Salaam


Winky A. Root . . . Winkleton Aritsotle Root, to his mother. WAR, to everyone else . . .  showed up at the Cosmic Grill’s inner games room without a reservation. It was a popular spot. Everyone needed a reservation. Still, there he was, all 4 feet 7 inches of him, dressed in his finest pomposity and bluster. All spit and shine. Mostly just spit. The shine that once heralded his coming, had long before faded to a lackluster tarnish. And even that was beginning to dull.

None could imagine what he was looking for this time. Even fewer could imagine the damage he was prepared to wreak if he didn’t find it. Yet, WAR had arrived dressed for a battle. And he wasn’t likely to leave before he found one.

Lucky for him, his search was short-lived. Skirmishes were constantly being waged inside the Grill. Back and forth, one after another. The enemy? It didn’t really matter. Different names. Different politics. Different strategies. Yet, always the same. And WAR was only too happy to join in the fun, and to ramp things up a notch or two when no one was looking.

Unfortunately for those most intimately involved, the results were rarely kind nor pretty. Yet, Winky couldn’t have been happier. Day after day, he showed up and lay waste to the best and brightest hopes and plans those on the front lines of the fight could imagine. And he never took responsibility for the results. After all, the battles weren’t his. He was simply there to keep things interesting.

WAR! What a glorious career choice - particularly for one so little burdened by the ethics of poets or statesmen. Jealous snobs that they were! Losers, mostly. Such fools spoke only of peace. They didn’t seem to understand that peace couldn’t exist without him. He was the one who made peace possible. Not that he would, of course. For as much as everyone swore they wanted it, peace was just too much work. And peace never lasted. Those who had the most to say about it couldn’t keep it going to save their lives!

War . . . Now that was something with staying power! That was something that stuck to the ribs, much like his mother’s peanut butter and banana fluff sandwiches. Speaking of which, he was hungry, which meant he was feeling more than a little grumpy. Where was a good fight when you needed one! Hell, where was lunch!

The battlefield that was the Cosmic Grill’s inner games room was drowning in civilized chatter. He could hear it from the far end of the hall. And he hated it. All those goody-goodies. They were trying so hard not to step on toes, that they completely lost sight of the thrill to be had in blowing away a whole foot. He could make short work of them if those guarding the door would only let him enter the fray. Then again, who was tough enough to stop him!

So in he went, hungry, and itching to lay siege - to something. Those inside didn’t bother challenging him. After all, WAR was a bad loser. Truth be told, he wasn’t a much better winner. And it was obvious he had arrived aching for a fight.

Bombassitor that he was, Winky hadn’t counted on his challenge being met, and by one even more equal than he. Yet, there he was, the Cosmic Grill’s oldest and most respected employee - Peace . . . Salaam . . . Sal, for short, though not even WAR would dare label him as anything less than his full self.

And so the battle was on! Well, not a battle, actually. More along the lines of a skirmish. No, more like a civilized spat. After all, their challenge was a war of words - a crossword puzzle, to be precise.

The start gun fired. Immediately they were in a dead heat, with each stroke of the pencil, a potential killer. Time was of the essence. Yet, on they fought. Letter by letter. One mis-step, and the best battle strategy could go up in flames.

Salaam was so patient, so considerate, so damn slow and deliberate. The waiting was intolerable! WAR could hardly stand it. Maybe that was Salaam’s strategy. And if so, perhaps WAR could beat him at his own game.

Right. Who was he kidding? Salaam took his time because peace takes time. That was just who he was. Winky understood that going in. Still, in he had gone. War, on the other hand, did everything in the spur of the moment. That’s why his life was such a mess. He was WAR. Maybe if he just stopped thinking so much and tried concentrating. This was just a crossword puzzle. It wasn’t victory or defeat. Then again, everything in war is victory or defeat. Winky knew that.

Finally, it was 11:23. The buzzer sounded. Pencils dropped to the tables, as all competition stopped. WAR tried unsuccessfully to slip a few more letters into open slots without Salaam noticing, but to no avail. Peace may be generous to a fault, but it has little patience for cheating. And Salaam understood the whims of war far better than WAR might imagine.

Besides, it was lunchtime. Winky’s mother had shown up on the battlefield with a picnic basket of peanut butter and banana fluff sandwiches and a thermos of milk - 1%. She had also included a couple vitamins - chewables. There was no telling what kind of germs were floating around inside the Grill, and she didn’t want to risk her little boy catching anything he couldn’t overthrow.

Never stingy when it came to fluff, she had even included enough for two. And why not! WAR and Peace had been friends for years. Well, perhaps friends is a bit too accepting a word. Let’s just say they had known each other longer than most who had known each other forever. And both liked peanut butter. Mothers tend to understand that sort of thing.

So Winky and Salaam sat down together, and they ate. And between swallows, they laughed about the few things they had in common, and kept quiet about all the rest that they didn’t. And when they were done, and their vitamins and milk were all gone, they
called a truce.

Actually, that’s not quite true. When they were done, and their vitamins and milk were all gone, WAR went home to take a little nap. Battles can be so exhausting. And the sugar content of fluff is outrageously high. So WAR went home, leaving Salaam with a promise that the battle was far from over. It was simply put on hold till the next day’s crossword puzzle arrived in their inboxes.

Salaam smiled, as peace is known to do, and said he would be waiting.