Jamila was drinking her fourth coffee and it was only noon. She walked to the main university library to meet with Faisal. They had a big class project due next week. Pushing up her yellow scarf up, she rubbed her forehead, and sighed in frustration.
La ilaha ilallah.
She was tired.
She had a full schedule. Just thinking about it was making her head hurt even more. She really wanted to go to bed and not wake up for a few months. Every night instead of staying up studying, she stayed up at work. Every afternoon instead of going to hang out with friends, she had soccer practice. Jamila had thought that with her soccer scholarship and a part time job at the gas station, should give her enough money, but she still was always broke. Lately her family was short of money.
She couldn’t wait to graduate in two years. She would get a great job, so her family wouldn’t struggle anymore. Jamila refused to act like her older sister Sirad who left the family at her first chance. She would always help her family.
One day everything would be great.
At least it was a beautiful day. She loved that November in Atlanta felt like spring.
She smiled and swished the bottom of her white long skirt with yellow flowers.
“Jamila!” her younger sister Sainab waved at her to stop. What does she want? She had no time to listen to Sainab’s gossip. Sainab was out of breath and very upset.
“Jamila! My cellphone got disconnected!”
“Did you forget to pay?”
“No!” she wailed, “Stepfather took my money!”
Jamila’s temper jumped from mild to burning fire in two seconds. “Why did you give it him!” she screamed.
Her sister stepped back in fear. “He said he needed it!”
Jamila took a moment to breathe. She shouldn’t take her anger out on her sister. It wasn’t fair. Her sister probably fell for their stepfather’s lies.
“Next time say no. He is only going to waste it on chewing jaad to get high. ”
Her sister hung her head in shame. “Sorry.”
She reached in her purse and handed her little sister the money. “Why did our mother have to fall for such a stupid man?” she muttered under her breath.
She loved her mother, but hated that she was so naive. Why can’t she divorce that roach, so he could leave her life? Life was so much better before.
Her sister happily put the money in her pocket and hugged her quickly, “Thanks Abbaayo. You are the best sister ever. You always help me. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
Sainab clapped her hands. “I heard that a new guy named Mubarak just started. I heard that he is cute and one of the best soccer players in the Somali circuit. Maybe you should meet him-”
“Don’t go there-.”
Sirad Ali Mohammud pressed her car remote and threw her Gucci briefcase in her white Mercedes-Benz. She bought the car last year, but she still smiled every time she saw it.
She turned and waved goodbye to her coworkers.
“Bye Sam.” They shouted.
She pushed in her Magool CD that she had bought last week and leaned back.
It had been a long day, but fun. She never imagined that one day she would become Vice- President of a company, especially after her good for nothing husband left her.
She still remembered how he used to get so angry whenever she worked late. Two years later, she got promoted and her son was now four. She loved her son Ismail. Her mother always said that you will understand a mother’s love one day but she never believed her until she had her son.
Her phone rang. “Sirad?”
“Hi Mom. How are you?”
“I am wondering why you haven’t talked to your sisters lately.”
She rolled her eyes. “Why would I want to talk to them?”
“Because they are your sisters.” Samira said.
“We don’t have anything in common. Besides Jamila and Sanup are just kids. They are still in college. All Jamila cares about is soccer and Sainab just gossips all day. I don’t see what we have to talk about.”
“It doesn’t matter if you don’t have anything in common, they are your family not your friends.”
“I am busy.”
Her mother sighed. “When are you going to talk to your sisters?”
“I will talk to my sisters on Thanksgiving.” Sirad loved her Mom, but she wished she would leave her alone. “Hooyo, I am busy. I don’t have time to talk to the family every day. That is what holidays are for. Right? I gotta go.”
Faisal and Mubarak stood in the university courtyard. Faisal rubbed his full stomach and sighed happily, as he thought of the succulent ari meat. He never had meat so delicious and flavorful in in life. He would go back to the new restaurant tomorrow.
“Mubarak let’s go play pool in the student lounge.’’
Mubarak nodded while continuing to drink his tea.
Then, Faisal saw Jamila walking towards him. Oh no! He had to get out here before she saw him. “Mubarak, sorry I will meet up with you later.”
“Faisal!” Jamila screamed. “Don’t you dare walk away from me!”
Faisal turned around with a pained expression on his face.
“You jerk! I was waiting one hour in the university library for you. Our project is due next week and you don’t even care. I am going to kill you!”
“Hey,” he attempted to smile charmingly, “Abbaayo Macaane- was that today? I forgot. Mubarak just transferred here and I was showing him around, “Don’t worry we have plenty of time to finish the project.”
“Plenty of time!” she sputtered. “Maybe you do, you lazy bum, but I don’t.”
Faisal held out his hands. “It is not even due till next week.”
“Idiot!” she grabbed Faisal’s arm and dragged him towards the library.
“Help,” he pleaded to Mubarak.
Mubarak smirked but did not say a word.
Sirad slowed the car down when she heard the police sirens. She lived Atlanta, so sirens usually meant car accident. This city had dozens of car accidents every day. She didn’t understand why every bad driver had moved to Atlanta.
A few minutes later, she turned onto her street. It was only then that she saw the police cars were in front of her house.
“Ismail!” she parked her car, and ran into the driveway.
A police officer blocked her way. “Ma’am you have to stay back.”
“This is my house.”
“Sam!” Emily, her baby sitter shouted. “Sam, I am so sorry.”
“Where is my son?”
“I-I was talking on the phone and I didn’t realize that he left. I looked everywhere in the house and I couldn’t find him. He must have went into the woods but -”
Sirad jumped forward but the police officer held her. She was going to choke Emily and fire her. “Let me go!”
“Ma’am you need to calm down. I am sure that he will turn up. I will file a report.”
“Report! My son is missing. I need to find my son. Now! Is there anyone else coming?”
“Sorry it is just us.”
“Just us! If my white blue eyed daughter was missing you would have brought a hundred people. But who cares if my son Ismail is missing?
“Ma’am calm down before I have to arrest you. I have to follow procedure. So let me file the report and Amber alert. It is not my job to get a search party for you. Now if you get one I will be more than happy to organize it.”
She glared daggers at him. “Let me go. If you are not going to help me, then leave. I am going to find my son.”
He shook his head and let go of her. She ran into the woods. “Ismail where are you!”
She shouted. “Ismail! Ismail!”
Faisal’s hand hurt from taking notes. He shuddered as he turned back to look at Jamila. She was evil. She would be beautiful if she weren’t glaring at him like the devil.
“Enough,” Jamila announced. “I have to go to soccer practice.”
Faisal stood right away. Finally, he could escape.
Suddenly, Jamila grabbed his collar, choking him. “Next time be on time, or else,” she threatened.
When she released him, he pulled back in shock, grabbed his books, and walked quickly to the elevator. As he walked into the elevator, he asked, “Jamila, I thought girls who wear scarves and long skirts were supposed to be sweeter?”
She put her hands on the table and stood, glaring at him. “What did you think? That just because I wear a scarf and a long skirt that I will roll over and put up with your crap. If you mess with me again, I promise I will make you regret you ever met me.”
He gulped as the elevator doors closed.
She was the devil.
Sirad couldn’t breathe.
She kept imagining the worst.
She knew she shouldn’t panic, but it was dark. She didn’t know what she would do if she lost her son. Ismail was all she had. He was the reason she woke up every day and tried her best. She wanted to give him the life that she didn’t have. She never wanted him to struggle. Sirad wanted him to enjoy his life like a regular kid.
She didn’t want him to know pain or struggle. She tried her best to protect him, but she hadn’t done enough or this never would have happened. The guilt ate away in her stomach.
“Ismail! Where are you?”
She needed help. But she didn’t know who to call. Sirad didn’t have any real friends, just coworkers. She didn’t want to call her Mom since she would panic worse than her. Jamila? She hadn’t talked to Jamila in a long time. She couldn’t call her. She probably hated her by now.
Jamila packed her books. They got a lot of work done today despite Faisal wasting so much time. Their project would be complete in no time at all. She tightened her loose yellow scarf. She really needed to find a safety pin, so it would stop threating to fall.
She looked up to see that new guy. Mubarak? Faisal’s friend? “What do you want?”
For a moment he didn’t say anything he just walked up to her, leaned across the table next to her neck, and took a long, deep breath. “Nice perfume.”
She backed away and fell off her chair.
“What is wrong with you?” she shouted before clamping her mouth shut when the old librarian looked at her. She felt her cheeks flush with embarrassment.
He smirked. “Faisal forgot his book bag, but he didn’t want to come back. What did you do to him?”
Jamila snorted as she stood up and smoothed her skirt. “Nothing. Faisal is stupid.”
“He didn’t mean to forget about meeting you. He just had to pick me up from the airport,” Mubarak said.
She narrowed her eyes. “Well- he should have told me.”
“Confess and be killed. If you are always yelling, don’t be surprised if no one wants to tell you the truth.”
Suddenly her phone rang. It was her sister Sam? She never called her. Was it a holiday or something? No- it was just a regular day. She flipped open her phone.
“Jamila, I don’t know what to do. My son is missing.”
Twenty minutes later Jamila and Mubarak pulled up to Sirad’s house with five cars behind hers. Jamila was so worried. She jumped out of the car before Mubarak parked, she ran to go look for her sister. She heard Sirad’s shouts coming from the woods, and it made her feel sick. She ran to catch up to her.
“Jamila?” Sirad asked with tear filled eyes.
Jamila hugged her quickly.
“Who are all of those people?” Sirad gestured to the young Somali people that she didn’t know.
“I was at school when you called me and when everyone heard what happened they wanted to help search for Ismail.” Jamila said.
Sirad smiled weakly and waved. She couldn’t believe that all of these people came for Ismail. She had her search party after all. The group spread out to comb the woods.
Finally, she heard someone shout. “I found him!”
Sirad cried with relief as she ran towards the voice. She saw her son lying at the bottom of the hill with the young man.
“He is alive, but unconscious, and his leg is broken. I am going to call an ambulance,” he said.
“My baby,” she half slid down the hill. Ismail was alive. She was so happy when she saw his small chest taking slow breaths. He is alive. She leaned forward to embrace him when the young man stopped her.
“Don’t move him,” he said.
“Oh- you’re right. Who is the stranger who saved my son?” she asked.
“Mubarak but- ” He raised her eyebrows. “How can you call me a stranger when we are both Somali? I could be your cousin’s cousin or mother’s friend’s nephew. Your mother would be so ashamed.”
Sirad frowned. What-? She turned around when she heard someone running up behind her. Jamila.
“Shut up Mubarak. Don’t tease my sister.” Jamila retorted. “Sam is Ismail okay?”
“Yes, he is just unconscious and his leg is broken. Thanks little sis for coming here with all your friends,” Sirad said.
“Sam, we are family. Next time- call me right away.” Jamila pointed her finger at her nose. “I swear if you weren’t my sister I would have to beat the crap out of you. You know he is not just your son; he is my nephew too. I know you don’t think family is important, but family is important to me.”
Sirad’s eyes flew open in shock. “Jamila-”
“Stop,” Jamila cut her off. “We are family. So none of this thank you nonsense I came here because my family needed help. There is no need to ever say thank you for that.”