The Dinner

        She wore her best for the dinner, the dress with the bright pink rosebuds on a navy blue background. Her shoes and shawl were carefully chosen to match the color of the flowers.

        “We must do what we can for charity,” she said as part of her introduction to her table companions, “although I am often confused about which charity is which. They are all so important for those poor people who can’t get on welfare.”

        A table companion tried to clarify the reason for the charity dinner.

        “This particular affair is actually to support children in need throughout the world. We are concentrating on war-torn areas.”

        “Then their parents should be ashamed,” she said brightly. “Where there is a will, there is a way.”

        She was reaching for her second, or perhaps third, glass of an excellent wine when she spotted the hostess.

        She raised herself slightly from her chair and grabbed the arm of the well-known philanthropist bravely making the rounds of the fifty or so neatly space tables.

        “I caught you,” she said smiling her satisfied smile.

        “Hi, we appreciate your being here to represent your husband’s church activities.

        The support of the local churches is so important. We desperately need funds to support our human rights initiatives throughout the world. There are so many people in need of our help.”

        “Of course,” she said, “I am thrilled to be here with so many famous people. I can’t wait to tell Ashcroft how many famous people were here. There is a guest of honor I believe. There is usually at least one at these events.”

        “Yes. Amit Kamala, the award-winning author is here. He is currently signing books at the corner table.”

        “I must get his autograph. Could you please, please introduce me? It would be a perfect addition to my autograph collection. I told the husband how excited I was to meet these guys in turbans. They have such interesting lives driving those Toyota trucks through wars and stuff overseas. You see, I do watch the news. This is so exciting. He must be grateful to be here in the good ole land of the free.”

        “Certainly you can meet him, but he seems to be busy right now with the crowd around him. By the way, he was born here and currently lives here,” excusing herself rapidly for the next table.

        “I just love to meet famous people,” she said to the next person over at her table. “Actually, Ashcroft would have a fit if he knew I actually shook hands with one of the turban wearing boys. He is so religious. You know the turban guys do not believe in Jesus. I just think it is wonderful Mr. Kamala could be here in spite of our differences. ”

        “Is your husband here?” asked a weary table mate. “Surely he would not like to miss this opportunity for proselytizing. There is a variety of folks here.”

        “Oh, he is just tuckered out from his ministerial duties,” she said. “You know, people get born and married and die even in big cities. He is just a good ole boy from a country town. Being assigned to a big city has been hard for him. You know how people are here. I try to fill in where I can.”

        "Umm," said her table mate. “I was born here and I know how people are here.”

        “I can’t wait to tell him about meeting a guy in a turban,” she said. “We have so many discussions about people who are not exactly white, if you know what I mean. Some time in history the blacks and whites must have mixed and made the Muslim types. Mixing races is not necessarily a good thing. You know it is the brown, dusty dirty, type of turban-wearing guys who are attacking us. There may be some good ones, but there are those who will bomb us to kingdom come in a second. Ashcroft says it is time they were converted to a real religion instead of the mythical stuff they believe in.”

        “Umm.”

        “I told Ashcroft it doesn’t mean they aren’t god’s children and I have nothing against them,” she said, “Why just last week we ate at an Indian restaurant. The vegetarian food was a little weird, but I tried a bit of everything in each of the little dishes. Ashcroft says it is like Chinese food. You are hungry as soon as you leave the table. He said the Apostle Paul called vegetarians people of weak faith.”

        “Wasn’t Jesus vegetarian or perhaps pescetarian?”

        “Of course not. The vegetarian restaurants should probably stay in India or wherever Muslims live, but I know they need to make some money to send home for all of those thousands of relatives they have. They do reproduce like rabbits. They are making more little Muslim citizens to blow us up. Ashcroft says it is time to seal off the borders.”

        “So far, most lethal bombs and guns in this country are fired off by people within the borders,” said a table mate.

        “Well, I am sure they don’t all drive around in trucks firing guns or throwing acid on little girls or doing other things to them, if you know what I mean,” she said. “I don’t think they wash themselves much, although he seems very clean." 

        "Umm,” said the next table mate.

        "Take Mr. Kamala.” she said. “In spite of his religious beliefs, he is probably just a super guy. Does he work at a regular job? I know I lot of these immigrants are on welfare, whether they are legal or not. ”

        “He is a professor,” said another table mate, “and a well-known scholar.”

        “That is such a good thing,” she said, “I appreciate scholarship. He doesn’t teach religion, does he? Of course we are all children of god, and I do mean our god.”

        "Yes, he teaches comparative religion and ethics. He is quite well-known.”

        "People are so narrow-minded about guys in turbans and women with those long black dresses and masks with eye slits in the front. It makes me angry that people can be so bigoted. Still, I don’t know how the women can see out. How can they get a driver’s license? I hope they are not applying to be a bus driver.”

        “Ha. Ha,” She laughed at her own joke as only someone who was way into their glasses of wine can do - sort of a chuckle mixed with a snort.

        “Those dresses are perfect to hide a bomb. Do you think they are trained to carry bombs? But as I say to Ashcroft, I guess there are also some bad white people on earth. Well, the group around him seems smaller. I guess I should go over and say ‘hello’. Should I discuss religion?”

        "It is OK to discuss anything.” replied the hostess who drifted over.

        At introduction, he smiled and noted her autograph book and pen.

        "How do you do?" he said, graciously taking her hand. “I assume you want my signature for your booklet.”

        "Yes, and I just wanted to say how much I will enjoy your books. I've just told my table mates how much I appreciate your scholarship on comparative religion."

        "I'm so glad," he said.

        “I am the wife of the local minister,” she explained, “We are sort of into comparative religion ourselves. There are just all sorts who come to our church. We think there are even a couple of gay people, but we are not sure. At any time we will have Baptists or Methodists or whatever comparing their religion.”

        “Very interesting,” he said.

        "I simply love the clothes you are wearing and the lovely turban. Do you buy your turbans all prepared?”

        “Actually I prepare my own.”

        “Oh, you make it yourself from a long cloth. It’s so exciting. Your suit is silk? So that is why it is so shiny. I could never get Ashcroft to wear a suit like that. Shall I call you Ahmed?” 

        “Ahmed is a Muslim name,” he said.

        “Goodness, aren’t you Muslim? I thought all people wearing turbans were Muslim. I can’t wait to tell my minister husband you are a turban-wearing Christian.”

        “I am a Sikh,” he said patiently.

        “That’s fine,” she said, “as long as you are Christian.”

        “I will sign your book now,” he said.

        “Oh, look at the woman in the lovely pants suit,” she said. “She is as dark as a ….she is brown.”

        “My wife,” he said.

        “Well, thank you so much for giving me a chance to meet you. I never shook hands with a person wearing a turban before.”

        “Oh my god,” she said to the hostess. “I made a terrible mistake. I almost said his wife  looked like a person of color, although she is a person of color. But you know what I meant. Do you think he noticed?”

        "He probably didn’t care at all," said her hostess.

        "He is so nice," she said, "and clean. Don't you think so?"

        "Yes," said her hostess.

        “I can’t wait to go home and tell Ashcroft I met a turban-wearing Christian. It’s so exciting.”


Ann (Adjie) Shirley-Henderson is a scientist and until recently, a Dean for Graduate Sciences. She was associate editor and board member of a scientific journal and has over two hundred publications in diverse scientific research areas, from molecular genetics, forensics, and biologic anthropology to setting standards for environmental controls. Recently, her research has concentrated on studies of the lives and times of émigré female scientists in the 1930s. She has made numerous public appearances related to science education—CBS, Good Morning America, and National Public Radio—and been interviewed in the New Yorker, Science News, Scientific American, and Popular Science, among others. More recently she has begun to publish short stories, none of which have to do with the credentials above.