Flash fiction by Nibras Malik
A true child of the Middle East, Hessa’s soul ached with centuries of blood, sweat and religion. She had no doubt that the region’s recent turmoil concealed a redemptive core. Faith was intrinsic to life and made hope possible. It recalled the essential goodness of life. She felt self-assured and basked in the warm glow of the sun. Suddenly, her reverie came to a close, interrupted by the sound of screeching tires.
“Hessa,” a familiar voice called out.
It was her sister, Sara. Hessa watched in surprise as she hastily parked her car in the garage. Such reckless behavior was uncharacteristic of her. For once, Sara seemed out of order. Hessa could only wonder why. Hessa gazed ahead. The sound of footsteps echoed through the distance. Scarcely a moment had passed before Sara was in earshot.
“Hessa, something is wrong,” she proclaimed, slightly breathless.
“What is it?” Hessa snapped, with a note of hesitation.
Suddenly, Sara’s intense gaze met her own. Hessa almost shivered in cold anticipation.
“Come inside now,” Sara whispered.
With a swift movement, she grabbed hold of Hessa’s arm. Before Hessa could open her mouth to protest, she was being led away by her sister. Resignation stirred within her. It was as if a dangerous truth had come to fruition.
They made their way to the main entrance of the villa. On arrival, Sara slammed the door shut with desperate ferocity. Hessa was clearly alarmed by this. Her narrow eyebrows furrowed into a tragic arc.
“What is bothering you, Sara,” she asked with concern.
“Hessa, it is not for you to inquire into such matters. There are certain things I cannot discuss with you.” Sara answered. Perhaps, there was some sympathy in her voice. But it was drowned out by her overweening arrogance.
“You always think you are right,” Hessa snidely retorted.
“No, I do not. I am trying to do my duty to this family. One day you might be wise enough to understand.”
“But, I already am.”
Sara bit her lip in consternation.
“That is enough for now,” Sara replied.
Several moments passed without the steady familiarity of conversation. The silence was deep and unfathomable.
“Come back in an hour’s time. I have something important to share with you,” Sara finally said.
An hour had passed since their last meeting, but Sara was still eager to confide in her younger sister. Yet, she felt a nagging sort of guilt. Intuitively, she felt it was still too early to broach the subject. So, Hessa had been chauffeured to the shopping mall with her friends in tow.
Idle consumerism was a good way to buy time. At least, until the inevitable struck. Meanwhile, Sara spent the afternoon urgently calling relatives. Her extended family conversed in hushed tones about the catastrophe.
Two hijacked airplanes had crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City. To make matters worse, the attack had caused a huge loss of life. At first, Sara was skeptical about the unfolding narrative. It seemed astonishingly far-fetched. In all honesty, she was still very much in the dark. Her father, a prominent Emirati businessman, had warned her about bad news over the breakfast table. He had been vague and effusive about the terrorist attack. Yet, the very nature of the event was tinged with unreality. There were already conspiracy theories circulating on the Internet. Surrealism made more sense than logic. So far, she had been wrestling with troubling thoughts like a mute spectator.
Then something clicked inside her, and she mustered up the courage to call her aunt, Basilah. This gave Sara a measure of relief. She was the most well-informed woman in the family, a fearless journalist who chafed under the constraints of her extended family. Other members of the family would be reluctant to acknowledge anything with a hint of scandal. Basilah was different.
“Hello, dear,” came the voice at the other end of the phone.
“It’s so good to talk to you,” Sara replied.
“I have some bad news to share with you, Sara,” she said, heavy with unease.
“What is it?” Sara demanded.
“Your cousin, Hamid Al-Marri, was one of the hijackers.”
Hessa was back home by sunset. The chauffeur had been caught up in a traffic jam. The most ordinary thing about a most unordinary day. She quickly rang the doorbell and stepped inside her arms adorned with shopping bags. The chauffeur smiled politely before he made his way on his way to his private living quarters.
“Look what I’ve got, Sara,” she started.
“Not now!” Sara said in anger.
“What have you been up to in my absence. I don’t suppose you had much fun.”
“This is why I don’t want you around when I am discussing serious matters.”
“Of course,” Hessa replied in consternation.
“Now, please make me some coffee. I have so much to tell you,” Sara sighed, as her pained gaze scanned Hessa’s innocent features.
Sara conducted the ceremony of loss with the finesse of an artist. Words poured forth in a fountain of misery. She implicated herself in the family’s failings.
“We could never control Hamid, that scoundrel,” she wailed.
“But Sara it is not your fault. It was Hamid’s decision and his alone. Uncle Khalid tried his best. He is the strongest man in the family, and he couldn’t reign him in,” Hessa opined, modestly.
Her soft gaze penetrated Sara’s wounded pride. An alchemical transformation took place. Sara looked into Hessa’s eyes and was relieved of the burden of responsibility. She was naïve and innocent once again.
“Oh, Hessa I could not live without you,” she gently confessed.
Sara wrapped her arms around Hessa. For an instant, all was forgotten. Love covered everything with grace and forgiveness.
Nibras Malik is a Politics student at Cardiff University. Her poetry has been published with Acumen and the Trouvaille Review. Her latest poetry is forthcoming with the Scarlet Leaf Review. In her spare time, she enjoys watching documentaries and movies.
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