I put the rucksack on my back, hug Nona goodbye and go to Andrew and Nikitha waiting for me in Andrew’s car. Nikitha offers me the front seat but I refuse. The rucksack lies beside my thigh. The sky is a spotless blue, like a sea turned upside down. My fingers lull about the strap of my sack now and again coiling it around them. Andrew talks to me like a father nervously instructing his athletic child before a huge event. There’s a weight tied to each word he speaks, wanting desperately to fall back into his stomach. We stop twice on our way to the airport. It has never happened before but today I feel sick of motion so every time we halt I rest my head on the backrest. I have almost slept the second time when I something pokes my knee. It’s Nikitha’s finger, “Here, have some of this sandwich. You look like you’re in urgent need of something edible.” That’s when it hits me- the sickness is within my empty bowel, “Thank you.” “These sandwiches are special,” Andrew reveals, “Your mum, dad and I, we used to come to the sandwich place often. Your dad always bought the BBQ sauce to dip his slices in, despite the constant rebellion of the chef who owns the place. ‘BBQ sauce is strictly for non vegetarian cuisine,’ he’d say.”
At the airport lounge we meet the Hood family. All of us share the sandwiches and drink juice. To others around we might have looked like a happy group of people about to see somebody off, provided they didn’t see Mrs. Hood. The woman stood still, very still, occasionally staring at me. I knew she would hate me for the rest of my life, blame me for everything that happened, try to rip my body if she found her son scarred. Also, nobody knows of her pain better than me. I’m ready for her to slap me any moment. I’m ready if she tries to tackle me down. But she doesn’t. She just looks at me and I know she means no harm. She just wants her son out of this. I do too.
“I’ve sent approval across to Ashraf, he’s got it signed be the government,” Andrew say, “You guys are all set to go. Although I’m facing great nepotism charges at my office, I mean nobody question your skills but they sure think it’s unfair for both interns to be slam kids, who have zero knowledge about journalism. I did try to back Zara up, told them she had it in her genes, but you know how it is.”
It’s almost time for our flight. Mrs. Hood now has her palm tightly wrapped around Luke’s arm and she’s started again with her inaudible sobbing. Andrew pulls something out of a bag, trying his best to diffuse the tension motions for Luke to come to him. Mrs. Hood holds him even tighter, her knuckles turning redder than her bloodshot eyes. Andrew decides it to be best for her to have her hands coiled for as long as she can. Turning around he looks at Hanna, “I bought this for Luke and Zara.” It’s a video camera.
Very tenderly Luke slips his arm away. Mrs. Hood breaks into maniac shouts of cry. General Hood prevents her from falling. Supporting all of Luke’s mom’s weight on his right shoulder, walking towards the exit he has five words to spare, “Come back safe, you both.”
Nikki hugs us goodbye and hands us each a bag of candies and a miniature phonebooth that says ‘HOME IS WAITING’ on the top, ‘Both these things will come in handy when you’re homesick. Come back soon all four of you.’ She backs off, her jet black iris all watery now.
Andrew begins briefing us, “Call me when you reach Dubai. Call me when you’re about to leave for Syria. Don’t call me again until you’re back in Dubai. It’s protocol. Okay wow, that’s something I didn’t see myself saying. Well anyway. You will not be allowed to carry any devices when with the NGO, it’ll be like suicide if you do, but just worse, except this camera that I’ve brought for you. It will be stickered by Ashraf thus making it safe to carry around. It’s very understood, I believe, that you stand no chance against the forces in Syria if you’re not ready to cooperate in every way possible. Do not try and mess with anybody. Stick to the group. God forbid, if there’s an emergency be selfish. Since I need some kind of assurance this radio will be right here with me, also it’ll be easy to communicate with Kevin and Brooke if there’s still any chance left. Don’t hurt yourself. I want you back, Zara.” Wiping tears on his sleeve he grabs Luke by the neck, “And you too.”
All the emotional attention is making me uncomfortable. Despite of training my mind repeatedly that everything will be alright, a huge lump forms around my voice box. It tugs on my vocal cords making funny noises. Hanna pulls Luke and me into a group hug whispering, “I love you both.” We stand in the same position for an awkwardly long time. I loosen my grip, moving away. It’s just the brother and sister now. There are different degrees of pain in every muscle that Hanna moves, but before she can see herself changing her mind, she pushes Luke away in one swift motion, “Bye. Luke, don’t let her get hurt.” Turning a crisp hundred and eighty she walks away, like in those movies then she doesn’t turn back and I’m glad for it.
Very uncalled for now, words I remember having heard at the poetry slam come floating by.
Smoke from all the
bridges I burned stings
There is no way