Hello again and welcome back to another installment from our resident guest author, Taylor Anne Vigil!
This week she’s giving us the second chapter in her WIP, Innocent Eyes, so hang on!
And don’t forget to sign the petition for Raif.
A chill passed through Baba’s soul. It was the kind of cold which only comes when one feels lost and hopeless. The evening air had a bite to it too. The children held tightly to one another’s hands, as Baba had instructed, while he carried the suitcase. They walked with their heads down.
Amal was both glad and disappointed that she had to wear her hijab. She never liked to and knew that Baba didn’t care for the practice either. He often expressed his dislike for it as he watched her put it on in the backseat of the car before she headed off for school.
“Go in there and show them that there’s more to you than that pretty brown hair they’re so afraid of.” he’d say to her.
Then, he would frown as he watched her walk into the building, hating that she was forced to hide her beauty. But he knew better than to try to stand up against the authorities. This was a battle that couldn’t be fought. Not when there was a much larger war to fight.
The fabric kept her head, neck and shoulders warm from the chill and she was grateful for it.
Together, the family of three rushed down their street, the children barely able to match Baba’s pace. They did what they could to remain unseen, cutting through backyards, squeezing between homes, crouching behind bushes and low walls when Baba heard a sound he didn’t trust. It was confusing to the children, but they didn’t question. Baba always knew best.
The sun was low by the time they’d made it to the alley. The path was wide and smelly, littered with broken glass and rotting food, but it kept them hidden from neighbors and anyone else who may be walking down the street. It was there, surrounded by discarded wrappers, empty soup cans and bottles, where they waited for Waleed. Baba shushed Little Raif when he loudly pointed out a rat scurrying across a pile of garbage.
“Let’s play the ‘Quiet Game’.” Baba whispered.
Little Raif pouted, crossing his arms. That was his least favorite game. Baba smiled fondly at his son and tousled his hair with his free hand. Amal stood proud, knowing that she had grown past her own “sulking phase”.
Baba jerked his head when a rumble echoed through the alley. Waleed had said he’d come in a car but this man was coming on a motorbike. He wore a hat which covered nearly half of his face, and his head was down as he drove slowly to where they stood. Before Baba could make a move to take the children and run, a voice called out.
The bike stopped in front of them. The man lifted his hat.
“Uncle Waleed!” the children cheered.
Waleed placed a finger to his lips and shushed them gently.
“Were you followed?” he asked, looking at Baba.
Baba peeked either way down the alley.
“I don’t think so.”
They spoke quietly. Waleed looked at the suitcase in Baba’s hand.
“Leave it!” he said, firmly.
Baba looked at him, wide eyed and Waleed responded before Baba could decline.
“We can’t draw any attention to ourselves, Brother.”
“What happened to the car?”
“They slashed my tires. I had to steal this from a neighbor. Thank Allah he left the keys in the ignition.”
Baba swallowed. He’d not only packed things for the children, but also his wedding photo and important medicines.
Did Waleed really expect them to leave their most important possessions behind?
“I’m sorry, Brother.” Waleed began, frustrated. “We don’t have much time. I couldn’t call you after I left the house. My neighbors were already suspicious and after what you told me about Miriam-”
He paused, remembering the children.
“It’s just too risky.”
Baba looked down, saddened and scared. He’d packed almost everything the children needed so they wouldn’t have to suffer. He’d even sacrificed some of his own clothing and hygiene products to make space for theirs in the suitcase. Now, he would leave it all behind. Waleed saw this, this look of grief on his brother’s face, but he didn’t say anything.
“Did you bring the Abaya?” he asked, instead.
While Baba knelt and searched the suitcase, a flitter of hope rose in Amal. She’d seen Baba take the Abaya off of the hook by the front door. It was her mother’s.
“Will we see Mama?” she asked Baba hopefully.
Baba stood up, not answering her. He was doing a lot of that today. He held his wife’s Abaya carefully, as if he might tear it, and showed it to Waleed. It was a silky thing, all black with no patterns. Amal hated it when her mother wore it. Baba thought it ridiculous too.
“Put it on!” Waleed ordered.
Baba looked at him, horrorstruck. Waleed rubbed his beaded face as if the request exhausted him.
“We can’t risk you being recognized, Brother.” he said, calmly. “This is for your own safety. Please….”
Amal and Little Raif giggled a little when they saw their Baba wrapped up. He was thin enough to fit into it without being suffocated by the fabric. Only his eyes were visible.
“You look pretty, Baba.” Amal teased.
“Like Mama!” Little Raif added fondly.
Blinking away his sorrow, Baba poked at their bellies. That got them giggling again. Waleed chuckled too, smiling at the tenderness between them.
“Looking good, Brother.” he joked with a thin smile.
Baba’s eyes narrowed. As ashamed as he was wearing the very thing that he hated to see on his wife, he was glad too. It was warm and still smelled of her. Greedily he breathed it in. He soaked in his memories; his beloved walking with him and the children on the beach, his lips touching her forehead before he left for work, the way she marveled at his writings, and sang to the children at bedtime.
Waleed’s anxiety broke Baba’s trance. Baba gestured for him to wait and knelt beside the suitcase once more. Quickly, he began taking out the important things; his wedding photo, the children’s toothbrushes, baby pictures, and a small leather bound notebook which held his most precious, controversial writings. He shoved them beneath the Abaya, and into his jacket pockets.
“Do you want to help drive?” Waleed asked his nephew.
Little Raif froze. No one, not even Baba, had ever asked such a thing. He jumped up and down, struggling to stay quiet as the excitement bubbled in him. Waleed lifted him up and onto the front of the bike, watching as Little Raif reached up and put his tiny hands on the bike handles. Baba took Amal in his arms and sat behind Waleed, one arm wrapped firmly around his daughter, his other hand gripping the back of the seat. The bike rumbled and vibrated, a joy for Little Raif, who sat mimicking the sound. Slowly, cautiously, Waleed drove them out into the darkened streets.