God & Hamoud
b. t. wall is a writer living in Paris, France.
God & Hamoud
To believe in God is to yearn for His
I say no man has ever yet been half devout
Sometimes I am God and sometimes I am Hamoud, the fish-monger. When I am God, I still have milk-tea in the morning for breakfast, but the cows all belong to me, as well as the spice-fragrant hillsides of Ceylon on which the tea is grown. When I am Hamoud, I try to sip my tea quietly and avoid the wrath of my wife.
Sometimes, when I am God, she says to me,
Sometimes, when I am God, I watch people kissing —which you can see a lot of in the parks here in Paris —and I am just so proud of myself. I mean, was I having a good day (a good billion years, if you’re anthropologically inclined) or what? I put it right up there with butterfly wings and Brigitte Bardot’s anatomy.
Sometimes, when I am Hamoud, I wish my wife’s body was not like a sack of potatoes. But, when I am God, I don’t even mind the hair on her upper lip —the Queen of Sheba had hair on her upper lip, and nobody seems to have noticed.
Sometimes, when I am God, I wear dark glasses —and sometimes not.
Sometimes, when I am Hamoud, I try to find out where God lives. I know, I know —you’d think I’d remember. What can I say? Do you remember your dreams? I know it’s not one of the obvious places —churches, mosques, synagogues —but where was it? I kind of loaf through the parks and playgrounds, looking for some clue. One week I stuck my head in every fountain I came across. I’m sure I’d recognize it if I did bump into it, cuz, you know, it would all just come back to me: the angels … the fire-breathing prophets … the galaxies swirling around the living room. Charlie Parker on a stool by the piano. The only problem is getting past the dragon posted out front.
Sometimes, when I am God, I can hear the sun blowing its horn, as it sets behind the majestic roof of le Grand Palais —signaling the moon to come out and play. [Ed note: Le Grand Palais in Paris is a French national gallery.] I wonder why people always talk about the beauty of a sunset —when it’s the music that is so extraordinary. When I am Hamoud, sometimes I have no idea what God is talking about.
Anyway, the Germans have a saying -- “as happy as God in France” —you know, as an expression of profound pleasure (like after they’ve just put away a couple of kilos of sausages and sauerkraut, and have an enormous stein of beer in front of them: which makes you wonder why they’d want to be anywhere else?). When I am Hamoud, I have no idea if God is happier here than another place —but I am.
Sometimes, when I am God, I give Hamoud a hand in the open market where he sells his fish. (And, believe me, he can use the help. A “natural” he is not. The guy doesn’t know fish from orangutans.) Even though all I can really do is help his fish look a little more appetizing than the others. (I do this mostly with the light, since I can’t actually make my other fish look bad.) When my sun shines on the scales of the fish, you’d think you were in a jewelry store rather than a smelly, slimy, slippery outdoor market (because all of those adjectives pretty much apply to jewelers, too). I’ve been in the fish business from way back … since Jonah … (if you don’t count that unfortunate incident with Noah) … so you’d think I’d be entitled to offer a little advice from time to time —but, no, Hamoud just wants me to “take care of the light”. If you please. I’d say I was a teeny bit under-employed.
Sometimes, when I am God, I go up and down the worlds, eating what I desire, assuming what forms I desire: a baby calf, a trashcan, a suspension bridge, a spectator’s yawn, the multiplication tables, apple strudel —and singing, “Oh, wonderful! Oh, wonderful!” When I am Hamoud, I sit out late after work, talking with other men on park benches —even though I know my wife is expecting me home — and let the tobacco-scented air of the slowly descending night fill my lungs practically to bursting.
Sometimes, when I am Hamoud, and my wife asks me where the money for the bills is going to come from, I pretend I am God — and come up with an answer. I tell her that the world is full of “mad cows” these days, and that more and more people are going to be eating fish. She tells me that I am the only one “mad” that she knows — and goes off to bed.
Sometimes, when I am God, I help both these good people sleep at night.
Other times, I heal their cuts and scratches, lighten menstrual cramps, leave money lying around for them to find, and preserve the tread on their tires — although I’m not going to be responsible if they don’t get them balanced soon.
Sometimes, when I am Hamoud, I tell jokes I really shouldn’t, or make fun of the guy who sells courgettes. I always feel bad afterwards, and I always wonder why I don’t feel bad at the time. It’s like I’m two different people — and one’s a stranger to the other. When I’m God, I don’t have this kind of problem, but I’ve got all these people praying to me …!
Sometimes, when I am Hamoud, the other men ask me to come to prayers … and I have to make excuses. So, naturally, they think I’m not interested in such things, and they look down on me a little. Then I have to try and keep the bad things they say from God, or … I don’t know what might happen. (My wife thinks I’m a “disgrace” as it is — what would she think of me if I told her who else she was married to?!) When I’m God, I just say, “Children, children …!”
Sometimes, when I am Hamoud, I am disappointed in my children; but most of the time they are my greatest joy. My treasure. When I am God, I feel the same way — but multiplied by a billion or so.
Even when I am God, I like to walk down the street in the fall just to feel the crunch of dead leaves under my shoes. Of course, I have to make-believe that I can’t bring them back to life — but I am good at that kind of pretending.
Even when I am God — and despite my best intentions —the sun comes up on stock speculators and politicians and used car salesmen, just like they were real people. And the rain comes down, watering the carnations in their balcony planters and washing the caca off the sidewalks where they drag their pets to perform their natural functions. [Ed note: in French, caca is a child’s word for excrement.] I haven’t quite figured out what to do about this state of affairs yet; but, obviously, I can’t permit it to go on forever.
On the other hand, I find myself quite unwittingly pouring out my blessings on the poor. (Unfortunately, the capital seems to be in the hands of the people I mentioned above.) Without a thought in my head in that regard, I make their daily bread delicious, the smiles on their (many) children’s faces radiant, and the electricity bill get lost in the mail (only a temporary measure, I admit, but somehow it still does us all some little bit of good).
Sometimes my blood just gushes out, covering all the little things in their lives —their ashtrays, clothespins, mascara, Loto tickets, cough medicine, tricycles, small change (do they have any other kind?), and leftovers —making them holy. [Ed note: Loto is the French national lottery.] Most of the time they are too tired, or too afraid, or too hungry, to really feel my blessing upon them; but, at other times, they know. How could they not know? —when I bathe their sleep in justice and righteousness while the rich writhe in their beds, dreaming of various malignancies of body and soul: cancers eating out their artificial breasts, or their shriveled hearts finally just stopping right in the middle of the sidewalk or something.
Even when I am God, I can’t make the river clean. Or make fish live in the dirty water. Did you know that Parisians used to swim in the Seine?! (They still do swim in sin — huh? A little joke of mine — not very funny.)
Even when I am God, I can’t seem to steer Hamoud away from buying the day-old fish that Ahmed offers him. How many times does he have to be told to stick his fingers inside the fish?! Why does he trust everybody? I don’t know. I give up.
Even when I am God, I can’t square the circle, or tell a lie, or win the Loto. I can’t make 1 + 1 = 3. I can’t make down up or prevent broken hearts. I can’t make pigs fly or fools wise. (This list goes on …)
Every so often, when I am Hamoud, my children get on my nerves and I yell at them. And then, of course, God does the same thing to me. The difference is, even when I’m God, I can’t make me go to bed.
One day, when Time falls away like the ash from the end of a cigarette, God and Hamoud will be wearing the same slippers.
Occasionally — even if only for the blink of an eye —they already do.