Layla couldn’t remember what happened that night. She could only remember that they were too afraid to do anything but run for their lives. They didn’t look back, they just ran and ran until their hearts were about to give out. She could vaguely remember Saif saying something, but she couldn’t make it out. The last thing she remembers is that when they went their separate ways, she had a haunting feeling that both their lives would nit be the same again.
Early that morning, Layla waited impatiently for someone to come with the shocking news that Abu Ashour wasn’t dead. She’d imagined how that would impact her family, what will happen to her sister? Would her father try to kill him again? She was so confused that she didn’t even know what to wish for anymore. She waited and waited for the big news, but nothing happen.
The funeral proceeded as was scheduled. The men carried the coffin to the graveyard where the corpse that was wrapped in white sheets was taken out and buried deep in the ground. She wondered how Saif would handle it, would he tell them anything, or would he just let them bury him alive? She was so anxious to see him, but to her disappointment, Saif wouldn’t show up at school for several days after the funeral.
Her patience was wearing thin, so she decided she wouldn’t wait anymore. That day after school she walked to Saif’s house where Nimra told her that Saif was refusing to see anyone and they didn’t know what was up with him. But Layla knew what that was about. She knew Saif was feeling guilty, she knew he thought they killed Abu Ashour by letting him be buried alive. She felt guilty too, but she wasn’t in agony as he was because she was used to feeling guilty and she knew more about Abu Ashour more that she could tell Saif. She thought about telling him, but then she thought about her father, and her sister. She was, as usual, too guilty and too afraid.
Several days passed and Saif wouldn’t show up at school. She went to his home every day, but he still refused to see her or anyone. One of those days his mother told her that Saif was running a fever. He was so sick and no one knew what was wrong with him. Nimra was crying, his mother was crying, and soon enough everyone in the village was talking about the “Mysterious Evil” that befell Saif. No one knew what happened to him. People started to gossip, and rumors flew around. Some said he was under some evil spell, some said it was a punishment for his parents for one reason or another, and some said it was a rare germ he caught at the water spring, and so people prevented their children from going there. No one went to the water spring any longer, except for Layla who was the only one who knew the reason behind that mystery.
Now Layla could not sleep or think of anything else. She decided she would tell Saif everything so that he may get better, but he still refused to see her, and his family too didn’y want anyone to come near him lest his illness was contagious. So Layla could do nothing but stay awake at night, staring at the ceiling, wallowing in guilt, fear and inescapable misery.
One of those nights it was raining, and she listened intently to the rhythmic tapping of rain drops on the window. The tapping went on, undisturbed by the sound of blowing wind, until it seemed to intertwine with an occasional bang on the shutter. She immediately got up and thrust the shutters wide open, feeling her heart about to bounce out of her chest as she saw Saif standing under the window, drenched with rain.
She ran out to meet him, his cheeks were so red with fever and he was trembling under the cold weather. He couldn’t stand anymore so they both sat on the door step. She wanted to ask him why he wouldn’t see her when she came to his home instead of coming all the way to her home under the rain in such a miserable condition. She wanted to tell him so much, about Abu Ashour and about Noura, but he motioned to her to listen, as if they had no time for both of them to speak.
“Layla… Abu Ashour wasn’t dead. He wasn’t. We let them kill him”
Layla nodded, not sure what to say.
“And I think I’m going to die too”
“No! don’t say that” Layla reacted strongly.
“Listen, I just need one thing from you. One favor. But promise you won’t tell anyone”
Layla nodded again, her eyes starting to well up.
He pulled out some paper sheets from under shirt and handed them to her. “You have to keep delivering those letters to Nimrah”
Layla’s eyes widened with surprise. “You were sending those letters to her?”
“It was the only thing that made her happy.” Saif’s breathing was more labored now and it was obvious that talking became such a chore for him. “She needed something to make her feel loved. This was the only way. You can’t tell anyone. Promise”
“I promise” Layla whispred, already feeling the obligation to fulfill that promise.
Saif’s face turned pale now. He seemed relieved. He was so worn out with fatigue that he couldn’t hold his head up any longer, so he leaned and rested his temple against Layla’s shoulder. She wrapped her arm around him as they both closed their eyes.
“It’s okay. You can sleep now.”
Those were Layla’s last words to Saif, and the last words he would hear on earth.