I STOPPED BY Starbucks on the way back to the office, my mind on Ezekiel and our conversation.
Nearly three years, and he was still hung up on her? That must have been some love. Not that I didn’t understand. If Gwen ever left me, I’d lose it, too.
As I pulled out of the parking lot I nearly took out a young Muslim family who decided to cross in front of me without looking. The father gave me a dirty look. I sighed and headed back to the office.
It wasn’t surprising that Ezekiel and Fatima crossed paths. Our community had a large Muslim immigrant population, mostly refugees from the Bosnian war, but some were from other Middle Eastern countries, too. Like most large and rapid influxes of immigrants, there were the inevitable culture clashes between between the new arrivals and long-term residents. But not many. It could have been worse. Much worse.
When I got back to the office, I chewed on my straw and mused on what Ezekiel had told me. Mainly, I mused on Fatima wearing a full burqa. That was unusual. Muslim women here dressed conservatively and covered their hair, but the only ones I’d seen in a burqa were visiting Saudis.
A young Muslim woman so cloistered as to wear a burqa was not supposed to look a man outside her own family, much less fall in love with one. I reached for the phone and called my friend Tony from college. A few holds later, and I was put through. “Tooonnny,” I said in my best fake Brooklyn accent, “how’s homeland treatin’ ya?”
“Sammy!” he yelled. “Aren’t you a sight for sore ears. Same ‘ole, same ‘ole, except not. I heard they got you stashed away in the UP.”
“You heard right.” I yawned loudly. Will shot me a look. “So I got a favor to ask.”
“Sure. What can I do you for?”
“I’m chasing a lead. One Fatima Zaidi. Can you give me the date and airline the she left the country? Her final destination would be Pakistan. Probably Islamabad.”
I heard him tapping on his keyboard. “Sammy, this is going to take a while. Can I call you back?”
“You want all records we have on her?”
“Anything you can spare.”
“Okedokee. Give Gwenny a big fat kiss from me.”
“Will do. When you going to come for a visit?”
He snorted. “You know I don’t cross the Hudson.”
“Tony, Tony, Tony, give flyover country a chance, why don’tcha?”
“No. No, I will not. I’ll be in touch.” He hung up on me, the rude bastard.
I settled into my seat and pulled up my house’s plot record and title. Three years ago, Ibrahim Zaidi and family sold my house for $30,000 less than it was worth. That was a lot of loss. Maybe they were wealthy.
Just for shits and giggles, I checked the watch list; sure enough, both Ibrahaim and Tarif were on it.
I did some more digging. Ibrahim was a well-known, intensely conservative Iman. He’d left Pakistan because he had a falling out with a more well-known, even more intensely conservative Iman. His residency here was sponsored by a nephew.
Tariq’s file was longer. He had suspicious friends, made questionable social media posts, and was known to frequent certain mosques in the U.K. known for extremism.
Both passport pictures of Ibrahim and Tariq were in traditional clothing. The only pictures of Amira and Fatima were in the burqas. The family still lived in the area. Ibrahim and Tariq were fixtures at the local mosque.
Nowhere was there any mention of Fatima. It was like she’d never existed.
We Are All Stardust – Author’s Note