Night Noises
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The dark used to be my friend. Once the night came, everyone was too busy to look for me and they left me alone. Night sounds stick out: the trash truck, the police cruiser, the air siren that warns us when missiles might be coming. I know which noise is which, but no one else pays any attention. No one asks me what Iím thinking.

Mama lies in bed, on top of the sheets, her shoes dangling over the edge to keep the covers clean. She talks to Papa, even though he never stays in the room with her. After he changes from his work clothes, he goes right to the kitchen to eat dinner, the leftovers from whatever she cooked for me and my big brother Abu. Cold rice, snap beans, and squid, if the powerís been out, and sliced lamb or curried chicken, if itís on.

Papa eats while he watches television. Or if the pictureís fuzzy, he listens to the radio, holding the little box right next to his ear. He argues with the people on the television screen and jabs the air like itís someoneís chest. Sometimes he agrees with them, but mostly he doesnít. If he thinks the news man has it wrong, Papa raises his voice and repeats himself over and over like he does with me when heís upset. Maybe he thinks the person canít hear him. I donít care as long as he isnít yelling at me. The best thing about Papaís arguments with the TV or radio is I know he isnít looking for me.

  
 
On his pinkie finger Papa wears a small gold ring, a single diamond stuck in the middle. Uncle Mojtaba gave him the ring when he became a man, he says. I guess thatís when he turned eighteen, but Abu says Iím ignorant and donít understand anything. The ring is so small that it sits on the wide place that is Papaís knuckle and he canít bend his finger easily. It means the ring hits me first where Papa swings, before I feel the heat of his skin on mine.

When the diamond catches the kitchen light, it sends flashes wherever Papa moves. From the bedroom I share with Abu, I can see flashing on the hallway wall. It tells me if Papa is coming to find me or if heís busy with a project and wonít bother me. When he has a project, Iím not allowed to come out of the bedroom, though Abu says when we get to America, Iíll have a room of my own. I ask him whether he will have his own room too, but he tells me to be quiet, no one knows everything that will be.

But the dark is not safe anymore. Abu says the men with the guns are coming soon, and they will need our house. It will be okay, though, because thatís when we will go to America. Why, I ask, but he puts his hand over my mouth and pushes me onto the bed. He makes me swear I wonít let Papa know about the men with guns. I think Abu should explain it to Papa, so Papa doesnít argue with them and lose our chance to go to America and have a house big enough for each of us to have our own room. But I also think how it might be nice to leave Papa here with his flashing ring and his projects, and go to America with only Abu. With the two of us gone, Mama wonít be so tired from cooking and cleaning and she can get up from the bed and sit with Papa at the table. If they eat dinner together, maybe he wonít get so mad and argue with the television and radio people.

When the missile siren goes off, itís the very darkest part of the night. Iím hiding in the wooden chest where Mama keeps the winter blankets. If I bend my knees, I can close the lid and no one can tell Iím inside. Abu whispers my name in the dark, but Papa is in the hallway too. His hand bangs the wall, with that one little flat sound when the ring hits the wall. He will be angry if he sees me climbing out of the chest, even though Iím in my bare feet so I wonít get dirt on Mamaís things. I listen for Abu. His whispers are farther away, perhaps in the garden, and I wish I had been in my bed when he called, instead of in the wooden chest.

Outside the house the trucks in the street grind their brakes at the corner. I think I hear boots, the sound that men with guns make. I want Abu to find me. Iím afraid he will go to America without me. I donít want a room of my own here, where Papa can hit me and Mama wonít get out of bed to stop him.

Smashing noises make the house shake, the sound of wood splintering, and boots inside, running, running, closer and closer. Mama calls out, ďJosef, send the boys to me. I need to see my boys.Ē Papa tells her to be silent. A gun shot makes a popping sound, and then another. The blanket chest rocks with pounding feet. Papa calls out, ďNo,Ē and another pop explodes from the same direction as his voice.

Abu is arguing now, yelling. ďStop. This is wrong. You were only supposed to take these people hostage. Put them on the freighter to America. They are not the enemy.Ē

More popping and yelling and boots stamping along the floorboards, but no more of Abuís arguments or his whispers. I lie very still, thinking that Abu will be proud of me for being patient. I think how quiet it will be in America in a room of my own.



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