Sunday, December 14, 2008

Chapter 8e: Could anything be harder? (final)

That night I lay on my mattress in the living room trying to be as quiet as possible. Rashad had school early in the morning and I didn't want to disturb his rest, but I could hardly keep still as I processed and reprocessed the conversation with the landlord. What had he been thinking? How had I given him the impression that this was something I'd do? Maybe it didn't have anything to do with me at all, I came to thinking. Maybe it was all about him wanting his money and seeing a business opportunity. For I couldn't bother to doubt that, besides our rent, he'd be getting a little extra on the side for pimping my sisters to this woman, whoever she was. I knew that Iraqis don't have the best reputation in Syria, and of course being Christian - could I expect any less of a Muslim?

I was so irritated I couldn't hardly believe it. But after an hour or two of lying there, shivering under my blanket and finding it hard to get sleepy at all, I moved on in my thinking. Since we would not be getting a rent reduction, we had to do something else. We'd have to move out by the end of the week, I supposed. The one good thing about the Landlord's sleazy offer was that it bought us a few days, I mused. So where would we go? How would we find a place that was cheaper? What neighbourhood? Who would we live with until we found a place?

These thoughts rolled around in my bed until they rolled so gently that I finally rocked off the sleep, with the dim resolution that I'd go apartment-hunting in the morning. I'd find something, then announce to the family that we were moving and I would already have an address ready for them.

The next day, I called my boss and asked for the morning off. He's a good man, truly sympathetic to our plight, I think. He understood and said to come in when I could and not a moment earlier. So I began house-hunting.

It was possibly one of the most frustrating mornings of my life: Nothing clean. Nothing warm. Nothing spacious. Nothing at all cheaper than what we already had!

I was so dejected I never made it in to work. I went straight home and kissed Mama on the cheek. Then I pulled her into the kitchen and explained the situation. Her mouth opened a bit, then her jaw dropped down a bit, then her eyes widened a bit, then her body seemed to tense up a bit more. When I told her what the landlord had said, she shook her head.

"Of course we can't do that," I quickly added. "But, Mama... I don't know what else to do."

She just looked at me and said, "We will sleep on your streets. Just keep your sisters out of it."

"Mama. I love my sisters. They are my blood and my family. But what do I do if they are the only ones who can save our family?"

"I don't want to hear another word about it." She said, her jaw now clenched and her arms crossed. "I'll go to the church and pray. God will protect us. He always does."

And she quickly put on her hat and scarf and marched out the door.

I wandered into the living room and sunk into the chair. I think I probably let out a sigh and looked irritated as I stared at the TV screen without paying any attention to what was there.

"I'll do it. I'll help!" It was the cheery voice of Nour.

I quickly glanced up at her. I hadn't realised anyone else was there. She was alone, and she told me that Marwa was at a friend's house and Rashad was in the room taking a nap. There was no need to involve them. She understood that this was a bad job, so she might as well do it herself. No need for Marwa to get messed up.

She was 13 years old. A baby. But she seemed to understand what she was offering.

I just stared at her for a minute, then went back to watching TV. But I felt the silence swelling to an uncomfortable tide, so I walked out of the living room onto the street.

I don't usually smoke, but I did that day. I got downstairs and asked the shopkeeper for a cigarette and a light. This was too much. Nour was our only way out, but how would I ever live with myself if I let her do this?

Oh, that was the lowest point in my life, that week. I didn't make a decision immediately, and Mama told me to keep waiting. Then after a few days, she suggested I go to the Catholic Sisters. And it was there that I met Hanan. The best day of my life. And it was they who asked around at the church and found us a cheaper flat with a kinder landlord. We moved the next week. Nour never found out what she had offered to do.

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