Edelstein paused. "Yes, Ahmad?"
"Why has your friend not published his findings yet?" Ahmad barked.
Edelstein held Ahmad's gaze for a moment before replying. And when he did, his tone was conciliatory. "My colleague is concerned about continued access to the texts if they were to make these findings known to the Yemeni authorities. They're preparing a series of articles, but are ensuring that they've had enough time to go through all fourteen thousand pages carefully, just in case they never get to see the documents again."
Now Ahmad's voice bellowed, red and bitter: "And why exactly would they be barred from seeing them again?" There was silence. The classroom was thick with tension.
"There's no need to get upset, Ahmad. We can talk about this like scholars..."
"Scholars! What scholars make claims without documented findings? Huh?!"
"I understand this is some controversial stuff... but there's no need - "
Ahmad cut him off. "It's not controversial, Pro-fess-or," he said, spitting the middle syllable back at Edelstein with disgust. "It's incendiary." Ahmad bolted up from his desk, books in hand. "In-sult-ing and in-cen-diary!" he shouted. After a look at Sahar - the usually reticent Malaysian girl sitting to his left, her head lowered as she scratched nervously on her pad - and then another look, back at me, Ahmad stormed out of the room.
"Anyone else want to leave?" Edelstein asked, clearly affected. After a short pause, Sahar quietly gathered her things, got up, and walked out.
"That leaves you, Hayat."
"Nothing to worry about, Professor. I'm a true and tried Mutazalite."
Edelstein's face brightened with a smile. "Bless your heart."
After class, I stood and stretched, surprised again at how nimble and awake I felt.
"Where you headed?" Rachel asked.
"To the Union."
"Wanna walk? I'm going to the library."
"Sure," I said.
Outside, as we strolled beneath the shedding ash trees that lined the path to the library, Rachel remarked how surprised she was at Ahmad and Sahar walking out.
"Don't be," I said. "Saying less than that could get you killed in some circles." She looked skeptical. "Look at Rushdie," I said. The fatwa was only a year old, an event still fresh in everyone's mind.
Rachel shook her head. "I don't understand these things... So what did you mean by what you said to Edelstein?"
"About being a Mutazalite?"
"A school of Muslims that don't believe in the Quran as the eternal word of God. But I was joking. I'm not a Mutazalite. They died off a thousand years ago."
She nodded. We walked a few paces. "How did you feel about the lecture?" she asked.
"What's to feel? The truth is the truth. Better to know it than not to."
"Absolutely," she said, studying me, "but it doesn't mean you can't have feelings about it, right?" Her question was softly put. There was tenderness in it.
"Honestly? It makes me feel free."
She nodded. And we walked awhile in silence.
"Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?" I finally asked.
"What you want to know."
"Did you really have to study last night, or were you just saying that?"
Rachel laughed, her lips parting to reveal her small square teeth. She really was lovely. "I have an organic chemistry exam tomorrow, I told you that. That's why I'm going to the library now." She stopped and put her hand on my arm. "But I promise I'll go with you to the next game... Okay?"
My heart surged with sudden joy. "Okay," I said with a cough.
When we got to the library's steps, I had the urge to tell her what had happened to me the night before. "Can I ask you another personal question?"
"Do you believe in God?"
For a moment, Rachel looked startled. And then she shrugged. "No. At least not the guy-in-the-sky type thing."
This excerpt is used with the permission of Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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