Bin Laden’s Daughter by Anna Sykora
Nur peered back at the black smoke pouring like curses into the clear, blue sky. How many blasts in Midtown? Three, at least.
As she hurried towards the 59th Street Bridge, ambulances came blaring past. She caught sight of a medic’s bloody face. Allah, save us all…
Pedestrians caked in ashes milled in front of the bridge’s access ramp, where twin police cars blocked her escape. A burly cop with bloodshot eyes held up a radio as if it could save him.
Nur walked towards him resolutely. Somebody down the block was shouting something about more terrorist bombs, and a green truck covered with graffiti.
“I need to cross,” she told the tall policeman, whose tag read Boxer. Warily he eyed her flowered headscarf, dowdy skirt and nylon backpack. “Sorry miss, you’ll have to wait like everybody else. Till we get orders to open the bridge.”
“I live in Queens; I just want to walk home. My mother must be so scared and worried.”
“You wait here. An army unit’s supposed to come and check us all for radiation.”
“Please, I just want to go home.” And she looked him straight in the eyes.
“Don’t let her through,” growled a man in a pinstripe suit smeared with ashes. Awkwardly he held his broken glasses up to his face. “Look at her headscarf. Maybe she’s with them.”
“Don’t let her go.” A paunchy man with reddish, slicked back hair came shoving through the crowd. “I’m Jack Reno, the bounty hunter. I’ve been trailing this girl for weeks.”
“Indeed he has stalked me,” Nur said with dignity, glaring up at his sweaty face pitted with acne scars. “All around my school and neighborhood. And why? Because I was born in Beirut? Because I go to the mosque on Fridays?”
“This is Najwa--Bin Laden’s daughter.” Foam flecks glistened on Reno’s lips. “You’ve all seen her video on the news, warning how she’ll rain death on New York. And today’s the day: the first anniversary of her father’s death.”
“Catch her. Hang her. Throw her in the river,” voices cried from the tightening crowd. “Drowning’s too good for Bin Laden’s daughter.” Wheeling Nur took in the mixed crowd of New Yorkers, their hard and hateful faces. Heart hammering at her ribs, her airways cramped; she couldn’t breathe.
“I am a student at your Hunter College, on 68th Street in Manhattan.” She fumbled in a pocket for the inhaler, and Officer Boxer pulled his gun.
“Hey, cool it,” yelled a pear-shaped, elderly woman with hair short-cropped and grey. “That girl on the news has got brown eyes. Take a look: this one’s are green.”
“So she’s wearing contacts,” Reno said angrily, and Nur stood up straight as a soldier on parade. The top of her head didn’t reach his shoulder.
“If I am Najwa,” she said slowly, “why would I run around uncovered, letting you see my naked face?” Ignoring her he yelled at Officer Boxer:
“Do it, or I’ll make a citizen’s arrest. There’s a ten million bounty on her head.”
“You’ve got no proof that this is Najwa,” the old woman complained.
Officer Boxer grabbed Nur’s arm, fingers digging into her flesh. “Stop it,” she shrilled, “you’re hurting me.”
A deafening explosion rocked the street, and people screaming scattered away. Throwing down her heavy backpack, Nur slipped between the police cars and bolted up the access ramp. Behind her somebody shouted “Freeze!” and a bullet came whizzing past her ear.
Other pedestrians followed her, fleeing towards the footpath on the bridge’s northern edge. Vehicles snarled on the upper and lower roadways honked like the rush hour in hell. Abandoning useless cars, some drivers joined the general retreat to Queens. One shouted, “The cops are looking for a yellow school bus. I heard it on the radio.”
Gasping, Nur staggered along, hand pressed to the deep stitch in her side. Crammed with passengers, the Roosevelt Island tram hung motionless in the sky. Suddenly jet engines roared, and the red tram dropped like a stone. Spewing fire the plane--a bomb-loaded fighter--veered towards the bridge as if trying to land.
Nur leaped the parapet, into thin air, and the plane exploded on the bridge, showering fragments and fuel as she fell feet first towards the river’s murky water.
The wind caught her long skirt, flapping it up, and pressing it down with both her hands she entered the water almost vertical, knifing down into the thickening dark.
Air blew from her lungs, and she choked in helpless bubbles as the river squeezed her like a giant’s hand. Dear Allah, I do not want to die. It is not my time.
As the moments slowed and almost halted, she struggled lonely as a slaughtered beast with her water-logged, leaden-coffin skirt, and finally tore it off. Legs free she kicked towards the wan spread of light, impossibly far above her head; the roof of the river, the roof of her death, like the ceiling of the mosque in Astoria.
She made herself hold in the last of her breath, even as her lungs heaved and strained. Closer it loomed, the roof of the water, like silk curtains swaying in a breeze. Brighter it rippled as she strove upwards.
As Allah is willing, I shall live.
Nur broke the surface, choking and spluttering; gladly she gulped air back into her lungs. Her whole body ached, as if a truck had crushed her, and yet her arms and legs obeyed.
Treading water, she spied a white wall looming near, with the black logo Circle Line. A tourist boat, in the name of God. “Help me,” she cried, voice thin and high as a hungry baby’s. “Save me, I fell from the Queensboro Bridge.”
A life preserver thudded into the water. She grabbed at it, caught it, held it fast. Coughing, she dragged her sore body aboard.
Then a rope ladder slapped down the boat’s high side, and a sailor with sunburned arms climbed down: “Over here, honey.” He reached out a hand, and Nur paddled towards him, panting. Eagerly he gathered her, arranging her small bulk over his shoulder like a sack. “Take it easy now.” And he clambered back up.
“Bring me a blanket,” he yelled at shocked faces, all gazing down at her on the deck as if he’d pulled a mermaid from the East River.
“Looks like the girl on the news last night,” drawled a grizzled man in a Yankees cap. “Looks like Bin Laden’s daughter.” People were snapping her photo with their phones.
“Please, stop,” she pleaded, trying to sit up and covering her bare legs with her hands. “I am not Najwa. I live in Queens; I am American, just like you.”
“She needs medical care.” A bearded man with a knitted white kufi on his head knelt beside her on the deck. “Hush, sister,” he whispered, easing her back down.
“Good people, I am Nur Alfarsi,” she cried. “I live with my mother in Astoria, Queens.”
“Sure.” He tucked a silvery thermal blanket around her as if she were a treasure.
The sky looked so pure and innocent still, out here in the middle of the river. In all her life she’d never seen such a sky….