MARLIN M. JENKINS
At Camp This Summer
Hussein runs down the rocky hill behind the tennis court in flip flops (though he is not wearing socks with his flip flops as Mahmoud, his cousin, is—white ones with red lint clinging to the toes).
Mahmoud: “Wallah I swear to God, Hussein, if you hit it out of bounds one more time!”
Unlike Mahmoud, Hussein’s mother is not Lebanese, though his father is—their parents back at their tents preparing dinner. Mahmoud looks forward to lamb and chicken skewered with onions and tomatoes, but Hussein has an appetite for hamburgers. He can’t think about that right now, though—he can’t let this ball fall into the lake like the last one.
He repeats: “I’m sorry, Mahmoud, I’m sorry!”
The gates behind the court
are not tall enough. The net
sags, black marks along its top,
smudged chalk drawings
from the children
that morning, the largest pictures
the ones drawn by the Arab boys,
the girls’ artwork tucked
in the corners.
Across the street, five teenage girls giggle. Two wear black scarves around their heads, elaborate tassels on the pins, trickles of sweat on their temples. Three wear towels and bikini tops.
They emerge in the mornings
from the row of green canvas tents
behind them. They are starfish
on the beach in the day;
with the white boys at night.
They watch Mahmoud and Hussein:
Hussein throws the ball back up the hill
but his aim is way off.
Up another hill, toward the center
of the campground, the pool is quiet:
earlier, someone was running, slipped,
hit their chin on the pool’s edge.
You could hear the sirens
even out at the fishing lake,
lifeguards forcing everyone
out into the bathrooms.
Years ago, the campground, like the city
that owns it, was, shall we say,
not particularly diverse. The pool remains
mostly white while the Arab campers
and single-day visitors
take instead to the beaches.
The blood spiraled in the chlorine.
Now, crisscrossed sunlight
checkers the ripples—
adjacent kiddie pool enclosed
by chain-linked fences;
a four-year-old girl
in her pajamas
sits alone in its center.
“No, Mahmoud, that’s deuce. Isn’t it?”
“Hussein, wallah it’s 40-30. Serve the damn ball.”
Another yellow Ford truck clatters down the road, passing the tennis match, passing the girls—sputtering exhaust. The arms of green-shirted teenagers sitting in the truck bed hang over the sides—a miracle they do not scrape their skin on the rust. They are summer workers who will go to their own homes after sundown and shampoo the smoke from their hair.
The smoke tickles the girls’ skin as they watch the tennis match.
“Isn’t it haram to cuss during Ramadan?” Yasmeen asks as she squirts sunblock into her palm.
“Wallah it is,” Amal says, wiping sweat from her forehead.
At one of the tents, an older man slowly smokes a water pipe, watching the truck pass. He lets the steam leak from the gray hairs of his nostrils as he leans back in a lawn-chair—probably someone’s grandfather or great uncle killing time while his family is out enjoying the grounds. A very small boy from the other side of the tent village with shorts too short and a shirt too long asks: “I’m doing a scavenger hunt! Do you have a bandana I can borrow?”
In Arabic, the man says: I don’t speak English.
The boy asks again but the old man stays silent, smoke twirling across his beard. The boy walks away, looking at the sky, passes the girls as they stare him down. He looks back toward the man, the man’s sandals, socks. A tennis ball hits the center of his stomach.
The boy falls onto pebbles in the center of the road, perhaps from the impact but perhaps merely from the surprise of it.
Mahmoud decides he’s done. He snatches Hussein’s racket and walks off. Hussein doesn’t know where Mahmoud is going—doesn’t ask, doesn’t care. The girls disperse, too, in different directions—some into their tents and others toward the beach. Hussein walks over to the boy, who is coughing—from the hit or from the truck’s smoke, maybe both.
Hussein reaches down to help him up.