They could be sisters, Rachel and Ayat, 18 and 17, dark and doomed. Now departed they are photographs, not girls; they are headshots looking forward, side by side on newsstands and on TV screens, never meeting. They never met. Where Ayat felt safe, Rachel would never have ventured, even if she could have scored a visa, but both girls died where Rachel felt safe, in a grocery store to which Ayat brought death in a bookbag on a Tuesday afternoon. The grocery clerk who also died in the blast is not a photograph; he is a grocery clerk. That is his story. The story of the girls is one that no one wants to hear but no one can forget. Much is made of their having lived four mere miles apart and of their mothers’ yearnings to cross that distance and others in the years since their girls’ deaths. They will no more bridge those gaps than swap husbands or faiths or nationalities. Nothing in the evidence from the scene suggests that the girls spoke, nor certainly that Rachel helped Ayat out of her pack, shouldered it briefly herself and remarked about its weight while the other girl found her phone and placed a call. They might have spared one another if that had happened, but their mothers can’t know that it did or whether Ayat had a moment of doubt and placed the call to steel her will or whether Rachel asked for an explanation when Ayat opened her hand to show her the detonator button. We know from the shrapnel the clerk was facing the blast. We know the girls’ names and the names of the grievance they stand for. Their mothers still have never met. Four miles they could manage, except for the last few inches.

Copyright © November 08, 2007 David Hodges