Into the Darkness
Yay, I'm back (and so are the Cunninghams)! I've had this one in my head for a long time, but it's taken longer than anticipated to get it down on paper (well, so to speak). Posting is going to be a bit slow, so please be patient with me.
Cairo, Egypt. July 2013
Lieutenant Dustin Byrd walked up to the door of his new Embassy apartment in Maadi, frowning as he flipped through his keys until he found the right one, still not used to the apartment or the key that granted him entry. He complained about it with his wife, the move from their villa in Zamalek to the Embassy owned—and furnished—three-bedroom apartment in Maadi, but the reality was, he was glad for the move. With Egypt actively headed down the toilet in what his government was still refusing to call a 'military coup', it was a little comforting to be surrounded by some of his fellow ex-pats, the gates of the apartment complex, and the security provided by the Embassy.
He finally found the right key and unlocked the door. "Hey, little dude," he greeted his son as the almost-twelve-month-old crawled toward him. Sam had figured out walking a week or so ago, but was still unsteady on his feet and much more comfortable crawling around.
Byrd bent down to pick up his son. "Femi?" he called out for the housekeeper as he straightened; a second later, her slight form emerged from the counter.
"Good afternoon, Dr. Byrd," she said in Arabic, bowing her head down slightly.
"Good afternoon," he replied with a nod. "How was Sammy today?" His Arabic wasn't that great, but after almost three years living in Cairo, and being married to an Egyptian, it was getting better.
"He was very good," Femi replied, the same answer she always gave. "I did the grocery shopping earlier. I will be done cooking your dinner in another ten minutes, and then I will go home."
"Okay," Byrd replied. "Thanks." It had taken him some time to get used to having a housekeeper when he first moved to Cairo, uncomfortable with the idea of hiring someone to clean and cook and shop for him. At the time, he was still single, and would have had no problems keeping the tiny apartment he had back then clean; it took a discussion with the NAMRU-3 commander to put things into perspective. He may not have needed a full-time housekeeper, but by hiring someone, he was providing employment for an Egyptian woman who might not otherwise have any.
Of course, shortly after that, he got married to someone accustomed to having housekeepers, and that ended that debate. Now that Sam had figured out walking, Mariah was talking about hiring a second housekeeper, one to take care of the house and one to watch over Sam. Dustin said he'd think about it; he was sure it was only a matter of time before Mariah got her way. She always did.
The thought of his wife made him frown as he shifted Sam's weight on his arm to get a look at his watch. Although the two microbiologists both worked at the Navy Medical Research Unit-3 in Cairo—he in bacteriology, her in virology—and were both on the same shuttle from Maadi into work that morning, she had been nowhere to be found when it came time for the afternoon shuttle back home. Although she usually rode the shuttle with him, it wasn't too unusual for her to stay late and call one of the cab drivers she had on speed dial to get her home later. Especially when there were new cases of H5N1 influenza, and she had just been talking about ostriches with the bird flu down in South Africa the other day.
"Buddy, where is your mother?" he asked Sam, who, not surprisingly, looked back at him with his big dark eyes without saying anything. Although Sam had a tendency to babble nonsensically when he was in a talkative mood, he didn't have many identifiable words yet. The pediatrician said that was normal, that it took babies in bilingual households longer to begin talking, but once they started, they were usually fine, in both languages.
He had enough time to change out of his work clothes—meaning changing out of his polo and khakis into a tee-shirt and khaki shorts—change Sam's diaper, thank Femi for her work that day and lock the door behind her as she left, and debate putting Sam in his high chair to get an early start on his dinner before the door opened again, revealing Dr. Mariah Abusir, and following closely behind, Dr. Delia Abusir. "Oh, great," Byrd said, feigning reluctance as he handed Sam over to his mother. "You brought Delia. Awesome."
"Believe me, it was not my idea to come to your shitty apartment," his sister-in-law replied, matching his faux-reluctant tone almost perfectly. Unlike Mariah, who did her college and graduate education in England and had a bit of an English accent when she spoke that language, the eldest Abusir sister had more of an East Coast American accent, after doing her undergrad at Yale, medical school at Johns Hopkins in Maryland, and finishing a four year OB/GYN residency at Emory University in Atlanta.
The eldest Dr. Abusir—Byrd's father-in-law—made it very clear to his children that they would get their education in the English-speaking world, and then they would come back to Egypt to work. 'Brain drain' was one of his biggest fears before his death, that all the educated people in Egypt would leave the country and leave them run by idiots.
Byrd was glad his father-in-law wouldn't be around to see Mariah follow him back to the States when his assignment in Cairo ended in December. He was pretty sure he wouldn't have been forgiven for that one, even for as well as the two of them had gotten along when Omar was still alive.
After the delicious dinner that Femi had prepared—fortunately, she always cooked for at least four people, so it was never a problem when Delia or any other members of Mariah's family dropped by—Delia settled in the living room to play with Sam while Dustin and Mariah rinsed the dishes in the kitchen sink. "Please tell me you didn't meet Delia at work," Dustin asked his wife, keeping his voice low enough that it wouldn't travel to the living room.
"Of course not," Mariah scoffed. "I took a taxi to her house, and she drove us here." While Delia lived near their old villa in Zamalek, she worked three days a week in a hospital in one of the worst parts of the city, her altruistic nature taking her to a place where women needed care the most, and a place Dustin checked every day to see if it was still operating, or if it had been taken over by the rebels.
Although he was relieved Mariah hadn't put herself in that kind of danger, it was still more than she should have done. "You heard the brief from the captain the other week," he said with a sigh. "We're not supposed to go anywhere but Maadi and work."
"You are not," she shot back. "But I am Egyptian."
"Who carries a Navy ID," he replied. "And is married to an American, and works for the American Embassy."
"We used to live in Zamalek, remember?" she said, her eyes flashing dangerously. "Can you seriously tell me you consider it to be a threat? What is next? You going to tell me I cannot visit my mother in Heliopolis?"
"Dangerous, right?" she finished for him, rolling her eyes.
"Things are getting worse every day," he pointed out. "What happens if you're out and one of the more radical members of the Islamic Brotherhood stops you and decides it's his job to 'educate' you about covering your hair, or—"
"I know this city," she interrupted, "this country. This is where I have lived, and—"
"If I had known coming over for dinner would have caused so many problems, I would not have agreed," Delia interrupted, startling both Dustin and Mariah. She turned to her brother-in-law. "Do not worry. Mariah and I know how to take care of ourselves. And this is not about you Americans. Not yet, maybe not ever. And Mariah. Maybe he is right. You do work for the Americans and you are married to a diplomat. Be careful. Follow the rules. I do not want anything to happen to my baby sister. Or her little baby. Okay?"
"Okay," Mariah agreed. "But you be careful, too. There is no need for you to be working in that hospital—"
"I may have a choice, but those women do not." She ended the argument by reaching for the bottle of wine from the dinner table and filling her glass. "Dusty, tell me about this trip to Ghana."
"It's nothing," he said dismissively. "It's our malaria lab. I'll be taking our new program director to see the place, once he gets settled."
"When is he scheduled to arrive?" Mariah asked.
"Another week or so, I think," Byrd replied. "I'll get the exact date at work tomorrow. He's going to be moving in right down the hall. Has a wife and a kid a few months younger than Sam. A girl, I think."
"What does his wife do?" Mariah asked. "Please tell me she is not just another Embassy wife."
Byrd chuckled, knowing exactly how his wife felt about most of his coworkers' wives, who had nothing going on at home except complaining about how hard their husbands worked or how dirty of a city Cairo was. They didn't understand her job or why she still worked when she had an American husband and son. "Nope, she works. I think he said she does something with anti-terrorism. Maybe CIA or NCIS or something."
"Anti-terrorism, huh?" Delia said with a slight smile. "Wonder what her thoughts on the Islamic Brotherhood are."
"I'm guessing you'll be around enough after they arrive to ask her about it," he replied with a grin. She turned to Mariah.
"I do not think your husband likes to have me around," Delia said to her sister.
"Fortunately, he is not allowed to have opinions other than those I give to him," Mariah replied, also smiling.
Delia smiled and kissed her sister on the cheek after finishing her wine. "I should be going," she said. "I have a surgery early tomorrow morning. Dusty, it is always a pleasure."
"Likewise," he said, kissing both of her cheeks. "Are you okay to drive?"
"I am in more control than most other people on the streets. It is Ramadan, after all."
"Give us a call when you get home, so we know not to send the search parties after you."
"I will," she promised. "If I do not see you before you go, be safe in Ghana. It is more dangerous there than it is here."
He snorted. "Is that even possible?"