Remembering Uzza

If Islam Was Explained to Me in a Pub


On Crescent Street in Montréal there is a two story building with two spacious outdoor balconies. One is an extension of a expansive well-appointed restaurant which takes up the entire top floor; the other, an extension of the first floor Cheers-like bar, only bigger. Beneath it all is a night club where disco went to die, and found a new lease on life.

The building, the restaurant, the bar and the disco is called "Les Beaux Jeudis", but even its French clientele call it Thursdays. Thursdays is where I met her.

It was late Tuesday night and the place was not very busy. It was not because it was Tuesday at Thursdays. Thursdays was usually a party every night of the week, but there was a raging snow storm outside. I was nursing my second gin and tonic when she walked in, the most stunning black woman I had ever seen.

There was the white of her eyes as they searched the semi-darkness that separated her from me; there was her long braided black hair that swung back and forth as she made her way to the bar where I was sitting.

My grateful eyes took in that body with nothing but curves wrapped in a short, tight, white satin-like dress covered with a white mesh-like material that ended in fringes that brushed against and stroked her skin as she walked.

She sat down two stools to my left and crossed her legs exposing a muscular blacker-than-coal thigh straining against the white mesh. Her dress was square cut along the top with only the crest of her ample perfectly round breasts showing – so close together that you couldn’t have slipped a piece of paper between them.

It was only a matter of time before our eyes met, and when they did, I said hi, she said hello. I said bonjour, she said bonsoir. She asked if she could move closer. I said bien sur.

She spoke near perfect French, not that high pitched, hysterical, pretentious French spoken by Parisian snobs and garçons de café, but a happy, melodious French, not unlike in tone to the English that you might hear on a beach in Jamaica.

With so few of us in the bar the DJ didn’t mind, after I slipped him a few dollars, playing a few tunes from my disco days. I asked her if she would join me on one of Thursdays’ two dance floors. She chose the one with the disco ball and the circular rotating platform.

I couldn’t dance then and still can't, but that was okay, she did enough dancing for the both of us. I was quite happy just to stand there shuffling my feet and watching her. She danced wildly, she danced gracefully, she danced seductively, moving around the entire space never taking her eyes off me.

Eventually, still swaying her hips in that sensual sideways motion with just a hint of back and forth action, she moved closer and closer until she was close enough to wrap her hands around the back of my neck and thrust those hips forward so hard that I thought she might have broken something.

When it was time to leave I offered to walk her to her car. The snow had really piled up. My hotel was just across the street. She asked if she could spend the night. I agreed. I think it was when we were alone in the elevator that she mentioned that if we got to know each other better, there would be a price to pay.

I wanted to know about the world she left behind. I remember the first time I asked her about her home in Africa. We were having dinner at Thursdays' second floor restaurant, outside, on the patio, on a warm summer evening. I wanted to hear about the lions, the tigers, the tropical rain forest, the endless summers...

She laughed. Her country was not like that at all. It was dirt roads, arid dusty fields, no wildlife to speak of and, as far as the tropical forest was concerned, there was almost none left.

At other times, not that night, she talked about her family. Her father and mother remained in Africa. She hinted at a relationship which seems to have been her prime motivator in immigrating to Canada and that was to escape a marriage in the Islamic tradition, which she once described as "god-sanctioned rape."

Remembering Uzza is dedicated to that young woman from Africa whom I met one snowy night almost twenty year ago who inspired me to go on a voyage of discovery of a religion like no other. The story told here is the culmination of that journey where I imagine an immigrant like her, but from Pakistan and about to be married, spending an evening in a bar in conversation with patrons talking about what I have learned.

Bernard Payeur