Wadi’ah sat under the table, tying and untying her father’s shoelaces. He was speaking English, a language she knew the contours of and could recognize, but didn’t understand. She knew that he was talking to a sahafi from a radio program from America. He told her that talking to the sahafi might help, that he would tell the people in America that they needed help, to please help everyone who was struggling. He had made Wadi’ah promise to be quiet during the interview, and she’d promised.
And now she was under the table. Wadi’ah hadn’t expected was for the sahafi to be a woman, in jeans and a long-sleeved black shirt and short, graying, uncovered hair. The woman’s shoes were similar to Wadi’ah’s father’s. They were tennis shoes, grey with a blue stripe. One of the laces was untied.
Wadi’ah slid, as quietly as she could, across the dusty floor. Her mother wasn’t around to clean anymore. Her father said she wasn’t coming back anymore. He’d cried, and she’d cried too, but she still was certain, somehow, that he was wrong.
She lifted the woman’s white laces up off the floor. The woman’s leg was very, very still, and she said something in English that made Wadi’ah’s father laugh. Wadi’ah loved her father’s laugh because it was very loud, like a donkey braying. It made her nervous for a second now, though, because she thought that maybe he would look under the table and see that she was holding the woman’s laces, but he didn’t, so she tried to tie the woman’s shoelaces tightly but without the woman feeling it. When she finally managed the last bit of the knot without the whole thing falling apart, the woman’s leg twitched, and Wadi’ah scuttled back towards her father’s feet.
There was a bang. The door of the house had slammed open. It was Farouk. He was yelling, shouting, like he had so many times before. Wadi’ah lifted her arms up, almost on autopilot, and sure enough, her father swept her up from under the table, at once.
The shelling began in the street as he ran downstairs to the tiny cellar they had built under their house when all this began. Farouk pushed the sahafi woman in front of him and heaved the cellar door shut behind him. The woman whispered something and Farouk hissed, angry. Wadi’ah’s father slapped his wrist in the dark. Then he spoke in Wadi’ah’s ear, so softly that only she could hear it.
“You saved her life, you know. If you hadn’t tied her shoelace, she’d have fallen and never gotten in here. You’re a good girl, my Wadi’ah, you’re a good girl.”
“Will Ama come back to us now I’m good?” Wadi’ah asked.
Farouk hissed at them to be quiet again, and the sound of shelling and the stomps of soldiers grew closer. Wadi’ah knew she couldn’t ask any more questions now, so she hushed. She’d have plenty of time to ask about her mother again later.