Epilogue

Her mother helps her put on a fancy black dress and takes her to a rock garden. It's a strange, quiet place, where smooth square rocks are all growing in neat rows on the grass. Later on, Amira decides, she'll plant a pebble in the ground and water it and see if a rock like that grows up from it for her.

Her grandpa isn't there, in the rock garden, but Amira knows that this place has something to do with him. Her mother has told her gently that Grandpa is dead. He just went to sleep and never woke up. She nods, like she understands, but she doesn't really. She watches as some men carry a big wooden box and put it in a hole in the ground. She and her mother are standing at the end of a line of grown-ups that Amira doesn't recognize. They all look very serious and sad.

It's boring, and she lifts her eyes up to scan the sky. There's a large bird flying over the trees not far away, and Amira watches it, her mind wandering back to their beach, to the seagulls squawking and swooping above the waves. Her grandpa used to carry her on his shoulders so she could throw bits of bread to the gulls. For a moment, the smell of freshly-mown grass disappears, and Amira catches a whiff of her grandpa, of how he always smelt - shaving cream and beer. She can almost feel the scratch of his stubbly cheek against hers.

Another bunch of men fire their guns into the air without any warning, and Amira jumps, frightened, spins around and buries her face in her mother's skirt. Her mother puts a hand on her head, gently stroking her hair, and Amira feels safer, but she keeps her face hidden in her skirt until the guns are quiet again.

She's tired by the time it's finally all over, and her mother picks her up and carries her as they leave the rock garden. Amira lays her head on her chest and clings to her, wrapping her arms and legs tightly around her. Her grandpa has been gone for a long time now, and she's scared that her mother might leave her too. The silver-haired man walks out with them, and her mother stops walking to talk to him. Her heartbeat is steady and reassuring in Amira's ear, and their voices fade into a loud hum in the background. Amira's eyes start to droop shut.

She wants to go home. She still doesn't understand, exactly, where her grandpa has gone. Maybe when they go home, back to their beach, he'll be there waiting for them, and when he sees Amira, he'll hold out his arms and toss her up into the air to make her laugh...

Amira has to hold back a sleepy giggle when she remembers how her grandpa used to tickle her. Her body jerks a little, but her mother's strong arms hold her tight. Amira stirs a bit, opens her eyes, and lifts her head high enough to see over her mother's shoulder, back into the rock garden that they've just left. Birds are singing softly in that quiet, grassy place, and Amira doesn't understand how it can have anything to do with her grandpa. It's so different from their beach, with its wet sand, waves crashing on the shore, and the loud cries of the seagulls.

She presses her face into the curve of her mother's neck and decides that later, when they get back to the beach, she'll look for her grandpa. She'll surely find him there, far away from this strange rock garden and the smooth rows of stones that have made the grown-ups so sad.

FIN