It was the second Wednesday in November. I hadn’t heard from my husband in four days and woke to news that the gates of our enclosed community had been closed and barricaded overnight.
“I’ve heard they’re going door to door looking for US citizens,” a neighbor told me. She’d slipped out after her husband had gone out to the fields that morning to warn me. She didn’t know we were dual citizens and hadn’t traveled using our US passports in years. I wasn’t even sure which packing crate they were in. We’d moved four times since leaving the US. Twice since obtaining Canadian citizenship through my native born husband.
I thanked her. I didn’t know her name at the time. She was native. They didn’t mix much with the expatriates. A cultural preference more than a religious objection.
News reel exploded from the flat screen at the end of the breakfast nook. Grainy cell phone images from Flickr and video from YouTube hastily retrieved by Al Jazeera before the media blackout highlighted a frightening recitation of silenced Twitter feeds and Facebook updates. The revolution did not take place in cyberspace, it was just recorded there for a few moments before vanishing like the people who took the pictures and dared to stand witness to history.
No one knocked on our door. The whispered warnings were fearful winds which blew like the sandstorms, searing and scouring the unprotected in their path. The company had locked the gates. When the army arrived, in search of Americans “in need of assistance”, they were sent away with a reminder that the Emirate was not subject to the United States of America, but they would graciously keep them apprised of any needs that might arise. Praise Allah.
I scanned our passports before burning them, transferred the images to flash drive before deleting the files and then I waited.
Camp sat on the gulf coast. The moist air ran in little rivers down the panes of our hermetically sealed town home. The winter was warmer than usual that year. Children played unattended in the park across the street. I watched my daughter through the droplets. And waited.
The day before Ashura, the President of the United States, addressed the world. The next day I left my wet-eyed little girl in the care of only people I could trust, Aamina and Fahd. They were engineers in my husband’s work group. Aamina had checked in on me every day since my husband disappeared. In better days, we had gathered on Friday evenings, discussing and debating while our daughters bonded in the way of little girls.
Fahd tried to discourage me.
“We can’t trust the news coming from America right now,” he said. “Wait a while longer. The company is negotiating the return of our people.”
“Your people,” I pointed out needlessly. “James is Canadian. Enemy combatant. You heard what that man said.”
“I don’t believe the Canadians have closed their border or that the Americans see them as threats,” Fahd said. “It was a bad election. That happens. Americans have been spoiled by their democratic illusions. The people there will learn in time and all will return to normal. Patience.”
“Not my virtue,” I said. James would have smiled. Fahd frowned but in the end agreed to shield my child until I returned with her father.
Without a passport, I waited at the front gate until the Army transport arrived to collect me. A guard stood uneasily at either shoulder, clearly disapproving but Fahd had accompanied me and spoken to them on my behalf before hugging me and driving off.
Heavily armed soldiers sandwiched me on the trip to a small airstrip near their base. Eyes shielded by mirrored sunglasses, their body language obscured under layers of kevlar and khaki. Their camp was in disarray and I learned from the handful of other detained Americans that the Emirate had politely insisted on their withdrawal.
“Where are we going?” I asked a tall, dusty man who appeared the least shell-shocked of the group I found myself among.
“South Carolina. There are camps there.”
“Rex 84?” he studied me and when I didn’t react continued, “It’s the Homeland Security Act that allows the president to declare martial law. Intern citizens.”
“You mean enemy combatants,” I said, remembering the words I’d heard.
“Potato, po-tah-to,” he shrugged.
Patience, I thought. The universe had schooled me again.