Opal lifted the dishes to set the table, but she paused with them in her grip as she saw the old milk cow standing under the cool shade of an oak tree. She yelled to her husband. “It looks like Greentree’s going to have twins again, Frank.”
Instead of commenting, Frank frowned as he approached from the living room. He paused in the doorway. “He won’t be coming home.”
Opal’s attention swung back to her small, cozy kitchen. She hurriedly placed the dishes on the table as she suddenly grabbed her heart. Her hands trembled as she turned back to look at her husband. “What did you say?”
“He’s not coming.”
She held onto the table as she released a low moan. “They’ve killed him!”
The old man sucked in a heavy breath as he hurried to comfort her. “No, Opal. That’s not what I said.”
“But he’s due home. What happened this time? Did he call?”
Frank nodded as he embraced her.
The woman grimaced. “He didn’t ask to talk to me?”
He shook his head. “He said he didn’t have time to explain. He’d tell us when he knew he could come.”
“He doesn’t even know why he can’t come home after another year? They’ve had him over there almost thirty-six months.”
“He’s not in the Middle East right now.”
“And they won’t let him come home?”
“He’ll be here, soon. Don’t be so upset. Maybe next week. You said yesterday you didn’t have the groceries you wanted. You’ll have plenty of time to shop now.”
“I can always shop. I want my son home.”
“He’s in the military! You can’t expect him to respond to Mama every time you want him home.”
“I do expect him to ask to speak to his mother instead of only talk to his father. That’s what I expect.”
The man released his gentle hold on her and started walking away. “Opal, he’s almost thirty-five now, isn’t he? You’re going to have to get used to it. I have after all this time. We can’t expect him to come home at our beck and call. Especially now, when the national security of our nation might be at stake.”
“National security of our nation!” She grumbled under her breath. “What does national security care about my son? It’s already got him shot up more than once. They even reported him dead.”
At Opal’s continued complaints, Frank paused and yelled. “But he wasn’t. And he escaped. So, hold your horses and wait.”
The woman released a heavy breath. “Easy for you to say. You got to talk to him.” She pinched a bite from the casserole. “Not enough salt.” She talked to herself and added more.
“You were out tending those daisies when he called . . .”
“Roses, thank you! And you could have told him he couldn’t hang up until he spoke to me.”
“He hung up on me too. I started asking questions and he said he had to go. He rushed to tell me he wouldn’t be here this week. He said he couldn’t come. He had to give a briefing. Or, was it that he needed to be briefed? Then he would probably be here next week.”
“Probably? I thought you said he would definitely be here next week – not probably.”
“Maybe I did. But now I’m trying to remember exactly what he said. Next time I won’t answer the phone at all.”
“Now that’s hateful.”
“No, that’s just staying safe to make sure any questions you have will either be answered correctly or we’ll just stay in the dark.”
“Frank Jeffery! You would do that, wouldn’t you?”
“You betcha. I don’t like answering for my son when I barely got to talk with him myself. And now I’m being needled by his mama.”
“Needled! You call my concern for my only son, needling?” The elderly woman shook her head. “We’d better be seeing him next week, or I might just make a trip to Washington D.C. to see what’s the matter.”
Frank sat down in his chair and sipped sweet tea Opal brought him. He nodded. “If you’re so all fired up to see where he is, that’s fine with me. I’ll wait ‘til he comes home. I’ve better things to do.”
“Better things like sitting in your easy chair? No, I won’t allow it! If I go, you go. This is our only son, Frank Jeffery! You haven’t seen him in three years. And now it looks like you’re barely going to see him this year. You’re going to take me to Washington if he’s not coming home.”
“Uh-uh.” He shook his head and leaned back to reach for the remote. “No, I’m not.” He took another gulp of tea.
“We’re going, I tell you. We’re going if he’s not here by next week.”
The senators’ briefing was changed to the next day just before the lunch hour. Fox scowled toward the large assembly—held overtime on a Thursday morning—forced to take a late lunch.
These senators looked bored. He took a deep breath as he explained. “This briefing is called by Senator Leonard to inform you of specifics on how Americans view and identify Arabs.”
Whispers and mumbles raced around the table as senators looked at each other with wide eyes and shrugged.
Senator Adams, a young, newly elected, rising political star hooted. “Go figure. Is this a briefing on Arab robes and headgear? Even I can identify them by that.”
All the captive audience of senators chuckled.
Fox continued. “I’m certain you can identify those dressed in their Middle Eastern clothing. But this briefing is to discuss Arabs as individuals who speak Arabic as their native language.”
“Who could have guessed?” Adams interrupted again. The other senators beamed with broad smiles.
Fox ignored the statement and continued. “For this reason, you identify Arabs with what they speak. Arabic describes the language – Arab refers to the people.”
Adams laughed sarcastically.
Fox paused. “Did you have something else to say, sir?”
“I’m certain I will. But I can’t believe we’re having an English lesson to say that Arabic is language and Arab is people.”
Fox nodded. “I’m getting to that.”
Senator Leonard slowly stood up. “Roger, let’s just listen to the Major and then we can go to lunch.”
“That sounds good.” Senator Adams scowled.
The senator nodded and sat down. “Go on Major.”
Fox continued. “The ethnic groups within the Middle East are in constant conflict. The importance of language and its link to ethnicity needs attention.” He saw no one focused on the briefing. He threw a question out for the senators to get refocused. “So, what language is the Koran written in?”
“That’s easy. Arabic.” Adams spoke again.
“Yes, Senator Adams. And since the language of the Koran is in Arabic—it has survived today in a version called Modern Standard Arabic. Some call it fusha. The Koran’s formal Arabic is an artificial language – only used in the Middle East’s holy text since it was written in the sixth century and has retained its original language and spelling.”
“You’re saying they still keep the writing of the sixth century for the Koran? Like we would keep the original writings of Shakespeare without the corrections as to how we speak today?” Adams asked.
Fox nodded. “You’re close. No one in the Middle East grows up speaking this modern Arabic as written in the Koran. No one speaks it in their homes. There is a vast array of dialects so distinct in the Middle East that a farmer in Lebanon may not be able to communicate with a farmer in Saudi Arabia or Morocco.”
“Why should we be concerned with this?” Adams frowned.
“You tell me, Senator.” Anger laced Fox’s words. “We’ve sent our military over there to train certain personnel—we call them allied forces. But they are a people group from the Middle East. While they are considered allies to the U.S., would you like to train someone who doesn’t know a word you’ve said.”
The politician only frowned without answering.
Fox continued. “The peoples of the Middle East are not friendly to one another. They are not allies with their own native residents due to the differences in language.”
“I disagree with you, Major Jeffery.” Adams stood up to address the large gathering. “After all, each of us senators have been given the rudimentary conversational Arabic to deal casually with them in conversation. I can even decipher the Arabic newspapers and books from the brief familiarity of conversational Arabic.”
“So, you understand Arabic?”
“No, but I have this app that translates easily.” Laughter floated around the room. Adams nodded his head and lifted his iPhone. He flashed it around the table. “Technology—virtual reality—next best thing to being an expert. It translates for me.”
All the senators laughed.
When Adams sat down, Fox continued in his stoic manner. “Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are not allowed to carry an iPhone. Its GPS makes them easy prey to track. The enemy can find them and destroy the mission. While it is true the many dialects of our allies cripple communication, the Modern Standard Arabic of the Koran is not broadcast on TV or radio since no one speaks it. Also, many in the Middle Easterners are illiterate and cannot read the Koran although required to memorize it. They do not know the meaning of the words they are required to memorize from childhood.”
“How do they do that?” Adams asked.
“They have a tradition of oral memorization. They assign a specialist called a hafiz meaning one who memorizes.”
“They orally memorize it?”
“Yes. These memorizers pass it on. They believe this keeps the Koran in the original text as started in the sixth century under their leader. For these reasons, the Muslims consider their oral recitation an essential part of Islamic tradition. They consider this to be how the Quran will never change.”
“I still don’t get it. Why is this important?”
“It isn’t important to you, Senator Adams. I’ve already observed your attempt at changing historical documents rather than remain with the original intent of the Constitution. Therefore, why should this be important to you?”
“What are you talking about?” Adams words dripped in anger.
“Last week you voted for a bill clearly in violation to it.”
Mumbles raced through the group of senators. Adams stood. “We have a Constitution that is a living document. We can change it to meet the demands of the day.”
Senator Leonard stood up. “Fox, let’s not talk about this. Get on with the briefing.”
“Just a comment sir. With all due respect, you’re sending our boys over there to train our allies. With the language difficulty needed to train others, maybe Senator Adams needs to go with his iPhone. That will kill two birds with one stone.”
A loud, angry rumble came from those seated.
Adams stood up and yelled. “Yeah, I hear you were one of those boys. Is that why we’re listening to this?”
Senator Leonard sipped on his coffee. “Fox, just ignore him.”
Senator Adams quipped, and shrugged toward the large audience. “I get no respect.”
The other senators smiled broadly as they enjoyed the entertainment.
Major Jeffery nodded toward Senator Leonard and continued. “Most Muslims speak a language other than Arabic. In Afghanistan, they speak Dari—a dialect of Persian—or they can speak Persian, or Pushtu, or Afghanistan. Other languages here are Punjabi, Baluchi, Sindhi, Pakistan, or Uzbek. In India, there is the language of Bengali, Bangladesh, Urdu, Kashmiri, Hindi . . .”
“Ok! OK! We get it!” Adams shook his head and shrugged again to the crowd.
Fox continued without a pause. “There are many more languages than this. And many of the dialects of the same language are hard to decipher from one another. But all muslims speak the Koran’s grandeur by their oral memorization. The problem is they know none of the word meanings they’ve memorized.”
Mumbles raced through those seated. The senators frowned.
“Go figure.” Adams looked around the room at the other senators. “So, we have a lot of Muslims that memorize the Koran written in Arabic—a language written in the sixth century—a language not spoken today in their home—and they don’t know what they’re saying—or believing?”
Fox nodded. “While fewer than half of the world’s population of Muslims are Arabs—Arabic is the language in which Mohammed wrote the Quran. Therefore, the oral memorization and recitation of the Quran brings many Muslims to shed tears although they do not know the words.”
“You just said most Muslims don’t speak Arabic—they don’t even understand it. And when they repeat this recitation it moves them to tears?” Roger Adams looked around the room again with an exaggerated wide-eyed expression. One senator snickered.
“That is correct Senator Adams. The majority of Muslims do not speak Arabic. But, since Mohammed wrote the Quran in Arabic, this language is given a special status in Islamic culture and tradition.”
“So, is this all of the briefing.” Adams stood up again to leave.
Senator Leonard pointed at him to be seated. He sat.
Fox continued. “No Muslim wants the Koran translated into another language. They consider translations dilute it. To translate it and read it in another language is less of a blessing. Therefore, reading for meaning is not priority in reciting the Koran. This belief is similar to the use of the King James Bible in our history. Many Americans did not want to go to a different translation because they thought the King James version was the most perfect.”
“Fox, let’s get back on the Arabs, please.” Senator Leonard leaned forward and frowned.
Major Jeffery stepped back a pace to look at him. “I just wanted to state that the updated translations often give more understanding due to the outdated meanings of the sixteenth century words. Some of these words no longer hold the same understanding. This is especially so with the Koran. It’s all sixth century language and meaning – outdated. The King James version is much more understandable.”
Adams stood. His smile looked like a Chesire cat’s. “But to change the words to the updated language provides better understanding. This is the case with the constitution.”
Fox’s eyebrows lifted. “Only if the senate and house vote on it to change. And your bill didn’t pass.”
Another member of the senate stood as he frowned heavily. “To memorize a text and not understand the meaning of what is being said is ridiculous. The whole reason to learn to read, or memorize, is to comprehend – to understand what one is reading or memorizing. These people are following a religion and they don’t understand what it says?”
Fox nodded. “I give you the facts. I can’t give you the solutions. I think the Muslims get the understanding as they mature. At least I hope. But, yes. You sound as though you were an educator before you came to the senate?”
The man nodded and sat down.
Fox continued. “The Muslims are a religious sect of many languages as I have already introduced. Since Mohammed wrote the Koran in the sixth century Arabic, memorizing it in this form, this ritual, makes it pure. To them they call it undiluted. As said before, they read for blessings and not understanding. Throughout the non-Arab Muslim world, these non-Arabs who are Muslim read and recite the Koran in an almost flawless recitation of the sixth century Arabic language. It’s common for all children to be tutored by a tribal mullah although the children who are learning to recite the Koran may not speak or know the meaning of the words.”
Another senator stood. “Major Jeffery, I do know that when Israel became a nation again in 1948 it approved two national languages – Hebrew and Arabic.”
Fox nodded. “Yes, the Arabic language was approved because of all the Arabic speaking Palestinians that still lived there. I see most of you recognize the possible reason for the Middle East’s constant conflict. It is often hard to get peace when one doesn’t understand the language of another.”
Senator Adams yelled. “You can say that again.”
Fox continued. “But when one doesn’t understand the language of another even though claiming to have the same religious beliefs, it makes peace more difficult to attain. Therefore, the violence in the Middle East.”
Senator Leonard looked satisfied as he stood up and walked to the lectern. “That does it senators, take your lunch.”
The room resounded with chairs shuffling.
What are you doing this weekend, Major?”
Senator Leonard questioned Fox. He took a deep breath. “After I turn in that summary, I have a flight home.”
“Who would work with him? I tell you, he’s rude.” Ruby Marsh wrinkled her nose and shook her head.
“Ruby, who cares how rude that man is.” Emma James sighed in exaggeration, licking her lips. “He’s a dream.”
“A what?” Ruby couldn’t believe Emma referred to Major Fox J. Jeffery as a dream. “You are a married woman!”
“Yeah, I know. Ain’t that a shame?” Emma smiled wickedly.
“He’s a nightmare.” Ruby straightened to mimick him, again. “Get me this. Bring me that. You haven’t found it? You’d better look. You’ll have to work overtime!” Ruby shook her head again. “No I’m not working overtime. I am going home this weekend. Thank you!”
Emma giggled. “I would love to work overtime with him.”
Ruby sighed in exasperation. “I’m going to tell your husband.”
“Hmm. . . “ Emma nodded. “I might tell him myself.”
Ruby lifted her palms up. “Then trade me bosses. I’ve only been assigned to him since last week! It feels like a whole year as much as I’ve jumped around doing what he’s asked. I’m headed for Oklahoma Saturday on vacation—a much needed vacation after two years here. And now I get assigned Major Jeffery for a boss? You’re going to have to look for a different secretary, Emma. He’s always asking me to do six things when I’m not finished with the seven he just gave me.”
Emma turned to the Major’s door, stretching her arms wide as she cooed, “Oh, ask me Major, just ask me . . . anything.”
“Stop it!” Ruby stridently whispered. “He’ll hear you.”
“Well, he’ll hear you complaining, too.”
“Listen Emma, I’ve got to type this!” She lifted what looked to be a ream of paper. “This . . . monster . . . it’s at least two-hundred pages of his hand-written notes. HAND. WRITTEN. NOTES. And it’s due by tomorrow. He just slammed it on my desk. Hopefully I can make out the words.”
“Oh, that’s easy. You’ve got a word processor.”
“Hmm. Easy for you Miss Emma, with speed typing expertise—and your mastery in reading barb-wire for words. Now, scoot out so I can operate here.”
The Major’s door opened. Fox stepped out with Senator Leonard’s daughter attached to his arm. “Yes ma’am, I told your father I would escort you there.”
“Oh, Fox. Don’t call me ma’am, that makes me sound so old.”
“Sorry, old habits die hard.”
So, why can’t you take me next week?”
“I’ve a commitment in Oklahoma.”
The woman protested. “Oklahoma?”
Ruby frowned at hearing the word Oklahoma. That’s where she was headed. Emma looked down at Ruby with wide-eyes. She mouthed a question with no voice. “Are you traveling with the hunk to Oklahoma?”
Ruby rolled her eyes and realized too late the major saw her facial expression. He asked, “Miss Marsh, do you have something in your eye?”
“Yes, Sir.” Ruby’s face turned red. It’s you and your girlfriend. She patted her eye. “There, it’s gone.”
The major didn’t look convinced. “Have you got my notes typed?”
Ruby lowered her brow at the question. “You just handed them to me, sir.”
He nodded. “An hour ago. I thought you might have some pages finished. Each time you have twenty pages typed, hand them to me so I can check them. I must turn them in before I leave town.”
The senator’s daughter questioned. “Why are you going to Oklahoma, Fox? It’s . . .”
Emma addressed her. “Teresa, Oklahoma is filled with cowboys . . . and Indians . . . the wild west. It sounds exciting.” She turned to Fox. “Is it Major?”
He smiled at her. “No, I don’t think it’s quite the wild west anymore, Mrs. James. But it’s home.”
Ruby frowned in confusion. Home? You mean your home?
Teresa laughed. “Oh, I hope not!”
Fox corrected. “Mom and Dad’s home.” He shrugged. “I’ve been in the Middle East too long. They’re expecting me.”
“I see.” Teresa wrinkled her nose as though a foul smell drifted in the air. “I’m so glad you’re escorting me tomorrow night. And after your trip to Oklahoma, I hope to see you.”
He nodded. “See you tomorrow night.” He turned toward Ruby. “Miss Marsh, what time is that other meeting I’m suppose to make?”
Ruby checked his calendar. “It’s in a hour, sir. I’ll notify you thirty minutes before your gathering just like I did for the senator’s powwow.”
Teresa laughed. “You are calling a senators’ meeting a powwow?”
Fox nodded. “I knew what she meant.” He turned back to his office and closed the door.
Teresa remained standing looking at the major’s closed entrance.
Emma frowned at her back. “Miss Leonard, you’ve never had to deal with a busy man who closes the door in your face?”
Teresa turned and eyed Emma with a scowl. “I can’t believe Fox is traveling to Oklahoma.”
“Me either.” Ruby shook her head in disgust.
Emma stepped in Ruby’s line-of-sight and crossed her arms. “I make all the flight arrangements. I’ll assure you he’s headed for Oklahoma – if only temporarily.”
Ruby heard Teresa stomp out of the room. “I think you made her mad.”
“Who cares? Senator Leonard’s daughter needs to find her own handsome combat pilot rather than relying on her father to arrange an escort.”
“Emma James, What are you thinking by making a senator’s daughter mad?”
“It’s not what I’m thinking—it’s what I’m going to do. I’ve been watching my favorite typist these past two years and since I’m already happily married—I have the man of my dreams—I don’t need the major. But I think my little friend who works her butt off for me in the typing pool needs to find a man of her own.”
Emma started laughing. “It’s not what—it’s who. You’ve just met him. He’s from Oklahoma. You’re from Oklahoma. Surely you have something in common.”
Ruby grimaced. “Not that man.” She pointed to the major’s door. “Certainly not that man. Never.”
Emma narrowed her eyes. “Why do you say that?”
“He’s too . . .”
Emma laughed again. “I know. I know what you mean. He’s too . . . hmm . . . that’s it . . . especially in that uniform.”