He still woke up screaming sometimes.
It had been two years, so the nightmares the memories didnt come as often, but on nights like this, when the heat rolled off the desert like a terrorist assault, he knew to expect them.
They always started the same him herding the sand-colored Land Cruiser down a clogged, Arab backstreet; dodging men on red and dirty-white Super Cubs, diesel buses and cars driven by kids that should have been in school somewhere.
The smell of fire comes to him long before he sees the acrid black smoke billowing out of the cinder block school.
The instincts of a 20-plus-year volunteer firefighter kick in, and even in a dream state the surge of adrenaline makes him bolt upright in bed most nights. Some nights like this one the rush is enough to wake him, his heart pounding, tangled sheets moist with sweat around his legs.
But even awake, the images dont go away.
Girls pony-tailed little girls cloaked in little-girl-sized black abayas pouring out of the decaying corner building like black oil from a busted pipeline; and others the uncovered ones being pushed back into the inferno by angry-voiced men in short, white thobes and henna-red beards.
He knows better than to confront the mutawa the moral police, they called themselves but he does it anyway, getting in their faces, screaming at them to let the young ones live. His pleas like the pleas of the others go unheeded, and melt into the high-pitched shriek of innocents whose only offense is forgetting to cover their stick-like frames.
As the police haul him away in their military jeep, he cries out to the God he isnt sure he believes in anymore and begs for mercy not for himself but for the girls.
The plea, he knows, always comes too late.
Yet this night like every night hes visited by the memories he gets out of bed and down on his knees and begins the prayer that always starts the same Beloved Father, I know you are there. Please watch over the little girls of Saudi Arabia and bring them peace.
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