Jinnah decided to build the wings when Anis lost his job in San Francisco. She had lived three decades in America, and yet she had never realized just how far away California was. Why would they make a country so big, she asked herself, that sons couldn't come home for Christmas?
In her younger years, Jinnah had been an engineer in Aleppo. Since retiring, she missed schematics and calculations, the thrill of hope in a new project. She began the wings as an experiment, a way to pass the hours. "Something to do with my hands," she told Anis over the phone. "My name in Arabic—it means wing. You know this."
Jinnah could hear Anis rubbing sleep out of his eyes. She pictured his face, his one green eye, the other brown—some kind of deviation the doctor had explained when he was born, unique but harmless.
Anis laughed, heavy. "Five in the morning, and you're quizzing me."
Jinnah scoffed into the line and waved her hand in a gesture of defeat. She knew he couldn't see her, but what were words without movement? "Ya mama, tell me," she said. "You're coming home for Christmas, aren't you?"
"I wouldn't miss it if I could help it." Anis shifted and exhaled self-consciously into the line.
"You come home," Jinnah said. "This is Christmas. You cannot spend it alone. Not in Halab. Not in California."
"Halab." The Arabic name for Aleppo lay dry and tense on Anis's tongue, like an animal rigid with thirst.
"Your jiddo, this is how he weakened his heart," Jinnah said. She tightened her grip on the phone until her fingernail sank into the 3 button and the line beeped. "Too many holidays alone, after his daughters moved away."
"Uh-huh," Anis said. Jinnah had told this story many times.
Jinnah said, "You tell me this isn't true." [End Page 63]
"What am I supposed to say to that?" Anis said, his voice like steel cable. "What am I supposed to say?"
"Nothing." Jinnah switched the phone to her other ear, flexing her stiff fingers. "Say nothing, and come home."
"OK. I mean, I'll try."
There was a pause, each of them waiting to inhale.
"I've got an interview to prep for this morning," Anis said. "I have to go. Wish me luck."
"Anis. You don't need it, habibi."
"Dad used to wish me luck." He laughed. "I love you."
"I love you."
Jinnah waited until her son hung up. The silence of the empty house pressed on her like a sheet of Saran wrap. She walked to the cabinet and yanked out a jar of instant coffee.
You don't make coffee for one. Hossein's ghost again. You want caffeine, use the instant. Have a soda. Think of the waste.
Jinnah got a spoon and started to open the jar. The quiet hung in thick ribbons around her. White noise filled the silverware drawer and the dishwasher and the space behind the faucet, humming.
"Laa," she said under her breath. No. "You know I don't drink soda."
She replaced the instant coffee in the cupboard and filled the long-handled pot with water. She brought out the cinnamon and the cardamom and the sugar. Her husband's ghost be damned; she would drink the whole pot if she had to. She couldn't stomach that weak rainwater the Americans called coffee. Not now, not with Anis two thousand miles away. Not now, knowing he hadn't bought his plane ticket home.
At seven-thirty, the morning was pink as a newborn's fingertips. Jinnah took three water bottles and a Tupperware container and walked out to the curb. Five minutes later, headlights rounded the corner. The garbage truck squealed to a stop. Jinnah called out to a black man in the back, and he smiled and returned her wave.
"Raymond!" Jinnah called. "Here. Something for you."
He walked over, protecting his hands from the chill in the pockets of his jumpsuit, his smile embarrassed. "You know you don't have to do that, Mrs. Farhat." He took...