THE DRIVER of that bus you missed, the woman wearing shorts and a T-shirt and a Smith College cap tugged over her short hair, leading the sing-along?
I was working as a waitress
in a cocktail bar
That much is true
But even then I knew I'd find
a much better place
Either with or without you.
It's true, she was working as a waitress, in a Cheesecake Factory in Atlanta. Imagine doing that while fasting for Ramadan! You see, no one or nothing on the funny bus is what you'd have guessed. She looks like the shortstop on your office softball team, Kathy from Erie, Pa.—but no, she's Luma Mufleh from Amman, Jordan, a Muslim who grew up in a mansion as the daughter of a steel magnate named Hassan. She's the coach and founder of the Fugees, but she's a refugee too. A woman fleeing Cartier watches, Armani pantsuits, three maids, a chauffeur, a nanny and a butler.
Luma was looking for a home just as hard as every one of those lost boys on the spring day in 2004 when the Fugees, by accident, began. She was depressed, to be honest, and running out of ways to justify to her large and wealthy extended family why she hadn't gone home for eight years, not for births or deaths or marriages. Her latest venture—a café just outside Atlanta into which she'd poured so much money, heart and soul—had given her so little revenue or joy in return. She'd moved from western Massachusetts to Boston to North Carolina to Atlanta, been a waitress, a cook, a grocery stock clerk, an office worker for a charity and a freelance website designer, none of it justifying her expensive Smith College degree, her anthropology major or her father's big expectations of his gifted eldest daughter. Maybe a little comfort food, the kind that had nurtured her as a child in Amman, would help.
She followed directions she'd received to Talar's International Foods of the World in nearby Clarkston, made her purchases and headed back toward her apartment. But in her fog of sadness she missed a turn, blinked a moment later and found herself passing ... Al-Momineen mosque? ... a Buddhist temple? ... black men in robes? ... caramel-colored women in kaftans and burkas? ... people on foot instead of in cars? Luma had a funny feeling she wasn't in Georgia anymore.