NakedGirl: The Story of Dareen
by donnylaja

Part 20

Elly just couldn't turn it off.  They kept playing it and playing it, on all the channels.  In between "experts" opining on who this NakedGirl might be, why she wanted to be secretive, where she might have gone after saving hundreds of people that morning.  And there were a couple of conspiracy theorists on Cobb who wondered who had planted that bomb in the basement of the Joly Tower, and how exactly did this NakedGirl know it was going to go off?  Was this a setup?  As one of the anchors said, "We realize this line of speculation might seem offensive to some people, but at this puzzling time of crisis, with so much at stake and so little known, every theory must be explored."

Indeed.  If it was a white girl there wouldn't be such a theory being bruited about.  In the past few days Elly had really gotten turned off by Cobb News, she was picking up every right-wing slant, it wasn't funny any more.  Of course, it was late and she was probably getting paranoid.  This conspiracy business was only a minority viewpoint, even on Cobb.  She had reason to worry though; where was Dareen now?  Elly had drunk two coffees, which she knew better not to do after supper, and had reverted back to her old teenage habit of smoking cigarettes.  Just gone out on an impulse to the corner store, walking quickly like she was dodging sniper fire, even though it was a calm night and nobody was looking at her funny, and gotten a pack of Winstons, her old brand.

Staring blankly at the screen at half past twelve, slumped in the chair in the kitchen, still in her day clothes, puffing away on her eighth cig, Elly did not hear the soft landing of toes on the fire escape outside Dareen's bedroom, but she heard the window being opened and sat up like a shot.  Were they breaking in?  She sat and waited and hoped...

A minute later Dareen, fully clothed in long sleeve shirt stretched by the sturdy bra underneath and long jeans, walked into the kitchen.

Elly was almost in tears, she was so thankful.  "Oh, Dar..."  She hugged herself against her roommate's massive firm breasts, putting her head next to Dareen's, and couldn't help but kiss her on the cheek.  "You're safe."

Dareen managed a little quip.  "Of course, I'm NakedGirl.  What could hurt me?"  Dareen looked at Elly, usually so easygoing and bemused, now drawn and nervous.  "Are YOU all right?"

Elly looked at her with bloodshot eyes.  "You're my hero, Dar.  You saved hundreds of lives...  How did you know a bomb was going to go off under the Joly Tower?"

Of course, Dareen had explained this to Elly before.  Maybe Elly just wanted some reassurance.  "I just know ahead of time when I'm needed.  Only this time," she said, standing back and crossing her arms over her chest, "it was in broad daylight."  She closed her eyes.  "Oh... Lord... everyone saw me."

"I hate to say it, but your bod and your face has been all over the TV."  Dareen nodded slowly, even though she hadn't been watching -- she’d been hiding out in the countryside, waiting for darkness and the still of midnight before returning.  Then she saw the phone on the counter with the cord taken out.

Seeing this, Elly said, "They figured out who you are, Dar.  From your face.  Or maybe they've got a suspicion and they don't know.  How they found out I don't know.  The phone was ringing off the hook, reporters... I kept telling them I didn't know what they were talking about.  Oh, and your folks called."

This had to be dealt with in spite of the hour.  Dareen got her cell phone from her desk.  It showed there were 18 messages on it, truly a chilling feeling -- even  phone number had been found out.  She dialed her folks.

They were still up.  "Dar," her father said, "was that really you?"

"Yes, Dad."

A long pause.  "Do you have your clothes on?"

"Yes, Dad."

"We're proud, but ashamed..."

"I have to be... like that, Dad.  Otherwise I don't have super powers."

Another pause.  Then her mother got on.  "Dar... we love you, but we think you should do some praying."

"I know."  Then with an assurance that she was O.K., Dareen said good-bye and said she'd call tomorrow.

Elly said, "Dar, everyone knows your face.  What are we going to do?"

It was so heartening to see that Elly considered it her problem as well as hers.  Dareen could only return the hug that Elly had given her.  Breaking it only to say, "Ughh. I'll take up smoking.  THAT will keep everyone away."

It was nuts, she told herself, but the next morning she got dressed and went out to work like nothing had happened.  She got some odd looks, of course, people looking at her face and then turning away as soon as she looked back.  Twice, someone spoke.  Once on the train, again while waiting for the light to change.  "You look like NakedGirl," they said, one a young guy and one a middle-aged housewife type.  Her reaction was the same.  A smile, and a quick, "Everyone has been telling me that.  She looks like me, but it's not me."  And a sense that everyone around was looking down at her body curiously.  Fortunately she was encased as usual in head to toe wrappings, sweating through another late summer Georgia day.

She passed Billy Gibbs's office and he gave her a concerned, knowing look, saying nothing.  Then Jamal came in.  "Let's talk," he said.

In the nooks and crannies of this old building there were several deserted offices.  She followed Jamal into one.

"Dareen... you're my hero," he said, eyes getting a little wet, standing in front of her, quite a bit taller than she was, looking down into her eyes, his gawky arms and legs seemingly undecided as to whether to stand still or do something else.

Exactly what Elly said, but what else could one say to someone who had done what she had just done?  Dareen gave a shy smile.  "Thanks.  Now you know my secret."

"Why didn't you tell us?"

Dareen felt bad once again.  It seemed like something she should have shared with Jamal, he was so nice to her.  She looked at the floor then up at him then at the floor again.  "You know me... I'm shy."

Well, maybe not that shy.  That was just an excuse.  She crossed her arms and crossed her heels.  "Well now you know what I look like..."

Jamal let the silence stretch a bit and then said, "Dar, I really care about you."  He cleared his throat and tried again.  "Girl, I have a lot of feelings for you."

"Now that you've seen me..."

"No, no... It was like this before too."

Dareen looked up at his handsome dark face, his short hair, his slim but muscular build.  "I know, Jamal."  Maybe it was a mistake, but she wanted to do something for him.  So she hugged him.

Then she said, "We can talk about it more later..."  Which might have been a mistake to say.  "I have so many feelings of my own today, so many..."

"I can imagine.  I'll leave you alone now.  If you want to talk, or if you want to hang with someone, you've got my number."  Everyone in the office had the others' home phones to call if necessary.

A little while later Ms. Hom came into her office, which was unusual.  She had a short but well-rehearsed statement. "Miss Alkaras, let me congratulate you.  We will handle this any way you want to.  If you want time off, I will arrange it.  Appearing in public as you did, would ordinarily be grounds for dismissal, but..."  she and Dareen shared a little smile,  "but I don't think any of those people whose lives you saved would approve of that, do you?"

A few more stares on the way home from work.  Then, as Dareen walked down Boylston Street to her building, she saw the people standing around the entrance.  She ducked into an alley and called Elly's cell phone.  "We've got to get out of here," Elly said from her bedroom.  "It's Thursday, I'll call in sick tomorrow.  Let's get out of town.  Let's go to my folks' place in New York.  I'll come out the back with your things."

The back door of the building was in effect a one-way passage.  The lock had been rusted out a long time ago and there was no exterior handle.  Dareen waited a few minutes then angled around the back street and when she got to the back, there was Pedro and his wife.  They looked at her with silent awe.  Dareen smiled.  "No, it wasn't me.  She just LOOKS like me."  They seemed unconvinced.  Fortunately Elly was down in a minute with two backpacks.  They hopped over to Elly's car in the next block and Elly got behind the wheel.  She kicked off her flip-flop and slammed down on the gas.  In five minutes they were on the interstate to New York.  Ordinarily Elly took a plane to New York but obviously Dareen couldn't go through airport security.  It would be a ten-hour trip.  But the important part was just the getting away.

Not that Elly could resist staying tuned to the radio for news.  Dareen found her attention unavoidably fastened too.  Night fell and they were crossing into Virginia.  Dareen had taken over the wheel, with Elly puffing away on the condition that she keep the window open.  And then, as Elly was in the middle of turning up the radio, they heard:

"The young woman, known as NakedGirl, has been identified as Dareen Alkaras.  She lives in the Atlanta area.  Her address has been withheld upon the request of law enforcement authorities."

"Shit," Elly said softly.

The hot wind blew over the bleak plain, a scene of desolation, a huge desert.  The woman in the head-to-toe burka watched silently over it, only her eyes visible which spoke her silent thoughts.

Such a big yawning bleakness in the middle of the crowded city.  Dareen had seen the World Trade Center before, when she was a teenager and her family was in town to visit her aunt.  She looked at the white ashy earth and, gruesomely, wondered how many particles of the ash were once parts of human beings.  Now just bits of dust.

She thought of something from a novel she'd read once.  "Man is matter.  Drop him out the window and he'll fall.  Set fire to him and he'll burn...  The spirit gone, the flesh is garbage."

The burka was a good idea.  Dareen hadn't thought of it before.  Not that the burka in her room would have been any use; as she and Elly remembered, it was comically too small to accommodate her breasts.  But Elly went out and got one, a bigger one, when Dareen was having lunch at her parents' house.  Now, at Dareen's request, the two of them had taken the subway down from the Bronx and now stood on the viewing platform, along with several others.

There was not much to say.

They stopped into a pizza place nearby and had a slice.  Not easy to eat, with Dareen wearing a veil that she had to keep lifting.

"So now what?" Elly said.

"Thanks to Allah that your parents can keep a secret," Dareen said with a little hokey old-country accent.

Elly snorted.  "It's good that you can keep your sense of humor at a time like this.  Don't get all religous-y on me."

"Well maybe it's a good time to pray."

"Amen to that, I suppose."

"You mean 'ameeen'", Dareen said, drawing out the second syllable, as it's said in Arabic.  "Being real traditional is a good idea with this burka, anyway...  It's actually more comfortable than all those clothes I've been wearing."

"A good way to hide your face.  But won't you stand out anyway?  You don't see many burkas in Atlanta."

"Maybe I should find a place where they wear them."

"I don't think there's anyplace like that in town."  Meaning Atlanta.

"I can think of a couple of places.  I've lived there all my life, El."  Dareen took another bite.  Then she clutched her breast, a very unusual motion for her.  "Oh!"

Elly put down her soda.  "What! Are you all right?"

Dareen put her hand down with great effort.  Her nipples were tingling, like that time before the pulse bomb was dropped.  But now the tingling was worse.  It was like bees stinging her nipples.  And because her nipples were so large, it was a lot of bees.

Dareen stood up quickly, an unusual motion for a woman in a burka.  "I've got to get out of here, El. Fast!"