“That would be my department,” Timur had said as if it needed saying.
Idris’s own father had died nine years before after a long bout with cancer. He had died at his home, with his wife, two daughters, and Idris at his bedside. The day he died, a mob descended on the house—uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, and acquaintances—sitting on the couches, the dining chairs, and, when those were taken, on the floor, the stairs. Women gathered in the dining room and kitchen. They brewed thermos after thermos of tea. Idris, as the only son, had to sign all the papers—papers for the medical examiner, who arrived to pronounce his father dead; papers for the polite young men from the funeral home, who came with a stretcher to take his father’s body.
Timur never left his side. He helped Idris answer phone calls. He greeted the waves of people who came to pay respects. He ordered rice and lamb from Abe’s Kabob House, a local Afghan restaurant run by Timur’s friend Abdullah, whom Timur teasingly called Uncle Abe. Timur parked cars for elderly guests when it started to rain. He called a buddy of his at one of the local Afghan TV stations. Unlike Idris, Timur was well connected in the Afghan community; he once told Idris that he had over three hundred contact names and numbers on his cell phone. He made arrangements for an announcement to run on Afghan TV that same night.
Early that afternoon, Timur drove Idris to the funeral home in Hayward. It was pouring by then, and traffic was slow on the northbound lanes of the 680.
“Your dad, he was all class, bro. He was old-school,” Timur croaked as he took the Mission off-ramp. He kept wiping tears with the palm of his free hand.
Idris nodded somberly. His whole life he’d not been able to cry in the presence of other people, at events where it was called for such as funerals. He saw this as a minor handicap, like color blindness. Still, he felt vaguely—and, he knew, irrationally—resentful toward Timur for upstaging him back at the house with all the running around and dramatic sobbing. As if it was his father who had died.
They were escorted to a sparely lit, quiet room with heavy darktoned furniture. A man in a black jacket and hair parted in the middle greeted them. He smelled like expensive coffee. In a professional tone, he offered Idris his condolences, and had him sign the Interment Order and Authorization form. He asked how many copies of the death certificate the family would desire. When all the forms were signed, he tactfully placed before Idris a pamphlet titled “General Price List.”
The funeral home director cleared his throat. “Of course these prices don’t apply if your father had membership with the Afghan mosque over on Mission. We have a partnership with them. They’ll pay for the lot, the services. You’d be covered.”
“I have no idea if he did or not,” Idris said, scanning the pamphlet. His father had been a religious man, he knew, but privately so. He’d rarely gone to Friday prayer.
“Shall I give you a minute? You could call the mosque.”
“No, man. No need,” Timur said. “He wasn’t a member.”
“Yeah. I remember a conversation.”
“I see,” the funeral director said.
Outside, they shared a cigarette by the SUV. It had stopped raining.
“Highway robbery,” Idris said.
Timur spat into a puddle of dark rainwater. “Solid business, though—death—you have to admit. Always a need for it. Shit, it beats selling cars.”
At the time, Timur co-owned a used-car lot. It had been failing, quite badly, until Timur had gone in on it with a friend of his. In less than two years, he had turned it around into a profitable enterprise. A self-made man, Idris’s father had liked to say of his nephew. Idris, meanwhile, was earning slave wages finishing up his second year of internal medicine residency at UC Davis. His wife of one year, Nahil, was putting in thirty hours a week as a secretary at a law firm while she studied for her LSATs.
“This is a loan,” Idris said. “You understand that, Timur. I’m paying you back.”
“No worries, bro. Whatever you say.”
That wasn’t the first or the last time that Timur had come through for Idris. When Idris got married, Timur had given him a new Ford Explorer for a wedding present. Timur had cosigned the loan when Idris and Nahil bought a small condo up in Davis. In the family, he was by far every kid’s favorite uncle. If Idris ever had to make one phone call, he’d almost surely call Timur.
Idris found out, for instance, that everyone in the family knew about the loan cosigning. Timur had told them. And at the wedding, Timur had the singer stop the music, make an announcement, and the key to the Explorer had been offered to Idris and Nahil with great ceremony—on a tray, no less—before an attentive audience. Cameras had flashed. This was what Idris had misgivings about, the fanfare, the flaunting, the unabashed showmanship, the bravado. He didn’t like thinking this of his cousin, who was the closest thing Idris had to a brother, but it seemed to him that Timur was a man who wrote his own press kit, and his generosity, Idris suspected, was a calculated piece of an intricately constructed character.
Idris and Nahil had a minor spat about him one night as they were putting fresh sheets on their bed.
Everyone wants to be liked, she said. Don’t you?
Okay, but I won’t pay for the privilege.
She told him he was being unfair, and ungrateful as well, after everything Timur had done for them.
You’re missing the point, Nahil. All I’m saying is that it’s crass to plaster your good deeds up on a billboard. Something to be said for doing it quietly, with dignity. There’s more to kindness than signing checks in public.
Well, Nahil said, snapping the bedsheet, it does go a long way, honey.
“Man, I remember this place,” Timur says, looking up at the house. “What was the owner’s name again?”
“Something Wahdati, I think,” Idris says. “I forget the first name.” He thinks of the countless times they had played here as kids on this street outside of these front gates and only now, decades later, are they passing through them for the first time.
“The Lord and His ways,” Timur mutters.