WE WEREN’T DONE yet. There was still the matter of Naia Khan.
Naia was on the run. Chicago police picked her up at O’Hare airport, where she was about to board a British Airways flight to London.
She was running. Interesting. Innocent people don’t run.
I went to Chicago with Detective Sidran to pick her up. They had her waiting for us in a holding cell.
We watched her for a minute behind the two-way mirror. She looked defiant and exhausted at the same time.
“Shall we?” Sidran motioned for the door. I followed.
NAIA barely acknowledged us when we came into the room. “Hello, Naia.” I sat down across from her. “This is Detective Ahmed Sidran. Going somewhere?”
She gave me a look. “I’m visiting family, not that it’s any business of yours.”
“In the middle of the school year? Right after we find the body of your best friend?” I raised an eyebrow. “Strange timing you got there.”
“Why? I didn’t kill her.” She crossed her arms and lifted her chin. “What’s it got to do with me?”
Sidran whistled as he sat down next to me. “Wow. That’s cold. Everyone says you were her best friend, but jeez. Doesn’t seem like you care at all.”
She swallowed and stared at the table, refusing to meet our eyes. “It’s sad. It’s really sad. But what does it have to do with me?”
Sidran glanced at me. “I would think it was more than sad.” He pulled out a copy of her master’s thesis and set it in front of her. “I would think you’d be outraged. Fatima’s parents murdered her because she shamed them. That’s an honor killing, Naia, and you know a lot about honor killings.”
I flipped through the pages. “It’s a good paper. Clearly, this is a topic that bothers you.”
Sidran nodded. “I agree. Your actions, and this paper… it’s a disconnect.”
“A big disconnect,” I echoed.
“What do you want me to say?” she whined. “I’m sorry? Sure. I’m sorry. I’m sorry she’s dead, but I don’t know what it has to do with me.”
I leaned forward. “You told me that you told her family about her relationship with Ezekiel Erikson… you called him Zeke. You had to know that her family would find this shameful.”
“You had to know there was a chance that this might happen,” Sidran added, holding up the paper. “You wrote a 120 page dissertation on it.”
“Fatima and your would-be boyfriend fell in love, and you got her back.” I knocked on the table, startling her. “Didn’t you, Naia? You got her back for stealing your boyfriend by telling her ultra conservative family about their relationship.”
Naia’s eyes narrowed, but she was keeping her mouth shut.
“Tariq told us,” Sidran said. “Tariq told us all about how you came to their house and told them about his whorish – ” he finger-quoted ” – little sister.”
She bit her lip and started picking at an already bloody cuticle.
“A girl like Fatima, taking your man.” I shook my head. “She kind of deserved it, maybe?”
“No!” Naia’s cheeks flared a deep red. “She didn’t… I didn’t… I didn’t think they would do that.” Her chin trembled. “I just wanted her to go back to Pakistan, you know?”
Sidran stared at her. “You told her brother that Fatima was dating Ezekiel Erikson so that he would send her back to Pakistan?”
“Yes,” she met his eyes. “She was a pest. She kept hanging with us, when none of us wanted her around. She was obnoxious, and when she took up with Zeke, well, somebody had to do something.” She paused and lowered her eyes. “I didn’t think they’d kill her.”
I nodded at Sidran. “Naia Khan, you’re under arrest for criminal endangerment.”
“What!” Her jaw dropped. “I didn’t endanger her – ”
Sidran and I got up to leave. “That’s for a jury to decide,” Sidran said. “All I know for sure is that you are one shitty friend.”
Fatima’s murder made the national news. Reporters from all over descended on our little town, asking stupid questions and getting into everybody’s way.
Then there were the white nationalists. They used Fatima’s death like a bludgeon. One more reason to keep all Muslims out of the country. Within the week the mosque was firebombed. There were rumors of another march like Charlottesville in the works. In response, Antifa, Nation of Islam, and pro-immigrant groups were preparing to meet violence with violence of their own.
Hatred begets hatred.
I was busy. We all were.
In the midst of all the rage, Gwen and I held a memorial service for Fatima at the house. It was surprisingly well attended, and quite beautiful, if I do say so myself. Ezekiel played Fatima’s favorite songs on the guitar. We even had an Iman come and speak.
Later, that Iman would sanctify her remains. I hoped that would give her peace.
A large number of university students came, but what was really surprised me was that her cousin, his wife, and their daughter – the ones who had been at the house when we arrested her family – also came. They didn’t say much, but that was okay. There wasn’t much to say. On the way out, his wife hugged me and Gwen. “Thank you,” she murmured. “Thank you for finding her.”
Fatima was buried in an old cemetery under an old oak tree. Gwen and I had planned to pay, but her cousin’s family were the ones who ending up footing the bill.. except for the grave marker. We bought that for her. Along with her name and dates, I had engraved Even through your hardest days, remember we are all made of stardust.
There was no graveside service. Too many people, too much anger, too much potential for it turning into a circus.
After everything was all said and done, Gwen and I sat down and had a long conversation over whether or not to stay in the house. It was a tough decision, but in the end we decided to stay. Things had changed once Fatima was found… the house felt different. I felt different.
I was finally sleeping, so there was that.
We ended up ripping out the bathroom and installing a new one… but a part of me didn’t feel like it was enough. Ever since, I’ve been toying with the idea of hiring an architect and redoing the entire house. Taking it down to the frame and starting over.
Sometimes you need to start over.
A few days after Fatima’s memorial service, I came home to find Gwen planting flowers where the patio had once been. I grabbed a beer and went outside.”Whatcha planting?”
She smiled up at me, the evening sun making her hair sparkle gold. “Forget-me-nots.”
We Are All Stardust – Author’s Note
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