Glass Enclave
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The Coordinator was an energetic woman with curly hair. In the stark, white moments of disbelief, she took the roaming, exploring child, saddled him on her hips and bought him Maltesers from the snack machine. This one is for you, Mama, he said when he came back, teeth stained with melted brown. He lifted the sweet to her closed lips, made coaxing noises like the ones she made when she fed him. No, not now, it is for you, all for you. She could see the woman on the telephone, gesticulating with her hands. The child whined in anger, stamped his foot, pushed the chocolate against her lips. Against her will she bit into its hushed sweetness, honeycomb and tears. 'That woman was the one who called the mosque and someone from there came to do... to do the washing'.

A whole week passed before she got him under African soil. It had taken that long to arrange everything through the embassy in London; the quarantine, the flight. People helped her, took over. Strangers, women whom she kept calling by the wrong names, filled the flat, cooked for her and each other, watched the ever-wandering child so she could cry. They prayed, recited the Qur'an, spent the night on the couch and on the floor. They did not leave her alone, abandoned. She went between them dazed, thanking them, humbled by the awareness that they were stronger than her, more giving than her, though she was more educated, better dressed. Their clothes were drab, out of fashion while she covered her hair with Italian silk, her arms with tropical colours. She wanted to look as elegant as Benazir Bhutto, as mesmerizing as the Afghan princess she had once seen on TV wearing hijab, the daughter of an exiled leader of the mujahideen. Now the presence of these women kept her sane, held her up. She went between them thanking them, humbled by the awareness that they were not doing this for her or for Tarig, but only because they believed it was the right thing to do.

Their children ran about, her son among them, delighted with the company, excited by the gathering of people. Poor orphan, not yet two, he can't understand, the women said as he leapt past them with a toy car in each fist, trilling the names of his new friends. But it seemed to Sammar cruel and shocking that he would not stop, pause, that with the same undiminished zest he wanted to play and eat and be held so that he could sleep.

Tarig's clothes clung wet with hers in the washing machine between the spin and dry cycle.

When they dried she put them with his other things in a black dustbin bag. Packing and giving things away. She filled black bag after black bag, an evacuation. Tearing letters, dropping magazines in the bin, a furious dismantling of the life they had lived, the home they made. Only Allah is eternal, only Allah is eternal. Photographs, books, towels, sheets. Strip and dump into a black bag. Temporary, this life is temporary, fleeting. Why is this lesson so hard to learn? Pens, boots, a torchlight, a comb. The index cards he used for studying. Could you please take these bags to the mosque, someone might need something or perhaps if there's a bus going to Bosnia... One woman's eyes glittered for the pair of shoes, Tarig's coat that was nearly new. My dear, this tape recorder so bulky for you to travel with? This little rug, you forgot that? Strip, give away, pack. We're going home, we're finished here, we're going to Africa's sand, to dissolve in Africa's sand.


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