I remember the way Fatema’s hair curled around the edges when she first came home. I remember her smile as she grew from baby to child. I remember her gurgles turning into words and sentences that spoke volumes about her growing love of language. I remember her trusting nature and the care she took to please everyone. I remember the day that her trust was betrayed.
It happened on a bright day – the kind where the sky and the sun bid you welcome to the world. A day much like any other. A day that men in black suits took her – lifted her bodily from the sidewalk as we walked home from the supermarket.
She barely had time to squeak – only said one word as the car door cut off the sight of her pleading eyes – ‘Aisha!’
Dropping my bags, I stepped towards the car and battered my fists impotently against the blacked out car window and called her name – ‘Fatema! Fatema!” and was rewarded with one small thump in return and a faint reply that cut off abruptly. I heard the sound of two car doors slamming and the car accelerated swiftly down the street.
I ran after it – of course I did – but as the car turned the corner I knew it was no use and I stopped hard, tears streaming down my face as I crumpled to the hard concrete.
The first week was the worst. I was allowed to stay at home for two days. Two days to mourn and to try to come to terms with what had happened. To come to terms with the unthinkable – my little Fatema was gone.
The first month was the worst. My mother wailed her grief into my father’s stony face. Rooms went silent when I walked in. Urgent, whispered phone conversations that either ended with a receiver crashing down, or with a faint polite click, but always with a grim shake of the head and renewed sobbing.
The first year was the worst. Where I used to walk with Fatema’s tiny hand in mine I was now alone. I began to read as I walked, just to stop my thoughts. Safe books only. Gradually they stopped watching me. Slowly, the sharp edge wore away from my memories.
Towards the end of the year, they gave me my phone back – the one Fatema and I used to share. I watched it warily for a while – a day – two days – then, as if a thirst had seized me, I snatched it up.
Greedily I logged back into our accounts and my world expanded again with a rush. We had ignored Facebook and Twitter as being irrelevant. Our love had been for books, for the people who wrote them and the people who shared our passion for the lush landscapes of imagination and freedom. I logged onto Goodreads.
Our 103 friends were still there – waiting with devout and bookish patience and I smiled faintly to see their familiar hijab framed faces. Clicking into the messages I scanned down the list, and stopped short. An unfamiliar picture – a man with a name that matched his distinctly western name – Robert.
Frowning, I clicked on the subject: ‘Brave’ and scanned the conversation so far. My eyes widened as I read the last message Fatema had sent: “Thank you .. I loved the kinds of books you read and also you write interesting reviews”.
My eyes flicked across to the date and time of the message and I pushed a fist into my mouth to stifle a scream. It was the date that I had last seen Fatema – barely an hour before she had been snatched from our life!
I could not stop the wail that climbed my throat and emerged from my mouth with an agony of hurt.
Words arose unbidden in my shocked mind – ‘But she was only eleven!!’