Hello again, and welcome back to our weekly feature of up-and-coming author Taylor Anne Vigil. This week she’s continuing her examination of the plight of Raif Badawi. There’s a video link after the chapter, and a link to a petition to sign as well.
Dearest readers, this story was written with the intention of honoring the courageous actions of Raif Badawi and Waleed Abulkhair as well as other peaceful activists who are being silenced by religious authorities in Saudi Arabia. This story is completely fictional and any resemblance to the life events of Raif or Waleed, despite the use of their first names, is completely coincidental.
“Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows.”- John Betjeman
Amal and Little Raif raced down the hall. They pushed and shoved, wanting to see who would get to their father first. It was a tie. The two slammed into him and hugged his legs.
“I got to him first!” Little Raif bragged.
Amal shot her brother a look and he stuck his tongue out at his sister, an action he’d usually be scolded for by his father. He cringed, waiting for the anger, but it didn’t come. He instead felt the gentleness of his father’s hand on his hair.
It wasn’t often that they’d get into trouble. When they did, though, their father gave them consequences. Sometimes it was only a stern lecture and a look of disappointment. Other times, the children would lose access to their favorite television shows for a couple of days. Their father, their Baba, wasn’t the type of man who raised his hand to strike, nor was he the type of man to yell or scream at anyone. This especially applied to his own children. Together, he and their mother raised them lovingly, showering them with hugs and kisses, singing them to sleep and participating in extended pillow fights.
To Little Raif’s surprise, there was no lecture. There wasn’t even a look of disapproval. There was only his Baba’s hands pushing against his and his sister’s shoulder blades.
Baba hurriedly pushed them out of the sitting room and down the hall. This shocked the children too. Normally, their Baba would wrap them up in his arms, kiss them on both cheeks and ask them all about their day until dinner was served.
“Hl hunak shay’ khati ya Baba?” Amal asked., looking over her shoulder. “Is something wrong Papa?”
They were already at the door to their room when Baba responded, sounding unlike himself.
“Everything’s fine, princess.”
He sounded tired, like he’d ran all the way home. Amal saw and faintly smelled the dark patches of sweat on his white shirt. And he wasn’t wearing his jacket. So. Baba was lying; everything wasn’t fine.
Panting, Baba walked swiftly into their room, pulled their suitcases out from under the beds and began filling them with their clothes. Little Raif looked on in confusion.
“Where are we going?”
Baba didn’t answer. He scrambled around the room, collecting only the necessities: coats, extra toothbrushes, pillow cases, baby pictures.
“Baba,” Little Raif said, louder this time. “Where are we going?”
Baba looked up then, saw his little ones standing dumbfounded in the doorway, and forced a smile.
“We’re going on a little outing.” he replied, trying to sound cheerful. “Don’t you want to do that?”
Completely oblivious and self-absorbed, Little Raif smiled and nodded excitedly. It wasn’t often that they’d go on an outing as a family. Baba worked long hours and the children attended school, compounded by the sudden disappearance of their mother.
The idea of heading out on a vacation in the middle of the school year was a luxurious one.
“What about Mama?”
Baba winced. It was Amal who spoke this time; Amal who spoke so little, yet absorbed so much. Baba ‘s hands shook as he pulled at the zipper on the suitcase.
“We’ll see her soon, sweetie.”
He bent down and kissed his daughter’s head before picking up the suitcases and setting them by the back door. He called out for Miriam, their housekeeper, who should be in the kitchen or out in the garden at this time. Amal was at his heels, following him as he searched the bathrooms, then the kitchen.
“She left us, Baba.” she admitted, quietly.
Baba stopped dead in the doorway of the kitchen and turned.
“She left you?
Amal nodded. Behind her, Little Raif bounced up and down on the couch.
“She said she was going to the garden, but she hasn’t come back.” he explained, voice shaking with his movements.
Baba took a deep breath. Miriam would never just leave the children unattended, especially with their mother missing. He ventured down the hall to the back door and looked out. The gate lock had been broken, the garden ransacked, Miriam nowhere in sight. Amal and Little Raif stood on their tiptoes, trying to look out, but Baba guided them away before they could see the words, “YOU’RE NEXT!” written in blood on the back wall. His hands trembled, his body betraying emotions that his face struggled to hide.
“Are you cold, Baba?” Little Raif asked.
Baba didn’t answer him. He crouched and clasped their shoulders.
“Listen to me carefully,” he began, fighting to keep his voice steady. “What did you hear after Miriam went out to the garden?”
The children looked at each other. They shrugged.
“We were watching tv.”
Then, as if hearing it for the first time, Baba took notice of the television blaring in the sitting room. He relaxed his hands and let out a breath. He didn’t sit and wonder why his children were spared or if they were even acknowledged by the barbaric men who called for his head. Instead he rose up and whispered, “Thank Allah,” under his breath.
He looked at his children; at his beautiful Amal with her lovely brown hair and dark eyes, and his Little Raif who resembled him so much in his delicate features and curly brown hair that stretched to his shoulders.
“Go and play in your room for while. Baba has to make a call.”
They listened. Well, as well as they could under the circumstances. While Little Raif sat cross-legged on the carpet and played with his trucks, Amal peeked into the hall, her curiosity overwhelming her willingness to obey her Baba. She watched him pace the sitting room, sit on the couch, tear at his hair, then pace the room again. Her heart hurt. Baba had always been the strongest man she’d ever known. Yet here he was sweating and trembling and acting so… Scared. Baba was never scared.
Amal spooked at the loudness of Baba’s cellphone. Hadn’t he said that he needled to make a call? Baba hesitated for a moment, then answered.
“Waleed,” he breathed. “Can you still help us?”