Chapter 6: Departures

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     "Rana!" Ahmed cried out tearfully as he pushed Dawood out of the way and gave his big sister a mammoth hug. Rana laughed and gave her little brother a kiss on the forehead after returning his hug. Dawood gulped and smiled unsurely as he rubbed his eyes, "Is it really you?" Rana Hashemi smiled and raised an eyebrow before saying, "Have you forgotten your superior already, Khan?" Dawood smiled and shook his head before he whispered, "No, ma'am." Rana's jade green eyes twinkled as she held Ahmed at arms length and touched his cheeks with her hands. Dawood noticed the tears Rana held back as she gave Ahmed another hug. This woman had commanded soldiers to cut down a group of Afghan insurgents who were raping and pillaging a remote town, without so much as a hint of emotion in her voice. They valued her in the military for her ability to keep her emotions in check during chaotic situations. A lot of people referred to Rana as "Hashtag" when she wasn't listening. Dawood knew that her peers called her "Hashtag" because they believed that she was mechanically able to keep those in her command together, but he knew otherwise. He remembered accidentally walking up behind her as she held a bloodstained book in her hand. She leaned against a building and wept for the children that were massacred for wanting an education. When she heard her superiors approaching, her tears dried up. When it came to masking her emotions in battle, she was a pro. However, when it came to masking her emotions in front of her brother, she was a total baby.

     Ahmed lifted Rana up as he hugged her back and said, "I missed you!" "Yeah, yeah," Rana said as she kicked her boot-clad feet in the air. "Do you know how embarrassing this is? Put me down, I'm still in uniform!" "So?" Ahmed asked with a huff as he put his sister back on the ground before giving the air around her a whiff. "You stink." "I've just flown from Afghanistan all the way to New York. I think I wear this stench proudly," Rana said as she ruffled Ahmed's hair. "When did you get so tall?" "I've been tall since puberty. Why do you always ask the same stuff when we see each other?" Ahmed asked and ducked as Rana reached out to ruffle Ahmed's hair again. "What are you doing here, Rana Baji?" Dawood asked as it finally sunk in that the only person he looked up to in the army was standing in front of him. Rana smirked and tucked a loose strand of her auburn hair behind her ear before wrinkling her nose and shaking her head, "I don't know if I should tell you." "You're hurt?!" Ahmed panicked and forcefully twirled Rana on the spot.

     Dawood grimaced as Rana smacked her hand hard between Ahmed's shoulders with a smile before saying, "Twirl me again and see if that doesn't land on your face." Ahmed grinned sheepishly and apologized, "Sorry. Just excited to see you." "Yeah, I know," Rana said as she shook her head. "The little kid in you comes out like you're given a treat or something." "You didn't answer me, Baji," Dawood said as he crossed his arms across his chest. "Auntie called me," Rana said proudly. "Mama?" Dawood asked in surprise. "She called you?" "Actually, that's not entirely accurate," Rana admitted. "I gave her one of my monthly calls and found out she's sick. You guys couldn't tell me that?" "You give her monthly calls? You barely call me!" Ahmed huffed. "She's Auntie. Are you really comparing yourself to her?" Rana asked as she raised an eyebrow in question. "No, ma'am," Ahmed said as he bowed his head in shame. "It's been a tough time for us," Dawood admitted. "I'm sorry for not telling you." "I forgive you, only because you're getting married, which is ANOTHER thing you refused to tell me," Rana said. "I swear, a leave for a few months and you all just forget me."

     "I didn't forget you!" Ahmed grinned. "Oh, stop sucking up," Dawood said as he rolled his eyes. "Wait, so you're here because of that?" Rana smiled and said, "My little brother is getting married. I wouldn't miss it for the world, which reminds me, when do YOU intend to get married?" Ahmed sucked on his teeth and said, "Whenever YOU decide to get married." "Oh don't start that," Rana said and rolled her eyes. "I'm providing for our family." "That's a TIRED excuse, Rana," Ahmed said as he poked Rana's shoulder. "I provide for the family as well. In fact, I probably make more money than you. I know I sure as hell make more money than Dave, no offense." "None taken," Dawood said as he held is hands up. "Uncle Sam pays me crap, we all know that." Rana sighed and said, "Who's going to marry an old hag like me?" "Old hag?" Dawood scoffed. "Old hag? You're kidding right? With all due respect, if I were even ten years older, you and I would have gotten married in a heartbeat." "You're such a cutie," Rana smiled and pinched Dawood's cheeks. "You always know how to make me smile." "I always say that you're beautiful, but you never believe me!" Ahmed chimed in. "That's because you make it sound creepy," Rana teased, but then gave Ahmed and Dawood a combined hug. "I missed you two." "Run away! She's gone mushy!" Ahmed cried out and tried to break free from Rana's grip.

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