Aziza chose a gum ball machine the same coin could be inserted to get candy, then
retrieved from the flap door coin return below.
Rasheed's eyebrows shot up when the seller quoted him the price. A round of haggling
ensued, at the end of which Rasheed said to Aziza contentiously, as if it were she who'd
haggled him, "Give it back. I can't afford both."
On the way back, Aziza's high spirited fa9ade waned the closer they got to the orphanage.
The hands stopped flying
up. Her face turned heavy. It happened every time. It was Laila's turn now, with Mariam
pitching in, to take up the chattering, to laugh nervously, to fill the melancholy quiet with
breathless, aimless banter Later, after Rasheed had dropped them off and taken a bus to
work, Laila watched Aziza wave good bye and scuff along the wall in the orphanage back
lot. She thought of Aziza's stutter, and of what Aziza had said earlier about fractures and
powerful collisions deep down and how sometimes all we see on the surface is a slight
"Getaway, you!" Zalmai cried.
"Hush," Mariam said "Who are you yelling at?"
He pointed. "There. That man."
Laila followed his finger. There was a man at the front door of the house, leaning against
it. His head turned when he saw them approaching. He uncrossed his arms. Limped a few
steps toward them.
A choking noise came up her throat. Her knees weakened. Laila suddenly wanted, needed,
to grope for Mariam's arm, her shoulder, her wrist, something, anything, to lean on. But she
didn't. She didn't dare. She didn't dare move a muscle. She didn't dare breathe, or blink
even, for fear that he was nothing but a mirage shimmering in the distance, a brittle illusion
that would vanish at the slightest provocation. Laila stood perfectly still and looked at Tariq
until her chest screamed for air and her eyes burned to blink. And, somehow, miraculously,
after she took a breath, closed and opened her eyes, he was still standing there. Tariq was
still standing there.
Laila allowed herself to take a step toward him. Then another. And another. And then she