After terrorist bombs kill both her husband and her only daughter, Sophia escapes the violence in Syria, only to find that assimilation in the United States has its own version of lies, manipulation, and deceit.
From rape to court room battles, from a home with her sister to nowhere to go, from crooked business men and love-sick attorneys to deceitful womanizers, Karim draws you in.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.33(d)|
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Where is Sophia
The tragedy in a beautiful woman's life is what dies inside of her, while she lives.
By Hanif Mike Karim
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Hanif Mike Karim
All rights reserved.
Sophia's telephone rang again, for the fourth time in three days. Her older sister, Selma, kept calling from California, pressuring her to make a decision about getting out of Syria. "You know Sophia, you've got to tell me what you want to do. You can't keep me hanging like this. I know you are under a lot of stress and it's not an easy decision to make."
Sophia was in her early forties. She was born and raised in Syria, as a Christian in a Muslim dominant country. Her entire family's existence turned upside down three years ago when her husband was killed in a roadside bomb blast. The good doctor left behind a wife and a teenage daughter.
As traditions go in the Middle East, Dr. Alex Delgado was part of an extended family where his mother and his brother's family all lived together. So, fortunately Sophia and her daughter were not totally isolated. Although it was an arranged marriage and Dr. Delgado was considerably older, the family did not object to her pursuit of higher education. She went on to study law, although never practiced it.
Sophia's brother-in-law, Andrew, who became the head of the household after Delgado's death, was always sympathetic towards Sophia. He was aware of her deep desire to leave Syria, her dislike of the traditional entrapments and, most importantly, that she wanted to get her daughter away from there. He had never discouraged her from looking into opportunities or talking to her sister Selma in California. Sophia was appreciative of Andrew's encouragement but knew that her elderly mother-in-law would never want to hear of it. They never got along with each other from day one. The mother-in-law always complained that Sophia didn't respect her husband and Sophia felt that the old lady favored her other daughter-in-law.
Suicide bombings, sectarian killings between Shias and Sunnis, and roadside violence had become so common in Syria, that it had become a routine. There were more rumors every day that Bashar al-Assad's government would fall and ISIS would take over. That prospect was chilling for anybody, particularly non-Muslims.
Since Selma had called numerous times and left messages, Sophia knew that she must call her back before she upset her more. Selma, who was eight years older, had migrated to the United States five years earlier with her husband, Joseph, and her only son, Danny, during better times. Her husband had secured a business visa and was still working with a lawyer to establish permanent residency.
"Did I call you at a bad time, Selma?"
"No, no, it's okay, it's 7:30 already. I was about to get up anyways. I have to make breakfast for Joseph and Danny before they leave for work."
"I didn't know Danny is working with his dad."
"Oh yeah, convenience store business is hard work. Joseph can't do it by himself. Sometimes I have to go too, to help out. We have decided to put Danny's education on hold, until the business is a little more established."
"Wow, really? You, working in front of men? I can't believe it. When did you learn to speak English?"
Selma didn't answer Sophia's question but instead asked, "So listen Sophia, what did you decide? I have to go and make breakfast. Can you call me back in a couple of hours?"
Sophia realized that perhaps this was not a good time. "Yes, that will be perfect. It's 9:30 p.m. right now, everybody will be asleep by then, and we can talk in peace."
Two hours later Sophia called her sister again.
"Selma, you can't imagine how badly I want to get out of here. Things are much worse now than when you were here. Violence on the streets is rampant. Although Mona's catholic school is in a safer part of the city and a special school bus takes her to school, it's still dangerous. After Alex's death my mother-in-law has become even meaner towards me than before. Thank God Andrew interferes on my behalf when she gets totally out of control, otherwise I don't know what I would do. But, even if I am able to resolve the issues with my mother-in-law, there are so many other things I am worried about in order to go there. Suppose miraculously I do succeed in getting a visa, what would I do there? I have a college degree but I have no practical experience. Where would I live with a child? See, there are a million things to think about."
Selma was listening to her calmly. "Look Sophia, other than Mona, I am your only family now. I am like your mother. If I don't help you, who would? I am glad you told me how you feel. I will do everything within my power to get you out of there. Although, as you know, we ourselves are still trying to settle here, but you are family and I must do whatever I can."
"You are going to make me cry, Selma."
"Please don't cry, I didn't mean to do that. I will talk to Joseph today. We have a very good lawyer, Mr. Foster. I am sure Joseph will understand and will agree with me."
"Who is this Foster?"
"He is this nice man who is helping us with the government papers. His wife recently died of cancer. He is white, but he makes us feel comfortable and understands our situation," Selma assures her.
"Well, I will let Andrew know that I have made up my mind. I will let him figure out how to handle his mother. I also have no idea how much money Alex has left for us. Andrew handles all those things."
"OK Sophia, I will have Joseph talk to Mr. Foster, and let you know what he says." The sisters agree on the plan and say goodbye to each other.
It was now almost noon in California. Selma usually takes lunch to her husband and Danny at the store. Sometimes after lunch she stays at the store if they need her help, otherwise she returns home. She called Joseph before leaving and he sounded busy. "Do you want me to stay after lunch?"
"Yes, definitely. It's real busy, maybe because it's a Friday," he replied.
During lunch Selma mentioned to him that her sister had called. Joseph already knew this, since he was still home when she had called at 7:30. Selma started to say something but he interrupted her, asking to wait until they get home since it was very busy at the store. She understood.
After closing the store at 9 p.m., they headed home. Selma warmed up the leftovers for dinner. Joseph often commented that it was the best time of the day. He could sit and enjoy a meal with his family and relax after a long day. Now he wanted to know what Selma wanted to talk to him about. He could listen without interruption now. "So tell me, what was reason for your sister's calling so early in the morning?"
Turning to Danny she said, "I will tell you later."
Danny understood that his mother didn't want him to be part of the conversation.
"Mother, I am not a child, I am 25 years old. I don't like it when you treat me this way."
"Oh no no, I didn't mean that at all. She is your only auntie. I just thought you must be tired after working all day and won't be interested in these problems."
"Well Mother, Dad has worked as much as I have, and I am much younger than he is."
"You're right. I wasn't thinking. I am sorry. Stay. Sophia told me the situation in Syria is getting really bad."
Joseph immediately jumped at that. "So what's new? We all know that."
"Well, let me finish. Things have gotten way worse than when we were there five years ago. Not only the violence on the streets, the sectarian killings, the danger to the non-Muslims but also an ISIS takeover is imminent. We all know what they did to the Yazidis. Sophia is really scared. You both know, besides Mona, I am her only family. She also told me that her mother-in-law's attitude towards her has gotten much worse after Dr Delgado's death. I am like her mother. I must do whatever I can."
She looked up to see the reaction of the two men. Joseph started first. "Look Selma, I understand you want to help your sister, but you know we are still struggling ourselves. Do you really think we are in a position to take on additional responsibilities? Our business is barely running, we have high rent to come up with every month, we have put our only child's education on hold and Mr. Foster has still not gotten us the green cards yet. I am afraid to even think what his final bill is going to be. Do you want me to go on? Oh, one more thing, as far as the problems between Sophia and her mother-in-law are concerned, your sister is not so innocent herself. I have never told you this before, but I know how she used to look at some of the men at Dr Delgado's parties. I mean, just because God has made you pretty, you don't have to flaunt it. Dr. Delgado was rich, he didn't flaunt his money, did he?"
Joseph could sense his wife was getting a little tense with this unexpected blunt talk. "But I understand, family is family, I will talk to Mr. Foster and let's see what he has to say." Selma was relieved to hear that.
"What about you Danny? Are you also going to give me a hard time like your dad?"
"No Mom, I like Auntie Sophia. It would be fun to have Mona around, but do we have room to accommodate two more people? Our condo is not that big."
"Well, it will be temporary, son. When the time comes I will talk to uncle Salman's wife, she is an angel. I am sure she will get Salman's permission. We are so very fortunate to have a good landlord. We have been late so many times with our rent, but he is always so considerate and generous. People tell me that landlords in America are really mean, and they don't let tenants be late, even for a day. Oh Joseph, I almost forgot to tell you that Sophia is going to talk to Andrew about not only moving to America, but also about her financial situation. You may not have a good impression of her, but she is a responsible person. She is fully aware that all this is going to cost a lot of money. So when you talk to Mr. Foster, please let him know that he is going to get his fee and he will not be doing any charity work. You know how lawyers can be. You remember the nightmares with our Syrian lawyers when we were trying to come here?"
"Why are you talking like that Selma? You know Mr. Foster is not like that. He has already done so much for us. Our case is not easy. Do you know how many thousands of Syrians and Iraqis are trying to flee from there and are waiting in line? He has no shortage of clients. I have given him very little money and he has gone out of his way to help me in business. It's all because he wants to help our family, so please give him some credit."
"Yes, you are right Joseph, I agree. He is a kind man, and not like other lawyers. I must say God is very kind to our family. We have come to this far away land, our own country is in shambles and we have run into people like Foster and Salman".
* * *
Sophia was tossing and turning in her bed, trying to figure out how and when to approach Andrew, what to say and how to say it. She was moved by her sister's kind words and the love she showed in her conversation. Before that talk with Selma, she wanted to, but didn't think she would ever be able to leave Syria. Now, it seemed that it actually might happen. She decided to wait until she found the right opportunity to talk to Andrew. The weekend was about to start so she knew he would be home.
As soon as she got a chance she told Andrew that she would like to speak to him in private. Since he was the head of the household, he commanded everybody's respect. He pointed Sophia towards the guest room. When they both got there he asked Sophia if she would like the door closed. She shyly shook her head affirmatively and he closed the door. By this time, he knew it was something serious because this was the first time they had a completely private conversation. Outside the guest room, everyone was wondering what was happening. Andrew's wife in particular had a concerned look.
"Brother Andrew, you know it's been three years since Alex has gone. I don't know what the two of us would have done without your kindness."
"Please, I don't want to hear such talk. We are family. Please don't embarrass me like this, okay?" Andrew interrupted.
"Brother Andrew, you know I have been wanting to go and live with Selma in America, if possible. The situation here is getting worse every day and I am really scared. I know it won't be easy, and thousands of people want to go, but I want to try. Selma has promised to talk to their American lawyer, who she thinks is very nice and helpful," Sophia explained.
Andrew was listening very attentively, "Look Sophia, you know me, I have never discouraged you from doing anything you want. I admire your courage. If Selma and Joseph think that they can pull this off, then I won't stand in your way. You just let me know how I can help."
Sophia was very happy to hear this. "I am also worried about how mother is going to react and how much all this is going to cost."
"Look Sophia, I never told you because this subject never came up between us, but brother Delgado has left some money for his family. I think it's around 200,000 Syrian pounds which is about 125,000 U.S dollars. This amount should be sufficient to get you settled, if you can manage to get there. As far as mother is concerned, don't worry, I know how to handle her."
Sophia couldn't believe her ears. She ran to her brother-in-law to give him a hug. At exactly the same moment, the door opened and the mother-in-law came barging in. Seeing the two of them hugging, she began to scream accusations at the top of her lungs.
"I knew you were no good. I always knew that. Aren't you ashamed of yourself? What are you doing with my son?"
Sophia was stunned.
The old lady then turned towards Andrew. "I heard you say, you know how to handle your mother. Are you so naive to fall into the trap of this no good treacherous deceiving witch? What's wrong with you? You have a family of your own."
Out of respect, Andrew didn't shout back at his mother, although he wanted to. He tried to calm her down. Holding her hand, he led her to the sofa nearby. "Mother, just calm down and please listen to me. Don't say such things, it's not nice. They don't suit you. You have no idea what was going on here. Let me explain everything to you. In fact, let me bring others along and let everyone know what we were talking about behind closed doors."
He didn't have to go far. His wife, Dolly, their teenaged daughter, Deena, and Sophia's daughter, Mona, were inches away from the door dying to know what was going on. Now everyone was looking at Andrew expecting a bombshell to explode.
"What Sophia and I were talking about is this. Due to the worsening situation here in Syria, she wants to go and live with her sister Selma in America. Going there is very difficult because everyone wants to go there, but she wants to try, and Selma has promised to help. I was also assuring her that I will help because she is like my sister. She was overwhelmed with my offer to help and was thanking me when mother came in. Mother, you shouldn't have said those mean things and I think you should apologize."
The old lady was in no mood to apologize. "Why does she have to move there? Millions of people live here and the conditions are the same for everybody. Is she so special that she can't live here like the rest of us?"
No one responded because they knew it would be fruitless.
Sophia's daughter was smiling. Andrew's family looked shocked. The old lady was not happy. Before leaving the room Andrew told Sophia, in front of everyone, to let him know what Selma's lawyer said. Sophia shook her head affirmatively. Mona came to her immediately after the others left and hugged her.
She was definitely enthralled. "Mommy, are we really going to America? I can't believe it. I can't wait to tell my friends at school tomorrow." She kept hugging and kissing her mom.
Sophia tried to curb her enthusiasm, "Mona, please don't raise your hopes too high. We are just talking at this point. We have a long way to go. And please don't tell this to anyone yet.
You don't know, people can get jealous and the word might spread."
* * *
Sophia could hardly wait to give the good news to Selma. She called her the first chance she got. "Guess what Selma? Andrew said I can come to America and he will support me."
"Wow, this is fantastic Sophia, how did you get him to agree so fast and what about his mother?"
"Well, his mother made a fuss as was expected, but he said to leave that up to him. God bless Andrew. He is such a wonderful man and he also told me not to worry about the money."
"Really? My goodness. Wow, this is amazing news! Look Sophia, I have also talked to Joseph and he has agreed to talk to Mr. Foster. I will keep after him and let you know in a few days. You take care of yourself and Mona. Oh, by the way, how did she react to this whole thing?"
"Oh, Selma I can't even begin to tell you how excited she is. She has an iPhone and she's been texting all of her friends in spite of me repeatedly reminding her of how early stage this is. But you know how teenagers are.
"Okay then, Selma, I will keep my fingers crossed, and wait anxiously to see what this Foster person says. Please thank Joseph for his trouble."
"Okay Sophia, I will call you as soon as I find out."
Selma noticed Joseph's reluctance in approaching Mr. Foster about her sister, but she kept reminding him to make an appointment, which he eventually did. The earliest he could get an appointment was in two weeks.
Excerpted from Where is Sophia by Hanif Mike Karim. Copyright © 2016 Hanif Mike Karim. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. Selma begging Sophia to leave Syria, 1,
2. Daughter's tragic death, 11,
3. Sophia in America, 19,
4. Sophia meets Salman, 22,
5. Sophia meets Foster, 29,
6. Was it rape?, 35,
7. Salman hires an attorney, 48,
8. Salman's desperate offer, 58,
9. Foster's beach house, 74,
10. Salman tells his children, 79,
11. Preparing for trial, 82,
12. The Trial, 85,
13. Closing statements, 105,
14. Sophia moves in with Foster, 109,
15. Sophia meets Tony, 111,
16. Foster finds out, 121,
17. Tony is exposed, 130,
18. Disappearance of Sophia, 138,
19. Epilogue, 140,