With­out look­ing up Dr. Keat­ing motioned for Bilqis to sit in the worn leather chair oppo­site from her. “One moment,” she said, as she ham­mered out a mes­sage on the key­board.  “I’ve got to fin­ish this report.”  She glanced up, a half smile on her thin face, “We all have some­one we must answer to.  Myself includ­ed.”

Bilqis had always been amazed that such a small room, at 9x9 feet, only just large enough for her to lie end to end with­out being able to touch both walls, could be made to look so spa­cious.  Dr. Keat­ing had once explained that it was the absence of clut­ter, which she abhorred, and the addi­tion of a few care­ful­ly cho­sen pieces of clas­sic fur­ni­ture and spare yet clean art work, that made all the dif­fer­ence.  Fifth Ward Gen­er­al, a city run hos­pi­tal, would have nev­er allo­cat­ed the fund­ing to dec­o­rate Dr. Keating’s office in the man­ner it was, so she’d like­ly spent her own mon­ey to affect the dark sophis­ti­ca­tion. It was lame enough that they wouldn’t even give the most ded­i­cat­ed med­ical direc­tor to ever serve Fifth Ward Gen­er­al a larg­er office, but they hadn’t even afford­ed her the hon­or of hav­ing her name sten­ciled on the door.

Dr. Keat­ing sat back with her hands in her lap and pressed Bilqis with her tight gray eyes for near­ly a minute before final­ly speak­ing.  “I saw some­thing inter­est­ing on the news this morn­ing.”

Inter­est­ing?”  Cer­tain­ly Keat­ing had not called her into her office to dis­cuss the news. She’d always been fair­ly genial but…

When I say inter­est­ing, what I real­ly mean to say is, I saw you.”

I’m sor­ry.  I don’t under­stand. I haven’t giv­en any inter­views.”

The gray eyes nar­rowed. “You were at the Church of the Blessed Maid­ens yes­ter­day, dur­ing the expul­sion.”

Bilqis’s brows descend­ed a frac­tion as she recalled the events of the pre­vi­ous day.  She had mere­ly been a passer­by, a wit­ness.

I didn’t know you were a mem­ber of that church.”

I’m not,” said Bilqis a bit too quick­ly, too terse­ly.  “I mean that’s not my…”

Your faith? “

Bilqis nod­ded and then to clar­i­fy, “Cor­rect.  I am not a mem­ber of that church.  It’s just coin­ci­dence that I hap­pened to be pass­ing by when the Author­i­ty expelled them from their build­ing.”  Bilqis closed her eyes a moment against the mem­o­ry of the black clad Author­i­ty sol­diers as they piled the church fur­ni­ture and lit­er­a­ture on the side­walk and set it ablaze.  Bilqis thought about the elder nun, skin as thin and pale as parch­ment, who begged them to show mer­cy, but was instead pushed to the con­crete by a stone-face sol­dier, her knees shred­ded and blood­ied.  “What they did, I don’t know why, but it was wrong.  I want­ed to, but I couldn’t walk away.”


My moth­er always told me to at least bear wit­ness.  At least.”

Dr. Keat­ing ran a hand through wiry hair now almost entire­ly gray.  It had been the col­or of choco­late when they’d met three years ear­li­er.  Three years ear­li­er Dr. Keating’s face had looked ten years younger.  Bilqis could nev­er under­stand why such a woman, from a fam­i­ly of priv­i­leged researchers and entre­pre­neurs would con­tin­ue to suf­fer the chal­lenges of life and work in the Fifth Ward.  But here she was, a twen­ty year vet­er­an.  Bilqis didn’t want to be like that.  She’d been born in Fifth Ward and she’d had enough.  She want­ed out.  One day.

I’ll tell you a lit­tle known fact, Dr. Haq.  I am a mem­ber of that church, and proud­ly so, but I am care­ful about who I let know this.  Faith is a rel­ic, they say.”  She shift­ed in her chair and flexed her neck until a bone cracked loud­ly.  “More than a rel­ic, actu­al­ly.  Faith is a nui­sance, so it has been said, and a hin­drance to pro­gres­sion and true enlight­en­ment.”

Bilqis sat for­ward poised to speak but unsure what she would say.  Dr. Keat­ing waved her off.

I want great things for you Dr. Haq and as your men­tor it is my job to guide you where I can.”  She leaned for­ward with her elbows on the desk.  “I don’t real­ly care what you believe.  That is your busi­ness and not mine to judge, but if you’re going make it out of this shit hole of a city you’re going to have to coop­er­ate with the pow­ers that be, or at least pre­tend to.  Keep your faith close to your chest and if you can­not do that, then at least try not to be cap­tured on film.”


A short writ­ten in con­nec­tion with my cur­rent WIP The Hin­ter­land Chron­i­cles: Bilqis for Three Word Wednes­day.  Today’s words are Coop­er­ate, Lame, Terse.