Marwa – Part XIXJun 1st, 2010 | By Lois Bassen | Category: Marwa, Series | 686 views
June – October, 2004
On the last day of August, 2004, Marwa al-Hal was arrested during a demonstration outside the Republican Presidential Convention in New York City. She was about to begin her junior year as a Presidential Scholar at Fordham, and she was arrested with another Presidential Scholar, a senior, her boyfriend James Beekmans. During the slow interrogation, incarceration and her sudden, surprise release, Marwa responded to her accuser (Satan meant ‘accuser’ – Marwa called him Officer Iblis) that she was definitely not an idealist of any kind, “I don’t have illusions,” she said, “I’m one of those people who see through to nothing.”
Marwa enjoyed her interrogator’s ignorance (Iblis was Satan’s Muslim name; the quotation about illusion was from a Flannery O’Connor short story about a PhD. whose wooden leg is stolen from her by her Bible salesman lover who leaves her helpless in a barn. Marwa’s synesthesia hadn’t returned with her eyesight. She saw the world differently and thought, what if her mother’s TV psychic were right, that there was no death, death was an illusion, a test, but one you were forced to take blindly. Which was how she felt, blind, once her colors were gone. The legless woman’s name had been Joy Hopewell, but she changed her name to Hulga because it sounded ugly. To Marwa, Hulga sounded like a character out of ICELAND’S BELL she’d read over and over three years before.
Her boyfriend James Beekmans and most other demonstrators were not released as quickly as Marwa. Everyone called him by both names as if they were one, James-Beekmans. He was very tall and very black and mistaken as a basketball player for Fordham University, but not for very long after you met him. James-Beekmans had grown up in a neighborhood near Fordham, Belmont, the Bronx’s Little Italy.
“Just west of the Bronx Zoo that I thought belonged to my grandfather because he took me there like daily when I was little,” James-Beekmans said.
“You were never little,” Marwa replied.
He had grown up fighting and defeating white boys who considered him an alien in their territory, when, as he had explained it to Marwa, his people had owned and were buried in land in New York City since the 1700’s.
“You know that Southstreet Seaport,” James-Beekmans asked on their first date back in January, “that Beekman Street? that’s us, we’re Beekmans, and we dropped the master’s apostrophe 300 years ago. We moved north into the Manhattan woods and swamp before Olmsted started terraforming Central Park and got run out of there when that real estate became worth something, but once we were in the Bronx, we weren’t moving anymore. My mom’s grandfather took photos of the Italians when they first arrived, and he delivered mail to the ones who could read.”
James-Beekmans and Marcus got along fine when Marwa introduced them to one another on a hot Sunday at the beginning of August when Marcus was in the City for the weekend, down from “Cambridge.”
“Why don’t you just say Harvard?” Marwa said.
Marcus had the September Scientific American in his hand, and James-Beekmans said, “You ever wonder why the September issue comes out at the beginning of August, etcetera?”
Marcus looked at the cover, Special Issue, BEYOND EINSTEIN, and answered, “All the time.”
Marwa took the magazine out of Marcus’s hand and riffled through it to a dog-ear at “The String Theory LANDSCAPE” and read aloud, “‘According to Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, gravity arises from the geometry of space and time, which combine to form space-time. Any massive body leaves an imprint on the shape of space-time, governed by an equation Einstein formulated in 1915. The earth’s mass, for example, makes time pass slightly more rapidly for an apple near the top of a tree than for a physicist working in its shade.’”
Marwa paused, her eyes having cast ahead, and read the next words aloud more slowly, as if to herself, “‘When the apple falls, it is actually responding to this warping of time.’”
The three undergraduates were standing on the esplanade at Battery Park City looking west over the Hudson. Marwa turned her head around briefly towards the great absence of the Towers. Both young men translated her glance. Marcus quickly drew Marwa’s attention to the article’s authors and said he was hoping to do grad work with the one at Berkeley, “on the holographic principle, relating space-time geometry to information content.”
Later, Marwa mistakenly thought that James-Beekmans had liked Marcus for always answering a question with another question, but it was because Marcus had in that moment distracted her from falling bodies.
Marwa handed him the magazine back and said, “I’m not into science so much anymore since the color’s gone.”
Marcus laughed, “Yeah, you’re into James-Beekmans.”
“This one’s going to the real Cambridge,” she said patting his dark forearm, “all expenses paid on a Gates magic carpet.”
Marcus looked impressed at the mention of the new scholarship, Bill Gates’s American answer to the primo British Rhodes.
“I’m applying for one,” James-Beekmans corrected.
“When’s the deadline for that?” Marcus asked.
“You’ve got to be a senior,” Marwa explained.
“Duh,” Marcus said.
“November 1st,” James-Beekmans answered, “for a Master’s.”
“In?” Marcus said.
“Biological Anthropology. An anthropological geneticistafter medical school,” Marwa said.
“Are you sure you aren’t Jewish?” Marcus teased, “you sound just like my mother.”
The threesome had walked in the direction of the ongoing building of a new “Teardrop Park” on the esplanade, and looked down through the fencing at the hard-hatted workers pouring concrete, at the arranged boulders and another crew of workers planting trees and small shrubs. Leaning against the protective fence for a better look was Joey’s friend Ositadimma Bem. The boy recognized Marwa and grinned upward at the height of James-Beekmans. The child gestured basketball dribbling and shooting. James-Beekmans smiled back, shaking his head.
“Hey, Marwa, this park is gonna be so great!” Ositadimma Bem said.
“Watch out you don’t fall in before it even opens,” Marwa said.
Marcus picked up several loose stones near Ositadimma’s feet. Marcus started juggling them to distract the boy, moving him back away from the fence altogether.
“Can you do more?” Ositadimma asked.
“Try me,” Marcus said, angling one palm to receive one, two, three more stones.
He was juggling six when one dropped, and he hissed a curse, surprising James-Beeksmans. Ositadimma quickly picked up the stone and tossed it back to Marcus, who was keeping the other five up in the air. This time, Marcus kept all six up and down and sideways for several minutes. Ositadimma whistled admiration.
“How d’you do that?”
Marcus caught the stones and tossed the boy one. “You can do that, right?”
Ositadimma tossed it hand to hand easily, impatiently. Marcus put three stones in his shorts pocket and tossed two back and forth, hand to hand, keeping their height level. He threw one to Ositadimma, and the boy imitated.
Marcus called for the two back and juggled three. “You watching?”
Ositadimma again imitated the pace and arc.
“You want four?” Marcus asked.
“For later,” the boy said, concentrating. He stopped juggling and held the stones in one hand, reaching out for the remaining three which Marcus gave him.
“Try using balls of the same size and weight instead of stones,” Marcus suggested.
Ositadimma nodded. “There’s a lot more to this,” he said.
“Just stay clear of the fence,” Marcus said. “Don’t lean on it.”
Ositadimma ignored the warning. Marcus, Marwa, and James-Beekmans watched the neophyte walking away and trying to juggle at the same time.
“He’ll have my little brother Joey doing that, y’know,” Marwa said. “Something you picked up at Harvard?”
“The masters are at Caltech. It’s not really the number you keep in the air, it’s the throwing sequences that are interesting. There’s only one law, no matter what the tempo, one hand can make only one throw at a time. You can increase the height of one throw in a sequence so long as you equally decrease the height of another throw that lands later, but you have to know how much later, or—“
“Or else,” Marwa said.
“Well,” Marcus said, “you asked.”
Walking back to the reopened Chambers Street subway to return to their various locations uptown and in the Bronx, Marwa talked about Joey and Ositadimma Bem, how his Nigerian name meant ‘May things change for the better or be better from today & forever,’ “and Bem means peace.”
“Sounds like that song from NORMA RAE,” Marcus said.
“Would that you had your ukulele with you,” Marwa teased.
In response, Marcus started singing, “So it goes like it goes/ Like the river flows/ And time it rolls right on/ And maybe what’s good gets a little bit better/ And maybe what’s bad gets gone…”
“Good thing you’re a mathematician,” James-Beekmans said.
“Oh, he knows all the Academy Award-winning songs, “Marwa said. “What year was that?”
“1979,” Marcus said.
“TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was 1962,” James-Beekmans said. “That’s the only one I know the year of.”
“Days of Wine and Roses was ‘62,” Marcus said. “I only know the songs.”
“He knows them in order from 1934,” Marwa said, “please don’t get him started.”
That night back at the beginning of August, when Marwa and James-Beekmans had returned from meeting Marcus, they went to dinner at his parents’ home in the Bronx. Inside the row house it was air-conditioned against the humid heat, but the two were sitting outside on back steps that overlooked a small, neatly planted garden and driveway, part of a common space of garages and gardens behind the attached homes. Marwa’s wavy hair was twisted and barretted up on her head. James-Beekmans stroked away some shine of sweat from her long, lovely neck and played with the wetness between his thumb and first finger. His touch evoked an involuntary purring sound from Marwa’s larynx. Shocked, she dropped the draft of his Gates personal statement essay that she had been reading. Picking it up, she cleared her throat.
“What’s wrong?” James-Beekmans said.
“Nothing. The Hobbit and Goliath is a great title,” Marwa said. “It’s great the way you put them together and then together with blond mummies in China with tattoos! I didn’t know about these early hominid migrations to Indonesia, South Africa, China. I love the Cherchen Man,” she searched a page. “A tattooed woman with red yarn pierced earrings who was over 6 feet tall, and he was 6’6” with ten hats. Ten Hats!” Marwa stopped. “Do you have to go to med school to be a geneticist, anthropological or otherwise?”
“You ask my mother that question,” James-Beekmans said, “but wait till I’m out of earshot.” He imitated his mother’s voice, “‘Your father and I haven’t commuted our asses to 23rd Street to a VA Hospital for three decades for you to –’”
“Spare me her colorful language,” Marwa said.
“What did Marcus curse when he was juggling?” James-Beekmans asked.
“‘Heat-waste,’” Marwa answered.
“Do any of you Stuy kids ever say anything that’s not an allusion?”
“Probably not. It’s from a sci fi story, “Spell My Name With An S” by Asimov. These energy beings without bodies change a nuclear physicist’s career, his whole life, just by changing the first letter of his name from Z to S.”
“I guess to pure energy beings, heat waste is obscene.”
“Spelling our last name without that slave apostrophe wasa big deal,” James-Beekmans said
“My last name is my father’s,” Marwa said. “I like the way they do it in Norway, I think, a girl gets her mother’s name with dottir as a suffix, and a boy gets his father’s withson… Oh, I’m so hot!” Marwa pulled her damp skirt free from where it was sticking to her behind and the backs of her legs.
“So what should I call you? A nickname. Ekename in Old English,” James-Beekmans said, “just means ‘another name.’” He put both his palms up wide in surrender. “Cross- word puzzle; I had to look it up.”
“So what d’you want to call me?” Marwa said.
“Marzipan. My favorite candy. What d’you want to call me?”
Marwa blushed. Then James-Beekmans stood up, took her in his arms, and kissed her.Help Support T21 with your Dollar Donation Today
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