Early the next morning, after Rafi finally turned off the TV and closed his eyes on the couch, a text message startled him out of sleep: “Get a big American flag, hang outside your door, Dad.” His father always signed off, even though his name would appear with his texts and calls. Rafi set down the phone and tried to sleep again. A second text intruded on it: “Take down Black Lives Matter sign. Please. For now. Dad.”
Rafi heard Caroline in the bedroom, sniffing, and fighting through sobs to speak in complete sentences with her mother. She'd started crying around the same time that millions around the country like her began taking their fears seriously that something was afoot in Florida that did not bode well. Florida, again. And of course, the Rust Belt of Ohio and Pennsylvania, and the misunderstood, ignored white working classes of Michigan and Wisconsin. Entire swathes of the country that had lost its head over the Non-Establishment candidate.
“Dad?” Rafi said into his phone when his father answered after the first ring.
“Did you do what I said?” his father asked.
“No, Dad. And I'm not going to.”
“At least take down the - ”
“Dad. I'm not taking anything down. I'm tired. We were up all night. I have to teach later.”
“Call your mother when you can. She's worried.”
“Mom, we aren't the only people in the country; our worry is nothing, it's not even worry,” Caroline said into her phone in the bedroom.
“Okay, Dad.” Rafi gripped the phone.
“Mom, I couldn't care less about Thanksgiving,” said Caroline.
Rafi walked to the bedroom and stood at the door. Caroline saw him. Her eyes were red and puffy. Her hair hung stringy down the sides of her face. Her chin was pinned to her chest, her eyes blinking through tears.
By end of the first hour of the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 Rafi's father, Haider Samad, had amassed a collection of American flags. “I want them to see the flag first, before they see my brown face,” he'd said, clipping on a miniature one to the door of his car, and offering one to Rafi. “Take it, son. I'm telling you, these Americans will see nothing else for a long time to come.”
The other ones included one for the front yard draped on a plastic flagpole that kept tipping over no matter how much deeper into the soil it was pushed each time; one was hung from the roof of the garage in the back, a bumper sticker for Rafi's mother's car, and a lapel pin flag for his father's shirts and coats. When the war started in Afghanistan and Iraq was invaded less than two years later, yellow “Support Our Troop” stickers covered Rafi's father's car so profusely that he was pulled over by the police and told to remove the one obstructing his license plate.
Caroline ended the call and dropped the phone on the bed like a wasted part of her body she'd finally let go. The weight of her sobbing kept her head down. For a moment, Rafi wondered if there was other bad news she'd received from her mother.
“I don't want to move to Canada,” she said, bringing her face up. It was a pulp of tears and soggy skin. Two red patches stamped her cheeks. Matted strands of hair stuck to her forehead.
“Neither do I,” said Rafi. He told her what his father had been up to. “I'm not putting up flags and I'm not taking down any signs.”
“I can't believe my father voted for that man,” Caroline crumpled into herself again, one last burst of tears racking her body.
“Are you going to work?” Rafi's mother asked when he called.
“Of course I am,” Rafi answered.
“Just be careful,” said Naima Samad. “This morning there was graffiti on the school across the street. 'Build the wall.' Many of my co-workers didn't come to work. Are these people serious? Letting that nincompoop be president? And why are so many people also being so scared? What's going on? We saw worse things in our time back home.”
The first time Rafi and Caroline had seen Caroline's father, Bert, with the red Make America Great Again baseball cap was by accident. Bert had attended a rally early in the campaign, just out of curiosity, he'd said. As he pulled into the driveway the hat was on his head. Caroline and Rafi were helping Joy, her mother, in the garage. Bert had forgotten the hat until it hit the roof of the car as he was exiting. He snatched it off his head like contraband and tossed it on the passenger-side floor. He kept laughing off suggestions of actually voting for Trump until the Republican National Convention. That night, he and Caroline had a shouting match over the phone.
“I can't believe my father is such a coward,” Rafi said. “He was a freedom fighter!”
Haider Samad's self-protective patriotism lasted until the first whistles began blowing over the false claims of Saddam's WMDs. He'd dismissed Rafi when he told him that that story was developing. “That maniac should have been killed in the First Gulf War. Give me the gun, I'll do it myself.” A Bangladeshi being so passionate about the removal of Iraq's dictator was confounding, but Haider Samad had fought the army of Pakistan to liberate Bangladesh, so it was believable that murderous dictators in uniform anywhere in the world could hold a special place of hate for him. “They're doing it again,” he said, as the first reports of no WMDs started making the country uncomfortable. “For oil. Again. God knows what this will start now and for how long.”
Rafi snapped awake at the buzzing of his phone.
“Dad? It's five-thirty in the morning.”
Caroline mumbled thickly, turned to the other side, and resumed snoring. Rafi walked out to the living room.
“I'm your father, I don't owe you any explanations,” said Haider Samad.
“Dad, what are you talking about?”
“I'm talking, you listen.”
“Let him sleep,” Naima Samad said in the background. Her voice amplified, as she took the phone from her husband. “You've lost your mind. He drank until three in the morning and watched the news. This is how he'll spend his retirement. Killing himself, and me, and you.”
“Your mother didn't vote,” Haider Samad shouted over her. He snatched the phone from his wife. “She didn't even cast the vote and she thinks she can talk.”
“Dad, if you're calling to make a case for Trump…” Rafi stopped. “Dad, what's going on?”
“I voted.” He said it as though it was his first time. “Your mother didn't. She didn't and she talks.”
Naima grew exasperated and said something that Rafi could not hear properly.
“Everyone has the right to say what they want, Dad.”
“No! Unless you participate you don't have a voice. You made your decision, you live with it. I'm going to. Voting for Trump isn't the worst decision a man can make.”
“Dad, there's no logic or reason on earth that'll convince me that voting for Trump was a good thing. My friends, my colleagues, everyone knows how I feel and I make no bones about it.
Haider Samad rattled a clot of mucous in his throat. “There was no way I was going to vote for another Clinton. And Sanders. If he can't say one-hundred percent what he means every time, then he should have stayed out of presidential politics.”
“Dad, I have to go.” Rafi pulled the phone from his head and looked at it as if it had spit in his ear. “Are you serious?”
“I'm very serious,” said Haider. “Get sent to jail by your own government after you fought for the country you love and then see how you feel about being righteous all the time, son.”
Rafi was hunched forward on his elbows looking at the ground while he talked on the phone, and he looked up to find Caroline in the doorway.
“You and Caroline's father can be buddies now.”
The two men had never met. If their children ever got married, they would; otherwise neither family had shown initiative to make the acquaintance.
Caroline's eyes widened. She mouthed, Your dad, too?
Rafi gave her a blank stare and lowered his eyes to the ground.
Nadim Zaman is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of English & Humanities at ULAB. His short stories have been published in literary journals at home and abroad.