Tibba ties the rope around my waist. She holds its braided tail like a leash and I crawl to the edge of the dock.

“Stop,” she says, and I do. She hangs a flimsy mesh bag around my neck where it dangles like a beard, and I feel ancient, but that’s the point. We’re pearl diving like the ancestors did, before the oil—when the desert was empty. Me and Tibba have seen the outfits on display in the Museum of Kuwait. She’s read the notecards that say persevering in the face of hardship is what Kuwaitis do. So now I’m here on the dock, staring into the Gulf, even though I can’t swim. My knees knock and I shiver fear.

“I’ve got the rope,” she says. “Just kick to the bottom and grab a shell.”

She makes it sound so easy.

Our mother says we are the stuff of stars. That certain molecules that make up us are trillions of years old—born of collisions and the ramming of rock into planet. She tells us someday we will fall apart, bit by bit, and death might be more like going back to the beginning. I could be dirt. A tree. A grain of sand in this vast desert. She tells us this like it’s supposed to be a comfort. She talks of the nautilus shell and the careful coiled plan the world spins into, but our dad disappeared months ago, during the invasion. Iraqi soldiers stormed his shop and walked him out. What kind of plan is that?

Tibba shakes the rope, impatient, and I tip into the warm water of the Gulf. I fin down into darkness and poke up clams and conch. I palm for oysters and find five before kicking to the surface and reaching out for Tibba’s hand. I stand on the dock coughing as she loosens the bag, and dumps shells at my feet. She kneels with our father’s knife and begins to pry each one open. I hold my breath again. We are searching for a silken pebble, something hopeful—our fists snapped around a parasite.

Photo By: Moyan Brenn