| "Daddy, will you play with me?" came the cry of Shakir al-Maarri's 7-year old daughter, Nada.
"Not right now, honey," he responded, nervously glancing towards the door.
"What's wrong, daddy?" She asked, wondering what was making her daddy act so different than he usually did.
"Nothing, nothing," he replied quickly, dismissing the subject. He sat down uneasily on the couch, ready to jump if he needed to
"Where's mommy?" she asked.
"She's still at her friend's house, honey. She'll be home soon," he reassured her, then whispered under his breath, "I hope."
"Can I go out and play, daddy?"
"No!" he answered harshly. He paused, then said in a calmer but still very nervous voice, "You need to stay inside today."
Nada began to cry softly.
"Honey, honey," her father said, coming to her side, "it's okay. Mommy will be home soon, okay?"
Nada nodded and stopped crying. Something was wrong - she knew it - but she didn't want to make her daddy upset by crying any more. But whatever was wrong, she was sure he would be able to fix it by the next morning.
"Sana, where are you?" Shakir said, thinking aloud.
At the sound of her mother's name, Nada began to cry again. Her father quickly quieted her down and warned her not to be so loud, but offered no explanation when she inquired as to why. She was going to ask again, but she decided she shouldn't.
"Sana, come on. We can't leave without you -"
"Leave? Where are we going? Why isn't mommy coming?"
"We're not going anywhere without -" he began, but he immediately stopped
when there was a knock at the back door. He stood up from the couch. Nada looked up at him. He looked so strong and brave standing there, as he always did, but when she looked into his eyes, she could see the fear.
Whoever knocked at the door knocked again. Nada's father quickly rushed to answer it this time. Nada wanted to follow him to the door to see what was going on, but something told her she shouldn't. She sat quietly listening to his footsteps going down the hall. She heard him stop at the door, waiting to open it, waiting for something.
Finally, she heard the door open. She listened to the visitor's footsteps as he stepped inside, and she heard the door close and lock behind him.
He was telling her father that they needed to go. Go where, Nada thought. Go where?
Her father was protesting. He and the visitor were not speaking Arabic now. They were speaking English. She couldn't understand English, but the tone in her daddy's voice scared her. He was talking about her mommy. She heard him say her name - Sana, he said, Sana, Sana. He was afraid, almost angry. What was going on?
They walked into the room. She looked up at her daddy and his visitor. She had never seen him before. She looked him over carefully. He looked just like any other Syrian to her, just like everybody she knew. But he wasn't speaking Arabic like they did. He had only said a little bit in Arabic before he started speaking English to her daddy.
Her daddy spoke English. She had heard him before. Whenever he spoke English, he sounded very serious. She only knew a few words of English, words like 'yes,' and 'no,' and 'America.' She didn't know enough to be able to understand what they were saying.
"Nada," her daddy said suddenly to her in Arabic, "get your teddy bear."
She looked up at him, wondering why he told her to do this. The only time it came out of her bedroom was when they were going to spend the night away from home. Were they leaving? What about mommy. . .
"Nada, run! Hurry!"
She ran and got her teddy bear.
From her room, she listened to her father talk with the man a little while longer. They both sounded very nervous. As she listened, she discovered that the man was an American. She had heard her daddy say so, in English. Her daddy had worked with Americans before. He went on business trips to America a lot.
He always went on business trips to other countries, getting merchandise from them and bringing it back home to sell it to different shops in Syria. One time when he was in America, he got her the teddy bear she was now holding.
"Shakir, we have to go!" the American called to her father in Arabic. "They're here! Come on!"
"No!" he shouted, "I will not leave Sana behind!"
"Shakir, come on! I already said we will pick her up on the way - Shakir, we have to go now! There is no time left!"
The American pulled her father towards the back of the house, towards the door he had come in. As they rushed by her room, her daddy broke free of the American's grip on his arm and grabbed her hand, pulling her along with them. They ran out the back door and towards a small car that was waiting in the shadows. The American got into the front seat, next to another man, who Nada figured was also an American, who was driving. Her daddy sat next to her and held her tight against his side.
He smelled good. He smelled like the cologne he had gotten a long time ago, before she could remember. It had come from some other country, but he couldn't sell it, so he kept it and used it every day.
They drove around the block to the front of the house, where there were now Syrian police officers all around. The driver stopped the car before he got to the house, looking around cautiously. Nada sat up in her seat and tried to see what was going on, but she couldn't see much more sitting up than she could when she wasn't looking. But it looked like her daddy could. He was staring intently at their house, making no sound. She hardly noticed when his arm slipped off her shoulder. She was too busy trying to listen to what was going on to pay attention.
She could hear the men in her house shouting, looking for her father. She wanted to know why. Her daddy never did anything to make the police come after him like this. . .
She could hear her mommy's voice . . . she wanted to get out of the car and run to her, but she was too afraid.
She was listening to the men outside talking to her mommy. One of them told her, "Tell us where Shakir al-Maarri is, or you die, you are shot."
Die? Shot? Her mommy? No-
Her mommy kept telling them she didn't know. Even from the car, Nada could hear the terror in her voice, and the growing impatience in the man's voice as her asked her one more time. She gave the same answer, the truth, but the truth did not satisfy them.
"Sana!" her daddy cried out suddenly, jumping out of the car. The driver tried to stop him. She could hear him running towards the house.
He yelled to them to let her mommy go. Nada pressed her face against the
back window, looking to see her daddy and mommy. She finally found a spot where she could see them. Her daddy said to the police, "You have me now! Let Sana go!"
Mommy. . .
Her daddy kept yelling. She watched as her daddy put his arm around her mommy. She could see the man who was holding on to her mommy. He had his gun pointed at her head.
Mommy. . .
Her daddy kept his arm around her shoulder, even as he was yelling at the police.
Suddenly, she heard a gun fire and watched as her daddy fell to the ground. Her mommy started to scream.
Nada could not move. She sat watching in silence. She was scared. She was confused. She wanted her mommy. . . her daddy . . .
Mommy . . . daddy . . . gone . . . no . . . daddy . . . no!
The man who was next to her mommy pushed her up against the wall. "Now tell me why your husband was in Syria," the man hissed.
"I don't know," cried her mother, with fear in her voice.
"You lie! Tell me, or you'll end up like he is!"
"I don't know!" she screamed.
He shot her. She fell to the ground, leaving a trail of blood on the wall as she crumpled down off it. The men went inside, leaving her. She had stopped screaming.
The driver and the man her daddy had talked to sighed. One of them locked the doors. But mommy wouldn't be able to get into the car . . .
They slowly began to back up the street. They were leaving -
"Get away from the window!" shouted the man next to the driver, glancing over his shoulder at her.
They quickly drove away from the house. She didn't want to leave. She wanted to see her mommy and daddy. But they were gone.
Quite a while later, she spoke up and asked the driver where they were going. He said they were in Iraq, where they should be safe. Iraq was a long way away from Damascus, Nada knew it. She figured she must have slept through most of the long drive, because it hadn't seemed like very long ago that they had left her house.
Nada looked around. It was already dark outside. She wondered when she would be going back to Damascus. How long would she have to stay here? When would she go home? She was afraid.
The man next to the driver turned around and told her that they were headed to Baghdad, and asked her if she knew where that was. She nodded. She had heard of it before.
He continued on to tell her that once they got there, they would get on a plane and go to America.
America. Her daddy had been there. These two men were from there. Her teddy bear was from there.
Her teddy bear smelled like daddy's cologne. Daddy. . .
Nada was scared. She didn't want to leave - she wanted her daddy and mommy.
The man put his hand on her shoulder. He tried to comfort her, but nothing could ever heal the hurt. She wanted to cry, but not in front of them. She tried to smile, to be happy, but there was nothing happy for her to think about.
The man reassured her that it was okay to cry, and she did. Between the tears, she looked up at him and asked what his name was.
He replied quietly, "Victor José . . . but just call me Vic."
She thought for a minute, then said, "Vic, how are my mommy and daddy going to find us there?"
He lowered his head and sighed, "Nada, they won't be able to."
He rubbed his forehead thoughtfully before he answered. "Nada, your parents are - well - they're-"
"Did those men kill my mommy and daddy?"
Vic cringed. "Yes, Nada, they did. I'm sorry."
She nodded. Her mommy. . . her daddy. . . gone, dead. Now what?
They were taking her to America . . .