The Fatma Stories
Fatma, the Fruit Seller
Fatma, the Belly Dancer
Fatma, the Fruit Seller
Fatma was a tiny fruit seller on the bustling streets. She wheeled her little wooden cart down the streets and feebly stretching her tiny voice above the hubbub of the streets, she would call out, "Fruit for sale. I have fresh fruit to eat. Straight from the countryside, a sweet ripened treat. Two cents for peaches, four cents for berries, eight cents for grapes, ten cents for cherries."
Some would pass by and look down to see her sweet face and pass her some coins for the taste of that succulent fruit as they passed on and away about their lives.
Each morning very early as the sun was still below the horizon she would grab a few coins from her hidden bank under the floorboards under her bed, whispering goodbye to her brother, Aaron, lying in bed next to her, agitated by fretful sleep. She would sneak out of the house past the growling snore of her father and kiss her mother, Rose, on the cheek and rush to the morning market with her tiny cart. The streets were quiet at this early hour but the morning market was alive. The streets through the market were so packed with people that she would lose her way, not being able to see from one stall to the next as she drowned in the sea of people. Little regarding the small fruit seller in her ragged clothes and dirty face other sellers would always push her out of the way and not even excuse themselves as they knocked her onto the ground. But eventually she would make her purchases, wading from stall after stall and collecting her small bundle of fruit.
The farmers liked little Fatma, since it was regularly the same farmers who would visit the market and that she would patronize, and they saw her morning after morning trying to call above the din. She would always talk sweetly with a bright smile even at that dusky morning hour. She would buy as much as her small cart could hold and her small purse could handle, reserving one piece of fruit for herself and buying a small chunk of cheese from a dairy farmer to settle the grumbling of her morning stomach and give her strength for her many mile walk through the day's busy streets. Then she would start walking through the streets, shouting, "Fruit for sale, I have fresh fruit to eat. Straight from the countryside, a sweet ripened treat."
When she would finish at the end of the day, she would take the money accumulated through her day and stash it with the rest of her gradually growing stash. She had no entirely certain plans with what to do with the money. She wanted to go away, away from this place and especially away from her father. And she wanted to take her brother with her. He had always been a sickly child and she felt that his health would improve if he could relax far way from this place and beyond the venomous abuse of her father. She wanted to take her mother with her, but she knew she wouldn't come. She was a woman of commitments. When she had committed to Fatma's father, she was committed thereafter. So, if she were to go away, it would be just her and her brother on their own.
Fatma would bring Aaron food secretly each night, and sometimes she found him old books that libraries would throw away or that people would give away since they no longer wanted them, and she would read them to Aaron in the evening by candlelight.
Her biggest worry was her father in the evening. He would come home each evening drunk and belligerent. Usually the only reason he came home was that he had already squandered all of his unearned money on alcohol. On those nights when she was lucky, he didn't make it far into the door before he would collapse from drunkenness and fatigue. If he didn't make it as far as his bed, Rose would tenderly pull him into bed. She couldn't quite lift him, but she was strong enough to pull him into the bed and put the sheets over him and sing to him a little, even as he nearly crowded her out of the bed while he slept. On the nights when Fatma wasn't lucky, her father would come home still strong enough to stand and anxious for more drink. He knew that Fatma had some money stashed away and he would sometimes search for it. He would turn over their table, look through drawers and even turn her out of her bed and search through her sheets and search through her pockets.
Tonight was one of those nights. He was teetering on the narrow platform of his two feet. He moved indecisively, but he found his way to Fatma and Aaron's bed. She was lying there quietly, trying to pretend to be asleep, but he was indifferent, and turned her and Aaron out of bed, by lifting up the mattress to see if there was any money stored beneath it. There were a few scraps of paper, yellowed newspaper clippings and scurrying insects on the wooden bed frame, but no money. He picked up the frame and dropped it in anger. As it fell, it dislodged the loose floorboard under which the money was hidden. He didn't notice it, but Fatma did. She gasped and tried to restrain herself from crying out in surprise, but she still made a small sound. Her father looked at her with a grimace: "You have money saved up. And you know where it is. Tell me."
He started to approach her, but he tripped and landed upon the floor with a painful thud. But this turned out to be the best perspective from which to see the loose panel on the ground. He grabbed the loose panel and saw the many coins swimming in their little wooden box. He grabbed a handful of coins and stuffed them in his pocket. He walked to the front door, still unsteady on his feet. Fatma tried to get in his way but he knocked her to the side with his knee. And he walked onto the empty streets.
The ladies of the night walked the streets trying to lure the mostly penniless drunks to a back alley or a shabby apartment for a quick turn on the sheets. They walked openly on the streets, but would immediately scramble for the side streets as the regular steps of an evening watchman approached. The drunks were a bit slower on their feet, and the evening watchmen would make sure to harass them, nudging them with their sticks and telling them to get on home, a place which not all of them could claim.
Fatma's father was a target of one wandering watchman. His name was Officer Johnson and he clubbed him with a heavy blow and then pushed him out of the way, saying "get out of the way you drunk. Get you home or I'll put you in the tank. We've got a wagon doing the rounds and you'll be on it if you're not off these streets." The watchman clubbed him several times and then kicked him to the ground.
Fathma's father kept on walking and he said, "My place is this way. I'm going home," mumbling and slurring and bumbling forward. Fatma catching up, approached Officer Johnson and tugged him on the sleeve: "Excuse me sir. But that man is my father and he has taken money from me." The watchman wheeled around to look down at the little girl at his feet and smirked, "Oh, little girl? What are you doing out so late? You should be home sleeping. Where is your home?"
"It's that way sir," she said, pointing towards their house, "That's where my father and I live. But he's taken my money, and I need it back."
"Well, if it's your money, then it's his money too, him being your father. I'll take you home," Officer Johnson said, grabbing her wrist and pulling her in the direction of her home. She tried to squirm away but his grip on her wrist was tight. He pulled and she dragged her feet, but he persisted, even picking her up off the ground for a moment. Fatma bit his hand and he dropped her. She quickly ran away and rounded a corner. He chased after her, shouting, "Come back here, little girl! I'm just gonna take you home!"
Fatma twisted through the alleyways and found a hiding place, quieting her breathe while the watchman ran past her. She caught her breath and doubled back, returning to the street where she'd last seen her father, ambling forward.
He was now exiting from a small basement, after hours bar that sold bottles of hard liquor. He stumbled up the stairs, the bottle in his hand. He still hadn't opened it, wary of the roving watchmen.
She ran down the stairs and pounded on the door. A door slot opened and two eyes peaked through, "What do you want?" not seeing Fatma. She stepped backwards up the stairs and said, "My father just came in here. Please, I want the money he used back." She heard the grinding of a lock and then the door was opened by a large bald man. He kneeled down to look her in the eye, and she said to him, "That money my father stole from me. I need that money. I need it back."
The bald man smiled and said, "Hello, little girl. I'm sorry, but he bought something with it."
"No, sir, I need that money," she insisted, "for my brother and me, and my brother's sick and I work hard for every penny and so much work, and every morning up so early. I have to be up early tomorrow too and I need to go back to sleep."
He smiled again and said, "You're cute kid. I'll make a deal. You bring me the bottle he bought from here back and I'll give you all the money back. You just have to part an angry drunk from his bottle and bring it back. Should be nothing for a little mustang like you." He laughed heartily and closed the door as he said, "I'll see you soon."
Fatma returned to the street to see her father in the distance. The bottle was in his hand. He hadn't opened it, still cautious, but he was moving home as fast as his ungainly strides would take him so he could drink it in the privacy of his home. Fatma ran up to him and tried to pull the bottle from his hand but he pushed her away. She tried it again even more energetically, and this time he pushed her into the dirt.
Fatma now finally cried a little as she sat on the ground in the dirt. She pouted, "it's not fair, it's not fair. He's so much bigger than me. It's not fair," but nobody heard her. She'd tried hard and she'd failed. She had to get up early and she was tired and this was a fruitless struggle. He would go home and drink away her money, puking some of it into the street and pissing the rest of it away into the gutter. And all she could do was sit on the dirty ground and cry until tears drew lines through the dirt on her face.
She finally stood up and wiped away her tears. A night wench was hanging back, hiding in the shadows but Fatma could see that she was watching her. She decided to approach her. The prostitute spoke up, "You're new to these streets, aren't you? A bit young to be making your start in the noble profession, ain't you? but I guess there's some men who have a taste for girls like you."
"No, my name is Fatma, and I'm a fruit seller. I sell fruit."
"Is that some new slang, I don't know about?" the woman asked, "My name's Bess. But I tell the men my name's Esmerelda if they ask. They usually don't ask."
"No, I sell fruit," Fatma said, "I sell fruit in a cart. I'm only out because I'm trying to catch my father."
"Oh, that drunk you were trying to steal the bottle from is your father? I know that man, and there's nothing he loves more than his bottle. More than his women, more than his children, more than anything. Don't know how you're expecting to pry his hands off of that. You trying to get him to quite drinking?"
"No, he bought the bottle with my money, and if I get it from my father and return it to the liquor salesman he'll give me my money back. I have so little money, and I need it so much." The tears were returning as she was speaking. She had not intended to use the tears to get the sympathy of the prostitute, but just to think about it again made her so sad once again. Nonetheless, the prostitute was softened, "There, there, little girl. Don't be sad. Little industrious girl like that'll earn back all that money tomorrow, right quick. You wait and see."
"Please, can you help me? Please can you help me get that bottle?" Fatma pleaded. "Maybe you can distract him!" Fatma spoke more excitedly, "I can then I can get the bottle when he isn't paying attention."
Bess balked, but Fatma kept insisting, even starting to push her onto the street with all of her weight, pushing with both hands and leaning her whole body into Bess' waist. "How much you going to pay me for this?" Bess asked as she was being pushed forward. Fatma simply looked up with her sad and pathetic face and said, "Please, it only take a minute or two. No time at all. You hardly have to do anything." Bess sneered and hissed at Fatma one last time, but then she started walking towards Fatma's father, who was leaning against a wall to rest. His head hung as if he was getting sick.
As Bess approached him she began to smell that acrid smell of a living carcass. He seemed to sweat fetid liquor out of every pore and also breathed its fumes out of the depths of his lungs too. Bess spoke up, "Hello there love. I know what a man like you needs after a long day. Come on let me take up you back one of these alleys and make you feel good." Fatma's father simply turned to her and gave her a cruel look. She approached more closely and touched his pungent clothing and touched his skin which was as rough as the dirt floor of the street. She reached down to his pants, saying, "I know you may have some trouble after all that liquor, but I can help you get the little soldier to attention." She unbuttoned his pants and new stronger smells of stale sweat and vinegary body odor were released even more strongly.
But he didn't let her go any further. He turned on her and backhanded her across the cheek. And then he grabbed her by the neck and began to squeeze. The bottle was dangling behind him in his other hand. Fatma ran up and snatched it out of this hand, and began to run. He hadn't noticed, so Fatma picked up a little rock and threw it at him. This brought him back to attention and he noticed the missing bottle, and he released Bess and ran viciously after Fatma.
She sprinted, terrified down an alley, pausing only for a moment in the shadows with gasping breaths, while he was lumbering down the alley towards her. He was still very inebriated, but his anger had given him more strength and he moved fairly quickly for one in his condition. She rounded another corner, him still lumbering behind, him still on her trail. She rounded even more corners and he was now getting closer. She sprinted down a long alley back to the main street from where she'd come, and he was getting closer and closer now. Suddenly a carriage moved right in front of her and blocked her way. Her father was nearly upon her, and she skirted underneath the carriage to keep running on the other side.
Her father got down on all fours to crawl under the carriage too, which now had come to a stop. When he peaked his head out of the other side, there Officer Johnson standing, waiting. "Still out on the streets this late, are we?" the watchman said, "What's a man like you trying to crawl under my wagon. A man in your condition should be crawling into it not under it. You gonna get in, or do I have to throw you in?" Fatma's father tried to run through the watchman, but he caught him in his arms and threw him back against the carriage. He then swung his club upon the back of his legs, causing him to fall to his knees. Officer Johnson beat him a few more times for good measure then he picked him up off the ground. Another watchman let down a little stairway into the back of the carriage and unlocked the door, so that Officer Johnson could toss him inside. The whole wagon smelled of festering putrescence and Fatma's father landed inside in a puddle of fresh vomit.
Fatma hid in the shadows and watched the carriage trot away. Fortunately, the watchman hadn't taken notice of her and continued on his way.
She returned to the basement liquor seller and pounded on the door again. The bald bouncer again answered and smiled again when he saw the bottle again. He even laughed when he looked at the disheveled little girl, but he kept his word and he gave her her money back in exchange for the bottle. She would later calculate that there were still a couple of pennies left in her father's pocket, since he'd bought the biggest bottle he could with the money he had, and only had a few pennies leftover. Those pennies would later be pilfered from his pockets by some of his fellow prisoners as he lay passed out in the drunk tank.
As Fatma headed home, she looked out for Bess. Bess again hung back in the shadows and Fatma again approached her. Fatma took two pennies from her pocket to offer as payment for what she'd done for her. Bess stepped into the light and Fatma could see a large, grimy handprint wrapped around her throat, "You got my father's handprint on your neck," Fatma said. Bess wiped her neck with her sleeve and wiped away most of the dirt. Fatma then said, "I thank you. And I want to give you two pennies for what you did. I hope it's enough. I don't have a lot." Bess said, "No, that's ok" and she began to retreat back into the shadows, "You keep it little Fatma. I think you need it."
When Fatma arrived home her mother was waiting up for her. "Where have you been?" Rose asked as she grabbed Fatma frantically and hugged her tight, "You father isn't back either."
"He got arrested for drunkenness," Fatma said, "I guess they'll release him tomorrow. I wish they wouldn't never release him."
"Stop that talk, Fatma," her mother said, "Now, where have you been?"
"I had to stop him from drinking more. It can be a hard thing to stand between him and his bottle," Fatma said.
"Well," was all Rose said. She then hugged Fatma again and said, "You best be getting off to bed, so you can get to rest."
Fatma walked over to her and her brother's bed, where Aaron now lay. "I've been worried about you sis'," he said weakly. She grabbed his hand and held it in hers and kissed it once and simply said, "Oh, but I worry about you so much more. Now, go to bed." And she tucked him in.
She took all the money out and kept it close to her for the night, deciding she would find a new hiding place in the morning. She hoped that her father would forget everything by morning, as he probably would, but she still wanted to find a new hiding place. Then she undressed for bed, lay herself down and rested for sleep.
Fatma still wheeled her little cart after all this time with accumulating revenue building slowly in a crevice in her room. She still called in her tiny voice, maybe not quite so tiny nowadays, "Fruit for sale. I have fresh fruit to eat. Straight from the countryside, a sweet ripened treat. Two cents for peaches, four cents for berries, eight cents for grapes, ten cents for cherries," and still rose early to buy from the morning market and still walked her many miles through the streets of the city of Foxburrow.
Her father had become more of a popular target of Officer Johnson and the other night watchmen. Because he spent so many nights within the sober walls of the jails and because he was wary of the night watchmen keeping clear of their gaze, when on the streets, he remained more sober than he would have liked. This sobriety didn't precisely transform his changed personality for the better. His rage, previously blunted by liquor, was sharp; his vitriol, previously vague and directionless, was now pointed, and mostly at Fatma. Worst of all, now she saw him more than she had before. Even if he was not usually awake when she left, he was attentive and might wake if she made too much noise and he was nearly always there when she came home at night. Now that he was around the house so much, she had difficulty accessing her stash and only did it every several days, quietly in the early morning when everyone was asleep.
Meanwhile, in hidden halls of deliberation little Fatma couldn't know and couldn't speak her sweet voice within, decisions were being made that would affect her. The legislators of her city felt the citizens needed to be protected from the threat of unlicensed food vendors, or at least the larger and more influential grocers and food retailers had convinced the legislators this was so. To palliate this threat, the legislators passed a new law creating a mandatory certification that all sellers of food would have to acquire and standards the food sellers would have to meet.
The law matriculated gradually down to the streets. Little Fatma with her unlicensed fruit cart still called out for customers who still came one by one and nibbled on her wares, unaware of their new complicity in such a gross violation of the law.
Officer Johnson, working an unaccustomed day shift, sidled up to Fatma's sweet voice and small cart. His sleepy eyes blinked and he yawned, but he recognized the little girl at first sight and was attracted by her succulent fruit.
"Well, well, little girl," he said, "So this is what you do during the day. You're out at night sneaking out of your home and during the day selling this fruit in this shabby cart. I, myself, am obliged, of course, you being a seller of fruit, to ask you for your food-vending license. If you will just produce it for me here, as you are obliged to by the law, then I can be on my way."
"Excuse me sir, I don't know what you mean," little Fatma said perplexed.
"A license, little girl," Officer Johnson responded, "A license which is necessary in order to sell food, which is necessary to protect the unsuspecting food buyer from all insidious food vendors, which you are supposed to have. If you will please produce it."
"I don't have a license. I didn't know there was a license. No one came and told me."
"Yes, well, ignorance of the law is no excuse for violation of the law. It is your obligation to keep track of new rules and abide by them, whether you agree with them or not. Now, I must say, you are not going to be able to sell until you get this license and bring your business up to the new standards which for the safety of our customers have been established."
"But I need to earn money. And what will I do. Please. I am such a small fruit seller and so few people buy from me. Can't you forget about me?" Fatma pleaded.
"My job is to uphold the law. It's the legislators' job to write it. Thus, in order to uphold that law, what we are going to have to do about you little girl, is I'll have to take your little cart until you get your license and I'll have to fine you. If you can't afford to pay the fine then I'll have to take you to jail where you will serve your time for your misdeeds."
Officer Johnson then reached out to grab Fatma, saying, "I'm not going to let you get away from me this time." Fatma retreated behind her cart. When he moved around to grab her she skirted to the other side to avoid him. She then ran with all her speed away from him, but Officer Johnson caught up to her and scooped her up with one arm.
Fatma started to squeal, "Help! help! he's trying to kidnap me." She got some attention and people gathered around to look at the two of them. As Officer Johnson became distracted by the people, Fatma wriggled free of his arm and then darted through the crowd, staying low to the ground and moving quickly. Officer Johnson tried to cut through the crowd to get at her, but the people didn't move out of his way. He had to push through and by the time he got to the other side, little Fatma was gone.
Officer Johnson ran, looking down alleys and around corners, but found none of her. He finally gave up and returned to where he'd left the cart. It was still intact with all the fruit still sitting upon it. He picked up some grapes and began to eat, while he pushed the cart towards the precinct station. He gave away some of the fruit to other watchmen and kept some of it for himself. He stored the cart and the cloth sitting upon it, tagging them and filling out some corresponding paperwork: "Two items. Food service cart and white linen cloth. Property of small girl, unknown identity, fruit seller, 10-16 years of age. Seizure for failure to acquire food-selling permit 1390C. Subject fled scene. Items are to be returned upon payment of fine and/or service of jail term. Schedule destruction of items after 120 days. Officer Johnson A3X60." Officer Johnson then nibbled on a few more grapes and fell asleep in the storage room where he'd stowed the cart.
Fatma wandered the streets hungry and confused. She regretted leaving behind her cart since now she couldn't sell her fruit, but she couldn't think of what else to do. Even upon reflection, she couldn't see what other choice she had. She couldn't be put in jail. That fine would be far too much money. And what other options had she? Maybe she could find a replacement cart somewhere, but she was too despondent to look now. Now she could only wander the streets with nothing to do and delay the moment of her home arrival.
Her father was there waiting when she finally returned. He noticed that she returned without the cart. It was his cart. He had found it, unused, on the streets: an old wooden cart for carrying food. Fatma had found the piece of cloth that she draped over it and had made it thereby into her fruit-selling cart. She washed the cloth with soap and water regularly to keep it clean and nice and she did her best to dust and clean the cart to keep it presentable. He hadn't used it and hadn't really had any use for it. His life mostly had consisted of collecting State Poverty Handouts and squandering it on alcohol. But when he saw her without the cart he was suspicious. "Where's your little fruit cart Fatma?" was what he asked as she passed him by. "I don't have it," was all she said as she walked into the kitchen. She stood next to her mother and tugged at her skirt.
Rose did the best she could with a meager diet of potatoes, cabbage and onions and the occasional bit of flour for bread. She had the rare treat of milk and eggs even less often and not tonight. She made an onion soup with potatoes and Fatma stood by for the moment and watched.
Her Father, though, became insistent about the cart: "What happened to the cart Fatma?"
Fatma hesitated, then said, "It was taken"
"It was taken by whom?"
Fatma again hesitated and then said, "By a watchman, a very mean man."
"Why would he take your cart? an officer of the law?"
"Because he's very mean," Fatma insisted, then conceding, "And also because I didn't have a permit to sell fruit. But I didn't know I needed one and he was very mean. I don't like him."
"But he is an officer upholding the law. Did he fine you? Did you have to pay him?"
"No, I ran away," Fatma said quietly, "I couldn't afford to pay the fine and he's so mean."
Her father grew angrier and now persisted, "I think you know what you have to do now, even though you don't want to do it. It is your duty to get that cart back. And the only way to do that is to go present yourself at the precinct station and pay the fine. And you should do that now."
"But can't I just wait until after dinner?" Fatma pleaded.
"No! Now! Out that door. The hunger will be your penance. And don't come back without the cart."
"But I can't afford to pay the fine. They'll put me in jail. That's the most horrible place to be."
"If you must serve your time then you must serve your time. All I care is that you only return if you have the cart being led before you."
He pointed to the door, but she started to walk in the direction of her bed, where her sickly brother lay and where access to the new hidden stash of her accumulated revenue was. He didn't stop her. She was thinking of pulling the money out, which she assumed would be enough to pay the fine, but her father loomed over her. She suspected that he wanted nothing more than to have her pull out her money so that he could take it from her. Perhaps he would not send her out after he had the money, but perhaps he would, so that she would sit in jail and be out of his hair for a while and hopefully even return with his cart.
She decided the only thing she could do was to leave and perhaps go to sit in jail for a few days.
She walked out the door. Her mother had been watching the whole exchange silently with impatient awe, but now that she saw her little girl walking out the door like that into dusk, so vulnerable, so unprotected, so pathetic, she ran out the door after her, to stop her, to wrap her in her two arms. She called "Fatma!" in such a way that Fatma turned to look back at Rose stepping out the door. But then her father grabbed Rose's wrist and pulled her savagely back into the house then almost threw her before the stove to recommence her cooking.
Fatma began to cry. She sat down on a doorstep and began to weep at the overwhelming situation in front of her and her father's own callousness and her mother's warm concern and her hungry stomach.
Night was coming and the streets were transforming. In the late day the streets cleared as people went into their homes to dine, but not too long afterwards it began to fill up again. The patrons and servants of the night's entertainments emerged from hibernation and streamed along the edges of the cobblestone streets like water flowing against a wall.
As Fatma walked slowly towards the Precinct Station her mind began to change. She started to believe that she could earn some money somehow and maybe she could buy a new cart. Certainly it would be cheaper to buy a new cart than pay the fine, and in the end she would have a shiny new cart instead of that old dingy one, and if she shared it with her father, he could probably be persuaded to forget about her losing the cart. Or, even better, she could say that she spent a few nights in jail, earned some money by selling fruit, sold the old cart for some more money and then used that money to buy a new cart. He couldn't be angry then. It was too late to do anything now, so she would just need some place to sleep until tomorrow morning, at which point she could figure out the details. But where to sleep she didn't know. She was so tired and hungry now and she didn't know where to go. She ultimately just she sat down in the shadows of an alley and fell asleep.
It was after what only seemed to her like a moment that someone was shaking her awake, saying, "Fatma, Fatma, wake up." She was disoriented, forgetting where she was, and the female voice made her think her of her mother, and she even mumbled, "Mom?" But then the voice cut in, "No, Fatma, it's Bess. You really shouldn't sleep here."
Fatma was quickly recalling where she was and what had happened. "Come on little girl, you've got to get home," Bess continued, "I don't want to know what would happen to a little girl sleeping out on these streets at night. I'll carry you home if you just point me the way. Come on, just climb up here."
"I can't go home," Fatma said. "My dad won't let me."
"Oh, come on, you can persuade him to let you back in. I know you. Or you can sneak in. He'll be so slobbering drunk he won't notice and then you can go out to your fruit-selling before he sobers and wakes up."
"I can't sell fruit. The cart that I sell my fruit on was taken," Fatma said, "And my dad isn't so drunk anymore. And he's much meaner to me. I'm afraid what'll happen if I go back. He wants me to get the cart back. And if I go back without it, I'm afraid what he'll do."
"Well you can stay with me," Bess said with a smile. Then her face fell and she stopped and said, "But you'll have to wait because I need to earn some money tonight." She then seemed to change her mind, "Maybe it's better you try to find something else. I don't want you being around when I do what I do."
"I can wait. I'm patient and very quiet. You won't notice I'm here. Please, I'd much rather stay with you," Fatma pleaded.
"What I do shouldn't be seen by a little girl like you."
Fatma became defensive, "I'm not so little. I only look little. I'm a grown girl and can see what grown girls can see."
"Do you know what I do?" Bess asked. Fatma shook her head, saying, "I don't know, but you do things for men who are out at night."
"Well you shouldn't know about it. Not yet at least."
Fatma persisted, "Tell me. I'd like to know." So Bess said, "One day when you're a bit older, you'll meet a man you love and you'll marry him and afterwards you'll share a beautiful communion, and you'll have children together. But for some men, they don't have someone they love to share that with. So they come to me and they commune with me, briefly, for a few dollars."
Fatma said, "Well, then I can do that too, and we can earn the money together much faster. And then I can have some extra for … " "No!" Bess cut her off, "No. It's not what you want to do. It's not a nice job. It's a horrible job. I wouldn't want any girl to take it up, unless she really had to."
"If it's horrible, I don't want you doing it either," Fatma said.
"But I have to. I need to pay for my place. I still don't even have enough money for this week. I still need about a dollar and some change, before I go back tonight to pay. My landlord's real good to me, and I'll never be late on him."
"I have that type of money. Not with me here. But at the house. Maybe I can sneak in and pull it from it's hiding place and then you don't have to have any more awful communion with any more men tonight," Fatma said.
"I told you last time, I don't want to take your money. You need that money," Bess recoiled.
Fatma stopped her, "But it'll be payment for letting me stay there tonight." Fatma only waited a second, before Bess took, a deep breath and Fatma smiled, turned around and said to Bess while she started to run towards her home, "I'll be back very soon. You won't have be with another man tonight." She was gone before Bess could stop her.
Fatma raced back to her house. She could see a light coming out of the windows, from a small candle that rested beside the bed where her brother slept. When she came to the side window she tried to reach up to peak inside, but couldn't reach. She rolled a metal bucket to the window, which she stood upon to peak through the window. There was the candle sitting on the ground, casting long shadows, and there was her father scouring everywhere he could think of that might hide a small cache of money. He looked under the bed, behind junk that lay on the floor, throwing aside small knickknacks she'd picked up off the street to use as makeshift toys for her and her brother. He looked inside the books, of which she'd gathered a small collection. He looked beneath pots in the kitchen, in the onion sack, in the potato sack, and he found nothing. He looked on the floor, to see if she'd stuck it in one of the gaps in the floorboard, but he didn't find it. As an after thought, he looked towards the roof. The roof peaked upwards and a handful of wooden rafters stretched across their shack to create a partial ceiling and somewhat usable attic. He reached up and felt across the top sides of all the ceiling rafters, but felt there nothing.
He'd looked around the house a few times already. Perhaps she'd dug a hole or hid it under something that he hadn't found. He decided he'd redouble his efforts in the morning, try to dig up the dirt all around the house and see if he could find it.
At that point Fatma's bucket rolled from under her feet. She landed okay but the bucket sprang from underneath her and banged against a wall, a noise that made her father startle. She ran away quick and hid and he came out and looked for the source of the sound unsuccessfully.
He went back into the house and sat down on the bed. He lay down next to his wife who was pretending to sleep. He felt full of energy, but he fell asleep quickly.
Fatma was waiting. She listened at the door to his breathing. When she heard his breathing deepen she decided it was time. She pushed at the door, but he'd latched it closed. She then went back to the window but it to was secured. She saw her brother Aaron below, sleeping fitfully and she decided to tap the window, to see if she could wake him and nobody else. She carefully tapped on the glass and he didn't appear to notice. But after a few tries he turned his head and looked up. From where he lay, she just looked like a shape in the window, but as she waved to him, he began to realize it was Fatma.
He rolled over and put his feet on the floor and sat up slowly. He felt that slight blacking out as blood rushed from his brain and he paused there, shaking it off, and feeling very week. But he got up from the bed, feeling very light-headed again and quavering under the weight of his standing body. He mad the few necessary steps to the window and then unlatched it. Fatma opened the window and Aaron sat back down on his bed and then fell backwards with fatigue, laying down and relaxing.
Fatma stepped up on the window sill to crawl through, but then once through she didn't step down on the floor, but actually stood up and reached for one of the ceiling beams. She pulled herself up on top of it and stood atop the beam. She was as quiet as could be, but the wood creaked and sighed under her weight. Trying to mitigate this sound, she carefully walked across the beam, balancing over above the room, looking down at her brother laying on his bed and staring up at her and the crude partition between his bed and their parents, who lay together, her father dominating the bed and Rose curling herself into a corner. Then there was the kitchen in one corner of the house, where Rose cooked and stored the food. A pot with some leftover soup from the evening's dinner—Fatma's portion that she hadn't been there to eat—was there. Fatma balanced herself carefully as she walked above, and when she got to the other side, she reached up to the underside of the roof where a small cloth bag was wedged inconspicuously between boards in the roof. She took it in hand and began to take the careful walk, balancing on that beam back to the window where she'd entered.
She climbed down and stepped down on the floor. She bent down and kissed her brother goodnight, on the cheek while he smiled up at her, and she said to him, "I'll be back for you. Don't you worry," and Aaron merely responded, "I love you sister."
She closed the window, deciding it would be easier to walk out the front door, hiding the money in her skirt and walking slowly towards the door. Again, the floorboards creaked, but she was slow and quiet. It was while near the door that the temptation of the smell of the leftover soup reawakened the hunger. She was still so hungry and there was her portion waiting cold still in its pot. She removed the lid and picked up the heavy pot. She tilted it towards her mouth and took some gulps of the soup. She usually did not much enjoy it, but now found it to be utter relief. But the pot was so heavy that she fumbled it and dropped it, creating a crash that shook through the house and immediately awakened her father.
She slowly turned around nervously and saw the shadow of her father rising from his bed. In the dim light he could only see Fatma's silhouette, but he knew who it was. She ran to the door, unlatched it and opened it, but her father was quickly out of bed and slammed the door closed with his hand in front of her. She ran to the window, and scrambled up onto the sill, but he lumbered towards her in long steps and pulled her down to the ground with her ankles before she had the chance to escape.
He then used one had to hold her against the wall, while his other groped over her to find the money sitting in her pocket inside its cloth bag. He said to her, "Well, I'm glad you came back to find it for me. It saves me a lot of work," while he weighed the small bag in his hand. Then he opened it and looked inside and gasped a little at the small but impressive cache of money she'd accumulated, which he'd never been sober enough to really appreciate. "Selfish little girl," he said, "not sharing your wealth with your family who has sacrificed so much to raise you. You deserve to be punished." At those words he picked her up, and shoved her through the window. She landed hard on the ground and he closed the window with a click of the latch.
The fall had a painful landing, and Fatma ached. All she could feel now was how badly she hurt, how hungry she still was and how fatigued she was so late in the evening. But she still stood up.
She pulled the bucket back to the window and peaked in the apartment. Her father lingered little and was already dipping back into the sheets with Rose. The cloth bag was in his hands and he started to try and fall asleep. Fatma was patient, waiting for a signal of his sleep, the deep breathing and the modest snoring, before she thought of trying to get back in.
She again carefully tapped on the window, and Aaron again labored out of bed and let her in. She didn't step down on the floor, but again climbed up onto the beams stretching across the ceiling. She again walked carefully above the quiet kitchen and her sleeping parents. This time though she stopped above her father and carefully positioned herself. He lay on his back, with his head cocked to the side and his mouth slightly open.
Fatma dropped herself from the ceiling to land square on the chest of her father and his eyes leaped open as he gasped with a loud snort. His hands shot out in surprise and the cloth bag nestled in them dropped to the side, hitting the ground. Fatma picked it up as quickly as possible and ran to the door, unlatched it and exited.
She this time did not have a head start on a drunken father. She didn't have the protection of his probably subsequent amnesia. He would remember this, and if he got a chance to chase after her he would be able to catch her. So, she cut a tortuous path through streets and alleys while she found her way to Bess, breathing excitedly, anxious for the sound of his heavy footsteps. Though she pricked her ears, the streets were empty of those sounds, and she could sigh with relief.
For the sake of Bess, she'd tried to be as quick as possible, but much time had transpired. She knew that Bess couldn't refuse a good paying customer, uncertain of money as she was. But how much she wished that Bess would not have to do something she so loathed, that she scrambled back quickly in the hope that she could get a hold of Bess before the money-laden men proffered a chance for communion.
Fatma found Bess where she'd always found her, hiding in shadows, waiting for customers to arrive. Fatma approached her quickly with her little cloth sack raised up in excitement, waving it around and saying to Bess, "Come on! Let's go! Let's get off the streets!" Bess smiled at her as she approached and took the little cloth bag in her hand and inspected the money as soon as Fatma handed it to her. She had to confirm that the money was really there, and smiled.
Fatma had to insist, "No awful men came while I was away, right? No awful communion right?" Bess paused a minute with an uncertain face, and then she smiled and said, "No, not tonight," and Fatma squealed with glee to here her say it. Yet as they walked, fresh coins of a recent patron clinked within her pocket. Fatma's enthusiasm, though, tempted her to dream that perhaps there was some way that that man would be her last. She didn't quite know how, but she thought it might be possible.
Bess led Fatma into her small bedroom, with a bed, a washbasin and a chair. Over the chair lay the rest of Bess' wardrobe: a winter cloak and a colorful skirt and blouse that she no longer wore. Fatma picked up these two items, with the intention of curling up in the chair as a place to sleep at night, then she noticed the skirt and blouse. She had to ask, "What is this?" Bess smiled and said, "That's what I used to wear when I danced." Fatma squealed with delight, "You used to dance!" and draped the dress over herself, though it was far too long for her. "I want to learn how to dance," Fatma said, "Where did you dance?"
"At an underground club, on a stage in front of many people," Bess said, "That's what I did for a living before this job."
"Oh, you have to teach me how to dance," Fatma insisted, pleading slightly, "I'll be the best student you've ever had."
Bess was still reluctant at first, but Fatma's enthusiasm stripped away her hesitancy. So Bess and Fatma began to dance until the night was late and they had to rest. Then Bess and Fatma shared a bed and slept.
Fatma, the Belly Dancer
Fatma was now learning how to dance. She practiced many hours during day and night and still found time to sell some fruit from off a wooden tray she carried through the streets. She had to be cautious for the watchmen, who would watch for unlicensed sellers of goods, might pursue her. Bess would join her in the day and watch out for any coming watchmen and signal Fatma if they did come, so Fatma could roll the fruit into a large pocket in her skirt and hide away quickly. They kept inside when crowds were thin and practiced dancing. But in the early morning, during lunchtime, and in the early evening they went out and used the crowds as places to hide and sold their wares, enough to keep them through the day. Bess, would still go out at night to walk the streets, despite that Fatma hated it so much, but she could now afford to take off nights, as she hadn't been able to before.
So Bess had more time to teach Fatma how to dance. Bess had formerly made her money dancing in a bar at night, as a belly dancer. She had a skirt and blouse that showed her midriff wiggling quickly back and forth while her elegant arms arched and bent.
Bess was reluctant to think of Fatma becoming a dancer as she had herself, since Fatma was so young and dancing before a crowd like she did, with men dropping coins within a cup set at her feet, and even sometimes drooling as they looked at her, was bound to make a girl so young, old before she was ready to grow up. For Fatma such a job could be a way to keep Bess off the streets and a way to continue to raise money for her brother, who was still ill and trapped within the confines of her parent's house.
Fatma went by to visit him and say hello, but she could usually only just peak in. Her mother mixed him medicine during the day and it never seemed to help, but only to make him worse. She watched Rose one day mix the medicine into his potato soup, and she saw how the food so made him wretch. He was so sickly and weak and each day seemed even closer to the end. She resolved that he must be freed.
It made her guilty to think so poorly of her mother, but Fatma felt that she was not helping Aaron, and that she herself could help him become better. If Aaron could join her and Bess, then maybe that more positive environment would turn his illness around for good. She'd never been a feeble girl, small as she was, and her brother she thought, also had that spirit of strength lurking somewhere deep inside.
Fatma would pass by the house frequently and peak inside to see who was around. Their parents didn't like to leave Aaron alone and now without Fatma to watch him, the two of them were mostly always around. Her father was still idle and leaching of state funds to pay for his idleness. Rose traded nursing service in exchange for food and sometimes other small gifts, which kept them at subsistence even when her husband had previously squandered every penny on alcohol. He still wasted the money he didn't earn, but he'd picked up new methods, gambling and going to stage shows, in respectable places and in places of ill-repute. So Rose would occasionally leave to earn her meager supply of potatoes, cabbages, onions and flour. Now with only three mouths to feed, she was able to extend this small amount of food further, but it still was meager.
Nonetheless, despite that they were both usually there, Fatma knew there must be times when Rose had to leave and her father would be late in returning, or when Rose was out and her father was too impatient to stay.
There was no pattern to their habits, no way of anticipating when they wouldn't be around. And she couldn't stay at the house and wait for them for long, since she had to earn her money. So she would merely briefly show up to check on him at least once a day and hope that both of them were not around when she arrived.
It took weeks before fortune was with her. She and Bess had decided to take a break and Bess was holding onto the daily store of fruit. Fatma arrived at the house and peaked in the window over Aaron' bed and saw no one but him inside. She tried the window and it was unlatched and she called to him from the window's ledge, "Aaron!" and his head pricked up. He spoke with hoarse joy, "Fatma!" "Is anyone here?" she asked.
"Mom just left and dad is supposed to be home, but he isn't," he said, "I don't know where he is."
Fatma crawled into the room and set her two feet on the ground before she said, "I'm going to take you out of here. You're going to come with me."
Aaron looked perplexed, "Aren't you going to come back and live with us?"
"No!" Fatma insisted, "You're going to come live with me."
Aaron seemed distressed, "But who will take care of me? What about mom?"
"Mom is not taking care of you," Fatma said, "I will take care of you."
"But what about mom?!" Aaron seemed almost ready to cry.
"You'll see mom. Just not as often," Fatma said.
"I don't think I want you to take me, Fatma. I think mom should come and I think she should be the one to take me away." Fatma was becoming exasperated of persuading him.
Fatma and Aaron had little more chance to argue since the next thing they heard was a noise at the door. Their father was returning from an unsuccessful game of cards, at which he had lost nearly all his money. He immediately called out for Rose, who wasn't there and thus was unable to respond. It seemed to him she should be there since he wanted some food between meals to make him feel better. He was supposed to have been home earlier of course, to ensure that Aaron wouldn't be left alone, but he'd forgot. Now he wondered why Rose would go away and neglect poor Aaron.
He peaked around the partition to check on Aaron, lying in bed. Aaron looked a little flushed and nervous, but his father didn't notice. He just wanted to make sure Aaron was there and hadn't run away. He then proceeded to idle away his time by tossing small pieces of gravel into a bucket.
When he was out of sight, Fatma crawled from out under the bed. She put her finger to her lips to indicate quiet and then she walked slowly to the door. The floor creaked but her father didn't notice. The window had been left open but her father didn't notice. She waved goodbye to Aaron and mouthed that she would return. She crawled slowly up and out and their father was oblivious.
Fatma returned to Bess and they continued their day's fruit-selling, and it was more than a few weeks before Fatma had another chance to speak with Aaron.
In the interim, Bess took her to the bar where she had danced to introduce her to the owner. It was early in the evening when they went. It was the basement door her father had visited for his bottle quite some time ago. When she pounded on the door, eyes looked through to see her and then the door opened. The bald man stood there, and he said, very pleased, "Well, I see the little firebird has returned. What do you have in mind today little girl?"
"My name is Fatma," Fatma said, "And I'm here with Bess and we would like to see Mr. Jarmann."
"Well, since Bess is with such a respectable friend like you, I guess she can come in," the bald man said, stepping back, "I believe Bess knows her way to his office."
"And what is your name then, sir?" Fatma asked him, looking up into his eyes as she passed him by.
"You can just call me Grit," the bald man said smiling, "That's what they all call me."
Bess led Fatma back towards Mr. Jarmann's office in the back behind the bar. He was working through the accounting books, paying little attention and working diligently. As Bess came close, he finally was pulled out of his distraction and raised his eyes. When he saw Bess, he immediately rose from his chair and smiled politely, "Ah, Miss McGuire. It is a pleasure to see you," taking her hand and shaking it, "How can I help you today?"
"It is not I that you can help, but this little girl here. Her name is Fatma," Bess said
Mr. Jarmann turned to look at Fatma inquisitively, "How can I help you?"
"I'm looking to work as a dancer, as a belly dancer in your club. Bess has been teaching me and I've been working really hard. She's a really good teacher and I think that I can do a good job of it now. You should really see me."
"Bess was a good dancer, and I'm sure she's taught you well," Mr. Jarmann demurred. He leaned toward her and began to look at her closely, "You are a bit young," he spoke quietly as if thinking out loud and not addressing her, "But you have a distinctly Near Eastern look." He looked at her face, "Are your parents Turks? You look like a little sultana. And your name is Fatma."
"No, my mother and my father are both from here. I don't know what a little sultana is. Maybe I could be a little sultana and not know it," Fatma said.
Mr. Jarmann was perplexed, "Well, I don't know what it is, but I could swear you look Turkish. No matter. Whether you are or not, I think it'll serve you well as a belly dancer. You look exotic. Of course, we'll have to check out your dancing. I assume you wouldn't have brought her here, Bess, if you didn't think she was of some skill."
"I've been teaching her well, and she's been learning fast. She's improving all the time," Bess said.
"Our customers want skill, not improvement. Nonetheless … " Mr. Jarmann thought to himself for a moment, then glanced at his calendar and said, "Why don't you come back in two weeks. You practice your hardest until then and then we'll see you, see if we think you're worthy. Two weeks from today, 5 pm. You'll perform for us, and I'll have some people scrutinize your dancing skills, and then I can decide whether to take you on or not. Does that work?"
"Oh yes! Very much! I can't wait," Fatma said with pleasure.
Fatma was dancing the whole way home with delight, circling around Bess and smiling. That night she practiced extra hard and stayed up late into the night working on her technique. But she had a hard time enjoying the feeling with the thought of her brother still locked up within that house, still getting worse everyday, when Fatma knew that she could help.
She continued watching the house, now stopping by even more often than before. She saw her father around far too much, and her mother was always around when he wasn't. He'd become a more responsible babysitter for his son, though he still paid him little attention.
It did eventually happen, though that they were both gone once again. This time, their mother was out working and their father sat impatiently in the house fidgeting and trying to forget the passing of the time. Eventually he couldn't take it, and left the house as if he had completely forgot that Aaron was there. Fatma had been watching his fidget and pace and his unsuccessful attempts to distract himself. When she saw him walk out the door, she almost leapt with joy. From her hiding place, she watched him disappear into the streets, and she was quickly through the unlatched window and talking with Aaron.
She again insisted, "I'm taking you out of here," but he again was distressed at the thought of leaving his mother. A bowl lay on the ground, the soup mixed with medicine, now cold and mostly eaten. Fatma gave it a taste, curious at its flavor, but as soon as it touched her tongue, she wretched and coughed.
"Please Aaron, I must take you away from this," Fatma begged, "It won't be long. You'll get better in a flash and then you'll be back to be with mom all the time. It's just like going away to the hospital for a few days." But Fatma this time didn't bother waiting for his consent. She simply picked him up with her hands.
At first Aaron was surprised, not sure what Fatma was up to, but as she raced towards the door, he began to grow fearful. As she opened it and stepped outside he couldn't help but cry.
That's when she heard footsteps approaching from the direction where her father left. She ran, with Aaron in her arms to hide behind in the alleyway beside the house. Aaron was still crying and she tried her best to shush him. She covered his mouth. She hummed soothing music and she smiled, but he still cried. She finally slapped him in desperation. She felt horrible about it and simply stared at him with guilt on her face after she did it, but it served the purpose. Aaron stared up at her stunned.
Aaron wasn't that much younger than her and she was small, so that she could barely carry him. So she sat down on the ground with her back to the wall, setting him on her lap while she whispered in his ear, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Everything will be better from now on."
Fatma hummed to him and rocked him back and forth while his tears began to dry beneath his red eyes. The creak of the door sounded round the corner as their father entered the shack, a bottle hidden beneath his cloak. Fatma stood, draping Aaron over her shoulder and trying to rush with his heavy burden weighing her down. She could here in the distance her father's first perplexed and hesitant call: "Aaron? Aaron are you here? Are you hiding?"
He started to grow angry: "Aaron, get out of there! Come on out! Where are you!?" as he loudly overturned furniture. He finally stormed out of the door and called at the top of his voice, "Aaron! Get back here!" Aaron could hear him in the distance through the walls and it made him start to cry.
Fatma again tried to quietly shush him as she continued to jog. Their father picked up the scent of that distant sound of crying, and though it was difficult to pinpoint the direction, he began to move cautiously in the general direction of the sound.
He loudly called out Aaron's name. Aaron didn't respond, but continued to cry, even louder now. Fatma whispered to him, "No! Stop crying! Please!"
Their father continued to follow the sound and approached ever closer. Fatma tried to rub his back as she held him over her shoulder, but he seemed inconsolable.
When Fatma rounded another corner, she came to where Bess was taking a break, sitting on the edge of the sidewalk and watching the sporadic persons walk by. Bess leapt to attention at the sight of little Fatma carrying the boy, and she rushed forward to pull him out of Fatma's hands. Bess didn't hesitate, rushing forward in the direction of the their apartment, paying no heed to Fatma and disappearing around corners.
Fatma stopped and turned. It was only a moment before her father rounded a corner and saw Fatma in the distance. He walked quickly towards her shouting, "Where is your brother? Where is your brother?" and she began to run away from him in fear, but he sped up and snatched her by the wrist, pulling her back towards him. "You have something to do with your brother being missing. You know where he is, don't you? And you're going to tell me, aren't you?"
"No, let me go," she shouted, trying to wriggle out of his grip, which tightened as she squirmed. He dragged her in the direction of the house. She still shouted, and he merely responded, "You're going to tell me where he is. What are you doing to him? Why are you taking him away like this? He doesn't want to leave the house, he wants to stay with his mother and father. What have you done with him?"
As they walked he continued, "So are you going to tell me where he is?" Fatma timorously answered, "No." And then he lifted her up in the air by her wrist and he spanked her several times until she began to bawl.
He asked her again, "So are you going to tell me where he is?" Fatma now more angrily cried "No!" between tears. He didn't bother to pick her up, and simply slapped her across the face.
"You are going to tell me where he is," he said to her now, as they approached the house.
He dragged her into the house and then he threw her down on the ground, shouting, "Now talk!" Fatma was crying and would hardly have been able to talk had she desired to. She sat up and the light through her eyes was smeared with tears and she loudly sobbed, while he tried to antagonize her again, "You're behind this! Where is he!" raising his hand to threaten her. She could barely see him through her bleary eyes and she didn't flinch. He then slapped her and she fell down again and dripped her tears onto the floor.
When he was raising his hand again to threaten her, the door opened and he turned to see who it was. It was Rose and she was amazed. She dropped the bag of food in her arms and she ran towards Fatma and embraced her, and began crying herself: "Oh, my little Fatma. I missed you. Why are you so sad. Do stop crying now, just for me."
"Ok, ok, that's enough," he said, pulling her away, not so violently as he had before, "She's taken Aaron somewhere and I don't know where, and she won't tell me. She's not going anywhere until she tells me, if I have to beat it out of her. Now you don't get in my way and go prepare some food."
"Fatma wouldn't do that," Rose said, peaking around the corner, looking for Aaron and seeing that he truly wasn't there. "He couldn't run off in his condition. He can't be far, "she said, then started calling out the window, "Aaron! Aaron, where are you?"
"He's not here!" her husband shouted, "She's taken him away. He couldn't gotten far on his own, and she's behind it," turning to Fatma, "Aren't you?"
"This is not how to treat your daughter," Rose said.
"My daughter?" he responded.
Rose got close to Fatma and she asked her, "Perhaps you know where your brother is? He's very sick and I don't want him out on his own. You know I worry about him and want to protect him, and if you know anything, then you can tell me and it'll be alright."
"But you haven't taken care of him," Fatma said, "I want him to get better. I'm going to take care of him, and if you'll let me go, I'm going to go to him, and I'm going to make him better."
Fatma's father was incensed at these words and he again felt a desire to lash out upon her. Rose kept calm, though she was deeply wounded and felt the urge to cry. She continued, "I know you care very much for your brother, but it's my duty to take care of him, and I've done my utmost. I give him all the food we can afford you know, and I work very hard."
Fatma said, "Well I can work very hard too. And I can make him well too, better than you can. He's my brother and I can take care of him too. Please let me go, I just want to make him well."
Rose frowned and stood back. All she could say, with deep concern was "Oh Fatma!"
Rose then bent down to kiss her on the cheek, and surreptitiously whispered to her, "In a moment, run."
She then stood next to her husband and pulled him towards the kitchen as if she wanted to conference privately with him, with his back to Fatma. Fatma was at the door before he noticed, and it was the sound of the door that gave her away and he immediately turned. Rose tried to restrain him, but he was far too strong for her and he forcefully pushed her aside. She recoiled quickly and closed the door in front of him and tried to block him. He again forcefully pushed her aside, this time with considerable more savagery. Rose still tried again. After he stepped out the door, she leaped onto him from behind, trying to pull him to the ground. He had to extricate himself from her grasp, and then he slapped her hard across the face. She didn't stop, now trying to trip him up by latching onto his legs. He now kicked her away, then turning to kick her in the chest as she lie on the ground. Rose still didn't give up, grabbing his coat while she reached up from the ground, trying to pull him down with her. He tried to snatch himself from her grasp, but she held firm. He finally took off his coat and left her there, now starting to rush.
At that point, though, he didn't know where Fatma had gone. She'd run off as fast as she could, and he didn't know where. He ran to the place where he'd met her on the street and she wasn't there. He searched down streets and alleys, unable to give up, calling out for her and for Aaron at the top of his voice.
Aaron heard him faintly while he lay in bed and Bess ladled some soup and fed some bread they'd got from a kind neighbor who sold food to many of the transient residents for cheap. Bess and Fatma were so pleased and optimistic, that they wanted to feed him until he was stuffed, but Bess said, they should take it slowly.
Fatma then got a chance to show off her dancing while Aaron lay in bed and watched. He clapped and giggled, saying, "Fatma, you look so exotic."
When her mother went to visit one of her patients the next day, her face was swollen and bruised with cuts across it. Everyone politely pretended they didn't notice and Rose winced with pain every time her facial expression changed.
When Fatma went to Jarmann's club as scheduled, Jarmann was there with two unhappy looking men who both smoked continuously, one from a round cigar and the other from a thin cigarette. They stepped back and disappeared into the shadows as soon as she stepped into the bright lights of the stage. She was nervous, but she had grace and she very much looked exotic and unique. It was more that exotic uniqueness that made them consent to hire her. She would dance there for a month on a contingency basis, and if they liked how she turned out and the customers liked her, then she could become a permanent fixture.
Fatma ran home excitedly and told Bess, hardly able to contain her excitement. Bess sat down above Aaron, who still looked sick and smiled meekly to Fatma. He wanted to be excited like her, but he didn't have the energy, but she could tell he was pleased. Fatma then sat next to him and hummed a song and told him to sleep, for he needed to recover as quickly as he could.
For Fatma, the dancing at Jarmann's bar did grow to be less exciting as it had been at the beginning. The regular patrons at the bar were considerably less civil than Jarmann, her boss, and dealing with them was one of the more unpleasant parts of her work. They made requests of her that she was too young to be hearing, and that were unseemly to make to a young girl. She brought out latent desires for the young nymphette that more than a few men harbored.
On the other hand, the dancing itself was interesting and the customers were fond of her. She had initially been an object of interest because she was new and she was young and exotic, a small middle-eastern-looking girl with a sunny face. Now she had grown to be liked by many of them as a sweet but forceful girl that was civil and kind but couldn't be trifled with. Even though there were those who were rude, there were those who defended her, keeping the more unruly drunks in check when they got out of control in front of her.
She danced for them with the quick undulations of her hips, interspersed with sections of a rhythmic, spinning dance, where she spun before them in flowing circles of movement. She made sweeping arm movement, moving her body in a complete rhythm and flow. She had kept the dancing interesting by constantly trying to improve, by refining her technique and modulating her style. Most of the patrons didn't pay close enough attention to really notice the improvement, but Jarmann did, and it pleased him. She had turned out well, and she brought men into the bar.
Back in the small apartment that Bess and her shared, Bess tended to Aaron, who was improving significantly under their care. Bess had reluctantly giving up her streetwalking. Fatma had been anxious to keep her from that profession, and Bess was glad to be rid of it, but disliked depending upon the labor of Fatma to pay for food and housing. Fatma had only been able to persuade her by telling her that she needed a full time nurse to attend to her brother and that she could return to work as soon as Aaron was better.
Aaron and Fatma's parents, of course had not forgotten about Aaron. They tried to find her by searching the endless meandering streets of Foxburrow. They finally presented themselves to the watchmen more than two weeks after Aaron had been taken. Rose had been reluctant to go to the watchmen and had persuaded her husband that Fatma was going to return him any day now and that they should avoid crossing paths with the watchmen, but her father was persistent.
Officer Johnson was the man to take their report.
"You have a kidnapping to report?" Officer Johnson asked.
"Yes," her father said, "My son has been kidnapped, by her sister, Fatma."
"She is your daughter?"
"I am her guardian. Yes," her father said.
"And so your daughter is not living with you? And she has kidnapped your son? How old is your daughter?"
"She is about thirteen, I believe. Right, Rose? Yes, thirteen."
"Only thirteen? And she's your daughter?" Officer Johnson was thinking to himself. He was starting to remember the night when he first met a younger girl that had told him that some wastrel drunkard was her father. The man now seated before him appeared to be that wastrel drunkard, though Officer hadn't seen him in a while. Officer Johnson had subsequently found her selling fruit without a license and had impounded her fruit cart, but had been unable to fine her since she ran away. He was starting to piece together a full portrait of a little girl very much up to no good.
Officer Johnson said, "I think I have had some encounters with this girl. I confiscated a cart after she was caught vending food illegally, which she has still yet to claim. I can return it to you, if you are willing to pay the fine."
"No," her father said bitterly, "It's her responsibility. Though it is my cart."
"Say no more. Youngsters need to be brought up right, and giving too many concessions can be dangerous business. And this one in particular must be a difficult girl to handle." Her father nodded his head, and Officer Johnson continued, "Right now, I need you to provide a full description of her, anything that'll help us distinguish her. I'm sure I'll recognize her, but we'll need this to distribute to the other watchmen, so they can be on the lookout for her too."
"She's under five feet tall, maybe four foot ten or four foot eight. She's got black hair and brown eyes. Her skin is a tan color. She looks Near Eastern, like a Turk or an Arab. That's probably the thing that makes her stick out the most."
"No scars or birthmarks or other distinguishing features?" Officer Johnson asked. The father looked at Rose who shook her head. "I think that'll be good," Officer Johnson said, "She is quite distinctive. And what about the little boy, what was his name?"
"Aaron," her father said, "He's a little bit smaller than her, maybe four feet tall, maybe a bit more. He's about seven years old. He has blonde hair, blue eyes and very pale skin. He's a very sickly, skinny child. You won't be finding him walking around, since he's bed ridden and has been for many months, well over a year I think. He has a birth mark on his left leg and a significant scar on his right hand, if that helps."
Officer Johnson filled out some paperwork and left them with the assurance that they would find the two children promptly.
Descriptions of Fatma and Aaron were released to watchmen and soon it was that several people were looking for her.
Fatma meanwhile danced at the bar and one night passed into another with Aaron making steady improvement and Fatma becoming more of a regular at the bar.
After a few days had passed, a young man, a teenager, named Basil, who always came with his father to the bar began to become interested in Fatma. He had a round serious face and eyes that were always looking upward into the sky. Whenever he and his father would go to the bar, his father would offer to buy him a stiff drink, but the boy would always ask for just an orange juice. His father and he normally sat in the back, away from the rambunctious crowds, but on this day when it was rather full, they were forced to sit up front to take in the dancing. Basil became immediately intrigued by the exotic dancing girl.
When Fatma sat down to rest he took the initiative and saddled next to her with his orange juice in hand and a friendly smile. He said to her, without any formalities, "You are a very good dancer, but I really think a young girl like you should be going to school, instead of being in a place like this. Don't you?"
Fatma didn't know how to respond so she politely asked, "What is it I'm supposed to go to school for?"
He laughed, and Fatma was unaware that she had made a joke. He continued, "Don't get me wrong, you dance beautifully, and I'm glad I got the chance to see you dancing. But you are of the age when a girl is supposed to go to school, right?"
"I don't know, when is a girl supposed to go to school?" Fatma responded.
He laughed again, and Fatma was again unaware that she had made a joke.
"You should have started school many years ago, when you were about six. What you're now ten? eleven? You should have been going to school for some years now. I'm a few years older than you, and I'm still going to school. I still have a few years of schooling left. It's a wonderful thing, you know. They teach you all the important things in school. Didn't you know?"
"I'm afraid my parents didn't admit me into school when I was six. I don't think I have time for that, now. And I'm not sure what I should learn there."
At this point Basil began a long description of all the things he'd learned about in school and how they were to be very useful. "I'm going to be a journalist, like my father," Basil said, "And so I need to spend as much time as possible reading and writing so I can be a good journalist."
"But doesn't a journalist need to go out and see important events happen. How can you do that when you're in school?" Fatma asked.
"In due time," Basil said, laughing, "I won't be in school forever. When I'm ready I'll do that."
They talked a bit more and then Basil had to leave. He talked to his father about the young belly dancer, whose name he hadn't caught, and his father grew very interested, "She would make a good story son. It is what I have always been telling you about. The poor are taken advantage of. She is a perfect example. The owner of that bar has found a girl down on her luck and for a meager salary has put her up on the stage so that pedophilic men can fantasize about her while they drink to forget about the wives and children they neglect. Son, you should write an article about her. It'd be really good for you."
"I think that'd be good," Basil said pleased.
"It'd be good practice. I'll help you, and if you do well, then I'll make sure it finds it's way into the Foxburrow Tribune with your name on the byline."
"Wow!" Basil's eyes glistened as he looked upward towards the starlight, "My first article in a real paper!"
Fatma left work at her usual hour, late in the evening, and went directly home. When she opened the door to the apartment she was shocked when she saw Bess teaching Aaron how to dance. When Aaron saw her, he leapt with fright and immediately climbed back into bed. Fatma said to him, "You shouldn't be out of bed. You should be resting. And definitely not dancing."
"I don't need to rest," Aaron voiced in clear syllables while he cowered underneath his sheets, "I really don't. I can dance. For a little while at least. Not as long as you can. But I will be able to soon. I mean, I shouldn't do it as well as you."
Fatma, though, was not angry at all, but simply surprised. She threw herself on his bed with such force that he heaved out a grunt of pain when she landed on him, and she hugged him and kissed him all over. "Oh this is so wonderful! You're doing so well!" she squealed with joy.
She let him rest at that point, but she made him promise that he wouldn't wear himself out dancing with Bess, and would save his energy to dance with her. That evening Fatma was so excited that she could barely sleep. The last time Aaron was healthy, she was almost too young to remember.
The next day when she returned to work, she again found Basil waiting for her when she took a break. This time he had a small notebook and pencil in hand and he seemed anxious to write. His first words were an introduction, "My name is Basil. Sorry I didn't properly introduce myself last time," and she finally told him her name. "Wow, what a name," he said, immediately writing it down on his notebook, "That's not a name from around here. Where does it come from?"
"I don't know," Fatma said, "I always though it was normal. My mother gave it to me."
"Your mother? Tell me about your mother. Was she a good mother? Did she treat you well?"
"Yes, she did treat us well. She was always willing to help out my brother while he was sick. But I don't think she helped him very well, since now he's getting better when she's no longer taking care of him."
"So, your mother isn't around anymore? Is she dead? Are you an orphan? And who is it that's taking care of your brother."
"No, she's not dead. She's around somewhere. I don't know where. My father wasn't treating my brother and I too well, so I had to leave them, and now me and a friend of mine are nursing him, and he's become so healthy so quickly."
"Alright. Tell me about this friend of yours. Has she run away from her parents like you?"
"Oh, she's much older than I am. She used to work, but now she's tending to my brother. She used to walk the streets at night and do things for men. She refuses to explain it to me. But she didn't like the job, and I talked her out of doing it for a little while, while she nurses my brother back to health. And she's so good at it, that he's already walking, and dancing and moving around. And I'm so excited."
The conversation went on, with Basil providing questions, and then quickly scribbling down her answers, occasionally asking her to pause while his notes caught up to her words.
Fatma had never had someone so interested in her and what she said, so that when she looked at this boy and saw his eager interest, she felt what was in her little girl's heart, the feelings of love. She hadn't even thought to ask why he should be asking these questions and writing down all these answers, but she was pleased to talk about her family, whom she loved, and about her work as a fruit seller, and then stealing her brother and now working here, and about her boss who was very civil and kind. Basil took it all down, still with more questions waiting when she finished her break and continued dancing.
He had to be home so he could get up early for school, but he was anxious at school, unable to wait until he got home and started poking away at his father's typewriter, starting to write the story.
He went back that night to ask her some more questions, to clarify some of the things that he was unclear about, but the story was mostly starting to coalesce in his mind. It was the story of a young, helpless orphan, loved by her mother who'd been taken away from her parents by an unscrupulous business owner. Now she was trapped in a degrading line of work, while the bar owner profited.
When Basil's father looked at the story, he was well pleased. He helped his son improve his language and helped him reorganize it a little to make a better news story, but he was well pleased. It was a good piece of journalism, and the Foxburrow Tribune's editor was only too happy to print it for the next day's edition under local news.
Several watchmen noticed the story in the morning's paper. That it was the Fatma they were looking for was unmistakable. The article described Jarmann and his bar, and the watchmen were so shocked that the missing girl they were pursuing would suddenly fall right into their laps via the local paper.
Officer Johnson decided to make full use of this opportunity. Instead of simply going in and apprehending her, they'd get Jarmann too. Officer Johnson had suspected that Jarmann was selling off-license alcohol without a permit, as well as serving after hours. Officer Johnson had tried to catch him with undercover men, but Jarmann's employees could always spot a watchman undercover and refused to sell. This had always rankled Jarmann.
Tonight, first they'd try to catch someone with a bottle off premises that they'd purchased in Jarmann's, for which they could slap Jarmann with a heavy fine. Then they could barge in there close to midnight and catch him serving alcohol after hours without an after hours permit, which would land him another heavy fine, possibly enough to revoke his liquor license. Third, he would catch Fatma. So far as he knew, there was nothing illegal about Jarmann employing Fatma, but maybe, he hoped, he could slap Jarmann with kidnapping, which would put him in jail. That pleased Officer Johnson immensely, and he began to put his plan into execution.
The next day Basil showed up at Jarmann's, Foxburrow Tribune in hand, walking tall and immensely proud of himself. He sat down with the paper in front of him, smiling broadly. Fatma was pleased to see him and she made an opportunity to go over and speak to him. He merely said, "You should read this," as he pushed the paper toward her with his story on top. It was the lead story in the local news section. She saw the title, "Trials of a Poor Orphan Girl," and began to read.
It was only after she was halfway through the article that she began to understand. Then she asked, "Is this me?"
Basil smiled and said, "Well of course. Are you daft? It describes your plight to a t."
Fatma decided to keep on reading.
Meanwhile Officer Johnson and a few of his men were staked out in front of Jarmann's looking for someone bearing anything that might look like a bottle. Jarmann only had a liscence to sell alcohol consumed on premises, so this would be one offence they could rack against him. They lurked in a dark corner and watched every customer exiting, keeping a close eye on what they carried. Unfortunately, they weren't so lucky. They accosted one man who carried a bottle of whiskey in hand, but the man refused to acknowledge that he'd bought it from Jarmann, claiming he'd bought it up the street earlier. They harassed him for some time, but he wouldn't change his story and they had to let him go.
Inside Fatma had finished the article and looked dismayed, "I don't think this describes my situation. My boss is a very nice man and I'm glad he gave me this job. I need this job to pay for my place with Bess. And I admit I don't like all the men who come here, but they've come to love me, even strive to protect me from the lewder ones. I'm just trying to make a good life for myself."
Basil looked at her as if he was confused. He finally said, "I thought you would see it. At least, I thought you would see it when I pointed it at to you right there. It's not completely evident how these things work. It takes a broader vision. It may not seem from the viewpoint of this one bar that your boss is exploiting you, but if you could see the whole picture … You see this is what you miss out on by not going to school. I've told you this before, you really should be going to school. There you'll learn about the broader world."
"But I have to take care of Bess and my brother," Fatma said, "I don't have time." At that point she got up and walked away, upset and disconcerted.
When the hour of eleven passed, the watchmen decided to move in for the next assault. Jarmann didn't have a special after hours permit, which would be necessary to sell after eleven. They waited until about quarter past to give a sufficient window and then they charged. Officer Johnson drove his shoulder into the door, trying to knock it down. Another watchman followed behind him and tried to do the same, but the door didn't budge. The door was made from a thick metal sheet sandwiched between wood and leather and the frame was well reinforced.
Grit was already, peaking his eyes through the slits to see the officers in question. He flicked a light switch on and off, signaling the bar that watchmen were afoot. Rapidly Jarmann and the other bartenders collected all the drinks and poured them down the drain and as quickly as possible replaced them with non-alcoholic drinks, assuring everyone that there would be a free drink for everybody next time they came in.
Fatma saw what was going on, but didn't understand. She asked Basil and he didn't know. Then she asked someone else, who told her that watchmen were here, and everyone had to hide their alcohol. Fatma stood up and froze for a second before she ran into the back to hide.
Grit was sill watching the watchmen and decided to speak up: "Can I help you gentleman?"
"Open this damn door! It's the watchmen!" Officer Johnson angrily shouted.
Grit was compliant, turning around to get the nod from Jarmann, before he opened the door. The watchmen finally burst into the room, and Fatma could just see Officer Johnson and the others as she sprinted into her hiding place.
"We need to search your premises," Officer Johnson announced, "We are looking for a young girl named Fatma who is wanted in connection with a kidnapping."
Everyone looked around towards the front, expecting to see Fatma by the stage, but didn't see her. Nonetheless, they kept quiet, not wanting to reveal that she was there.
The watchmen passed through and spread throughout the bar. Officer Johnson, then in feigned naïveté said, "And do we find you serving alcoholic beverages after hours without a permit?" as he looked at the cups.
"No sir," Jarmann replied, "Only non-alcoholic drinks at this hour. We provide this as a special service for those who want to sober up before they go home."
Officer Johnson and his men picked up and smelled some of these drinks. They looked at each other with deflated hopes and Officer Johnson became enraged, throwing a filled glass to the ground with violent force. "We'll overlook it this time," he said, calming himself, "But still we believe that this Fatma is an employee at your establishment. Where is she?"
"She's not working here anymore," Jarmann said, "Found something else, I suppose."
Officer Johnson turned around and scrutinized carefully the many faces in the bar, looking for someone willing to talk. They were all silent, hiding their eyes and holding back. "Anyone seen a short, olive skinned young girl named Fatma this evening. She is a suspect in a serious crime. Your help will be greatly appreciated. You will be responsible for helping justice be served in this fine city."
In the middle of the room, Basil sat nervously. If his father were there, then he would've stood up immediately and spoken the full truth like a dutiful citizen. But Basil felt divided. He couldn't stand to withhold the truth, but he felt that this must be some misunderstanding, and he'd rather talk with Fatma about it before doing anything. He had decided he would talk with her afterwards about this and encourage her to turn herself in, but he was having difficulty restraining himself right now. His body quivered and he sweated and restrained the impulse to speak.
Officer Johnson had noticed Basil and ambled closer. He leaned and in asked, "Have you seen the girl in question? You have no reason to be nervous, unless you have something to hide. You'll help us out greatly, whatever you might have to say."
It was now clear that Basil knew something, and Officer Johnson's pressure forced him to speak: "I saw her here tonight. I don't know if she was still here when you arrived, but she was here not long before."
"Where is she?" Officer Johnson asked.
"I don't know. I didn't see her go," Basil responded. Officer Johnson believed him.
Officer Johnson gestured for some watchmen to follow him, and he announced to Jarmann, "We're going to search the back. Does this bar have a back door?"
"No," Jarmann responded curtly, following behind them to the back rooms. A short hall terminated with two doors on opposite sides. One was Jarmann's office, which connected to a small bathroom, and the other was a large storage room filled with alcohol and furniture, with a cheap wardrobe and a brightly lit vanity at one end so his dancers could fix themselves up. Fatma wasn't in any of these rooms. He looked in the corners, under the desk, behind things, in the wardrobe and didn't find her.
It was too much frustration for one night for Officer Johnson to take and he pounded a wall in frustration. He stopped to think as he looked at his options.
He returned to the main room, and he announced, "I'm afraid she's not here. You're all free to go. In fact, I would like to ask Mr. Jarmann the courtesy of closing up early, since we still do suspect that there may be some after hours alcohol consumption going on in this bar. Don't think you've gotten away with anything, though. I should stress that your license is hereon under review. For the rest of you, if any of you should see this Fatma I would ask you to report it to a watchman or to the precinct station. You've all been most helpful. Thank you."
Officer Johnson and his watchmen then slowly recoiled as the people began to exit, lingering close to the exit as they went, and then slowly dispersing into the shadows. From a secret vantage point they watched the bar clear out. Officer Johnson whispered to his men, "I know she's in there. She's got to be hiding somewhere. I want two of you waiting in the two side alleys, in case she sneaks off. The others of you, let's spread out. We're going to watch this bar until we find her, and you'll watch carefully."
Inside Fatma, who'd been hiding under the bar between two keg of beer, started to creep towards the back quietly so that no one would see her. Only Basil saw her go, as he was putting on his coat and was just about to leave.
When Jarmann went into his office, he found Fatma there. She said, "I'm going to wait here until everyone's gone. Then I'll go straight home."
Jarmann had already pushed his desk against the wall, and now he stood up on top of it, and pushed a panel at the edge of the ceiling. He turned to her and said, "Come here," gesturing hastily with his hands, "You're leaving this way. Those watchmen are probably out there still around, and will be for a while. You can't wait her forever. This way you can avoid them. It's a back-up I had installed for myself, just in case."
She climbed up onto the desk and then he lifted her up through the ceiling where a small tunnel stretched before her. It would be barely big enough for Jarmann to crawl through, but it was plenty big for little Fatma. Jarmann told her, "Push the panel up at the end. Tell the man you meet there that I sent you and that you need to get away secretly."
"Thank you," Fatma said as he put the panel back in place and she was plunged in darkness. She crawled forward until she began to see light coming through cracks in the ceiling that outlined a square which she assumed was the panel in question. She pushed it and when she peaked herself through, she saw that she was in a closet. The door was ajar and on the other side was a room where a fire crackled in the fire place. She called out, and someone who she couldn't see, sitting in a chair clearly started with fright, and then stood and approached her. It was a woman dressed in a man's suit with a bowler hat cocked slantwise and a cigarette in hand.
The woman looked at Fatma strangely, who was still dressed in her near eastern looking belly dancer attire, with a face sullied with dirt from the underground tunnel. "What type of little gift are you?" the woman said. Fatma responded, "Jarmann sent me. I just need to pass through. Jarmann said to tell the man at the other end that I need to get out here secretly."
The woman spoke in a husky voice, "Well, you have found the man in question, little girl," and she pulled Fatma out of the floor. When Fatma was stood up before her, the woman eyed her with interest. "This is an interesting present that Jarmann has sent me," she said, laughing to herself a little bit, "I'm Leslie. And you must be one of his dancers. Let me see if I remember your name… Fatma! Right? Good. Follow me this way. Please by quiet, though, I'm entertaining guests in a neighboring room. I think the most clandestine exit will be out the window in my bedroom."
Leslie's bedroom was sumptuously decorated: ornate wallpaper of a bold red, velvet chairs and curtains also in a strong red and a four-poster bed curtained by a sheer red muslin cloth. A candle by the window illuminated the room. She went to the window and opened it, looking out in both directions and saw no one on the street. Fatma asked her which way it was to Jarmann's. Leslie pointed to the left, so Fatma decided that she must go right. "I think I know where I am," Fatma said, "I'll find my way home."
"Stop by anytime," Leslie said. Fatma said thank you very warmly, and then she reached up and kissed Leslie on the cheek as a goodbye. Leslie seemed to boil over with joy at this simple gesture. Fatma then crawled out the window, waved goodbye to Leslie, and was on her way.
The next day Bess showed up at Jarmann's in the afternoon. She was let in and went back to Jarmann's office. "I'm sorry, but Fatma won't be able to work here anymore, unless she gets this thing straightened out. I can't have the watchmen in here looking for her again," Jarmann said apologetically, "I liked Fatma, and the customers liked her, and I am very sorry."
"I understand," Bess said, "She'll be disappointed. And I'll need to get a job. I was wondering if you would employ me. I still dance just as well. And I've changed. I'm better now."
Jarmann was thoughtful for a few moments, "I've heard, from Fatma, about her brother, you taking care of him. And I do like what you've done for Fatma. I can't say I'm not reluctant. You stole from me before, you can steal from me again. But if you're going to be honest this time, I'd like to have you."
"I am. I won't steal a cent. My other options don't look as attractive as they once did."
"There's no second chance after this. You understand?" Jarmann said sternly. Bess nodded her head. "Then you'll be here tonight—dressed, ready to dance. And I do hope you're still as good, as you said you are. I don't want to have to be breaking in a new girl again." Bess nodded her head, thanked him and left.
Bess was back in their room to tell Fatma the bad news. She was expecting it and took it soundlessly. Aaron ran over to hug her. He was as healthy as he'd ever been, and it made Fatma cry.