Written by Nada Hemida

Previously: Long Live the King: Episode 11- Here it is Then

“Aya’s heart is made of pure gold…”

Shehab has been staying in an oasis in the middle of the desert. It’s a smart move. There’s barely any mobile network over there, and it’s basically anarchy since the police are too afraid of the tribes, for they are people you do not want to cross. People who have their own laws. I’ve never met any of them before, though I hear that they are the most loyal, most generous humans one could encounter.

After taking several trains and several buses (the longer, more confusing routes, in case I or my phone were tracked), I arrive at my destination. It’s been fifteen hours. I figure that out after taking a look at my watch that says 5:04 AM.

My knuckles knock against the familiar door softly, hoping an old friend hadn’t forgotten me, and hoping she was awake.

“Who’s there?” a voice sounds before the person it belongs to opens the door. Although I haven’t spoken to her in years, and haven’t seen her for even longer, I feel like she hasn’t changed a single bit. She has the same stormy eyes, and dark, scarred, skin. Aya squints at me, and then her face lights up as she realizes: “Nour?” Before I get to say hello, she pulls me into a hug, saying a hundred things all at once.

“Oh my God, girl,” she exclaims, “I thought you had forgotten me!” I can’t help, but smile. I haven’t seen Aya in almost five years, but it would take much more than that for me to forget her.

“I missed you,” I reply, tightening my arms around her, then letting go. “I know this is really out of the blue and sudden, but I’ve come a long way. I was wondering if I could stay for the night.”

“Morning, you mean,” she jokes. “And do you even have to ask?”

Aya and I knew each other as kids; lived in the same neighborhood. Her parents would feed me and Badr whenever they could afford having two more on their table. She was the closest I had to a sister until the massacre scared every single breathing being, and her parents decided to run away to somewhere no one would look into.

She makes us breakfast while she grills me over everything she had missed; how I’ve been doing, how Fadel is, how life has been treating me. I ask her how her husband is, and she says he’s fine, visiting his mother. We kept in touch for a while after she had left until time drifted us apart. She knows what I have become; an assassin for hire, and she accepts it. Aya’s heart is made of pure gold, but she knew that sometimes you had to take matters into your own hands – and my ambition to rid the world of as much cruelty and corruption as humanly possible is almost heroic to her.

“So, not to be rude, but what brings you here?” she asks, setting down her teacup after a sip.

I take a moment to gather my words, but then I remember that I don’t have to lie to her. “I’m looking for a man,” I reply.

“Finally?” she interrupts me, “Never thought you would settle down.”

I find myself genuinely laughing, and it feels like it’s the first time I’ve truly laughed in years. For a moment, I can’t help but wonder: if I had chosen to disappear and live in the middle of nowhere, would I have lived a worry-free life?

“No, no, Aya,” I explain, “It’s for a case.”

“Oh, go on, then. It’s a chatty place here; I might know something about him.”

“He goes by the name Adel Farouk,” I offer, “He might be living with his family.”

Aya’s eyebrows come together in thought before she answers, “I’ve heard about a man from the city with the name Adel. He moved here last month, but not in this area exactly. He has no family though.”

“No family?”

“None. He came alone. In fact, he was looking for a place to stay and a job to make himself a living out of. He ended up working with Sheikh Youssef on the other side of the mountain.”

Maybe he sent his family somewhere else, so they wouldn’t be found in case he was, I think. “Take me to him,” I tell her.

She eyes me, looking me up and down, and says, “Sure, girl, but you look like crap, so you better get some sleep and a shower.”

I can’t help but yawn, and then I say, “Yeah, that would be appreciated.”