Section I: Chapter 1

Naima held on. But once they stepped through, Tulsi squirmed free and ran.

Naima chased, as Subhash followed.

Tulsi squealed as she held up a comic book.

Naima disappeared into another aisle.

Tulsi giggled as she flipped through the Disney-themed books, her glasses on the bridge of her nose like a professor.

Subhash chuckled, and glanced to see where Naima was in the packed library.

Instead, he noticed another woman who turned away at that exact moment.

He paused.

“Daddy! Look!” Tulsi said and quickly, Subhash recovered his smile.

 

. . .

 

They went to get ice cream, and as they waited in line, Tulsi kept talking about the plot of a book she was reading.

“And then he sees the dragon and he’s super scared,” she exclaimed, as Subhash nodded, and Naima read the menu above the counter.

Naima ordered three chocolate and mint ice cream cones. Tulsi continued narrating the story, this time to Naima, while Subhash felt someone watching them. He peeked to his left, and caught sight of a man and woman at a table, whispering into each other’s ear.

“But he tries to beat the dragon because he knows he has to,” Tulsi explained.

Naima led them to the food court, where Tulsi hopped up on a chair, cone in one hand and her legs dangling above the floor.

 

. . .

 

They drove past the mobile homes and diners to their neighborhood at the corner of East Brunswick. Where they lived wasn’t gated but all the homes had bright green lawns, and the roads were spotless.

After finishing math homework with Naima, Tulsi rode her bike from their driveway to the end of the block, and back.

Subhash was on the front porch, grading assignments. Sometimes, Tulsi would call out as she’d pick up speed, her purple helmet gleaming under the remaining bits of sunlight.

Subhash marked up entire paragraphs in red, and even felt like drawing on them. He resisted, and instead, got the mail.

It was mostly bills and free magazines. However, there was also a note.

GO BACK TO AFGANISTAN! It read in big block letters.

“Look! Look!” Tulsi said.

With the note in his hands, he watched her bike past.

Naima asked what happened when Subhash carried Tulsi’s bike into the garage moments later.

Subhash shared the note, and Naima sighed.

Subhash didn’t respond, as he fit the bike next to their car.

 

. . .

 

Once Tulsi was in her room, Naima and Subhash had a late night snack.

“We should demand the cops do something.”

“Like what? Arrest someone they don’t even know?”

They sat across each other at the dining room table, sharing a box of Oreos.

“Aren’t you tired?” Subhash said.

“That’s a dumb thing to ask.”

“I’m just saying. Remember what happened to the Khan family?”

“That’s not us. And honestly, if you go down there and file a complaint, what next? They still won’t take it seriously.”

“That’s cause no one’s pressuring them.”

“Fine. Go ahead. But don’t tell Tulsi anything about this.”

Subhash twisted apart the Oreo, as Naima dipped hers in milk.

They went to bed soon after, but Subhash couldn’t stop staring into the dark.

He returned downstairs and poured himself a cup of coffee. He stood in their adjacent guest room, which they paid to get built that summer, since most homes on the block already had one. He gazed across the large expanse of land that separated their rows of houses from the others. All he could think about was Mr. and Mrs. Khan and their two children. How one afternoon, their lives were changed forever. Subhash still remembered reading the news of Mr. Khan and his 8 year old son in the hospital.

Subhash sipped. He stared out the window, wondering who was staring back.

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