LAYLA…12 (The Finale)

(12)

We stayed at the door all night, until finally Saif’s father came looking for him. I told him he was asleep and I didn’t want to wake him up. He felt Saif’s forehead and cheeks with the palm of his hand while tears streamed down his face. It was the first time I’ve ever seen a man cry, but I still didn’t understand why, or didn’t want to believe it.

My mother took me inside and asked me about how Saif got there and why we were sitting outside. I couldn’t say anything, and she gave up quickly. She slid her hand down my face and then started saying things about life and death, things I’ve heard before but never thought I would need to think about. I was confused and asked her why she was telling me all those things, and that I must go to see Saif because he was very ill last night. I told her that he must be better now because he was sleeping soundly and his fever went away.

“He’s dead” Noura’s voice came out of nowhere. “Don’t you understand? The boy is dead!” Her eyes were red and misty.

“Don’t say that!” I found myself screaming at the top of my lungs.

Noura gave me a look of pity and then turned around and walked to her room. I looked at my mother, waiting for her to say something.

“She’s lying, mom, right? She is a liar! Saif isn’t dead! He was talking to me when he fell asleep, I know he’s not dead!”

She looked at me with teary eyes for a moment as if looking for something to say. Finally she hugged me tightly and said one thing.

“I’m sorry”

I broke away from her embrace and ran outside. I kept running until I reached Saif’s house where everyone was gathered and I could hear women crying, and then everything turned black.

***

When I opened my eyes I was staring at the ceiling in my room, and I could hear my father talking to my mother about some funeral. He said it went fast but it was the most heartbreaking thing he’d ever witnessed. Just then I realized it was Saif’s funeral.

I don’t know how long I’d been unconscious, but as soon as I came to my senses it hit me that all those people were wrong. Saif wasn’t dead. They just thought he was like what happened to Abu Ashour. And then a wave of panic swept through my body.

“Saif was buried alive. He’s now alone there under the ground, where it’s dark and cold.”

I didn’t waste anytime. I left the room through the window so that my parents won’t stop me and try to convince me that Saif is dead again. I ran and ran until I reached the graveyard. It was just before sunset, and the place was dreadful, but I felt nothing. All I wanted was to dig Saif up from under the ground.

I started looking for his grave, his name must be on it like all the other graves, but I couldn’t find it. Then it occurred to me that it couldn’t have his name on it because it’s still new, so I found the only grave without a name and starting digging in the dust.

“Don’t worry Saif, I’m here! I’m going to get you out”

I don’t know how long it was before I felt a huge silhouette towering over me. When I looked up, it was none-other than Saber, standing there like death itself.

***

For some reason, I felt no fear. I didn’t panic. Instead, I stood up firmly  and looked keenly at Saber with flaming eyes.

“He’s alive. I know he is!” I yelled, filling the awkward silence in the air.

“Why do you say that?” Saber asked patiently.

“Because… because there are still many things I want to tell him!”

“Layla, I buried him myself, he is gone”

“How can you be so sure? You buried Abu Ashour too but he was alive. I saw him open his eyes, Saif saw him too!”

I was expecting a reaction of shock and surprise from Saber, but he only shock his head as if he knows everything. I started to suspect that he knew Abu Ashour was alive and buried him nonetheless. It scared me, and before I could think of running back home as fast as I could he took me by the hand.

“Come with me”

I wanted to shout; after all this was the man that has always inspired fear in everyone and he was grabbing my hand and I had no idea where he was taking me. Yet I didn’t shout, for I still hoped he had something to tell me about Saif, or maybe Saif was still alive and he was hiding him away, then decided to take me to him when I told him I knew everything. It was the first time my hopes conquer my fears.

We kept walking until we reached the water spring, but this time there was a painful familiarity about it. I never thought I’d be back here again, I never pictured this place without Saif around.

He sat on a big rock and I sat beside him, waiting for him to say something. He looked at the reddish sun almost touching the face of water, and then a moment of silence he turned his face towards me, it had a sad glow about it.

“Do you know why I became an undertaker?”

I shook my head.

“My father was an undertaker. He was a good man but everyone avoided him. They were scared of death, and he symbolized it, at least in their eyes.”

“Is that why you became an undertaker? Because you like to scare people”

“No!” He chuckled. “That’s why I didn’t want to. Yet, when my grandfather died I helped my father preparing him for burial. After we were done washing him and while we were wrapping him with white sheet, his eyes slid open. I panicked and started shouting that he’s alive, but my father calmed me down and explained to me that he was dead, and that his eyes opened as an involuntary muscle movement. He said that his body was now like an empty vessel, he was no longer there.”

“So, that’s what happened to Abu Ashour? He is really dead?”

“Yes, he is. But, like you, I kept dreaming about my grandfather and thinking, what if he was really buried alive? That’s when I decided to become an undertaker, to be there to make sure that when someon’e is buried, it’s just an empty vessel.”

I let out a sigh that gave away my deep relief. “What about Saif?” I asked in a near whisper.

“He’s fine, don’t worry about him.”

I kept looking him in the face as if I wanted to hear more. He then reached out and picked a dandelion that was swinging in the wind nearby. He put it in my hand and made me lay it flat.

“But, this is Satan’s eye” I exclaimed

“No it’s not. It’s just a messenger that’s carried with the wind. Now, close your eyes.”

I did as he said. No questions.

“Now I want you to think of all the things you want to say to Saif.”

I took a few moments. A wave of memories came down cascading before my eyes. Nimrah, the letters, Dalila, Siwar, Noura, the dandelion, the watger spring… and then in a spontaneous move I blew at the dandelion, and as I opened my eyes I saw it flying away with the wind.

“He will be fine.” Saber said again, in a more solemn voice this time.

I kept following the dandelion as it disappeared in the horizon, and with it everything disappeared: the fear, the guilt, and the uncertainty. For a moment there, everything was fine, and without any other thought in my mind I leaned with my head on Saber’s arm, and cried.

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LAYLA… 11

LAYLA… 11

(11)

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.

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LAYLA… 10

LAYLA… 10

(10)

 

That night was very hard on Layla. Each time she remembered Abu Ashour She would shiver with fear. Why would she be so afraid after she’d seen him dead with her own eyes? Maybe he wasn’t dead. Maybe he was just asleep, who knows? Usually Naji is the one who declares people dead, and he wasn’t there. How could she be sure? What if Abu Ashour Came back for revenge. There was no rest for her until she’d seen his rigid, lifeless body with her bare eyes.

 

As soon as the first trace of dawn manifested in the horizon, Layla was making her way to Saif’s house. The village was still asleep and the unfamiliar quietness only added to Layla’s fears. As she arrived at Saif’s house, she picked a pebble of the ground and throw it at the window in the eastern wall of the house, where Saif’s room was. Fortunately for her, Saif was a light sleeper that she didn’t have to throw another one before his silhouette materialized in the window frame.

 

“You have to come with me” she said with a trembling sound that made him understand there’s no time to ask questions.

 

For the first time, Layla was running ahead of him. He didn’t know where she was taking him. They ran through alleys and winded corners they knew by heart that the dim light of early dawn didn’t seem a problem. They proceeded as fast as they could, panting heavily without uttering a word, until she suddenly stopped in her tracks. He was so close behind her that they almost collided at the sudden stop, but they didn’t notice, because their eyes were locked on the house where the corpse lay.

 

“There. He’s there.”

 

“Abu Ashour”

 

“Yes. I must see him”

 

“But… he’s dead!”

 

She turned to face him, and their eyes met, and he saw what he’s never seen in her eyes, a fear like never before.

 

“What happened?”

 

Her first instinct was to say she couldn’t tell him, but her tears betrayed her, and before she knew it she was laying everything out in front of him like an open book.

 

“I need to know he’s dead”

 

“Layla, he is dead! Everyone saw him.” He sounded more mature and reassuring than ever.

“No! We’re not sure. No one is sure! I need to see him. I need to be sure.”

 

He looked hesitant, and he tried to calm her down again and explain to her that Abu Ashour Can’t be alive, but she didn’t seem to be listening. She only looked up through teary eyes and said what he couldn’t argue against.

 

“I’m afraid”

 

Saif knew he had no choice, he had to make her feel safe again. He moved towards the house and she followed him closely. The door was open, but it took them a few minutes to muster their courage and cross the threshold. As they stepped in, they saw the still corpse lying on the sofa and could smell death in the damp air of the room. They moved closer until they were standing over the dead face, and despite the sheer horror running in her veins, Layla started to feel a sense of relief now that she saw that he was really dead.

 

Saif was relieved too as he accomplished his mission, and in an attempt to further reassure her, he touched the cold forehead of Abu Ashour.

 

“Feel it. It’s cold. That means he’s dead”

 

Layla hesitated a moment, then she put her hand in Saif’s hand who left it and put it over the forehead. He looked at her and smiled, but her eyes were fixed on something else, with the same fear that was in them earlier, and she seemed unable to speak. Following her look, Saif eyes rested on the sight that will haunt him for the rest of his life. There, just under their shaky hands, Abu Ashour Stared above with wide open eyes.

 

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LAYLA… 9

(9)

The next morning, the village was unusually calm. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, children ran to school, women gossiped at front doors, peasants held their shovels over their shoulders, looking like they were carrying the burdens of the world with it, but I knew very well that none of them carried a burden as that which my father carried.

We didn’t sleep all night, waiting for someone to notice the unopened grocery store. Noura and I didn’t say a word while my father kept desperately trying to ensure my mother that there was nothing to be afraid of.

“I wanted to kill him” My father said with waning patience. “I really wanted to, but I didn’t. As soon as I stormed into his house, his face went colorless. I didn’t give him a chance to speak, I grabbed him by the neck and pinned hi to the wall and I started screaming things that I can’t even remember and the next thing I know, his eyes turned white and he stopped breathing. He just died like that.”

“So, you think they will think he just died a natural death?” my mother asked, still sounding doubtful.

“Probably, probably” my father sighed. “I just wish I’d cut his throat and drained his blood out with my hands, but I should’ve known that coward would die of fear before anything else”

“I’m glad he did. This will spare us the scandal.”

“It’s his scandal, not ours” My father said sharply, almost in a yell that disturbed the quiet of that dreary morning.

Then we sat in silence, anticipating every noise and every unfamiliar movement outside. Few hours later, people came to tell use what we already know.

It didn’t take a very keen eye to see that there was something wrong with our reaction. My mother cried more than she cried the day her own father died, my father openly showed disrespect for the dead and Noura couldn’t stop smiling.

Thankfully though, everyone was too focused on the tragedy, trying to absorb the shock, for death is never a simple thing to take in. In the process, everyone was singing Abu Ashour Praises, talking about his good deeds, how cheerful he was and what a wonderful person to have known and what a void he had left.

The crowds poured into the deceased’s house, with teary eyes and chocking voices, and everyone was waiting for Naji, for in these situations he was the man to seek. He washed the body, wrap it in white sheets and prepared it for burial. He dig the grave, said prayers and recited verses of the Holy Quran in the funeral, he wasn’t only the undertaker, he was as important as the Imam, the most important clergyman in the village. Despite how pious he seemed to be, having him associated with death gave him a mystic air that, combined with rich superstition, made him an outcast.

But there was a problem. Naji was nowhere to be found. The news spread like wildfire among the panicked crowd. Who would bury Abu Ashour Now? No one was up for the task. They knew anyone who would volunteer to do it would likely end up having nightmares for months if not for years. Given different circumstances, Layla’s father would probably be the only man to undertake this responsibility, but under the circumstances that only he and his family were aware of, he would be the last to do it.

It was agreed finally that the corpse will remain in its place overnight until Naji came back, rationalizing the decision by the notion that this will give Abu Ashour A last chance to bid his home farewell. There was a collective sigh of relief among the villagers that no one heard, but everyone could feel.

Back at home there was a sense of relief in Layla’s family. Noura seemed the most relieved of all. In fact, her eyes shone like never before. She showd no one sign of trauma as one would expect, and it perplexed Layla that she found herself blurting out the words without thinking.

“Are you happy?”

“Happy?” The look in Noura’s eyes gave her answer away before she spoke it. “That’s not remotely enough to describe how I’m feeling now. How can I describe it in a way that you can understand?” She rolled her eyes up as if she was trying to come up with something creative. “Well, let’s say I’m afraid my heart will tear away from my chest with joy”. She let out a long sigh. “But I don’t think you will understand it, not if you haven’t tried the sweet taste of revenge”

Layla was even more perplexed now. “But, father was going to kill him. Haven’t you thought what would’ve happened to him if he did?”

Noura seemed disturbed by that. She looked more serious now and her voice was taking a sharper tone. “What would’ve happened? We would’ve told people what happened and they would know what a pig that man was. They probably would’ve wished to have killed them themselves. It’s about time someone killed him, and since you were too coward to give them a reason I thought I should do it myself”

A shiver went down Layla’s spine. “What reason would I give?”

Noura now moved closer to her, looking her directly in the eye and making her every muscle tremble with fear. “Do you think I’m stupid? I followed you that day you went to buy salt, and I saw how you came out running scared from his store. I thought you would tell, but you didn’t! But then, why would I expect that from a quivering mouse like you? So, I thought it was time I took action.”

“What do you mean?” Layla chocked up tears as hse mumbled her next words. “What have you done?”

“You think I would let that pig touch me? I would’ve killed him before he would lay a hand on me. He’s an 80 year-old man, I can make him tumble over with the tip of my finger. He didn’t do anything to me. Nothing. I made it all up. I had to. Someone had to”

“But… he did nothing to me. I ran away” Layla’s face now was misty with tears.

“Maybe he didn’t do anything to you” Noura’s voice suddenly dropped to a feeble tone, and she looked away “But he did it before, to someone else.”

Everything was clear to Layla now. Noura didn’t do it to avenge Layla, she did it to avenge herself, and all of a sudden she started to see her differently. She was no longer her big strong sister, she was a frightened scarred helpless child who grew up to claim her revenge.

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LAYLA… 8

(8) 

My father was late and my mother was now going back and forth, praying loudly and mumbling things under her breath as she looked out the window. Her breathing got heavier as Noura seemed to sink deep into her thoughts unaware of the world around her. She was sobbing silently; I think she wasn’t aware of that too.

The air in the room seemed to get thicker, I felt I was suffocating, so I just closed my eyes and tried to escape to another place.

As I tried to recall some nice picture, that of a stone rippling in the water spring, another picture flashed before my eyes. It was Naji. Maybe it was because I was scared, so my mind immediately recalled its own icon of fear: The undertaker.

Saif and I had always been intimidated by Naji for no reason other than he was, in some way, associated with death. Whenever someone died, Naji would be the one to lower them down into the grave, and that was enough to make us avoid passing him by or looking him in the eye, it was as though he would cast some kind of spell that would make anyone who came in contact with him the next person to be wrapped in white sheets and lowered into a dark, damp hole. Parents even used him to scare children into going to bed. He didn’t speak much and spent most of his time inside his house, a house that Saif and I had always speculated about what was inside it.

“Maybe he has skulls” Saif said once.

“But, how could he?” I replied. “We see him when he buries people, they always open the white sheet at the face so we could see it. It’s always there”

“Maybe he goes back at night and digs them up. People say they saw him more than once heading towards the graveyard after dark”

A picture of naji’s tall, thin silhouette walking between graves loomed before me.

“But… why would he do that?” I shrugged.

“Maybe he likes to keep something to remember them with”

Suddenly there was a banging sound, and I felt a shiver. Just then I realized I had fallen asleep. I was still dazed as I opened my eyes, I saw my mother and father standing by the door, they were talking and my mother was pummeling her hands repeatedly over her cheeks. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but when I looked at Noura, she was no longer crying, she was listening intently, with a look of a triumph that told me beyond any doubt: she’d been avenged.

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LAYLA… 7

(7)

I couldn’t sleep that night.

All night long I’ve been up thinking about what I did to Siwar. I told myself it wasn’t a bad thing, but I know it was. I didn’t lie, I just didn’t tell her what I know, but I wanted Saif to know how she really thinks, because he said he needen’t friends who believe stupid things. He said he would no longer be my friend if I did think like that, he needed to know.

It still felt bad.

I didn’t go to school the next morning, I faked a stomach ache and my mother believed it. I didn’t talk much, but nobody sensed that there was something wrong, because at our house we don’t often talk that much. I couldn’t shake the picture of Siwar off my head. How she was standing there, disappointed, feeling as though she’s lost the world. I would feel that way had I been in her place.

I was so consumed in my thoughts that I hardly paid attention to my mother and sister who were arguing. The only thing that disrupted my thoughts was when Noura yelled my name.

“What about Layla? Let her go! You know I hate going to that dump!”

“Your sister is sick” My mother said. Somehow I felt she didn’t believe it, just used it as a pretext to make Noura do what she wanted her to do.

“I’m not going there so that  repulsive Abu Ashour Could give me those nauseating looks!”

I shivered when I heard the name.

“Listen” Mother said firmly. “You will go and get the onions because this soup needs to be done before your father gets home, Now go!”

Noura gave her a side-way look and stormed out of the house. When I saw the door slam shut I felt a strong urge to go out too. I got up and ran out. My mother didn’t ask where I was going, maybe she thought I was following Noura. I wasn’t. In fact, I didn’t know where I was going until I reached there.

It probably took me less than two minutes to get to Siwar’s house. I was running so fast that when I stopped I could hear my heart beating inside my chest. I stood for a moment there, trying to bring myself to knock on the big wooden door. I moved two steps forward. I hesitated. I moved again, and then I knocked, still hearing my heartbeat.

I knocked 3 times but there was no answer. I knocked again, and again. No answer. Then a voice came from behind me.

“Don’t bother” it was the voice of an old woman. “There’s no one in there. They left this morning”

“But… why?” I found myself asking involuntarily.

“I don’t know. Nobody knows. These people kept to themselves.”

I walked away without saying anything. I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to go the water spring. I even didn’t want to go to Saif’s house. But, where else would I go?

I kept walking aimlessly. Now I could face it. I’ve done something wrong. If I only waited another day! I realized if I did, I would actually be probably happy, because now Siwar is out of the picture, but now, to think how I made her leave thinking that she lost a friend, that didn’t make me happy. I tried to tell myself that perhaps this is good, because now she can be leave without feeling sorry that she’s leaving behind a friend. I knew this wasn’t true. It’s much easier to be separated from your loved ones thinking that they love you than to part with them knowing that they don’t want to see you again.

I don’t know for how long I walked, but I realized I was walking with my head down all along, and the next time I looked up, it was dark. I panicked. My mother must be worried sick, and my father must be shouting at her for letting me go out without knowing where I was going. I didn’t want to cause a problem because I hated it when they fought. I ran as fast as I could, a million voices ringing in my head, but not a single word I understood.

As I opened the door and rushed into the house, it wasn’t like I expected it to be. There was no fighting, no yelling. No one seemed to even notice me. My mother didn’t start scolding me. Instead, the place looked sober. My mother was sitting with her hand over her mouth, tears in her eyes. Noura was cuddled up in the corner, her head buried between her knees. My father was walking back and forth. His eyes were blood-shot, and he was muttering things under his breath.

“I will kill that pig!” Those were the first words I could work out of what he was saying.

“I couldn’t…” Noura chocked on her tears as she left her head to speak. “I couldn’t push him away; he was pulling me so hard. He put his hand over my mouth and I couldn’t scream.”

My father slammed his fist against the wall, there was blood. No one seemed to notice.

“He said if I told anyone, he would tell them that I was lying. He said no one would believe me because no one believes the girl. He said he’d say that he caught me with the baker’s son, and when he threatened to tell on us, I accused him of…” She couldn’t continue.

I froze in my place. It was coming to me. He did to Noura what he did to me. No, he must have done something worse, because she couldn’t hide it like I did. I wondered if I should’ve told them about it. I wondered if it could’ve spared Noura going through this.

I felt the world crumbling all around me. I was ridden with guilt. Nimrah, Siwar and now Noura. I wanted the earth underneath my feet to open up and swallow me whole.

I wanted to die.

The walls seemed to shake as my father stormed out and slammed the door shut behind him. My mother did little to stop him. She just moved over and sat beside Noura. She left her arms and wrapped them around her and they wept together. For as long as I remember, my mother seemed as though she has a score to settle with Noura, but then, for the first time in her life, she seemed to feel that she owes her.

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LAYLA… 6

(6)

 

Although I was happy that I could see Saif again, I still felt my body shivering whenever anyone touched me. I kept thinking of the look on Abu Ashour Face as he stood in the dark doorway, and every time I did I could feel my heart heaving in my chest and my eyes welling up with tears. I didn’t know what he wanted from me, and I couldn’t stop thinking of that either, except when I was with Saif, which made me wake up before dawn everyday waiting eagerly to go to school and see him.

 

But that morning there was something different at school. There was a new girl that the teacher told us had moved in to the village recently. I’d heard about her family earlier as one of the neighbors was telling my mother that a new family had come to the village. She said that nobody knew anything about them, but they looked suspicious because they kept to themselves and rarely left their house. And when they knew their daughter was to attend my school, I was specifically instructed to befriend her to see what I could learn about her.

 

I didn’t like making new friends. Saif was my only friend and I couldn’t imagine having a third person that would enjoy the same things we do and understand the things we talked about. I was glad that Saif too didn’t care much about having many friends. Sometimes I felt like we were two castaways, living in our own world that no one’s allowed into.

 

We left school that day as usual and raced to the water spring. By the time we were panting we realized that we had company. The new girl was watching us from a distance, and she was panting too. She’d followed us from school. I felt a sting in my chest when I saw her, and I wondered why she hadn’t chosen to chase someone else. I turned my head away as if no one was there, but Saif was already walking towards her.

 

“I saw you playing with pebbles in the school yard” She said before we asked her anything. “I thought it was fun than what the other children were doing.”

 

“Nobody thinks it’s fun.” Replied Saif, smiling.

 

“They are boring and stupid, all of them.” Replied the girl.

 

“You can come play with us, we come here everyday.” Said Saif. I didn’t like the idea.

 

“Thanks. My name is Siwar.”

 

“Yes, we know that” I blurted out, although I just remembered her name the moment she mentioned it.

 

“You are Laila, and you are Saif.” She smiled shyly when she talked to Saif. “Everyone seems to like you but you don’t talk to anyone much.”

I felt my chest tightening like I was going to suffocate, so I walked a few feet away from them towards the water spring. I could hear them talking still; I couldn’t bear the sight of them two standing alone so I hurried back and stood beside Saif, hardly keeping myself from clutching his hand.

 

W spent the rest of the day by their as Siwar told us stories about their hometown. She wasn’t like the other children, she was like us, and that’s scared me the most. Saif was listening to her stories and laughing as I watched him all the time that I hardly paid attention to most of what she was saying. Something made me afraid and I couldn’t tell what it was, but the more Saif laughed, the more I wanted that day to end.

 

We spent a few days like that, the three of us playing and talking by the water spring. I was starting to like her, but I felt guilty, because the more I liked her the more I wanted her gone, because I knew Saif liked her too. I hated that she was there all the time, I knew it was selfish of me to want Saif to spend his time with nobody else other than me, but that’s the way it has always been and I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I had often thought of the three of us growing up and him going away with her and leaving me alone and each time I felt as if my heart was going up in flames. it was my worst nightmare.

 

I kept grappling with my thoughts, one moment I would think of the most cunning ways to drive her away or to make Saif hate her, but then I would feel ashamed of myself for even thinking of doing something so vicious like that. For the first time in my life I wished I was like Nora; I thought that perhaps if I were here I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment and I would have Saif all for myself without feeling the slightest bit of remorse. I thought that maybe If I told Nora she would tell me what to do and I would find some encouragement, but I just didn’t feel like I could trust her with anything anymore.  But I was torn, and just when I was about to give in and act against my better judgment, Siwar gave me the chance to do so on a silver plate.

 

It was one day after school that Saif told us that he had to go home to help his father with something before he would join us at the water spring. So, Siwar and I went there alone ahead of him. It was strange because when the two of us were alone we didn’t speak much; it was as though Saif was the bond that connected us. She must’ve noticed that I didn’t care to talk to her because she tried to start a conversation several times but I would just nod and walk along.

 

We reached the water spring, she stood by the spring, throwing pebbles in the water. I watched her from a distance where I was sitting on a rock, absent-mindedly plucking out a bunch of dandelions. I felt like shouting at her to stop playing our game, and each time a pebble rippled in the water I heard a ringing noise in my head.

 

When she grew tired of throwing, she turned to me and all of a sudden she had a dumbstruck look on her face. “The eye of Satan!” She yelled.

I looked at the dandelion in my hand and then at her. “You mean this?”

 

“Yes!” She said assertively. “Don’t you know that?”

 

The thoughts in my head were starting to clear up. “No, I didn’t know about this.” I lied.

 

“My mom told me that Satan has many eyes that he send them everywhere to watch people and make sure they do bas stuff.” She said with even more assertiveness.

 

“Do you believe that?” I asked, trying to sound less doubtful that I really was.

 

“Of course I do. Look how scary they look. Don’t you believe it?”

 

“well, It looks very true to me” I lied again. “I don’t think Saif knows about this either. He must be so intrigued if we tell him about it. I want to tell him first!”

 

And with that I ran off as if trying to beat her to Saif’s house, and just as I expected, she took the bait. She was running, trying to catch up with me, and screaming that that wasn’t fair and that she should tell him that because she knew it first. Just before we reached Saif’s house I slowed down a little, pretending that I was too tired to run anymore. Saif was helping his father cutting pieces of firewood. I stood in my tracks to watch Siwar as she approached him with the dandelion in her hand.  I watched as her excitement faded away into disappointment when she saw the look of disdain on Saif’s face, and I found myself smiling triumphantly as he walked away, leaving her alone, holding in her hand what I, for the first time, felt was the eye of Satan.

 

Related:

LAYLA… 1

LAYLA… 2

LAYLA… 3

LAYLA… 4

LAYLA… 5

LAYLA… 5

(5)

Several days passed since I saw Saif. I was afraid to go to their home, I even faked illness to avoid going to school and seeing him, and pretended to be asleep whenever he came by to ask about me. I couldn’t even imagine looking him in the face. I was the one who exposed his sister’s secret, which was perhaps the only thing that brought her to love herself a little bit. I couldn’t look myself in the mirror, I was full of shame and disgust, for myself and for Nora, I couldn’t look at her, I couldn’t stand her voice, and for the first time in my life I allowed myself to think that I hate my sister. For the first time in my life I could understand how my mother felt, to have such an unspeakable bitterness in your heart for your own flesh and blood.

Several days have passed and I thought I couldn’t get away with my faked illness anymore. I knew that the next day I should go to school and see Saif. I was thinking the whole time about what I was going to say to him. I thought the best thing was to never bring up the subject, as if nothing had happened. I thought that the best thing was to forget about the whole thing. I also thought about Nimrah, perhaps this was what’s best for her. I told myself that she’ll eventually forget about it and go back to her normal life.

I sat in the living room, watching my mother cooking in the small kitchen passively. I was counting the seconds, hoping tomorrow will never come. I watched my mother stir the reddish broth in the huge pot, and all of a sudden I found myself counting the rounds she gave, slowly, indifferently. I think it was perhaps after 15 or 20 rounds that she lift the spoon to her mouth and slurped, tasting the hot stock.

“Ah, I knew the salt wasn’t enough!” She exclaimed. “Nora, go to the grocery and get me some.”

“But I just went there few days ago and seeing that despicable old thing twice a week is more than I can tolerate.” Nora replied as if she had the words prepared at the tip of her tongue, waiting to be unleashed. And then with the same readiness she suggested, “Let Layla go”

“I can’t let your sister go there alone!” My mother said in a tone that resembled a squeal. “It’s almost dusk.”

“Don’t worry about her.” Nora fired back. “I really can’t think of a reason that would make anyone want to kidnap her.”

My mother gaped at her angrily, and I saw where that was going so I decided the best thing was to say that I would like to go because I haven’t left home for a few days because of my sickness and I needed some fresh air. My mother hesitated at first but I convinced her that I was big enough and knew my way, besides it wasn’t dark yet. Nora had already left the room as if she had made up her mind not to go anyway.

I made my way to the grocery worrying with every step that I would run into Saif on my way. I tried to walk faster to go there and back home as quickly as I could to avoid any awkward encounter.

When I reached the grocery the place was shadowy and dim, since there was only a small window that allowed little light in, especially in the last hour before dusk. Something about the place felt evil and threatening, and I could hardly stand to talk to Abu Ashour, with his picture connected in my mind to that of Nora and Saif.

There was no one but Abu Ashour in the store, which made it feel even more daunting. I walked in with heavy steps, trying to stay as far as I could from his desk, and with a voice that hardly amounted to that of a whisper, I told him what my mother wanted.

“What?” He said with his usual yellowish smile. “I can’t hear you. Come on, come closer.”

I felt uneasy and tried to raise my voice a little bit more, but he insisted that he couldn’t hear me and asked me to get closer to him. I walked a little bit closer to him and raised my voice.

“Ah, salt!” He said as if he already knew it. “Well, I have none here but I could get you some from inside.”

He then walked toward the inner store, and after a few steps he turned around and said, “aren’t you coming with me or are you still afraid of the dark?”

I wasn’t afraid of the dark, but the look in his eyes and his malicious smile made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t move. He rolled his eyes and yelled at me again. I looked at the darkened store inside and felt a shiver down my spine, and before I knew it I found myself running away.

I didn’t know where I was going but I knew I wasn’t heading home. I didn’t know it until I found myself standing before Saif’s house, panting, knocking on his door.

He was so happy to see me, which made me feel even more guilty, but I couldn’t think of that because my mind was fixated on one thing. I was terrified, and I needed Saif to feel safe.

I didn’t tell him what happened, I let him think that I was shivering because I was still feeling sick. He brought me a scarf that belonged to his mother and Nimrah made me some hot tea. I looked at them and it hit me then, like a bolt from the blue, how much more I felt at home with them than with my own family. A family that I could only remember by the salty taste of tears rolling down my lips.

 

 

Related:

LAYLA… 1

LAYLA… 2

LAYLA… 3

 

LAYLA… 4

LAYLA… 4

(4)

 

The association between Nimrah’s name and her coarse looks was nothing short of ironic. She was given the name Nimrah, which literally means tigress, as soon as she was born, based on a common belief that naming the baby after a predator protects it from dying young, since before she was born her mother had given birth to two babies, one of them died few hours after birth and the other lasted for no more than 3 days before it was found dead in its cradle. No one ever knew the reason behind the deaths, not only of Nimrah’s siblings but also of the many miscarriages and stillbirths in the Village. Some say it was something in the air, some sort of a poison. Some say it was the spring water that still carried the remnants of the children slaughtered in the upper land’s blood baths some hundred years ago. But the most commonly believed theory was that of the curse cast upon the Village after a woman deliberately suffocated her bastard child to death shortly after he was born. It was easy to see why this seemed the most plausible for the people in the Village, given that it involved a curse, a scandal and a death: The three most feared misfortunes.

 

Whatever the reason was, one way or the other Nimrah did survive. I couldn’t tell for sure if the name has anything to do with it, because my father used to say that she would’ve survived even if they called her a squirming maggot. At this Noura would usually joke that it would’ve been a pity because any other name of the sort wouldn’t have suited her serrated “fags” climbing over her front teeth. I remember how my mother used to smile sarcastically and shake her head in dismay. She once uttered something under her breath I didn’t understand, but it was obvious she made sure my father and Noura couldn’t hear it.

 

It was no wonder given all this that Nimrah seldom looked in a mirror. Those reflective surfaces were her life-long enemies. Whenever she passed by one, she had never so much as gave a sideway glance. It was as though she knew what she was going to see, or worse yet, feared it. As I said, there was no reason to wonder here, unlike that morning when the oddest thing happened as I stood in the hallway of Saif’s house and saw Nimrah, for the first time, standing before a mirror at the end of the narrow dimly-lit hallway.

 

I couldn’t see her face as she was giving me her back, but something about her looked majestic. Maybe it was her upright posture or the light that fell upon her from the right and twinkled on her frizzy curls. It could be many things, but as I look back at it now I believe beyond doubt that it was the air of confidence around her that I saw for the first time then. It wasn’t one of arrogance like Noura, it was something different, something I rarely saw in any one in the village.

 

As I left the house with Saif, my mind kept going back to Nimrah. I couldn’t help but wonder what could possible have happened to change her in such a way. I wanted to ask Saif but I couldn’t find the right word to form a sensible question. At last, I decided to depend on Saif’s habit in finishing my sentences and spoke out.

 

“So, what is it with Nimrah? She looks…”

 

“Happy?” Said Saif with a knowing smile.

 

“Well, maybe, but that’s not exactly what I meant. There seems to be something different about her, she’s not her usual self. Do you know what I mean?”

 

“I know. And I know she deserves to be happy.”

 

I was mildly annoyed at the way Saif mystified his answers. I knew he was hiding something and I was dying to know what it was, and I knew that he wouldn’t keep it from me unless it was something that would upset me, because Saif knew as well as everybody that when it came to secrets, the village has its own circulating mechanism: Everyone may know it except for those who shouldn’t. Unless someone broke that circle, the secret is safeguarded.

 

I knew Saif trusted me, and I knew that he would tell me when he made sure I knew the value of secrecy for what he was going to tell me. It didn’t take him much time to establish that, he usually did it with a few words.

 

“She deserves to be happy.” He said once again, and I was ready to hear what’s next.

***

 

“Namirah has gotten a letter.” I said.

 

My mother raised her eyes and looked at me with an amused smile. Noura too gave a smile, but without lifting her eyes from what she was knitting.

 

“Is that a fact?” Said Noura in an unsurprisingly sarcastic way. “Who is it from? The natural reserve?” she gave a small laugh and glanced towards my mother is if waiting for the usual reproach.

 

“No!” I said earnestly. “It’s from a secret admirer”

 

“Oh, please Layla!” Noura said “The last thing you need to add to your graces is a bad sense of humour!”

 

“I’m serious!” I insisted even more earnestly. “Saif told me she found the letter on her windowsill this morning. He never lies!”

 

“Poor desperate Namirah!” cried Noura. “Obviously she wrote it to herself. Or maybe it’s her other personality. Wait, it could be her imaginary friend!”

 

“Siaf would’ve known it. It wouldn’t have escaped him. If he knew she was lying why would he lie too?”

 

“Why not?” My mother said tilting her head.

 

Noura started to look disturbed and incredulous. My mother said nothing else, only smiled and continued to peel the vegetables on her hands.

 

“Well, I don’t believe it. It’s absurd! Why would anyone send that funny face a letter of admiration?” Noura persited in her denial.

 

“Exactly the same reason why no one would send an insolent arrogant girl like yourself one.” My mother said half-jokingly.

 

“No matter what you say, it’s beyond absurd. And that secret admirer, if he even exists, must be a sorry desperate old man with a major deformity” Cried Noura, obviously annoyed as she stood up and walked towards the bedroom.

 

“You know her father can’t know this” I said before she exited the room. She stood in her tracks and turn around with a cunning smile that suggested she had an evil idea.

 

“I know that very well, but thanks for reminding me.” She said as closed the door to the room.

 

The next day Noura seemed so normal that I thought she either had forgotten all about it, or was up to something malignant. My fears came true when Noura volunteered to go to the grocery store to get the salt mom needed for cooking. It was suspicious because I knew how much Noura hated to go there. It wasn’t the errand she resented, but the man in the grocery store himself. Abu Ashour was a widower in his late fifties, he wasn’t exactly popular, but he didn’t have a bad reputation either. Yet. Noura has always felt uncomfortable around him. She tried to avoid those trips to the grocery store as much as possible, and when she had to go, she made sure to make him feel how much he disgusted her. Hence, I found it very weird that she would offer to go there.

 

As we approached the store, I observed the eerie smile on her face, and then things started to get clear. I remembered that although Abu Ashour didn’t have a bad reputation, but it was very well-established that the grocery store was a rumor mill, that’s why elderly men gathered there in the afternoons, to share a cup of tea and some breaking news. And, if you want to get the word out on anything, all it takes is a random chat with Abu Ashour. Noura was very well aware of that fact.

 

As we entered the store, I felt the pressure building up on my chest. I felt my heart petrified into a rigid stone as I waited for Noura to take her next step. I stood there helpless, unable to speak, clueless as to what I should do.

As Noura asked for the salt, I noticed how she was trying to look a little bit less disgusted as Abu Ashour eyes lingered on her in a very awkward way that even I felt uneasy. She tried to avoid looking at him, and in an instant, in a calm yet obviously eager tone of voice she blurted out the words I dreaded.

 

“So, I hear freaks too have secret admirers.”

 

“Which freak are we talking about here?” Abu Ashour said with his yellowing teeth visible through his guile smile. “I didn’t get any love notes if you’re talking about me. Unless you…”

 

“You wouldn’t even dream of it!” Noura interrupted. “But who knows? One day the frizzy-haired giant gets a love letter, the next day it could be you!”

 

“Frizzy-haired giant?” The wrinkles around his eye disappeared for a moment.”You can’t be talking about her!”

 

“Well” Noura said even more calmly. “Of course I can’t, who in his right mind could believe it anyway? It’s just what people are saying.”

 

Noura walked out of the store with her eerie smile turned into a victorious grin. My heart was no longer petrified, and I felt the guilt ripping through the flesh like a thousand knives. Saif told me because he trusted that I wouldn’t tell anyone who would break the circle, and I betrayed his trust.

 

I couldn’t confront Siaf for a few days after. I was didn’t know what would happen to Nimrah, but I knew that whatever was going to happen was my fault. I waited for a few days, unable to eat or talk. All I could think of was Nimrah and Saif.

 

One morning when I couldn’t take it any longer, I rushed out to Saif’s house, not knowing what to expect, nor what I would say or do, I only wanted to make sure they were okay. As I reached the house and was about to knock on the front door, I heard pounding and shouting inside. Their father was shouting and banging closet doors and drawers. The only words I could make out were “Tell me where are they or I will crush your head under my feet.” I crawled up beside the door, unable to move, trying to muffle my whimpers. Then the shouting stopped, and all I could hear was crying, drawers opened and closed, then there was silence.

 

Related:

LAYLA… 1

LAYLA… 2

LAYLA… 3

 

 

 

 

LAYLA… 3

(3)

It was in the nature of everyone in the village to be distrustful, and there was always a good reason for the distrust. My mother never believed a word from Saif’s mother who had a reputation for making a mountain out of a molehill. Noura never took other girls’ advice or criticism into consideration, thinking that all they said stemmed of pure jealousy. Nimrah never believed anyone who told her she looked lovely on any particular occasion for obvious reasons, and all the men questioned the credibility of the town’s barber, who told stories about his adventurous, wild past.

However, there was only one person everyone seemed to trust blindly. She was an elderly woman who looked so ancient as an old relic. Her face was so wrinkled that her lips looked like a fine crack in a worn-out rock, and her eyes seemed so much like the slits on our wooden door that I could hear them creak whenever she squinted. It probably wasn’t the way she looked that gave her that knowing air, but whatever the reason was and with the exception of very few people, everyone trusted Dalila.

I’ve always known Dalila as the fortune-teller, even before I learned what that word meant. When I first asked my father about it, he said that it means someone who can predict the future.

“Does she actually know what will happen in the future?” I asked in bewilderment.

“Well, that what she says, but she doesn’t. Nobody knows the future.”

“Then why do people believe her?”

“Because she knows the past very well. She’s been around for so long, she witnessed the birth of half of the living population of the village. She knows everyone very well and she can tell you so much about yourself that you don’t know.”

Despite my father’s avowed disbelief of Dalila’s clairvoyance, my mother trusted her and took every word she said for granted. Every now and then Dalila would come to our home, usually in the morning. My mother would brew coffee and pour it into small cups. As the two women finish sipping and exchanging gossip, Dalila would take my mothers cup upside down, and then she would hold it in her hand and study it for a while, saying things she claimed she saw in the cup, pointing every now and then to a curve here or a line there, formed by the coffee residue in the bottom of the cup.

Sometimes my mother called Noura to have a cup of coffee so Dalila would read her future. But like my father, Noura was one of the few people who didn’t believe Dalila. Moreover, she made her the target of her scornful sarcasm.

Given that, I found it curiously odd when one of the mornings Dalila was visiting Noura came in to the living room with a coffee cup in her hand. She placed the cup on the table determinatively and seated herself beside Dalila, with a sly smile on her face and shrewd look in her eyes.

“Here. Go on, foretell my fortune, or misfortune for that matter!”

Dalila and my mother exchanged incredulous looks, and there was a moment of hesitation before my mom tilted her head slightly to the side and rose one eyebrow at Dalila. Noura poured herself some coffee and sipped at it slowly, making a point of slurping. When she was done, she handed the cup to Dalila, her sly smile now turned into a half grin.

Dalila turned the cup upside down, and took it up in her hand a few moments later and stared inside it at its coffee-smeared bottom. Noura sat observing her, the sly smile now back on her face. She waited impatiently as Dalila said nothing for a few moments.

“So,” Noura said “What is it in there? Sounds too unpleasant to say! Don’t worry about me though, I can handle it. I can handle anything. Oh, but please don’t tell me I will marry that sleazy repulsive 100 year-old grocer. The man rains cats and dogs when he speaks, I mean when he mumbles because that’s what he does. I told you I can handle anything, but that amount of spit is too much for anyone”

“How do you expect her to see anything good in your cup if you keep talking about people like this!”

Noura rolled her eyes and turned to Dalila, who didn’t seem amused. She was still studying the cup, and without taking her eyes off it she calmly said, “Your mom is right, my daughter. If anything will bring about your destruction, it will be your vanity.”

“Oh please” Noura groaned. “Even Layla can predict this. Vanity being a deadly vice is old news. Tell me something I don’t know. Tell me something at least half of the world’s population don’t know.”

“Be patient, my girl” Dalila said, even more solemnly. “I’m not finished yet. I understand you’ve turned down a handful of suitors lately.”

“You mean those imbeciles who think I’d marry the first mustache that knocks on the door?”

“Well, if you keep thinking like this you’ll end up settling for much worse than that”

“Oh stop it!” Noura said as she snapped out of her seat, her grin now turned into a scowl. “You don’t seriously think I’m going to let an old crone decide your destiny!”

“Well, don’t say this old crone didn’t warn you”

“I’ll take my chances!” She said as she rolled her eyes and walked away.

Later that night, I was preoccupied with thoughts of what Dalila had said. I sat in the room with Noura, who was sitting at the bed, staring absently as she played with her hair.

“Aren’t you afraid?” I asked suddenly.

Noura turned her face and looked at me queerly. “Of what?”

“Of what Dalila said. Aren’t you even a little bit concerned?” I asked again, thinking that I wouldn’t get an answer, and that all she’d do is roll her eyes and turn her back to me. But instead, she smiled and shifted her position as to face me.

“You think I don’t know her little tricks?” She said with a growing serious tone. “This woman knows nothing of the future, she only tells you what she wants you to do or what everyone expects you to do. She tells a girl that she should not marry a certain man because she’ll lead a miserable life if she does. So, the stupid girl ignores everything she feels and believes the crone, and spends the rest of her life between “what if’s” and “if only’s” and I’m telling you, Layla, I’m telling you, this is one of the worst thoughts that could occur to anyone’s mind; because it presents you with all the possibilities, but gives you no choice.”

“But, what if she was right?”

“Listen to me carefully, Layla; because I’m just going to say this once. If you believe something, I mean really believe it, with all your heart, it’s more likely than not that it will come to pass. If you believe your life will be miserable, then it most probably will.”

I made sure to remember what Noura had told me so I can tell it to Saif. He listened tentatively as he doodled with a broken twig in the mud beside the water spring. He would hear me out as he always did, and not say a word until I’m finished. He would always say something convincing, and I would always take everything he said for granted. However, I didn’t feel the same this time, as he only shook his head and said that Noura was right.

“Right? How come she’s right and everyone else is wrong” I said in a high-pitched tone that sounded like a squeal, my face blushing.

“Because those everyone else you’re talking about are nothing but a bunch of ignorant superstitious simpletons” He said as he snapped the twig upward in an angry manner. I looked away and lowered my gaze to my bare feet, tucking them in and out of the slippers. He stood up and took a few steps forward.

“You know, my mother told me that Dalila had 2 sons.” He said without turning his head. “They both died when the house went on fire more than 40 years ago. Her husband left her few months after that, and she haven’t heard from him ever since.”

I remained silent, waiting for him to make his point. He turned around as to face me, bending the twig in his hand. “If she could predict the future as she claims, then why didn’t she prevent her house from burning down and her sons from dying?”

I looked at him questioningly as he kept bending the twig. As the silence dragged, he lifted his gaze as to meet mine. “Look here, Laila” He said more calmly now “What if you knew that you would die tomorrow, would you enjoy living today?”. I shook my head in negation. “See?” He continued. “God keeps the future hidden for a reason, and even when He wants us to know something of it, He could let you know without having to look in cup of coffee.” The twig in his hand cracked as he turned to walk away.

Few days later, we were walking home shortly before sunset, both exhausted and shabby looking after spending the day trying to catch grasshoppers to no avail. I draggled along the path, my knees hurt from all the crouching and squatting. When I couldn’t bear the pain any longer, I walked to a rock at the side of the rood and sat there cupping my hands over my knees. Saif was few steps ahead of me, and as the sound of my stomping footsteps behind him stopped, he also stopped in his tracks.

“What’s the matter?”

“My knees, they hurt so bad”

“Do you want me to carry you?”

“No.” I said, blushing. “I just need a moment.”

Then, Saif’s look turned to something on the other side of the road. I thought he saw one more grasshopper and thought it was his chance. Instead, He bent forward and grabbed a white, fuzzy looking flower.

“Have you ever seen one of these?” He said as he admired the flower in his hand. “Look, you blow on it and the feathers fly away.”

“Feathers?” I exclaimed.

“Well, that what they seem to me. Look, they fly everywhere! Can you imagine the places they could reach? Then they might settle somewhere and grow new flowers like this one. Maybe this is how it grew here. It could’ve come from anywhere”

He seemed so enthusiastic entertaining that thought. He had always had a passion for traveling and exploring new places, although he couldn’t do it outside the limitations of our small village. He admired the white feathers flying away with a sparkle in his eye, as I admired the look on his face with a smile.

“Look at you two!” A sudden voice creaked behind us. “Don’t you just look ragged and lovely?”

I didn’t have to turn my head to recognize the voice; for no one in the village has a voice that sounded as if it was coming from a bottomless well but Dalila. Saif gave her a sideway glance. “Come on” He addressed me. “We should be going before it’s too dark.”

“You should in deed.” Dalila blurted, as she approached Saif and grabbed what remained of the white flower in his hand. “Where did you find this?” She asked as she studied it amusingly.

“It was just on the side of the road.” He said blankly.

“Well, I haven’t seen one in a long time. People always get rid of them as soon as they grow. No wonder they do.”

“Why would you say that?” Saif inquired, looking intrigued. “Do you know what this is?”

“Of course I know. It’s the eye of Satan.”

“The of Satan!” We both cried in one voice. But I was startled, while Saif sounded rather scandalized.

“Yes” She continued. “It’s been known for ages. This is they eye of Satan. They fly around to watch people and spread evil as they go.

“Nonesense” Saif said defiantly.

“Look at it closely, it actually looks like an eye”

“No. It doesn’t look like an eye, and it can’t be evil. If Satan was to send something, or someone, it would be you.”

Dalila let out a small laugh that sounded more like a cough. “Laila believes me, don’t you Layla?”

Siaf looked at me, waiting for an answer. I waited for him to say that I didn’t believe her, and then take me by the hand and walk away. But he didn’t.

“Layla” He finally said, firmly. “If you believe her, then don’t talk to me again. I won’t talk to you ever again. Do you hear me?

Then, he just turned around and started to walk away, as Dalila stood still, and I scuffled behind him as fast as I could.