in his room. He had these suitcases on a rope—”
“Across the ceiling of his room. His and Heather’s.”
“I know nothing about the true nature of Heather.”
“They were cement.”
“Heavy. The bed was covered in clothes, expensive. In the bathroom too.”
“The underwear caper.”
“This here a tea party?” It was John Hill. He shoved Ghazi hard against the sink. Tea party was not available to them.
“Yes,” Ghazi said agreeably, straightening.
“No,” Aziz said, hedging.
“No dishes, you grab that mop, see?”
“Yes,” Aziz said.
“This floor is a roach toilet.”
“I pay you good money to work. To talk, I pay with this.” He kicked Aziz in a shin and walked away.
“He could have cut off your ears,” Ghazi observed, as they saw John Hill busy scolding a waitress.
“Or your finger.”
“Or my nose.”
“There is always your dick.”
They were laughing. But they could not talk of Rafik until they were waiting for the bus home at midnight. They were alone in the cold, composed of aches and insults.
“This is how it is,” Aziz said, lying on his back on the bus-stop bench.
“A little different from home,” Ghazi said, lying with his head next to Aziz’s on the same bench. “No. Better than home.”
“Worse. And better.”
“Remember Tariq?” Ghazi spoke of a bully.
“Always the kick.”
Aziz nodded, remembering.
“They have their ways, these ones.”
The air was like a freezer. Rafik had declined to get them tonight. Business, he said. Heather had the flu. She did look sick. But Rafik, naturally he was lying.
On the bench, they moved closer. Ghazi needed a winter coat. He was wearing three sweaters and a knit hat. “My friend, this is good,” he said. “Aziz, you and I, here. We are here! We have made it to this place!” Ghazi was off the bench and throwing his hat to the stars. “Soon I will marry John Hill’s daughter!”
Aziz had to laugh.
“I will have John Hill’s grandchild!”
Ghazi was standing on the bench, making steps and curtsies.
“I will take him to the park in a fur coat the color of summer clouds! My son, the grandchild of John Hill, will be a general in the American army! Meanwhile,” Ghazi said in mock melodrama, “Conniving Rafik.. . will be. . . in jail!”
“Ghazi. He saved us.” Aziz could not let go of Rafik’s rescuing him from the Egyptian and so much more. Ghazi too. And the
Three. Ghazi sat down on the bench. Aziz was still lying down.
“I will not be the one who sends him,” Aziz whispered.
“Nor will I, my friend, nor will I. He will send himself.”
Loyalty lodged hard in Aziz. Going to the storage, which he had hoped Ghazi
would forget, would be a mistake. Seeing—he did not want to see. He had done
enough getting the hash out of
The acrid of bus bellied up to them.
Steve Hopkins, January 25, 2005
ã 2005 Hopkins and Company, LLC
The recommendation rating for this book appeared
in the February 2005 issue of Executive Times
URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/Harbor.htm
For Reprint Permission, Contact:
Hopkins & Company, LLC •