The Nun And The Bum portrays an unlikely love story of Aneesa Haddad and Andrew LeBouef. She is born of Syrian parents, spends sixteen happy years as a teaching nun, falls in love with her pastor, leaves convent, leaves him, embarks on a peace-making journey of Arabs and Jews. All?s well except for missing soul mate. One day there he is disguised by his own strike-out.
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End of Sentence
Fresh Start's small bedroom is a slice of pure blue heaven. The clean white curtain blows freely over a wide window — the room's walls are powder blue, its forgiven solitude, its white painted door that won't slam shut. Can I handle this blessed silence, lost friend of so long ago? The crucifix above my bed stares down on me. It's time to abandon all old bitterness.
I shower and dress in clean second-hand Salvation Army clothes that fellow inmate Ennis had tossed my way. "You'll need better duds if you go looking for work." He laughed. That sure was Ennis, a laugh that never exactly rang true. This inmate knew the miles of walking that lay ahead. "Andy, these leather boots are your size." I'll be sure to keep them going in his name.
Downstairs, a pot of coffee simmers on the front burner. My hand shakes as I pour a fresh cup, everything coming at lightning speed. Look at this kitchen, these appliances, this tiled floor! I butter the burnt toast, spill the soft yellow gel on the floor. What am I feeding on? Can this be freedom I'm eating?
I take a seat near a window. One starved cat runs across the lawn from an incessantly barking dog. You're here, Andrew, for a maximum of ninety days while you look for employment. If that doesn't work, you're on your own. The manager's meaning suggests I'll be pounding Orlando's streets in true Bumstead. Well, okay, but first I'm gonna treat myself to my dream ever since lockup. I'm heading out — there's an ocean waiting!
I hitch a ride. A baldheaded black man sits behind the wheel. He needs a listener. I put up with the droning, capable after all I took away from those blabbing inmates, just another weird encounter. Okay, but now I can begin to handle the unexpected. Finally, his mouth shuts as he lets me off. I put my feet to work the rest of the way.
Florida's ocean waves me a true homecoming. Blue horizon stretches above roaring surf. I can hardly breathe — winds, waves, seagulls — capture me totally. I'm home! One bird flies right over my head. I raise my hand to salute. "Hello, flying cousin." Everything I'd ever believed in resides right here, owned by no one. Nature has been waiting for me. I drop to my knees. The ocean's pounding rhythms escort me back to story time with my two kids at the beach. "Daddy! Daddy, read this one!" And so, I read their favorite, Winnie-the-Pooh.
Christopher Robin came down from the forest to the bridge, feeling all sunny and careless, and just as if twice nineteen didn't matter a bit, as it didn't on such a happy afternoon, and he thought that if he stood on the bottom rail of the bridge, and leant over, and watched the river slipping slowly away beneath him, then he would suddenly know everything that there was to be known.
I remain all day, walking the shoreline, picking up shells, dusting them off, throwing them back, wishing my hands held a camera for this perfect sunset. One fisherman on the surf's edge snaps his reel, a familiar Florida sight. Thoughts of that island deliver creepy sadness to my memory. I grab a pebble, rub it, forget what needs to be forgotten, drop it in my pocket.
I curl up behind a grassy dune for the night, with mere geography of blinking stars and the fullest orange moon, glowing dusk. I'm pulled into their light, torching my faith, reminded of an old Jesuit teaching at Georgetown, St. Julian of Norwich: All is well and all will be well.
In the morning, waves send salty smells that awaken me. Dancing sea grasses dazzle my entire spirit under rising sunbeams. The beach is empty. No fisherman, not even early risers, nobody. Nobody except swirling sea gulls, hopping sandpipers, and vast swells watering my parched spirit. They send me back to three words I jotted the night before my release, three words to keep pondering until I got them down tight: Slowly ... Steadfastly ... Patiently. Chosen words from every pointed angle of clean crisp breathing. At last. This is what freedom tastes like.
On the highway, I hitch a ride back to Fresh Start, the place where men leaving prison are given a home for at least the time it takes to free themselves for independent living, meaning until they get money dropping into their pockets, find their own shelter, and eke out their own living style.
This time I sit in up front, a two-seater beside a silent old Hispanic, his beard sweeping the steering wheel. He owns a Pinocchio nose, eyes that play sly detective. He doesn't trust me. Of course! I'm only learning to trust myself. I'm not sure of anything, of talking, of asking questions. I'm like foreigner not knowing what to say to strangers I don't yet understand. The open window delivers salty air.
He drops me by a phone booth near a laundromat. The scent of clean clothes perfumes the air. I suck it in, take deep breaths, jangle the few coins in my hand, capture my courage, thumb and finger slide that quarter given me by guard Moses into the phone slot.
"Honey, it's me."
"Daddy! Daddy! Is it really you?"
And there it is — my little girl's squeal.
"Oh, Kelly, I'm out!"
She squeals again and just the sound of her voice floods the memories: my ten-year-old howling after tripping on a backyard wire, how I lifted her close, shushed her sobs, traced my finger down the perfect curve of her bruised cheek: "Daddy's here, honey. Daddy will always be here."
Kelly, my little Jiminy Cricket is a woman now, a strong fighter who from birth battled her shorter leg, her obvious limp, a foot that could not be medically repaired. She battled depression, battled the boys who desired her loveliness, battled her mother.
But never, never did she fight with me. We were buddies from the start. Poetry pals. Even after they escorted me behind bars, my years in the joint produced Kelly's recipes for healing: weekly letters, packages of poetry books, and loaves of my favorite home baked banana bread. Best of all, her words, hard as they were to hear after what I'd done. "Dad ... someday, you'll find yourself again, the self that fathered me with so much loving care." More than once, Kelly had insisted that finally a right partner would come along, "a woman you deserve, not like the others, a mature woman who will love you for just who you are."
If a chicken dinner landed on our table, it was Mama's singular plan for our dinner. Only twenty-seven years old, she had managed to put up the chicken coop, would daily feed the chickens but this time, she unlatched the backyard coop door behind our tiny grocery on Florida's Highway 17-92. How she did it, I'll never know but she ran after the squawking bird running for its life, grabbed it and held it by its neck, and in a circle above her head twisted and twisted again until its feathered body dropped and lay completely still, eyes closed, breathing no more.
I watched the death of that animal. I was about seven years old and puzzled. I saw how this sweet unassuming young mama who had never raised a chicken or any animal in her life could so easily kill a living thing. I didn't like what I saw but something in me knew she was doing this cruelty to that chicken not only for herself but for us, her family, and so I never cried out.
Our grocery store had just opened its doors to the neighborhood. Daddy's financial adventure now entered Orlando's business community. In that tiny grocery, Mama and Daddy stood on their feet day and night to bring in what profits a young Orlando neighborhood had to offer. That bird Mama had snapped into death was created for our next meal even though the poor chicken had no choice in the matter. Maybe it was because we were hungry for that longed-for taste after eating sparsely, vegetables for lunches and dinners. According to Mama, that meal from a backyard chicken proved the tastiest nourishment we'd enjoyed in a long time. When our hunger had been satisfied that day, I observed how his remaining parts lay quietly on Mama's special wedding platter, having left the life he once knew back within the grocery store's tiny wired fence. Somehow, staring at its lonely remains, I wanted to cry, just like Mama had often done when she thought no one was looking after she left her Paterson home. She missed her home and her Mama in old Paterson, New Jersey.
The year was 1936, and my parents were struggling to build a life in the then-sleepy town of Orlando, Florida. We were a family of five: Mama, Daddy, me, and my baby brother and sister. Daddy had built our tiny home in the back of the store, and only a breezy curtain separated our business store from our home's dwelling.
I can never forget how in those early days before the roof of the two-bedroom home was finished, down it came, a strong thunderous rain literally falling on our sleeping bodies, causing Mama and Daddy first to wonder the cause of the noise but then sleepily jump up, grab us kids, and scoot into the store to hide under the store's defending roof which had been finished weeks before. I have never forgotten that night of the awakening, when my parents had braved sleeping under an open roof and our earth gave us an unforgotten story.
As for the store's beginning financial life, everything in that early investment time was apportioned around a new start. Coffee without cream or sugar, leftovers for dinner, and day old or even more old bread ... which is why that chicken had been such a gift to our family's palate. My father never even ordered a newspaper.
Unlike the neighbors who lived on the street behind the store, this kind customer noticed that there was no morning newspaper lying on our store's front step. So he knew how Daddy thickly eyed his morning news when he came in for bread and milk. He kindly passed it pronto onto the store's counter after paying for his groceries. My father smiled his way, happy to have that Orlando Sentinel because he always checked the classified ads for real estate opportunities, hoping that a potential piece property might be available for him, that constant brain's dream of owning pieces of Orlando's developing real estate.
Yet, I remember that our Florida's geography at the start of 1936 hadn't been Orlando. Before this newly acquired hometown grocery, our first stop after Paterson New Jersey had been in the then-frontier and wildly wild and even more sleepy town of St. Petersburg, a city that never proved easy for either of my parents. For my father, it happened quickly. To bring in what a local job wasn't delivering, namely a decent weekly check, this prone-to-gambling father took off for the well-established St. Petersburg dog track, night after night, believing a good gamble won would lift the poverty from our early Florida migration. Eventually and sadly, he completely washed away all the money saved in that St. Petersburg bank which had been held in his name. Mama's tears fell easily at his loss, and by the look on his face coupled with empty pockets, he felt deeply the shame of it. No Syrian head of household had ever gambled away the support for his family. Despite a forgiving wife, Daddy blamed himself, promising Mama more than once he'd never gamble again without a backup to cover any loss. And he never did.
With a long goodbye kiss, my father sat behind the old steering wheel of the faded black pickup that had delivered us to this tropical world in these United States, and motored back on Highway 302 to Paterson. Luckily, he regained his silk-twisting job since the factory's foreman had declared my father one of the industry's best twisters. A twister is the person who takes a silk thread and twists it around a wooden pyramid. Daddy could flash those hands as if they were a machine, circling and circling, the fastest twister to earn more money for each pyramid he turned in. His weekly and substantial checks and green bills never failed to be forwarded to Mama who was still in Florida with me, believing now that she had his money in her hands, everything was fine. Sure, she had his money in her pocketbook but not everything was fine. Far from it. For my mother, money wasn't now the issue for the two of us living in that two-story old St. Petersburg stucco home out in a dense wooded area. We were on a dirt road used by very few cars, and far from any St. Petersburg city. What proved most troublesome and challenging were the southern lives of a semitropical Florida, its heat, and bugs, and long various colored rattlesnakes, animals whose aim, it seemed to bother the newly arrived human beings trying to make the wild land habitable.
Day in and day out, we were forced to endure unprecedented heat waves. The Florida sun could have no mercy. Far from city life, and the fact that no air conditioning existed in these early years of the forties. Yet, the most annoying Florida reality was its kindness to the abundant living of giant palmetto bugs that considered our stucco home theirs to enjoy. "Aneesa, we didn't have any bugs in Paterson. Why did your father bring us here? Didn't he realize that Florida was never going to be like Paterson? Our northern weather didn't welcome any kind of insects."
Oh, how often she whined even though I tried to cheer her up. But I didn't like them either and could scream when they ran across my bedroom floor. These big black palmettos roamed our home from every nook and cranny, scurrying across any zig-zag cracks they could find in our wooden floor. Mama would jump, stomp her feet, hoping to scare them back from where they came, but they seemed impervious to her approach. Sometimes she'd swat a couple with a handy dish towel, but usually her nervousness lost her the fight. She'd often and then go into the bedroom and cry. We lived in a hot, buggy house and that was that. The bugs never seemed discouraged. And Mama's favorite room, the kitchen proved their domain. These creatures unashamedly crawled along kitchen counters in open daylight, slept in corner cabinets, and delighted in eating whatever lay on any counter any time of day or night. You'd be crazy to come down for a midnight snack. They had already beat us to it.
The kitchen wasn't the only room these little fighters called home. We found them nesting in bedroom closets, dresser drawers, bathroom, every inhabited place. Mama cried shouting at the world through an open window: "Damn it, Charlie. Bugs are the enemy. We've got your money, but we are still prisoners of this insect city. God help us all."
At night, I'd often pray God, please send Daddy back home. We need him to swat these bugs.
But Mama's prayer? "Dear Lord, send me back to Paterson. I'm going crazy. Send my husband home!" Other times my sweet soft-spoken Mama shouted words I knew lived in the category of swear and doom. She was right to curse. Loud and clear one night I heard her from the bathtub. A daddy-long-legs spider had run along the walls close to the rim of the tub, God Himself must have heard her loud cry.
And yet, waiting for Daddy to come home, it was onward to more of wild Florida's challenges, this time it was Florida's reptiles. Everywhere in frontier land, a home existed for free-slithering and mostly unfriendly snakes. No developer's bulldozers existed then to destroy their habitats. No, these, yes beautiful colorful animals lived freely, able to roam where they chose. And our home, it seemed to Mama and me, was a perfect choice.
How often I had watched these fearless and scary animals slither in and out of our living room's open and unscreened windows, sometimes boldly perching and sleeping on the sill! One fell on Mama's head when she opened the front door, sending the frightened snake scurrying as well as causing Mama to scream for every neighbor to come rescue us both.
Despite her prayers, tears, and a neighbor's assurances that she'd be okay, Mama lived constantly terrified in that St. Pete home. Even though I wanted to protect her, I, too, ran when one circled the bathroom's toilet seat sending me screaming like my sweet Mama. I pulled down my panties and did my business by a hidden bush behind the house, a memory that still lives in me.
Excerpted from "The Nun and The Bum"
Copyright © 2017 Adele Azar-Rucquoi.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 End of Sentence, 1,
2 To Florida, 5,
3 Trees and Streets, Back to Bars, 17,
4 Choosing to Blossom, 26,
5 Congo to Bingo, 34,
6 Wonder-Life, 39,
7 Baby Face, 48,
8 Discovery, 52,
9 Onward and Downward, 61,
10 New Window, 71,
11 Who Am I?, 81,
12 Bye-Bye Black, 88,
13 Soul Doctor, 96,
14 Trysts, 100,
15 New Life with Shadows, 105,
16 Longing, 108,
17 Tie One On, 119,
18 Longing Never Ends, 124,
19 Blink One, Seven Outs, 133,
20 Arab and Jew, 135,
21 We're Done, 143,
22 Speaking Out, 144,
23 Anytime Now, God, 150,
24 Jill's Promises, 156,
25 Homeless, 166,
26 God on Sabbatical, 172,
27 Hello, You!, 177,
28 Canoe Confession, 186,
29 Counting Courtship, 198,
30 Wedding Bells, 211,
31 Probation Sucks, 220,
32 Dollars Welcome, 227,
33 Goodbye Freedom, 231,
34 Paris Bienvenue, 244,
35 Clemency, 253,
36 So Be It, 258,