Chapter 4 –
“Honey, we will be late,” said Maryam, opening the front door.
“Coming, mom,” Fatima rushed through the hall, grabbing her sneakers. The humid air had already broken beads over her forehead with each step into the crowded street. She preferred it to the sunless, cramped, slow winter days. The city, in its old, crowded foundations and ever-carrying traditions, each worth its own gaze, basked before beams under centuries of fortitude. As if always living for these days as its beauty emerged from a merryful maze. One by one, the storefronts perched in praise to the flocks sent forth in waves.
Among the cobbled creases, old ancient ways meshed atop a modern decay. Antennas wrapped above the street’s ceilings like crows, harbingers of decay squawked to no avail. For everyone, lived shyly away from the personal peasantries it had provided, preferring the hustle and bustle of what lay below. The small alleyways teamed with life, almost maddening to the faint-hearted, though never more than a few paces away. Homes atop storefronts lit up by streetlamps to the sea of cars and people squeezing through. Everyone needed to be somewhere else than where they were, the scream and shout and honk, all in plead, of what lay ahead. The city was alive, but no one knew where to go, yet everyone dared to know.
No one could walk past a scent of familiarity that glanced upon each face, a smile in each breath, a dew dancing upon each eye. Something she never felt anywhere else, that old familiarity every time she strolled by. As if no one could last more than a few minutes without catching its warm embrace.
Though this summer was different, there was a muddled distance between her and the city she loved. Like a picture that wouldn’t focus. A door seconds before closing behind her, where the only thing remaining was the muddled voices of the people still inside.
“I was thinking we should go to the school first, and then we could go over to your aunt Annie’s house after,” said Maryam, “Harun misses you too.”
“Okay,” Fatima said.
“We can grab a few things on the way, too. Is there something you want for lunch?”
“I don’t know, not really,” Fatima was annoyed.
“Oooh, I know what we could; remember when we would get ice cream before lunch during the holidays in Izmir?
“Yea, the last time we did that was like 15 years ago. Honestly, Mom, I think I was like five or six.”
“You used to love it! Do you remember, we would do that before grabbing lunch? We were quite the daredevils.” She chuckled.
Fatima couldn’t help but smile. “Let’s go to that kabob house off of Sultan Street.”
Mom always knew how to cheer her up. She had been overly anxious and annoyed this past week. It had become numbing. The week had passed by in a blur. There was a never-ending list of last-minute items that never seemed to end. Though she had started to feel like it didn’t matter to her anymore, none of it would matter to her when she was there. It was a drag, a nuisance in her way. If it wasn’t for her mom’s help, she thought, she would never have gotten everything ready. Her mom had been the one semblance of normalcy in her life for the past few weeks.
Was she ever going to be prepared, she thought. All the things she could bring wouldn’t help her in college. Everything she had was already with her, and everything she felt like she needed was slipping away from her, even time. Maybe that’s why she was a bit annoyed with her mother, annoyed that she wouldn’t be with her when she needed her most.
“Ok, how are you feeling about the trip tomorrow.” It had caught her off guard as she looked up at mom and caught a glimpse of her smile. Her question, out of the blue, felt like a soothing hand on the sprain in her head.
“I’m more ready than I’ll ever be; the only thing left are those papers from school,” she lied, she thought.
She knew her mother didn’t believe her. Though her mom kept a brave face, after everything that happened, her world turned upside down, though she stayed the same, humbly walking by the same road, as everything should always be. As if she knew a secret that she kept in her heart. Something that would never fail her, something that could never lose. She knew what it was though she had never really felt it yet. I guess it comes with age; she thought, a subtly of wisdom and faith, that becomes clear, and into focus.
“Did I ever tell you of my first year in college? I must have told you a lot of stories about those days, but maybe never the way you needed to hear them,” her mom tried one more time.
“I was homesick for the first few months; I had counted the days till winter break. I felt like a pair of mismatched socks. The ones you find all the way in the far corner of the bottom drawer because you’ve chosen to become lazy and unavailable. I was caught up in my head, not knowing the next step. I realized now that I chose to wear those socks, prolonging the day I needed to do the laundry. There was no reason for me to feel that way. Yet I still chose to, but what’s better is to move on because the past is gone, and the future is never here. Don’t wait on yourself.”
“I never thought of it that way. You didn’t make grandma wash your months-old clothes, right?” Fatima gawked.
“Of course not,” Maryam laughed.
They had arrived at the gates she had walked through every morning for the past four years. They stood the same, in a simple shade of red, in front of the courtyard where she would hang out with friends. Though now it all felt sudden and distant to her. An empty part existed. A few freshmen were chatting alongside the steps of the entrance. The halls seemed more like a dusky old portrait kept but left in a box away and hidden. A bittersweet scent followed her as they walked down the hallway to the front office. The hallway was getting longer and she had to go through to the other side.
“Hi, Alisha,” she heard her mother say behind her.
“Maryam, how are you,” said Alisha.
“I’m fine, thanks; how are the kids.” The start of pleasantries. “Honey, I’ll be with you in a moment; why don’t you go ahead,” her mom urged.
Two of her old classmates were sitting on a bench next to the front office. She noticed one of them glare at her, she couldn’t quite make out who it was at first.
“Hi Kevser!” Fatima said.
“Hi,” Kevser smirked. Then she ignored her and continued her conversation with the girl next to her. Until recently, Kevser and Fatima had been close through the years. A year ago, they argued, out of the blue, about her parents; that was the last time they had ever spoken. She learned later that Kever’s mom had told her not to hang out with her. Now, she kept trying to be friendly to her, but whatever she did, she couldn’t get an inch from her.
Seeing that today would be of no avail. She entered the front office and approached the receptionist to ask for her diploma and transcript copies. Like most kind middle-aged ladies who chose the profession, the receptionist had a proud demeanor. One of professionalism and one of kindness that carried them throughout life as if they didn’t have a care in the world for anything but the person in front of them. A peculiar wide-eyed yet sometimes empty stare that gave the impression that they cared deeply for whoever came their way.
“I called yesterday about getting a copy of them,” she said.
“What did you say your name was, sweety,” said the receptionist.
“Fatima!” Just as the word escaped her mouth, the women’s demeanor changed subtly. She could make out a chill as it went down her spine, and she was trying her best not to seem cold, though she could see it through the partial crease appearing across her brow as it appeared naked and bare. Her posture stiffened.
“One moment, dear, we do have the copies; I just need to make a note of it and grab it from the back. Why don’t you take a seat over there,” she said.
“Sure, thanks!” She forced herself not to notice and act as if everything was okay. However, part of her was anxious to leave. Her school, the crowded streets, her neighborhood, and all the paralyzed and transfixed faces everywhere. To start anew. There was a weight over her shoulders she couldn’t manage to lift off, so she slumped down onto the bench. She couldn’t help but notice the conversation outside with Kevser and the girl. The ones she had heard over and over again…
“You know, I heard their dad was tried for treason.”
“Really! You shouldn’t be talking about these things here.” the other one exclaimed, dumbfounded.
“So, who cares? They’re all going to pay for what they did. I heard these people were taking were like infiltrating and taking over and stuff. All they were after was our freedoms.”
“No, I mean, I don’t get how you believe that stuff. My mom was close with her family; they are good people.”
“Yea, buts all fake you know.”
“Everyone’s saying the same thing; and it’s all over the news. Let me ask you this, are you still close, though.”
“No, not really.”
“Yea so, my mom said that it’s best we’re not seen close to them because apparently, people go out and make fake claims against people for no reason, whomever they see seeming to be associated with them goes to jail. It’s just to be safe”
“One of our friends, who doesn’t even know them got a jail sentence on charges that don’t even make sense. They got charged with terrorism and conspiracy. It’s ridiculous, I don’t get it, it doesn’t make sense.”
“Well, you got to be extra careful, these people are dangerous, so whatever it takes, you know. Or else how will they stop them?”
“What was the evidence anyways.”
“They had a book with a dollar bill bookmark from the author that got banned. It’s so stupid; the whole thing just doesn’t make sense.”
“Yea, but see, it’s all code; those books talk about how to take over the government, and those dollar bills are like directives given to them.”
The girl couldn’t help but chuckle under her breath. Fatima tried to keep her composer so that she wouldn’t be heard.
“Honestly, Kevser, you knew Fatima.”
There was a pause in her stride. Something stopped her.
“Yea, but their family was all high and mighty, so snobby, really; never really liked her.”
Chapter 5 –
Close the Door Behind You
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