Going to the American soldiers for help is my last resort. If my brother finds out what I’ve done, he’ll kill me. But I don’t have a choice. It’s the only way to save what’s left of my family.
I walk into the building where they have their headquarters. It’s easier than I expect, actually. All I have to do is tell them my name. Eve El-Amin. The El-Amin family is well known here.
From conversations I’ve overheard between my brother and his “colleagues,” I know there are less than a dozen soldiers here. I’ve met two now. The guard at the entrance, who was younger than I expected, and another whose title is Commander. I don’t remember his name. Now I’m sitting in the interrogation room where I imagine they’re watching me from behind the mirror hanging on the wall, like they do on American television shows. And all I can do is try to calm my racing heart.
I glance at the door for the hundredth time. There’s a clock above it and every click of the second hand as it moves has me wanting to leap for that door. To run out of here and go back home and forget this.
Only fifteen minutes have passed since the commander left the room, but it feels like fifteen hours. The longer I sit here, the harder it is to stay put. I wonder if they’re doing it on purpose, using this tactic to shake me up, make sure I’m telling the truth. I am, but I imagine it’s not easy to trust anyone with El-Amin for a last name.
I finish the flimsy plastic cup of water the commander had put in front of me, wipe my sweaty hands on my jeans and begin to rise. This was a bad idea. They’re not going to help me. Why would they? My brother is the enemy.
But then I hear it. Talking in the corridor. Two men. Their voices are like thunder—deep and powerful. It’s like they were waiting for me to make a move to leave.
As soon as I see that doorknob turn, my stomach churns and I freeze, half up out of my chair. All I can do is watch. My mouth is dry, and my heart is pumping blood so hard through my veins, the sound is deafening. But when the door opens, it’s not the commander I see. He’s behind the soldier who’s wearing fatigues and carrying a thick file. The soldier’s eyes zero in on me, take in my awkward position, and when he meets my stare, he does something I don’t expect. He smiles.
“Ms. El-Amin,” he says, and I know he knows I’m terrified.
He sets his folder down on the table and I straighten, as if I’d merely been standing to greet him. He extends his hand. I look at it, at this enormous outstretched hand, waiting for me to place mine inside it.
“I’m Master Sergeant Zachary Amado,” he says while I stand there, stupefied.
I clear my throat and drag my gaze up to his. His eyes are so dark a blue they’re like the midnight sky. And there’s a kindness inside them. Something that makes me trust him instantly. Makes me like him instantly.
“Eve,” I say, my voice sounding almost normal. “I’m just Eve.”
He smiles, and his eyes light up. “Well, we’re glad you came, just Eve. And you can call me Zach.”
I feel my face go red and I lower my gaze. He’s still got my hand and he squeezes and when I look up, he gives me a wink.
“Everything will be fine,” he says. “You’re doing the right thing. We can help you.”
I nod, but I’m not really sure why because I’m still not certain this is the right thing at all.
“Sit down,” he says, releasing my hand.
I sit. I get the feeling he’s used to giving orders and having them followed.
He turns to the commander, the man I met initially. The man who asked me questions for almost an hour. He looks like he’s in his fifties and he’s not as friendly as Master Sergeant Zachary Amado. Zach. They have a brief exchange but they speak too quietly for me to hear. A moment later, the commander says something to Zach, nods to me, and leaves the room so we’re left alone. Zach faces me and gives me that smile again, and I think he’s trying to reassure me.
“I know you’ve already told the commander why you chose to come to us, but would you mind telling me as well? I want to hear the story from you.”
“I’m here to save my brother,” I say.
“Your brother.” He opens the folder before him, shuffles through a few pages before coming to a photo of Armen. He studies it himself for a moment, then looks up at me, and I think he’s looking at the similarity in our features. Our eyes, mostly. Like the sweetest honey, my mom used to say. The memory reminds me how much I miss her.
I blink twice, hoping to banish the tears I feel gathering.
“This brother, Eve?” he asks, using my name. He’s watching me. Has been. I know. I felt his eyes on me from the moment I saw Armen’s photograph. He rotates it so it’s right side up. “Armen El- Amin?”
I look up to meet Zach’s eyes. His search mine and I know he’s seen the tears. I nod, too afraid that if I speak, my voice will break.
He shifts his gaze back to the folder, and mine follows. He makes a point of flipping over pages and pages of notes, which I can’t read from where I’m sitting. There are a few more photographs in the file. Some of Armen alone. And, more importantly, of Armen with the man he works for. Except that the man’s face is hidden behind a scarf. He’s always hiding. Always sending others to do his dirty work.
That thought gives me strength. It reminds me why I’m here. Why I have to do this.
Steeling my spine, I sit up straighter. He watches me.
“My family’s gone. I’ve lost my parents and two of my brothers, and Armen has got himself mixed up with a very bad man.” I point to the photo. “Malik the Butcher.” My voice hardens; I hear it myself. I have so much anger at this man, so much hatred of him. He’ll destroy Armen if I don’t do this. “I can help you find him. Tell you when they’ll meet. If you’ll help me save my brother.”