Father's Blessing

Maia and Rachelle walked home together. Rachelle told stories about her classes, but Maia caught herself daydreaming instead of listening. She wondered if Jonas was really too good to be true. She wondered if he was playing a nasty joke on her. She wondered when he was going to talk to her father. She wondered what her father would say. She wondered how many children they would have.

"Five."

"Huh?"

"He said eighty divided by nine was five. Mr. Greenland just laughed at him, then walked over and slapped him."

"Slapped him?"

"Across the face. He slapped three kids last week, and now it's only Monday and he's already slapped two today."

"Do you tell Mother and Father about the teachers' punishments?"

"No, I don't want to worry them."

"Me neither."

"They're always meaner to refugees though."

Maia sighed, her heart breaking for her sister who had experienced so much in her 11 years. She smoothed the girl's hair, brushing strands away from her face. "Always tell me, okay? If a teacher hurts you or even touches you, tell somebody. Don't just hold it inside."

Rachelle agreed somberly. Then she brightened. "I saw you today with Jonas. What did you two talk about? Did you confess your undying love for each other? Did he promise to sweep you off your feet and carry you into the sunset?"

Maia laughed. "Somebody has been reading too many romantic novels." 

"Imagine, my sister, betrothed at 16. I can't wait to be an aunt!"

"Well you'll have to wait a little longer. Hush your voice, there are police over there."

Their smiles faded as they neared the two guards on duty. The girls kept their eyes to the ground and clutched their books tightly to their chests. Sometimes, if you were a refugee, no matter how invisible you tried to be, trouble sought you out. People disappeared for speaking openly about the government. Women were raped by criminals and policemen alike. The guards watched them without speaking. Maia prayed to Ayam as they passed by, and thanked him out loud when they were far enough away. 

At home they helped their mother make supper and waited for Father to return home. Father worked as a laborer in a construction crew that mostly cleaned up war-torn parts of the city and countryside. His work was dangerous - there were land mines that had not been detonated, and angry people who targeted their anger at refugees. Isaiah spent most of his time downstairs alone, doing homework, watching TV, or reading. 

Supper was ready, and Father was an hour later than usual when the doorbell rang.

"I'll answer it," Maia stood up.

But Mother grabbed her hand. She said nothing, but Maia knew her mother was only concerned for her safety. The woman peeked out a window before opening the door. Maia could see who it was from the kitchen. Jonas was standing on the front step. 

"Good evening, is Mr. Merron home?" he asked in their home language. It was the first time Maia had heard him speak it. Mother looked at Maia.

"He's not home yet, but why don't you come in and have dinner with us?"

Jonas knew better than to refuse. He came inside. Maia thought he looked much taller in her small home. The butterflies came back, and for a moment she wondered if she had made the right decision. Then his eyes met hers. The butterflies settled and she could almost hear Ayam's voice guiding her path. He sat down at the table and she brought him a glass of water. Mother's eyebrows were still raised, but she recovered quickly and began  to engage him in light conversation, asking about his family and schooling. Rachelle joined in the conversation too, and Jonas listened to her stories enthusiastically. Maia watched them happily, ignoring the sickening feeling in her stomach as the minutes ticked by and supper grew cold. 

It was dark by the time Father's keys jingled in the lock. Maia jumped up to greet him, and Mother began to rewarm the rice and vegetable sauce. 

Father looked tired and weary, and Maia took his hat and boots as soon as he pulled them off. "We lost two men today. They were cleaning up an old school and a wall fell on them." He coughed, then looked up and saw the young man sitting at the table. Jonas stood and introduced himself. Father's questioning expression fell on Mother, then Maia. He excused himself to change and wash up.

The dinner was quiet. Mother and Rachelle continued to make small talk with Jonas, while Father and Maia made few remarks and Isaiah said not a word. 

After dinner, a solemn but comfortable silence settled over the family and their guest. Father stood. "Jonas, I would be honored if you would join me for a walk in the backyard." The yard was small, but it was the only place they could talk alone as the curfew was in effect and guards patrolled the streets after dark. 

Maia watched them go with trepidation, wondering what her father would ask and what Jonas would reply. Rachelle went to the back door and cupped her ear against it, trying to hear their conversation. Mother shooed her away to do homework. Maia washed the dishes and swept the floor, unable to concentrate on any more complicated tasks. When they returned, Jonas was smiling and father looked impressed. They shook hands - it  was a little awkward as handshakes were a Western custom - and father offered to let him stay. "It's after dark. Are you sure it is safe to go home? You are welcome to stay the night on our floor until curfew is lifted." He put his hand on Maia's shoulder. 

Jonas shook his head. "My parents are probably worried. I'll be careful." He headed for the door and Maia followed him into the cool night air.

He took her hands in his. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow, Maia." He kissed the top of her head and then ran off into the shadows. 

The End

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