She sat up, reaching forward to clutch the tips of her braless breasts as they pressed out against her white flannel pajamas. Something was wrong, or about to be. Though she scowled with concentration, she couldn't sense anything more specific. But the ominous feeling of foreboding was unmistakable. Something bad was about to happen.
She hopped to the kitchen, through the tacked-up blanket that served as her temporary door until Pedro fixed the old one, still holding her breasts. Elly had gone out. Thinking about what to do, it occurred to her that the tingling was exactly the feeling she had all over her body that stormy night just before she was struck by lighting, or by whatever that was. Only now it was just in her nipples, not all over.
She said a short prayer. "Allah, please see fit to make my mind clear. What was wrong exactly?" But nothing came to her. She ran to Elly's room, still holding her bouncing breasts, and looked out the window, the window she had flown through last night. It was a bright, bright day, not a cloud in the sky. People were walking on the street below. But somehow she felt the need to go back to looking at the sky. So blue. So clear. Now the tingling got stronger.
She had to do something. Report it to the police. But what? With mounting anxiety she decided to get dressed and head for the police station. Maybe it would come to her on the way. As she got into her usual sunny-day outfit of bulky T-shirt, unbuttoned sweater and jeans and sneakers, she kept telling herself: no, this is not crazy. ‘I'm not sure why I'm going to the police but I'm not a crank. I've been given special powers and right now those powers are telling me something. Of course, if that's how I put it they'll think...’
She brushed these thoughts aside and bounded out onto the sidewalk and walked briskly, ignoring the double-take by the occasional guy at her bouncing frontal assets. The police station was five blocks away and she lumbered on up there, somewhat more slowly during the last block because "it" still hadn't come to her. What should she tell them?
She stood there in front of the station like an idiot, hesitating about going in. A deep breath. The tingling was getting stronger. Wait. She just had to wait. She decided to lean against the low concrete wall, below the surveillance camera, and wait.
An officer walked by. "Can I help you, miss?"
"I'm... I'm waiting for a friend who wants to apply for her ID card," Dareen lied. "Her English isn't too good and she wants my help."
With a little smile the officer said, "I understand," and walked into the station.
A moment later, Dareen saw it -- a little metal-bullet kind of rocket flying high over the city, vaguely familiar, and now she grabbed the bottom of her T-shirt and hesitated before pulling it off, she began trying to step out of her sneakers. And then...
In the middle of the sleepy sunny Sunday afternoon, the blinding flash of light, the intense hissing sound, were things that all Atlantans would remember the rest of their lives. As the flash died the people who were outdoors wanted to panic but found themselves frozen in their steps. 9/11! 9/11! 9/11! The numbers ran through everyone's head, it was the first thing and the second thing and the third thing they thought about. Hearts were in mouths. Eyes closed, people prayed.
When eyes opened there thankfully was no destruction. But there was a quiet and in a moment everyone realized what it was. The lights were out. Air conditioners were silent. Cars were stalled. Inside, computer screens were dark. Cell phones did not work.
And the people of Atlanta slowly began moving again, making their way this Sunday afternoon in a city with no electricity, no radio waves, no frequencies, no lights, nothing except their own muscle power in a city full of the inert carcasses of dead technology.
Dareen bunched up in a ball on her bed, shaking and crying. Oddly in her distress fatigue overcame her and she fell asleep. When she woke up it was early evening and she realized she was hearing the sounds of cars outside. She reached over and turned on the nightstand. The lamp went on. Was that whole thing a dream?
Evidently not. Elly came through the blanket curtain and wordlessly embraced her friend.
"Did that really happen?" Dareen said sleepily.
"Oh Dar, I thought the world was ending, I thought we were 9/11 right here in Atlanta," Elly said. "Shit. I was over at the bodega and I actually got down and prayed. Thank goodness it wasn't a-an exploding bomb. Everything came back after an hour or so. Just some kind of electromagnetic pulse, the radio said. But computers all over are still fucked up and the trains are still out. Dar, I feel like going to mosque."
Dareen stood up and thought. It would be a long walk with no trains, but..." Good idea." She needed something to comfort her now. Some news would comfort her too. "Let's find out more."
They turned on the TV. The local news reported the general chaos and how the city was getting back under control. The governor had declared a state of emergency, the President was flying in. They were finishing up an interview with the mayor. "This is clearly a terrorist act and thank goodness no one was killed. But this bomb has crippled our city and the technology is clearly a threat to our Western civilization." And now the screen switched to a newscaster who said, "No terrorist group has claimed responsibility for this bombing. As the mayor just said, thankfully no one was killed, at least not directly. Yet there are 17 people in area hospitals who are in critical condition because various life suppport devices were out."
"Oh no!" Dareen said, her heart thumping. She returned Elly's puzzled glance and gulped. "Elly... I saw the rocket. It was a rocket that exploded. I could have... I could have stopped it."
Elly unwittingly glanced down at Dareen's chest. "How? How could you know, so you could strip in time? And even then, what would Naked Girl do about it?"
"I know somehow I could have... maybe grabbed it and threw it far away." Dareen's wet eyes looked at the screen. Then she closed them. "Please Allah, let those people in the hospital live. Don't let them die."
Elly embraced Dareen again and spoke into the back of her friend's neck. "Don't torture yourself. It's not your fault. It's some bad person's. The people who sent that rocket. THEY'RE to blame."
The phone rang and they broke the embrace. It was Dareen's mother, tearful. It took a few minutes for Dareen to calm her down and reassure her that everything was getting back to normal in the city. "I want you to come home right now," she said.
"Mom, it's O.K.," Dareen said.
After a long silence her mother said, "Remember, be careful outside." Dareen didn't have to ask what she meant. After the Oklahoma bombing a few years ago, her brother Kes was chased down the street by some white guys. Fortunately he outran them and got to his car in time. Muslims, and Arabs especially, just had to be careful every time something like this happened.
Dareen said, "I'll be careful. I love you, Mother!" It always made her mother glad to hear that. Dareen was the youngest child and, though it had been two years, her mother hadn't gotten used to the last of her children now living away from home.
After they hung up Elly said, "I think we both could use some prayer right now."
Dareen said, "And people around us. Let's go to mosque like you say. I'm sure the Imam has it open at a time like this."
The went into their rooms and reappeared with their kerchiefs. Elly moved to the TV to turn it off. A minister was being interviewed. In the rolling lilt of a Southern Baptist preacher he said, "That we must pray for the terrorists' souls does not mean that they and their sympathizers must go unpunished."
"Shit, I don't need to hear this!" Elly meant to hit the "off" button on the remote but she hit the "Channel Up" button instead. Now it was the Cobb News Network. A skinny, long-haired blond woman in a very short skirt was thundering, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them all to Christianity!" "Amen to that!" said the adoring news anchor. Elly finally hit the "off" button and the little kitchen was in silence.
Elly and Dareen looked at each other. Two women of Middle Eastern ancestry, going to mosque at a time like this, with the TV encouraging everyone to hate. It was safer for them stay in the apartment, but the force drawing them to the mosque was powerful. It was the kind of moment most of us have at some point in our lives, when we are called upon to be brave and true. The two kerchiefed young women gulped and went out the door together and started the mile-long walk to Al Hijia Mosque.