going to be OK?
Last spring she stayed at our house. My daughter slept soundly but Shyrin woke at midnight. “Don’t worry, darling”, I told her, holding her close, “it’s OK.” A few weeks earlier her mother had fetched her at nine because she couldn’t fall asleep. But that night she was OK, just as I told her, and she woke with the dawn, a smile on her face.
Shyrin and her mother aren’t in the newspaper anymore. There’s no news, nothing to say. But they’re still the baseline of my days, present whenever my mind stills.
As the images and death tolls fade my thoughts grow more detailed and more frightening. I wonder what it feels like to drown. I read about the warning signs of a tsunami and wonder whether they walked out towards the withdrawing ocean to gaze in wonder at fish and crabs struggling against suddenly dry sand. There’s a photo of a child in a hospital that looks a little like her, my daughter tells me with joy. I cry and laugh and then later, in private, dismiss the rumour as wishful thinking. But hope is hard to stifle, though it’s muddled by fear when I imagine life, alone, injured, with strangers, for a brown-haired child who was frightened at midnight, safe in Bergen, staying with her friend a few hundred metres from her home. She speaks nothing but Norwegian. If she’s alive I hope somebody holds her and tells her she’ll be OK. “I would go there and do anything if it were my child”, people say, and I nod and agree and lie awake at midnight thinking I should go and find her myself. “Your place is looking after your own daughter”, they tell me. I have never exchanged more than a smile with her relatives, there are others doing what can be done, I think, would it be an intrusion, what could I do, anyway. I don’t know.
“She has to be safe”, my daughter says. She’s doing fine, my daughter, I suppose. She hopes, thinks, talks. At school she and her classmates made cards for Shyrin’s father and grandmother. On Tuesday there’ll be a market to make money to help the victims of the tsunami. “We’re going to bake a cake, mummy”, she tells me. I study cookbooks to find the perfect expression of my love for my own child and for her friend who is missing.
But I can’t protect her. And every time I hold my little girl close and tell her it’s going to be OK I’m going to wonder whether it really will be.