Hanif held Quin in his arms, and attempted to rock her gently to sleep. But she insisted on crying.
“She’s a handful,” he said, trying to quell her tears by bouncing her on his knee.
“You do know who you named her after, right?” Fatima replied, setting a bowl of stew down in front of him. She kissed him on the cheek, and began wrapping a turquoise scarf around her silver-streaked mahogany hair. “Marwan, can you take your brother to school? Tara Goldman is having a baby and she wants me there.”
Marwan looked up from his stew.
“Sure thing, Mom.”
“I have to be at the clinic,” Hanif said.
“After I take Zachary to school, I can look after Quin until Mom gets back,” Marwan said. Hanif nodded and thanked Marwan, then motioned for Zachary to come to him. He drew the boy up onto his lap.
“Be good, learn lots,” he said. The boy nodded broadly.
“I will, abba.”
Hanif smiled and kissed him on the cheek. Fatima pulled open the shutter and stepped out, along with Marwan and Zachary.
“Should I close the shutter?” Fatima asked.
“Leave it open; it’s a nice day,” Hanif said.
Hanif remained still. Quin had finally fallen asleep, and he rocked silently back and forth.
Well, God, here I am, Hanif thought, exactly where You meant for me to be. He laughed to himself, tracing back the individual moments of intertwining destinies—to some mere coincidences— that lead him here, grateful for each one, even the painful ones.
“Alhumdallah,” he said.
Quin squirmed in his arms and clenched her eyes shut. He grabbed his crutch and gingerly lifted himself out of the chair. He slowly hobbled over to the crib—a nicely padded laundry basket—and lay her down in it.
He heard the crunch of footsteps under gravel coming closer.
Quin, he hoped.
He turned and saw a girl with cropped black hair and narrow eyes standing in his doorway, dressed in green combat fatigues—but he could tell she wasn’t Quin; she was standing too rigidly, too nervously.
“Sir, are you Dr. Abdullah Hanif Zaidi?” she asked.
Definitely not Quin. Too polite.
“Yes, I am.” Hanif walked outside, balancing on his crutch. “The baby just fell asleep. Don’t want to wake her.”
“My name is Ensign Brianne Lee. I have a message for you from Commander Becket.”
“Yes, sir,” the girl shifted her weight, uneasy that the conversation had gone beyond what she’d been training to say. Hanif laughed to himself.
“What is it?”
“Well… he told me to tell you about someone named ‘Quin’.”
Hanif felt his heart both plummet and rise.
“What about her?”
But Ensign Lee was silent.
Hanif winced. It took a moment for the reality of that to sink in. He stared at the girl, wanting to say something, but could only blink.
“Commander Becket also told me to tell you…” Ensign Lee sighed and closed her eyes, then said dryly, “Hah, I’m just jerkin’ you.”
Hanif paused for a moment. The wider the smile spread across his face, the more he wanted to punch Zachary in his.
“Let me guess: Zachary promised you a promotion to First Ranger if you did this, right?”
Hanif shook his head, trying to hold back a grin.
“But,” the girl continued, “he did want me to tell you that he did hear from Quin.”
Ensign Lee paused and shifted her stance again.
“Well, he didn’t really hear directly from her. But she sent a messenger, who sent another messenger, who reached Zachary. But she meant for it to come to you. So here I am.”
Hanif felt both anticipation and nervousness run through his blood stream. He also thought that this emotional rollercoaster was probably bad for his heart.
“What did she say?”
“She wanted to tell you: Labayk. Allahuma. Labayk. She said you’d understand.”
Hanif couldn’t stop the tears this time. His legs shook; he couldn’t stand, and so he fell to his knees. Ensign Lee backed away at first, then kneeled down. Hanif stared blankly at the rocks.
“Thank you,” he said after a moment. “Thank you.”
“What does it mean?” the girl asked. “The Commander wanted me to find out.”
Hanif looked up at her, smiling through his tears.
“It’s the prayer of the pilgrim. When they reach the House of God. Here I am at Thy service Oh God, here I am.”
Ensign Lee looked confused.
“Thank you, Ensign Lee.”
The girl nodded and began walking away.
“Oh, one more thing,” Hanif called out to her. She stopped and turned. “When you see Commander Zachary, tell him that you went to Quicksilver but only found ashes and rubble. Then tell him we are even.”
A nervous expression crossed Ensign Lee’s face, but she agreed and then walked away.
Hanif was quiet for a moment, his knees aching from the gravel, but his heart feeling weightless.
He leaned over, and touched his forehead to the ground, imagining the immense black structure in front of him, and Quin beside him.