My name is Elizabeth – well, it was Elizabeth, before she died. Now it’s Liza, just Liza.
* * *
It was on the night of my 9th birthday party that it changed for good. My friends had long gone, and my family and I sat around the fireplace. Lukas, my older brother, sat across from me as we played a game of cards. Father and Mama were quiet, and tension hung in the air as I waited for Mama to take me to bed.
All of a sudden, Mama excused herself to the foyer.
Lukas and I became silent and listened intently. “Where’s Mama going?” I murmured, putting my cards down.
“I don’t know, Elizabeth,” Lukas replied in a hushed whisper. “But she and Father have been awfully secretive lately. I don’t think they’re telling us everything.”
“Everything about what?” I asked, nearly shouting, before being quieted by Lukas.
“About Father being transferred,” Lukas whispered. “I don’t think everything is as safe as Mama and Father are making it out to be.”
“But, Luk-” My soft words were interrupted by a shrill scream.
An expression of fear appeared on Father’s face, and he ran out of the room in the direction of the front door. Lukas was soon to follow, and I found myself alone in the living room.
I made my way out of the room, slowly, steadily. One, two, three, four, five steps closer to the front door. When I reached it, my hand found its way to the doorknob, and my feet led me out onto the dimly illuminated street.
It was then that I saw Mama – her blouse soaked with blood, her eyelids closed, and the life draining from her face. I didn’t feel the tears run down my cheeks when the sudden realization hit me.
I was too young then to understand that some people didn’t support the war, and that some people would go to any length to destroy a general.
However, I wasn’t too young to realize that every time Father heard my name – Elizabeth – his heart broke; and every time I saw this happen, “Liza” began to grow on me more and more.
* * *
“Hello, fellow sailors.” A Sudanese man greeted our ship, and I was withdrawn from my previous thoughts.
“Hello,” my father greeted the three passengers on the small yellow raft.
I pursed my lips before turning to stare out across the endless sea. We must be near Sudan, I thought to myself.
Father had been transferred once again. The first transfer had been nearly six years ago, when Mama, Lukas, Father and I had moved from our quaint house in the suburbs of Germany to the bustling city of Berlin. More transfers had followed, and now we were sailing in the direction of Sudan, where what was hopefully going to be my father’s last mission as a militia general was going to take place.
He was a brave man, and I turned to take a good look at him. The years had left their mark on him – his beard was turning white, and his face became more wrinkled every day.
I smiled at him as he met my gaze. “Liza,” he called, “how do we fare?”
“Well, Father,” I replied simply, before once again spinning around to watch the small, inflatable boat pass us by.
But we did not fare well, for not even a minute later, I screamed as the ship collapsed under me and the deck burst into flames. I jumped into the air, fire stinging my legs, before plunging down into the deep, freezing water.
My arms and legs flailed helplessly, distancing me from The Coral Cruiser and its undertow. Once confident that there was a sufficient expanse between the sinking boat and me, I forced myself upward, emerging from the dark water.
Then everything went black.
* * *
“Abbas!” Osama’s voice broke my thoughts.
I was staring out across the sea from the small boat, anticipating the moment. “Yes, sir?”
“Stop staring into space and help Shia and me get ready,” he ordered.
I nodded respectfully and set to work. I helped Shia row while Osama readied the bombs.
“Hello, fellow sailors.” Keeping the bombs out of sight, Osama greeted the ship passing by and waved his hand in a friendly gesture.
“Hello,” the captain of the ship replied. Stretched across the length of the ship were the words The Coral Cruiser.
A teenage girl with beautiful blonde hair and blue-grey eyes stood at the edge of the ship, staring into the distance. Seeing her, I stopped rowing. I sat there and gazed at her, mesmerized. It appeared as though she was staring at our boat, but her eyes were focused on something distant.
“Abbas, get back to work!” shouted Shia.
My thoughts shattered, I began rowing again. Shia glared at me, noticing my sudden change of heart.
“Are we almost ready?” Shia questioned Osama.
“Yes,” Osama answered, “we’re ready.” He smirked and took the paddle from Shia. Then he gave the signal.
Just as The Coral Cruiser was cruising away, Shia pressed the detonator and I braced myself. The bomb exploded instantaneously and the small raft burst into flames. From the force of the explosion, fire spread onto The Coral Cruiser and it immediately became engulfed in flames.
The force of the detonation had pushed me off of the boat and into the churning water below. I struggled to stay above the surface.
Not more than a moment later, there was no evidence left of either boat above the water. Below the surface, however, the boats could be seen resting at the bottom of the sea.
I looked around frantically as I tried to stay at the surface. Underneath me laid the remnants of the two boats, but all I saw around me was rippling water and crashing waves.
Suddenly, the girl with blonde hair that I had seen earlier emerged from the water beneath, fighting to stay above the crashing waves. My stomach twisted in fear as I rushed to save her. I reached her just as her head was falling under the water. Her eyes were closed – she was unconscious.
Though my legs were beginning to tire, I hoisted the girl into my arms and pushed on. My legs strained with every exhausting kick as I carried the girl toward the shore that lay ahead.
I was panting heavily now, and, all of a sudden, my eyes blurred and my legs stopped moving. The weight of the girl crushing me, I fell under the water, too fatigued to fight. I felt my body hit the bottom and my eyes shut from the pain.
* * *
My eyelids were heavy, and I fought to open them. Frightened, my hands touched the starchy bed sheets beneath me, and the scent of pneumonia filled my nostrils.
And then the sudden realization hit me: The Coral Cruiser; that raft; the explosion. I racked my brain, trying to remember the “friendly” faces of the Sudanese sailors, but I drew a blank.
I sat straight up in my bed, finally opening my eyes. I thought about Lukas, who also had been on the cruise ship, and Father – where were they? Where was my family?
A nurse standing at the foot of my bed took pity on me. “You’re at the Ramstein hospital in Germany,” she explained, placing a tray of food in front of me. “Your ship was attacked by the terrorist group Al Qaeda. Don’t you remember, Elizabeth?”
I cringed at the sound of that name. Of course I remembered. How could I not? I thought. Seeing the concern in the nurse’s eyes, I simply nodded, ignoring the other thoughts that swam around in my mind.
She pursed her lips and I could tell she had something else to attend to.
“This boy was also recovered from the wreckage; we believe he was a sailor on your ship.” She gestured towards a boy on the bed beside mine, and then she made her way out of the white room.
I turned to look at him; I didn’t recall his face and he seemed too young to be working on a military boat anyway, considering he looked about my age. I tried to push away the troubling thought that he had not been on my boat. I’ll have to wait until he wakes up, I reminded myself.
Then I remembered him: the boy that had withdrawn me from the lapping water—my guardian angel.
I settled down in the bed again before slowly bringing the stale sandwich the nurse had left to my mouth.
* * *
I opened my eyes at the sound of a voice. My vision was beginning to clear; I could just make out the face of a teenage girl around my age.
“Thank you,” she started. “You saved my life.” The girl smiled and hugged me. My confusion forgotten, I sought comfort in the girl’s embrace. A moment passed and the girl pulled away, but her smile still lingered on her face.
The girl interrupted me. She silenced me with her hand and said, “Don’t speak. You need to rest.” Her words of assurance calmed me and I lay back further, more at ease.
“My name’s Abbas,” I told her in spite of her order to be quiet. “Where am I?”
The girl smiled sympathetically and put a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “You’re in the hospital,” she began. “Don’t you remember?”
And just then, a sudden wave of remembrance crashed over me. My face went pale as I remembered the boat, the bomb, and finally, saving the blonde-haired girl and falling to the bottom of the sea with her.
“I remember,” I said quietly. I glanced up at the girl and recalled staring at her on the boat before the bomb had been detonated. “Who are you?”
The girl paused, her gaze set on something in the distance. Her eyes clouded and she looked as though she was about to cry. Tears began to form in her blue eyes, but she held them back.
Taking a deep breath, she managed to say, “I’m Liza. You and I are the only survivors from The Coral Cruiser that was bombed.” It seemed as if the words pained her, as if they stuck in her throat.
A wave of guilt passed over me; I put my hand on her shoulder in an attempt to ease her sorrow.
Liza’s breath slowed and she murmured, “My father and brother were on the ship.” The tears that had been repressed reappeared now and Liza didn’t try to hold them back this time; they slid silently down her cheeks.
Without thinking, I hugged her tightly and she let herself relax in my arms. She closed her eyes and sighed, trying to stop the flow of tears. She laid her hand on top of mine and I stroked her blonde hair gently as she drifted to sleep. The bombing temporarily forgotten, I, too, succumbed to sleep.
* * *
Feeling someone nudge me lightly, I stirred from my deep slumber.
“Wake up,” whispered Liza.
Stifling a yawn, I muttered, “What is it?”
“We’re being discharged today.” A smile spread widely across Liza’s face. Her eyes sparkled with excitement, reminding me of the sea.
I hugged her close and sat up in the bed. Suddenly, the smile faded from Liza’s face and she turned solemn.
“I have to find them,” she mumbled to herself, almost indignantly.
“Who?” I questioned.
Tense silence ensued. Liza opened her mouth as though she was about to reply, but she choked on the words. I remembered the night before and how she had burst into tears when she’d mentioned her father’s and brother’s death. I laid a reassuring hand on Liza’s shoulder; she held back tears for the second time.
Slowly and thoughtfully, Liza proclaimed, “I have to find the cruel people who would take away two of the last people who love me.”
* * *
“Here are your clothes.”
Liza recognized the nurse who had been so friendly to her when she had first woken up in the hospital.
“Thanks,” Liza replied, taking the clothes that had been smoldered in the explosion. Liza stopped to examine her shirt, looking closely at the holes and discoloration that had resulted from the flames.
Abbas looked at his own clothes, which were in even worse condition than Liza’s; seeing that they were practically turned to ashes, he threw them away.
Abbas glanced at Liza to meet her look of determination. Breaking his gaze, she walked through the hospital doors, not waiting for Abbas to follow.
* * *
“What are you doing?” Abbas looked at Liza questioningly while she put her burnt clothes through some machine.
“Testing the residue on my clothes,” she answered, still intent on her work. “It will help me identify what type of bomb was detonated.”
Abbas watched her attentively as she tested the clothes. When the clothes came out of the machine, Liza began to work on the computer, using programs that Abbas did not recognize.
“Almost finished,” Liza mumbled seemingly to herself. A moment later, her face lit up. “Done.”
Abbas walked over to her to look at the computer screen. There was an alert box that said that the residue found on the clothes was most likely from a hydrogen bomb.
Abbas suddenly stopped breathing; he knew that Liza was smart, and he suspected that she would discover as soon as she could what terrorist group most often uses hydrogen bombs. She’s on my trail, but I can’t let her know that I was part of the bombing! He thought desperately.
As he snapped back into reality, Abbas noticed Liza’s face turn pale, her smile fading. “A hydrogen bomb,” whispered Liza. “Al Qaeda.”
Abbas flinched at the name, his thoughts of apprehension swiftly returning. “What are you going to do now?” Abbas managed to gasp.
Liza was silent for a moment. Taking a deep breath, she answered, “I’m going to find the terrorist group Al Qaeda and I’m going to arrest them.”
* * *
“Hello. I’d like to hire a private investigator.” Liza stood in the phone booth, awaiting a reply. Abbas watched her from outside the booth.
The automated response came: “Of course. One moment please.” Liza waited, her eyes fixed on something unseen. “What will the private investigator be examining?”
“The bombing of The Coral Cruiser. By analyzing the residue found on the clothing of one of the survivors, I’ve discovered the type of bomb that was detonated. I also figured out what terrorist group is behind the bombing; I just need the PI to track down the group,” Liza explained.
“Where should the private investigator meet you?”
“On Untersuchen Street in Ramstein.”
“We’ll send a private investigator immediately. Thank you and have a nice day.”
“Thanks.” Liza hung up the phone. She exited the phone booth and smiled at Abbas. “They’re sending a PI right away,” she told him.
Trying to hide his panic, Abbas smiled faintly. He and Liza sat down on a stone wall and waited together for the private investigator to arrive.
Seeing a black car resembling a limo drive up to her and Abbas, Liza stood up abruptly. She waved to let the PI know that she was the one who had called.
“Hello,” the man greeted them as he got out of the car.
“Hi.” After introducing Abbas and herself, Liza explained to the PI, who she later found out was named Adal, what she wanted him to do. “Can you do that for me?” she questioned.
“Of course. No problem,” Adal replied with a smirk.
* * *
Liza was ecstatic, and not afraid to show it.
She leaned back in her seat and watched the clouds whiz by the plane windows. Then she turned to examine Abbas’ face. She had always been smart when it had come to practical things – the sciences, mathematics – but when it came to people, she always found herself at a loss.
And Abbas was no exception. He sat next to her, ringing his hands, waiting for something Liza was uncertain of. She wanted him to open up, to confide in her; she wanted for him to trust her with whatever was on his mind, but he didn’t.
Liza bit her bottom lip. She didn’t know what made her so interested in Abbas. Perhaps it was the fact that, other than her, he was the only one left; or maybe it was how kind-hearted he was.
He has to be kind-hearted to let himself become so detached from all of the sorrow that has come about from the lives that were so unjustly taken in the bombing, she thought to herself.
Liza considered that maybe the other sailors weren’t his friends. Maybe he hadn’t cared that they had died, and maybe that’s why he sat there so silently; maybe that’s why he wasn’t as excited to finally catch the people who had killed them. She pondered all this as she gazed at Abbas.
Suddenly, she remembered what Adal had told her, and her previous thoughts were promptly forgotten.
* * *
Adal had approached her just this morning at her father’s home, where she and Abbas had been staying. At first, when she had heard the ring of the doorbell at six in the morning, she considered not answering; but for some reason she got up anyway and, upon opening the door, she found Adal standing in the drizzling rain.
“Do you have news?” she asked him, inviting him into the house.
“Yes. I have discovered the location of the Al Qaeda group – they are currently residing in Sudan,” Adal answered, a look of satisfaction on his face.
“That’s fantastic,” breathed Liza, a smile spreading across her face and her blue eyes gleaming.
Hearing Liza’s voice, Abbas awoke suddenly and made his way into the foyer where Liza and Adal stood talking. He hesitated for a moment, uncertain of whether or not he should greet Adal. His relationship with the PI was complicated, to say the least; ever since Liza had hired Adal to investigate the bombing of The Coral Cruiser, Abbas had found it hard not to resent him.
Trying to push away his burning resentment of the PI, Abbas forced himself to walk over and greet Adal. “Hi,” Abbas compelled himself to say.
“Abbas,” Adal began. “Nice to see you again.” Adal smiled, but Abbas just stared at him, once again attempting to hide his irritation.
Clearing her mind of the events of the morning, Liza gazed out the window again. Comfortable and excited, she awaited the plane’s arrival in Sudan.
* * *
“Shia, I’ve been alerted that the federals are on our trail,” Osama exclaimed to his loyal henchman.
“What federals? We’re the federals,” Shia chuckled.
“The German federals, you idiot!” Osama shouted.
Shia shrank back in embarrassment. “Sorry, sir,” he replied, his voice barely audible.
“Our only chance is to clear out. That means everything – bombs, transportation—“
“Where will we stay?” Shia interrupted.
“The other warehouse on the far side of the city,” the leader replied quickly.
All of a sudden, someone burst through the door of the old warehouse that Osama and Shia were residing in.
“Osama Bin Laden,” Adal started, “you are under arrest under the authority of the federal law enforcement of Germany.”
Rage burning in his eyes, Osama put his arms in the air in reluctant defeat. Adal swiftly put Osama in handcuffs, giving Shia the chance to slip away.
Before he was able to make it out of the warehouse unnoticed, Liza appeared in the doorway and grabbed Shia abruptly by the arm. She twisted his arm and brought him back over to Adal, who now had Osama in custody.
“Not so strong now,” she muttered indignantly.
* * *
Adal led Osama and Shia out of the warehouse, while Liza called the German federals and awaited their arrival. Abbas stood silently beside her, trying to hide his terror.
Not more than a moment later, Liza spotted several patrol cars heading toward them. She signaled them over while Abbas stood, frozen with fear.
Osama was pulled into one of the police cars. “This isn’t over! I have men all over the world who will carry out Allah’s will,” Osama shouted, referring to the Muslim God.
“Like whom?” one of the police officers taunted. “We’ve arrested all of your followers.”
“All but one.” Osama smirked. Noticing Abbas for the first time, he exclaimed, “Abbas! You traitor!”
“What?” Liza whipped around to look at Abbas, her eyes twinkling with confusion.
Abbas stared off into the distance looking lifeless, and he remained silent.
Liza’s eyes widened when she finally made the connection. “It can’t be,” she murmured. Her voice lacked the liveliness it had encompassed just a moment before. “You lied to me,” Liza whispered, regret brimming her voice. She turned away from Abbas to hide her tears.
“Liza,” Abbas managed to murmur.
But Liza just ignored him and turned away.
* * *
“Take him away,” she ordered.
The squad simply stared at her, but Liza just sat in silence, letting the tears that she had hoped wouldn’t come slide down her cheeks. They made small, dark circles on the stones underneath her feet. Her usually calm eyes now full of sorrow, Liza reflected on the past few events in silence.
I can’t believe he would do that to me, she thought regretfully. I trusted him.
Wiping the tears from her cheeks, Liza stood. A moment later, she looked up to see the policemen watching her. “Now,” whispered Liza, trying to wipe the endless fountain of tears from her face. She didn’t understand how she could cry anymore, but the tears just kept coming.
Liza watched as Abbas passed her, handcuffs binding his hands; she fought the urge to turn away. She wanted him to feel ashamed. She wanted him to feel guilty – to feel guilty for killing her father.
Abbas was guided to the head officer, who was now glaring at him. Lowering his head in shame, he stood in front of the officer.
Still glaring at him, the chief officer grabbed Abbas by his handcuffs and muttered angrily, “You, traitor, deserve to spend the rest of your life in prison. And that’s just what you’re gonna get.” Pushing Abbas back toward the officers who stood by the police cars, the head officer smirked.
* * *
Liza could feel Abbas’ gaze blazing on her skin. Taking a deep breath, she met his eyes.
Abbas fought to hold back tears of his own as he stared into her blue eyes. Temporarily escaping the police officers’ grasp, Abbas ambled over to his friend, if he could still call her that.
One of the officers charged at him, but the chief officer stopped him.
Abbas gazed deeply into Liza’s eyes, and he was once again reminded of the sea – the one that had engulfed him, the one that had taken her father – and he was forced to look away.
Regaining his composure, Abbas looked at Liza and, struggling with his handcuffs, put his hand to her face. She stared right into his eyes and he leaned in to kiss her. Their lips met gently and stayed together for just a moment, yet somehow it seemed like a lifetime.
Gingerly but unexpectedly, Liza pulled away. For only a moment longer did she stare at him, until she had to look away. For the final time that day, tears overflowed her sea-blue eyes.
At the same moment, Abbas was pulled away by one of the police officers and forced into a police car. Gazing back at Liza longingly, Abbas was driven away, leaving her behind.
She stared after him, and her heart throbbed with the grief of letting go of the one person whom she had truly loved. And then she was alone.