Friday, August 25, 2017

Three Stories One Middle East (Story one-part one)

Three Stories One Middle East

Nader Habibi

To my second offspring, who asked me to dedicate my second novel to her after realizing that I had not dedicated my first novel to anyone. She was eight years old then. 

Acknowledgement: I have received valuable editorial assistance from Marilyn R. Horowitz, Tiffany Roberts and Laila Batool. Tiffany and Laila also offered valuable suggestions for improving the segments of the novel that dealt with the national culture and local institutions in Israel and Pakistan respectively. 

Note: All characters in this novel are fictional. Any resemblance to real world characters is purely accidental.

All copyrights reserved (2014)

The cover page image is a public domain file that was downloaded from the following source:

* Also by the same author:  Atul’s Quest (2003)

(Story one)

Part one

I Am Sarah

When the phone rang, Jennifer walked as fast as she could and almost pushed the phone off the table as she reached out for the receiver. 

“Hello?” she said, breathing heavily.

It was Zoe, her daughter’s classmate. “Hi Mrs. Goldberg. I just got home and my mom told me that you were looking for Sarah. Is everything ok?”

“No Zoe. Sarah isn’t home, and we don’t know were she is. I’m so worried.” Jennifer sounded very anxious, but Zoe didn’t seem alarmed by the situation. It was five minutes after noon on Saturday, and Sarah was an eighteen-year old woman. She could have been out for a number of perfectly good reasons.

“Don’t worry Mrs. Goldberg. I’m sure she is fine. She is probably with Joshua. Did you call him?” asked Zoe.

“Joshua doesn’t know where she is either. He and Zoe’s dad are out looking for her. Did Sarah talk to you about planning to go somewhere this morning?” Her voice revealedHH   

“I think she and Joshua were planning to see a movie? Don’t worry! I’m sure she is fine. She is probably at the mall shopping,” said Zoe.

“It’s not like Sarah to go out without telling us. Zoe, listen…I called Lisa, Christen and Angela. Could you please call Sarah’s other friends – anyone that you think might know where she could be?” asked Jennifer.

“Of course. I will.” Zoe still couldn’t understand why Jennifer was so worried but as promised she called a few of her friends. No one knew where Sarah was that morning.

Jennifer made a few more phone calls before she heard the door open and close. It was her husband John. “Did you find her?” asked Jennifer as she walked toward him.

“No! Nobody has seen her today. I drove all over Swarthmore and checked the mall. Is Joshua back?” he replied.

“No, not yet.”

John walked to the kitchen to get a glass of water. Jennifer followed him.

“Darling I think we should call the police right away. It’s not like Sarah to suddenly go somewhere without telling us,” said Jennifer. John drank all the water and put the empty glass on the counter. He always thought that Jennifer worried about Sarah too much, and he attributed this to Sarah being their only child. He thought it was too early to call the police. It was only a couple of hours since Jennifer had discovered that Sarah wasn’t in her room, and it was middle of the day for God’s sake. Sarah wasn’t a child. She was eighteen, and she graduated from high school two days earlier.

“I think it’s a little too early to get the police involved. Lets wait for at least a couple of hours. Who knows – maybe she will show up by then or Joshua will find her,” said John, by now sitting on a sofa and looking at Jennifer.

“No John we shouldn’t wait. I don’t know why, but I have a gut feeling something is wrong. Sarah always takes her cell phone with her, but I went to her room again after you left and found her phone. I think we should call the police right away.”

John wasn’t convinced, but he could see the anguish in his wife’s face and knew that she would keep arguing with him until he said yes. Perhaps a delay tactic would be more effective. “Ok dear, lets at least wait till we hear from Joshua. If he has no news about her, we will call the police.”

Before Jennifer had a chance to respond, the phone rang, and she walked quickly to answer it. It wasn’t Joshua. It was one of the neighbors who had heard about Sarah and was calling to see if they had any news. John was pleased with the call. He figured it would keep Jennifer occupied for at least a few minutes.

John and Jennifer had a good life and always considered themselves fortunate. John was a successful lawyer with a major accounting firm in Philadelphia, and Jennifer was a real estate agent. They lived in a large colonial home in a beautiful and affluent suburb of Philadelphia called Swarthmore. The town was primarily known for Swarthmore College, one of the top ten liberal arts colleges in the United States. The Goldberg’s house was only two blocks from the college.

It was June 2001 and Sarah had just graduated from Strath Haven High School with honors. Sarah’s boyfriend, Joshua, was also a student in the same school. They had been dating since the beginning of the school year. Joshua lived only a few blocks from Sarah, and they spent a lot of time together. Besides Joshua, Sarah had her very close friend Zoe. They had been best friends and classmates ever since middle school. Sarah lived only a few blocks from both Zoe and Joshua.     

Jennifer was still talking to her neighbor when the bell rang. John opened the door. It was Joshua. She hung up and looked at Joshua  “Any news of her?” asked John.

“No. I walked all over the college and got into every building that was open. She wasn’t there.

I also talked to a few people but no one had seen her,” said Joshua.

“I think we have waited long enough. I’m calling the police,” said Jennifer. John and Joshua didn’t try to discourage her. She dialed 911 and reported her daughter as missing. The officer that Jennifer was talking to reacted in the same manner as John had earlier. She told Jennifer that given Sarah’s age and the current situation, it was too early to initiate a police search for her. She asked Jennifer to call back if they didn’t hear from Sarah by three o’clock. Jennifer felt a little less anxious after this conversation. She started to believe that perhaps John was right. Sarah had deliberately gone out without telling them in order to assert her independence – her adulthood. She would probably show up in a couple of hours and get a kick out of watching their worried faces, Jennifer thought to herself.

Joshua saw no need to stay there and decided to go home but deep down he was worried too. Sarah never hid anything from Joshua. Whatever it was that she had wanted to do that morning, she would have definitely told him. They had spent all of Friday afternoon and evening together, and as far as Joshua could remember, there was nothing unusual in Sarah’s behavior.

First they went to Zoe’s graduation party and stayed there until 9 pm. Then Joshua, Sarah and Zoe walked across the Swarthmore College campus to downtown Swarthmore to hang out with other friends. During the summer nights, downtown Swarthmore was a popular spot for local teenagers. Parents didn’t mind because the area was safe and kids were generally well behaved. Besides, downtown Swarthmore was very small and hardly anyone other than town residents strolled the streets at night.

The special spot where most teenagers hung out at night was a small section of Park Avenue, which was limited on one side by the train station and on the other side by Dartmouth Avenue and the public library. Around 11 pm, Joshua and Sarah left the others and walked back through campus to Sarah’s house on Elm Street, which was on the Western edge of campus. They sat on the front porch and chatted for a few minutes before he kissed her goodnight and walked home.

Where could Sarah be right now? Joshua asked himself. Was she secretly seeing another boy?

Joshua thought about this for a few seconds and then laughed – no way, not his Sarah.  


It was ten minutes past three when a police car pulled up in front of the Goldberg’s residence. A young police officer with a very short haircut came out of the car after a few seconds and walked towards the entrance. John, who had seen the police car through the window, opened the door before the officer had a chance to ring the bell and invited him inside. In addition to John and Jennifer, Joshua, Zoe and John’s brother were also there, and they all stood up as the officer walked in. Following the instructions that she had received in her first 911 call, Jennifer had waited until three o’clock before calling 911 again. By then, John was as worried as Jennifer. Joshua and Zoe had arrived a few minutes earlier. They were also concerned about Sarah. 

“I’m Officer Smith. I’m here in regards to your daughter. I need to ask some questions and collect some basic information. I also need a recent photo of her.”

Jennifer went to the study room to get a picture of Sarah. The officer and the others sat down in the dining room. The officer took a small notebook and a pen out of his shirt pocket and started his questioning.

“What’s your daughter’s name?”

“Sarah Goldberg,” answered John.



“When did you last see or talk to her?”

“My wife and I last saw her yesterday afternoon before she went to a graduation party for her friend Zoe. We were sleeping when she came home last night,” answered John. Jennifer returned and handed a picture of Sarah to the officer. He looked at it for a second and turned it over. He wrote down Sarah’s name on back of the photo and put it in his shirt pocket.

“Who was the last person who saw Sarah?”

“I did,” answered Joshua. “I was with her until a little after eleven last night, and then I walked her home. I saw her open the door and go in,” he added.

“And when did you first realize that she was missing?” asked the officer, as he continued to take notes. John looked at Jennifer and waited for her to respond. It was then that he noticed she had been crying.

“I...I went to her room this morning around eleven to wake her up but she wasn’t there. I asked John if he had seen her leave the house. When he said no I got worried, because I was up since seven and this meant that Sarah must have left home before seven. But why would she go out so early on a Saturday without telling us?”  Jennifer’s lips were quivering and tears ran down her cheek. John put his arm around her shoulder.

“We immediately called Joshua and Zoe but they didn’t know were Sarah had gone,” said John. “Then Joshua and I spent an hour searching the neighborhood and the college.”

The officer asked Joshua and Zoe a few more questions about Sarah. “Had she hinted about going anywhere or meeting anyone special that Saturday morning?”

“I’m sure she would have told at least one of us if she had a plan for this morning. We are very close. Sarah never hides anything from me,” said Joshua, and Zoe nodded her head in agreement.

Officer Smith put his notebook in his pocket and stood up. “I have enough information to begin a local police search in Delaware County. We will get back to you in a couple of hours to get more details and to start a missing person investigation.”


Yasmin was a happy and intelligent Pakistani girl who lived with her family in a prosperous neighborhood in the port city of Karachi. Her father, Dr. Muhammad Hussein Khan was a physician and her mother, Shahrzad, was a middle school teacher. They were both proud of Yasmin and their younger daughter Fatima. They had brought them up with all the right values and manners.

Yasmin was 5’4” and had long dark hair, which matched her beautiful black eyes and created a nice contrast against her light brown skin.  She had just finished the last year of her high school with high grades, and on Friday, June 15th, she had invited a few of her girlfriends for an all-girl party. The evening was filled with dancing to both Pakistani and Western tunes, plus plenty of laughter and girl talk when her mother was not in the room. All of Yasmin’s guests were gone by 10 pm. By the time she and her mother finished cleaning up, it was 11:30 pm and Yasmin was exhausted. Ten minutes later, she was sound sleep in her bed.

Saturday morning Fatima woke up around 8:30, but Yasmin was still asleep. Two hours later she was still sleeping. By 11:30, Mrs. Khan decided to wake her up. She went to her room stood by her bed and gently called her name. Yasmin didn’t respond. She appeared to be in a deep sleep. Her mother called her name again but to no avail.

An hour later, Mrs. Khan sent Fatima to wake her up. Yasmin was sleeping on her belly and hugging her pillow. Fatima thought that was odd because Yasmin always told her that she slept face up. She called Yasmin’s name. Yasmin made a small movement and adjusted her body a little bit. Fatima tapped her on the shoulder and told her it was half past noon.

Yasmin heard the voice but did not recognize it. She also didn’t recognize the language, which surely wasn’t English. Fatima kept talking and tapping her on the shoulder. Yasmin slowly opened her eyes. She was facing the other side of the room and had not seen Fatima yet, but from what she could see, she knew that she was not in her own room. Where was she? Who was talking to her in this strange language? She lifted her face from the pillow and turned around.

She saw a girl with long dark hair, around 13 years old, talking to her in a strange language and trying to wake her up. Yasmin pulled herself halfway up and said, “Who the hell are you?” Then she looked around the room while trying to sit up. Fatima understood the question but she wondered why was her sister speaking English and she did not recognize her. It didn’t make any sense. Perhaps it was an intense dream that she had not fully woken up from yet, Fatima thought to herself.

“Wake up. Wake up. It’s past lunchtime,” said Fatima, as Yasmin looked around the room in total shock.

“Where am I? Who are you? Don’t you speak English?” asked Yasmin. Before Fatima had a chance to say anything, Yasmin looked into the mirror and let out a loud scream as she saw herself. Fatima was so frightened that she took two steps back. Yasmin stood up and walked toward the mirror. She did not recognize her own face and body. Mrs. Khan, who had heard Yasmin’s loud cry, ran upstairs towards her bedroom. Fatima was looking at Yasmin who was continuously screaming and touching her face and her hair in front of the mirror.  

“What happened?” asked Mrs. Khan as she walked toward Yasmin and put her hands on her shoulders. Yasmin turned around. Confusion and fear were quite visible in her face. She shrugged off her mother. “Who are you? What is this?” she asked and again turned to the mirror to look at herself. 

Mrs. Khan looked at Fatima and wondered why her daughter was speaking in English instead of Urdu. Fatima was watching Yasmin in silence. “You must have had a bad dream my dear. Everything is alright.” Yasmin could not understand a word. “Look! Something is very wrong here,” said Yasmin while breathing heavily and trying hard not to cry. “My name is Sarah Goldberg. I live in Swarthmore.” Yasmin could not control herself and started crying. Mrs. Khan and Fatima were even more confused. Coming from a well-educated upper class family, everyone in the Khan household understood and spoke English and they used many English words in their conversations.  But they never talked to each other in English and Yasmin’s all English sentences surprised them. They were even more puzzled by the fact that Yasmin was speaking English with an American accent.

Mrs. Khan stepped forward and put her arms around Yasmin as she called her name slowly. Yasmin pushed her off with force and walked backward until her back touched the wall. “Who the hell is Yasmin? I’m not Yasmin. I’m Sarah! Sarah! Do you understand? Sarah!” shouted Yasmin as loud as her vocal cords allowed. She continued crying and slid down to the floor.

Mrs. Khan was shocked. For a moment she felt an urge to slap Yasmin for this rude gesture but controlled her impulse. She was an educated woman and did not believe that humans could be possessed by demons or spirits. Yet, she could not come up with any other explanation for Yasmin’s behavior. If it were simply a bad dream, it would have been over by now. She felt very anxious. With a sudden turn to the right, she looked at Fatima and shouted, “Go call your father. Tell him to come home immediately. Yasmin is sick. Go! Go!”

Fatima ran downstairs. Yasmin looked at her mother: “Do you speak English? Please? Is there anyone here that speaks English?”

Mrs. Khan thought for a moment that this behavior might be the result of the stress that Yasmin had been under during the past few weeks of final exams. She barely slept more than three or four hours a night for nearly three weeks. This thought gave her some relief. If Yasmin refused to speak Urdu, then Mrs. Khan had no choice but to communicate with her daughter in English.

“If you wish we can talk in English. What’s wrong? Why are you doing this Yasmin?”

Finally Yasmin heard something that she could comprehend.


“Good. Thank God. First of all, my name isn’t Yasmin. I’m Sarah Goldberg. I don’t know what has happened. Last night I came home late and went to bed a little after eleven. Now I wake up in this room and you keep calling me Yasmin. Where is this place? Who are you?” Yasmin started crying again.

“Yasmin why are you talking nonsense. Don’t you recognize your own mother? You never went out last night. Don’t you remember you invited all your friends for dinner? And why don’t you speak Urdu?”

“Urdu? I only speak English. Oh my God.” Yasmin held her head in her hands and started looking around. Then she walked to the window and looked outside. Nothing was familiar.

“Oh my god. Oh my god. Okay – this is enough. Please tell me where is this place and why am I here? Please! I have never seen this street in Swarthmore before.”

Fatima entered the room breathing heavily from running upstairs. She told her mom in Urdu that her father would be home shortly and stared at her older sister. The conversation between Mrs. Khan and Yasmin continued. Mrs. Khan thought to herself again, this must be a temporary amnesia mixed with delusions because of all the stress of final exams. It was not unheard of for serious students to suffer a nervous breakdown during final exams. She thought the best thing she could do was to help Yasmin remember everything slowly. So she told Yasmin that she was home in the city of Karachi.

“Karachi? Where is that? Is it in Pennsylvania?” asked Yasmin.

When Mrs. Khan told her that Karachi was in Pakistan, Yasmin could not believe her ears.

“How the hell did I end up in Pakistan? This is impossible.” Yasmin sat down on her bed. As she looked around the room she suddenly saw herself in the mirror. She pointed at her image in the mirror as she stood up and walked towards it.

“And this isn’t my body either. How is this possible? I’m in someone else’s body. I’m taller than this. I’m a brunette with short hair and my skin is much whiter than this.”

Then she was silent for a few seconds.  Mrs. Khan and Fatima looked at each other. Yasmin calmed down a little bit. She turned to Mrs. Khan, put her right hand on her chest and asked: “Is this the body of your daughter, Yasmin? Is that why you keep calling me Yasmin?”

Mrs. Khan felt a rush of anxiety. For the first time, the possibility that her daughter might have gone mad crossed her mind. Her lips were trembling and her eyes were teary. She stepped forward.

“Yasmin you are scaring me. Please snap out of this. Please stop it,” She forgot to say these in English, and Yasmin didn’t understand anything. She stepped forward and kissed Yasmin while crying. Then she held Yasmin in her arms. Yasmin did not push her away this time. She just began quietly crying. She realized that she was trapped in the body of a girl named Yasmin and the woman that was hugging her was Yasmin’s mother. 

A sound was heard from downstairs. It was Dr. Khan. Mrs. Khan pulled away from Yasmin and told both her daughters (in English) to stay in Yasmin’s room. She wanted to talk to her husband before he saw Yasmin. Dr. Khan was half way upstairs when his wife quietly urged him to go back downstairs. She guided her husband into the dining room and closed the door. She tried to stay calm but could not hide her anxiety. In between cries, she explained what she had witnessed. Dr. Khan was a physician and had no knowledge of psychology, but he tried to calm his wife by offering a psychological explanation. He confirmed his wife’s theory that the test anxiety and sleep deprivation were catching up with Yasmin, and it was a temporary reaction. Fatima, who had come downstairs to find out what was going on, interrupted their conversation.

A minute later, all three of them went upstairs. Yasmin was standing in front of the mirror and staring at her own image. By the time she noticed them, they were all standing in her room. She turned towards them and stared at Dr. Khan. She had never seen this man but could guess that this must be Yasmin’s father.

“Have you forgotten your manners, say hello to your father,” said Mrs. Khan and then suddenly realized that Yasmin’s new persona did not speak Urdu. Dr. Khan did not mind. “Yasmin, my dear daughter, are you alright?” he asked gently in Urdu. Yasmin did not understand anything. She stepped forward, looking back and forth to her mother and father. Finally she fixed her eyes on her father.

“Sir, my name is Sarah Goldberg. I’m trapped in your daughter’s body. I don’t know how this could have happened, but I’m telling the truth. I am not Yasmin. I’m an American and I don’t understand your language.”

Dr. Khan looked at his daughter with disbelief. Yasmin spoke English but not with an American accent. Then he looked at his wife. It was worse than he had assumed.

“Listen Yasmin,” he started in English. “I don’t know what has happened to you. Perhaps you banged your head against a hard object and are suffering from temporary amnesia or maybe the stress of your final exams is causing a nervous reaction. Whatever it is, I think you need to rest and you will be back to normal after a while. Why don’t you sit down?”

Dr. Khan’s Pakistani accent was hard for Yasmin to comprehend, but she understood the basic idea. It was frustrating that they did not believe her.

“No, I’m fine. Didn’t you hear what I just said?” Under normal circumstances the couple would not have tolerated this type of behavior from their daughter – especially not in front of her younger sister. But since this was an exceptional case, they both ignored her rudeness. Indeed, it was so far removed from her normal character that they took it as another sign of her being sick.

“I’m not sick, and I’m not hallucinating. I know very well who I am. Please believe me,” continued Yasmin.

Dr. Khan gently approached her daughter and put his hands on Yasmin’s arms. “It’s going to be alright. Why don’t you rest and get ready for lunch?”

Yasmin jolted her arms out of her father’s hands with an angry look. “I’m not your daughter. I’m not your daughter,” she shouted. Dr. Khan was suddenly overwhelmed with rage and raised his hand to slap Yasmin’s face when Mrs. Khan quickly stepped between them and begged her husband to forgive her in Urdu.

“How can I make you people understand that I’m trapped in this body?” said Yasmin while shivering and crying.

Mrs. Khan asked her husband and Fatima to leave the room. She also left the room after watching Yasmin cry for a few seconds. Yasmin laid down on her bed and calmed down after crying for a few more minutes. She tried to remember the last things that she had thought about before falling sleep. Her last thoughts were about Brown University. She and Joshua were both accepted and were going to start their freshman year in September. She had been accepted to several schools closer to Swarthmore but had chosen Brown because they offered Joshua a scholarship, and she wanted to be with him. She was thinking about the campus and trying to imagine her future dorm room. That was the only thing that she could remember thinking about last night. Suddenly an idea crossed her mind. She opened the door and walked into the hallway. From the wall decorations and the beautiful carpets, she could tell that this was the house of a wealthy family. She walked down the stairs and saw Dr. and Mrs. Khan talking in the living room. She was halfway down when they noticed her and stopped their conversation. By the time she reached the floor they were both staring at her.

“Excuse me. I think I can prove to you that I’m telling the truth if you let me call home and talk to my parents. May I please use your phone?” asked Yasmin politely.

Dr. And Mrs. Khan looked at each other.

“We are your parents Yasmin. Don’t you recognize us?” said Dr. Khan with anger before Mrs. Khan squeezed his hand to stop him. 

Yasmin saw the phone and quickly walked towards it. “I’ll prove it to you.” She started dialing the Goldberg residence in Swarthmore without dialing the international code for the U.S. As soon as she finished dialing her father grabbed the receiver from her hand by force. Yasmin struggled and yelled at Mr. Khan, but he held her arm firmly and forcefully walked her upstairs to her room. Dr. Khan ordered Yasmin to stay in her room. Yasmin continued to scream and object in English as they locked the door. Both Dr. and Mrs. Khan knew that it would be a big scandal if anyone found out about their daughter’s sickness. Any sign of mental or emotional imbalance was enough to destroy a young girl’s chances for marriage with a respectable family. They decided to keep it secret until they found out what was wrong with her. They ordered Fatima not to talk to anyone about Yasmin either.

It was around 3 pm when the doorbell rang. It was Dr. Khan’s close friend and colleague at Agha Khan Medical Hospital, Dr. Navaz Iqbal. Dr. Khan had called him immediately after confining Yasmin to her room. Dr. Iqbal was a well-known psychiatrist in Karachi. His friendship with Dr. Khan went back to the 1970s when they were both studying at New York University.

Dr. Khan explained Yasmin’s condition in detail. Then he took Dr. Iqbal upstairs to Yasmin’s room. When they knocked, Yasmin did not answer. Dr. Khan opened the door and entered first to make sure his young daughter was properly dressed before his friend entered. Yasmin was lying on the bed and looking at the ceiling. Dr. Khan asked her to sit up, because there was someone there to see her. Yasmin sat up. After the rough treatment that she received for trying to make a phone call, she was in no mood to be disobedient.

Yasmin had met Dr. Iqbal and his wife many times before, as they regularly visited her parents. But that afternoon she did not recognize him. Dr. Iqbal sat in a chair in front of Yasmin and asked Dr. Khan to leave them alone.

Half an hour later, Dr. Iqbal came downstairs. Dr. and Mrs. Khan were eagerly waiting to hear his diagnosis.

“Its unbelievable. I have never seen such a complete transformation of personality without any prior history of mental disturbance. One thing is for sure. She is not faking her new personality. She really believes that she is an American girl named Sarah Goldberg.”

“Navaz, what could have caused this sudden change? The only thing that comes to our mind is the stress of final exams. But then, she was perfectly normal up until this morning!” said Dr. Khan.

Before Dr. Iqbal had a chance to respond, Mrs. Khan asked whether this was just a temporary phenomenon.

Iqbal didn’t have a clear answer for them, because he was also perplexed by Yasmin’s condition. He had known Yasmin ever since she was a child, and as far as he knew she had never had any symptoms of schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder. He didn’t want to worry them. He told them that the stress of the final exam period could have been the cause, but he wasn’t sure and he wanted to examine Yasmin again before making any diagnosis or recommending any psychiatric medicines. He advised them not to confront Yasmin’s new personality and to avoid any situation that might be stressful. He also suggested that they invite one or two of Yasmin’s close friends to visit her. Perhaps these visits would help trigger some memories of her original personality.

His explanation did not relieve Mrs. Khan’s anxiety. Dr. Iqbal told them that he would come to see Yasmin again the next evening after work. He told them to closely monitor Yasmin’s behavior for any signs of rage against others or against herself and to contact him immediately if something happened.

Soon after Dr. Iqbal left, Yasmin came out of her room. Her eyes were red. She was hungry and asked for some food. Her mother took her to the kitchen. Dr. Khan took this as a positive sign and told them he was going back to work. Mrs. Khan tried to talk to Yasmin in Urdu, but Yasmin was still in an English-only mode. Remembering Dr. Iqbal’s words, Mrs. Khan tried to accommodate Yasmin’s new personality, although the signs of anxiety were very visible in her face. Yasmin looked at the food in front of her. It was a plate full of Saffran rice that was covered with Chicken meat. The smell was unfamiliar as was the taste, but she was hungry. Mrs. Khan was quietly watching her. Yasmin tried to avoid eye contact with her mother.

“May I please make a phone call to the United States? My family must be worried sick.”

“No. Your father has forbidden you to use the phone for now.”

“Please, if you just let me make a call I can prove everything to you.”

“No. I’m sorry.”

Yasmin pleaded again but it was useless.

“Look, if you don’t let me make this call at least do it yourself. Just call this number and ask for John Goldberg or Jennifer Goldberg. Then ask them about their daughter Sarah. If my soul is trapped in your daughter’s body perhaps your daughter is trapped in my body. Don’t you want this situation to end? Don’t you want your real daughter back?”

Yasmin quickly wrote her father’s name and phone number on a piece of paper and put it in front of Mrs. Khan. She was waiting for a response from Mrs. Khan who was looking at Yasmin’s handwriting. It was very different from her daughter’s regular English handwriting.   

“I’ll… I’ll talk to your father about this tonight.”

 The promise was effective and Yasmin calmed down. She went to the living room and looked around. A few family pictures caught her attention.  In them, she could see what the body that she was trapped in looked like in her younger years. She then went to her room and started searching the closets and drawers. She was not looking for anything in particular, just trying to get to know the original Yasmin. She found a notebook that looked like a diary, but it was in Urdu. She inspected the traditional Pakistani clothes and tried a few of them on. She found herself rather attractive in them.

Around five o’clock, her mother came in and told her that her friend Faiza was there to see her. Apparently, Mrs. Khan had called Faiza and had told her about Yasmin’s situation, because when she came into Yasmin’s room, her facial expression was that of a person who was expecting to see something very odd. Mrs. Khan left them alone. First Faiza tried to talk to Yasmin in Urdu, but Yasmin could not understand her so she switched to English. She soon realized that she could find no sign of the Yasmin that she knew and loved as her best friend. Faiza concluded that either Yasmin had lost her entire memory or that she was possessed by a Jin (demon). The conversation between them was awkward at times. Yasmin would talk about her life as Sarah and then ask Faiza about their friendship and what they did together. Faiza had a hard time believing what had happened to her best friend. At one point Faiza was so sad that she started crying and Yasmin tried to comfort her.

After a while, Yasmin and Faiza came downstairs. Yasmin asked if she could go out for a walk with Faiza. Mrs. Khan said no. She decided it was too risky to let Yasmin go out in that condition. She might do something to embarrass herself. Yasmin didn’t mind. As long as they let her call her family and find out who was occupying her body, she could take no from them on all other matters. Faiza promised to come back again tomorrow and felt totally confused about Yasmin as she left. She was glad that Mrs. Khan had relieved her of the burden of having to walk around with Faiza.  Earlier, she had promised Mrs. Khan that she would not talk to anyone about Yasmin’s condition. She intended to keep that promise. She knew how damaging something like this could be to the reputation of her best friend. 

Mrs. Khan was happy to see Yasmin in a more positive mood. Instead of letting her go back to her room, Mrs. Khan asked if Yasmin wanted to help her prepare dinner. Yasmin agreed. The smell of herbs and spices was totally unfamiliar to her. Mrs. Khan started talking to her in a combination of Urdu and English just to see if she had really forgotten her Urdu as she claimed. Unfortunately, Yasmin’s language amnesia was very real. She could not identify even a single item that her mother named in Urdu.  But she was curious about what they were cooking and tried to learn some simple words. A few times she felt like a foreign exchange student staying with a family in a different country. Sarah’s family had hosted a German student her age when she was sixteen.

Mrs. Khan was equally amused by the new personality of her daughter amid all her anxiety. Fatima was also watching her reinvented sister with intrigue. She occasionally was very competitive with the old Yasmin. This new Yasmin seemed a little kinder. After what they all had gone through that afternoon, everyone wanted to accept the current situation and avoid any tension for a while. At least the new personality of Yasmin was likeable. In a way she was like a foreign guest.

By the time Dr. Khan came home the table was ready. He was anxious about his daughter’s condition, but he tried to appear as calm as possible. He and Mrs. Khan had spoken about Yasmin twice by phone that afternoon, and he was aware of Yasmin’s desire to call her so-called “parents” in America. He and Mrs. Khan both agreed that she should not be permitted to make the phone call. To them, it was all part of Yasmin’s imagination. They didn’t believe that the phone number that she had given them belonged to real people.

Dr. Khan warmly greeted everyone. As usual, Fatima stepped forward and kissed her father. Yasmin was also expected to do the same, but she did not and this refusal did not go unnoticed. Other than that, she was very polite and pleasant, figuring that this was the best way to get their permission to call home. The food that Mrs. Khan had cooked for that evening tasted too spicy for Yasmin, although it had always been Yasmin’s favorite dish in the past. During dinner, Yasmin was waiting for Mrs. Khan to discuss her phone request with Dr. Khan, but it didn’t happen. She finally lost her patience.

“Sir, may I please make a phone call to my family in the United States?” asked Yasmin unexpectedly.

Dr. Khan and his wife looked at each other. “Yasmin, we are your family. You are our daughter. You don’t have any relatives in America. You have never been to America. Please try to remember,” said Dr. Khan. 

Yasmin looked at Mrs. Khan hoping she would say something. They were all quiet for a few seconds. This was not the answer that Yasmin had been eagerly waiting for all afternoon.

“I told you earlier that I’m not your daughter. I’m telling the truth. Just let me make one phone call and I’ll prove it to you.”

“There is nothing to prove. What you are saying is impossible. How can one person’s spirit move into another person’s body?”

“I know it is impossible, but it has happened. I’m not your daughter. I’m Sarah Goldberg.”

As Dr. Khan and Yasmin argued back and forth their voices became louder and louder until Mrs. Khan stood up, approached her husband and whispered something in his ear. Dr. Khan brought his voice down and spoke calmly, but he still denied Yasmin the chance to make her phone call. Yasmin was crying and shouting and finally announced that she was leaving. She stood up and walked towards the entrance. Her parents ran after her and stopped her before she had a chance to open the door. It would have been a big scandal and a dishonor if the neighbors had seen them struggling with their daughter. Yasmin was screaming and swearing in English as they held her arms and forced her to sit on a sofa. Fatima was watching this ordeal while standing at the kitchen entrance, crying and repeatedly saying “my God”.  

After a few minutes Yasmin calmed down and her parents let go of her arms. She felt exhausted after all that screaming and was breathing heavily. She could see the tears on her mother’s face.

Her father was bending forward. He was holding his head in his hands. Suddenly he sat straight and looked at Yasmin.

“I’m going to talk to Dr. Iqbal. If he says it is okay for you to make this call, then I will let you talk to your imaginary American family. Fatima bring me the phone,” said Dr. Khan without lifting his eyes from his daughter.

Yasmin pleaded again to make the phone call right at that moment but it was useless. Fatima brought the phone. Dr. Khan stood up and walked back and forth in front of them as he spoke to his psychiatrist friend for about 10 minutes. On several occasions during this conversation, he asked questions from Fatima and Mrs. Khan but everything was in Urdu and Yasmin couldn’t understand a word. She could only assume that they were all talking about her.

“Tomorrow afternoon Dr. Iqbal will come here and evaluate your condition. Then you can make your call after he leaves and on the condition that you do not lose your temper between now and then,” said Dr. Khan after his phone call. Mrs. Khan, who was grabbing Yasmin’s hand to hold her back, showed approval of her husband’s decision by nodding her head. She then released Yasmin’s hand.

“And don’t try to use the phone without our permission, or I’ll have to lock you up in your room,” added Dr. Khan with a threatening voice. Yasmin decided it was useless to argue anymore. Without saying anything, she stood up and walked upstairs to her room.

Spring Fun (شادى پرندگان , نادر حبيبى 2019)

Video:  Spring Fun (شادى پرندگان , نادر حبيبى 2019)