(Based on a true story)
Farya’s parents were the coolest in the whole world. Her Papa had a Dumbledore-beard, and her Mama wore a long black robe just like the Hogwarts uniform. Her only regret was the pointy wizard hat. Mama had bought Farya a black one for her last birthday that became pink when she turned it inside out, and Farya wore it to school every day, but Mama went on wearing her old black hood. People craned around to look when she walked down the aisles of the supermarket with Mama and Papa, and she smiled and waved proudly back at them.
Then one day in the supermarket, she waved at a lady who was dragging a little girl with goldilocks-hair after her, and the lady didn’t smile back. She shook her fist at them, the shopping bags dangling like stirrups on a cartoon-horse. “Go back!” She hissed. “Go back where you came from, you terrorist b—–s!”
“Mama, what are terrorist b—–s? Why does that Aunty want us to go home? Did I do something wrong?”
“No, darling, you didn’t” Mama smiled and kissed her and bought her a chocolate, but Farya could see her mother’s face breaking into frowny patches when she thought Farya wasn’t looking.
She crept back after bedtime to the top of the stairs to secretly watch TV with Mama and Papa, but they hadn’t turned on the TV at all. Farya shrank into the railing, her heart hammering in her throat. She crept downstairs slowly, shielded by the shadows of the living-room light.
Mama was sobbing with her head on Papa’s shoulder, and he was whispering to her, patting her arm. “We have to stay here now. For Farya. For her future. Ignore them. They don’t know … They don’t understand, you see,” He was saying. “They don’t hate us – they don’t even see us. They see only a stranger – someone different – and they are afraid.”
“But how can they not understand? Are they blind? There are pictures, videos –”
Papa fell back onto the sofa with a sigh. “We watched videos too, remember?” He said. “We watched them for years, watched them grow worse, draw closer to us every day. What did we understand? No –” He groped absently for the TV remote on the table. “No one can ever understand, unless it happens to them. Unless they watch their country ripped to pieces, razed to the ground – unless someone digs out his own mother in three pieces from the rubble and buries her back in it because there is no time to dig –”
Now it was Mama who was holding him. “Then God forbid that they should ever know.” She said softly, and Farya ran upstairs and stuffed her head into her pillow.
The next morning, when she was making her brunch-sandwich with Mama, singing furiously to drown them out, Papa called her. “Farya, do you know where we come from?”
She could see the tear-marks on his face, and his smile had cracks in it, like Mama’s. Farya twisted her hands free and ran in blind panic. “We come from HERE!” She shouted. “I won’t come from anywhere else, I WON’T!” She ran all the way to school without even waiting for Anne.
Anne could have been a goldilocks girl too, only her hair was cropped and she hated porridge. They became friends first, then best friends when Anne snatched back Farya’s doll from Susie. She thought Anne would be angry with her for not waiting but Anne never came to school. At home-time her mother was waiting at the gate, and from the way her fingers spun the beads under her gown Farya knew she was praying hard. At home she went on praying too, and shook her head whenever Farya asked if she could go and play with Anne.
She finally nodded off and Farya fled. She would say sorry later but she had to find out why Anne hadn’t come to school. She could hear the pounding on the stairs and the scuffling voices inside Anne’s house. She knocked and knocked, until Anne came out, looking as forlorn as Farya felt.
“You are not sick, are you? I won’t go to school without you again. I promise!”
“My mother says I’m not supposed to play with you anymore.”
“She says you’re a – a terrorist.”
Anne’s face swelled out into the lady’s at the supermarket, then shrank back into Anne’s, then swelled – “What’s a – terrorist?”
“Your dad is one. Mum says terrorists like him blew up Uncle Sammy’s office and killed him.”
“My dad never killed anyone!”
Anne kicked a stone off the pavement. “My mum says he did. She says you’re all terrorists.”
Upstairs a window opened with a clang. “Anne, I said two minutes!”
“And I can’t talk to you in school either,” said Anne, kicking another stone into the road.
“But we’re best friends!”
Farya ran before Anne could turn away from her, ran all the way into her own room and stayed there with the muffly pillow over her head until her mother called her down for dinner. Papa smiled at Farya when she entered, and she knew she had to say the lines she had rehearsed before they became muddled again.
“Papa, my friend Anne’s Mum says you’re a terrorist.” She rushed on. “If you’re a terrorist I want to be one too.”
“Anne said it – I was just –” Tears began to sting her eyelids. Now everyone hated her, everyone was angry with her, even Papa. “I told her you weren’t but she said her Mum said it and the lady at the supermarket said it too, she said go back you terrorist b——s –”
“Farya,” Papa was holding her hands in his, squeezing them in his special Papa way, and his voice was gentle again. “Farya, listen to me. We are NOT terrorists. Whatever Anne’s mother says, whatever any one says, we. are. not. terrorists. Do you understand me?”
“But then why does everyone say it? Anne’s mum won’t let her talk to me, and she’s my best friend!”
Suddenly he looked old, wrinkly like the picture of Grandma that hung in the drawing-room. “Some of them – some of the terrorists – they look like us,” He said at last. “But they aren’t us, and we aren’t them. Remember that, Farya. This is our country now. We belong here, though some people can’t see that yet. But they will. One day, they will.”
“Will Anne’s Mum see it? Will she let me play with Anne?”
Instead of answering, he began to crackle his knuckles and to make the funny wriggly-eared faces that always made her shriek with laughter. Afterwards Mama let Farya wash her own plate and spin it round and round in the cloth until it was quite dry.
“Tomorrow,” said Farya, as Mama tucked her in “I’ll tell Anne’s mum it was all a stupid mistake, and then Anne can be best friends with me again.”
That night they did not turn on the TV either. Instead they sat there in the darkness all night wondering what they could do stop their little girl’s world from coming undone.