Three Stories One Middle East
I Am Sarah
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.
Wednesday, June 20, 2001
Jennifer woke up at 4:30 am to the sound of an alarm. She wanted to drink a cup of coffee before making her phone call. Detective Owen had told her what to say and how to negotiate with whomever answered the phone in case the Khans refused to let her talk to their daughter. She had deliberately gone to bed early and, similar to the past few nights, had taken sleeping pills to help her rest. She didn’t feel tired or sleepy at all.
She carefully dialed the number. It rang more than six times but no one answered it. She tried again after five minutes – still no answer. Were they deliberately not answering? She wondered. She called again after ten minutes and then again every ten minutes. After the fifth or sixth try she felt very anxious and so did John. Mrs. Khan knew she would call that afternoon; but why weren’t they answering the phone? It was around 6 am in Swarthmore (4 pm in Karachi) when finally someone picked up the phone and asked who it was in Urdu. It was the voice of a woman, but Jennifer realized that it was not Mrs. Khan. Jennifer politely asked for her. The woman shouted something in Urdu and the only word that Jennifer was able to partially recognize was a heavy accent pronunciation of America. Jennifer could here hear the footsteps of a person approaching the phone.
“Hello? Is this Mrs. Goldberg,” said Mrs. Khan, breathing heavily and speaking anxiously.
“Hello there. I hope I’m not calling at a bad time,” asked Jennifer.
“Unfortunately, a tragic thing has happened. Yasmin is missing,” responded Mrs. Khan, almost choking on the last sentence.
She explained to Jennifer that earlier that afternoon she had asked her younger daughter Fatima to go to Yasmin’s room to bring her downstairs for afternoon tea, but Yasmin was not in her room and she was nowhere to be found. For the past two hours they had been searching the neighborhood with the help of police and neighbors, but there was still no sign of her. Jennifer found herself in an odd situation. Her own daughter was missing and now she was trying to comfort another woman in the exact same situation. When Mrs. Khan started crying, Jennifer could not hold back her tears. John was looking at her with total disbelief. First Sarah disappears and then the girl who claims to be Sarah half the way around the world is also missing.
They looked at each other for a few seconds in silence and then tried to reevaluate their theory about what had happened to Sarah in light of this new development. John tried to convince his wife that Sarah was the victim of an international conspiracy rather than the victim of a psychopath. After all, a lone psychopath wouldn’t have had the resources to organize such a plot in two countries so far apart. This thought was comforting to both of them but particularly to Jennifer who had had nightmares about her daughter being raped, tortured and then killed by a psycho. They still had no explanation as to the motive but felt more confident about Sarah being alive and unharmed in the hands of her “sane and sophisticated” kidnappers. They waited till 9 am to call Detective Owen. He surprised them again by being fully aware of what had happened.
He was now convinced that there was a link between Sarah’s disappearance and this Pakistani family. Similar to that of the Goldbergs, he was also of the view that Sarah and Yasmin might have been kidnapped by the same criminal organization, although he could not speculate on the motives either. Owen told them that he planned to contact the Pakistani Police in Karachi and the American Consulate later that day.
For John and Jennifer that day progressed in a similar manner to the previous five days. Friends, relatives and neighbors came to visit them and to help them cope during those agonizing hours. Police had ordered Jennifer and John to keep quiet about their exchanges with the Pakistani family. Even those few people who were there on Sunday and witnessed the first conversation were asked to keep quiet. With all the news reporters camping outside the Goldberg residence, secrecy was an absolute necessity.
The Goldberg’s five visitors that day left by noon. John and Jennifer had just finished lunch when the phone rang. This must have been the sixth or seventh phone call that day, John thought to himself as he walked toward the phone. All earlier calls were from distant relatives and he expected this one to be similar. It was not. It was a woman who introduced herself as Susan Brown, an employee of American Consulate in Karachi Pakistan.
“Mr. Goldberg, there is a young girl here who claims to be your daughter.”
“Sarah! You have found Sarah? Oh my God!” said John with excitement. Jennifer rushed toward the phone.
“Yes. Sarah is right here, and she wants to speak to you. She has no passport or any other form of ID with her. We need to verify her identity before we can issue her a temporary passport.”
“Oh thank God. Our daughter is safe. Please let me speak to her.”
The officer passed the phone to Yasmin who was anxiously waiting.
“Hi Dad. It’s me,” he said before choking and breaking out in a loud cry.
John immediately realized that it wasn’t Sarah. His excitement gave way to disappointment and Jennifer could see it in his face.
“You are not Sarah. You are the girl who called Sunday.”
“Dad, I’m Sarah. Why don’t you believe me? Why doesn’t anyone believe me? I’m trapped in this girl’s body.”
John was outraged. He wanted to shout and curse this girl but remembered Detective Owen’s advice. Now that she was in the American Consulate, it was possible for police to interrogate her and find out what was going on. He didn’t want to antagonize her.
“Let me talk to Susan Brown,” said John with a firm but calm voice.
“Dad. I managed to escape from this Pakistani family’s house and make it to the American Consulate. Please get me out of here. I want to come home. Is mom there? Let me talk to her?” said Yasmin while crying.
“Just let me talk to Officer Brown,” replied John without any emotion.
“I’m Sarah. I really am Sarah. Tell me what should I do to prove to you that I’m your daughter?”
Officer Brown and another employee of the Consulate looked at each other. They were growing doubtful about Yasmin’s claim as they listened carefully to her conversation. An American tourist had brought Yasmin to the Consulate late that afternoon. Apparently, Yasmin had been wandering the streets after managing to sneak out of the house and accidentally ran into this blond man. Hoping that he might be an American, she had approached him and introduced herself as an American and asked him to take her to the American Consulate. Looking like a typical Pakistani girl, she had had a hard time convincing the American man to help her except for her perfect American accent. He had brought the girl to the Consulate where it had taken Yasmin more than an hour to convince the guards to let her talk to an officer.
Susan Brown was one of the very few officers still in the Consulate building at that late hour, and she had brought Yasmin into the compound. She was not aware that another Consulate employee had gone to Dr. Khan’s house hoping to interview Yasmin a day before. She had found Yasmin’s claim to be an American named Sarah hard to believe, but at the same time was touched by her passionate plea for help and had decided to let her make this phone call to see if there was any validity to her story.
Now, listening to Yasmin’s conversation, she was beginning to question her motive. It did not appear as if the man talking to this girl had recognized her as his daughter. Was she using this scheme to get a U.S. Visa, Susan had wondered? She had every reason to be suspicious. After working in American embassies in three developing countries, she knew that some people would go to any length to get a United States visa.
Yasmin looked hopeless. She looked very disappointed at John’s reaction. She didn’t say anything else and slowly moved the receiver towards Susan. Then, suddenly just as Susan’s hand was about to touch the receiver, she pulled it back. Her facial expression quickly changed from despair to anger.
“Listen and listen carefully, I’m your only hope for finding Sarah. No one else can help you, and I won’t talk unless you come here and take me to America!” shouted Yasmin. Then, without waiting for any response, she gave the receiver to Susan.
“Mr. Goldberg, is this girl your daughter, as she claims to be?”
John was so shocked by what Yasmin had just said that he barely comprehended Susan’s question.
“No, she is not Sarah, but police believe she might be connected to the people who have kidnapped my daughter,” said John. He then explained everything that had happened in the past five days. He also gave her Dr. Khan’s phone number. Yasmin had mentioned that she was living with a Pakistani family before she managed to escape, but she had refused to reveal their name. Susan wanted to call them right away, but John suggested she talk to Yasmin first and try to gain her trust. More importantly, John urged her to get in touch with Matthew Sacks. Sacks was the Consulate employee who visited Dr. Khan at Detective Owen’s request. Susan knew him very well but had not run into him for the past three days.
Yasmin was busy thinking about her new strategy while Susan Brown spoke to John. She felt smart about the last thing that she had said to her father. It had suddenly occurred to her right then to stop trying to convince her parents over the phone that she was Sarah. If she could somehow manage to meet them face to face, she was certain she could convince them that she was their daughter. If they believed that she could help them find Sarah, they would come to her. Oh, how she missed them and Joshua.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Susan: “Are you Yasmin Khan?”
I’m not Yasmin, I’m Sarah, but I’m tired of fighting over my name, thought Yasmin as she stared at Susan without saying a word.
“You wait here,” said Susan before leaving the room. She walked to another office and called Matthew Sacks at home. She didn’t know if she should call Yasmin’s parents to come take her home or if she should keep her in the embassy so that Matthew could question her. It was a little after 9 pm, which wasn’t terribly late for a summer evening. Matthew told Susan to wait for him. It took him less than 15 minutes to drive from his residence to the Consulate. Yasmin had just finished a sandwich that Susan had brought her when Matthew arrived. He was a tall and slightly overweight man with brown hair and a full beard. He spoke to Yasmin with a kind and non-threatening voice.
“Hello, I’m Matthew Sacks. I work here in the Consulate.”
Yasmin did not say anything. She looked exhausted.
“I’d like to ask you a few questions, if it’s okay. Is your name Yasmin Khan?”
“If you say so.”
“Do you know a girl named Sarah Goldberg?”
Sarah let out a mild smile. “I might!”
“What do you know about her?”
“She is missing.”
“Do you know where she is?”
“Can you help us find her?”
“I’ll only talk to Sarah’s parents. Either take me to them or bring them here.”
Yasmin’s calm demeanor and forceful demands astonished Matthew. He was also surprised that Yasmin was no longer claiming to be Sarah.
“Up until now you were claiming to be Sarah, and now suddenly you are not her but you know about her? Why should I believe you?” he asked. Sarah did not respond. “Who are you anyway?” he asked again, gently.
“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.”
“How do you know about Sarah?”
“I told you I wouldn’t talk unless I see my parents. I mean Sarah’s parents.”
“Did you ever live in the United States? Is that why you have an American accent?”
Sarah didn’t say anything. She was trying to avoid eye contact with him. Matthew didn’t ask any more questions. He just sat there for a minute and then left the room.
Half an hour later Susan came in and asked Yasmin to follow her. Yasmin asked where she was taking her. “Just follow me,” she replied.
They walked out of the building and toward the consulate entrance. There, outside the gate, Dr. Khan and his wife were waiting. Dr. Khan’s brother and a policeman were also present. The police officer was talking to Matthew Sacks. Mrs. Khan walked toward Yasmin as soon as she saw her. She was crying and saying something in Urdu. She put her arms around Yasmin and kissed her. Yasmin didn’t show any emotion.
Then Dr. Khan approached her. He was angry, and his facial muscles were twitching. Mrs. Khan stood between him and Yasmin and said something to him in Urdu. Dr. Khan’s brother came closer and whispered something in his ear.
Dr. Khan slowly approached his daughter and kissed her on the cheek. He too said something in Urdu. Yasmin did not react. Her face was void of emotion. She felt indifferent about what was happening to her at that moment.
On the way home, she didn’t say anything. The others were also quiet. Several relatives that she didn’t recognize were present at their home. Yasmin tried to avoid eye contact with them by looking down. An older woman in her seventies came forward and hugged Yasmin while speaking emotionally in Udru. Tears of joy were visible on her face. She was Yasmin’s grandmother. It didn’t bother her that Yasmin didn’t show any reaction. Others were silently looking at the exhausted face of Yasmin. Fatima was crying as she ran into her mother’s arms. Yasmin walked slowly toward the stairs to go to her room. She was prepared to stop if anyone asked her to but no one stopped her. Downstairs, the Khan family, and their close relatives sat around the table and talked about Yasmin. What should be done for her treatment and how could they prevent her from running away again? Now all the relatives knew about Yasmin.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Karachi. The local time is 10 pm on Friday, June 22. The temperature is 28 degrees centigrade. Please remain seated until the aircraft comes to a complete stop and the captain turns off the seatbelt sign.”
John gently tapped Jennifer on the shoulder. She had been asleep for the last two hours of the flight from London to Karachi. “Wake up dear. We are in Karachi.”
It took John two more taps and a gentle shake before Jennifer finally woke up. It had been nearly 20 hours since they left the Philadelphia airport on a night flight to London. They had had to wait in London for nearly 4 hours for their connecting flight to Karachi.
John still wasn’t sure if this was such a good idea, but Jennifer had insisted on it. She had threatened to come to Pakistan by herself if John wasn’t willing to come along. Detective Owen had also supported the idea, believing that a face-to-face meeting between the Goldbergs and Yasmin could help with the search for Sarah.
Matthew Sacks was waiting for them at the international arrivals section. He took them to their hotel and told them that he would come for them at 11 am the next morning. Matthew had already spoken with Dr. Khan, and they were looking forward to meeting John and Jennifer. They also believed that this meeting might help Yasmin regain her original personality.
Yasmin hardly spoke to anyone after they brought her home from the American Consulate. She passively followed orders whenever her parents told her to do something. Mrs. Khan tried talking to Yasmin twice about her escape. She reminded her of how humiliating it was for them when the relatives and neighbors found out that she had escaped from home. Dr. Iqbal also talked to Yasmin after her escape. He wanted to know if she still insisted to be Sarah. In every case, Yasmin simply kept quiet. She no longer tried to correct anyone who called her Yasmin.
Underneath her quiet demeanor, she was anxiously waiting for John or Jennifer to contact her. It all depended on whether they believed her when she said that she could help them find Sarah. On Saturday morning, she came downstairs for breakfast around 9:30. She didn’t have much of an appetite and was only able to consume a glass of milk and a piece of bread with honey. She hardly spoke to Mrs. Khan, who tried to engage her in a casual conversation. Yasmin was eager to go back to her room, but Mrs. Khan managed to keep Yasmin in the kitchen for a few minutes longer by asking her to clean up the table. She watched as Yasmin cleaned up and immediately noticed the difference in the way Yasmin used to clean up and arrange everything. She always placed the unwashed dishes in the left-hand kitchen sink but not this time. Yet another sad reminder to Mrs. Khan of how much Yasmin had changed. There was no point keeping her in the kitchen any longer. Yasmin went back to her room.
Dr. Khan, who had gone to work early in the morning, came home a few minutes after 11. He and Mrs. Khan were both nervous about meeting John and Jennifer. Yasmin didn’t know anything about the meeting. Mrs. Khan didn’t want Fatima to be home when the Goldbergs arrived and had already sent her to stay with her grandmother for the day.
A few minutes after Dr. Khan returned home, Dr. Iqbal arrived. Dr. Khan had asked him to be present and to evaluate Yasmin’s reaction when she saw John and Jennifer. It was half past 11 when Mrs. Khan heard the doorbell. She slowly walked toward the door, trying to calm her heavy breathing and stay relaxed. Dr. Khan and Dr. Iqbal ended their conversation. On the other side of the door, Jennifer and John were equally anxious. Jennifer was holding a small flower bouquet that she had bought from the hotel’s gift shop. Driving to Khan’s residence, they were both impressed by the upscale neighborhood. Matthew had told them that this was one of the best residential neighborhoods in all of Karachi.
Mrs. Khan opened the door and invited them in. The elegant interior design of the house also highlighted the Khan family’s wealth. Matthew took the lead in introducing John and Jennifer to Dr. Khan. Being familiar with American culture, Dr. Khan introduced his wife to John and Jennifer with her first name, Shahrzad. He then introduced Dr. Iqbal.
No one smiled during the brief introduction. Both couples could see the signs of anxiety and fatigue in each other’s faces. Mrs. Khan usually hired a maid to help out when they were entertaining guests but, for this occasion, she didn’t want any strangers in the house.
“Shahrzad and I would like to offer you our sympathy for the disappearance of your daughter. I know how difficult it must be for you,” said Dr. Khan. John and Jennifer had to pay close attention to Dr. Khan to comprehend his English accent.
“By the will of God you will find her soon,” added Shahrzad.
“Thank you. How is your daughter doing?” asked Jennifer looking at Shahrzad.
“Yasmin is very quiet these days. She spends most of her time in her room.”
“Does she still claim to be…Sarah?” asked Jennifer. She showed some hesitation in mentioning Sarah’s name.
“Has she said anything about Sarah?” asked Jennifer.
“No. She hasn’t said anything at all. I don’t think she knows anything useful about what has happened to your daughter,” replied Shahrzad.
Dr. Iqbal, who was quietly listening to this conversation, leaned forward as a gesture that he wanted to speak. They all looked at him.
“I have talked to Yasmin three times since this ordeal began last Saturday. The last time was yesterday afternoon. I also noticed that she was not insisting on being Sarah anymore. But I’m not sure if this means that she does not believe it herself. She still shows no understanding of Urdu and reveals no memories of her normal life before last Saturday. It might be the case that she is just tired of arguing with everyone about her identity but deep down still clings on to her new personality.”
“But Dr. Iqbal, when she talked to me from the American Consulate, the last thing that she said to me sounded as if she knew that she was not Sarah,” said John.
“What did she say?”
“She said that she was the only person who could help us find Sarah, but she won’t help unless we met with her face to face.”
They were all quiet for a few seconds. “I see!” said Dr. Iqbal.
“That is why we flew to Pakistan immediately. Hoping that she might have some information,” added Jennifer.
“I have to admit, Yasmin’s case is very unusual. She doesn’t have the typical symptoms of dual personality disorder. Usually, the second personality of such patients is purely imaginary or a well-known social figure in the real life of the patient. I’m not aware of any case where the second personality of an individual is another person that already exists,” said Dr. Iqbal. The others were quiet and he continued, “ I simply have no clear diagnosis of what is happening to Yasmin, but I suppose I will learn more as I observe her reaction when she meets you today.”
“Does she know that we are here?” asked John.
“No. Dr. Iqbal suggested we keep it a secret from her.”
“Could we please see her now?” pleaded Jennifer. John held her hand and looked at her.
Mrs. Khan looked at Dr. Iqbal, waiting for him to say if it was time. “I guess it’s okay. That’s what we are all here for,” said Iqbal with a reassuring voice.
Mrs. Khan walked upstairs. The others were quiet. Jennifer watched her walk upstairs and squeezed John’s hand with both of hers. Matthew nodded his head and offered a small smile as he looked at both of them. After a few seconds, Shahrzad walked downstairs alone. They were all looking at her.
“She will be here shortly. She is changing,” said Shahrzad.
“Did you tell her that we are here?” asked John.
“No. I just told her to come downstairs and that we want to talk to her.”
They were quiet again.
They heard a door open and then the sound of footsteps. Yasmin was looking down as she descended on the stairs. She was wearing a pair of white pants and a yellow shirt with long sleeves. She had tied her hair up into a long ponytail. Jennifer and John were staring at her. She was almost a third of the way down when she finally looked around and saw the guests. She suddenly froze at the sight of John and Jennifer.
“Mom? Dad?” she said with a shivering voice, then ran downstairs as she began to cry. John and Jennifer looked at her with bewilderment. Yasmin ran towards Jennifer and hugged her while crying. She then kissed Jennifer on both cheeks and hugged her again. Jennifer was motionless. She didn’t know how to react and Yasmin wasn’t letting go. Jennifer gently put her arms on Yasmin’s back without saying anything. She looked at John and then at Mrs. Khan who was also crying as she watched her daughter’s strange behavior. All her hopes that her daughter was slowly regaining her original personality had disappeared in those few moments. Yasmin was so overwhelmed by the joy of seeing them that she didn’t pay any attention to Jennifer’s reaction. Still crying hard, she let go of Jennifer and hugged John. “Dad, I missed you so much. I knew you would come for me. I knew it.” John was also quiet.
Dr. Khan looked at Dr. Iqbal and shook his head in despair. He then approached Yasmin and gently tapped her on the shoulder. “That’s enough Yasmin. You have embarrassed us enough.”
Yasmin wrapped her hands harder around John’s neck. “Leave me alone,” she said as she cried.
John was looking at Dr. Khan, who was hardly able to hide his anger.
“I said that’s enough!” shouted Dr. Khan as he tightly squeezed Yasmin’s arm and pulled it back.
“No! No!” shouted Yasmin. Shahrzad came closer and pulled Yasmin’s other arm.
“I’m not your daughter. Let go of me. I’m Sarah…no…no… let go of me!” shouted Yasmin.
Dr. Khan was also shouting. He was switching back and forth between English and Urdu. Finally, pulling from both sides, he and his wife managed to release Yasmin’s hold around John’s neck. They pulled Yasmin back and forced her to sit between them on the opposite sofa. Yasmin kept begging John and Jennifer to help her.
“Calm down dear. Please calm down. We have come halfway around the world to talk to you,” said Jennifer. Dr. Khan and his wife were holding Yasmin’s arms.
“Mom, you believe me, don’t you? You know I’m Sarah. You must feel it in your heart,” said Yasmin, looking directly at Jennifer. Jennifer opened her purse and pulled out a picture of Sarah and held it in front of Yasmin.
“Have you ever seen this girl?”
“That’s me. We went to Springfield mall to take that picture a week before Memorial Day. Remember?”
Jennifer looked at John.
“We went shopping after I took this picture, and you bought yourself a green skirt that daddy didn’t like. The one that you wore for my graduation ceremony.”
“How do you know all this?” asked John.
“Mom, I gave you this picture and on the back I wrote ‘Beautiful Sarah Goldberg’ ” said Yasmin.
Jennifer, who could see the back of the photo, closed her eyes for a moment as John and Matthew both looked and saw the phrase that Yasmin had just mentioned. From their facial reactions, the others present in the room could tell that what Yasmin said was true.
Dr. Iqbal, who had been quietly observing Yasmin’s behavior since she came downstairs, pulled out a business card and a pen from his pocket. “Yasmin, do you mind writing ‘Beautiful Sarah Goldberg’ on the back of this card?”
They all looked at him and understood what he was trying to do. Yasmin didn’t show any hesitation. She carefully wrote the phrase and gave it back to Dr. Iqbal. He placed the business card on the coffee table, where they all could see it. Dr. Iqbal asked Jennifer for the photo and put it face down on the table. They all looked at the two handwritings. It wasn’t difficult for any of them to see the similarities between the two handwritings.
“Mrs. Khan, could you please kindly bring me a school report or a letter with Yasmin’s hand writing? It can be anything, as long as it is in English,” said Dr. Iqbal.
Shahrzad released Yasmin’s arm and went to Yasmin’s room.
Yasmin had calmed down. She was gradually beginning to come to terms with the fact that her parents did not see her as Sarah, and she couldn’t blame them. After all, in her new body, she didn’t look anything like Sarah. She felt very happy that they were there. If only she could have sat between them rather than next to Dr. Khan. She could not keep her eyes off them.
“How is Shady doing? Does she miss me?” asked Sarah.
Jennifer was hesitant at first but, after a few seconds, she decided to reply. “Shady is fine. She misses Sarah as much as we do.” Shady was Sarah’s cat. She had called her Shady because of her dark gray color.
Mrs. Khan walked downstairs after a few seconds. She was carrying a notebook. Before sitting down, she handed it to Dr. Iqbal who, after skimming through several pages, chose a page that was half empty and carefully placed it next to the photo and the business card. Using a pen, he carefully drew a line under the word ‘beautiful’ on the open page. They all leaned forward and looked at the three handwritings of the word ‘beautiful.’ The handwriting on the back of the photo and the business card both looked different from the writing in the notebook. This was one more piece of strange evidence for the Goldbergs and the Khans. Yasmin could see the disbelief in their faces.
“So, if I’m not Sarah, when did I learn to imitate her handwriting?” she asked, looking at no one in particular. There was no answer.
“Look, obviously you know a lot about us and our daughter. You even write like her. But you are not her. You can’t be Sarah. I begged you before and I beg you now: If you know anything that can help us find her, please let us know. Is there something that you want from us in return for helping us find Sarah?” said John. In his mind, the most likely explanation for what was happening was that Yasmin and her family were somehow involved in Sarah’s disappearance. But he chose his words carefully, so as not to sound as if he was accusing her or her family of any wrongdoing.
Yasmin just looked at him. She wanted to shout that she was indeed Sarah, but she felt that it was useless. What they saw was the body of Yasmin, and what they heard was the voice of Yasmin who claimed to be Sarah and knew a lot about her. She didn’t know what to do next.
“You told my husband that if we came here, you would help us find Sarah. Well here we are sitting in front of you. Please help us find her. She is a young girl just like you. Do you realize what she must be going through right now? Do you know what we have been through for the past six days?” asked Jennifer almost breaking in tears.
“Mr. Goldberg,” said Dr. Iqbal trying to attract everyone’s attention to what he had to say. “I have been practicing psychology for the past 20 years, and I have known Yasmin ever since her birth. I have talked to her several times since her personality change. You sound as if you think Yasmin is consciously pretending to be your daughter. It is my professional view that she genuinely believes that she is Sarah. As a scientist, I have no explanation for what has happened to her, but she is not acting. At the same time, she doesn’t have the typical symptoms of multiple personality disorder either. Her new personality as Sarah has been stable. Individuals that suffer from multiple personality disorder usually go back and forth between their various personalities, but Yasmin has consistently lived as Sarah for the past six days. I understand what you and Mrs. Goldberg are going through, and I sympathize with you. Obviously, Yasmin is not your missing daughter, but she is not consciously lying about it either. And if, God forbid, you are thinking that this whole thing is a plot by the Khan family to extort money from you, let me assure you that Dr. Khan is a successful medical doctor, and he is already wealthy, as you can see from the status of his residence.”
For a few seconds, they were all silent, and then suddenly Yasmin spoke: “Whether you believe me or not, I am Sarah. I’m trapped in this body. If you all accept the fact that what you see in front of you is the soul of Sarah in Yasmin’s body, maybe we can all start looking for a solution. I want to be in my own body, and I’m sure Yasmin’s soul, where ever she might be, wants to be back in her body and with her family.”
They all stared at her. The phrase “soul of Sarah in Yasmin’s body” froze in Shahrzad’s mind. Up until now she had believed that Yasmin was suffering from some kind of disorder. But what she had heard and seen from Yasmin went far beyond a mental disorder: the handwriting, Yasmin’s detailed knowledge of this American family and her sudden ability to speak English with a perfect American accent. She could no longer block these thoughts out of her mind, and they all confirmed her new frightening realization that perhaps someone else’s soul was in Yasmin’s body. Panic began to consume her. Slowly and subconsciously, she pulled her hand away from Yasmin’s arm while still looking at her.
Across from the table, Jennifer was also shocked by Yasmin’s suggestion. Like Mrs. Khan, her rational mind could not accept the idea of Sarah’s soul in this Pakistani girl’s body. But she could not deny the evidence either. She and John had so far viewed the situation as a complicated case of kidnapping and extortion. But now she began to feel some doubts and conflicting feelings. Perhaps some supernatural event was responsible for all of this. These thoughts increased her interest and curiosity about Yasmin. Instead of believing that she was Sarah, Jennifer thought that perhaps she was in some sort of telepathic contact with her. These thoughts relieved her worse fears about Sarah being dead. No one spoke, and it was Yasmin who broke the silence.
“Does Yasmin play the piano?” she asked Sharhzad as she pointed to the large piano in the left side of the large living room. Dr. Khan had bought this piano five years ago when Fatima was eight years old, but Yasmin never showed any interest in it. She took violin lessons for a year when she was in fifth grade before losing all interest in music. But why was Yasmin asking this question? Mrs. Khan wondered. She felt more anxious and couldn’t respond.
“You were never interested in the piano,” said Dr. Khan. He was still holding Yasmin’s left wrist.
“My younger daughter Fatima plays the piano,” he added, looking at John and Jennifer.
“Does Sarah play the piano?” asked Yasmin, this time looking at Jennifer.
“Yes. She plays very well,” answered John instead of Jennifer, who was staring at Yasmin.
“Do you mind if I play a piece?” Yasmin asked her father. Dr. Khan looked at Dr. Iqbal, who gently nodded his approval. He released Yasmin’s wrist. Yasmin stood up, walked to the piano, adjusted the seat and looked at Jennifer. “I’m going to play your favorite tune,” she said before starting.
To the astonishment of everyone, she began to play the famous theme song of the 1970s classic movie The Godfather. They all recognized the song. Mrs. Khan looked at her husband, who was staring at Yasmin with disbelief. Yasmin was playing this piece flawlessly. How was that possible? they wondered. She had never taken any lessons nor practiced the piano. Dr. Khan stood up and slowly walked towards the piano, as did John and Jennifer. This was indeed Jennifer’s favorite melody, and she always asked Sarah to play it for her whenever she was practicing. Dr. Khan carefully looked at Yasmin’s fingers with disbelief. By now everyone was standing around the piano. Tears were visible on Jennifer and Shahrzad’s faces. Yasmin was also crying as she played. When the tune was over, they were all quiet.
“This is Yasmin’s body, but I’m Sarah,” said Yasmin looking straight ahead with one hand on her chest. She felt calm deep inside for the first time since this nightmare had begun. Just as she wanted the others to accept her predicament, she herself was coming to terms with her new existence. She held her hands in front of her face and examined them up close. These were her hands for now, and she had no idea when, if ever, she would be back in her original body. Jennifer slowly wiped the tears off her face. Looking at Yasmin, she felt a strange emotional bond with her. She didn’t take Yasmin to be Sarah but, in a strange way, being near Yasmin felt comforting. The melody that Yasmin played reminded her of the last time that Sarah had played it for her. Shahrzad was still crying and turned around to make sure others didn’t see her tears. Dr. Khan approached Shahrzad and put his arms around her shoulder.
“Don’t cry. It's going to be alright! Yasmin is going to be fine. She is going to be fine. I promise you,” said Dr. Khan in Urdu.
Shahrzad turned around, took two steps towards Yasmin, held her hand and gently walked her back to the sofa where they were siting earlier. The others also returned to their seats. Yasmin was looking directly at Jennifer. She wanted to sit next to her but feared that Jennifer might feel uncomfortable.
“What do we do now?” asked Dr. Khan.
John responded, “I don’t know what to think of Yasmin’s behavior. This is so confusing. How can this be? We are all rational well-educated people. I can’t… I can’t accept what Yasmin is claiming. How could my daughter’s personality, memories, talents and habits be in your daughter’s body? This is impossible. We live halfway around the world for God’s sake. The fact is my daughter is still missing,” said John.
No one responded. Jennifer wasn’t even paying any attention to her husband. She was staring at Yasmin.
“Mrs. Khan, if you don’t mind, perhaps Yasmin wishes to rest in her room,” said Dr. Iqbal, with a tone suggesting that he wanted to talk about issues without Yasmin present.
“Please don’t treat me like a child. Whatever you have to say about my situation, I’d like to hear it,” protested Yasmin.
Dr. Iqbal looked at Dr. Khan to see what he wanted to do. Dr. Khan said a few words in Urdu, and then switched to English: “It’s okay. Yasmin can stay.”
“I think Yasmin should undergo a complete psychological evaluation and if necessary be hypnotized. Under hypnosis, perhaps she can reveal what has happened to her. If she is indeed suffering from a multiple personality disorder, we might be able to communicate with her original personality while she is hypnotized. We can also do an EEG test to observe her brain waves. Dr. Khan, has Yasmin ever taken an EEG test before?”
“No. There has never been any need for it.”
“If there was an earlier test result, we could have used it for comparison. A brain scan diagram has certain characteristics that are unique to each individual. By comparing EEG results over time, we can see if there has been any change in brain activity.”
“I took an EEG three years ago,” said Yasmin.
“No! That is not true. You never had an EEG,” reacted Dr. Khan.
“Mom, you remember, don’t you? I fell on the stairs and banged my head! Didn’t I have an EEG done a week after that?” said Yasmin looking at Jennifer.
“Sarah had an EEG done when she was fifteen,” said Jennifer.
Dr. Iqbal and Dr. Khan looked at each other for a second. “Are the records still available?” asked Dr. Khan.
“I suppose. It must be in Sarah’s medical record with our family doctor,” said John.
“Could you arrange for it to be sent here by overnight mail?” asked Dr. Iqbal.
“Yes, but why do you need Sarah’s EEG results?” asked John. “Wait a minute. Do you want to compare Sarah’s test results with Yasmin’s?”
“Yes. What Yasmin claims will be more credible if the EEG results match,” replied Dr. Iqbal.
“I’m all for it. Perhaps this test will finally convince you that I’m telling the truth,” said Yasmin.
“We all need to know the truth as soon as possible,” said Shahrzad to everyone’s surprise. She looked at Jennifer as she made this comment.
“I agree!” said Jennifer staring directly into Shahrzad’s eyes. The two women were gradually developing empathy for each other’s predicament. One had the physical body of her daughter near her, but the soul was missing. The other was slowly discovering the soul of her daughter in Yasmin, but the body was missing. Yasmin was now important to both of them. Like Shahrzad, Jennifer was also beginning to feel some maternal instinct towards Yasmin.
“We still haven’t talked about Sarah, and how your daughter can help us find her,” said John.
“I think Yasmin has had enough for today. How long are you going to be in Pakistan?” asked Dr. Khan, directing the question to John.
Before John had a chance to speak, Jennifer responded, “As long as necessary to help with the investigation.”
“I’m not tired. I can talk to you,” said Yasmin. Her father was not pleased with her comment.
“No! Not today.”
“But I need to talk to them. They are my real parents.”
“That’s enough,” said Dr. Khan with a determined voice. Yasmin looked at Jennifer.
“Could we come back tomorrow?” asked Jennifer.
Before responding to this question, Dr. Khan asked Dr. Iqbal a question in Urdu in a quiet voice and then briefly exchanged a few words with his wife.
“We will call you and let you know when you can see Yasmin.”
This wasn’t exactly the answer that John and Jennifer wanted to hear. John wanted to ask for a definite date, but Jennifer quickly looked at him and, with a nod of her head, signaled him to be quiet.
“Mom, Dad, don’t leave me here. I want to come with you. Please take me with you,” said Yasmin. This time she was pleading instead of crying. She was calmer because she could understand why the others didn’t believe her. Hearing her call Jennifer ‘Mom’ was still painful for Shahrzad.
“I’m afraid that is not possible at the moment,” said John gently.
Dr. Khan was angry: “You are not going anywhere and stop calling them Mom and Dad.”
Shahrzad quietly said something to her husband in Urdu.
Yasmin kept quiet. Matthew Sacks, who had not said a word since arrival, was the first to stand up to leave. There were no smiles when John and Jennifer said goodbye and left. Yasmin didn’t stand up.
Yasmin was looking at the ceiling without any motion as the nurse adjusted the rubber cap on her head. Several small electrode disks were touching her scalp under the cap. She felt a little pressure initially but soon got used to them. The nurse turned on the machine and checked the monitor to make sure everything was functioning well.
The hospital at Agha Khan University was one of the best in Pakistan. The standards of hygiene and quality of service were comparable to private hospitals in the United States. Yasmin had noticed how modern and new everything appeared inside the hospital. As she looked at the ceiling, she felt calm. She was confident that the result of this test would further prove to her parents that she was indeed Sarah.
Aside from the nurse, Dr. Iqbal was also present in the room. As a regular staff member of Agha Khan hospital, he was wearing his white physician’s robe. The nurse turned on the EEG machine and looked at the multiple graphs that the machine generated on a moving roll of paper. She then looked at Dr. Iqbal and indicated that the machine was ready. Dr. Iqbal explained the process to Yasmin and asked her to relax and to not move during the test. The nurse turned off the ceiling light and placed a special light over Yasmin’s head. At one part of the test, Yasmin was exposed to a blinking light – then darkness and then continuous light. In less than five minutes the test was over, and Yasmin was back in the waiting room where Dr. Khan and Shahrzad were waiting for her. Shahrzad tried to overcome her anxiety by asking Yasmin trivial questions about the test. Deep down she was worried about what the test might prove about Yasmin’s identity. The possibility that Yasmin’s EEG signature would match that of Sarah Goldberg frightened her.
After a few minutes, Dr. Iqbal entered the waiting room. He was carrying Yasmin’s EEG results with him. “The test went very well. As soon as they arrive, we can compare the two EEG diagrams.” By ‘they,’ he was referring to the Goldbergs. John had called Dr. Khan the night before to tell him that Sarah’s EEG test results had just arrived by overnight mail. After talking to Dr. Iqbal, Dr. Khan had called John and told him that he would arrange for a driver to bring them to Agha Khan Hospital the next morning.
Yasmin watched the other people in the waiting room quietly while Dr. Iqbal and her parents spoke in Urdu. By now they were all convinced that the ‘new’ Yasmin had lost her ability to speak and understand Urdu. They were talking about her. Shahrzad was wondering what they should do if the EEG tests were a perfect match. Both Dr. Iqbal and her husband were trying to sound hopeful about possibility of finding a cure for Yasmin. Dr. Iqbal said that he knew several top psychologists in England who were experts on multiple personality disorders. Dr. Khan talked about the use of hypnosis. None of these sounded convincing to Shahrzad. She was very pessimistic about Yasmin ever regaining her original personality.
After a few minutes, John and Jennifer arrived. Yasmin got very excited when she saw them. Without hesitation, she stood up and hugged Jennifer and then John. She was all smiles and very emotional. John and Jennifer both felt a little uncomfortable but tried to hide it. Shahrzad and Dr. Khan didn’t try to restrain her this time. Shahrzad sat next to Jennifer, held her hand and started to talk to her. John handed the large envelope to Dr. Iqbal and sat next to Dr. Khan.
“I will return when the neurologist is ready,” said Dr. Iqbal and walked away.
“Any change in Yasmin’s condition?” asked John quietly. Yasmin was busy asking Jennifer about what had happened at home when they found out that she (Sarah) was missing, and John was confident that she was not paying any attention.
“No! She still claims to be Sarah. Any news about your daughter?” said Dr. Khan after looking at Yasmin to make sure she was not listening. Shahrzad was focused on Yasmin’s conversation with Jennifer.
“I spoke to the detective who is in charge of Sarah’s case twice since we left the States. Unfortunately no news yet! She seems to have disappeared without any trace,” said John, and then they both looked at Yasmin for a few seconds.
“Do you think Yasmin might be telling the truth?” asked Dr. Khan.
“I’m sure she sincerely believes what she is saying, but you and I both know that it is impossible for one person to possess another person’s body. It is scientifically impossible,” responded John.
“I don’t know. I have practiced medicine for the past twenty years, and I have seen many odd things that have no scientific explanation. This, however, is very strange. The change in Yasmin’s handwriting and her sudden ability to play the piano are hard to ignore. How can anyone explain them?” asked Dr. Khan.
“Let’s just hope that the EEG test will shed some light on all this,” said John.
They both kept quiet and listened to Yasmin’s conversation with Jennifer. After a few minutes, a nurse who knew Dr. Khan approached him and briefly spoke to him in Urdu. Dr. Khan informed John and others that Dr. Iqbal was waiting for them, but he only asked John to go with him. Jennifer wanted to go with them, but Dr. Khan said it is better if he and John talked to the radiologist first. John held Jennifer’s hand for a second before walking away with Dr. Khan. The nurse took them to one of the physician offices on the third floor.
When they entered, Dr. Iqbal introduced the neurologist as Dr. Saleem Khorshid – a tall and slim man in his early forties. Two rolls of EEG test results were spread parallel to each other on Dr. Khorshid’s desk. He looked at Dr. Khan as he started his explanation: “Dr. Iqbal told me about the odd thing that has happened to your daughter.”
Then he turned to John. “ I’m very sorry about the disappearance of your daughter, Mr. Goldberg.” These words of condolence didn’t interest Dr. Khan or John. They simply nodded their heads in acknowledgement and waited for Dr. Khorshid to continue.
“I have looked at these two EEG diagrams, and I have noticed some striking similarities. Dr. Iqbal asked me if these two results could belong to the same person. My answer is yes – it is highly likely! The response patterns to different types of light stimulation are too similar to be accidental. But even more important, both diagrams indicate some excessive electrical activity in the left side of the brain. This could be a permanent result of a blow to the head or a fall that has caused a hemorrhage under the scalp in the left side. Here, let me show you.” They all gathered around his desk and focused their attention on the diagrams.
“The third graph line in both diagrams captures the response from the left side of brain. As you can see, this diagram has larger wave heights than the diagram under it, which represents the right hand side of the brain. This means that the left part has suffered some kind of trauma. When a person experiences a severe head injury, the brain gradually repairs a small portion of the damaged cells. These two diagrams are consistent with a gradual healing process. The impact of the trauma to the left part is larger in the lower graph, which was recorded three years ago, than the one administered today. These results are consistent with repeat EEG tests for victims of a head injury. So, as I said earlier, it is highly likely that these two diagrams belong to one individual.”
This was not the news that both fathers were hoping to hear from the neurologist, although it was consistent with Yasmin’s behavior. No one said anything for a few seconds.
Dr. Iqbal, who could see how disturbed his lifelong friend was, broke the silence. “But Dr. Khorshid, how is this possible? They belong to two different individuals who live halfway across the world?”
“That I cannot answer. This is what I am able to conclude from the tests. If you want a second opinion, I can ask a couple of my colleagues to evaluate these results,” answered Dr. Khorshid.
Dr. Khan was not paying any attention to this conversation. He was preoccupied with his own thoughts and sadness was clearly visible in his face. “What am I going to say to Yasmin’s mother? How can I tell her that Yasmin is not really her daughter? I don’t think she could understand it and, if she could, she would be devastated,” he said in Urdu. Dr. Iqbal tried to comfort him. John was silently trying to come to terms with the possibility that it was indeed Sarah that was trapped in Yasmin’s body. He was also wondering how Jennifer would react.
Yasmin suddenly stopped talking as soon as she saw the three men walk into the lobby. Jennifer and Shahrzad also noticed them and stood up. Shahrzad’s eyes were fixed on her husband.
“Well, what did the doctor say?” asked Yasmin anxiously.
“He couldn’t reach a definite conclusion. He is going to consult with two other doctors soon,” said Dr. Iqbal.
“How soon?” asked Yasmin.
Dr. Iqbal looked at Dr. Khan’s grim face. “As soon as he can show the test results to the other doctors, he will contact me.”