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I remember the day Dadi came home from the war.
Mama and my brothers had spent all day cleaning the house. Husna and I made baklava, which was his favorite dessert. It was sticky and time-consuming to make.
When Dadi left, Rahim had not yet been born. When he came back, Rahim was eighteen months old.
I was the oldest child, twelve, when he left. I remember that he was a mild man with a very pale face and pale brown hair that came down just above his eyes. He was Jewish, Mama was Muslim, and that was why Mama and Dadi had moved to Great Britain.
In Israel, Dadi had been in the military. It was required. When he left it, he had nothing. The military was what he knew. Mama said he was going to fight with select British soldiers in Vietnam. We cried and hugged him tightly before we let him go.
My life was different without Dadi. I assumed many of the responsibilities of a Muslim girl, the same way Mama had when she was my age. But I had to go to school, too, and learn English.
Dadi had signed on for two tours of duty because it would get more money sent home to us. To me, it just meant another year without him.
When we got the note from one of the soldiers in April, my brother Abdeel was playing the piano. Mama said he was going to travel the world playing concerts one day. She pulled her chadr over her face when the soldier came, bowed her head to thank him for the note, then closed the door. Abdeel stopped playing and I watched the laughter melt off Mama's face. She wasn't very good at English, and I expected her to tell me to read it to her. But she put the note away without letting any of us see it and said, 'Dadi's going to be home in a week.'
Abdeel was eleven and he turned to me, grinning. My second-oldest brother, Naaman, was seven and seemed happy, even if he didn't have many memories of Dadi. Sister Husna, nine, looked up to me, trying to see how she should react. I didn't smile because I knew Dadi wasn't supposed to come home for five months. Something was wrong.
Mama, Abdeel, Naaman, Husna, Rahim, and I took the bus to the airport when Dadi's flight was supposed to come in. It was a small plane, with maybe ten soldiers, Mama said. It got in at three ' twelve in the morning. Naaman and Husna wanted to see the plane land and stood at the window with their noses pressed to the glass. They couldn't find it. There were eleven other people waiting for the soldiers, and when the first man came in through the door, a woman dressed in red ran toward him.
Mama pulled her chadr more completely over her hair, as if in disapproval. I watched five, six, seven men come into the small room. Some of them were missing legs or arms; all except two were walking. The other eleven people around us rushed forward to their soldiers, and then the doors closed. A dark-skinned man in sweatpants was pushing a wheelchair, and at first I didn't recognize my father.
Mama did, I saw it in her face, and she put her hand on Naamam's shoulder. Husna was watching me carefully, so she saw Dadi before the boys. Abdeel and Naaman ran toward him when they realized who he was.
His hair was shorter, his face pale, and he was looking through everyone. A raw red scar ran the length of the left side of his face. Before, Dadi had always met my eyes with a smile. Now he didn't even seem to notice us.
I could hear Abdeel, 'Dadi! Husna and Neriya made baklava!' and Naaman, 'Did you get hurt, Dadi?'
The dark-skinned man brought Dadi over to us and bowed to Mama. His right eye was a milky blue and bloody-looking stitches ran back and forth under his right ear. 'I'll be back with his bag.' He walked over to the cart one of the airline workers had brought in with the soldiers' luggage and grabbed the only two remaining duffel bags. He came back to us and gave Dadi's bag to Abdeel.
I felt my stomach drop, and when I looked at Abdeel, I knew he understood. He was the man in the family. He straightened up and his delight at seeing Dadi disappeared. 'You don't have anyone here for you?' he asked Dadi's partner.
'No.' he said. 'Do you wish any help with Adar?' His English was purely British, and I was sure he had been born in the country.
Mama gestured to Abdeel and Naaman to take Dadi. 'He does not know us.' she said, her accent rough in comparison, but comforting and familiar.
'I'm sorry for you.'
Mama drew her robes up and bowed to the dark man. 'Abdeel.' We turned away from him and Mama counted out the money for the bus fair home.
'Thank you.' I whispered as we left. I knew I would never see him again.
We lived on the very edge of the city, and I could smell the country air, the earth and water as we stood outside in the pitch-black, starless night. Naaman and Abdeel took Dadi into the home and I felt my chest grow tight, all the weight pressing down from the dark sky.
'In the house, Neriya.' Mama said, letting her chadr fall to her shoulders. 'You must attend school in a few hours.'
I shared my bed with Husna, and neither of us slept well that night. In the morning, Mama put breakfast on the table, looking away from us; I saw that her eyes were red with tears.
The primary school started twenty minutes before Abdeel's and mine, and Abdeel took the bus in with the younger children to make up a test. I washed all the breakfast dishes except Dadi's. He hadn't touched his. Mama took Rahim and went out to hang up the laundry. She told me not to miss the second bus.
I sat next to Dadi and looked at him for a long time. 'Dadi?' I asked softly. I put a piece of baklava on his plate and cut it with his fork. I held it up to him. 'Husna and I made this, yesterday. Naaman said it was good.' I hadn't been able to eat it.
Dadi reached up grabbed me around the wrist. His grip was weak, but it startled me. I put the dessert down.
'Do you know who I am?'
He didn't say anything.
'Please eat something, Dadi.' I tried a spoonful of hummus. He didn't look at me. 'Have you'seen Rahim? Mama has told him all the stories you used to tell us.' I talked to him like that for a while, softly, hoping he was listening. At last, I said, 'Dadi, I have to go to school.' I stood up, and then put my arms around him. He flinched and my heart sank.
He took my wrist again as I was preparing to let him go. 'Can you see it?' he whispered into my ear. His breath made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
'See what, Dadi?'
'All'the blood on my hands. Do you see it, Neriya?'
Frightened, I said, 'No, Dadi, I don't see anything.'
'It's there.' he whispered. His breath was sweet.
'No, Dadi, there's no blood.'
'It's there.' he insisted. As he let me go, I heard the brakes on the bus.
'Kol tuv, Abba.' It was Hebrew: Be well, Father.
Dadi lived just twelve days; he refused to eat.
I asked Mama if he had committed the mortal sin of suicide, and she said not to consider such things. Mama sold Abdeel's piano for a handsome price, and as soon as we turned sixteen, Abdeel and I left school to work. It was just last year that we bought Dadi a proper gravemarker.
Though many things have happened in my life since then: Abdeel's conversion to Taoism, Mama's remarriage and birth of two sons, my betrothal, Rahim's recognition for perfect tests, my beating of Husna for immorality, I know that I will never be able to forget the day Dadi came home. That was the day I learned to hate war.
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