Nasreen was sitting at her computer at 3:50 pm. A calendar alarm appeared on the screen, reminding her to expect her children in another 10 minutes. This was Nasreen’s cue to get up and prepare a snack. Her brother-in-law would likely stay for a bite to eat as well. Nasreen appreciated that he picked her children up from school and drove them home every weekday. The dolmas she had made yesterday, grape leaves stuffed with rice, pine nuts and raisins, would make a good snack. She smiled and returned to her typing.
At 3:55 pm, she found herself suddenly too distracted to work. She abandoned her computer, and put a pot of water on to boil for tea. She walked over to her front door and peered out a small window near her front door. Her only view was of a dusty courtyard surrounded by a wall. She glimpsed the streets of Baghdad through the gate. We live in a quieter neighborhood than some, she reminded herself. She looked at the clock again. 3:57 pm.
She drew a shaky breath, and rebuked herself for her fear. God will look after them, she told herself, and it’s early – too early for them to be home already. It was always this way. By 4:00, she would feel her chest tighten, the icy hand of anxiety gripping her heart. She wished they would be early.
If something were to happen to Josef, Nasreen reasoned, Shamiram was old enough to make it home. She was not yet a woman, which was some advantage. Sargon was a serious, quiet boy who would follow Shamiram. They had rehearsed a route that took them by the homes and businesses of fellow Assyrians. She’d cautioned them about avoiding crowds, about when they should and should not approach the American soldiers.
Yet Nasreen was nervous, just the same. Her family was in more of a minority than the Sunnis or the Kurds. Assyrians were the first Middle Eastern people to accept Christianity when the apostles left Judea. They were a people well acquainted with persecution and genocide, living among the Arabs. Nevertheless, Nasreen and her husband were proud of their heritage, and steadfast in their faith.
When they moved to Baghdad from Mosul, they had agreed to blend in as much as possible with their Muslim neighbors. One day, though, her daughter had refused to wear hajib to school.
“I’m tired of hiding, mother,” she had screamed, throwing the scarf onto the floor. “I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus!”
“Miram, please,” Nasreen pleaded. “You know we cannot call attention to ourselves. It is not against our Christian faith to cover our heads. Put it on, please.” She did not feel prepared for these pre-adolescent storms.
“We’re supposed to be bold in our faith! Like the apostle Paul, and Thaddeus. We’re denying our faith in Jesus, Mother! Don’t you see?”
“Even the apostles went into hiding and worshipped in secret, my dear. Please, you can’t spread the faith when you are dead!”
“Then I’ll be a martyr!”
In the end, Shamiram obeyed, but Nasreen pondered over their argument. She crossed the room back to her computer. She was writing literature in Arabic, arguing that conversion to Christianity would not require abandoning Muslim ways. She hoped to secretly distribute this literature, hoped to change the minds and hearts of her neighbors through the power of the pen rather than overtly defying the culture that surrounded her. It was still dangerous. Nasreen feared betrayal, feared the fundamentalist militias.
The clock on the computer read 4:05 pm. They should be home by now.
Nasreen started to pace. She looked out the window again and saw a soldier patrolling past the gate.
The Americans, they are Christians, too. Their leader is a Christian. Nasreen didn’t know if that helped or not. The thought of jihad, or holy war, inflamed the Muslim militants. All Christians were infidels. The militants glorified martyrdom.
4:07 pm. They’d never been later than 4:10. The water was boiling. Nasreen put it into a pot and spooned in the tea.
4:11 pm. Images of friends wailing over the bodies of their dead children floated unbidden through her mind. She imagined the agony of her grief if she were to lose her own. She shook her head. This was foolishness, not faith.
4:13 pm. The gate opened, a car drove in. Relief washed over her. Her children were home.
“Mother!” They rushed to her, wide-eyed. “Guess what we saw!”
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