THE PROM TERRORISTS
No matter what my baby sister says, I don’t want you to think I’m stupid, but no one seems to think that maybe the FBI is stupid or that maybe it wasn’t my fault but my parents’, since they suddenly decided that I needed to find a job and move out because only losers still lived with their parents at 28, and that was when I said that they meant slacker and not loser, but they didn’t know what slacker meant since English is their second language, and I said that if we were back in the old country, which is something they always said, I would be living at home until I got married, at which point they’d have to buy a house for my wife and me, but we were in the hellhole known as Fresno, which was better than the shithole where they were born but not by much, if you ask me, so I was feeling stressed when the FBI letter arrived with my name on it telling me they were looking for someone with my language skills to help fight extremism and terrorism at home, and I didn’t stop to think what language they were talking about since I’m a rapper and use language all the time, but they thought I spoke Arabic because of my name, Kareem Lotfi al-Manfalouti, even though I make sure everyone calls me Lot, and I only know a few curse words in my parents’ motherfucking tongue, so during the interview when the intimidating FBI officer with the Stalin mustache asked me if I spoke Arabic I panicked and said, “Fuck, yeah,” which turned out to be the perfect answer, but then he put me in a room and handed me a test with the loopy-as-shit script, which looked Greek to me, but it was multiple choice and next to me sat this dark-skinned hijabi woman, probably an Emirati, and I copied all her answers, which really wasn’t my fault because she didn’t cover her responses and I had popped an edible before the interview (pineapple, 20-mg THC) that hit me as soon as I sat down for the test, so don’t blame me for the cheating, but then everyone knows they weren’t going to hire a dark-skinned woman in a hijab so I was doing her a favor and I got the job, not that it was a great job or anything since they wouldn’t give me a gun, like, what kind of FBI agent has no gun, and that was when I was told I was no FBI agent, just someone who worked with the bureau, and that’s when I wondered who said things like bureau and whether informant was just a fancy word for secretary, but then I was told to infiltrate the Muslims at the city’s mosque and find out what the recently arrived imam was planning, because they knew that he was kicked out of his mosque in Cairo before coming to Fresno and they were sure he was planning something untoward but I couldn’t make myself ask the intimidating FBI agent untoward what, and that was when he said that even though I looked white with my bleached hair, I would fit in with the other terrorists, and yes, I know, that might have been the time when I should have said that my family was Christian, but I thought telling him that might make him think I was a liar so I decided to not ask but continued whistling an Umm Kulthum song so I’d sound authentic, and that was when it occurred to me that I needed help, so I went to my baby sister, who was twelve years younger, but was the smartest person I know, and asked her if she would come to the mosque with me since, unlike me, she’d paid attention during the Arabic lessons my parents paid for, and she thought I was crazy, as in why would she want to go to a mosque since she was a diehard atheist feminist who thought all religions were nothing more than a tool to prop up the patriarchy, so no fucking way would she set foot in a mosque or a church, and she wasn’t going to ruin her hair by covering it, but I think that the reason she didn’t want to help me was because she was upset because some guy called Adam who she’d planned on having sex with at the prom told her he was gay and she had to say yes to Steve who asked and all her plans of offering her virginity to Adam had to be changed to Steve and she wasn’t happy, which means I didn’t blame her for telling me to fuck off and calling me a fascist stooge, and I ended up in the mosque inside the mall to check things out and a nice guy in a funny yarmulke told me I needed to take my shoes off even though the carpet was as old as the Prophet himself, and he knew it was my first time and we began to gossip and I didn’t have to ask before he told me that the imam was kicked out of Cairo because his wife had walked in on him masturbating in the bathroom to pictures in Teen Vogue and she divorced him and tossed him out of that shithole country, I mean, really, all that trouble because he masturbated, but my new friend said that the new imam railed constantly against the low morals of our country and that the week before he issued a fatwa against the high school prom because everyone knew it was where young Muslim girls lost their virginity, and I had to tell my new friend that it wasn’t just Muslim girls and that my sister was tired of hers and intended to fling it with any halfway decent guy who wanted it, and I think he was a bit confused because his head tilted funny, but he went with the flow, which was a good thing because I was really high by then and my new friend told me that all the Muslims laughed at the anti-prom fatwa and that meant that as soon as the imam sat cross-legged in front of us on the short dais, he began to talk about sending undercover Muslim men to the prom in order to guard the virginity of young Muslim girls and that was when I realized that I understood what the imam was saying since he was saying it in English, a fucked-up broken English just like my dad, and I definitely had the language skill for that, but the intimidating FBI agent didn’t believe me at first when I told him about undercover Muslims at the prom but he changed his tune when the agents following the imam called to tell him that the imam came out of the tuxedo rental shop with a baby blue number, so the Fresno FBI went into an insane frenzy because the prom was only three days away, and I knew that because my baby sister had stolen all the condoms I had hidden under the mattress, and when I tried to confront her she said, “Fuck off, you imperialist tool,” and to get back at her, I laced her Diet Coke with K but then thought what a waste and drank it myself, but it wasn’t my fault that her plans for the prom blew up because eleven undercover FBI agents went to the school gym, including a hostage negotiator and a diffuser, although why they would want to diffuse potpourri in a large gym is beyond me, and they were joined by the imam and another Muslim guy even though they were supposed to be five but the other three had eaten burritos at Taco Bell and became indisposed, and the poor girl at the entrance couldn’t stop any of them from going in, and the FBI thought they would have it easy since there was only two undercover Muslims but once in the gym, they saw all these Muslim kids dancing and drinking and making out in corners, with each other and with non-Muslim kids, the intermingling kissing offending both the undercover FBI agents and the undercover Muslim, and then my sister saw me, punched me in the shoulder, demanding to know what I was doing at the prom, but before I could tell her that I was with the FBI, she dragged me under the bleachers, where we were shocked to see Adam daisy-chained between Mohammad A. and Mohammad K., their pants around their ankles, and I envied homosexuals for being able to go from making out to full-fledged fucking in less than six seconds, and while pulling their pants back up, Adam, Mohammad A., and Mohammad K. asked us not to judge because they were in love and wanted to move in together and live as a throuple when they graduated in a couple of years, and I said cool, but they didn’t pull up their pants fast enough because the imam, looking kinda not bad in the baby-blue tux, showed up out of nowhere next to us under the bleachers and began to yell at both Mohammads, then he called my baby sister a slut because he assumed they were making out with her and that was when she slugged him and he staggered back and fell in front of the entire prom and was out cold, a baby-blue lake on the hardwood floor, and my baby sister came out from under the bleachers still yelling at the unconscious imam, and there was a big brouhaha, and the undercover FBI went into action, trying to intimidate anyone into confessing whether there was a bomb or not, and the police got involved and so many people were taken to the station, and I don’t have to tell you the rest because you must have read about the weapons of prom destruction jokes online and the FBI tried and failed to hush things up, and my baby sister is still so angry because everyone at school thought she was doing sinful things under the bleachers and all she wanted was to get fucking laid and I ruined everything for her and I didn’t even get the fifty dollars the FBI promised me.
“The Prom Terrorists” by Rabih Alameddine is excerpted from Small Odysseys. Used with permission of the publisher, Algonquin Books. Edited by Hannah Tinti. Published March 15, 2022.