Mama always said Amal was mischievous. It was a joke we shared as a family – that my sister, just a few years old and shaky on her pudgy legs, had more energy for life than me and
my younger brother Abbas combined. So when I went to check on her and she wasn’t in her crib, I felt a fear in my heart that gripped me and would not let go.
It was summer and the whole house breathed slowly from the heat. I stood alone in her room, hoping the quiet would tell me where she’d stumbled off to. A white curtain caught a breeze. The window was open – wide open. I rushed to the ledge, praying that when I looked over she wouldn’t be there, she wouldn’t be hurt. I was afraid to look, but I did anyway because not knowing was worse. Please God, please God, please God…
There was nothing below but Mama’s garden: colourful flowers moving in that same wind. Downstairs, the air was filled with delicious smells, the big table laden with yummy foods. Baba and I loved sweets, so Mama was making a whole lot of them for our holiday party tonight.
‘Where’s Amal?’ I stuck a date cookie in each of my pockets when her back was turned. One for me and the other for Abbas. ‘Napping.’ Mama poured the syrup onto the baklava. ‘No, Mama, she’s not in her crib.’ ‘Then where is she?’ Mama put the hot pan in the sink and cooled it with water that turned to steam.
‘Maybe she’s hiding?’
Mama’s black robes brushed across me as she rushed to the stairs. I followed closely, keeping quiet, ready to earn the treats in my pocket by finding her first. ‘I need help.’ Abbas stood at the top of the stairs with his shirt unbuttoned. I gave him a dirty look. I had to make him understand that I was helping Mama with a serious problem.
Abbas and I followed Mama into her and Baba’s room. Amal wasn’t under their big bed. I pulled open the curtain that covered the place where they kept their clothes, expecting to find Amal crouching with a big smile, but she wasn’t there. I could tell Mama was getting really scared. Her dark eyes flashed in a way that made me scared too.
‘Don’t worry Mama,’ Abbas said. ‘Ichmad and I will help you find her.’
Mama put her fingers to her lips to tell Abbas and me not to speak as we crossed the hall to our younger brothers’ room. They were still sleeping, so she went in on tiptoes and motioned for us to stay outside. She knew how to be quieter than Abbas and me. But Amal was not there.
Abbas looked at me with scared eyes and I patted him on the back.
Downstairs, Mama called to Amal, over and over. She ransacked the living and dining rooms, ruining all the work she had put in for the holiday dinner with Uncle Kamal’s family. When Mama ran to the sunroom, Abbas and I followed. The door to the courtyard was open. Mama gasped.
From the big window we spotted Amal running down the meadow towards the field in her nightgown. Mama was in the courtyard in seconds. She cut right through her garden, crushing her roses, the thorns tearing at her robe. Abbas and I were right behind her.
‘Amal!’ Mama screamed. ‘Stop!’ My sides hurt from running, but I kept going. Mama stopped so fast at ‘the sign’ that Abbas and I ran right into her. Amal was in the field. I
‘Stop!’ Mama screamed. ‘Don’t move!’
Amal was chasing a big red butterfly, her black curly hair bouncing. She turned and looked at us. ‘I get it,’ she chuckled, pointing at the butterfly.
‘No, Amal!’ Mama used her strictest voice. ‘Don’t move.’
Amal stood completely still and Mama blew air out of her mouth. Abbas dropped to his knees, relieved. We were never, ever, supposed to go past the sign. That was the devil’s field.
The pretty butterfly landed about four metres in front of Amal.
‘No!’ Mama screamed.
Abbas and I looked up.
Amal made mischievous eyes at Mama and then ran towards the butterfly.