On the pulpit, a man held a fiery speech. His cheeks were red; beads of sweat were slick on his forehead. He raised his fist into the air and shook it, reminding his congregation of the threat people from other countries were. They came to steal their jobs and marry their women; they came to collect their money and have their children. They came to cheat these God-fearing men out of their successes. Foreigners were liars, cheaters, criminals, terrorists. Slapping his hand down on the papers in front of him, the new Reverend warned his church to stay away from these unwanted foreigners.
Xander looked at the sunbeams illuminating the dust in the stuffy air. He counted the sweaty drops that fell from the Reverend’s face onto the pages of his sermon. Xander estimated how many women were wearing black hats, and how many men were asleep. The Reverend kept yelling his truth, spit flying out of his mouth.
Xander believed in God. He went to church every Sunday and prayed before every meal and before he went to bed. He was not a rich or intelligent man, but he was witty and street-smart. He was educated enough, although he often felt dim when people in suits were discussing politics. He scratched his chin and looked at his shiny shoes. He had cleaned them, especially for Sunday service. Xander felt uncomfortable. He was sure there had to be some truth in the Reverend’s speech, but he didn’t understand it. All he heard was a tirade of hate. Was a man of God supposed to spread hate? And were his brothers and sisters supposed to agree with this kind of disdain? Because they were, they were saying affirmative words and nodding their heads. No, Xander didn’t understand it. Xander’s stomach growled. At home, his wife was waiting with lunch, and he couldn’t wait to join her. She did not believe in Xander’s God, and yet, she prayed too. They were different from one another, but that was what made their love going strong for two decades now.
After church, Xander felt unsettled. Instead of driving straight home, he chose to go for a walk to clear his head. He passed stores and shops. They had been there for years, and it had never been an issue that the owners were mostly immigrants. The town in which they were living only existed because of foreigners. Xander lifted his hat to push his hair back and wiped the sweat from his brow. All these people were friends. They were his family. And yet, the new Reverend had called them the root of all evil. He had asked to boycott these stores, and he had admonished the congregation not to mingle with “these people.” Xander shook his head; his thoughts hadn’t become clearer, if anything, they were more muddled.
He made his way back to the church were his truck was waiting, he wanted to speak with his wife about today’s sermon and the hate that seemed to have filled the church. Miss Maria walked passed Xander; she was pushing a stroller and balancing two paper bags filled with groceries. Xander knew Miss Maria’s parents well. They were from Italy, and their hospitality knew no bounds. Xander greeted the young woman, and when she greeted back, one of her bags slipped and fell to the ground. The Reverend came closer and looked at the food displayed on the street, Xander bent down to pick it up. “Leave the sinner’s food, brother Xander. She does not deserve to eat our food.” People had gathered, staring at the scene. The new Reverend held a lot of power, and Xander’s neighbors didn’t move to help; it was as if they were afraid. It had never been like this. A cloak of hate was slowly downed over Xander’s hometown.
“I am sorry, Miss.” Xander apologized and helped the woman up. “It’s quite alright, Mister Xander,” she replied, but her eyes betrayed her sadness, and maybe she did not feel safe anymore. It made Xander sad as well. He put the paper bag back in the young woman’s arm and lifted his hat to say goodbye.
The Reverend approached Xander, wanting to poison him with his views, but Xander excused himself, fled to his truck, and drove off. He believed in God, and he thought that his God loved every man and woman just the same. His God was good and understanding.
Agitated from the happenings that Sunday morning, Xander chose to have a drink in his living room. On a sideboard stood a small calendar, it showed the word of the day: “Xenophobia.” Xander didn’t know what it meant and made a mental note to get back to that complicated word after lunch. His wife, Mahbube, had prepared a Tunisian specialty, his favorite, spicy Couscous.