The sound of a creaking floorboards echoed up the stairwell and reverberated throughout the slim two-story house.
She wasn’t alone.
Ameena’s pulse raced as she moved quickly across the room.
She knelt beside her bed, shoving slips of paper between the pages of her book before hiding it underneath her bed. Later, she’d need to move the notes back to their regular spot, behind the baseboard, for safety.
A gentle tap against her wooden door came just as she repositioned her orange shawl over her head. She quickly clasped her hands together on her lap.
“Did I interrupt you, Sister?”
“Prayer is an ongoing conversation, Brother Joel,” she forced her voice to sound calm, “one can pick it up at any time, regardless of the length or importance of the interruption.”
She gave him a pleasant smile. He gave her one in return, but Ameena saw through his veneer. Joel’s had a smile like a snake.
“You’re so right sister.” He entered the small bedroom without asking.
“We didn’t see you last night, during our evening meeting…”
He expected her to offer some excuse, but she sat silently, clasping her hands more tightly, praying he didn’t notice their slight tremors. She held his gaze, refusing to give away anything.
“You’re only allowed so many absences before you are removed from the committee,” he said, his smile plastered to his face. “And it would be a shame to lose you, because you are such an asset to the good work we’re doing.”
Ameena inhaled deeply through her nose, resisting the urge to vomit.
The good work they were doing was nothing more than the expressed hatred of an oppressive regime that murdered, pillaged, and dismantled the beauty of what used to exist around them. She hardly recognized her beloved Hungerford any longer. The city was a shell of what it used to be, and the people had become numb, unresponsive zombies. But being part of the clan allowed her to do what little she could for the broken families around her. She gathered the shards and placed them throughout the city–sometimes the country–so they could have some semblance of hope to cling to until the occupation ended. And it had to end. They wouldn’t survive another seven years of this.
“That would be a shame,” she agreed.
Brother Joel nodded before turning toward the door.
“See you tonight Sister,” he said quietly.
Ameena bowed her head to return to her facade of prayer. The shawl shrouded her peripheral vision, but she felt the vibration of Joel’s foosteps as he moved toward the stairs.
With the door now closed, Ameena exhaled the tension she’d been holding and closed her eyes. But this time she really did pray.
“Please help me stay strong, for the families?”
Her work was an opuscule in her mind. If she thought of the scope of what she was doing, the lives that were in her hands, it would be too much.
She waited a moment more in silence before casting her orange shawl aside and removing her book from beneath the bed.
Her hands trembled as she read over the newest names she’d just written down. Four names from one family. Four different ages, all below the age of 8. She’d have to place them in homes, but that could mean splitting up the siblings. They had already lost their parents and now they might lose each other.
She pondered the risk. There was no guarantee that they would find each other after the occupation if she or her notes were ever lost.
Amina heaved a weary sigh, instinctively clenching her fists, wanting to crush the uncertainty in which they now lived.
She shook her head, trying to clear her mind. It was hard not to wish for life to be normal. But this was her life now. Hiding people, changing names and identities.
This was normal life now? This was the reality of oppressive occupation.
She memorized the names before carefully folding the papers and placing them in the secret corner baseboard that had been installed two years ago.
Ameena shimmied from beneath the bed and glanced out the window. There was still enough daylight to update her contact at the market about the new names. She grabbed her light blue shawl, the signal for children needing homes and quickly slipped on four solid glass rings on various fingers of her right hand.
“Well, it seems like it’s a good day to go to the market and get some fresh bread,” Ameena said casually, leaving the room with her straw basket.
She would have to hurry if she were going to make it back for the evening committee meeting.