The Shah of Chicago

By Nate Rabe

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As Jack got out of the car, a guard with a red turban and starched white uniform strode forward and asked firmly, ‘What business?’

‘I’m looking for Nanima.’ Jack stared at the house. There had to be at least seven or eight bedrooms in that place. And get a load of that marble! He walked towards the gate but the guard immediately jumped between him and the house.

‘Are you mad? Who do you want to meet?’

‘Mrs Wahida Akhtar.’ Jack was searching the pockets of his blazer. Where’d I put those shades? ‘That’s some marble. Make the blind see.’

The guard snapped to attention. ‘One minute, sir.’ He jumped back into his sentry box and after a few seconds stuck his head out. ‘What is sir’s name?’

‘Mr Jack King,’ said Jack but added quickly, ‘Tell her, her grandson is here. All the way from America!’

Jack still couldn’t believe his eyes. A mansion…and just four weeks ago home had been a nine-by-six cell in Pontiac Correctional Center. Good thing I kept that envelope. An old mango tree, spread like a giant umbrella, shadowed the gate. The front lawn was being trimmed by two boys who jumped around on their haunches, tending to rose beds and pots of leafy green plants. A prehistoric push-mower, with its twisted blades gummed up with grass, was propped against the concrete wall bordering the compound.

Another man emerged from inside the mansion and greeted Jack. ‘You are Begum Wahida’s grandson? From America?’ Jack nodded, still taking in the size of the building and expanding the scope of his plan by the second. ‘Most welcome, sir. Begum sahiba, your nani, is very pleased you have come.’

‘How is she?’ Jack asked as he stepped forward, leaving the turbaned guard to deal with the bags.

‘She is old and sometimes is becoming ill, especially in rainy season. Arthritis, sahib.’

‘Jack to you…Jack King.’

‘Excuse me, sir?’

‘My name is Jack. Mr Jack King. Don’t call me sahib. Understand?’

‘As you like, sir. Jacking. Very good name.’

Jack stopped suddenly and shot his arm across the man’s chest. ‘Let’s get this correct from the git go. I’m not jacking,’ he made a masturbatory motion with his hand. ‘It’s Jack King. Two words. Jack. Followed by King.’ He lowered his head and glared at the man over the top of his Raybans.

The servant nodded gravely, unsure what sort of creature he was ushering into the house, one who made such nasty gestures in public. ‘Jack. King. Of course, sir.’ He opened the giant, sculpted wooden doors and stood aside. Jack stepped into a darkened room. Air conditioners hummed in the dimness. The servant closed the door, kicked off his sandals, motioned Jack to sit down, then hurried upstairs to inform the lady of the house that her grandson was waiting.

Jack looked around the grand living room. The chintzy baroque furniture was painted white, gold and a shocking shade of pink. He’d never seen so many lace doilies in his life; on every piece of furniture, under every lamp. The sofa had gilt legs and green-and-white satin upholstery. The chairs had overstuffed seats and stiff backs and looked most uncomfortable. They reminded him of heavily made-up teeny boppers at their first dance. A mirror with an elaborate white and pink frame hung the entire length and breadth of one wall. The lampshades were ornate, oversized and stitched up tight. In the middle of the menagerie, like a bulldog guarding the room, stood a squat coffee table with an onyx top and stout, shiny brass legs.
Absolutely pitiful.

‘Beta, is that you?’ a thin, frail voice came from the shadows to his right. Startled, Jack turned quickly, nearly giving his grandmother a heart attack. Her face was accordioned with wrinkles and her teeth were nearly all gone. Behind the glasses—lenses as thick as bottle bottoms, heavy black plastic frames—a pair of soft lively eyes blinked up at Jack. Man, she’s got to do something about that beard. But as soon as his grandmother reached out a creased, shaky hand and touched his face, Jack couldn’t stop his tears.

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