Another Katyusha fell and Omar Hamdan was happy. With each rocket that landed inside Israel, God had sent him a blessing. Would a thousand naked virgins be waiting in heaven for him? Did he dream of death? No, he was not that type of Palestinian. He was Abu Khaled, doting father to Hanan and Khaled, and faithful husband to Fatha. To everyone else in Gaza, he was short and squat, but commanded the respect of a much taller man. It also did not hurt that he owned a tunnel. With the land, air, and sea blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt, Omar’s tunnel was secretly buried deep inbetween the two countries. Each rocket squeezed Gaza’s borders tighter and filled Omar’s tunnel. Motorbikes, cement, TVs, even a goat were smuggled daily from Egypt to Gaza through Omar’s tunnel. Frustration over inflated prices hadn’t caused protests and revolutions across the Middle East, but the seeds were being planted. Among the concrete high rises and the verdant olive trees, Gaza was an angry yet hopeful city mixed with chaos and dirt.

Among the concrete high rises and the verdant olive trees, Gaza was an angry yet hopeful city mixed with chaos and dirt.

If it wasn’t for Omar’s good fortune, he could easily be mistaken for the typical Palestinian who lived ten to a room. True, he had a Nissan truck, an apartment, food on the table, and a wife who stayed home with the kids, but he also appeared like the everyday man with stubble on his cheeks, rumpled pants, and a tired look that was permanently embedded in his dark eyes. He chain-smoked Camel cigarettes and lived in a three-story walk up that was as unassuming as himself. What he lacked in looks and style, he made up for in respect.

This morning, Omar did not feel too much like the big man he had become as he sat at the edge of the bathtub nursing a whisky for his infected tooth. Fatha bent over and ran the water for Omar’s bath. He welcomed her density as she had an abundance to love. Omar dunked his toes and then his bottom into the tub. Fatha made small rhythmic circles with her thumbs on his back. At moments like this, he felt very close to her. After his bath, he dressed and knelt on his prayer mat where he felt whole again.

In the kitchen, Fatha placed a plate of steaming foul
mudammas in front of him. She smothered the mashed fava beans and chickpeas with olive oil, lemon, and salt. Then, she ripped the flat bread into small pieces. Omar held a jagged piece between his thumb and forefinger, shoveling the beans into his mouth. After two decades of marriage, he was still not one to use a fork or knife. He had always been better with his hands.

Fatha pushed some more bread in front of him. Every pound of her body jiggled while attending to his every need. “Eat, before it goes cold,” she said.

“Hallas, Mama, I can feed myself.” Omar took another shot of whiskey.

“Why don’t you see the dentist?”

Omar gave his wife a look more painful than his tooth. “Dr. Khoury left. He immigrated to Germany last month.”

“How about his assistant? Isn’t he still around?”

“That crook. He never went to dental school. He worked on cars before he worked for Dr. Khoury. My mouth may be big, but not wide enough for his pliers.”

Fatha sighed. Everyone who could, left Gaza. She poured the coffee into small porcelain cups. The aroma was potent enough to arouse even the most devout from their prayers.

Khaled walked into the kitchen. He was delicate with a build much too slight for his fourteen years.

“Is your sister sleeping?” asked Omar as he lit a cigarette. Khaled slid into a chair and nodded.

Fatha handed Omar a cup. “She’s so tired lately.”

“Anymore bruises?” Omar drank the bitter coffee. It was muddy, the way he liked it.

“A few more on her legs,” said Fatha.

“And her nose?” asked Omar.

Fatha stirred her coffee. “It stopped bleeding, but I gave her some ice just in case.”

Omar had seen Hanan sleeping with an ice pack on top of her face. He wondered how could a ten year old’s nose run with so much blood. He pointed to his waist. “I’m going to take a belt to the bully who touched her.” He turned to Khaled. “You need to protect your sister.”

Fatha brushed the curls away from Khaled’s forehead and spread butter on his toast. “Leave him alone. He works hard. He does well in school. He listens to us.” She rubbed her earlobe where she had a generous mole that resembled an earring. Other than her mole, she had a plain face with straight black hair, drawn back into a bun.

Despite raising two children together, they still had their differences. Perhaps that’s why Fatha counted the seconds backwards until the children fell asleep while Omar counted the seconds forward until they woke up.

Perhaps that’s why Fatha counted the seconds backwards until the children fell asleep while Omar counted the seconds forward until they woke up.

Khaled nibbled on his toast and then slipped back into his bed. The radio played unwanted noise from his room.

Omar watched Fatha in surprise as she took a nip of his whiskey. Normally, she drank nothing stronger than coffee. He put his hands on her fingers. “You look worried.”

She took another sip of his whisky, possibly wanting to numb her tongue before she spoke. “It’s the evil eye. People are jealous of our tunnel. They look at us and wish bad thoughts. Now, our poor Hanan suffers. It’s not good to have so much money when our neighbors are so poor.”

Omar smashed his cigarette against the ashtray and leaned into the table. “What do you want me to do? Let everyone use the tunnel for free? I have to pay Hamas a new tax every other day. When did you start to get so worried that we are rich? If you’d like I can get rid of the washing machine and all the other robots I brought you?”

Fatha’s face appeared to be full of guilt as she glanced at the rock Omar had given her the other day. It wasn’t a brown dirty one, but one that sparkled in every direction. As long as Hamas ruled Gaza and permitted Omar to run his tunnel, their family would thrive while others didn’t.

Omar walked into the hallway toward a bobbing ladder that led to the roof. He did not want to show Fatha his face. He did not want her to know he was bluffing. He enjoyed buying her new things as much as she liked receiving them. It made him feel even taller that he was able to spoil his wife. This morning his men would start work on widening his tunnel. Eventually, an entire car would be able to fit through instead of just its parts. He swore he would bring a Mercedes through for Fatha. It would be fully loaded, everything, the works, including a navigation system. He had heard of these electronic maps. He was ready to travel the world even if he could not leave Gaza. He straddled the steps, two at a time, traveling up to the roof.

Omar stood at the edge of the straight line that separated the roof from the sky. His toes curled in his boots. He didn’t look down to the street, but straight ahead to his family’s land in the distance. In Israel, his ancestral home no longer sat on fields of milk and honey, but on sourness and hate.

He didn’t look down to the street, but straight ahead to his family’s land in the distance. In Israel, his ancestral home no longer sat on fields of milk and honey, but on sourness and hate.

Amna, the family maid, hung the laundry behind him. Omar’s white underwear flapped in the breeze. Her calloused hands were no match for Fatha’s doughy palms.

Fatha came up the ladder and onto the roof. Omar studied the way she walked. The upper half of her body was still, while everything from the hips down made large, smooth movements.

She put her fingers on Omar’s cheek. Her nails were seashell pink.

Omar prided himself that Fatha’s hands were a perfect shape and that she was spared the hard work of domestic life. In addition, he loved her rolls of puppy fat that she could never fully hide underneath her girdle.

Omar spoke with a melancholy in his voice as he looked toward his family’s land in Israel. “Do you remember the figs that hung in the shade? It was a playground for all types of birds.”

Fatha nodded. “My mother remembered everything about her house. She could even tell you where the toothpicks were.” Omar had heard this story a hundred times, but he let Fatha tell it again. Nostalgia made him look backwards while giving him hope. Still, Omar and his family had come a long way. There was a time when they didn’t even have water or salt.

Fatha squinted as if she was reading Omar’s mind. “I used to dream of flour and sugar.”

“And the children only had one set of clothes.” Omar shook his head, remembering when Fatha used to make Hanan and Khaled hide naked under the blankets until the wash was dry. He cupped his hands around Fatha’s waist and squeezed. “Look at you now. I would love to get you under the blanket.”

Fatha’s smile turned cautious. “An apartment, two cars, private school, all the food we can eat. The tunnel has been a bountiful harvest. God willing it lasts.”

 “An apartment, two cars, private school, all the food we can eat. The tunnel has been a bountiful harvest. God willing it lasts.”

Omar looked up to the sky. The clouds had turned unusually dark, appearing heavy and bruised like Hanan’s nose and legs. Omar pressed his tongue against his sore tooth and then pulled Fatha’s hand to his cheek. He was determined to shelter her from the sky and whatever it might bring. He gave her a loose smile: “Hanan will be fine. I promise.”

Omar left Fatha on the roof and his children in their lazy beds. His tunnel was waiting.

Crammed into one tight spot, Gaza was about to burst. It would be impossible to count everyone. Concrete barriers and sand bags were as common as a row of palms in the middle of Gaza’s main boulevard. Donkeys and European imports jostled for the right of way. Along with the ancient and the modern, heavy fumes mixed with the nearby sea’s salt. Just off Omar al-Mukhtar Street, in a narrow, sandy alleyway, sat a building with pockmarked walls and bullet holes. Twisted and blackened machinery along with sagging ceilings were all that remained after the Israelis employed F-16s, tank fire and bulldozers against the former potato chip factory. Underneath the building was Omar’s tunnel.

Omar puffed on his cigarette while looking down into the tunnel’s opening. “Kissucda!” he barked at his workers below to stop talking and work. “This is not a tea party. If you want a break, go smoke shisha at the café.”

Omar entered the tunnel and grabbed a shovel. He scooped up the earth, knowing this was his brown gold. Between Egypt and the border, the circulation of Gaza pumped through his tunnel.

Kaboom! Dirt shook from the tunnel’s sides and ceiling.

Omar gripped his shovel until the earth breathed quietly again.

His workers ignored the passing bomb. Their keffiyehs hungfrom their heads like soaked oil rags in the dampness. Soft-falling rain came through the tunnel’s opening.

By the late afternoon, the last box from Egypt was drawn through and the workers filed out. Omar drew a heavy crate over the tunnel’s opening and exit, and then locked it with a padlock.

Above the ground, he stared at his home. Only a few buildings away, his apartment was a non-discrete square. He had inherited it from Fatha’s parents and could probably afford better, but where was he to go? Trapped in Gaza, this wasteland would always be his prison. Omar tried to hustle across the street, but it was impossible to move fast. Everyone wanted a piece of him. When you own a tunnel, your popularity runs deep like your hole.

Everyone wanted a piece of him. When you own a tunnel, your popularity runs deep like your hole.

“Abu Khaled!”

Omar turned to Mahmoud Telbani. His stomach was a soft lump like the ice cream made in his factory. In the middle of the street, a chicken ran through their legs.

“When are you going to let me bring my cream through from Egypt?” Mahmoud asked. “It’s spoiling on the other side.”

“When you pay up.”

Mahmoud’s small eyes became tinier inside his head. They looked like pellets he could shoot at Omar.

Omar surrendered his hands in the air. “I have my expense too. Hamas charges me three thousand dollars a month on my tunnel, whether I ship goods or not.”

Mahmoud shook his head. “After I pay your tunnel fee, then I have to pay Hamas a tax on every cone I sell. It’s only ice cream! I’m not selling guns or ammunition.”

“Maybe you’re selling the wrong thing.” Omar winked.

A boy ran between them, pushing an old tire with a stick. A beggar followed, rubbing up against them. Omar dropped a coin in his bowl.

“I stopped giving a long time ago,” said Mahmoud as he watched the beggar make his way to the other side of the street.

“God says we should give to everyone in need.”

Mahmoud opened his empty palms. “Obviously, God has never walked down our street.”

Omar left Mahmoud and walked across to Kamal’s café. Inside, Shadi, the butcher was eating a plate of onions and beans, forever trying to lose weight. A cat curled up on the cushion next to him. He sipped his mint tea while fanning himself with the cat’s tail.

The wind picked up outside, blowing in the raindrops. The smell of a freshly packed waterpipe rose into Omar’s nose. Kamal swept the floors with the same attention a painter gives his canvas. He stopped his broom on top of his stone masterpiece. “Did you hear? Mubarak died.”

“That was last week’s rumor.” Omar sat down next to Shadi and took a toke from the waterpipe, sucking the dark Iranian tobacco deep into his lungs.

“I’ll bet you your tunnel it’s true.” Kamal stuck his broom out the door and shook the dust off in the rain. “At the gates of paradise, the guardian angel asks a man to state his talents and abilities. The man answers, ‘none.’ The angel says, ‘Ah, you must be Mubarak.’”

“At the gates of paradise, the guardian angel asks a man to state his talents and abilities. The man answers, ‘none.’ The angel says, ‘Ah, you must be Mubarak.’”

Omar grinned. “Next you’re going to tell me that Arafat still lives.”

“I think he was gay,” said Shadi in a voice that purred.

“What does that have to do with him dying?” Omar blew smoke rings in the shape of hearts and ovals.

“No one likes a faggot.” Shadi licked the tea off his fingers. “If he wasn’t killed, then we wouldn’t be ruled by Hamas.”

“Careful what you say.” Omar wagged his finger.

Shadi held up his hands in the air. “Yes, I must be careful. I forgot that you work for Hamas. They have made you rich. In the meantime, Israel thinks they’re terrorist and that makes us terrorist.” Shadi picked up his spoon and sliced it in the air. “As for me, I couldn’t even hurt a lamb.”

Omar gave him a suspicious look. “You’ve been hurting a lamb every day. Where does all that meat come from that I’ve been buying at your shop?” Omar took a toke from the waterpipe and pounded his chest, but the smoke would not go down any smoother. In a half-breath he said, “That reminds me, I’m still waiting for my shovels.”

“I gave them to you,” said Shadi as he dug into his rice and onions.

“They were rakes. I have dirt, not leaves in my tunnel.”

“They were shovels.”

“Rakes!” Omar puffed on the waterpipe, exhaling a storm.

“Hallas!” Kamal held up his palm. The sky boomed outside. The rain fell harder. “Stop fighting. You clash louder than the thunder.”

“We are not fighting. We are debating,” said Omar.

“Then take it to the U.N,” said Kamal as he relit the waterpipe.

“They haven’t solved peace in the Middle East in fifty years. What makes you think they can resolve our dispute between a shovel and a rake?” Shadi quibbled.

“They haven’t solved peace in the Middle East in fifty years. What makes you think they can resolve our dispute between a shovel and a rake?”

The sky cracked open. The rain appeared to be coming down in heavy white sheets. Kamal peered outside the door. “The gods must be angry.”

“It’s that or another Katyusha,” said Shadi.

“God willing.” Omar smiled and then rose. “Gentlemen, I must get home before my wife worries that I have drowned in my tunnel.”

Shadi raised the waterpipe in a toast. “May you find good fortune inside her belly.”

Omar nodded. “Yes, another son would be nice. If not, we’ll use Fatha’s belly to float down the street.” He opened the café door and peered out. “I’ve never seen so much rain. Too bad I don’t know how to swim.”

Omar sucked hard on his soggy filter and walked two doors down to his apartment building. He opened the front door of his building and walked up a staircase that smelled of old timber and dust.
He hummed a folk song, childishly make-believing it could provide him some type of protection from the gloomy weather. Fatha’s shriek overpowered his melody.

“Ah! Look at you! All wet. Are you trying to catch your death?”

She turned to Khaled. “Get Baba his bathrobe.”

Fatha brushed the rain off Omar’s shoulders. “You should have called me. I would have brought you an umbrella.”

Omar tried to step from the kitchen into the parlor.

Fatha pushed Omar back with her broom.

“It’s only rain, not the plague,” said Omar.

“It’ll ruin the rug.” Fatha tried to catch the dripping water from Omar’s clothes with a dish towel.

“I’ll get you another rug,” said Omar.

“What are you going to do? Build a tunnel all the way to Iran?” Fatha ran her hand along the rug. “These are the finest silks from Tabriz. You can’t get the blues and the reds like this anymore.”

Omar studied his wife’s round shoulders. He wanted to hug her when she got hysterical. Instead, he stepped back. She was upset and in her Russian clodhoppers, she could stomp on more than Omar’s big toe.

He stepped back and stripped off his shirt and pants, wrapping himself in a warm bathrobe.

Fatha tugged at his belt. Her voice tightened as she pulled. “Where have you been all day? I thought you’d come home for lunch.”

“Working, sweetheart.” Omar loosened the belt. He felt the pressure to provide for his family. “A man needs time to make money.”

“I have been calling you.” Fatha took a pair of matching slippers from Amna’s hands and placed them at Omar’s feet. She massaged each toe.

“I was in the tunnel.” Omar shook his head to the side, trying to get rid of the rain that clogged his ear. “I couldn’t hear the phone.”

“Hanan’s not feeling well.”

“Is her nose bleeding again?” asked Omar.

“No, not now, but her gums are bloody. She seems so tired. She’s lying in our bed.”

Omar walked into his bedroom. Hanan lay on his side of the bed while Khaled sat reading a comic book out loud.

Omar leaned over and kissed Hanan on the forehead. She was tall for ten, but still his little girl. “Hanooni, how are you feeling?” Hanan did not say anything, but her face did. Her gums bled the color of red licorice.

“Who punched you?” asked Omar as he studied her mouth.

“No one, Baba.”

Omar peered at her nose. It looked good. No blood, no bruises. Not swollen, and still small like Fatha’s. Omar reached for Hanan’s arms. There were bruises all over them.

He turned to Khaled. “Who’s bothering your sister at school?”

“No one, Baba!” said Hanan.

Omar looked at Hanan. “I want your brother to answer. Khaled, who is hitting Hanan at school? Who is the bully? The bruises don’t come out of nowhere.”

Khaled didn’t answer, but glanced at his comic book.

Omar pulled the comic book away and pointed to Khaled’s willowy biceps. “You need to exercise your muscles, not your eyes. How will you defend your sister against the bullies when your head is always in a book?”

Hanan touched her bloody lip. “I can look after myself, Baba!”

“She’s right, Baba. You should see the way she climbs trees.”

Omar sighed. “My children should be at their desks, not in trees. Trees are for monkeys.”

Khaled stared back at his comic book, appearing only concerned about his world and those of his superheroes.

Omar lit a cigarette and held the smoke in his chest until it made his ribcage tight. He wondered what was in those comic books. Did the characters tell his children not to listen to their parents?

He wondered what was in those comic books. Did the characters tell his children not to listen to their parents?

Hanan let out a sudden shriek. She grabbed her knee and pressed it to her chest. A sob ascended her spine.

“Hanan! Hanan!” shouted Omar.

Fatha rushed to her side. “Where is the pain?”

Khaled pointed to Hanan’s right leg. There was no blood, but a bruise that covered most of her knee cap.

Hanan bit her lip and wailed again.

Omar picked up his cell.

Fatha pressed her ear to his phone. “Are you calling the bully?”

Omar shook his head. “The doctor.”

Abu Ramsey leaned over Hanan with his stethoscope. “How long has she been like this?”

Fatha answered in a low voice. “Her nose has been bleeding off an on for the last few days. The gums just started today.”

“How about the bruises?”

“We noticed them yesterday,” said Fatha.

Abu Ramsey lifted Hanan’s eyelids and shone a pen light into her eyes. “You need to get her to the hospital.”

“In this rain?” Omar wiped his forehead dry.

Abu Ramsey nodded. “Hanan has bruising, excessive bleeding, and a high fever. I’ll order some blood tests and an x-ray.”

Hanan touched her bloody nose. Her voice was no more than a whisper. “Am I going to Shifa?”

Abu Ramsey nodded gently. “It’s the only one with pediatrics.”

“But they are overwhelmed. Hanan will be a sardine squeezed into a can,” said Fatha as she touched Hanan’s forehead with her fingertips. She rubbed them together as if she had taken something burning out of the oven.

Omar protested, “What if the Israelis bomb it again?”

“Right now the storm is more dangerous than the bombs.”

Abu Ramsey started to pack his bag. “Besides, no one knows for sure if Hamas makes their headquarters at Shifa.”

Amna pointed out the window. “The streets are flooded. It’s too dangerous to drive.”

Abu Ramsey turned to Omar, “With all your connections, you should be able to find a fisherman with a boat to take Hanan.”

Omar picked up his cell and began to dial.

“Who are you calling?” asked Fatha.

“Mahmoud Telbani.”

“Why would you want ice cream in this rain?” Fatha rubbed Hanan’s fingers.

“His truck is built like a boat. While we float to Shifa, his ice cream will flow through my tunnel without problem.”

Beyond their front door, Omar carried Hanan in his arms. Her body was hot beneath the blankets despite the cold stormy winds. Her face turned flush as if she had been struck by the weather outside. The rain reminded him of swimming in the sea when he was a boy. Yet now the ocean had been turned upside down and was pouring from the sky.

Inside the cab of Mahmoud Telbani’s truck, Omar and Fatha sandwiched Hanan between them while the others road in the back with the boxes. Omar plowed the truck through the waters toward Shifa. The rain beat against the windshield. The smell of baked cookies and waffle cones did little to warm Omar’s skin or his heart.

At the entrance of Shifa Hospital, a Rottweiler sat at a Hamas soldier’s feet. Its caramel chin rested on its paws. Hanan drooped in Omar’s arms. One leg swung faster than the other. The soldier waved them through as Fatha, Khaled, Abu Ramsey, and Amna followed. Inside, the air was muggy and hot from sickness. An emaciated man in the shape of an animal carcass wilted on a thin mattress on the floor. He shuddered with pain.

Fatha pealed off Hanan’s first wet blanket, leaving a dry one underneath. Hanan shivered and her nose bled again. Omar rolled his daughter’s head into his chest, shielding her from the sick and injured patients. Torn open, were they human? Did they have souls? Images moved slowly. People cried, argued, complained, and hugged. It was like watching many limbs of a single organism. They were all part of one painful movement.

Omar and his family followed Abu Ramsey who headed straight toward the Chief of Pediatrics like a guided missile. He knew Dr. Hassan Khalaf from medical school. He was always respectful and
polite to his colleague, but today he yelled above the hysteria. “I have a ten year old girl. High fever, excessive bruising and bleeding. Possible platelet transfusion. She needs blood tests!”

In the dim hallway, Dr. Khalaf wiped his brow with the sleeve of his white coat. The air was muggy and full of germs as the generator was on the brink. “We have no more beds. I had 600, but the flood brought in 800 sick.”

“We can do it in the hallway. I only need a blood test.” Abu Ramsey put his hand on Omar’s shoulder. “This is Abu Khaled, the patient’s father. He is the owner of a very important tunnel. If you need something for yourself, we can arrange it.”

“I could use some electricity,” said Dr. Khalaf.

“Light we cannot bring through the tunnel. Perhaps something else,” said Omar as he opened his wallet.

“Nice,” said Dr. Kalaf in a throaty whisper. He turned and ordered a nurse to bring a needle.

“A clean one, please!” said Abu Ramsey as he handed over Omar’s wallet to Dr. Khalaf. Omar leaned into Abu Ramsey. “How much blood will they take?”

Abu Ramsey pinched his forefinger to his thumb. “Just a little. She’ll have plenty left.”

Omar and his family settled into a corner where Hanan fell asleep on Fatha’s lap. Khaled who was known as a constant fidgeter, grabbed all his limbs and tucked them into his body.

The nurse waddled toward them and placed a tightened rubber band around Hanan’s arm, tapping for a vein. Everyone watched the nurse while Khaled looked away.

“Such tiny veins. You are like a sparrow,” said the nurse.

Omar closed his eyes. He had seen shellings. He had seen Hamas beat a shopkeeper for not paying his taxes. He had seen it all. But there was no greater pain than the suffering of his daughter. If
there was a bully, he prayed for it to appear. At least then, he could have someone to blame.

He had seen shellings. He had seen Hamas beat a shopkeeper for not paying his taxes. He had seen it all. But there was no greater pain than the suffering of his daughter.

When Omar opened his eyes, the nurse had drawn enough blood to fill four vials. She led Hanan to a room that had once been a storage area. Brooms and buckets lay about. A cot with an army grey blanket was pushed up against the wall. Light flowed weakly from a naked bulb. It reminded Omar of an empty cell, smelling of cement.

Abu Ramsey pressed Omar’s hand and promised to return in the morning. It was best that they stay until they received the results from the blood tests. Khaled curled up on the floor and tried to fall asleep
When he yawned, Omar saw his gums and incisors. Fatha squeezed into bed with Hanan. Pain and fever pushed out her cries.

Omar stood in the doorway. His thoughts were interrupted by the agony that ebbed and flowed from the hallway. First staccato shrieks, then a legato moan. Hours later, the rain had stopped and Omar went outside for a smoke. The streets were a dark river underneath the night sky. In the beginning a flood was only rain. It was neither as sudden as an earthquake nor a fire. The rain should have been harmless. Instead, it made Omar feel much smaller. The black universe swallowed him up.

One cigarette after another, the dawn finally appeared. In the earth’s copperish light, wrinkled laundry hung in the muddy sky. People waded through the flood waters. One father carried his daughter on his shoulders like a trophy despite their losses. The flood reminded Omar of a rare snow in Gaza. It was harmless in the beginning, but then it went as grey as ashes once it hit the ground.

Omar’s phone rang. It was Fatha. There was no crying in the background, but she told him that the doctor wanted to speak to him. He had the results from the blood tests. Omar stomped out his last cigarette. He felt the nicotine charge through his veins.

Khaled sat next to the door, his head cocked toward someone’s radio blaring from the hallway. Amna was busy cleaning the sink in their tiny room.

Hanan lay in bed. Her breath was peaceful and her eyes were closed.

Fatha leaned into Omar’s ear. “I promised the doctor some videos in exchange for sleeping medicine.”

The doctor turned away from the IV drip and shook Omar’s hand. He spoke slowly and stiffly. “Your daughter has leukemia.”

“Please, speak in Arabic. I don’t understand the English,” said Omar.

“Hanan has cancer.”

Cancer. The word was like the storm outside.


The Tunnel is based on Gail Chehab’s recently completed novel by the same name. Chehab’s first novel, The Echo of Sand, was published in November 2009 by Mid-List Press after she won the First Series Award. Her writing has been recognized as Honorable Mention for the Zeotrope: All-Story Fiction Contest and chosen as runner-up for the San Diego Book Award. She has also been featured and honored by numerous publications including Ohio State University’s The Journal, The Briar Cliff Review, Carve Magazine, Cutthroat Magazine, South West Writers, Santa Fe Writers Project, Chautauqua Literary Journal, New Millennium, New York Stories, and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s awards. The Tunnel is based upon her family’s journey as she sought a cure for her daughter who had leukemia. Chehab and her family live in Oregon.