Sally imagined Saad hugging the children, how they would feel his hair and search for the mole on his neck. He would pick them up and swing them round. He would not be able to touch her, but he would be near enough to see the desire in her eyes. She must not cry. Fathia was trembling. This was her first time and Hassan was sensitive to the fact. He stood behind her and held her by the shoulders.
Then an inner door opened and let in some light and Saad’s silhouette appeared in the doorway. He moved to the meshing barrier, and stopped there as he must, startled like a worried horse, shocked at the fact of his family too far away to touch. He forced a smile. He was very thin. His hair was flat as if it had lost its bouncy curl. He was not wearing his glasses. His false tooth was missing and when he grinned there was a gap. He rubbed his cheeks nervously and said, “I’m okay. Don’t worry, Mother.”
But Fathia was too distraught. She wept inconsolably, so that Hassan felt he had to take her back to the car to stay with Salem.
Nizar pushed his little hand through the mesh and tried to reach his father. “Daddy, I want you. Please come home and never go away again.” Now with both hands pushing through and with Neda trying to reach as well, he shouted at the friendly guard, “Let me have my Daddy back.”
It was enough to affect the guard and he hastily fumbled with the lock and let Nizar pass through so his father could hug him.
“You see, he is a good man,” Saad said to reassure his family. “He at least does not hate us.” And then he whispered something for only Nizar to hear. As he did so, an alarm sounded in the prison. The guard quickly rushed Nizar to the outer mesh, and Saad was hauled back to his prison cell.
Fathia had not been mistaken with her forebodings. Now she had seen what they had done to her son, how they had weakened him, the child that she had nourished to robust health. Now she knew how they wished to reduce him even in the eyes of his own children.
“You were lucky, Nizar.,” Neda said. “I didn’t get a hug. The nice man didn’t let me in.”
“Yes. I’m sorry about that. But it was all too quick, wasn’t it?”
“What did Daddy whisper so I could not hear?”
“Not so that you could not hear,” consoled Nizar. “It was to keep the nice man safe. Don’t tell any one, will you. Don’t tell them that I told you. He is a poet, you see. But he doesn’t write his poems down – he says them. If he wrote them down, he’d be in prison too.”