After the torrential rain ends, they come out from under the cover of the station awning. He looks down the tracks for the train that is almost an hour late. She feels woozy in the heat and retreats to the shaded sitting area.
He sits next to the girl. “This is the only train today. We can’t miss it.”
She wraps her dark fingers around his pale hand. “Don’t worry. It’ll be here soon.”
“We only have two days until the Fourth, and I want to make it home.”
“You will,” she says.
“We will,” he says.
“Maybe you should tell them first before I meet them.”
“Oh, yeah,” he says lifting his phone, “Mom and Dad, I got married, and, oh yeah, she is Iraqi. Bye.”
Farida slaps his arm. “You are so silly, Jerry.”
“Yes, I am – usually when I’m nervous.”
“I should be nervous meeting them but I’m not.”
Jerry puts his arm around her. “Mom is a piece of cake, but Dad…”
“He was in the Army too?”
“No, Navy, so he has that against me too.”
“But you served your country and…”
“It’s a long story.”
The approaching train horn alerts them and they stand. Jerry looks at her and brushes the hair from her eyes. Farida smiles and says, “It will be okay.”
“We have to do this, but you don’t know my Dad.”
The next day as they wait in another station for the train to New York City, Jerry looks at his watch. “It’s another hour. Let’s take a walk.”
They cross the road and walk along a path into the woods, passing a pond where frogs croak in the grass and birds sing in the trees. They hold hands as they walk. “America is really more beautiful than I ever imagined.”
“Yes, I think so.”
“It is so vast and diverse. Since we left Phoenix I’ve seen deserts, mountains, forests, farms, and there is so much water.”
“Sometimes I think Americans take things for granted. I know I did, but after Iraq I never will again.”
“Despite some people in my country, my family always thought America was a good place. My Uncle Hasan drives a taxi in Manhattan and sends letters. He tells of America the beautiful not anything ugly.”
“But some Americans can be ugly in their attitudes toward people especially since 9/11. That horrible day messed up this country.”
“Mine too,” Farida whispers.
They come across the ruins of a house. Farida steps over broken dishes on the floor and stares at what remains of the fireplace. “This was someone’s home?”
Jerry touches an old washboard hanging from a hook. “A long time ago from the look of things.”
“Some whole villages are like this back home.”
Jerry touches her cheek. “But because of the war not abandonment.”
“Yes, that’s true.” Farida lifts a child’s rattle from the debris. “Either way it’s such sadness to see a place once happy lost like this.”
“Yes, it is. Hey, we better go; can’t miss that train.”
Farida drops the rattle. “Yes, of course.”
After getting off the train from Penn Station, they take a taxi to Jerry’s parent’s house. He asks the driver to drop them off at the end of the street and pays him. Farida smiles as she looks across the sand and sees the water. “Oh, Jerry, I have never seen an ocean before.”
He lifts her bag and his and says, “Come on.”
Farida follows him towards the surf. “I’ve only known the rough sand of the desert. This sand is so white and soft.” They get near the water and Jerry puts their bags down flat and sits on his. Farida kicks off her shoes and runs toward the water until it hits her ankles. “Oh, my, it is so cold.”
Jerry laughs. “Doesn’t usually warm up until early August.”
“Oh, and the smell is wonderful.”
Jerry plays with a shell in the sand. “Farida, about my Dad…”
“Just look at those ships out there,” she gushes, “and these big birds!” A few seagulls swoop down towards the water and one comes up with a fish.
He leans his elbows back in the sand and watches as she dances in the surf. She turns and runs to him with a glowing smile. Farida sits next to him as the wind blows her long dark hair in her face, and he brushes it away and kisses her. “Listen, I’m worried about my Dad.”
“It will all be okay,” Farida says leaning against him. “He loves you and will see I love you.”
Jerry puts his arm around her. “It’s not that easy.”
“But he hasn’t seen you in two years,” Farida says. “You could have died in the war.”
There are people on blankets or in chairs under umbrellas on either side of them. Children squeal as the waves crash around them, and the lifeguard blows a whistle and signals to man on a raft who is too far out. Jerry takes a deep breath and says, “Tonight, there will be bonfires all over this beach and big barges will be out there in the water shooting off fireworks.”
“Oh, I want to see that.”
He stands up and extends his hand. “Let’s go meet them.”
As they walk up the path to the house Jerry says, “There’s the old flagpole.”
Farida smiles, “It’s my flag now too.” He holds Farida’s hand and rings the bell.
His father opens the door and looks at them both. Dad has tears in his eyes as he throws his arms around Jerry and pounds his back. “Oh, son, I’m so glad you’re home.”
Jerry says, “Dad, this is my wife Farida.”
“Wife?” Dad looks at her and hugs her gently. “Welcome to the family.” Farida glances at Jerry and smiles as Dad takes her hand and leads her into the house.
Jerry thinks, “Way to go, Dad.” He salutes the flag, lifts the bags, and follows them.