The Girl Who Cried War
Author: coritherien

Chapter 13
Foreigner

May 8th, 2008

The rain pummeled the roof of Carla’s Mini Cooper as she pulled alongside the curb in front of Logan Airport.

“Do you need any help with your bags?” she asked uncertainly.

I lifted the strap of my single bag—a carry on—and shrugged.  Carla nodded sullenly and refused to meet my eyes. 

“I won’t say goodbye,” she said forcefully after a long pause.  “I said goodbye to Nate, and look how that turned out.”  Finally, she looked at me.  “I won’t.”

“You don’t have to,” I said, smirking, trying to lighten the mood.  “I’ll be back in a few days.”

Carla nodded her head affirmatively.  “I’ll see you soon, then.”

I flung my arms around her neck and clung to her just a second longer than normal.  And then I hopped out into downpour and nearly sprinted to the door.

Fontaine was waiting just inside the lobby like we agreed.  His clothing choice gave me the strong urge to roll my eyes but I managed to keep them stationary.  He had on a faded tie dye shirt and a Pink Floyd bandana.  His green cargo pants were hanging a bit below the belt.  He looked like he was trying—and failing—to make himself look younger.

“You got the money?” he said as soon as I was in earshot.

I tossed the paper bag his way.  “You can count it if you want.”

He peered inside and whistled at the $100 bills.  “Nah, you got a trustworthy face.”

And then we waited in mile-long lines to get our bags checked, to pass through security, etc.  Finally, with an hour to spare, we plopped down in a couple chairs by Gate 23.

“So tell me,” Fontaine said after a long silence, “what is it you think you’re going to find over there?”

I wished he wouldn’t.  I’d been watching the young family across the way.  The parents had to be in their early twenties, and you could tell with every glance they exchanged that they loved one another.  An infant was in a cradle beside them, he couldn’t have been more than a few months old.  The parents handled him with something like bewilderment, maybe even awe.  Their little family was so small, so ordinary, something many would take for granted.  But they were content and happy, marveling at each others’ nuances.  I envied them.

Fontaine repeated his question. 

“Why does everyone ask me that?”

He cocked an eyebrow.

I sighed.  “I don’t expect to find anything,” I allowed.  “Chances are I won’t.  But it’s worth a shot, isn’t it?  I can’t keep going on like I was.”  I cast my eyes away from the family finally and looked at Fontaine.  “Something has to change.”

“And you think this,” he gestured toward the gate, “is the answer?”

I shrugged.  “I have no idea.  But what do I have to lose?”

He thought for a moment, mockingly.  “’Your life’ seems like a big one.”

I rolled my eyes.  “What’s life without a little risk?”

8:58 P.M.

 

“Gate 23, your flight is now boarding.”

The attendant tore our tickets all too cheerfully and, finally, we boarded the flight to Damascus International Airport in Syria

May 9th, 2008

 

8:03 PM

 

The pilot’s voice crackled over the loud speakers, startling everyone into wakefulness. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, if you will please fasten your seat belts, we have begun our descent.”

Fontaine sat upright, shocked.  In the process, he very nearly punched the face of the man beside him.

He threw me a scathing glance when he heard my giggles.

As the wheels hit the runway, I glanced around and took all of the passengers in for the first time.  I’d only ever been on one flight and that was to Disneyland.  Everyone donned Mickey Mouse t-shirts and outdated fanny packs.  This was nothing like that.  For the most part, I saw dark skinned men.  Many of them wore turbans.  I heard long strings of words that simply sounded like gibberish to me. 

Finally, the plane came to a halt.  As Fontaine and I gathered our possessions, which for me was simply a sweatshirt and my cell phone, I asked, “So what’s the game plan?”

He pushed up one of the shutters on the window and was met with a sheath of darkness, punctuated only by the occasional glare of headlights. 

“I saw we find some kind of hotel for the night.  The ‘healing’ can wait for tomorrow.”

I scowled at him, but remained silent.  I could play indignant all I wanted, but the truth was that I was as beat as he was.  Between the length of the flight and the time difference, I was tremendously disoriented. 

We descended the exit ramp and were met by strict, schooled faces.  Fontaine leaned close to me.

“Keep your bag close,” he whispered, “and don’t make eye contact for too long.”

His expression told me not to ask questions so I nodded, and clutched my back pack closer.

The Damascus International Airport looked like it might’ve been a nice place in the past but now looked rather rundown.  It was as if it was built immaculately but hadn’t been touched since.  Several windows were smashed in, though they didn’t appear to have been used much when they were intact.  People were sidestepping heaps of trash that fell out of too-full receptacles.  It was a bad day in Damascus.

We retrieved our luggage from the baggage claim, and Fontaine hastened to withdraw the paper bag and count the money.  His sigh of relief assured me that all was in order, and I followed Fontaine to the nearest personnel.

“Excuse me,” Fontaine said to a tall, thin man in a uniform jacket buttoned to his neck.  “Can you please direct us to the nearest decent hotel?”

His tone chaffed my nerves, but I don’t think the man picked up on it.  In fact, I don’t even think he understood English very well.

“Sorry,” he stuttered, his brow furrowed.

Fontaine muttered a word I didn’t recognize, but the man seemed to.  He nodded fervently and then directed Fontaine in severely broken English.

Fontaine rushed forward without even a glance to see if I was following.

Out on the curb, wee hailed what I assumed was a Syrian version of a cab.  We ducked in and Fontaine relayed what the man inside had told him.  The cabbie peeled away from the curb and sped down the crowded street without even a sign that he’d understood Fontaine.

In the half-hour or so ride, I was exposed to a varying display of Syria’s inhabitants.  It wasn’t really what I’d pictured.  I don’t know where or when, but somehow kids my age had gotten the impression that either the war or poverty, or both, had ravaged all the countries near Iraq.

It wasn’t really the case.

Sure, we passed through a number of areas, but they weren’t much worse than those in NYC or what have you.  We saw many homeless people, and it broke my heart, but mostly we saw street peddlers waving around lamb kabobs and pomegranates. 

We also passed through several wealthier areas, with houses and lawns and cars parked on black top driveways.

When we skidded to a halt in front of Soraya’s Inn, Fontaine dipped a trembling hand into the bag of money and thrust several crumbled bills at the devilish man.

The Inn was much like the airport; I was beginning to see a pattern.  It was painted a pretty lilac, but the color had faded in time.  The lobby looked clean, but worn.  If the Inn was 20 years old, the furniture hadn’t been replaced once.  The concierge looked ready to call it a night.  His heavy lidded eyes drooped, but he became slightly more alert when the bell on the door clanged, signaling our entrance.

He began to speak in a language I didn’t recognize, but reverted to a broken English when we didn’t respond.

“One room for the night,” Fontaine told the man.

I started to laugh.  “Yeah, right,” I said.  I turned to the concierge.  “We’ll take two rooms.”

Fontaine glowered.  “I was only trying to save a little money.”

I rolled my eyes.  “I think we can hack it.”

The concierge chuckled to himself, but managed to pass it off as a cough.  He handed us two old fashioned keys and we made our way down the dimly lit hallway. 

As Fontaine jimmied the lock on his door, he muttered, “Early start tomorrow morning.  I’m setting an alarm for 6 A.M., and then we’ve got a 7 or so hour ride to Baghdad.”

I flung my suitcase just inside the door before asking, “And how are we supposed to get there?”

He chuckled pretentiously.  “You can’t be in the business as long as I’ve been without making the right friends,” he said snidely.  “It’s all set.”

I’d had more than enough of his self-important attitude for one day.  “Goodnight, Fontaine,” I murmured and slammed the door behind me.

The room was small and dim, but it was clean.  A single, full sized bed sat in the center, draped in a purple duvet.  There was no television, no wireless connection.  The only other furnishings were a burnt out lamp in the corner and the bedside table it sat on.

I smelled of airline peanuts and taxi cabs.  I discarded my stale clothes and hopped into a much needed shower.  The water was like ice, and I had to wash my hair with bar soap, but it did the trick. 

I wrapped the towel around my wet hair and pulled on a ratty old t-shirt and a pair of knee-length red socks.  They looked ridiculous but I wore them anyway.  They were the comfiest pair I owned. 

They were the pair Nate wrote about in his very first letter.  It was the pair he said had attracted him to me.  I hadn’t worn them since he left but it seemed more appropriate here.

I collapsed on the bed and instantly felt exhaustion setting in.  I let my eyes close, and as I was drifting away I realized that this was the closest I’d felt to peace in almost a year.  

 

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