Along with the arrival of bright days of sunshine, relaxation, and hopefully a vacation or two, comes the important question at the advent of summer: What will you be reading? We at Ploughshares want to give you some excellent pieces to spend your time with – and we want to give them to you for free.
This summer you can enjoy a Ploughshares Solo free on your Kindle (or Kindle app) for the first five days of the month, starting with Gina Ochsner’s sharply written story “Pleased to Be Otherwise,” available June 1-5. Meet Timi, an Uzbekistani finding his way through a world of untameable camels, dreaming of Evil Knievelesque stunt glory on his sputtering motorbike, finding solace with his friends as they go “Internetting” to find the newest videos of the Mexican soap opera they’re addicted to, all the while pursuing (and perhaps falling short) of a God that may be Muslim or Baptist. A brilliant, comic look at an almost unknown country and its fascinating contradictions. Here’s an excerpt:
Morning clarifies like a migraine: bright and noisy. From outside his ground-floor apartment in the center of town, Just-Capable, our mullah-in-training, yodels into a bullhorn. It is a pathetic noise meant to turn the heart and mind upward. It does neither. But because Grandfather desires that I cultivate my moral sensitivity and typing skills, I go. Not to put too fine a point on it, the God of our forefathers is a total disappointment. For some, faith fits as snug as Jacques Cousteau’s swimming trousers. For others, faith is a more spacious garment, which is to say that after four hundred years we’re still just trying it on for size and the fit is loose all the way around.
“Timi.” Just Capable’s gaze brushes over the small gash above my eyebrow, then returns to his computer screen where he is comparatively shopping for Croatian dentures.
I turn my gaze on his tubercular beard which neither spreads nor thickens. “Just Capable,” I say.
It’s a term of affection. Factually speaking, I admire his devotion to his computer and his commitment to religious studies via Internet correspondence courses. He is supposed to be memorizing all 6,236 verses of Qur’an as part of his on-line certification. His real talent: composing zhirs, tales in verse, the recitation of which is something of a competitive sport in Moynaq. But being a young man not yet thirty, wisdom still eludes him, and Grandmother says this is a good sign. It is her conviction that the world is full of brilliance to the point of blinding us all.
Together we trammel passages of the Haft-Yak, a collection of briefer surahs. We cannot strike letter against letter as the text is written in Arabic, a language Just Capable can barely read, much less understand. Adding to our woes, we have a less than ideal copy of the Qu’ran, because we notice that sometimes a circle appears at the end of a sentence. And then, other times, after the word Prophet, letters appear in brackets. The letters are off-putting and it sounds funny to recite a line like “thus says the Prophet, PBUH.”
When we’ve trammeled to exhaustion, Just Capable alights upon a singular e-mail from the Belgium Bactrian Society Steering Committee:
How are the camels?
Just Capable hands the keyboard to me and I type:
The camels are well.
You can download your copy of “Pleased to Be Otherwise” here. Enjoy it for the month of June, and then come back for your next free Ploughshares Solo in July.