A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

God of Outcasts
by Kim Burnham (Jul 2013)


His name was Mohammed – Mohammed Chan. And he was as common to the world as each of his individual names and as uncommon to this land as their combination, the most unlikely of cowboys. His parents, traitors to their cultures by marriage, were emigrants to this land of outcasts, both animal and human - the mixed longhorn offspring of discarded Spanish and English cattle, and the Tejanos, who betrayed their native Mexico for the promise of a new land to the North where they taught the Gringos how to wrangle those cattle of questionable parentage. In the night, Mohammed could almost pass for one of these Tejanos, with his dark hair and skin, until one saw his father’s eyes.

A nearly full moon hung over the mesquite trees and the cicadas sputtered intermittently. A slight breeze blew in from the Gulf of Mexico but not enough to make the leaves or the flattened mesquite seedpods dance or even wave. The drive would begin in the morning. But for now, the mass of cattle, horses and men were camped for the night near the Mission de San Juan, south of San Antonio, the mission chapel’s brightly colored walls discernible in the moonlight.

Just think of it – a hundred dollars, and the wonders of Omaha to compete for my patronage. He was only 16, but boys didn’t go on cattle drives. He didn’t know why his father died in that war between North and South. It wasn’t his fight.

The mission was long since abandoned, although the church was still in use and would be for many hundreds of years. But to Mohammed, it seemed that the Indians that had lived within those walls remained, peering at the strange gathering beyond the courtyard. They were outcasts too, driven into allegiance with their strange Spanish overlords by their enemies, the Comanches.

There was no way to know if it was time for Muslim prayer but this was as good as any and Mohammed wasn’t sure which way faced Mecca either. But he laid his mat down and knelt upon it. He had promised his mother. He had scarcely knelt when he heard a drunken slur behind him.

“Hey sheik,” yelled the man, “are you praying for a larger harem?” Laughter followed.

Mohammed did not answer but continued his prayer. Suddenly he rolled over, having been brutally kicked from behind.

“Get up Sahib,” yelled the man. Mohammed arose. The man came at him with a knife and Mohammed pulled from his waist his only parting gift from his mother, the crescent-shaped dagger of his Bedouin grandfather. He ducked as the man lunged and missed. As Mohammed spun around, the man saw Mohammed’s strange and beautiful dagger, glowing in the moonlight and he backed away, stumbling and cursing.

Mohammed returned the dagger to his sash with trembling hands and knelt down to continue his prayer in behalf of the outcasts.

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