Last Wednesday, Pope Mohammed was at the Piggly Wiggly fondling a stack of Purdue chicken breast packages. He searched for the lowest price. Once he found it, He pulled the cellophane-wrapped parcel to his chest and started driving a fingernail underneath the price tag. He was making a little progress when he felt a tap on his shoulder.
“What!?! I’m not …” blurted Pope Mohammed. He spun around and a rush of blood-colored his face pink.
Standing there was a plain-clothed civilian. Pope Mohammed gave him a once over. It was a guy with dark hair, average build, average height.
“I mean, how are you today?” Pope Mohammed prided himself on recovering quickly from situations like these.
The man furrowed his brow, looked at the chicken packaging held against Pope Mohammed’s chest and back at his face. “Hi, uh, Pope Mohammed, right?” The guy stuck out his hand. “I’m Rodney. Rodney Stevens. We haven’t actually met face to face be…”
Pope Mohammed turned away from Rodney. “I’m busy.”
Slight pause. “I can see that. I just wanted to stop. I mean, I saw you over here, and needed to tell you something … real quick.”
Pope Mohammed looked around. He heard the sounds of shopping carts squeaking by. He heard the water spray alert in produce. He heard, “21 on 8.” If he listened closely, he could hear the hum from the fluorescent lights above. He looked down and continued his task of removing the price tag from the package of chicken breasts. “Go ahead, Randy. Lay it on me.” Pope Mohammed could use the distraction technique so the meat handlers nearby wouldn’t notice him.
“It’s Rodney,” He said as he started his speech. “Pope Mohammed, I’m not like everyone else who seems to know you since the day they were born. I met you when I was older. I think I was 26.” Pope Mohammed was biting his tongue. He switched from using his thumbnail to his middle finger nail.
“At first,” Rodney continued, “I thought your stories of the desert, of gardens, salvation, love, honesty, forgiveness … of life in the afterlife … I thought those stories were amazing. I especially liked the ideas that if I asked for something in my head, it would come true.”
Pope Mohammed was nodding his head. Rodney wondered if it was because he was listening to him or because a Journey song was playing on the speakers above them.
“But after I saw you pull the price tag off the beef stew package and put it on the sirloins, I don’t think the message you deliver and the life you live match up.”
Pope Mohammed didn’t look up. Rodney said, “I’m not comfortable knowing you anymore.” Pope Mohammed’s fingers made the cellophane squeak.
“I just came over to tell you that,” said Rodney waiting for a response. The awkward silence stretched long enough. Rodney took a step back and started to walk away.
After getting three feet, Pope Mohammed mumbled something incoherent. Rodney turned, “Did you say something?”
Pope Mohammed looked up, looked back down, and pretended to continue ripping off the sticker. “Enjoy your afterlife … of torture,” says Pope Mohammed.
And Steve Perry sings, “Don’t stop … belie-vin’…”