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  • Writer's pictureAlexandra Drea Tarter

Prologue: Royalty To Ruins

In Genesis 22, God instructs Abraham to bring Isaac, his son, to Moriah. He is ordered, in a test to prove his piousness and loyalty, to tie Isaac up and sacrifice him to God. Yes, yes, Abraham is momentarily conflicted, and I do give him a sliver of credit for that, not jumping to murder his son. Father of the year. But in the end, he was not only willing to execute his own blood, but actually went through the motions of doing so, tying up his son before an angel came down and sent a lamb to substitute for Isaac. When I recounted the verses to Alia, she raised her eyebrows, remarking it must have been an awkward dinner conversation after the whole charade. No, I said. They never even spoke again.

Alia and I both draw parallels between Genesis 22 and our lives, which is why I told her. Her father sacrificed her right to the Egyptian throne and a social standing, for his own religious delusion that a single son must be brought to an Arabic throne to please Allah. My family, Irish Catholic, sacrificed me by disowning me. I think they believe that by accepting my daughter and I, they too would be disobeying God, as I did, and would be sent to Hell with me. And as I sit in my empty dorm room now, in the most prestigious boarding school in the world, on the most joyous day of a Secondary’s career, all my mind is focused on is the final email I received from my mother two months ago.

Dear Charlotte,

We hear your studies are concluding well. We would expect nothing less from an O’Ryan. Now, to get to the point. Your father and I believe it is best to come to terms with the choices you have made. You have chosen to disobey God’s plan for you. Our household is devoted to God and we have tried to fix the situation, darling, but still you rebel. So unfortunately we have no place for you in this family, and as you are an adult now, we hope that by some miracle God sends an angel’s light to lead you in the right direction.


The O’Ryans.

It has been three years since I have seen my mother. Five years since I have seen my sisters. Six since I have seen my father. Theoretically speaking, I have been disowned from my family ever since I found out I was pregnant at 16, the letter just made their decision official. It is my last day at the Institut, the last day I will be in the care of anyone else. I am no longer an O’Ryan, I no longer belong to anyone, or anything, and I feel so utterly alone I could cry.

Storage boxes are filled to the brim around me, each containing a fraction from the most important years of my life. The only things left untouched are Eleanor’s diaper bag, her travel car seat, and my own personal luggage. I look down to the floor where Eleanor is napping in her car seat. She is my everything. I have to manage both our lives with limited resources now, with my bank account only holding a hundred grand Euros, and draining quickly. We won’t be able to last long on such dire holdings, but we will be forced to make it through the summer on the futile funds I do possess. I have been adequately procrastinating for the last half of the month, dreading the day where I will have to move out with nowhere to go and build a whole new life for Eleanor and I. And today, the day has finally come, and sure enough, we are homeless.

I see outside my windows the vast, beautiful Swiss campus and the happy families embracing their children with bouquets, sweet treats, perhaps a new horse or car. Even if my family hadn’t disowned me, I doubt they would’ve remembered or cared to show.

I pack my graduation papers into my Birkin and pick Eleanor up from the floor as she awakens, smelling her diaper to make sure it’s still good. I sigh in relief, it is. I loathe changing diapers. Before, I could just use my employed and on-call nurse, but as I am no longer reaping the benefits of belonging to a multi-billion dollar family, I have no one.

Eleanor tugs on my shirt and babbles what she sees, a bed, a desk, a puppy from outside, “mommy boobies” is my personal favorite, a phrase she noted from Sebastian. I bounce her on my lap as Haider knocks on the door. I know it’s him because he routinely knocks on my door more than anyone else, and because he has a signature pattern. Bah, bah, bah bah bum. I imagine again, like I imagine every time I hear him knocking, his calloused knuckles and bruised chest from participating in underground fighting rings (which I have repeatedly expressed my dissent for). My breath hitches a little.

“Haider?” I call out, just like I do everytime, both verifying that he is the one standing on the other side of the door, and giving him approval to enter.

He comes in. He wears nothing but black athletic shorts, leaving very little to the imagination. And I imagine quite often, unfortunately. The first thing he does is peck Eleanor on her head, in which she coos out a “Hi-da” in response to his affection, clapping her hands and giggling. I’m worried that she’ll start calling him “dada,” when in reality, we are not even close to a family. I’m all she’s got.

Then, he sits down on my bare bed across from me, and I find it very difficult to be a lady, and a friend, and avoid making direct contact with his muscular, sweaty abdomen.

“Habibti,” he begins, which is what both he and Alia nicknamed me. “How are you?”

I blink. “Did you win?”

I only ask this because I’m not sure how to answer his question. I know he won. But what am I to say? Should I lie and reassure my friend that Eleanor and I will be fine, or do I confess my homelessness?

“Yes,” he nods. “But how are you?”

I shrug. “I have… things… I need to straighten out. But I think after I get my affairs in order, we’ll be doing fine.”

Haider nods slowly, his hands awkwardly positioned on his thighs, like he wants to reach out for something, but he’s containing himself. Then, his gaze shifts from me to the screen behind me.

“Huh,” he murmurs.

He leans over to get a better look, and I whip around to where he’s looking so quickly that my neck burns. I forgot to close my laptop, and the email my family sent is still up. I pray to God and hope that if he can’t see the words and only my indifferent reaction to the screen, he’ll drop the matter. I smile back at him so his attention will rest back on me.

He stands up, and I shoot up with him, making a futile effort to block him, as he comfortably rests at a whole foot taller than me.

“Where are you going?” I nervously ask. One, because I don’t want him to see the screen, and two, because I genuinely enjoy his company and would like him to stay.

“Just over here.”

I exhale as he turns to walk to the window and not the door or my desk, but I let my guard down. He swiftly and speedily moves to the computer, grabbing it from the desk and holding it up in the air so I cannot reach it.

“Dear Charlotte, we hear your studies…” he murmurs the path his eyes follow on my screen and trails off as he finds the embarrassing contents within.

I snuggle Eleanor a little tighter, and kiss her sweet cheeks for comfort. When Haider concludes reading the letter, he places the computer back on my desk, and just stares at me like I’m a wounded bird. His eyebrows are ever so slightly furrowed, and his mouth opens partly in sadness for me. All I can think to myself is, don’t cry, don’t cry, blink it off. He moves towards me, and I’m hopeful for some reason, and then he drops down on the bed instead, and I’m disappointed. I have known Haider for five years now, almost two thousand days. We have been friends for half of that time, and still, nothing. Frankly, I’m not quite sure what I’m getting at.

“Come with me,” Haider says after a while. “Come to Cairo. Come stay at my estate. Summers are so fucking boring alone and I could use some company.”

My eyebrows shoot up in shock.

“Stay with you, in your castle?”

“Alia never stays for the summer, the only people occupying are the politicians, Baba, and me. I’m serious, Charlotte, I need a friend. Please. Come with me.”

I know he’s only pleading with me to come live with him for the summer because of his own thoughtfulness and the fact I’ve got no other chunk of land I can call home at the moment. But why should his motivations stop me from agreeing? I’m desperate for a place to go, and there are worse places to be than in a castle.

“What about your father? Are you sure they would even allow me?”

Haider waves off my concern.

“Don’t worry about it, the estate is so wide they wouldn’t care. Someone’s gotta occupy the empty space we have.”

I bite my lip, and then I make a great mistake, and concede.

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