Thursday, 23 February 2017

Smooth Ride

[Media prompt] Authorities in Benin have backed down from plans to ban Muslims from praying in the street, after reaching a compromise with religious leaders. Interior Minister Sacca Lafia said that street prayers would be tolerated on Fridays until more mosques are built, but they have to be quick.

Smooth Ride

Norm Wheeler eased his Peterbilt out of the depot in Calgary at five o’clock on Sunday morning, and four hours later on the way to Los Angeles passed through the border crossing at Sweet Grass. There was a refugee detention camp about ten or fifteen miles off the highway, but he never saw any of them. Or none he could identify. He carried two firearms nevertheless, a shotgun and a revolver; you could never be too careful on the road, where these days an unplanned stop was a welcome to the new American hell. The sooner they sent the Muslims back home the better. And the Mexicans, too. Norm didn’t care what people said about them being an economic benefit; if that were true, why was he hauling fifty tons of chilled beef to Los Angeles twice a week? There was a time when America could raise enough cattle to feed itself. Now it was a cash machine bled dry by people who thought whites would keep on paying for them forever.

He stopped for lunch south of Helena, and as the sun went down passed through Salt Lake City. The Mormons set his teeth on edge, with their magic underpants and golden cows, but as long as they stayed in Utah he could tolerate them. Before Las Vegas, he swallowed another tab to help him stay awake, and then when the lights of the strip had long receded in his rear view mirrors, a Subaru overtook and swerved into this lane, forcing him to lock the brakes. It wouldn’t be a twenty-four hour drive without morons, so after letting the engine idle for a moment, he started to pull off the shoulder when he saw the Subaru reversing. There was a “This State Will be a Caliphate’ sticker on the rear window, and before he could edge around it the driver had blocked his way.

Three men alighted, one coming around to his window, the others leaning on the trunk. The man who came to his window was black, dressed in white robes and wearing the lace hat they all wore these days. Norm held up the shotgun so the man could see it. He didn’t want to start trouble, but it was a sign he wasn’t going to be a pushover. The black man smiled.

“We don’t want your sort around here,” he said, his accent thick and menacing.

Norm showed his revolver. The black man smiled again. “This does not scare me,” he said. “You have been warned. We only want to see Muslims driving trucks into California.”

Norm levelled the revolver at the head of the Sudanese, Somalian, whatever he was. The man shrugged. “If we see you cross into California, we will kill you.”

He walked back to the car. Norm kept one eye on the rear camera, but it looked like they were operating alone. It was time to find another way to pay his bills. Jean didn’t like him away from home so much as it was, and she would demand an end to driving if he told her about this.

By the time he reached California, the first orange glow from the sun below the horizon lit the ridges of the pale hills. His stomach was tight with worry about the Africans. As he turned on some music, and the first chords of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire reverberated in the cab, he saw them. The Subaru was on the shoulder, and the three of them were praying, the first prayer of the day, kneeling on their prayer mats in the right lane. It was law now, and had been for over a year; if they wanted to kneel on the road for Allah they had every right. 

Norm turned up the volume. He hit the first one as Johnny sang, “I fell into a burning ring of fire.” That’s the thing about the Peterbilt, thought Norm as he drove on; you hardly feel the bumps at all.

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