‘Hey, you logged in yet?’
‘Hey! Yes, I just got on. How are you?!’
‘I’m ok. Just got home from school’
‘You don’t seem ‘ok,’ you seem sad. Did something happen?’
‘You can tell me, I’m always hear for you.’
‘I know, Zainab. What’d you do today??’
On her bed, a young girl laid on her stomach, humming with a dimpled smile, kicking her feet. She had long raven hair with eyes matching her hair’s hue and innocence marking her visage.
“Zainab.” An older man entered. His face was covered in a snowy beard and his skin was darker than her’s.
“Your lessons are going to begin soon. Come.”
“Ah, okay, one moment.”
The father left with a low grunt and Zainab returned her attention to her computer.
‘I must be leaving now, but will I talk to you again soon yes?’
‘Sure. See you soon’
‘Bye now, Taylor!’
She shut her laptop and hopped off her bed, dressing herself in her beige, shimmery garments – a hijab and an abaya – before opening her door and smiling to her father, who stood with his arms crossed and mind absent.
“Oh!” He shook his head, wiping his hand over his face. “Are you ready then, ibnati?”
She happily nodded, and after he offered it, took his hand and was lead outside their modest home to the quiet streets of their city.
Zainab was surrounded by the small buildings on each side of her, varying in apartment size. Open windows had elders leaning from their sills like dogs, observing the wind. The color of most of the architecture near-matched her dress and her eyes were drawn to the frail men cupping their hands in hope.
“Why is the city so poor, Papa?”
Her father sighed, pursing his brow and gaining a look of many miles with each passing second. “The government squanders us by reaping our pockets dry and leaving nothing for our people to build on. The other countries of the world are no better – our land is dry and our poverty increases because no one who leads here leads with honesty.”
“If we have bad leaders, Papa, are we bad people?”
Her father stopped, then looked down to her. He reached forward then and held his palms against her cheeks in a soft but firm hold. His eyes were the things of steel – the desperation of words unspoken. “Not you, Zainab. Never you. Understand?”
She nodded steadily, her eyes searching his with her innocence. A small smile from his lips and he once again took the lead, walking with her to the downtown area.
There, the people came alive. On every corner of the city square, where it branched into several limbs of direction, were markets with people no richer than Zainab exercising their breath to the height of Olympus for honey’s suckle.
“Come, come! Mangoes, bananas, dates! Everything you need here!”
“Blankets! For sleep, for rest, you need them, you know!”
“None sells the finest liquor like this! Not in all of the country!”
Zainab and her father passed the road and entered a small building with an entrance covered by a curtain. In a group, several other children her age sat in a circle chattering. She ran to her friends and plopped down next to them, joining their conversation with rapid lips.
The father gave a nod to the teacher with the teacher in reverence replying with the same motion. The father gazed at his daughter a final moment, his face painted with a paternal smile, before turning and leaving with a silent farewell.
“What are you talking about, gone?!”
The night had robbed the sky of its light and the people who had dominated the streets since left in fright of being its prey. The street lights lit the corners of the city and inside the building where the father had previously left Zainab now stood with a cherry-veined face and more than audible words.
“I’m sorry,” the teacher said, “but I assumed it was her guardian. He said she was her uncle and she didn’t seem to protest-”
“She is a child! A CHILD! One merely of twelve, you idiot! Who was the man? Tell me, who was he?”
“I-I-I don’t know! He just took her and they left several hours ago!”
“Hours?! Ah, hours?! I would strangle you if my stomach weren’t filled with bile and my anger wasted on a woman!”
The father turned and stormed out, his feet lifting to take him racing down the stone streets of the city. The quiet night held only the mutters quiet nights usually hold.
“Zainab!” He searched through the shadowed alleys and knocked on doors, parting curtains and interrupting familial dinners.
“Zainab! Where are you?!”
His plight caught the ears of others and soon, the whole town was flooded with raindrops pouring their hearts into fellow shouts.
“Where are you? Please come out! Zainab!”
“Hey!” The people and the father were all turned to the sound of a man from near the trash area – a space where garbage was tossed into a basin. The father ran to the basin and jumped into the ankle-high water – then fell to his knees with a small gasp.
Lying on the man’s lap was Zainab: her pale, naked corpse dark purple on her side and around her neck, and stab wounds pierced on her chest. The man who found her had, in his eyes, building tears. He gazed at the father and shook his head slowly, his lips trembling.
“If only we were not nothing… If only we were not…” he trailed off, the father taking his daughter into his arms and sobbing against her.
Hey you back yet?
Just wanted to let you know how much I apreciate you for being around and being my friend, Zainab. I feel so lonely around here but talking to you makes me beter every time. You really mean a lot to me and I just don’t think I could hande things without you. So, thank you. Just wanted to say that, text me