The things that still reach us in Brooklyn

Zohra Saed



1979, Soviets invade Afghanistan.  My brother, named gentleness in the midst of fire and blood is born.  I am a few months from turning five years old.  A leather businessman from Parsipanny smuggles us into New York.


1980. I start kindergarten in Brooklyn.  Mother and father rely on the television and on other refugee stories for news of homeland.


We hear no news of our own family until 1983, when my grandparents and aunts arrive at a refugee camp in Pakistan.  My eighteen-year-old uncle, on returning to pick up more family members, was arrested by Communists, tortured then executed for attempting to flee the country.  People tell grandfather that they have seen my uncle, that he is being held at a prison on the border.  Grandfather reaches the prison only to find another eighteen year old boy held for ransom by members of the Pakistani border guard.  He has the same name as my uncle, Mir Wais. 


Grandfather claimed this boy as his own, paid the ransom and freed him.  When grandfather returned home, grandmother tells us in a letter five months too late, he died after a cup of green tea.   Who had come to bury him when only daughters and children survived his death?  The Mir Wais he had rescued from the border.


Death reaches us in the form of photographs and damp pale blue letters.


My brother, named humanity in the midst of cruelty, dreams of uncle's torture at the hands of Soviet soldiers.  At age four, he struggles with nightmares of a war that missed us.


Why enter our dreams when we are safe in the red-brick neighborhoods of Brooklyn?


Until the news of death, the bomb drills at school were a curious break from classwork.  But when I overcome shyness and ask whose bombs we are practicing to hide from, my bones shake and I crawl under my desk.  Coiled up like a small pretzel, I am too frightened to come out.  Mother has to be called in.   Still wearing her black mourning veil, she gently convinces me that the Soviets are not invading Brooklyn.


She carried me home that afternoon and did not complain that I was too big.  We drifted by the bagel shop, the Laundromat, and the \italic{Waldbaums} Supermarket with bright red lettering.  Her long dark skirt with white flower-stitching grazed the sidewalk.  My breath dampened her shoulder as we waited on the corner for the traffic light.


Home, in front of the television, exhausted, mother and I fell asleep on the couch and slipped into the constellation of each other's dreams where tears bloom into stars.