Written by Nada Hemida
Previously: Long Live the King: Episode 14 – Assemble
The night is dark, but so is my mind as I go over the plan again and again. I talked Seif through it thoroughly this time, making sure I didn’t miss a single detail. He is in awe, and a little horrified – but still sure that he wants to do this, and had started as soon as I was done talking.
The slums are just as I remember them. Dusty, messy, misshaped, loud, and haunting. “Where did you tell them we would meet?” I whisper to Fadel. We had left Shehab and Seif back in the mansion after making sure they wouldn’t need anything. I could have sworn my house had turned into a nursery!
“Adam’s café,” he whispered back.
“Then why is it empty?” I say, gritting my teeth. No, no, they couldn’t have bailed. We don’t have enough time for plan B.
A boy runs to me, and then places something in my hand before he runs off again. He had such young, pleading eyes – they were supposed to be innocent, playful, and happy. They weren’t. One day, this boy will know what it is to be a child.
Fadel looks at me, concerned, and then tilts his head to the alley on his right. We walk through it then take a left before I open the note the boy had given me:
Had they been compromised? Why would they go there of all places? The Rubble; that’s what we called the spot where a building had been demolished and never rebuilt. It had turned into an abandoned parking lot of sorts, concealed by gates of fabric. No one would be there, though, to overhear or to suspect anything. On our guard, Fadel and I make our way there nonetheless. It’s a fifteen-minute walk, and all the while, I keep my eyes open, turning everything in my head more than once and expecting anything and everything.
There are two people by the gate. I recognize Faris by his shape first, and my shoulders sag in relief a little. Next to him is Amirah, his cousin, I realize when I’m closer.
Faris gives me a respectful, solemn, smile as I walk to him and I start to feel a little bit concerned. His eyes are almost pitiful. We greet them in whispers, and he doesn’t let anything on.
“What is it, Faris?” I say finally, “Why did you relocate?”
He smiles again and says, quietly, “Nour… they were too many.”
The words tug at my heart, and I pass Faris to go in. I do my best to dull the croaking of the doors as I push them open, and my breath catches.
So, so many.
They must have been hundreds, maybe even a full thousand. They all turn to me, wary but hopeful. I open my mouth to speak, but nothing comes out.
Amirah says, “That’s not even all of them. Some stayed behind to not raise any suspicion. Some we couldn’t reach in time today.”
There was even more.
Before me, were those who have had enough of the oppression they faced every day. They had lost brothers and sisters and sons and daughters. They had nothing more to lose, but everything to gain.
They were willing to say no. They were willing to sacrifice their lives once more. They were willing to take a stand. They were willing to fight.
They were an army – my army.