D. M. Kerr
The ride home from Friday prayers in Dinan Ibrahim’s twelve-seater van, redolent with spices and hair oils, was as much a part of the service for Andrew as the prayers themselves. While the Dinan drove he sometimes crooned in his native tongue and sometimes held muted conversations with the other men in the van. Andrew was left to himself in his window seat two rows behind, just in front of the curtain that divided the men’s seats from the women’s. Every week he gazed through the tinted glass and tried to crimp together what he had just seen and heard with the thoughts and feelings that welled up constantly in his own heart.
The Dinan took the same route every Friday: up MacHenry past the old Van Neus Furniture factory, and then straight across Broadway as far as George Hilton Drive. The regularity connected the portions of the ride by location rather than by time, in such a way that the same thoughts would approach Andrew, week after week, at the same spot. They knocked at the window of his consciousness, unaware of the passage of weeks, or of next set of petitioners that awaited him up the street or around the corner.
His thoughts up MacHenry were the most persistent. The derelict structure of the old Van Neus Furniture factory that bordered it, abandoned now almost fifteen years, was able to reach unexpectedly deep into his consciousness. Part of it was the fact that the oversized letters of the factory’s name came at him from in reverse order, with the dissonant nature of music being played backwards.
“Are women really so weak and so prone to evil?” the ‘Y’ pestered him. During his weekly kurba, the Sutacha often intoned some off-hand phrase to which the men on either side of him nodded their assent, but which was so far from what Andrew had always considered to be self-evident truth that he couldn’t determine whether the statements were intended to be metaphors or not. The rush from the “Y” up to the partly erased “V” triggered a wailing by something inside him, something that thought and reasoned struggling helplessly against all that he observed and felt.
And yet, when that “V” and the wrought iron gate that followed had passed, the concern slipped away down the dark driveway and Andrew was left unsure whether any earth inside of him had been turned or not.
After the driveway some of the factory outer wall had collapsed. Through it Andrew caught a glimpse of ghostly pale brick façade of the factory itself. He could see some organization was in the process of fixing the factory, one that had enough money to replace the green roof and to repoint the old, soft brick. Who ever it was, though, never announced themselves. The ground floor remained hoarded.
Andrew found the change unsettling. He could not really put his finger on why. He was always more aware, passing that gap, of the separation between the cocoon-like world of Dinan Ibrahim’s van and the world he used to know before he found the Fellowship. The Andrew of that old world had walked the Van Neus grounds many times. That Andrew had felt poetically connected to each patched window, to each graffiti marker, to each broken step of the whole downtown. When the lines changed, when a building was torn down or a café opened, the change carried the chalice of that Andrew’s unfulfilled desires in its hands.
But the current Andrew’s hopes were being carried by a different pair of hands. “God has filled my desires,” he murmured to himself many times, but the phrase seemed to be only the veneer of the situation. What was really happening deep inside of him he could no longer comprehend, for the Fellowship did not have words for it and the art which had been his expression was too tied to the old life to help him now.
Some time in March, the city barricaded MacHenry to replace storm sewers. Dinan Ibrahim now turned left at Memorial Drive, before the factory, and bypassed the downtown entirely. The petitioners to his consciousness did relocate: Andrew had other issues to occupy his time. Most of the ride he now spent memorizing his assigned scripture verses. By that point he had heard every difficult thing the Sutacha or the Dinans said at least five times. He had reached a truce with his intellect, and the disconnect was settling into permanency.
Sometimes Andrew missed those old, deep struggles. But he could no longer recall them. They seemed to belong to yet another Andrew, just as different and as incomprehensible as the Andrew who had wandered the grounds of the factory.
Like a hiker encountering a gap in the forest and being surprised by how far up the mountain he has climbed, Andrew glanced up from his verses one Friday to noticed they had continued up MacHenry. Dinan Ibrahim needed to pick up a break-fast meal from the Ninuni who owned a shop on Broadway. For the sewer works had broken some ingrained tradition: even once they were complete and MacHenry reopened, The Dinan stuck to the faster lanes of Memorial Drive. Andrew had not seen the factory in months.
The renovation was complete. The old outer wall, with its peeling letters, had been dismantled. The whole face of the factory building could now be seen across manicured lawns, its bricks washed and repointed until the surface looked like the face of a newborn baby. Along the second floor, one to a window, large orange letters spelled out its new name: “ARTSPACE”.
Andrew found himself surprised at how little the name meant to him. The factory represented a life, a set of aspirations, a dependency on preconceptions that he could not comprehend. He no longer carried the chalice, or even knew where it was kept. And the tinted glass of Dinan Ibrahim’s van denied him even the ability even to judge.