The Other Silver Key – part 2
Omari Al Hazred proved to be a more than adequate dishwasher, a guy that could be counted on to kick it into a higher gear during rushes, when the wait-staff would scurry about tending to the needs of each new influx of customers. The rushes seemed to come in bunches, feast-or-famine-like, and at the first hint of an impending onslaught, he would make sure to run racks of dirty glassware through the dish machine, and replenish the wait-station with clean silverware. The dish-room was right next to the swinging doors to the dining-room, and he would peek out the little round window…when he sensed the action picking up (he said he could see a “creeping unease”, like an aura, forming around the younger of the wait-staff), he would give a loud heads-up to us cooks behind the line….. “Incoming!”, he would shout. “Incoming!”, always adding a peculiar warning about making sure our reach-ins were properly stocked and our heads screwed on tight: “Trust Allah, my friends, but tie the camel’s leg!”… When he spied an an unscheduled bus tour filing in the front door, he would shout: “Dial up the adrenaline, my brothers, draw your scimitars, a heathen horde is at the gates!”…..Osami’s partner in the dish room was a dour and bitter little man we had christened “Father Ed”, because of his penchant for quoting out-of-context biblical verses, and his insistence that we were all doomed to eternal hellish agony. Osami would correct Father Ed’s scripture, and offer another, better suited to the situation, sometimes adding as comment a line or two from the Holy Koran. Oddly, these corrections never seemed to upset Father Ed, and during relatively quiet stretches we could see the two of them quietly conversing – these were the only times anyone, anywhere, at any time, had seen Father Ed smile and laugh……Before the end of the month, and as we were gearing up for the always-crazed 4th of July holiday weekend, we lost a “chop-chop boy”, a “runner”, or prep-cook, an invaluable asset to cooks with little enough time to set up their own stations each shift before the madness of service began. He had been a good runner, a speed-freak who ground his teeth but kept on the move; his lack of sleep and food had finally caught up with him, and one day he just set down his knife, removed his apron and walked out the kitchen door, babbling something to himself about head lice and freezer burns……Elmer took me aside and asked, “What do you think, is the Arab ready to step up? Should we offer him the job?”….I said I thought he could handle it, but that Father Ed would probably be none too pleased….”Dishwashers we can drag in off the street, eh, but the chop-chop guys gotta have some brains in their head.”…..so that night, when we closed the restaurant, and sat at the bar nursing our shift-drinks, we brought up the question to Omari…..He sat sipping his third Ouzo, exhausted as were we all, his dark eyes staring off into the nothingness kitchen-pirates know so well. Elmer asked him if he thought he could handle the job and if he wanted it. Omari, still staring off into the dark unknown, tugged at the ends of his black moustache and recited a poem:
‘O giant stars, born of eternal light,
O winged flames wherewith the void is sown,
As dreadful prophets of a God unknown,
Ye speak the law in light!
Had we but sight to see and comprehend,
Your countless fires were as a language plain
To tell us all that we have sought in vain;
The quest were at an end.
O younger worlds, whose tireless-pinioned flight
Climbs eagerly the sheer and topless deep!
O shrivelled planets that obscurely creep
On orbits sunk in night!
Alike ye falter in unceasing gloom
That shrouds the deathless Truth ye may not find;
Alike for ye the flaming suns are blind,
And light may not illume.
For Life whose God-ambitious eyes would see
The stellar-manifested truth sublime,
Must gaze with sight immutable as Time,
Large as Infinity.”
…….When he had finished, he looked at us solemnly for a long moment, and then, sensing our total lack of comprehension, he laughed, somewhat maniacally (I thought it was the Ouzo) and said…”Of course, my brothers, I would be honored to serve such illustrious masters as yourselves!”….and laughed that same laugh.