Aliya wakes in the middle of the night, tossing off the ropes of hot dreams. A flash of light reminds her of the battles outside, whirring helicopters with their searchlights incessantly on patrol for insurgents.
"Daughter, where are you going?"
"Shh, Mama. I need a drink of water." Aliya steps carefully around the sleeping forms of three sisters and seven younger nieces and nephews, balancing at the top of the ladder that leads down from the rooftop.
"There are visitors in the house. You cannot go downstairs." Mama's command is hoarse, weary.
Aliya sighs, sweaty, the back of her throat dusty and scratched with thirst.
"But if you go, bring me some water, too," Mama murmurs.
Nothing remains of life as it once was. The family used to eat frozen ice cream for dessert. Aliya remembers the sweet, soothing mint flavor, and the chocolate. She can recall when air conditioning kept the house cool all night long and she'd had her own room, shared only with Miriam, one year older than herself. Now, the home is always crowded with Uncle Naji and his clan, and two aunts who had moved from their homes, erroneously thinking that peace would arrive first to the capital.
Another helicopter sweeps overhead. Aliya nudges her mother, offering a cola bottle half-filled with water tasting of dust and chlorine.
Miriam is no longer living in the house on Avenue of Heroes. Her fifteen years had been cut short beneath a sniper's bullet six months ago.
In the morning, Aliya will rise early. Before the sun rises to its zenith, Aliya will walk with Mama to retrieve water from the truck that circles the neighborhood every Wednesday. Aliya's rage would be temporarily relieved by mist from the faulty valve on the right side of the water tank. She would cool, as if from a breeze that stirs the palm trees and wings of river birds, temporarily caught in the gaze of the boy who drives the water truck.
He would avert his eyes if Mama were close, but eventually Mama would become wrapped within the flock of neighborhood housewives, gossiping. Aliya would slip her veil ever so slightly to the side, so that the sun might reflect from each small filigree of her gold earring. Then the boy driving the water truck, may Allah preserve his soul, would slip her a small pouch and she would deliver it to her favorite brother when he returned from school that afternoon.
During the sweaty night hours--after the helicopter finally vanishes into silence, and half a moon casts lemony shadows upon the rooftop--Aliya discovers once more that she could endure. Each night the moon is becoming just a small portion fuller. The language of the moon falls upon her in misty whispers, with a power that explosions of gunfire could never obscure.
BIO: Karen Lewis' work has appeared in Hip Mama, New Moon and other journals. She is currently earning an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Antioch University Los Angeles. Karen makes her home with beloved children and husband near the Navarro River in rural Mendocino County, California. She also leads imaginative writing workshops for students K-12 as a teacher with California Poets in the Schools.