See the Story Index for a chronological guide to the previous stories.
I’m in Hapkido class along with Charlie. I am twelve years old, and he is six. With his freckles, blonde hair and dimples he looks like an elf. His uniform has a pocket that Mom sewed on so that he can carry his asthma inhaler at all times.
Charlie is being promoted to green belt. Our parents are watching. Promotions are supposed to be solemn events, but when Charlie receives his new belt he spins in place like a fashion model. I’m only glad that he does not jump in the air and shout, “Score!”
After class, Charlie leaps into Baba’s lap. “Who’s running the stations, Baba?”
Our father has a PhD in Arabic literature from the University of Beirut, but there is no call for his skills in Los Angeles, so he purchased a gas station several years ago. It did well, so two years later he bought another.
“I could not miss such an important day,” our father says.
After class we exit the dojang. It’s been raining, and the streets are wet. Baba is limping more than usual, leaning heavily on his cane.
“Baba,” Mom says, “Do you want to wait here and I’ll come around with the car?”
“No. I can walk. Al-haraka baraka.”
We cross the street to the car, which Mom – typically – has parked in a bizarre location, catercorner to the dojang and behind a laundromat. Randomizing behavior patterns to avoid interception or abduction, I think. She gets down on her hands and knees on the wet asphalt and looks beneath the car, saying that she thinks the car is leaking oil. Checking for car bombs.
These intrusive thoughts used to frighten me. I would become panicked and confused about my identity. I wondered if I were hearing voices. I have become used to them, however, and have come to understand in a vague way that I am two people at once, one superimposed on the other. I am that twelve year old boy, and I am someone else, a nameless spirit in the dark.
We go to the Swensen’s ice cream shop to celebrate Charlie’s promotion. Mom, typically, takes a wrong turn and we travel a roundabout route through Norwalk. Ambush prevention. Improvised explosive device avoidance.
I look at Charlie, sitting beside me in the back seat, still excited about his promotion. There’s another reason to be excited: the feast of Saint Maron is five days away. Charlie and I are counting the days. It is not an official holiday in America of course, but we always get the day off from school. Mom prepares a feast, and there are sweets and presents.
“You know what would be worse than being lost in the woods?” Charlie says. “Being lost and getting found by Mom. You’d be like, ‘I’ve been lost for three days,’ and mom would be like, ‘I’ve been lost for a week.’” He’s too young to understand that mom knows exactly where she is at all times. So am I, in fact.
“Give me a break,” Mom says. “Look, here it is.” And indeed, there is the Swensen’s sign, with the swirly red letters and the picture of an ice cream cone with a cherry on top.
There’s hardly anything in the world I love more than a Swensen’s banana split. Three scoops of ice cream – one each of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla – with chocolate sauce on the chocolate, strawberries on the strawberry, and chopped pineapple on the vanilla, all topped with whipped cream, chopped nuts, a wafer and a cherry. It is the ultimate food creation.
We order, and the ice cream comes like a holiday feast.
Mom frets and says, “It’s too much, habibis. You’ll get sick.” She always says this. Baba says, “Let the boy enjoy himself, Evelyn. It will turn to muscle and make him strong.” Charlie doesn’t say anything, because he’s busy getting chocolate sauce all over his face.
“Charlie,” I say, “Is it so hard to get the spoon from the dish to your mouth without making a mustache?”
“A mustache, eh? Baba, give me your glasses.”
Baba, always up for a little entertainment, hands Charlie his glasses. Charlie puts them on, then stands up and takes Baba’s cane. “I’m Baba,” he says, leaning on the cane and imitating our father’s Arabic accent. “All zee beoble must love each ozer. Zees is very imbortant.”
That was dead on. Baba protests that his accent is not that bad, but he laughs. I laugh too, but my laugh is not convincing. Something is wrong here. How can we all be so happy, when we know what is coming?
On the way home, Baba says, “Charlie, your mom and I are proud of you. Remember that your skills are only for self defense. Like your teacher Master Han says, the wise man solves problems with his head, not his fists. All living things are connected, so when -“
I’ve heard it plenty of times: “When we hurt others, we hurt ourselves.”
But what is the use of such noble thoughts? Tomorrow we will learn that my grandfather Antoine Haddad is dead. I know this, though I do not know how. A week later my mother will be blown up by a car bomb in the driveway of our home, and my father will be shot dead before my eyes. And Charlie… he will die in a car accident… no, he will live, and become a monster. A demon will consume him, and then become him.
I look to Charlie beside me and I see a misshapen shadow behind him, its claws reaching out to snare him, its teeth bared to devour him alive.
“Charlie!” I scream in my cracking, twelve year old voice:- and everything breaks apart, this car and all the people in it shattering like broken glass. There is nothing I can do. The deaths have already occurred. This is a nightmare, the most frightening of all. I want to flee and never return. I want to go into darkness, and from there into light, and find my father on the other side, sitting in a beautiful garden, waiting for me.
I cannot do that. Two things tether me. One is a rope with an anchor that spears my soul like a fish hook. I don’t know what it is, but it grips like a claw, refusing to allow me to disappear. It’s in my throat, chafing, forcing life into me, regulating my existence like a metronome. I would fight to be rid of it, but I have no hands.
The other is a woman. Not my mother, but someone equally strong and uncompromising. She is near, and speaks to me, and though I cannot hear the words they are lamps in the darkness. Her words almost seem to light a path, and I wonder if the path is safe to walk, and what might lie at the end.
Just before going to lunch, Jamilah stopped in to check on Hassan. The new nurse – Jim – stood beside Hassan’s bed with a cell phone in his hand. When Jamilah entered he tucked it away hurriedly and pretended to straighten Hassan’s blanket.
“What were you just doing?” Jamilah said sharply.
Jim looked sheepish. “Sorry,” he said. “I was texting my girlfriend. I know we’re not supposed to text or call while we’re on duty. Won’t happen again.” He left the room, not meeting Jamilah’s eyes.
Jamilah stared at the empty doorway. The guy was lying. She was sure of it. She checked on Hassan, looking over his vitals and pulling his eyelids back to check his pupils. After two years by his bedside, she had some idea what to look for. He seemed unchanged. Jamilah thumbed the nurse call button. Each wing of the clinic had its own nursing station. The call system connected to that station.
“What can I do for you hon?”
Jamilah recognized Nurse Dempsey’s voice. “Please send security here immediately.”
“Yes, ma’am.” No questions, no wasted talk. Sandra Dempsey was a keeper.
There was always a security guard on duty, twenty four hours a day. Salsabil employed five of them altogether. They wore khakhi pants and pastel yellow shirts, in keeping with Salsabil’s low profile.
Within thirty seconds the guard showed up, breathing hard. Jamilah recognized him: a tall, middle aged African-American with a bit of a gut. He liked to show off photos of his kids, one of whom was a doctor in Chicago. Jamilah instructed him to watch Hassan, then strode quickly to Mo’s office, where she found him working at his computer, typing with his left hand while he ate pasta with the other.
“This new nurse,” she said without preamble. “Tim, Jim, something. The big guy.”
Mo put down his fork and wiped his mouth. “Oh no. Don’t say it, Jams.”
“I caught him taking a picture of Hassan on his phone.”
Mo’s expression became grave. “Are you a hundred percent sure? That’s a serious accusation.”
“I’m sure. He played it off like he was sending a text.”
“Come on.” Mo strode out of the office, and Jamilah followed. They found the big nurse dispensing medication in the south wing.
“Jim, let me see your phone,” Mo said.
The man looked baffled, but handed it over. “What for?”
Jamilah watched as Mo scrolled through the photos. “Try the sent messages folder,” she suggested. “Maybe he deleted the pic.”
“I told you,” the nurse said angrily. “I was texting my girlfriend. Lady, you’re a space cadet. Maybe you should take some of this medication.”
Jamilah stepped forward and shoved Jim in the chest with both hands. “You’re a liar!” The big man stumbled backward, collided with the medication cart and fell. The medication bottle bounced across the floor, spilling pills that rolled away like little white bugs. “Who are you working for?” Jamilah demanded.
“Jamilah!” Mo exclaimed.
“You’re insane, lady!” Jim hollered, cradling his elbow, which he’d apparently landed on. “I’m going to sue you. Why don’t you go back where you came from?”
“And you can go out the front door,” Mo said, “because you’re fired.”
“This is bull!” The man stalked away.
“Thank you Mo,” Jamilah said. “I -”
Mo held up his hand. “Don’t. You’re not making my job easier, Triple Nine.”
Jamilah cycled into town for lunch. Chef Samuel’s food was no doubt delicious, but she needed to work off her frustration. Had she done the right thing? Was it possible she’d made a mistake? She hadn’t actually seen the photo. And her relationship with Mo was going steadily downhill.
If she’d been right, on the other hand…well, even then it didn’t necessarily mean anything. Jim came across like a big, dumb oaf. Maybe he just liked taking pictures. It didn’t make any sense.
She rode hard along the coast highway, hugging the tight curves, ignoring the steady pinch in her belly. She pushed herself, trying to forget the day. Going uphill she stood on the pedals, and downhill she bent low and shifted her weight to the back of the seat. On her right the mountains rose like the shoulders of giants, disappearing into thick forest. To the left the slopes fell to the sea. A spit of land reached out into the choppy surf; at the end stood a tall white lighthouse, defiant against the waves.
Passing over the Gualala River she sped up, pushing hard, not wanting to be passed by traffic on the narrow bridge. Two years ago she could have ridden like this all day, but by the time she pulled into the small town of Gualala – population two thousand – she was breathing hard, and her calves trembled with exhaustion.
A young Palestinian fellow named Hamdi had opened a little falafel place in town last year. He wasn’t Muslim – in fact he described himself as a Buddhist Baha’i, whatever that was. His shop – called Christmas Falafel, of all things – had no indoor seating. You ordered at the window and sat at one of the outdoor tables.
Jamilah had initially been suspicious. A young Arab man on his own in this little California coastal town, arriving a year after the opening of Salsabil? For a while she’d come to the shop every day, engaging Hamdi in conversation, probing, until she was satisfied that there was nothing sinister about him. He was a bit goofy, actually. He’d never surfed before but he bought a surfboard and painted a Buddha on it, and hit the beach every morning, trying to catch a wave. His father, he said, owned a liquor store in Sacramento, and he didn’t want to be a part of that business. He’d visited Gualala a few years back with his girlfriend and loved it. When she dumped him, he moved here to start over.
When the shop wasn’t busy, Hamdi would sit outside with Jamilah. She didn’t mind – it gave her a chance to practice her Arabic, while Hamdi practiced his English.
Hamdi was a handsome young fellow, sporting a lean physique, a cleft chin and eyes as gray as the coastal fog. Oddly for a surfer, he was a snappy dresser, favoring dark slacks and button-up shirts.
Jamilah ordered waraq al-’ainab – grape leaves – stuffed with lamb and pine nuts, and hummus seasoned with paprika and oregano. The shop was busy and Hamdi did not come outside. That was okay. Jamilah enjoyed sitting outdoors, feeling the breeze and watching the cars roll by.
A middle-aged white woman with wind-weathered features and freckled arms sat at Jamilah’s table and struck up a conversation. She wanted to know why Jamilah wore the scarf, so Jamilah explained a little about Islam. When she got up to leave the woman gave her a hug as if they were old friends. Gualala people were disconcertingly friendly. Jamilah wondered if that was just a small town thing. Would it be the same in a small town in New York state, or a village in Palestine?
When she was done eating she pedaled back to the clinic slowly, keeping the bike in low gear, trying to puzzle out the mystery of the nurse with the phone. Could she have imagined it, or made a mistake? And if not, then what did that mean? They could not simply pack up the clinic and move. Mo and Shamsi would have her committed if she even suggested it. Maybe the guy just liked taking pictures. Maybe he thought Hassan had a cool arm tattoo. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe she’d gotten the man fired for nothing. If so, then astaghfirullah. May Allah forgive her.
Hamdi – known to his colleagues as Mr. Gray – watched Jamilah ride away. Her ability to sniff out his spies was uncanny. At least her Arabic was weak, or she’d have detected that his accent was not Palestinian but Lebanese. He tried to disguise it, but languages were not his strong suit. Fighting, yes. No Kopis had ever defeated him in unarmed combat – including Mr. Black, who he’d kicked out of a third story window.
He also excelled at infiltration, climbing, swimming and tactical driving. He supposed he was a physical creature more than an intellectual one – along the lines of an Arab James Bond, as he imagined himself.
When it came to killing, his weapon of choice was the garotte. He wore a specially made belt buckle that contained within it a length of tightly wound piano wire. The buckle came apart into two pieces, each of which became a handle to hold the wire. Hamdi could loop the wire around a man’s neck with a flick of his wrist; a single hard pull was sufficient to sever or crush the victim’s carotid arteries.
He’d used this to great effect on many occasions; most recently to kill the Kopis he’d caught in the woods, surveilling the clinic; and before that to eliminate Kristy, the nurse he paid to spy for him. He had not enjoyed that. In fact he regretted it deeply. When Kristy was fired from the job at Salsabil he considered paying her to move away. But she had family in the area, and they would ask questions, and sooner or later she would talk. No, he’d done the only thing he could.
He fingered the garotte now, watching Jamilah’s back disappear up the hill to the south, but thinking about Jim, the big nurse who’d gotten himself fired. He sighed. He could not risk killing the man. One missing person was a mystery, but two was a pattern, and patterns attracted attention. He would pay the man off and order him – forcefully – to move far away. He’d have to recruit another nurse. Almost anyone could be bought, but each attempt increased the risk of exposure.
Jamilah was getting to be a bother. Killing her was not within his purview, however, nor was he inclined to it. He liked her. She had fire and strength.
He would have to train his spies better. In the meantime, the surf would be high this afternoon. Those big swells were calling. He didn’t get emotionally attached to places – he was too well trained for that. But by the white cliffs of Lebanon, if you had to be somewhere, Northern California was not bad at all.
Returning to Hassan’s room, Jamilah opened a massively thick textbook. Global trade and regulation was stodgy stuff, but it was a required part of the international law curriculum, so she forced herself to pay attention. Occasionally she made a comment out loud.
“Listen to this, Hassan: ‘After a series of global trade initiatives from the 1940s to the 1990s lowered trade barriers, especially tariffs on traded goods, efforts to advance further global multi-lateral agreements—notably, the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Doha Round—have stalled.’”
“In other words, now that everything from cars to ketchup is made in China, and we Americans have succeeded in pushing our slurried meats and excess wheat onto the developing world, who cares whether some little protectionist nobody like Costa Rica or Mongolia joins the WTO?”
After two hours she put the book down, stretched, then picked up the seerah book and continued from where she’d left off in the morning, reading out loud:
Khadijah passes away to the Mercy of Allâh
Only two months after the death of his uncle, the Messenger of Allâh experienced another great personal loss: the Mother of believers, his wife Khadijah passed away in Ramadan of the tenth year of his Prophethood, when she was sixty-five years old, and he was fifty [Talqeeh Fuhoom Ahl-al-Athar p.7; Rahmat-ul-lil’alameen 2/164].
Khadijah was in fact a blessing of Allâh for the Prophet . She, for twenty-five years, shared with him the toils and trials of life. He deeply mourned her death, and once he replied in a burst of tender emotions:
“She believed in me when no one else did. She embraced Islam when people disbelieved me. And she helped and comforted me in her person and wealth when there was no one else to lend me a helping hand. I had children from her only.”[Musnad Imam Ahmad 6/118]
Abu Hurairah reported that Jibreel came to Allâh’s Messenger [pbuh] and said: “Allâh’s Messenger, lo, Khadijah is coming to you with a vessel of seasoned food or drink. When she comes to you, offer her greetings from her Lord, and give her glad tidings of a palace of jewels in Paradise where there is no noise and no toil.” [Bukhari 1/539]
The deaths of Khadija and Abu Talib affected the Apostle of Allah deeply. She had been a faithful support to him, and he used to tell her of his troubles, while Abu Talib had been a strength in his personal life and a protection against his tribe. Without them, trouble followed fast.
The Quraysh began to treat the Apostle in an offensive way which they would not have dared to do in his uncle’s lifetime. This was three years before the Apostle migrated to Madinah. This year was later known as the Year of Sorrow.
One of the enemies of the Apostle of Allah used to throw a sheep’s uterus at him while he was praying; and one of them used to throw it into his cooking pot when it was ready. One young lout threw dust on his head. When this happened the Apostle went into his house with the dust still on his head and one of his daughters got up to wash it away, weeping as she did so. “Don’t weep, my little girl,” he said, “for Allah will protect your father.”
His Companions too were subjected to torture and oppression to such an extent that his closest friend, Abu Bakr, to escape pressure, fled out of Makkah and wanted to leave for Abyssinia, and would have done so if it were not for Ibn Ad-Daghanah who met him at Bark Al-Ghamad and managed to dissuade him from completing his journey of escape and brought him back under his protection.
Jamilah stopped reading and wandered to the window. She could see the ocean from here. A few miles out a large container ship plowed its way through the choppy sea, heading east to China, no doubt. From here it looked like a toy, no bigger than a thumbnail.
What must it have been like for the Prophet at that time? His uncle had been like a father and mother to him for most of his life. Still hurting from that blow, he’d been shorn of his dear wife, the love of his life and mother of his children. Set upon by his people, his mission and message ridiculed and maligned, his very body wounded… How could a man stand up to such pressure?
Many Muslims would say, “He was the Prophet – he was not like us.” And while there was some truth to that, the fact was that he was a man. He had a heart. He felt sadness and pain, discouragement and fear, like any man or woman.
Someone else might have withdrawn to regroup and mourn his losses. Someone else might have questioned himself, or doubted his strategy. Someone else might have taken a year off to hide and meditate. Someone else – let’s be real – might have abandoned his mission, at least temporarily.
But Rasulullah was not someone else. He was the final Messenger to humankind, with a will like iron. Whether because of his profound love for Allah, his faith that ran deeper than the sea, his hatred of falsehood, his deep desire to see his people guided, or his utterly indomitable nature, he kept going.
He was a Prophet because of his personal qualities, not the other way around. The office of Prophethood did not make the man. The man made the office.
Wasn’t this true for everything? Being a husband or wife didn’t make one loyal. Being a parent didn’t make a person kind. Having a law degree or medical license didn’t make a person ethical. Rather, it was the person who brought their virtues to bear in any arena.
And what about me? What have I brought to bear? Jamilah wondered. She’d had her own Year of Sorrow, after all. She hated to think of that awful time after she’d been shot, but her brain seemed to drag her back there whether she liked it or not…
Two years ago, when Mo, Shamsi and Inspector Sanchez had taken advantage of the chaos of the earthquake to spirit Hassan and Jamilah away, they stashed them in a private care facility in the East Bay, registering them under pseudonyms. The place was terrible, though in retrospect it was perhaps par for the course in the American health care system. The rooms were dingy, the nurses surly, and though Hassan was only a few dozen yards away it might as well have been a few dozen miles.
Jamilah lay in bed in that awful East Bay clinic for two months, in pain, barely able to stand. Her life was in shambles. Layth was gone, Kadija had cut her off, Hassan was possibly brain damaged, and when Jamilah wasn’t medicated she was haunted by the memories of what she’d seen that terrible night in the warehouse and on the BART. She was registered under a pseudonym, and that made her feel like a ghost, as if the old Jamilah had indeed been killed in that warehouse, to be replaced by a stranger.
Strange or sudden sounds – a nurse dropping a tray, a patient calling out – made her heart race and her breathing quicken. Anytime a nurse or medical technician came into the room, she became hyper vigilant, watching the person’s hands, asking what they were doing. If it was someone she didn’t know, she would demand to see identification. She knew she was being irrational, but felt compelled to try to control everything around her to whatever degree she could.
Shamsi visited a few times, but she was busy, and when she did visit they had nothing to talk about. Jamilah’s law studies seemed to be over, and her own family didn’t know where she was, for safety reasons. They thought she’d received a scholarship to an East Coast Ivy League law school.
Whenever Mo visited he would put her in a wheelchair and take her to Hassan’s room. She could see that Hassan wasn’t being cared for. He had bedsores, and he smelled. When she complained to the staff, they said, “We’re doing our best,” or, “Staff shortages, hon.” After a while they became annoyed with her, so she stopped asking, lest Hassan’s care suffer further.
One evening she found her eyes riveted to the television as the news anchor announced that Boulos Haddad, president of Lebanon, was dead. His private plane had exploded over Beirut International Airport after takeoff, showering burning wreckage over Beirut’s southern suburbs. The perpetrators were as yet unknown, though speculation centered on Hezbollah, as Haddad had recently handed over three Hezbollah members to Israel. People were rioting in the streets.
Jamilah smiled and sat back in the bed, letting her breath out in a sigh. Maybe this was a sign. Maybe Hassan would finally be left alone.
Her feeling of optimism did not last. She was lonely and in pain. She tried to study her old law books but found it impossible to focus. Sometimes she lay in the bed staring at the ceiling, feeling like everything around her was dark, as if she’d fallen into a cavern and could not climb out. She hadn’t forgotten her epiphany – the moment of enlightenment she’d experienced when she was shot, when she vowed that she would remake herself, and become a woman of love and compassion rather than anger and hate. But there was no one to love.
There were times that she thought of suicide. Not that she would actually do it – she was a Muslim, and the prospect of Allah’s wrath was more distressing than life itself. She had no pity for people who took their own lives. If someone wasn’t grateful for the blessings that Allah had given them, and wanted to throw away their own existence, then that was their loss.
Furthermore, she was a Palestinian. Her people had not suffered decades of Israeli oppression, expulsion, massacres, imprisonment and torture, only to kill themselves. She had iron in her bones, she told herself. She was a stone from the rocky hillsides of Bethlehem. Stones did not die – they weathered the storms and endured. The imagery helped her.
Still, thoughts of death came unbidden. She imagined pitching herself through one of the hospital’s upper story windows, or overdosing on pain medication.
She did not share these thoughts with anyone, partly because she knew she would not act on them, and partly because she was terrified of being locked up in a mental ward, her mind crippled by sedatives, and her fate in the hands of strangers.
Mo kept telling her to be patient, and that he was working on a project that would make things better for all of them. But he wouldn’t reveal what it was, and she didn’t know how much faith to put in a guy whose previous accomplishments consisted of telling bike messengers where to go, playing with toys and spouting jokes.
By the tenth week she was able to walk slowly with the aid of a walker. She decided it was time to leave. The next time Mo visited, they walked slowly to the end of the corridor, where two hospital chairs sat beside a dusty window that looked out onto the 580 freeway. This was one of the windows that she sometimes imagined throwing herself from.
Mo’s arm was out of the cast. He said it was still stiff, but in spite of his injuries he looked strong and somehow older.
“I’m home going home to Madera,” Jamilah announced, “and taking Hassan with me.”
Mo put his hand up and shook his head slightly. “Jams… I can understand you wanting to go home. But Hassan needs professional medical care.”
“I’m going crazy here, Mo!” Jamilah spoke in a fierce whisper. “And they’re not taking care of Hassan. I’m not going to leave him here to rot like a piece of old meat. Either you help me, or wallahi I’ll do it myself.”
Mo sat back in his chair and brought the tips of his fingers to his lips. “I’m sorry, Jams. I knew you were unhappy. I didn’t realize how much.” He was silent, apparently thinking.
“And?” Jamilah demanded. “What?”
“I told you I was working on something, right?” He took out his cell phone and made a call. “Shamsiyyah? How’s it going?”
Shamsi? Why was Mo calling Shamsi? Jamilah waited, listening.
“We’re going to move it up,” Mo continued. “Today. Like, now. That’s right. Nope. It’s gotta be today. Okay, I’ll see you in what, three hours? Cool.” He hung up.
He looked at Jamilah and grinned. She didn’t think she’d ever seen this particular grin on his face. It wasn’t a ‘how did you like my joke?’ grin. It was a triumphant, reassuring grin, and for the first time Jamilah felt the stirrings of hope. Maybe he really did have a plan.
“Pack your stuff,” Mo said. “You and Hassan are checking out.”
“Where are we going?”
“Someplace beautiful, Jams. Someplace good.”
Jamilah still had her old messenger bag, and everything that she owned fit in it. She was packed up, signed out and ready to go in an hour. Some time later Shamsiyyah pulled up in a fully outfitted medical transport van, and whisked Jamilah and Hassan off to a new life on the edge of the sea.
Jamilah remembered arriving at Salsabil that first day, tired and sore but hopeful. She wanted to walk – no more wheelchairs for her, she vowed – so she used crutches for support as Mo showed her around, apologizing for the mess. The north wing was finished, but the south wing was still under construction. The kitchen wasn’t equipped, so the staff were eating microwaved food or fresh fruit and veggies from the market in the nearby town of Gualala. The outside grounds were covered in coastal grasses or weeds. Aside from Mo and Shamsi, only two nurses and an orderly had been hired. But Hassan’s room was ready.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner,” Mo said. “Until this month I wasn’t sure myself that we’d pull this off. We literally only staffed the place a few days ago. I know it looks a mess. We don’t have a room ready for you, but you can stay with me and Alice until -”
Jamilah interrupted him. “You did good, Mo. Really, really good. But I can’t believe you kept this secret!” She swung one of her crutches and hit him in the leg, ignoring the flash of pain that accompanied the motion.
Mo laughed, then said, “Ow! That hurt.”
That had been the turning point. Mo outfitted a PT room and hired a physical therapist. Jamilah spent hours every day struggling with the various exercise machines. She walked laps up and down the hallways of the clinic, first with the crutches, then a cane, then under her own power.
So what qualities have I brought to bear upon my hardships? she asked herself again. She turned and spoke out loud to Hassan. “What do you think, Hassan? Have I been patient? Have I done right by you?”
The only answer was the steady sound of the respirator and the occasional beeping of the vital signs monitors.
She approached his bed and stood at his side. He had grown thin over these two years. He wasn’t skeletal, but all that powerful muscle was gone. The nurses kept his hair at shoulder length and his goatee neatly trimmed, just as Hassan used to do. But his face had grown lean, giving him an ascetic air, like a holy man of bygone days. His brow was smooth – but whether his repose reflected serenity or obliviousness, Jamilah could not say.
She kneeled beside the bed, so that her face was on a level with his. “Shamsi wants to pull the plug on you, Hassan. Do you understand? They’re giving up.” She stared at him, watching for any movement, any twitch of his eyelids. Nothing.
“I know you’re in there,” she continued. “There’s nothing I can say to explain away the pain you’ve suffered. Your parents, Charlie, Daniel, Lena, Layth…” She gripped the bed’s railing until her fingers turned white. “I’m here. I’ll bear the pain with you. Be strong. Be a mu’min. Start your journey back to life. It doesn’t have to be this minute. But make it soon.”