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Lustrous companions 

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“Do we get dick in heaven?” my best friend's Aunt Maryam whispers to me during the ladies' Quran study halaqa at the Jersey City Mosque. We are doing “The Merciful,” the chapter of the Quran where all the sexy virgin babes are promised to men in paradise. “Men get pussy. Do we get dick?” Maryam says. I snort laughing, but turn it into a coughing fit and cover it with the scalloped edge of my headscarf.

“Ecksi-kuse me?” the assistant imam says in his excessively Egyptian accent. “Does zi sister have a question, inshallah?” Dark-skinned and muscular, he's sitting next to the visiting sheikh and fielding the questions. This session, for ladies exclusively, had been scheduled on the visiting dignitary's agenda at the insistence of Nany Elhamadany, the matriarch of the sisters' Quran group.

“Yes, brother,” Maryam says. Oh my God. I can't believe Maryam is going to ask it out loud. Then again, it shouldn't surprise me; that's Maryam for you. “Do women get to have sex in paradise too?”

“Ecksi-kuse me?” The dark-skinned assistant flushes an even darker shade under his manly thick beard. Beards turn me on; it's a Muslim girl thing, I guess. We are all sitting on the prayer floor after maghreb, with our legs tucked to one side under our caftans, at a safe distance of about three yards away from the two men — but still close enough to smell the sandalwood scent from the stocky body of the assistant imam. He sits semi-kneeling with his ankles tucked up under his butt, his pants straining against the posture. I try not to look at his crotch. Carpet. Carpet. I look at the curlicues in the carpet instead. Maryam, who'd come to the mosque straight from her factory shift and is in black jeans and a long purple turtleneck, sits cross-legged at one end of the horseshoe half-circle we form, a prayer rug laid over her lap where her legs are apart. Her bushy black curls push out from underneath the edges of the purple and black checkered headscarf she's wearing.

When Maryam asks her question, her niece, my best friend Reyann, who's sitting on her rump with her arms circling her bent knees, ducks her face down behind her knees. I'm not sure if she's cringing or hiding a smile. Reyann is like that, half old-school and half hip; I never can tell which way she'll cut on something.

The assistant imam leans toward the visiting scholar from Egypt and whispers something, his eyes downcast, his long eyelashes lying down and surrendering on his cheeks. He is unaware of the grace of his half-turned torso. Glory be to God. Carpet, not crotch, I will my eyes. Sex on the mosque floor, a flash fantasy, to try out tonight in bed with my brand-new husband, the packaging still fresh, yes. I memorize the curlicues in the carpet. Thank you, God.

The sheikh starts visibly. “Any woman who wants such a thing is not likely to make it to paradise,” he says drily. The other ladies titter.

“What about the aya that says ‘round about, boys of eternal youth shall serve them?' What about that?” Maryam says. But the circle is breaking up.

Maryam lights up just outside, on the stoop of the mosque, and starts to pace at the bottom of the stairs while Reyann goes to get the car from the back lot. “It's just that I follow all the fucking rules,” she says to me, inhaling her first draw. “I never had sex before marriage. I don't screw around on my husband. And let me tell you, habibti,” she says, jabbing her cigarette at me, its end a point of orange light in the night, “it's not because I haven't had ample opportunity. This bod,” she says, using her free hand to tap her J-Lo jello rear-end, which the purple turtleneck falls over but does not entirely obscure, “this bod has had some opportunities thrown at it.”

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