Julieta is almost late to pick up her son. She sees Kareem’s mom Rima, her little ones in the double stroller, and the preschooler stomping around the flagpole garden near the school’s office. The dark-haired girls have black, black eyes, but the little boy is fair like Rima. Julieta waves as she approaches, lowers her face to the stroller, and tweaks the girls’ noses to their delight. Rima smiles shyly; her English is good, and her accent doesn’t bother Julieta. Kareem and Omar are in the same second grade class—friends who’ve been to each other’s birthday parties. Unlike the American moms who drop off and ask what time to pick up, Julieta had stayed the whole time and socialized with all the ladies, some wearing the jihab, others without. Julieta felt closer to those ladies than the PTA moms and wishes she knew more about her long dead Lebanese grandfather. Just before exchanging niceties, Julieta remembers something she heard on the radio.
“You’re from Syria, right?” There had been a special report about a UN plan to deliver food to the starving.
“Yes,” she says, her pale eyes reflecting a clear sky with slow-moving clouds.
“It’s terrible about the war, all those thousands killed and the Russians bombing too.” Julieta knows something about political violence, having escaped Venezuela following the so-called election of that bastard Maduro. These days, she panics every time she sees a Caracas number flash on her cell, wondering if her cousins or uncle have been kidnapped or worse. She touches Rima’s arm. “Your family, are they ok?”
As soon as she asks, Julieta watches Rima’s face crumble, her eyes filling. She regrets bringing it up, but she needs to know. It’s important.
“Yes.” She pauses to wipe her cheeks, swallows hard. “What’s left of them.”