A giant steel monster loomed before me, belching hot black smoke. The biting cold stung my cheeks and caused a dull paint to spring up in my head. Embers drifted through the air. I tugged my headscarf closer around me, hiding behind the protective cloth. Yana clutched my arm and we moved into the huddled mass of people. Silently we joined a long line of anxious looking people, some crying, some praying. I watched a few snow flakes dance after eachother. I lifted my eyes to the sky, wishing my brothers were here to offer solace. We were heading to a strange land, full of strange people, to live with our aunt and uncle whom we had never met.
"Yana, are you sure about this?" I whispered. We were almost at the front of the line now. Smoke still drifted through the air, threading into my lungs and making me cough violently.
"Of course I am you goose! Besides, we already bought our ticket."
I fell silent, forcing my hands to stay still by my sides instead of nervously twisting in eachother like they wanted to. Only one more person in front of us now. Sweat began to collect on my palms.
"Ticket please." A bored sounding voice reached us. Yana handed him the ticket. With a flurry of hole punches, our ticket was properly marked, and he gestured to where we were to go next. I took a breath of cold air and tentatively raised my foot to step on the makeshift stair leading to the boat. But no, Lebanon wouldn't let me leave her easily. I slipped on a patch of ice, the slick surface sending me into the water. Knives colder than the fiercest winter stabbed me mercilessly. I choked on bitter sea-water, black liquid flooding my lungs. Dizzily I thrashed for what I hoped was up. As my head broke through the surface, Yana pulled me onto the dock and I retched up my lung's contents. A sob broke from my chest. 'Pain' does not describe the feeling of the evil wind slamming into my soaked body.
"Zaina, Zaina, are you all right?!" Yana whisper-shouted, helping me up and rushing us up the stairs. My teeth were chattering to violently to answer. She led me on deck and opened the door to what I assumed were our rooms. A gust of almost-warm air sent sparks of pain into my thawing face. Once inside Yana wrapped me in as many warm cloth-like items she could get her hands on.
"Yana, I'll be fine," I sighed, "I just need to rest." I lied on a small 4 by 4 bed and closed my eyes, shivering quietly before sleep wrapped it's dark wings around me.
In the days that followed, I slowly recovered from my cold. Imprisoned by Yana in the cabins, I spent my time memorizing every detail from floor to ceiling. It was a large room, but that factor did not take the edge of the terrible crowded feeling. Bunk beds were lined from wall to wall on both sides, and the only place we had to stash our meager belongings was underneath them. Yana and I shared one bed, me on the bottom bunk and her on the top. The cramped room depressed me. I wished to go out on deck and breath fresh air.
When I finally recovered, Yana led me outside. Salty air met my parted lips, setting my taste-buds afire. I walked over to the railing and trailed my hand over the wet metal. Sea mist had settled there and now dripped over my fingers. I stared wide-eyes at the horizon, sea stretching out as far as you could see. A feeling off loneliness gripped me hard. I had now left Lebanon behind forever.
"Isn't it gorgeous?" Yana laughed. I nodded, star-struck. The ocean was far to amazing and vast for me to comprehend. We stood by the railings for awhile, talking and enjoying the grand view. Crashing waves tumbled and leaped beneath us, the wind carrying sprays of bitter water into our faces. Weak winter light glared down on us, reflecting on the water and sending rivets of light sparkling over the water. Icy sky spread dazzlingly from left to right. A thin wisp of cloud mottled the otherwise perfect blue, it's fine tips curling in pleasure. I started to tremble from cold.
"Come, Zaina," Yana said soothingly, "We should get something to eat."
And so the days went, my sister and I soaking in our daily dose of gorgeous ocean before my fragile body couldn't take the relentless cold anymore. Then we'd eat in the cafeteria, crowded by other passengers. The food was different here. It mainly consisted of bread and fruit, and I wasn't impressed. I had heard of the 'rich bountiful privileges of America', and I was disappointed. In Lebanon, the land was ripe with agriculture, the ground bursting with all sorts of food. The stale bread and soft fruit we were served on the boat was a far cry from the lush crops from home.
After meals, we'd go back to the cabins and rest, talking about our new life about to be sprung upon us. These conversations bolstered my courage but by bit, preparing me for the harsh reality of a cold world. After this, my body would be claimed by cold and I'd forfeit myself to a minute of fitful sleep.
Two weeks into our pitifully slow journey, it became clear I was not getting better as fast as I should. I was now held by the illness that had always so easily gripped me in an iron fist. My eyes had a fevered shine to them and I was often wracked with coughing fits. I was steadily growing thinner, and to much movement sent fire to my skull. Along with these worrying signs, the cold that had been clenched on my insides did not lift, and I was left curled up for warmth, shaking and whimpering until cast swept it's merciful spell upon me.
My worried sister could do nothing but pray, and mix some herbs in a hot tea for me. I always downed this concoction swiftly, ignoring the scalding water burning my throat. I relished the temporary warmth the ridiculously hot drink brought me. Time passed in a haze of delirium. Dreams mixed with reality, and I was never sure what was my own imagination and what was not.
Little by little, inch by inch, I slowly crept back to wellness. Eventually, I was alert most of the time. Soon after, I could sit up without a rush of dizziness bringing me back down. After that, the ability to stand was granted to me. By the time I was almost completely back on my feet, we were docked again. Yana and I rushed to the railings, staring at the foreign country stretching before us. She slanted a calculating look at me.
"This is it."
We gathered our stuff and gingerly made our way to land. Unused to land, I swayed, the utter motionlessness of the ground after being at sea so long throwing me off guard. A man in a stiff uniform ushered us into a bleak room.
"Wait here." He said in Arabic with an awful accent. Yana and I took a seat on hard wooden benches, panic beginning to creep into my blood. Names began to be read from a piece of paper, a thin-lipped woman staring at us distrustfully.
And so the list went on, for what seemed like hours. I anxiously waited on the uncomfortable seat, gripping my sister's hand with a strength that turned her fingers white. A clock ticked ominously on the wall, but neither Yana nor I were fluent in English numerals.
"Khoury, Zaina. Khoury, Yana."
I leaped to my feet, eager to get this over with. A man took my arm and I flinched at the contact, fear making my heart pump fast. As a muslim, no man outside my family should touch me. Ever. Alarm turned my muscles to stone.
"Stop! Don't touch me! Don't touch me!" I cried in sloppy english, tears forming in my eyes. Shocked at my outcry, he let me go, and stumbled back a few steps.
"I apologize, miss." He muttered. Trying to piece together my broken dignity, I breathed deeply, and followed him into yet another colorless room. "Sit."
Yana and I plopped into slightly more comfortable chairs. A plump women of about 50 sporting large black-rimmed things on her face. I screwed up my face in thought. What, in the name of Allah, was on her face. Why, circles of glass, I thought, She has glass circles on her face. Why? Americans are so bizarre.
"Names." She said, sounding bored to death. "Yana and Zaina Khoury." We replied.
"Twenty-three and twenty-five." And so it went on, questions about everything you could think of. What was you're house made of? Any family besides parents/siblings? Male or female? Did you grow any crops? How did you get income? Any relatives here? Who? What about your parents?...
"Any siblings?" I froze. "Two," I muttered, rubbling my aching head, "Both men. Deceased."
The rest of our interrogation bled into a blur of insensitive voices and reluctant answers. By the time we were finished, I just wanted to go home. Home, to our quiet hut in Irzay, home to Imad and Fabil, even if I had to travel ten times as long to get back, even if I have to get sick all over again. But that wasn't possible, and we were stuck in America, forced to live a new life.
Just when I thought it was over, they led Yana and me into a cold room full off weird looking equipment. A man clad in white uniform stood menacingly. He poked and prodded us, seeing if they could deem us healthy or not. The whole time, I forced myself to calm my trembling hands. It was not right for him to touch us like this, so openly. Yana got through easily. I just barely passed. We were set free from the building, and abandoned in a noisy place the man had called a "train station". Our new life had begun