“You can do this. You are strong. You hear me?”
Dilbar nodded as his father helped him into his school shirt. His heart was beating wildly in his chest, and he was sure the terror in his eyes was discernable.
“Stop looking so frightened. This is an honor! Do you understand?”
Dilbar nodded as his father finished with the last button.
The school bus arrived the front of the Fahad residence. Dilbar heard the honking of the horn. He gazed out the window to see the familiar yellow and black bus. It was the bus he had taken to school every day for the past four years. It was in this bus he first met his best friend Nate, and it was in this bus he sat in the back row and wistfully stared at the back of Sasha’s head. Sasha always left him tongue tied in her presence, and after four long years he still couldn’t work up the courage to talk to her. Instead, his heart skipped a beat and he lowered his gaze whenever she walked past him in the break room, or the hallway, or the classroom. Nate teased him endlessly about Sasha, calling him a sissy. Nate was right.
The horn honked again, and as Dilbar ran to the front door, his mother was waiting with her arms outstretched. She had tears in her eyes and a sad smile. He rushed into her embrace and she held him a little longer than usual. Finally, she looked him over in the way you do when you want to memorize every detail of a person, kissed his forehead and watched from the window as he walked away from the house towards the bus. Fahad stood next to her and held her hand. As Dilbar climbed into the bus her vision blurred from the tears that were already trailing down her cheeks. She looked away, wrung her hand from Fahad’s grip and went into her room.
Fahad watched his son walk to the back of the bus and take a seat. As the bus slowly made its way past the house, he had a look of satisfaction and heaved a sigh. Dilbar was a good, obedient boy. He would do as he was instructed.
The bus made a few more stops around the neighborhood to pick up other children. Dilbar’s heart sank as he watched Sasha walk from her front porch into the bus. She smiled at him as she took a seat two rows in front. He stared at the back of her head as he always did, admiring the dark curls that tumbled down to her shoulders. Today, as his gaze rested on her, his usual feeling of longing was replaced with a deep sadness. The bus arrived at Nate’s house, but didn’t stop. Dilbar was relieved. Nate was his best friend. Perhaps he was sick. Whatever the reason for Nate’s absence, Dilbar was glad he wouldn’t be in the bus. Nate and Dilbar were the only ones who occupied the back seats of the bus. Today, he was alone. The wires in his shirt made him uncomfortable. His father had showed him how to detonate the bomb he wore underneath his school uniform. The thought of what he was about to do caused shivers to run down his back. He did not understand why he had to do it, but he trusted his father who had told him that this was what God wanted him to do. It was honorable to do this. “God loves you. Do you believe that?” His father had asked. He had nodded. “Then don’t fail him.” Dilbar did not want to fail God.
Fahad dialed a number on his cell phone. Someone picked after the third ring.
“As-salaamu aleykum, brother.”
“Wa alaikum assalam.” Fahad responded. “We will have news tonight.”
“This is good. You are sure he will obey?”
“He will go through with it. He is a good boy and he knows what rewards await him.” Fahad replied.
“Very good. I will keep watch for the news. Today will be another victory for us.”
Fahad ended the call. He too would be looking out for the news.
The bus made its way to St. Peter School after picking up all the children on its route. Dilbar knew that if he had to act, now would be a good time. In fifteen minutes, they would arrive the massive set of limestone buildings that housed both the Catholic church and the school. The instruction was to detonate the bomb while in the bus. If Dilbar didn’t do it now, the opportunity would be lost. He felt the wires and sticks of dynamite press against his chest. He looked down to see the button he had to press poking from where his shirt had been neatly tucked into his shorts. He swallowed saliva. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead despite the cool air blowing from the vent above him. He looked up from the button and gazed at the heads in front of him, each head was familiar. Some belonged to classmates, others to acquaintances. There was hardly a person in the bus he did not know. Finally, his gaze rested on the back of Sasha’s head, and he quickly looked down at the button. He could not afford to balk, he had to do this. This was no time to be a sissy. God was counting on him. He had promised his father that he would not fail, and he knew he would be honoring his family by doing this. He had no choice. His right thumb gently caressed the button.
“I’m sorry Sasha,” he whispered.
It was late afternoon when the doorbell rang. Fahad had just returned from a meeting at the local mosque. Amirah, his wife answered the door. Two tall men stood in front of her. They wore plain clothes but she sensed from their demeanor that they were police officers. Tears welled up in her eyes. The worst had happened. Her son was gone.
“May we speak with your husband?” One of them asked. He had long blonde hair and wore brown khaki pants and a navy-blue T-shirt.
“Fahad,” Amirah choked.
Fahad walked briskly to the door from the dining table where he was reading a newspaper. He looked outside to see the two men. He knew instinctively that they were law enforcement officers. He saw the anguish in Amirah’s eyes and tried to suppress a smile. The deed had been done. Dilbar was successful. Fahad already had a speech rehearsed for law enforcement. He would blame everything on Dilbar, feign ignorance at the thought that his son was planning to bomb the school bus, claim his son had been bullied in school but never showed disruptive tendencies, break down and cry. “How can I help you gentlemen?” Fahad asked.
The second man in blue jeans and a red checked shirt pulled out his badge and flashed his ID. “I’m agent Cavanaugh and this is my partner agent Smith. We’re from the FBI. You are under arrest Mr. Fahad Karim.” Agent Smith quickly moved in and grabbed Fahad’s hands, placing them behind his back and handcuffing them. Cavanaugh continued, “You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney.”
“What the bloody hell is happening?” Fahad shouted. “What crime have I committed?” He tried to scuffle and resist arrest but agent Smith was larger and stronger and soon hand him handcuffed.
Amid the confusion, awareness dawned on Amirah. “Please, where is my son?” she gasped.
“It’s a good thing you asked ma’am.” Smith answered as he pushed Fahad towards one of the vehicles parked by the side of the road, where the red and blue lights of the sirens flashed but remained silent. The door to a van opened and Dilbar ran out.
“Oh! Alhamdulillah!” Amirah shouted as she ran towards her boy and enveloped him in a tight embrace. She was weeping and touching him all over, trying to make sure she was not dreaming this moment. This was the boy she thought she would never see again. Relief washed over her. He didn’t do it, she thought. Thank God he didn’t do it!
Fahad was shocked to see Dilbar run out of the van and his face turned pallid. He first felt disbelief, then anger, then full blown rage. He continued to curse as the police men shoved him into one of the waiting vehicles.
Fahad was charged with terror crimes and eventually pled guilty, giving the FBI the names of the other brothers who were part of the small mosque he headed, which also doubled as a branch of a terror group he founded. The school bus bombing was going to be their second mission after they had successfully killed a pastor during a Sunday service at a local Baptist church. Amirah and Dilbar were kept in protective custody until the trials were over and the men were in jail. She and Dilbar eventually moved to a different city, and never visited Fahad in prison where he was to remain for the rest of his life.
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