"Nuestra padre in cielo, bendicho su nombre..."
The teenage whispering, the moonlight over the long straight black hair, the hushed quietness as Lourdes said her prayers, alone as she knelt against the side of the bed in the darkened little guest room in Jamal's apartment.
"Denoslo nuestra pan diario, y no en temtacion..."
Dareen, having pushed back the hood of the burka, which she now had a desire to wear all the time, knew she shouldn't be eavesdropping. But she had caught the sight through the narrowly opened door and couldn't stop looking at her young friend. Behind Dareen, Elly and Jamal were in the living room watching the TV where a blotchy-faced man was shouting down a guest on his show. "How can you say that and claim to be a true American? Just shut up, I tell you, shut up!"
"Sancta Maria, madre de Dios, orele para nosotros culpadores..."
It was Lourdes's nightly routine, standard Catholic prayers, though they seemed no less heartfelt. She really was such an innocent child. Dareen figured that her parents, knowing what a rough neighborhood they were in and not wanting a repeat of what happened to her older sister, had been very protective, not letting her go out much, which was why she was so innocent and naive. Rejecting her must have been as traumatic for them as it was for her. To make both sides feel better Dareen had been making Lourdes call every night to assure her parents she was O.K.
"Bendicho su de los mujeres, y bendicho el resultado de su origen Jesus..."
Faith was something for the teenager to hold onto, as it was for Dareen herself. The teenager was in the classic child's praying position, at least for a Catholic child. She knelt against the bed, her bare soles together on the floor. She had set her flip-flops neatly to the side. Across her back was the thin white string that held the little bikini top that barely covered her firm, apple-sized breasts. Lower down, the tiny super-low-rise jean shorts, an inch of her soft rear cleavage showing above, the bottom curves of her little butt cheeks curving in below. All that she wore, all that she was able to wear, all that covered what would have been an entirely bare backside.
The nearly naked teenager finished her regular prayers. "Ahora y el hora de nuestra morir, amen..."
Lourdes then bent her head down into her cupped hands and whispered more quietly now, words that Lourdes could not make out, not that she would have understood the Spanish anyway. Dareen drew the hood around her neck, feeling so greedy with all this covering, wishing she could share it with her scantily clad little sister who had so little. Finally reproaching herself for having peeked, Dareen silently closed the door and went back to the living room.
It was just as Jamal turned off the TV. Elly went out to the terrace and lit a cigarette as she slid open the glass door. She was in her usual tizzy. "Why do these jerks always have to be waving American guns at the rest of the world? What are they compensating for? We need guys with bigger dicks in charge." This made Jamal feel a little strange, though complimented in a way.
Dareen padded in her stocking feet to the kitchenette where there was a high table like a bar, and put on some water for tea. She said quietly, "We've got to do something about Lourdes."
Jamal said, "I'm more worried about you. I'm glad they put out that announcement about protecting your folks and us, but notice there was nothing in it about YOU being innocent. They said you were in for questioning. That made you sound guilty."
"Guilty of what?" Elly said from the terrace, coughing in the middle of a puff. Dareen didn't like the way Elly had changed, from the carefree fun-loving roommate she once was to a chain smoking paranoid. "Of being Arab? Muslim? Brown skinned?"
"Not a real American," Jamal said. "And offensive to Islam too. They can have it both ways over at Cobb News."
"Dareen, you need to get some reporter on your side," Elly suggested.
Dareen didn't like to think like this but Jamal and Elly had something of a point. What worried her more than the innuendo was the condemnation from practically every Muslim that got on the air. She was wondering what to do on Friday night. She just couldn't go back to that conservative mosque again. She wanted to go to Al Hijia, it was her home. Yet how could she show her face, having been naked on TV? She wished she could talk to Imam Tahir, but she didn't have the courage to call him.
Pouring the tea, she said again, "We've got to do something about Lourdes."
"Bummer about her job," Elly said. As they all expected, the bikini store job had ended, the season being over. Next Monday was Labor Day and then school would start.
"She really wants to go back to school," Dareen said. "She has a year to go to graduate and she wants to learn."
"How? Dressed like that? They'd never let her attend," Elly said, stating the obvious.
Dareen said, "Maybe if she had a doctor's note for her allergy."
"I thought her parents sent her to one."
"Another doctor, a better one. How about Patelu?"
Dr. Patelu was Elly's doctor, of Pakistani descent like Elly herself. Sometimes Dareen heard Elly talking to him on the phone in what she had learned to recognize as Urdu.
After a moment's thought, Elly said, "O.K., I'll call him tomorrow. But even if she got a doctor's note and they let her in, how is she going to go through a day in high school wearing just a few strings like that? She'd get razzed from the opening bell up to dismissal. Or worse, especially in a hell hole like the one she was going to."
"Maybe if we tutored her at home, and she went for her G.E.D.," Jamal suggested.
"That's a nice thought," Dareen said, "but we don't have time. We all have to work." She sipped her tea and put it down. "Of course, that's another thing," she said in a low voice.
"Yeah. Between the doctor and bus fare and feeding her, we've got to get some more money coming in," Elly said.
"She wants to work, she's always had an after school job, from what she tells me," Dareen said.
"But what can she do now?" Jamal said.
In the little guest room, Lourdes turned onto her side, adjusted one of the little triangles that her nipple had slipped out of, reached back to tug up the back of her shorts, and wiped a little wetness from her eyes.
Something should be said about Dareen's breasts, what used to be large but slightly floppy 34F's that were obvious candidates for reduction surgery, but had become much different since that night of lighting.
They stuck out firm and proud, as if to defy the embarrassment at their boldness that so often expressed in the beautiful, intelligent face above. Like the rest of her, they were a little lighter than the color of milk chocolate. They were the size of canteloupes, each one almost as big as Dareen's head. Out of proportion on her slender frame, especially above what was now a narrow waist and a flat, almost concave tummy and slim hips. They stuck far out in front to make a startling profile. Also a little to the sides, such that if she raised her arms a good part of the round globes could be seen from behind. The areolas were four inches across and so dark brown as to be almost black, almost perfectly circular except for the fine mottling of the oversized pores at the borders. The nipples, always erect and sometimes very much so, stood out almost half an inch and as thick as the tips of her index fingers. They pointed outward slightly; in fact her breasts faced outward as if they were guns (she heard heard breasts called that once) aimed for maximum spread, partly hiding her upper arms when looked at from the front. And the globes were so firm that a pencil, placed underneath, probably would not have lodged well enough to keep from dropping to the floor.
These were the breasts that faced Jamal as Dareen disrobed in front of him.
"It's my nightly routine," she explained. "I have to be ready. Let me lie on the couch." She and Elly and Lourdes had been spending a few nights at Sherry's, then accepted Jamal's invitation to spend a few nights here at his place. It made either place crowded, but going back to the old apartment was still not possible, given the presence of the press and other prying types. Also the three of them wanted to stay together. So their plan for now was to alternate between Sherry's and Jamal's.
Jamal, normally so in control, could not help but gape. Then he looked up at her face. "Sorry, Dar."
Dareen smiled shyly as she stood before him, now totally naked. Hundreds of people had seen her thus, but having her co-worker and friend look at her so exposed was a different and more intense shame. Still Dareen did not flinch. She had been so unfair to Jamal, keeping her secret from him, keeping so many things from him. It was almost like letting him see her thus was a way of making it up to him.
And now Jamal's nervous hand approached her left breast. She looked down and let it approach. It was not electric, it was only his soft touch as he placed his fingers and then his whole hand over her nipple and aerola. His black skin was silky smooth against her as he tried to cup the side of the breast with his hand, which was not quite large enough for the task.
And now as if kneeling in front of an altar, Jamal bent down and brought his lips to her nipple. In a moment he was sucking on it. Dareen, like a mother welcoming her child, wrapped her arms around his head.
After having been so forward, Jamal stood up as if about to apologize. He looked at her and might have been thinking of kissing her. But Dareen hugged him, the side of her head against his. She inhaled and exhaled, feeling her nipples dig into Jamal's T-shirt. "I love you Jamal but I'm not ready for this," she said, aware of how much it must hurt for him to hear it. But it was the truth, as he surely must know. As much as she liked him there just wasn't the desire in her for anything more. She gave herself credit for not uttering the deadly phrase, "I like you as a friend." But it was clear enough.
They said their good-nights and Jamal went to his room. Dareen sat cross-legged on the couch and looked out through the glass doors at the late August Atlanta night. She contemplated the little button-sized transmitter on the end table, that Colonel Mike had given her to take along if she sensed a pulse bomb again. They would trace her through the transmitter. They wouldn't get there in time to be with her, but knowing the location would help them find and hopefully catch whoever that evil Novotny man was.
It was not a very big apartment and the only view was of the cargo hangars in the rear of the airport. She watched the planes fly in and out. At length her powers came. She hoped she would get sleepy and it would be a quiet night.
But no. She felt the tingling in her nipples again. The tingling that foretold a pulse bomb. She looked back at Jamal's door, and the door to the guest room where Lourdes was sleeping on the bed and Elly on some cushions on the floor. She picked up the button and as silently as she could she slid open the glass door and slid it closed behind her. She felt the slight chill of the night air on her bare body, the cool concrete under her feet, the breeze of exhaust and gasoline from the street below. She hefted herself up onto the railing, her toes curling around it, then with a little jump was up in the air and off.
The tingling feeling was fainter than the other times. She knew that wherever she had to go it was far off. Up, up, out of Atlanta, then west. By flying higher she could go faster. Head down, hands pointed straight out in front (with the button between her fingers), toes pointed straight out behind, she went faster than she ever had. She was getting used to the loud whoosh of air past her ears. Up, up, forward... over mountains and then over plains. She heard a loud boom. Was that a "sonic boom"? Caused only by her bare little body?
She knew the way to California and the Pacific already but felt the urge to divert northward, turning right. It was daytime again now, she had the odd feeling of seeing the sun rising in front of her, even though it was actually the setting sun. As she banked over the great ocean the sun got higher and higher. Soon it was at its noontime position. The tingling was a little stronger now. She stood spread-eagled, hovering high over what she guessed to be the Aleutian Islands, and rubbed the little button between her fingers. No doubt defense stations along the Pacific were monitoring her progress, having been alerted by the quick change of position of the transmitter that she was onto something.
She cupped a palm over one of her tingling nipples and sensed that she had to go further west yet. From a few miles up she could follow the curve of the Aleutians and then the last of them passed below her and she was headed for Japan. No, north of Japan. She felt the warm sun, now behind her, on her butt and the backs of her thighs. Now she was approaching the great continent of Asia.
She went over a peninsula and then over a large bay. Then inland. The cool breezes of the bay were quickly replaced by the oppressive hotness of still air. She went over a mountain range and the air was even stiller. The tingling was much stronger now, she knew she was getting close. Now she felt it almost under her and began her descent.
Her bare feet made a soft landing in the sandy clearing of a forest of low evergreens. The trees were not much taller than she was, an odd feeling. Almost a miniature forest.
So this is Siberia, she told herself as she gently jogged along at 50 miles an hour, trying to find the source of the tingles. She had always associated Siberia with Arctic cold. Well, not now! In late August it was downright sweltering. Maybe 90 degrees.
She stopped and stood still. She didn't feel the tingling any more. Then it started again. Then it stopped. What was going on? Jumping to a height of 100 feet she looked around. She hadn't seen any sign of civilization in this wilderness, except for passing over one or two empty broken-asphalt highways, but now in the distance there were some buildings. Or ruins of buildings.
She hovered over them. Six long cabins side by side, and a couple of little huts, and what looked like a barn. All dilapidated and almost falling over, surrounding a dirt road that disappeared into the low pines. Most of the roofs were caved in. What was this place? Surely the pulse bomb wasn't here. But now her nipples felt nothing and she didn't know what to do.
Her brow went slack as she realized this might have been a prison camp from the Gulag days. What a horrible place. It was good that it was deserted. She had read about these places. If she could she would destroy it without a trace. Thanks to Allah, those days were over. What a horrible evil empire the Soviet system was. Oppressing Muslims, Jews and Christians alike, and everyone else.
She exhaled and looked at the button in her hand. In a few minutes someone would be here. Perhaps a Russian plane alerted by the United States. Or maybe an American plane. She decided to wait around until they came. She walked along the stony, sandy soil, considering the little pines. She lay down, stretched out on her back, feeling the stones against her bare butt, the hot sun creeping into every crevice of her body. Ahhhh. It felt good. She tried to put out feelings of shame and thank Allah for such glorious creation. But she still felt very naked, and was beginning to think she preferred being clothed even when there was no one around to see.
The minutes went by and still no airplanes. She assumed that's what they'd do, try to get to where she was. She reached out and grabbed a five-foot-high pine. On a whim she yanked a little branch off it and tried to bite it. To her surprise it tasted sweet, possibly because of the sap. She chewed on it and ended up chowing down the branch, an impossible task for someone with normal teeth and a normal digestive system, but not for NakedGirl.
More minutes went by. At length Dareen gave up. She flew into the morning sky, up into the higher air, glad to be out of that oppressive still hot air and glad to be away from those scary ruins. At supersonic speeds she overtook the sun and saw it dip past the horizon behind her as she went homeward.