A little. Very little, actually. I know mostly vocabulary. I know words, not grammar. Then Elizabeth asks the woman, How did you learn English?
My husband went to college in London. He was a doctor.
Elizabeth thinks about this, imagining this wraith of a woman living in England. As if Nevart can read her mind, the deportee continues, I wasnt with him most of the time. I have been to London, but only for a visit. She sighs and looks into Elizabeths eyes. Im not going to die, she murmurs, and she almost sounds disappointed.
No, of course, you wont. I know that. Elizabeth hopes she sounds reassuring. She honestly isnt sure whether this woman will live.
Youre just saying that. But I know it because I was a doctors wife. I have survived dysentery. Starvation. Dehydration. They?.?.?.?never mind what they did to me. I am still alive.
Is that your little girl? Elizabeth asks.
The woman shakes her head. No, she answers, gently massaging the childs neck. This is Hatoun. Like me, she is unkillable.
Elizabeth wants to ask about the womans husband, but she doesnt dare. The man is almost certainly dead. Likewise, she wonders if Nevart has lost her children as well, but again she knows no good can come from this inquiry. Wouldnt the Armenian have said something about her own children if they were with her now--if they were alive?
Over the womans shoulder Elizabeth spies her father in the distance. He is ladling out the soup from a black cauldron and handing it to the women strong enough to stand and bring it to those who are collapsed under the tent. His sideburns and his beard, so much thicker and grayer than the thin whorls of cinnamon atop his scalp, look almost white in this light. They are expecting flour and sugar and tea in the next day or so--the first of two shipments they have arranged this month--though Ryan has warned her father and her that it is likely only a small fraction of what they have acquired will actually arrive in Aleppo.
Where do we go next? Nevart asks her. They brought us here, but they wont let us stay.
Excerpted from The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Copyright © 2012 by Chris Bohjalian. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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