Page 88 Handmaiden

          “Position Required?” – “If it please you Sir, ‘Hand Maiden.’ ”       6-27-11

             Roy Garde.

     I’ve been using the same electrical equipment supplier for ten years or more and Annie Meyer – their Comptroller who had a plaque on her desk that said ‘Hannah D. Meyer’ but everybody called her ‘Annie’ – had been working there for all of that time.

     I was in the habit of taking a check with me every time that I went up there to pay for the material that I’d ordered, and taken away with me, on my previous visit and I always took it, the check, in through the front door rather than around the side where the Customer Service Dept. was because Annie’s office was near the front door and just past the Receptionist\Telephone Operator’s glass-fronted cubicle.

     Everyone in the office was always very nice to me, and seemed to like seeing me, especially Annie. She was a tall, pleasantly plump woman, who was in her thirties, and she had light brown hair and nice features. We would make small talk about the weather, or current happenings, while she was dealing with my account on her computer and then I’d leave her and go around to place my new order.

     One day I had to go to the building again just two days after I’d been there last and so I didn’t take a check with me because, of course, their invoice hadn’t had time to reach me. I went directly to the Customer Service Dept. and was surprised to find Annie using the public phone on my side, the customer’s side, of the counter. She was whispering urgently into it.

     I stopped directly in front of her and smiled and waved “hello” without saying anything so she could have simply smiled back and wouldn’t have had to interrupt her conversation but instead she turned her head away and then let her whole body follow the motion until she had her back to me and as she did so she rudely gave me a dismissive hand wave.

     I felt a little foolish and somewhat angry but, luckily, no one had seen what had happened so I had time to absorb the hurt and then to partially neutralize it by drastically downgrading my opinion of her.

     I walked to the counter and rang the little bell and, in answer to it, a desk clerk came out and he dealt with my order and while he was in the warehouse putting the material together I couldn’t help but listen to Annie’s conversation. All that I could hear properly was lots of, “then they said” and, “so I said” and, “then they said.”

     When I left ten minutes later she was going at it just as intensely as she had been when I’d arrived.

     On my next visit to get supplies, several weeks later, Annie was into another of her whispered conversations into the telephone but this time, blatantly it seemed to me, at

her desk in the front office. I could once again hear her, “so then I said,” and, “then they said,” and it went on and on. I really didn’t want to get rebuffed again but this was a business office after all and I didn’t have any time to waste, and anyway, if you can’t get someone’s attention when you want to hand over a check when can you get it? After a while I got completely exasperated and so I moved around into her field of vision and I waved the check at her.

     She got furious in a split second. She reached over and grabbed it and fairly snarled at me that couldn’t I see that she was on the phone and then she flipped my check to one side of her desk and turned away and once again gave me that infuriating wave of dismissal.

     I felt angry and foolish again and this time there were plenty of people around who had seen and heard what she’d done so I walked away from her quickly both to avoid saying something that I’d later probably regret and to get away from their stares and semi-smirks and the fact that the smirks seemed to be sympathetic towards me was neither here nor there. I went out the door and the cool air calmed me somewhat as I walked around to the Customer Service Dept.

     There was no one else waiting to be served and the desk clerk this time happened to be a guy I’d known for a long time, named Dave, so I told him what had happened and I asked what was up with Annie. He said she was always like that lately and everyone in the whole place knew it and that they had all learned to leave her the hell alone when she was on the phone, which seemed to be most of the time.

     I determined to leave her alone permanently and from then on to simply hand my check to the desk clerk and ask him to take it into the office.

     About a month later I had to call the same company’s accounting department about an error in their billing and I was thus forced to ask for Annie and was told by the Telephone Operator that Annie didn’t work there any more and so she’d have to give me the new Comptroller, whose name was Ed, to talk to. Which I did and everything went smoothly.

     On my next visit to get some equipment I asked Dave, the desk clerk, what had happened to Annie.

     He seemed happy to tell me because he had a slightly smug look on his face as he said that one day, a while ago, the owner of the company had wanted to talk to her, face to face because he hadn’t been able to get her on the phone after many tries, and so he’d gone down to her desk and had found her well into, and indeed lost in her, “so then I said,” and, “then they said,” conversation and she had looked right through him and had then turned away and had dared to give him her, “Go away, why don’t you? Can’t you see that I’m busy here?” wave!

     It was now his turn to be furious and he walked over to the Telephone Operator’s cubicle and he told her to break Annie’s phone connection and then he walked back and, now having her full attention, he told her that not only was it known by everyone who worked there that private telephone conversations were not allowed on the company’s time but also that if she could be that rude and could ignore him, “I’m your boss for crissake!” when he was standing right there in front of her what chance did his customers have of getting help from her or even of getting any attention at all and so, long time employee or not, she should clean out her desk and get out of the building before noon and was not to come back, ever!

     Dave told me that everyone was relieved that she was no longer around to mess up the accounting department but that they were all sorry too because they’d all liked her before the craziness had taken over. He said that they’d asked the Receptionist/Telephonist, at lunch time on the day that Annie had been let go, who had she been talking to for a half of each day and she’d told them that she’d often wondered herself and so when the last monthly statements had come in from the telephone company she’d gone over them and had seen that her calls had been to just about every zip code in the country. She told them that curiosity had made her call some of them and she’d found that they all had titles that started with the name of the City, or the State, and they all had one other thing in common. They all had the words “Islam” or “Islamic” in them.

     I knew that Annie was an Irish-American and a practicing Catholic, even though she had a Jewish family name, so this news really intrigued me.

     I tried questioning Dave more but he’d already told me all that he knew except that there was a rumor that she had somehow gotten involved with a black guy who was a cult leader or some such!

     He saw how that tit-bit of new information made me more eager than ever to find out what was going on and how disappointed I was that that was all he could tell me so he volunteered that her brother, Mark, would, of course, know much more. I said sure but where would I find her brother?

     He said Oh! and that he’d thought that I’d known that he was one of their salesmen and that he had a desk upstairs and that he handled all sales of electrical and mechanical exercise machines and equipment. I’d never known that they sold that stuff much less had I purchased any and that’s why I’d never met him nor even heard about him.

     I left then to go back to work but I couldn’t stop thinking about Annie and her weird situation so before I left my office the next time that I had to go up there I called them and asked for Mark’s voice-mail and I left a message for him that I’d be up there in about one hour because I wanted some brochures and that I also wanted to talk to him about some electronic controls for a tread mill.

     When I’d finished my regular business, and had put my purchases in my van, I asked the guy to tell Mark that I was there and to ask if I could come to see him.

     Mark Meyer was dark haired men in his mid thirties, quite like his sister in looks, and, as are most salesmen, very solicitous but he was also bordering on being unctuous. I guessed business wasn’t too good in the exercise machine line.

     He gave me coffee and then several brochures and then, quite competently, some information on my specific, made up, questions on control replacement and then we sat back to drink the coffee.

     Eventually I worked the conversation around from football and the coming Knicks season so that I could tell him that I’d known his sister well and was shocked when I’d found out that she no longer worked there and then I asked him what on earth had happened?

     It started to come out in dribs and drabs with lots of pauses but then his bafflement and his anger with her took over and the facts started to pour out. It was clear that he had little work to do most of the time and was starved of contact with other people by his nasty little confining cubicle. In his place I would have gone nuts in about a day and a half.

     He, Mark, had long ago moved to his own apartment in town but Annie had continued to live with their mother and she rarely went out except to Church on Sundays and to the movies, or the like, with various girl friends. She had never had a real boyfriend, so to speak, or at least not for long. She found most men, certainly all the ones that Mark and his mother had arranged to meet up with her, as “silly” or, “foolish”. They’d given up on her after she’d answered their query about the last one with a disdainful, “Puh-lease! What a loser!”

     Well, about two months before she’d been fired she had horrified everyone who knew her by getting involved with, of all the unlikely people, a black Islamic cult leader!

     No one except her knew how she had met up with him until she’d once mumbled to her mother something about walking past a mosque in their neighborhood and Allah had ordered her legs to take her inside.

     The man, whose name was Abdul Azim, had somehow completely overwhelmed her with his charisma and she became a totally devoted follower of his.

    He had a wife and many women, no doubt three of them considered themselves to be his legitimate wives too, in his big house and the number of his children was approaching thirty.

When she’d heard that Mark’s mother said that if things continued as they were then pretty soon he wouldn’t need any outsiders to fill up his mosque but Annie hadn’t seen any humor in her remark.

    Incredibly, she gave him all of her savings right away and subsequently all of her weekly pay checks – he’d graciously give her two, twenty dollar bills for ‘personal expenses’ – and she horrified and baffled her parents and her brother by telling them that she wanted to go and live in his house and to serve him as a hand maiden.

     Her brother remembered asking her, through his total confusion with the rest of it, “What the hell does a `Hand Maiden’ do?” although he, and his parents, with sinking hearts, were all too sure that they knew already.

     Annie was certainly the first white woman in Abdul Azim’s ‘harem’ and she was not only comely but she also learned quickly how to wriggle her hips for him, just so, and he rarely had to twirl one of her nipples, or pinch her wherever it was convenient for him to reach, to make her writhe more or heave up at him harder – and he would have accepted her at once for those reasons alone but, on top of that, she had given him lots of money and she actually had a well paying job and thus would bring him lots more.

       When all of the women already living with him found out that he intended to let her move in with them they rebelled.

     They were all followers and converts who had come to live in his house – one by one over the years after he had mesmerized them with his powerful words and with his aura – but because each one of them could only get him to ‘visit’ with her around once a month as it was then they asked themselves how often would they get him between the sheets in future if he were to find out that he liked Annie’s white meat better than their dark?

     They ganged up and told him that they didn’t want her to come and live with them, even though they knew that they had no way of stopping him seeing that it was his house and that he was their leader, but they effectively got around that by telling him that if he insisted they’d kill her the first day that she walked in.

     They covered up their real objection to her by saying that they knew that she not only wasn’t Islamic but that she had Catholic blood in her veins and she had a Jewish name and they well knew that no one on earth could “cleanse” such a combination of repugnant (to them as ex-Protestants, mostly Baptists) religious heritages.

     He was thus forced to tell Annie that she couldn’t move into his house until she got accepted into his religion and that he had no idea how she could accomplish that because conversion rites to the Islamic faith from Catholicism, especially for someone who had a suspiciously Jewish surname, was a tough nut to crack.

     “However,” he followed up quickly, “I’ve thought and prayed about your particular dilemma long and hard,” and it turned out that she would be allowed to keep on contributing to the cause while they all worked at finding a solution.

     He also insisted that she continued to come to his private dressing room, behind the mosque, every morning for an “Individual Counseling Of An Infidel” session and every meeting with him made her surer than ever of wanting to be allowed to fully embrace the true faith.

     After every one of those counseling sessions she felt, besides being sore, in awe of the fact that the great man had been gracious enough to comfort her and to encourage her by deigning to transfer his precious seed into her care.

     She felt extra blessed when he told her that she could ignore the ‘phases of the moon’ prohibitions that she’d read about in several books on Islamic practices – he’d told her to ignore them because following them would have made her ‘unclean’ for him for nearly two weeks every month and he needed her far too often and urgently for that – and he paid for a fitting of a diaphragm and he told her to use it in reverse, “Like whores do to block the flow of blood so that they can keep working,” and then when she got home she could “deal with the mess” properly.

   He saw that she wasn’t happy with his strange dispensation so he told her that near-infidels like her were already so far out of it that breaking one or two rules couldn’t possibly matter one way or another.

   After thinking about it she accepted that explanation because she knew from her readings and from his sermons that she was only a woman after all and thus not in any position to question his actions nor his decisions and also that, as a non-bona-fide-follower, she was totally unworthy of him and quite unfit, as yet, to bear his child.

     Certainly, she reasoned, that also had to be why he always rolled a condom on just before he started consoling her. Imagine the effrontery, she told herself, of hoping to nourish his seed under present circumstances. My word, she followed up, he didn’t even make her wear a veil like all his other women which told the whole world that he didn’t consider her to be his property, yet! He was withholding his protection for the present.

      The reason that he made her fit a condom on him every time was because – besides not trusting her, as a woman, to take the pill on time and in the proper order – the last thing that he needed was another child – having at least thirty already – and besides that he didn’t want her to take herself out of contention by first having a swollen belly and then by having her marvelously tight love-canal ruined beyond redemption after having done duty as a birth-canal.

      She remembered fondly one time when he’d just finished counseling her and she was still prostrate on the carpet, after a particularly forceful session, and he pulled off the condom himself instead of having her do it as usual prior to cleaning him up. Well, he pulled on the rim without paying proper attention to what he was doing and it split away and then, when he was trying to skin the rest of it off it somehow slipped off and turned partly inside out and its contents spilled to the floor.

     He did some cussing because he had a splendid gold and white carpet on the floor in that room that he was very proud of so he made Annie snap out of her reverie and clean it up before the stain could get set.

     She got some soapy water and some plain water and she got onto her knees, still totally naked, and started using a cloth.

    While she was doing that he’d gotten dressed and when he was sitting down to pull on his socks he looked across and saw that she was positioned perfectly in his line of sight so that he could see her lovely, white, large breasts jiggling and her belly convulsing and her bottom a-jiggering as she scrubbed away diligently.

     The marvelous sight made him get aroused again and so he got undressed again in a hurry and he took her from behind while she was still kneeling.

     Lust drove everything from his mind except getting it done and so he forgot completely about putting a condom on until he’d made the transfer and by then he was so totally drained that all that he could do was to rest all of his weight on her back and couldn’t so much as speak and tell her to go and give herself a douche immediately.

     She had known that something was very different from the norm as soon as he’d entered her and when she’d figured out that he was having at her ‘barebacked’ she was thrilled to her core and that, combined with the physical pleasure that she always got from their encounters – in that same core – made for a very memorable, very spirited union indeed.

    When he’d mustered enough strength to get off her he got dressed again and when he was putting his socks on he looked over at her – she hadn’t moved except for turning onto her back – and he said, “Well now, it looks like you’ve now got two stains to clean up but, before you get on with it, put your clothes on or we’ll be here all day!”

    Later, on the way home, her feet hardly touched the sidewalk until, through her euphoria, the harsh truth emerged – her time of month made it most unlikely that she had conceived – and consequently, when she was given incontrovertible evidence that she hadn’t, she wasn’t as devastated about it as she might have been.

     On all of the other times, however – and there were many other times – he never failed to use protection and he was kind enough, when he’d finished counseling her, to let her keep his precious, thwarted, trapped and captured seed and she was allowed to take it away with her when she left, as always, by the back door that led directly to the street.

     She’d take each one home and would carefully sequester it, with all of the other similar little presents that he’d given her, in a sort of shrine that she’d made out of cardboard and had lined, inside and out, with red silk that had little gold stars and quarter moons on it. She labeled each sorry, knotted, little limp sack with the date on which he had graciously agreed to couple with her to help her find the courage to go on with the fight and also, on the same label, were a few inspiring words taken from the prayer that he’d offered up as they were undressing on that particular occasion.

      Every time that she deposited another of his gifts in her shrine she pined over each lost chance to carry his son in her belly, the son who would have been one hundred percent accepted into the faith and perhaps be a Leader and a Counselor in his own right some day.

       It was by repeatedly having to lament the reason for the terrible and repeated waste of his seed that made her decide to pick up the pace of her holy quest and that from then she’d see to it that the efforts of the Knights of Malta, and of the Round Table, and of the Crusades, and of Yore would be as nothing compared to hers!

     She figured that surely someone in the USA could give her the answers that she needed and so she started calling for advice often, surreptitiously at first, and to do so she had to steal long moments away from her office desk to call on public phones, using her credit cards to pay for them, but her need to move to his house and to live forever in his presence strengthened until it overwhelmed her and she began calling from her desk and again, when she got home, on her mother’s phone, taking advantage of the time differences out West.

    That was why she’d begun to neglect her job shamelessly and had found time only for the office’s absolutely top priorities and so even the office staff’s paychecks were only barely readied in time on Thursdays.

    However, no one that she’d called would, or maybe could, help her. They were all intrigued and they all insisted that she explain at great length just what she was looking for, and what her problem was, and then what other people, in other cities, had told her to do and when they had gotten it all and had fully understood her difficulty they usually called someone else to the phone, someone more senior than they were, and she’d have to go through it all again but then, eventually, she’d be told by the top person there that no one could help her and that her quest was probably hopeless but, she was to mind it well, that was not to say that it was entirely impossible seeing that to Allah all things were possible.

     She would have tried calling Mecca itself if she had known enough Arabic or if she had known any one who spoke that language and who would have interpreted for her.

     She never cottoned on to the fact that all of her calls were ended, smoothly but decisively, after, as requested, she’d given up the name of her Spiritual Advisor and the address of his mosque and they’d had enough time to do some research on that information.

     The reason for that was because Abdul Azim was a renegade who, back in the eighties when several of the countries in the mid-east were rolling in money that was earmarked for empire building, had cajoled and conned one of the Committees into funding him in the purchase of a de-sanctified, abandoned church, and its adjoining vicarage, and then turn it into a mosque. As soon as he’d used their funds to buy it, in his own name, he’d asked for more funds to rehabilitate it by tearing down the steeple and putting up a dome in its place, and by replacing the stained glass windows that portrayed the Stations Of The Cross and various Saints, and many other things, and they’d sent him another check that was enough to pay for the removal of the huge cross from the top of the steeple and to chisel off a half dozen more crosses that were built into the façade and to replace the stained glass windows – they were all clearly an immediate affront, sight unseen, that had to be done at once – but by the time that the main re-furbishing funds were due the whole project was dropped because their investigation of his background and of his bona-fides showed that he was a fraud who couldn’t possibly call himself an Imam because he didn’t have any of the necessary qualifications and was unknown to all of the other Imams in the area.

     Annie’s brother went on to tell me that she hadn’t bothered to look for another job after she’d been fired until Abdul Azim told her that he wanted her to start working again, and then, when he’d found out why she had been fired from her next job, in a matter of days, he told her that from then on he would be the one who made enquiries as to how she could be permitted to convert and that she should concentrate on finding and keeping a job. He also told her, as he’d told all of his wives and his women and his congregation, how best to accumulate enough paid working hours to see to it that she could play the system effectively and get the maximum amount possible on her unemployment checks.

     It was just as well that he’d told her to stop making her own calls because her exasperated mother had had her home phone disconnected after she’d gotten the first monthly bill from the telephone company that showed the extent of her daughter’s quest. She had given up trying to reason with her weeks before.

     Annie now spends her days, when not sending out resumes or going to job interviews, hanging around outside Abdul Azim’s house or the mosque. His women still won’t let her

go inside the house and she is pathetically grateful when she’s allowed to take away piles of their soiled clothing to wash and iron and mend. “After all,” she tells herself, “some of the clothes might be HIS.” She also helps with chores of various kinds that can be done outside or elsewhere like painting over graffiti or sweeping the paths and the sidewalk or helping to carry home eggs and milk and bread, all in unbelievably large quantities, from the Supermarket.

     His counseling is still being given regularly enough, and well enough, to keep her faith firm and her hopes alive and to make her be careful to keep out of the sun – this last because he delights in her paleness – and to follow a strict diet because all of his other women seem to be two hundred pounds or better and she remembers his surprise and his pleasure the first time that he’d counseled her when he’d been delighted to be reminded that women have pubic bones too!

     I figured that, with that, we’d come to the end of the story, or saga, but when I made moves to leave Mark asked me if I wanted to hear the latest on his sister.

    I sat back and told him that I was intrigued by the whole thing and that he should please continue.

    He said that he’d taken flowers to his mother on last month’s Mother’s Day and had been invited to stay for lunch. Incidentally and amusingly, he was made to promise that he’d empty the refrigerator of leftovers when he went back home later on because, “Now that you’ve left us and your sister only eats what she’s prepared for herself your father and I can’t keep up with it and he won’t let me throw anything out, as you know very well, and so it’s piling up in the fridge.”

    When he’d asked what his sister cooked for herself she told him, “She only eats fruit for breakfast – fresh figs and fresh dates and those nasty pomegranate things – and at lunch time she boils a half package of lentils until they’ve softened and then she puts a half pound of the ground lamb that I bring from the supermarket, or the ground goat meat that she buys for herself somewhere, in with the lentils and when it’s all cooked she puts a half of it onto one of those round flat-bread things and she folds it over and eats it like a sandwich.

    “Oh Mark! There’s something else that I’ve got to tell you and you’ll find this really hard to believe. She does all of the preparing and the eating with her right hand only! How about that? Have those people never heard of soap?

    “Well, for dinner she heats up some of that strange couscous stuff and she eats the rest of the mixture that she made at lunchtime with it. Y’know, I could kill that Abdul guy of hers. Why doesn’t he go back to wherever it is that he comes from if he likes that life style so much?”

    When Mark asked her where his sister was right then he was told that she was in the basement washing and drying and ironing the two shopping bags of dirty clothes that she brings back with her every morning just before noon and returns every afternoon.

    He asked if she was going to join them for lunch and his mother answered with a snort, “Hhhhmmmph! How long has it been since you were here last? She won’t even come into the kitchen if she sees that someone’s in here already.”

    That surprised Mark and he said, “But I’m her brother. I thought that it was all right for their family members to – uh – mingle freely.”

    “Oh no, no, it’s not about that. It’s not for you only. Your father and I are included because you see, in her eyes we’re all infidels.”

    Mark told me that when he’d gotten over his shock he’d asked his mother how, if what she just said was true, how could it be possible for her to live under the same roof as ‘infidels’ and for an answer she told him to come upstairs with her to see something interesting.

    When they got up there she led him into his sister’s room and ‘interesting’ didn’t begin to be right word for what he saw in there.

    The floor was covered with a half inch of sand! His mother told him that Annie had stolen it from construction sites at night and had brought it all home, “one bucketful at a time. It took her months to do it!”

   There were no rugs because she’d thrown them all out. She’d said that, “None of them are authentic Persian.”

   The walls had been painted a bright yellow and there were green muslin swathes of material over the window.

   The ceiling was bright blue with a few clouds painted here and there.

   There was a large, round, red shade over the central light fitting and that was the only source of light in the room.

   There was very little conventional furniture – not even a bed – and the only chair was one of those three-legged stools that have a leather seat with pouches to anchor the tops of the legs.

   In one corner there was a pile of smooth stones and on top of it was perched what looked like a homemade copy of a holy relic that had red satin walls with gold quarter moons and stars ingrained in the material and inside, on the ‘floor’ and piled near the sides, were many strange looking things, vaguely familiar, that had bits of paper, with something written on them, tied to each one.

   There were no ordinary books – only two Korans, one in English, and some Arabic language textbooks.

   There was a big cedar box that held they knew not what and they didn’t dare open it or look inside the closet.

   However, the most surprising thing in the room was the pitched tent that was up against a sidewall. When he pulled the entrance flaps aside he saw that there was only a bedroll and one blanket inside.

   He looked to his mother for an explanation and she told him that she’d asked about it all and Annie had told her that her, “Spiritual advisor, who is a very holy man,” had advised her that she could continue living with infidels (rent free and thus less of a drain on her ‘contributions’ to the cause) if she set up a tent in her bedroom so as to be living under her own roof!

   As they were going down the stairs Mark’s mother told him another fact that was hard to believe.

   “Annie was told by her Imam that although he knows that she’s an Irish Catholic her name is far too Jewish sounding and so he was going to re-name her.

   “She is now called, uh, let me think, it’s a bit difficult . . . yes, ‘Manha Amah Buthaynah.’

   “I looked it up on the computer and that translates to, ‘Allah’s gift of a handmaiden with a beautiful body.’ ”

   “Wow,” said Mark. “That’s not a name so much as a job description.”

   “Isn’t it just?” his mother agreed. “Well, you know what? Seeing that they put such great store in names I just hope that this Spiritual Leader of Annie never finds out that her father’s mother, your Grandmother Meyer who was a staunch feminist and a Zionist, gave her both of her names and the first one, as you know, is not ‘Annie’ or ‘Anna’ but ‘Hannah’ and her middle one is ‘Denili.’

   “You see, what happened was that your father and I let my mother give you your first and middle names – ‘Mark’ was from a brother of hers who died young and ‘James’ was her own father’s name – and so we had to let his mother do the same thing for your sister. It was only fair, right?

   “Well now, that made her Hannah Denili Meyer, right? Well, ‘Hannah’ was the mother of Samuel who was a prophet and the leader of the Jewish army that defeated the Philistines so that name won’t go over all that well with him, right? And I really don’t want him to find out what ‘Denili’ means because it’s a name that she made up herself. The first initial ‘D’ comes from ‘Deborah’ which is the name of the woman who God picked to lead the revolt of the Israelites against the Canaanites, which led to their total annihilation – and yes, I do mean ‘total.’ All of the men, women and children were ‘put to the sword’ on Deborah’s word that it was a direct order from God! There’s a description of it in the Old Testament if you don’t believe that that’s possible.

   “The second letter ‘E’ is from ‘Esther’ which was the name of the woman who kind of went underground and was able to save all the Jews of Persia thousands of years ago. They celebrate it to this day and they call it ‘Purim’ or some such.

   “Well now, listen to this next bit carefully ‘cause it’ll slay you. The rest of the name, ‘Nili,’ was once a common Jewish name for a girl and it is itself an acronym from Hebrew words that translate to, ‘The Glory Of Israel Will Never Die.’ ”

    “Good Christ Almighty!” said Mark. “There’s hope for us yet. Uh, I’m guessing that Annie doesn’t know the full significance of her middle name. Right?”

   “Uh, no she doesn’t – you see, she never liked it so it never came up and we didn’t push it.”

   “Well then – when are you going to tell her?”

   “I won’t if I don’t have to. It’s her life and she can lead it anyway that she wants.”

   By this time they were back in the kitchen and she poured him more coffee, and then took some for herself, and when she was sitting down she said, “As I just told you, I’ll keep my peace on the name thing and see how things pan out but if she starts going really crazy and starts insisting that I have to wear one of those ridiculous beehive suits whenever I go out, or stop eating pork, or quit driving my car, or go on a fast for Ramadan, or pray five times a day, or what ever, I’ll go find this Abdul Azim of hers and I’ll show him her birth certificate and I’ll tell him that ‘Meyer’ means ‘Leader’ and I’ll let him know about the original ‘Hannah’ and then I’ll break down ‘Denili’ for him and when he’s picked himself up off the floor I’ll tell him that I’m thinking of distributing some flyers with that same information and I’ll see to it that they get distributed to his followers and his wives and I’ll drop some of them off at neighboring mosques.

   “I’m guessing that after that he won’t waste much time before saying ‘Goodbye for ever” to his ‘Handmaiden from God’ and you’ll know that that has happened when you get a call from her asking you to come over to take away her tent and give it to your old Scout Troop and then help her carry about a ton of sand from her room!

   “I’m guessing that that it won’t be long after that before she’ll be asking if you’re coming to midnight Mass with us on Christmas Eve.

   “Uh, incidentally, will you be coming with us? I’d like that.”