Dzhokhar (Jahar) -- Before the Bombing -- Part 1

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It was just an ordinary evening, really, my college friends gathered in one place on the UMass Dartmouth campus, happening to run into another group of college friends.  I had seen him before, in just such another gathering as this, recently, but it had been -- fleeting, I guess you could call it -- groups passing in the night, or evening.  

That was the only time I had had a clear view of Tamerlan, who usually didn't run with his younger brother's friends. Yet even then, my attention wasn't drawn to Tamerlan, although anyone's would have been, given his stature at 6'3", dark short-clipped hair, the body of a champion boxer, and the casual clothes he wore -- closely fitting sweatpants, v-neck t-shirt, boxing competition hooded jacket -- that seemed chosen to showcase his physique.  

My gaze was drawn instead to his younger brother, Dzhokhar, who at 19 was, admittedly, a tad upstaged by his older brother.  At 6 feet, he seemed less tall, yet with a lean, muscular build from years of gym workouts and high school wrestling competitions.  He wore jeans, a decidedly ordinary white t-shirt, and his tumbled mass of dark curls was uncombed.  I suppose it was his eyes that captured me, so, so dark, even when his smile or laugh -- because he laughed often -- should have lifted them into lightness.   The subject at that particular moment in the group was Islam, and what it would be like to convert to that religion.  It wasn't as if Dzhokhar was the only Muslim in the group that evening.  Several of his friends were, as well.  

"But it's so easy!" I said teasingly, being careful not to look in his direction, but towards the group in general, and proceeded with my carefully rehearsed memorization of the Muslim statement of faith that every convert had to recite.  "Ash-hadu an la ilaha ill Allah. Wa ash-hadu ana Muhammad ar-rasullallah.  Done -- I'm now a Muslim!"  

It was Dzhokhar who turned to me, not critically, but as someone looks who is correcting a wayward child.  "You know that isn't valid.  There was no intention."  

Giving him a level gaze in return, I replied,  "I'm sorry.  I didn't intend to be disrespectful. But I wonder:  could someone who is not a Muslim date a Muslim?"  

"I guess, if there's a chance they might convert later."  

"You guys are getting too fricking serious!"  my sophomore-ish friend Kathy interrupted.  "What about tonight?  Let's get together at  my place for some partying!"   Plans were made.  It seemed he ignored me from then on.  Not a glance was cast in my direction.  He joked with his friends, and as they left, they all said their goodbyes, but to no one in particular.  

I debated with Kathy whether to attend the party, knowing that, given this group's tendencies, there would be a lot of drinking and smoking going on.  If Dzhokhar was getting serious about religion, as I'd heard, how much of all that could -- or should -- I take part in?  I pushed for it, even as I had misgivings.   Although I was a year older, Kathy and I had been close friends for the past two years, and she could read me cold.   "Isn't it remotely possible, Jenny," she asked, "that you have just a little interest in Dzhokhar?"  

"I guess I'm curious, curious about Islam, curious about who he is deep down.  To me he always seems set apart from the others, maybe because he's Muslim, maybe because he is a Chechen.   I wish I could know more."  

She gave me one of her knowing looks.   "Okay, just make sure you're not getting in too deep. I've seen the way he looks at you."  

"But he never looks at me!"  

"How would you know?  The times I've seen him watching you, you're occupied elsewhere."  She paused.  "This is hard for me to say, but  try to be careful.  You have blonde hair, you know."  

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