“Melly!" My best friend Aisha catches my arm.
"What's up, Aisha?" I ask, because her big brown eyes tell me that something is up, and it's not good.
"Will you walk with me?" What she means is can I walk with her around the dirt track that surrounds the soccer field, one of the play structures, and the tire swing, at our school.
"Sure." After we've taken about ten steps, I turn to her. "What's wrong?"
"It's Rahim." Now she's got my attention. She rarely talks to me about family affairs. Except when she has crying spells because of her second oldest brother. He got in a car crash when he was thirteen and didn't make it. Rahim, her oldest brother, still can't get over Hassan's death. He punches walls in the house, and gets into trouble with the police. She and her family also have trouble because they are from Pakistan, and it is very hard to be a Pakistani in our city because many people have been suspicious of them since 9/11.
"I'm listening," I say.
She pulls me over to the side of the track and we sit down in the shade of a pine tree. "Rahim . . . he . . . he . . . he's in jail."
I don't know what to say. I want to say that I know what she's going through or that she's going to be OK. But I don't know what she's going through, and I don't want to lie to my best friend. Because the truth is I don't know if she's going to be OK. Sitting there, I wonder how I got myself into this. I wonder why I am the one stuck in this position of being Aisha's best friend. But suddenly I snap back into reality and realize that however it started I am Aisha's best friend, and I am proud of it. I also remember that there is a girl who is crying a billion rivers, and who is secretly counting on me to console her. So I don't say anything. I just scoot close to her and hug her. I hug her for a long time and hold her in my arms.
"They're not sure. Maybe five years, possibly two."
"When do they decide?"
* * *
Ring, ring, ring! Pick up, pick up, I think to myself. "Hello?" It's Aisha.
"What happened?" I ask, too loudly.
"Shh. My parents are here."
"I think it's OK. Everyone is acting happy."
I want to tell her to ask instead of just waiting until someone tells her, but knowing her and her family, I figure that it is some Pakistani thing. So instead I say, "Good."
"Listen, I have to go. I'll see you at school."
"Luvs." As I set down the phone thoughts are racing through my head. How can she be completely in tears this morning, and totally calm right now. I mean, I would be ecstatic. It could be because of the whole fact that I am not supposed to know about this and her parents are right there, but still!
The next day I run up to her right as her car pulls up to the school. There is Rahim in the front seat. Aisha puts her finger up to her mouth, telling me to be quiet, but a huge grin is on her face. I say hello to Rahim and he waves at me but I can sense sorrow in his smile. Aisha and I walk to our classroom and as we walk she fills me in on the details. She says that he got released from jail last night but the police are still checking his case. Then she pulls me over to the side of the path. "Melly, there is something I didn't tell you yesterday that is really troubling me, but you can't tell anyone else." I promise and she continues. "My parents . . . They're the ones that turned Rahim in."
"What?!" I practically scream. Aisha puts a hand over my mouth. "Sorry."
"It's OK. . . It is kind of surprising."
"Were you there?"
"They always send me to my room during the fights but I can hear the yelling from miles away."
"What do they fight about?" Tears start to prick Aisha's eyes. "OK, we won't talk about this right now."
"Yeah," she says and puts her head on my shoulder. We walk to class and I wonder what I would ever do without Aisha. Talking about her family problems eases mine. I think about how every time I'm sad I run to her and gush everything but how she is so much stronger. She hardly ever cries but her problems are so much bigger than mine. I sigh and put my books in my locker.
The phone is ringing. I look at the clock and see that it is one AM on Monday, two weeks before school gets out. "You rang?" I say in my most sleepy voice.
"Melly!" As I had guessed it's Aisha.
"What?!" I yell grumpily.
"It is too early in the morning for jokes."
"This is not a joke! We are moving in June, after school gets out."
"No. No. NO!"
"We are moving to Singapore."
"This is not happening."
"Rahim is already on the plane."
"Aisha! You can't do this to me!"
"I don't want to but I have to! You know how much danger Rahim is in. The police drive past our house every ten minutes, they will soon have a tap on our phone line, and they stalk me to the grocery store!"
"You can stay with me!"
"I mean it."
"Melly, I love you! I always will! You will always be with me! I'll come back! I have to go! See you at school."
"Don't leave me!"
"Bye." I lie on my bed and go back to sleep, hoping it is a dream.
* * *
It's the day after the last day of school. Everyone in my seventh-grade class and some "special" sixth- and eighth-graders are in my back yard. Aisha's car rounds the corner. "She's here! Places everyone!" I open the door and she walks up the steps to my porch. "Hey!" I say in my cheeriest voice.
"Hi . . . " she says because I never talk like this unless something is up. Her father waves and pulls out of the driveway.
I lead her to the back yard and say very loudly, "There is some lemonade out here that I made specially for you!" This is their cue.
"Surprise!" Everyone springs from their hiding places and runs over to Aisha and hugs her or throws streamers and balloons and hats into the air.
"We love you, Aisha!" I say and give her the biggest hug ever. Tears are streaming down our faces.
"I'll never forget you, Melly!"
"I'll never forget you, Aisha!" Everyone else is squeezing past me to say goodbye but she manages to press something into my hand. It is a beaded green bracelet that she wears almost every day, and I too will wear it forever as a symbol of her and our friendship.