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I had only been home eighteen minutes when the cursing started.

You churail! Haram zadi! Awarra! Bey waqoof!

She was cursing at me in Urdu, the national language of Pakistan. Urdu was not to be confused with Punjabi, my parents explained, that other language of Pakistan, the language of grungy and unfiltered-cigarette-smoking rickshaw drivers. Urdu was spoken by the elite and the educated—the people who lived in the pink barricaded palaces on Mall Road in Lahore. The ones with cooks and drivers and invitations to have afternoon chai near the crystal staircase of the downtown Avari Hotel. Urdu had history. Urdu was an epic classical language of the Persian and Mughal dynasties in which the most eloquent philosophical principles were inspired and the most stirring poetry was scribed.

Urdu was also a language my parents never bothered teaching me, so I had no idea what profanities my mother was hurling my way. But I could guess—you devil child, you vagabond, you spoiled, ugly-looking witch.

I glanced over at the living room windows.

“I’m talking to you!” she said, this time in English.

I couldn’t figure out where she was. Maybe outside by the water fountain with the green fiberglass cherubs? The fountain was on and the sound of splashing, gurgling water was nice. Like there was a creek nearby. I looked at the wrought-iron bench behind the fountain but she wasn’t there either.

“Samira! Do you hear me?”

A bead of sweat rolled down the back of my neck. I was roasting in the little oven that was my Honda Civic. All the windows were open but there was no cross-breeze. Two wasps flew in and out of my car, in and out, in and out, whirling around my head several times before settling on the windshield for a hump session. I watched the mounting, the penetration at lightening speed—allowing myself some of this interspecies voyeurism—and then not a few seconds later the lovers up and flew onto my older brother’s car to hump on his roof. Khalid still hadn’t fixed that boulder-sized dent on the passenger-side door. I wondered why. My father could get it fixed for free. But I guess it didn’t matter now that Khalid was leaving the country. Khalid wouldn’t need a car where he was going.

I rested my elbows on the steering wheel and put my fingers to my head, massaging the temples.

“Samira!” she screamed. “Do you hear me? I need your damn help!”

My mother didn’t seem to care that I had just driven five long hours from Washington, D.C. to our house in Cary, North Carolina with my car stuffed with eleven trash bags of clothes, three suitcases and three boxes. Of course, she didn’t know my car was stuffed with boxes and suitcases and bags and that the rest of my apartment, my entire life, actually, had been hastily thrown into a D.C. storage unit two days ago.

“Looks like you’re gettin’ the hell out of dodge,” the manager at Founding Father Storage up on 16th Street, S.E. told me, inspecting the jumble of furniture and household goods that piled to the ceiling of my 5’ x 15’ unit. “Cops bust you for drugs or somethin’?”

Not exactly.

I looked up from my seat, still wearing my seat belt, and saw my younger sister’s heavily lined cat eyes peering down at me from an upstairs window. She was chatting on her cell phone, the little diamond in her nose twinkling. Meena was twenty-five and home from grad school for the weekend and everything about her was twinkly, even the cell phone she was talking into. Twinkly, sparkly pink. Her advancing age be damned. She waved to me and I waved back.

“For the last time, Samira. Are you going to help me or not?”

I curled my fingers around the back of my neck and squeezed to relieve the tension. This was the first time I was back home since spring when we celebrated my twenty-seventh birthday. Ethan, my parent’s favorite green-eyed Appalachian with size twelve feet and, until recently, my boyfriend, had scooted a tiny velvet box across the dinner table. Everyone held their breath as I opened it, but inside was a tiny emerald, my birthstone, pressed in the middle of a heart on a platinum chain. Ethan and I had already discussed marriage and when it would happen for us—the following spring we would get engaged, after work cooled down for me and he paid off some of his law school debt and we would have time and a little more money to plan the wedding. Having an engagement ring? A technicality. A minor detail for two people who had spent eight years together and knew marriage was certain. My parents didn’t say anything, but they were visibly disappointed when I opened the box. I wasn’t. I thought the necklace was beautiful.

I lifted the chain from my neck now, letting the thin metal slip between my fingers. If history was any indication, my mother would not stop yelling and cursing until she had me in her grip. I didn’t know what she needed help with or why there was any urgency to it, but whatever it was, I dreaded it. Whatever those five feet of anger had in store made me want to slink under the mat and pretend I wasn’t really there, sitting in my parent’s driveway.

A few days back, I had told my parents that things were slow at work and I had more vacation days than expected so I was using it to come home for a week.

“Such a good girl,” my father had said, pleased his busy daughter could have traveled anywhere with her time but used all of it to come home.

I was going to have to coast on this goodwill until I figured out how and in what order to tell him and my mother the following: I moved out of D.C.; I tried to kill Ethan; the U.S. government thinks I’m a terrorist; and I need my old room back.

“Fine. Stay there,” my mother cried out. “Don’t help me then. Just stay there and keep sitting in that driveway like a bump!”

The belt swooshed past my chest. I pressed the unlock button. Taking one gulp of moist air for fortitude, I finally stepped out.

“You mean bump-on-a-log,” I said to no one in particular as I followed the flag stones to the front door. “It’s bump-on-a-log.”

 

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