Publish Novellas 4 September 2022
EPISODE 2 – REFUGEES
The heart of an American soldier with Jewish roots is drawn to a beautiful Afghanistan woman in deplorable conditions.
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“You can confide in me. I’m here to help,” Mark assures Laila.
“The Taliban destroyed my home. I was given a choice of becoming a sex slave or dying at the edge of a sword as a virgin. My decision is evident by my presence here today.”
“Please, feel no shame for doing what was necessary for survival. I only wish I could have done more to protect you.”
“What will become of me now?” asks Laila.
“The truth is, I came to Germany for you. I could not get you out of my mind and had to see for myself that you are all right,” Mark confesses.
“I have gone from a bombed house, to a harem, and now a refugee camp with an uncertain future. It seems to me that I am far from all right.”
“We’ve both been through trauma and need comfort. I’ve seen terrible things in war. If you can forgive my past, I can forgive yours. I want to take you back to America with me.”
“How… Where will I stay?” Laila asks with confusion.
“The only way to expedite this will come as a surprise to you. In fact, I shouldn’t be shocked if you decline. But if you want to get out of here, I can help.”
Laila’s expression turns to fear. “It is just as the Taliban. Must I give my body to you to preserve my life?”
“No, not in that way—exactly. I wanna marry you so you can share my U.S. citizenship and return with me,” Mark clarifies.
“I don’t understand. We know little about each other. In my culture a woman who has lost her virginity is undesirable.”
“I have been reading about Islam for the past few months. There will be cultural obstacles, but I’m willing to face them with you.”
“So are you studying to be Muslim?”
“No, I was raised Jewish with a Catholic mother. But I haven’t practiced any religion since enlisting in the war.”
“You do not expect me to adopt Judaism, do you?”
“No, there’s freedom of worship in the U.S. But your mosques may not take kindly to you marrying someone of another religion. I expect my family will also oppose the union.”
“So why will you do it?” asks Laila.
“I’ve never told you this, but I have felt it in my heart since our first contact. I love you. For that, I would do anything in my power to protect you.”
With her eyes revealing worry, Laila admits, “I am surprised and flattered but cannot say I also love you based on this short conversation.”
“Okay, tell me what you want to do. If you think I’m crazy, I can go back to America heartbroken while you return to the refugee tent.”
Pausing for moment to contemplate her options, Laila replies, “And if I accept your proposal for marriage, when can I leave this place?”
“Understand that this is not a threat or coercion. I have true feelings for you and wanna take care of you as my wife, if you accept my proposal.”
“I believe you and want to accept. Yes, your wife. Each time I meet you, you extend extraordinary kindness in my behalf,” Laila concludes.
“That you recognize this makes me very happy. The non-religious ceremony won’t be elaborate here. As a military wife, you’ll need to sign much paperwork. In return, you’ll receive health and life insurance benefits in addition to legal status in the United States.
“It sounds like a lot but, if I push it, we can leave within the week. So, for clarity, I ask you plainly, Laila, will you marry me?”
“Yes, Mark,” she responds joyfully.
“I’ll make arrangements as soon as possible,” Mark replies with glee. “For now, I must lead you back to your tent.”
Mark contacts a military chaplain to expedite plans.
Two days later, Mark summons Laila to his office to sign many papers. He takes time to explain each document.
“I don’t understand everything I am signing. Only because it is you, that I trust this is for my benefit.”
“These formalities will prevent anyone from repatriating you to Afghanistan. Before I submit these documents, can I see your full face?”
Slowly, she removes her niqab with her head lowered.
“Please look up. It’s okay,” he says.
Raising her head reveals a faint scar on her right cheek. “If you want to change your mind, I understand,” she says.
“No. You are more beautiful than I imagined. Even though you don’t know me, I want to make you happy. If you permit me, may I kiss your hand?”
“It is improper in my religion. But I profess ignorance of your customs. Is this a prerequisite to marriage?”
“Ordinarily, during courtship, a man and woman kiss on the lips many times as a sign of affection prior to marriage. Out of respect for your custom, I request your hand as a gentleman’s gesture.”
When she extends her hand, he caresses it, lifts it to his cheek, closes his eyes, and gently kisses it before releasing.
Laila reattaches her veil to conceal her blushing and uncomfortably looks around the room. “I suppose I will not have a wedding dress, or henna on my hands at the ceremony.”
“Unfortunately, I cannot promise you anything too special. With all the refugees here, the best I can do is allow you to bathe and get you some clean clothes. You won’t receive a ring to wear until we get back to the U.S. and pick one out. In time, if you wish, we can have another ceremony so you’ll have pictures to commemorate.”
“I understand. Whatever you can do is fine. When is the wedding?”
“If you’re ready, we can do this tomorrow. Right afterwards, we’ll board a plane out of Germany. Upon arrival, we’ll go through some debriefing formalities. We can then honeymoon in a hotel until I figure out where we’ll stay. Initially, it may be on a military base since we can’t live with my parents.”
The next morning, a package arrives. In it is a Muslim wedding dress ordered for Laila earlier in the week. He arranges for some female service officers and fellow Muslim women to help her prepare for the ceremony.
Summoning her for the last time to his desk, he surprises Laila with the box. “Here is the dress I was able to get for you on short notice. I know it’s customary to wear much jewelry but I was not able to get any approved.”
“This looks beautiful. I wish I could hug you here,” Laila says with joy.
“There will be plenty of time for that. Please allow the female officers to help you get dressed. The ceremony is in two hours.”
Following the wedding, the newlyweds board an airplane at an air force base. Holding hands, Laila says to Mark, “I will love you and do whatever is necessary to keep pleasing you.”