Looking both ways, she crossed the road. Jeeps buzzed like insects. The brown earth sizzled.
“Don’t look around; keep your eyes lowered! Walk fast! Don’t speak to foreigners!” she heard her mother’s voice repeating in her head.
“Yes, Mother.” Since her father’s death, she stopped arguing with her mother. Poor woman, she often thought. It’s no small thing she suffered – her husband blown to pieces! Rana hurried her step, pulling her headscarf to shield her face from the relentless sun.
“Miss, Miss,” she heard the foreign soldier’s call. Glancing sideways, she checked he was calling her. He was. Leaving the cover of the date palm grove, he walked towards her. Rana continued walking away, her heart pounding with fear and pleasure. In that instant, she thought him handsome! Underneath the heavy armour, behind the gun, she saw the young man he was.
“Miss,” he called urgently, and started running towards her.
“Don’t speak to foreigners,” her mother again.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw him near her, his eyes cooling blue oases; and then a surprise. A stillness. She can remember nothing else.
The doctor at Rana’s bedside says the American was killed by a sniper. He had been trying to warn her when he was hit. She was lucky he took the bullets.
She can only see the young man running towards her; she can feel the fluttering of her own heart.
This story was short-listed in the Fish publishing inaugural VERY Short Story Competition, 2004.
A version of it appears in the print issue of Another Country, A Journal of New Writing, 2005, Munich, Germany.