The Permanence of Memory
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. In my experience, 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 glared at us as we entered the room. “This is unconstitutional, you know. I have rights.”
“Yes, you do have rights,” I agreed as I took a seat across from her. “They’ve been read to you. Do you know This is Detective Ahmed Sidran? Now you do.” I straightened my papers, then asked,
She studied her nails. “I’m visiting family, not that it’s any business of yours.”
“Planned this trip for a while?” Sidran asked.
“Maybe.” She shrugged. “Not that it’s any of your business.”
“Let’s see–” I opened her case file “–it says here you bought the ticket yesterday.” I whistled. “You paid that? And where’s the round trip ticket?” I looked up at her. “Are you dropping out of school?”
“Why?” she snapped. “Is that illegal?”
“No.” I closed the file. “Seems cold though, especially after finding your friend dead.”
“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.”
“Yeah, Naia,” I added. “Don’t you care?”
She swallowed and stared at the table, refusing to meet our eyes. “Sure. It’s sad. It’s really sad. But what does it have to do with me?”
Sidran pulled out a copy of her master’s thesis and set it in front of her. “A lot, actually. Fatima’s parents murdered her because she shamed them. That’s an honor killing, Naia, and you know a lot about honor killings.”
“What do you want me to say?” she whined. “I’m sorry? Sure. I’m sorry. It’s a shame. Now, can I go?”
“Not yet.” 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 observant family would find this deeply shameful.”
“You also had to know what happens to girls who deeply shame their families.” Sidran added, holding up the paper. “In fact, you wrote a 120 page dissertation on it.”
She flushed a deep red but didn’t reply.
“Naia, Naia, Naia, you were jealous, weren’t you? So jealous. Fatima stole your would-be boyfriend, and you got her back.” I knocked on the table, startling her. “And they killed her.”
“Drowned her in the bathtub and buried her under the patio,” Sidran added.
“Arrest them!” she screeched. “I didn’t do it! Let me go!”
“No can do,” I replied. “You see, Tariq told us all about it, didn’t he, Detective Sidran?”
“He did,” 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 started picking at an already bloody cuticle. “He’s lying,” she muttered.
“I don’t know. A girl like Fatima, taking your man?” I shook my head. “She kind of deserved it, maybe?”
“No!” Naia looked up. “She didn’t… I didn’t… I didn’t think they would do that.” Her voice cracked. “I just wanted her to go away… I didn’t want her dead!”
Sidran stared at her. “So, knowing what you know about honor killings, you told an observant man that his sister was comingling with an unrelated man just to send her back to Pakistan?”
“Yes,” she asserted. “You have to understand. 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 shrugged. “And, even if they did kill her, it’s not my fault.”
I nodded at Sidran, who said, “Naia Khan, you’re under arrest for criminal endangerment.”
“What!” Her mouth dropped open. “I didn’t endanger her – “
Sidran and I got up to leave. “That’s for a jury to decide,” Sidran replied. “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, yelling that this was 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 Omar, 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 said. “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 for the burial. We bought the grave marker. 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