This story has been a hard one to birth. It’s longer than my other books, weighing in at just over 100,000 words, which is somewhere around 400 pages, give or take, in a finished book. I’ve been working on it, off and on and off again, for the last five years or so.
I love this story. It’s big, it’s romantic and it’s more than that, too. It represents my best effort at storytelling. All I know how to do. Still, I got stuck towards the end. Life, what’s happening around the world, kept me in a state of anxiety and made it difficult to sit down and write. So, finishing the draft feels like a huge victory, even if it will be a short celebration.
Short, because I know this is just the start. Having cobbled this story together, I’ll have to polish it, rework parts of it, make it as shiny as I can before I offer it up to agents and editors. And then, if I’m lucky and someone takes a chance on it, it will be edited and polished again.
I’d like to share this moment with you none-the-less. Here’s hoping for more great moments. And here is a small taste, is the very beginning of the draft of Between these Worlds.
It wasn’t the burka that had upset Nora Jankowski. Burkas were hardly unusual in Kandahar, although this hospital ward, with a large double door labeled 'Pediatrics' and another sign in both Pashto and English that read 'Women and Children Only' was an oasis of sorts, a small island of comfort where women could be shed of restrictive garb to walk around and work freely. So it wasn’t the burka, but had Nora given it any thought, she might have said that the head to toe covering made the woman look like the angel of death, the crosshatch pattern covering the woman’s face a reminder of the confessionals her grandmother had insisted they visit each Saturday of her childhood.
Nora had been explaining the IV in Jaamal's pencil thin arm to his mother, Alia, all the while hoping the Afghani woman understood the mix of English and the handful of Pashto words Nora had picked up. Hassan was severely understaffed and Alia would be charged with acting as Jaamal's nurse, so it was imperative she grasped what Nora was saying.
Alia had shifted attention from the IV to the foot of the crib as Nora regulated the drip. Nora had looked up, noticed the burka-clad woman who seemed to come out of nowhere, and for one heart stopping moment all Nora could feel was foreboding, the portent of some terrible doom. Before Nora could stop herself, she asked "What do you want?" more stridently than she'd intended.
The woman took a step backward, as if Nora had hit her with a rock. Clearly, she was just an ordinary woman and no apparition at all. “Sorry,’ said Nora in Pashto, wishing again that she was a better student of language. She wasn’t sure if she’d said ‘sorry’ or hurled an insult at the woman as a follow up to shouting her down
The woman, seemingly unoffended, pulled a note from somewhere out of the burka and held it out to Nora while saying what sounded like “win”
The note was from Aimal; the Afghani interpreter Nora had met on her first day at Hassan. She’d flown endless hours in increasingly smaller aircraft to land, finally, at the Kandahar military base. A young marine had driven her past the bombed-out skeletons of buildings, the Humvee bouncing over streets in a way that made her feel she’d lost a good two inches of height by the time they reached the hospital. Aimal, dressed in salwar kameez with a gold medal around his neck, had met the Humvee at the hospital gate holding up a sign with her name on it.
“Doctor so happy to see you finally,” he had said with a huge smile pinned to his face.
He had taken her over to the relief workers quarters, to a dorm room on the second floor. The room was bare-bones sparse, cinderblock walls painted grey, a narrow bed with several army issue blankets. A blue tarp was tacked over the glassless window. “Sweet is the home,” said Aimal, looking as pleased as if he’d bought her to a room in the Ritz. “Anything you need it.” She gave him a few Afghani coins, unsure of whether tipping was something she ought to do, but the money caused Aimal’s smile to broaden and he repeated “Anything you need it,” and added “I can get.”