Wednesday, September 08, 2004


Sufi U's Oldest Living Retired Janitor Returns To Work

They heard a sofa creak, and creak again. Somewhere inside, a human groan; then it was the floorboards that were groaning.

"Mr. Talib?" they called through the peeling door. "Are you all right?"

"I'm coming, I'm coming, keep your shirts on."

Presently the door swung open and revealed an ancient bleary-eyed ruff of skin wrapped around Paul Bunyan's bones.

"Mr. Talib?"

"Yeah, that's me. What can I do for y'all?"

"I, uh, I'm Dean Wocklefeister from Sufi U, and this gentleman is--"

"Yeah, yeah," Abu Talib said (for it was indeed he). "I know Mullah Billdoug. Him and me go way back. How you doin, Mullah?"

"Been better. Got some pains in my joints. You must know all about that."

"I do indeed, I do indeed. I got so many pains in my joints, they've gone and had babies and grandbabies. Some of my pains, they tell me, are the direct descendants of the pains I once caused the Praised One, the Prophet."

"Yes, well," Dean Wocklefeister said, rocking on his feet, "Mullah Billdoug tells me that you used to work for us over at Sufi U. Is that true?"

"Did I? Did I? You bet I did. Worked there for a long time. Worked there so long I should be getting rich off my retirement benefits. But of course the contract I signed back in whenever only allows me a goat a month. Ain't much to live off of, one goat a month, let me tell you!"

"No, no," Dean Wocklefeister said, cutting his eyes uneasily over at Mullah Billdoug, "I wouldn't guess it would. But you see--"

"Yes, yes, I heard all about the shit y'all got down at the college," Abu Talib said. "I know why y'all're here. Y'all want me to come back to work."

"Well, Mullah Billdoug said--" the Dean began.

"He told you some story about me shitting my pants at the Prophet's house, umpty-odd years ago, right?"

"Not your pants, exactly, Abu," Mullah Billdoug said.

"Okay, okay," Abu Talib said, "so it was the whole fucking room. Big deal. It was a small room."

"Now when you say 'the Prophet,'" Dean Wocklefeister said, "do you mean--"

"How many fucking prophets are there?" Abu Talib snapped. "The Prophet. The Praised One, Mohammed."

"Well, that's what Mullah Billdoug said," Dean Wocklefeister said. "But that would make you--"

"Old. I know. They don't call me the oldest living retired Sufi U janitor for nothing."

"But how--"

"The Prophet rewarded me with it."

"Rewarded you? What, with long life?"

"No, no, that's a curse, ain't no one ever told you that? You don't want to live thousands of years. No, the reward, of course, was to clean up other people's shit, like he cleaned up mine."

"I see," Dean Wocklefeister said. "Well, we do have a lot of other people's shit. And the entire custodial staff has up and quit. Do you think--"

"--Do I think I'd like to come back to work? Sure. What the hell. I got nothing better to do. I won't work for one goat a month, though."

"No, no, of course not," Dean Wocklefeister said.

"I won't come back to work for less than two goats a month."


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