Chapter Eleven – Dreaming
Sisters of Mercy Convent, Natar Village Compound, Ward 7 – The Neutral Zone, Tribal Reservation of Urnah, Nasai, White Moon 37299
“BaBa, look! I’m flying!” Safiya called as she ran with her arms outstretched down the short slope of the hill beside the family café.
The pink and yellow synthetic wings that her uncle Musa had given her in celebration of having reached her 10th summer were strapped to her back and shoulders, they caught in the humid breeze as she gained momentum.
“BaBa!” Safiya called ecstatically with laughter in her voice as the wings lifted her two feet off the dusty ground when she jumped into the air.
“BaBa look!” she cried out again as her feet touched the ground momentarily, sending up a puff of red dust from the dry hillside, before she bounced back up into the air.
Safiya’s father raised his head from the conversation that he was having at one of the outside tables a short distance away and smiled at her distractedly with a nod of approval. He sat in the small courtyard at the front of the café engrossed in discussion with a man in a strange uniform.
“Leave your Baba to talk, my Sofi,” her mother called from the side door of the café, off the kitchen. “Come, show Umi what you have been up to.”
Having lost much of her momentum, Safiya’s feet returned to the ground and she reluctantly obeyed her mother’s request, leaving her father to talk, and galloping down the remainder of the hill. She reached the café and entered, hurrying over to where her mother stood over the wide wooden counter-top kneading dough for pastries and singing Safiya’s favorite tribal song. Una fanned the fire within the large brick oven and Safiya could hear her brother Amir’s laughter drift towards her from the sitting area beyond the swinging kitchen doors. Safiya walked over to her mother and grabbed a sufa berry from the counter-top, listening to her mother sing the final lines of Desert Flower, before making her request.
“Umi, can you come watch me? Please? I can fly!” Safiya exclaimed earnestly into her mother’s eyes.
Umi widened her eyes incredulously and wiped her hands on her apron, motioning for Una to finish kneading the dough.
“You can fly?” Umi exclaimed incredulously and tousled Safiya’s hair. “I simply must see this!”
They walked hand-in-hand out of the kitchen and to the base of the hill. Safiya ran back up the slope so that she could leap off again, this time just for Umi. Once she had reached the top, she turned around to face her mother, and as she began to run, a loud blast sounded from behind her. Safiya watched the smile on Umi’s face transform into a grimace and tried twisting her neck to look behind her but it was impossible to see over the wings. She turned her head quickly towards Umi, alarmed by the explosions reverberating behind her, but her mother had already closed the distance between them and was running full speed towards her. Safiya was in Umi’s arms before she could leap from the ground and Umi turned quickly in a sprint back towards the café and Baba. Baba and his uniformed friend were on their feet and scowling at the horizon beyond the hilltop when Umi reached them.
“Gather the children and bring them to the safe house,” Baba ordered without hesitation. “Do not wait for anyone, Naiya, I mean this!”
“I won’t wait, Amere, you know I will not, but what about the day laborers? Is this really happening now?” Umi asked as Baba led them into the café.
Baba closed and latched the door behind them while the man in the uniform closed and shuttered all the windows.
“It would appear that it is, my love,” Baba said earnestly to Umi and took her aside to the serving window by the kitchen where they began to whisper heatedly in an exchange of words that Safiya couldn’t hear, but words that she could somehow feel buzzing around in the pit of her stomach.
Safiya was afraid and was about to call out to Umi, scared that something bad was happening to her, when the uniformed man appeared before her, obstructing her view.
“Do not worry, young one,” the man said to her as he knelt in front of her and brushed her bangs from her eyes. “All is well. Do not worry.”
His eyes were dark brown and kind, and his accent was heavy, like the people from the north. Safiya wondered if he was a holy man, but she knew that the holy people didn’t dress the way he was dressed. Una came up behind Safiya as the man finished speaking and was holding her eight-year-old brother Amir’s hand. More explosions erupted outside of the café, close enough this time to make the dishes tremble on the cupboard shelves. Baba and Umi walked over to Safiya and Amir and Safiya could tell that Umi had been crying.
“You two will go with Umi and Una to a new house today, ok,” Baba said. “And don’t worry, everything will be well. My friend here and I will meet you at the new house in a few days.”
Baba smiled at her and Amir, but it was different; Safiya could tell, even in her child’s mind that he was trying to comfort her. She leaned her head against his side and tried not to cry.
“Come. I’m going to show you a secret place that is very special,” Baba said.
Another explosion reverberated from outside and Safiya could hear muffled voices shouting in the distance. Umi and Una followed behind as Baba led them to the kitchen where he opened a door that led to a secret tunnel. He switched on a lamp that hung upon the wall inside to illuminate a narrow stairway leading several feet underground. Una began to lead Safiya and Amir down the wood and stone staircase as Baba and Umi embraced. Safiya turned to look back up the stairs and caught a glimpse of Baba’s worried face as he closed the door behind Umi. Safiya felt dizzy as the thought of not seeing her father again flashed across her mind.
She could hear her mother’s muffled weeping from behind her as another blast sounded. The passage widened once they reached the bottom of the stairs and Una ran ahead to ignite the torches lining the walls along the earthen pathway that sprawled forward into the darkness. Umi came up behind Safiya and Ami to take each of their hands in hers just as another loud explosion shook the earth above them. Umi stiffened, staring up at the earthen ceiling with a mixture of fear and anger upon her face, and Safiya somehow knew, deep in the pit of her stomach, what Umi was about to do.
In that instant Safiya felt with a new sense, with a sensory separate from her mind, that she might not see her Baba again, and that if Umi let go of her hand, she might not see Umi again either. Umi released Safiya’s hand and bent over to speak directly to her, meeting her gaze.
“Umi will not let Baba be captured. You will understand someday,” Umi said to her softly, in the voice that she had often used to explain answers to Safiya’s questions when they were at prayer services in the mosque.
“I won’t,” Safiya cried defiantly, stubbornly willing Umi to stay with them, as if she could force her mother not to go with her will alone. “Don’t go, Umi.”
Umi smiled down at her with fresh tears rolling down her face and looked at Safiya as if she were seeing something blossom from within her. Umi knelt on the packed dirt in front of Safiya and took her into her arms.
“You will understand one day, my beloved child. And we will meet again,” Umi crooned tenderly in the ancient tongue, quickening something hidden within the depths of Safiya’s mind, and soothing the panic that Safiya was feeling.
Safiya couldn’t protest as Umi slowly pulled away and stood to lift Ami into her arms, whispering in his ear as well. Ami held Umi’s shoulders tightly and buried his face into her hair for as long as he could before Umi pulled his arms from around her neck and stood him up on his feet. She took one last look at the both of them before rushing back up the staircase, calling over her shoulder to Una and instructing her to hurry to the safe house.
Without a word or a tear, Una grabbed Safiya and Amir’s hands and started to run with them down the dimly lit passageway. Explosions came louder and faster overhead as they ran and by the time they emerged from the tunnel through an opening from a cave into a grassy valley the sun was setting and it had begun to rain. Safiya was exhausted, and her legs trembled from having run for so long but Una rushed them down the muddy road through the pasture, holding their small hands tightly. Wet, red clay oozed between their toes and clung to the soles of their feet as Una quickened the pace and although it was damp, the air smelled of burned wood and scorched earth.
They reached the woods and hurried through an area overgrown with trees to a sturdy log cottage nestled within the circle of five tall whana trees. Safiya and Ami hardly had time to catch their breath before the door was thrust open and the three of them were rushed inside by a tall, thin man with a long beard that hung to his waist. Another man soon appeared from the back of the cottage wearing a uniform like Baba’s friend had been wearing but this man was older than the other man had been. He had streaks of gray in his black hair and beard and walked over to the three of them. He bowed his head in respect to Una, speaking calmly and quietly to her, and something that he said made Una cover her face and begin to cry. Una dropped onto the sofa behind her and hunched her shoulders, giving into grief.
“Why is Una crying?” Ami asked the man.
The man lifted Ami first, and then Safiya, to seat them beside Una on the sofa before responding.
“Una is sad because many sad things have happened today, young Amir, but she will find her strength again,” the man said.
He also had the same way of speaking that Baba’s friend had.
“I wanted to go with Baba, but I have to take care of Safiya and Una. Safiya is my sister,” Ami said, putting his arm protectively around Safiya’s shoulder, but he had to reach up because he was still shorter than she was.
“And you have done a great job,” the man replied solemnly. “How would you like to come with me, Ami? Now that Safiya and Una are safe?”
No!, thought Safiya, as her eyes darted frantically between Amir and the man. Ami seemed excited about the idea and when Safiya looked over to Una for an explanation, she saw that Una had stopped crying, but now she was staring off blankly into space. Amir in turn looked over at Safiya and his smile began to waiver.
“I don’t know,” Ami responded thoughtfully to the man. “Umi said to stay with Una until she and Baba come and meet us here.”
“I saw your Baba and your Umi right before I came here and they are not going to be able to meet you,” the man began gravely.“They asked me to come here to meet you for them and they would like for you, Ami, to come with me. My name is Nakar.”
Ami and Safiya instinctively looked at each other, neither wanting to be separated, but both understanding that they couldn’t disobey the request of their parents.
“Sofi?” Ami asked cautiously, using her family name that only he, Baba and Umi used, to show her that he wouldn’t go if she didn’t want him to.
He always looked to her for reassurance when he was worried about something.
“It’s ok,” Safiya replied bravely.
She knew somehow, with the new, high sense that she could feel, that her brother would be safer with this man then he would be with her and Una. Ami continued to question Safiya with his eyes, but Safiya smiled and nodded firmly to convince him. Ami appeared reluctant but nodded in consent.
“Ok, I’ll go with you, but will I see Safiya and Baba and Umi again soon?” Ami asked.
He had voiced the question that Safiya was afraid to ask.
“I will fight with all of my strength in hope that you will, brave Ami, but I cannot promise such a thing. Only the Creator knows the future. Is that a good enough answer?” Nakar asked.
Ami nodded hesitantly and looked to Safiya who tried again to smile when what she really wanted to do was cry. She reached over and straightened the collar of Ami’s tunic and wiped a smudge of dirt from his cheek.
“Don’t worry, Ami,” Safiya said. “I’ll stay here with Una for now. We’ll be ok.”
Nakar smiled down at Safiya and placed his hand upon her shoulder in parting.
“Peace be with you, until we meet again,” he said with a bow of his head.
Safiya knew to reply, “And also with you.”
Nakar beckoned Ami with a kind smile. Safiya hugged her brother tightly and they held each other for several minutes, his small, lean arms encircling her neck.
“Will you be ok?” Ami whispered into her ear.
“Yes,” she whispered back but her voice cracked a little as she let go of him.
“And what about Una?” he asked and shoved his hands into his pant pockets with worry written all over his little face.
“She’ll be ok, too,” Safiya assured him and glanced over at Una who continued to stare unblinkingly across the room. “I’ll take care of her, I promise.”
Ami smiled sadly and looked down at his bare feet before looking back up at Safiya again.
“OK,” he finally replied and took a deep breath.
He forced a brave smile at her before turning to walk over to Nakar but not before Safiya saw the tears bright in his eyes. She let the tears that were in hers roll down her cheeks once she had seen his small body disappear through the back door.
Safiya woke up with a start, her heart thumping in her heaving chest, and her face wet with tears.
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