Allahu Akbar!

I watch the sky collapse with fire and fissures of black smoke. Earth and sky crash and erupt into each other. Buildings swallow people, crumpling like men bowing their heads to pray. The ground shudders with concussive blasts. Burning air sticks its molten hand down my throat.

Munin’s hand extends towards me as she runs, brown eyes staring back at me. Her voice is lost in the screaming maelstrom. Thick dust sweeps down the streets, carrying flames and shadowy bodies in its wake. My world tears apart in fraying spools of red thread winding through the dirt. The outstretched hand still hovers in front of me, beckoning me to follow. My fingers wrap around warm skin as Munin is consumed in a blast of shrapnel and concrete. My skin melts and I slam into the ground. Munin’s blood-caked hand remains in mine as death and life cling to one another.

Uncle Ibrahim’s hand on my shoulder jerks me back and I find myself on the side of the road, crouching beside the wheel of our car.

No bodies. No gunfire. No Munin.

“Breathe, Samira,” Uncle tells me, his voice distant in my ears as I writhe in the grips of panic and haunting memories. All this triggered by the smell of burning sand, smoke, and that familiar phrase. He brushes my hair out of my face, his dark curls and worried eyes blurring through my tears.

Simple things undo me, and the years of therapy become meaningless. The first time Uncle took me into a mosque after moving to Madrid, I screamed. When the imam spoke the familiar words during prayer, I felt flames on my skin and heard gunfire in the vaulted prayer hall. The praise became a warning of death. The ornate scripted words blazed into my eyes as I fell into the blood-red carpet. I didn’t stop screaming until Uncle Ibrahim carried me out.

I haven’t been in a mosque since.

I stare out at the city where it all began ten years ago. Al-Qa’im. The buildings are rebuilt, and the sky isn’t on fire. Returning pulls out the steel stitching I wove through my scars to hold myself together. I feel the reinforcements ripping through my skin, opening new veins of old pain.

This is my Mountain of Adamant. The closer I get, the more I am torn apart.

Hushpuppy pushes his brown and black head into my face, his warm body pressing against mine. I grip his blue polyester vest and pull myself back from the edge of the abyss I teeter on. Uncle Ibrahim helps me stand and wraps his arms around me.

“You are safe, delam,” he says stroking my head. “We don’t have to do this.”

“No,” I reply wiping tears from my eyes. “I want to do this.”

This homecoming has been prolonged for too long. I haven’t seen my parents in ten years. Father stayed with mother. Mother stayed with Salim. Salim stayed in the ground buried under earth and the ruins of war. Mother couldn’t understand why I had to leave with Uncle Ibrahim. Too many deaths. Munin taken by fire; Salim by bullets. She doesn’t know that I still carry the war with me and that my cousin follows me with her severed hand in dreams and daylight hours. She stopped seeing me long ago; all she can see is my dead brother.

Some days I’m vividly aware of the diaspora between my own body and mind, set adrift in this world like a living ghost. A hollow shell wrapped up in a hijab. The burns along my back are reminders of what was taken from me and the scars I’m left with.

I sit on the ground and Uncle leans against the car beside me, hands shoved into his pockets. He doesn’t say anything; he is patient with the silence. We are both people with halves missing. Does he see his Munin the same way I do? I lean into Hushpuppy as he sits with his head on my knees. I keep my eyes closed while minutes build up.

Breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

Air lodges itself in my throat as I force myself to stand. Eyes open, I catch a glimpse of Munin’s reflection covering my own in the dusty window. I stand where she should have, my life a reflection of the space she should exist in. Tearing my gaze away, I look down at the road where home lies. Home. The word feels so strange. Uncle looks at me and I nod. It’s time.

Breathe. I’m alive. I must move.

Uncle takes my hand, locks the car, and we begin our walk down the street.

Father stands outside the house with its sloping roof and faded blue paint. He looks up. There is more white along his temples than I remember. I clutch Hushpuppy’s leash as father runs up, arms flung around Uncle and me. Tobacco and smoke. His smell. I lean into him, face pressed into his shirt. He doesn’t say anything, but I feel tears soaking through my headscarf as he kisses my head.

No bodies. No gunfire. No death.

Mother steps outside, balancing a small toddler on her hip. Shamas. My little brother; the brother I don’t know. Her new sun. He’s got Salim’s eyes—soft, inquisitive brown. He sucks on his fingers, looking at Uncle and me as mother combs back his unruly hair. I break away from my father’s embrace and stare at the face and at the hazel depths cleared of ghosts—eyes that see me. She hands Shamas off to my father, the hem of her dark chador brushing along the dirt.

“My Samira,” my mother whispers, eyes shimmering. “You’ve come home.” She wraps
her arms around me and I crumple.