Continued From “A Mother’s Gift: Part I.”
Three days went by. I went to school after the morning at Daniel’s house, trying to forget everything and catch up on my work. I wanted to graduate; I wanted to get out of the life I had thrown myself into after my father’s death. I spent more time with my brother at night. He, at almost nine years old, was slowly starting to read, and that was something I couldn’t miss in his life. My little brother was born early, and it messed with the way he thought and the way things connected in his head. My mother and I were constantly trying to help him learn, but it was difficult. He barely smiled, barely laughed, but the look in his eyes when I read his books to him in funny voices was enough.
I got a job after school – just part-time at the mall – but it was enough to get by. My mother seemed happier so it was worth it all. Money wasn’t pouring in, but we were paying things off. On the way home from school, on the streets, I occasionally saw some of the guys from the gang. They would nod, look away. There were a only few days left before we would meet again.
Three hours, twenty-four minutes. I sat down at our kitchen table, opening the math book I had not touched in months. Derivatives and integrals escaped me. It had been too long. I used to do back when I actually went to school, but I found myself hating it more and more. It didn’t help my family survive.
There was a loud knock on the door. I got up, pushed back the curtains on the door and peered through the cracked glass. Bright rays of sun seeped in through its cracked veins. It was the mailman.
“I’ve got a letter for Amina,” he said. My mother. I opened the door and grabbed the letter, thanking the man and closing the door quickly behind me. My heart sank as soon as I saw whom the letter was from.
“I am writing this letter on behalf of the Brooklyn City Mayor’s Office,” it read. I skimmed the page. “This is a final demand for you to vacate this property within sixty days. We do hereby terminate your lease as payments have not been received.” A number at the bottom read sixteen hundred seventy dollars, and forty-nine cents. I sat down on the floor, my head between my knees.
Sixteen hundred dollars, sixteen hundred reasons to go back to the gang, to betray my family. I didn’t want to do this again, I didn’t want to steal, I didn’t want to let my family, my father, Allah, down again.
I ripped the paper in half, in fourths, in eighths, and kept on shredding until I could no longer feel it. And I couldn’t feel myself anymore either.
A thick blanket of black clouds loomed above. We walked behind the house we were about to enter. I cut the telephone wires with shaking clippers as Daniel watched. No witnesses, he reminded us. He pulled out his handgun as we broke down the front door, sweat running in streamlets down our faces. The alarm of the house didn’t activate and it wouldn’t unless we touched it. The guys ran throughout the house, every little noise reverberating in my head. It didn’t matter if the people inside woke up.
I opened a cupboard, pretending to look for something, anything that would prove my dedication to the guys. I pulled a thin, silver necklace from behind a picture – a picture of a man, his wife, and a boy and girl. I heard Daniel softly make his way up the stairs. At this point, the guys gathered around the bottom of the stairs, inching their way up to see what Daniel would do.
I can swear to this right now: I never thought he would go through with it. But he did. I paused, not moving, as Daniel kicked a door open in the floor above me.
A scream. A shot went off. Another scream, a man’s voice, and two shots rang in the air. The guys began to move off the stairs, sticking close to each other, terrified. I saw Chris running out the house, his eyes wild.
I was in the kitchen. I heard it all. I stared at the framed picture, I looked at the smiling faces and fell to my knees, gasping for air. I heard his voice, I heard his cry, it’s my father, my father is screaming, he’s dying.
Four shots. Daniel screamed at the man, telling him to shut up, not to move. I ran up the stairs, two at a time. This man was in his bed, facing a blood splattered wall. A woman lay in a pool of her own blood on the floor, her eyes rolling in her head as she writhed in pain. Daniel turned to look at me, a manic smile on his face, holding out the gun because it was my turn to shoot, it was my turn to prove myself, and I had to do it or he would kill me too.
I turned and stumbled down the stairs. A shot flew over my head, yet I ran and ran, my mind screaming and tears going down my eyes. I ran into the kitchen again. I looked for something hard and I fail, I run up to the alarm system, it was time to pay for it all. Daniel was behind me, he was watching and saying Karim, don’t make me do this – he had the gun pointed and ready, but I slam my fist into the alarm, ripping it apart. My only solace was the wail of the alarm, a never-ending loudness.
Two bullets flew in my direction, I saw my pathetic life flash in front of my eyes as I ran down the street towards my house, away from police sirens that were approaching, away from neighbors who were curious. I jumped over warped trashcan lids, old rainwater mixing with tears and sweat. I reached my house. My mother and brother were asleep, They were just so asleep. I crawled into my closet, shaking and crying and breathing loudly and closing my eyes and just begging to die.
Twelve days in jail, 200 hours of community service. The other boys had the same punishment for being accomplices. No one had died that night, by the grace of Allah, but Daniel was still roaming the streets, angry. Looking for me, while law enforcement hunted for him.
My mother, upset beyond belief, stood by me throughout the ordeal. My brother, unable to speak, understood more than anyone. I went back to school on the days I could, and worked throughout the night for money to keep the house. We never spoke of the robbery, or the injuries, or of Daniel – but there were new locks on our door now.
Two months went by. Life became more normal, in a sense. Through studying day and night and at work, I passed enough classes to get credit. I would graduate in June. My mother’s smile came back, slowly at first, but more defined when my brother completed the first grade, and when we paid off the first lease to our home. We went to the masjid every night now, as a family.
It was a Wednesday afternoon when the doorbell rang. Five hours, thirty-three minutes. My mother and I were looking through a catalog she had kept for a while – she was so excited because she wanted to buy new cell phones for us. A blue one, she kept saying, I want a blue one! My brother and I would laugh and laugh at her excitement.
I opened the door, grinning, my back turned.
Daniel burst through before I had a chance to close the door. He pushed me up against the wall, so close I could smell the alcohol on his breath. I managed to make my way into the kitchen where my mother quickly stood up, the catalog dropping to the floor. She pushed my brother under the table.
“I told you not to do it, Karim,” Daniel slurred. He reached into his jacket, barely able to stand. I put myself in front of my mother, holding my hands out. I was the one he wanted, so I was the one he’d get.
“You need to leave,” I told him, my voice shaking but somehow firm. Daniel smirked, and aimed his gun. I could look down the barrel, he was so close. I told my mother to get down, to leave the room. My brother whimpered and I heard my mother utter a prayer. I closed my eyes, bracing myself.
It was the loudest noise I’ve heard in my life, the longest silence I could ever experience. The world fell into complete darkness as three bullets shot through the air, as my mother pushed me to the ground and died for me.
Three hours, sixteen minutes. My mother was lowered into the ground as the Imam read a prayer. My brother clutched my hand, unable to let go, unable to look away from the white sheets that covered the body of my mother. What I would give to have gone to Daniel, to die alone, and to spare my mother, my brother, myself, for paying the ultimate price of my actions. My head was spinning from that afternoon. I played and replayed the scene in my head, trying to look for a moment, any moment where I could have stepped in, where I could have taken responsibility for what my mother gave up for me.
After dusk, the house seemed empty. When my brother finally fell asleep, I stood outside, staring up at the heavens trying to blink away the tears and the pain and the loss. It would never work.
A package came to our house a few weeks later, near the end of spring. A card was attached to the top – I carefully ripped it open, wondering what the yellow card with the little blue balloons could possibly hold inside. It was dated back to nearly a month ago.
“Happy Graduation, Karim,” it read. “You have made me so proud.” In the package, under a little confetti and tissue paper, was a new blue cell phone.
The card was signed. “I will always be there for you. Love, Mama.”