Rooh, the fifth-grade Afghan Muslim who'd helped her form the team, was her leader. Suddenly Luma had a decision to make. Call off practice, hope Rooh was O.K. and try again tomorrow? Or go find him? She jumped into her car and headed to his apartment complex, no idea which apartment was his. An Afghan boy led her to Rooh's. It was all happening so fast, she barely had time to consider the consequences of walking through that door.
Rooh, crying and bleeding, had locked himself in his bedroom. His father, who'd been captured by the Taliban years ago and escaped, had long since vanished so he wouldn't be snatched again. Rooh's older brother, having fled the Taliban too, was somewhere in Pakistan. His mother, Sheila, was in her bedroom, scrambling for a head scarf in case the visitor coming through their door was a male. Rooh's younger brothers, Zabi and Noor, were jabbering at the same time, trying to tell Luma what had happened. Some African-American kids had jumped Rooh, they said, beat him and slammed his skull against the asphalt.
"It is O.K.," the children called to their mother. She wouldn't need to cover her head; their guest was a woman, the one they'd told her about, their feisty new coach. The mother emerged from her room, saw the visitor from behind—short hair, soccer shoes, shorts—and blanched. "You said your coach was a woman!" she barked at her children. "You said she was a Muslim!"
The children fell to the floor laughing. Luma turned to face her. O.K ... she was a woman. Sheila stabbed an accusing finger at Luma's bare legs. "No Muslim you!" she cried.
Luma thought fast. "'Ashhadu 'an la 'ilaha 'illa-Allah, wa 'ashhadu anna Muhammadan rasulu-Allah!" she rattled off. It was the Shahadah, the Muslim declaration of belief, which translates, "I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His messenger."
Sheila blinked in surprise, eyes still glued to Luma's legs. Rooh emerged from his room. Luma cleaned his wounds. "I will take him and you to the emergency room," she told his mother. "I want to make sure his head injury is not serious."
Sheila looked at Luma. Ever since the Taliban had shorn her of her husband and eldest son, stampeding her and the rest of her family to Pakistan and then to America, she had been a camel, kneeling to take on one burden after another. "No," said Sheila. "You take him."
For a moment Luma absorbed the woman's reply. Then she led Rooh to her yellow Beetle and headed down the long, slippery slope.