“Do you believe in God, Habibi?” she asks me.
I look up from my book as she starts stuffing her clothes into a yellow washer. She blasted through the laundry room door only moments ago and, despite being 50-ish, her disarray suggests an endearing need for constant supervision.
“Do you go to church or are you, like, spiritual in your own way?” Her tongue wraps thick around the R’s and cuts the syllables, slow and intentional. Her eyes sparkle like we’re going to get into some mischief.
“A little of both I guess. My parents were kind of agnostic. We went to church but only occasionally so I kind of created my own God in my mind.He looked like a blend between Elvis and the Man in the Moon.”
“HA HA HA!” the deep laugh is from her belly and sounds like a man.
“I prayed every single night…I don’t know where I learned that…my aunt maybe, and-”
“You’re aunt taught you to pray?”
“Yes, I think so. I can remember her tucking us in when we stayed over and praying before we went to bed. But I don’t know if that’s where I got my faith from. I kind of feel like I was born with it there.”
“Oooo, baby, that’s SO GOOD!!!” she exclaims. Her voice is thick with years of unfiltered cigarettes. “You are so lucky, baby. God is so good.”
I smile. She is so exhuberant I can’t tell if she is talking about good sex or a religious experience.
“Don’t you think so?” she leans in, a little closer than a normal person would, and waits for a response.
“Yes. Did you put soap in?” I ask as she swings door shut and starts dropping coins into the washer. She can’t talk and work at the same time.
“Ahahahah! What would I do without you? My clothes would be so diiiirty!” the staccato of her Greek accent matches the bounce of her body language. “…You know, baby, that we are put here for a reason. We are in the middle of no where. I mean, I don’t know why God thinks I can do this shit. You know, I try to be good. I wash myself before I pray…” She looks at me sincerely, her face framed by frizzy dark hair shooting out asymmetrically and backlit by the glow of fluorescent lights.
We sit on the driers for the next hour and a half and our curious conversation meanders.
“So what about men? Do you have a man in your life?”
“I’m kind of seeing one.”
“Is he, like, hot or what, habibi?”
“He’s an artist.”
“OH baaaaby!What a lover he must be!”
“He just moved here. We’ve been hanging out. He’s got bad hair – like a total redneck – and a beard. Ugh, he wears his hair down when he’s not at work – ”
“His hair is long?”
“Yeah, and when he wears it down, he looks like he should have a plug of chew and a truck with beer cans in the back…but he’s so good to talk to.”
“What about his body, baby?”
“He’s muscular…kind of tall…”
“MMMMMMM,” she groans, “he seems so HOT baby. Good for you!”
By the end of our two hour first encounter in the laundry room, I know Salma’s lusty, spiritual, outrageous and observant should better than almost anyone else’s in my new town. She hugs me goodbye with a full body press reserved for drunken frat boys and passionate Greeks, which she is.
“Let me feed you. Come to dinner tomorrow?” she says.
“What should I bring?”
“Whatever your heart desires, Habibi. Whah-ever you bring God will nourish our bodies with your good food.”
“See you tomorrow.”
“Inshallah, baby. God willing.”