"The food is ready," she said.
"Khanm, it's a beautiful day. Let's take it to the park and eat it there. We'll get some fresh air and the children will have some fun," her husband told her.
"No, please no park. The children just took their showers, and I don't want them to mess up their clothes again."
Their youngest son heard what they were arguing about. He ran to his brothers and sisters, crying out, "We are going to the park, we are going to the park!" "Let's go! Let's go!" they answered his cry, dancing and singing.
"No park. Sit down. We eat here!" she yelled at them.
"Daddy, please take us to the park. We'll eat when we come back," the children pleaded.
"No. I am trying to convince your mom to go and eat there."
The children ran to their mother and started begging her, "Mommy, please, Mommy please! Let's go!"
"Fine, listen," she said to them, "We are just going to eat and come back. No play time and no one goes near the water. I don't want you to mess up your clothes again."
"Good, Mommy. Let's go!"
They started running down the stairs. "Can we bring our bikes?" the older son asked.
"No, my dear, we will walk together," his father replied.
"What?! You are not going to bring the car?" his wife asked.
"No, Khanm. This is a one-way street. In the time we would take driving all the way around, we can reach the park quicker walking. It's just two blocks away."
"Are you going to carry the food on your shoulders? Do you think you’re still in your Middle Eastern village? This is America," she told him.
"So what? Walking is better for our health and the environment, and we’ll save some money and time," he said to his wife.
"Ah! You aren't a villager anymore. You are a philosopher now," she mocked him.
It took them a ten-minute walk to reach the park. Their usual spot was occupied, so they chose another and unfolded the blanket under the tree. The children, delighted, whispered in their dad's ear and begged him to take them to the playground after they ate.
"Let's eat first," he told them.
Sitting on the blanket under the tree took him back to his childhood, when he used to spend hours and hours every day over the entire summer under a tree. Of course, there was no park and no playground in the village where he grew up, but there was a huge mulberry tree in the backyard, and he used to literally live under it for the greater part of the summer. That tree was his family’s only chance to escape the heat. He remembered how he used to beg his mom to allow him to go to play with his friends or let him go swimming in the small river. But most of the time she would not let him go until the sun turned yellow and lost its intense heat. He was deep in thought about his childhood when his youngest son attempted to pull him to his feet by his right hand, begging him, "Daddy, come on! Let's go, Daddy! Please!" Then he joined his left hand to the right one and started tugging his father's hand with both of them. He tried with all his might to drag his father, pleading, "Daddy, come on, please take us to the playground!" His son had just about pulled him to his feet when he heard someone calling his name.
Ari opened his eyes and saw two prison guards standing by his bunk. "Are you sleeping or dead?" one asked.
In an instant, Ari rubbed the sleep and family from his eyes.
"What?" Ari groggily replied.
"Man, we called you many, many times and you wouldn't respond. That's why we shook you," explained the officer.
"What's wrong? What do you need?"
"Get up and get dressed," the other officer said.
"Where am I going?"
"They need you in the lieutenant's office."
"The lieutenant's office?" he asked in surprise.
"Yes, get ready," the officer snapped.
"Do I need to pack up too?" asked Ari.
"No, let's go!"
Ari put on his khakis and walked nervously with them. One of the officers gripped Ari's shoulder as he accompanied him out of the housing unit door.
Ari was shaking. The officer felt it, but said nothing to him. Again Ari asked the guard, "Why do I need to go to the lieutenant's office?"
"I don't know, why don't you tell me what you did?"
"I didn't do anything," Ari replied.
Ari started racking his brain trying to figure out why they needed him. He was sure that something was terribly wrong. He knew that most of the time, when they called an inmate to the lieutenant's office, it was to give him a disciplinary report or send him to the SHU, the lockdown unit. But even then they called the prisoner during regular daytime hours, not in the middle of the night, and no officer needed to go with him. Ari considered the possibility of transfer to another prison. But for that, they usually woke you up in the early morning. Then he thought, It can't be for a transfer, because they never told me to pack my belongings and they didn't want me to bring anything. Besides, people went to the receiving and departures department, R&D, to be transferred, not the lieutenant's office.
Ari began to consider potential calamities in his family, knowing that they called an inmate in this way to break news of a beloved one's death. With this thought, he was on the point of collapsing, and the officer needed to support him to stay on his feet. Ari looked up to the sky and prayed silently, "O God, I will accept anything, but please don't let this be the loss of a family member." Then he tried to calm himself, reasoning, Usually for a death in the family, they call us to the chapel or psychology department, not the lieutenant's office. So why did they need him? What would be so urgent? Why was this officer escorting him, and with such a tight grip on his shoulder?
When they were about 100 feet from the building's entrance, Ari started losing the feeling in his legs, and felt like he needed to sit down. At that point the officer yelled at him, "Let's go!" They finally reached the door, and as soon as it opened Ari glanced at the wall clock. It was 2 a.m. sharp. He knew he had gone to bed at midnight.
"Sit there," the officer told Ari, and pointed to the bench in the hall. Ari sat down and remained quiet, but his mind was busy trying to find out what was going on. He was lost in thought when he heard the jingle of keys approaching. He looked up and saw an officer carrying a small bottle in one hand and a bunch of papers in the other.
"Ari?" the officer asked him.
"Yes sir," replied Ari.
"Take this bottle and go over there." He pointed to a toilet door in the corner. "I need you to fill it up to here." He pointed to a line on the bottle.
"What?" asked Ari.
"I need your urine,” the officer said, and tried to hide his smile.
"I just peed when I went to bed about two hours ago. I can't pee again now."
The officer went back to his office and returned with a tall cup of water. "Take this and drink it," he told Ari.
Ari obeyed, then asked the officer, "What's this all about?"
"You have a drug test," the officer told him.
"WHY a drug test? I had no drug case and I never even saw a drug in my life."
"It's the computer's choice," the officer answered him.
"Out of 1,500 inmates, many of them with drug charges, the computer picked me?" Ari asked.
"Man, just go and try right now. I need your piss!"
Ari took the plastic bottle and went to the bathroom. He stared at the bottle and smiled, wondering, why do they need my pee? Then he remembered the last time someone told him to go pee. When he was five or six years old, his mom used to beg him every night to pee before bed, especially in the winter when the nights were long and cold. That was the only way for his mother to prevent him from going out in the middle of the cold night to pee, or to prevent him from wetting his bed, because no one in his village had an indoor bathroom.
Ari finished filling the container and brought it back to the officer. "Here, take it," he said
"Good job," replied the officer. Then he removed a sticker from the bottle, showed Ari three small circles on the bottle, and told him, "We'll see what's going to happen now. Look at these circles. If the first one turns red, that means you’re drug positive. If the second one turns red, that means you’re smoke positive, and if the third one turns green, that means you passed the test and you’re drug and smoke negative."
Ari knew he had never seen a drug and that he had never smoked, but he was still worried. How accurate can this bottle be? he thought. So he started to look at the yellow pee, and prayed for the green. After two or three minutes passed, green began creeping around the third circle and Ari's face beamed like a lamp.
"You passed the test," the officer told him.
"Man, I am from the Middle East. I don't even know what a drug looks like.”
The officer handed Ari a form and said, "Look. I wrote negative. Sign here." Ari thanked the officer and signed the form.
"Ready to go," the officer called to the other.
The same officer who had taken Ari there brought him back, but he was walking without holding Ari’s shoulder. On their way to the housing unit, the officer tried to speak to him, but Ari was still confused; all this was like a dream to him. The officer tried again to break the silence.
"You’re OK now?" he asked.
"Man, what was that all about? I have no drug charges, and I've never even seen drugs. I was scared to death that something had happened to my family. Why didn't you tell me it was just a pee test? Why me out of 1,500 inmates? And why in the middle of the night?"
"It's routine random selection by computer," the officer answered.
That answer started a conflict between Ari's mind and heart. Many thoughts raced through his mind, like, This is just harassment, and, I must have been targeted, while his heart wanted to accept what the officer told him and believe that the selection was random, and nothing personally directed at him––that it could have been any other inmate. This internal debate followed Ari back to his cell bunk. He was puzzled by what had happened and by what he had just experienced. He was still not certain whether to follow the whispers in his mind or the inclination of his heart, but he was sure that the only way to get back to sleep was to believe that it was just a random computer selection. This was exactly what Ari did, as he cocooned himself in his prison-issue woolen blanket and drifted back to sleep.