Michael gazed through the bars of the prison cell window watching the lights come on in the city. From the minaret of a nearby mosque a muezzin called the isha'a prayer, the final prayer of the day. Somewhere nearby in Sana'a, he imagined, Lincoln was listening to it now too. Did Lincoln understand why Michael had pretended not to know him? He turned away from the window and climbed into his bunk. On his back he stared restlessly at the stained, peeling plaster ceiling. Whip paced back and forth in the narrow space between the cell door and the barred window, muttering about the heat. The cell would soon become an oven as the seasons changed. Michael ignored Whip's complaints; if his plan worked they would not be there to suffer through another Sana'a summer.
Sid hunched on his bunk reading a tattered paperback under the dim light of the single bulb that illuminated the cell. On the opposite wall Ja twitched miserably in opioid withdrawal. More than once during the past four years, Michael had been tempted to get high on something, desperate to escape the hell of Ogygia. But resorting to drugs would have meant betraying his faith in someone... someone he would never be disloyal to. And checking out wasn't the same as getting out. More than anything, he wanted to wash his hands of this place. Tonight, he had reason to hope.
The odors of old plaster and rusted metal, sweat, stale air and urine permeated the prison cell. Flies buzzed everywhere, aggressively tormenting them. Michael could close his eyes to his dingy surroundings; he could chew Sid's gum to help rid his palate of the taste of the rancid food, he could lie rigid until his body grew numb to the thin, lumpy mattress. But there was only one way he could escape the prison's misery for the moment. Sleep was a welcome respite in Ogygia.
The overhead bulb hummed and flickered, and then went dark. "Iitfa al'anwar!" shouted a guard. Lights out came at the whim of their jailers, without warning, sometimes as soon as the sun went down. Silence in the prison was strictly enforced then. The darkness of the cell gave way to the watery glow of the gibbous moon rising outside the window, casting shadows of the bars onto the floor. The sounds of the prison died down enough for Michael to hear faint snatches of music coming from Ja's precious cell phone: the voice of Freddy Mercury. "When I grow older... be there at your side to remind you... how I still love you..."
Michael closed his eyes. The music produced unbidden reveries, triggering a wave of longing. A tear rolled down his cheek and he hastened to wipe it away. Emotions were a sign of weakness in this place. Michael could not afford to look weak, or tired, or sad. Ever. He played all his cards close to his vest, revealing nothing of his past, nothing of his real self.
"...hurry back... please... bring it home to me ...love of my life..."
Thoughts of Sara, her warm hands, the willowy curves of her body, swam in his head. So many nights he had yearned for her so forcefully he could almost feel her soft lips and her silky hair. Would she be able to trust in him, forgive him, let him back into her life so that they could be a family? Then his thoughts turned to his son. Mike must be in the second grade by now. Michael longed for him too, hating the way he was missing out on Mike's childhood. Only rarely did he allow himself to think about that; it enraged and frustrated him too much. Tonight, he dared to believe that he would see him again.
The lyrics and the strains of the music, the vibrations of piano and harp, made his throat ache. Michael wished he had the freedom to weep out loud, the chance to purge himself of the impassioned feelings that had overtaken him. Instead he angrily whispered, "Ja, turn it off!"
He willed himself to relax then, drawing in a deep breath, letting his muscles to go limp. When he slept, his spirit could float through the bars of the window into the moonlight, fly over the desert across the ocean...home.
Nearly seven thousand miles away to the north and west, across several time zones, Sara slid into the front seat of her parked car and fixed her cell phone into its mount on the dashboard. Almost sick with anticipation, she pressed 'play' and watched the video Lincoln had sent her. Wide-eyed, she stared in amazement at the face of a man behind iron bars, an image that had been captured in a prison in Yemen. Her lips trembled and tears filled her eyes as she touched the screen and spoke his name aloud in a shaky voice: "Michael!"
It was him! But how could it be? Her shock and disbelief were replaced by joy and a fierce desire, morphing quickly into anger. She felt torn in half. Michael was alive! But why had he deceived her, left her? Why would he abandon his own son? Who was he?
Sara wanted Mike to grow up with a sense of normalcy, in a stable, happy home -something she, Michael and Lincoln had never had- and she was certain Michael would have wanted that for Mike too. It was a way to honor Michael's memory, to raise his son in the best possible way she could. Her own desires came second to Mike's needs. But Michael was alive! and seeing his face had made her realize how firm a grasp he still held on her heart, how much love reposed there. What would she-
Her phone rang then: Jacob. Fighting to control the emotion in her voice, she answered it.
Michael drifted almost immediately into a deep unconsciousness. He felt his bunk spin like a top and then come to a stop. He rose, moved to the door and pushed it open. He glided down a dark, narrow hallway until he emerged outside into light shining off the sea, so bright he had to shade his eyes; colors so vibrant he couldn't name them, a beckoning breeze. A boat was visible on the line of the horizon. Behind him, he felt a towering shadow loom. In a panic, he tried to run toward the sea. His legs were so heavy.
He could make out the slender form of a woman standing on the boat deck. "Michael!" he heard a tremulous voice call his name. It was Sara! She sounded tearful, troubled. Was she in danger? He had to get to her! "Sara!" he shouted back. "Sara!"
Out of the darkness behind him, something grabbed hold of Michael, shook him roughly, hissed at him. "Shhh! Quiet!"
Startled, he came to with tears in his eyes. Whip was gripping Michael's shoulders, his face inches away. "You were dreaming," Whip whispered, "talking in your sleep."
Michael pushed Whip aside and rubbed his eyes with his sleeve. He brusquely turned his back on him and rolled over to face the wall.
"Who is she?" Whip asked softly. "Who is Sara?"
Doing her best to act as if nothing had changed - though how could anything ever be the same again, now?- Sara chatted casually with Jacob from his hospital bed. She was grateful to him for having distracted her from her grief, for helping her make a home for her son. But she didn't love him, couldn't love him, the way she had cherished Michael...and her feelings for Michael were decidedly not past tense. Almost afraid to hope, she wondered what might lay in store now. How she wanted Michael to know his son, and Mike to know his father! Filled with conflicting emotions, Sara promised Jacob that she would see him soon. But everything was different. She had been awakened to a brighter world. Michael was alive! Sara felt like she could almost hear his voice.
"Hey!" Whip pressed, "Why all the secrecy? I've known you for years and I still know nothing about you."
Michael kept his face to the wall. "Whip, the less you know about me, the better," he replied.
His thoughts returned to his dream, and to his plan that seemed to be working: Lincoln had gotten his message and he had made it to Ogygia! Now Michael could nurture some optimism. And Sara...did she know he was alive? Did she still care about him? It would be a long, hard road home, but he was determined to do whatever it took to get there. Plans, hopes and fears tumbled around inside his head. Tonight, he dared to speculate about the future. He was going to get out of this purgatory; he was finally going home. He felt connected to his life again. He had seen Lincoln. He had heard Sara's voice!