Davide Castel Davide Castel
Recommendations: 39

Paul, should it be, 'not taking her eyes of(f) him?'

Paul Day Paul Day
Recommendations: 17

gee you're good. I'm going to nick name you Eagle Eye from now on. :)

Davide Castel Davide Castel
Recommendations: 39

Gee, thanks. Hope you don't mind my nit picking. Paul, you should just relax. Do you think you are going to die tomorrow? You have your life ahead of you, so space out your energies!

Maddie P. Maddie P.
Recommendations: 10

I love these last two lines. They portray Aadila in a Atticus-like light. I hope that she will show many other selfless and wonderful qualities of that character.

Davide Castel Davide Castel
Recommendations: 39

Beautifully and sensitively written paragraph. One could almost feel her inner struggles.

Davide Castel Davide Castel
Recommendations: 39

I mean - (") wrong side.

Paul Day Paul Day
Recommendations: 17

Yes it does that and I can't fix it because I used a double dash. Any ideas?

Davide Castel Davide Castel
Recommendations: 39

You are asking the wrong person Paul. I'm not that computer savvy. Asma would know.

Maddie P. Maddie P.
Recommendations: 10

I find that if you write the quotations after the word (mean") first and then click inside and insert the dashes. (Mean--") that works.

Jim Miller Jim Miller
Recommendations: 29

"plane", do you mean plain?

Paul Day Paul Day
Recommendations: 17

Yes, fixed thanks for that.

Davide Castel Davide Castel
Recommendations: 39

See? you are keeping the reader interested and wanting more.

Davide Castel Davide Castel
Recommendations: 39

...she would have soon married to someone....a missing word somewhere in there?

Davide Castel Davide Castel
Recommendations: 39

even with parent(al) consent? could be wrong though.

Davide Castel Davide Castel
Recommendations: 39

(Cassandra's mother)Ch(ir)stian...typo

Davide Castel Davide Castel
Recommendations: 39

I am just being picky Paul. Can't help myself when I see a typo. It's the secretary in me!

Paul Day Paul Day
Recommendations: 17

It's ok. Want a job editing. I can't afford to pay you, but you will be sent free books. lol.

Davide Castel Davide Castel
Recommendations: 39

No Paul. Asma can do that. I try to pick everyone's typos. But I would like a copy of this book.

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Paul Day Paul Day
Recommendations: 17

The Girl Who Kept Secrets (Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3)

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Under the Double Star - Chapter One

Have just added chapter 2 & 3 to the story. I am including here some interesting facts about the names of the characters:


I had asked my mother once what it was like to die when I was still too young to even understand the question. Her answer, as always was as indirect as it was incomplete. “They say you see a white light right before you die.” It had not helped me understand death or dying at all, but I accepted that response nonetheless, deciding that it was simply something I would have to find out for myself.

Now, at the end of my short life, as I struggled in the unforgiving water, weighed down as much by the burden of guilt as the clothes I was wearing, I was about to find my answer. As I looked up, to my surprise I did see a light. A single hazy white spot, dancing on the shimmering waters of my dissolution. As consciousness began to fade and I at last gave up my fight against the relentless downward pull of the current, seemingly interminably determined to take me, I heard a word in the form of a muffled scream which, strangely enough, resembled my name. A shadow appeared, blocking the light, but whether an Angel, or a demon, I could not tell. No! I thought. You're blocking my light. You're taking away my answer. The world began to darken and I could feel the cold of the deep, pulling me further away from the light. This is not how it is supposed to be, my tortured mind was trying to say. But as my last thought returned to that question, I finally had my answer.

So this is what it feels like to die.

Chapter 1 ARRIVAL

I will never forget the day I met Aadila. I was in the third grade and she was introduced to the class by the beaming Miss Simmons. Aadila stood a few inches taller than the other girls and I was immediately struck by her Middle Eastern beauty. Such a small, rounded face, such dark, perfectly straight hair, neatly tucked under an acqua coloured silken scarf, protruding just enough to fall down both sides of her neck. The stunning color and lightness of the scarf only served to accentuate her beauty. The pupils of her eyes were dark like black sapphires, which made the perfect white of her eyes even larger and brighter than they otherwise would have been. She appeared shy and unassuming and as she gazed around the room while the Teacher rambled on about where she comes from, about her family, about how she arrived here, her eyes fell upon me and she stared at me for what seemed like minutes. In that moment, even before I had a chance to introduce myself, there was an unmistakable bond already beginning to form. Miss Simmons must have noticed, because when she was finished, she motioned for Aadila to sit next to me. I grinned at her eagerly and she returned a simple smile.

We sang a song that morning, a song we always sang first thing. Aadila sat there cautiously looking about at each of us, like a new kitten, eyes wide, taking in its new surroundings. I grasped her hand and she did not let go. It felt warm to touch and did not shake as I would have expected. There was a calmness, a delightful mystery about her that even at that young age, I detected right away. It was only later on in life that I was able to describe the feelings I had for this unpretentious girl.

We were so different. I was a sixth generation Australian, born into a Catholic family of some renown. She was a simple immigrant girl, from a family who had a whole other life in a foreign country. She had come here by boat, her parents fleeing the tyranny of a horrible life many thousands of kilometers away. They had almost not made it. It was only when a Naval vessel picked up a distress signal that they, along with the other 29 families, were rescued as their tiny wooden craft began to sink. I only found out all of this some time later. My mother sat me down after dinner one night to explain. Apparently she had been in to see Miss Simmons and she had been told I had befriended Aadila. I had asked her why they had risked everything to come to our country. She did not tell me everything, only the facts. It only made me want to get to know her more.

Aadila could speak no English at all when she arrived. Miss Simmons had given me the task of buddying up with her and had made sure we were always in the same classes. It did not take me long to realize that not only was she beautiful, but Aadila was also very smart. She took easily to her new language and after one year most other students would not be able to pick the difference. She had never been to school, even though she was 8 years old when she came. She had not learned to read or write, but she spoke Arabic as fluently as any 8 year old spoke English. To return the favor, she started teaching me some Arabic, a language that sounded as lovely as it looks on paper.

Over the next couple of years, my own parents struck up a friendship with Aadila’s family. I had learnt by then that they were Muslims and the stories they told over dinner were full of wonder and mystery and sometimes terror. “Where they came from,” my father later explained to me, “was a difficult life full of fear and hopelessness, where even good food was hard to come by and expensive. They had a simple house made of mud bricks, a clay floor which got wet and sticky in winter, few clothes that had to be washed in a putrid river, no television, no Internet and they lived the simplest of lives.”

As our friendship grew and we spent more time with them, I listened to their stories. Aadila’s father Liban spoke good English. He had been to school up to the age of 14 and English was compulsory in his homeland. But Aadila’s mother never went to school. What little English she knew was taught to her by her husband. It was clear to me that despite all the hardship, despite their simple, difficult life, the two of them were very much in love. When Aadila’s mother told stories that only she could, Aadila translated for me into English. As I listened to her mother’s voice and tried to take in the meaning through Adila, I tried to imagine what it would have been like for them. Because I was only then still a young girl, everything they told me was full of wonder. It did not occur to me that for them it would have been so horrible, as it all seemed such a fantastic tale.

Then, as we continued to grow together and Aadila started outshining me in every subject, from Maths to English, I started to see her not as the friend I had made at school, but as the sister I had always wanted. I was an only child. My mother had had several miscarriages before I was born and when what would have been my sister died soon after childbirth, my parents lost all hope of ever conceiving. Then, a miracle happened and as my mother often says whenever I am upset about something or complaining about being an only child, “that miracle is you”.

Like sisters we spent all our time together. When we were not at school we played after school in our large back yard. Of course I went to her house as often as I could, but the vast majority of our time together was at our family home. Aadila’s family were given temporary visas, which was turned into permanent visas mainly because of the influence of my father. He worked in an office at the political branch of the Labor Party as a secretary to the Minister for Housing and as luck would have it, he pulled a few strings and got Aadila’s family settled in our neighborhood.

Aadila’s father, Liban, got a job at a factory and soon worked his way into a position of management. For a long while we were all so happy. We met often over dinner. We got used to their strange practices and my mother was always careful to make sure their special diet was accommodated. My father and Liban got into many debates, about politics, about work, sometimes about religion. But they always ended every debate with a hand shake and a warm smile.

Then Liban’s brother arrived in Australia and overnight, everything changed…


By a coincidence that cannot easily be explained by chance alone, Aadila and I shared the same birthday. I found this out one day at school only days after meeting her. It was another fact that only strengthened our bond. Over the coming years this bond would become a friendship which was more important to me than any other friendship.

Aadila herself was subjected to bullying at her new school, which began with teasing by students who lacked the emotional experience to know what they were saying was hurtful. To her credit Aadila brushed much of it aside, keeping her thoughts largely to herself and if she felt any pain, it was internal and disguised by her slight ever present smile. I knew better of course. I knew that she suffered inside. I stood up for when I could, even screaming on one occasion at a couple of kids who just would not let her alone.

Whether they understood what they were doing, or whether they were just repeating the same prejudices they were exposed to at home, I could not tell. But there were other reasons they did not like her. She was clever. She was mature for her age. She was gentle too, always turning away from trouble, rather than confronting it head on. It was very frustrating watching it. One day a big boy even spat in her face, calling her a “terrorist”. In typical fashion she just stood there and did not respond. She barely blinked. She just slowly wiped the spit away from her face, not taking her eyes off him and turned and walked away. 4 comments

Thankfully, Miss Simmons caught up with the boy, having seen the incident through her window and gave him a verbal scolding in front of his mates. Such was the way she handled it, the boy was visibly upset. His mates, who had stood on the side lines, egging him on, had distanced themselves from him by this time. I watched on from the seat where I had taken up a spot next to Aadila. She had already opened her lunch bag and was sifting absent-mindedly through her assortment of home baked breads, fruits and biscuits. She seemed detached, as if deliberately distancing herself from the experience. Maybe it was something she felt she had to do. Maybe she was afraid of what would happen if she allowed them to see her upset. Maybe a small part of her remained purposefully defiant, in order to stick it to them. 1 comment

“Are you ok?” I asked her after a long silence.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” she answered, carefully peeling back the skin on a banana.

“Why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t you fight back?”

“What, spit on his face and bring shame to my family?”

“Well, yes. I mean no. I mean—“ 4 comments

“Look. My mother always says to me, don’t waste your energy or time doing things you know you will regret. Concentrate on the things that matter. Never forget who you are.”

I was amazed at how easily she had learned our language. When she said this to me, it was as if she was channeling her mother through her. I could almost imagine her mother saying that exact same thing, only partly in broken English and mostly in Arabic. I could not argue with her. I felt her pain, perhaps more than I should have, evidently more than she did. I guess she felt a personal satisfaction that she had bested them and they didn’t even know it.

Later that day I invited her back to my house and we continued painting the cubby house my father had built the previous weekend. I had wanted a cubby house for so long, but my dad had only just got round to making it, pressured by my mother of course. Now he had another reason to. I knew that even though they loved me, my parents would have loved a second child, a brother or sister to keep me company. They treated Aadila very much like a member of the family and my father was now intent on making us both happy.

“What kind of house do you want?” He asked, not very eager to get started.

“Mediterranean,” I answered without actually knowing what it was.

“What do you think Aadila?”

She produced a roughly sketched plan she had drawn that afternoon. It had a flat roof, skirted with what looked like tiles. The walls were straight and plain, with rounded windows. It wasn’t very detailed, but it gave us an idea of how to go about it. Art was Aadila’s only weakness and the only area I outshone her. Later that evening, before I went to bed I drew a more detailed sketch, complete with colors in pastel. 2 comments

That weekend we set about the task of trimming the large Pepper Corn tree. The tree was very old. My father said that it was there when he was a lad. My grandmother had planted it in remembrance of her own father as kind of a memorial to his service in the last great war. It was a grand old tree. It had a huge, thick trunk that branched out in four almost perfectly mirrored branches and made a suitable foundation for the floor. After several trips to the hardware store, all was in place and we began, or should I say he began to construct the cubby house.

He spent all that weekend working on it and part of the next. Then, with my mother standing ready with cordial and treats, we all sat down on the bench and looked proudly at his creation. Dad was not much of a carpenter and rarely made things for us. He earned a decent living so if something had to be done, he always employed a tradesmen. Looking back it must have been pretty rough, but to me it was the most beautiful thing I ever saw.

Aadila and I spent every afternoon painting and decorating the tree house. When it was finally finished, we furnished it with a small table and chairs Mum had bought at the second hand shop. She made some curtains and Dad installed a solar powered lighting system. Then, they invited Aadila’s parents over for a barbecue and we celebrated in style.

We played in that tree house so many times I have lost count. Now though it sits derelict and abandoned. I still visit it sometimes, but every time I do I cannot look at it for long before tears well up and I feel again the weight of too many terrible memories. Not terrible for the times of joy, but terrible because of the times of pain that were, in time, to follow... 1 comment

Chapter 3 THE ACCORD

It’s necessary in the telling of this incredible story to skip over some years. We grew together, played together, learned together. In every way Aadila presented herself as a kind of saint. Not that I minded putting her up on such a high pedestal. As far as the other girls at school were concerned, she was far superior in almost every way. She had a certain dignity in life, the dignity one might imagine Mother Theresa had when she was younger.

When we turned 13, it was at once a celebration and at the same time a coming of age, if not for me, then certainly for Aadila. In her culture, girls and boys were treated quite differently when they came of age. They were expected in all things to start acting like the adults they were destined to become. In Aadila’s case, the transition from girl to woman was not that notable, in that she already carried a certain maturity anyway.

As for me I felt very much still the girl I knew I was. Yes I had changed. Womanhood had brought with it a discomfort I was ill prepared for, even though my own mother had gone to pains to prepare me. As with everything else, Aadila took it all in her stride.

But as we grew that little bit older, a kind of sadness fell upon her. I could not quite put my finger on it. At first I thought it was simply the weight of expectations her family placed on her. My father pointed out to me that at her age, where she came from she would have soon been married to someone she had never met. Here it was different, thankfully. Her parents were, in every respect, moderate Muslims. They did not like the idea of their only child being forced into a marriage she was not ready for, or did not want. Thankfully, in this country it was still illegal for girls to marry before the age of 16, even with parental consent. 3 comments

I had often tried to imagine what marriage would be like for a 13 or 14 year old girl, barely out of childhood. I had heard stories of girls being married off to men twice and sometimes even three times their age. It was a scary thought.

Of course, laws or no laws, father was convinced that it went on behind the scenes, even in Australia. One night over drinks, he and Liban were discussing the notion of marriage and he related story after story about girls being dragged, sometimes against their parents’ will, off to marry a man they had never met, never to be seen again. “Not for our daughter,” he had said sternly, shoving his fist down harder than he had intended. “She has a choice. It’s the reason we are here. The reason we took such a risk.”

My father of course agreed. He and my mother had married despite the misgivings of both parents. Dad was a Catholic, but Mum was a Protestant and her parents did not take too kindly to him marrying her. “But we were in love,” he told Liban. His wife Ghania had sat and listened intently to the conversation, as had my mother Beth.

“Yes, we were so young, but in love, very much in love,” she had added with a smile. Ghania shared the smile, along with an agreeable nod towards Beth. The two of them were almost as inseparable as Aadila and I and it struck me just how close we had all become. Aside from the obvious differences, the special observances and prayers of this Muslim family and the regular Sunday Mass of mine, there was nothing between us. We were simply two families drawn together by a common bond which seemed to bridge all other religious and cultural divides.

Thinking back on all of this I am reminded of what would soon come. If I had had a choice, I would have frozen time, locked us all safely in a protective crystal case, impenetrable to even the most determined thief. But I couldn’t. Nobody could. What would be would be and, to my great dismay, there was nothing anybody could do about it.

It was shortly after our birthday celebrations were over that a monumental event happened in the history of the greater world. It would prove to be the single greatest achievement of modern politics and was the mastermind of the late Pope John Paul iii. He was the youngest pope ever charged with the responsibility of running the church from Rome. He was, as my father often said, a progressive, forward thinker. A man of great intellect and even greater presence. He commanded a good deal of respect both within and without the Catholic Church. It was he who made it possible finally for women to become Priests and it was he who fostered good will towards other religions, even going as far as meeting with Clerics from the world over, always talking, discussing, preparing. The Accord was his brainchild and it was to herald a new beginning for the world, a new era of cooperation between religions.

The Accord was formed from many conferences, where the Clergy were actively encouraged to meet with Clerics from mainly the Islamic faith. The Accord would lay the groundwork, it was hoped, for a new tolerance, an inter-faith assembly made up of the most powerful religious figures from not only Catholicism, but Islam, Hinduism, Budhism, Pentecostalism and other key world faiths.

Wherever he went, John Paul iii was met with reverence and was held in high regard by politicians and theologians alike. It had been seven years since the Accord was first put forward. Now, a date had been set and a magnificent ceremony would take place in 3 years time.

Even though terrorism had still taken place throughout the world, mainly in Islamic countries, but also in the West, Pope John Paul iii is credited with single-handedly stemming the tide of hate and ushered in a new period of relative peace.

Of course, when I was just 13 years of age, not much of this made sense to me. It was only when I was much older did the true significance of this and every other event around me take true shape in my as yet inexperienced, unfettered mind.

For now, I was content to sit at the table and listen to the adults around me bang on about the “importance of tolerance and cooperation in a sea of uncertainty,” as Liban often described it. My father heartily agreed, though he must have seen it as a chance to proclaim the virtues of the Christian faith. It must have taken every ounce of self-discipline to hold back his pride. That, plus the fact that Beth would have given him a verbal lashing afterwards, should he dare use the opportunity to preach.

Irrespective of how important the adults saw this event, it was all everyone else was talking about. Even the kids at school were caught up in it all.

“We’re going to Sydney to stay for that entire week,” one would proclaim.

“Well my parents have booked us on the QEIV and we are going on the maiden voyage right after the celebrations,” another would respond. Had they even guessed what horrific events would then unfold, they might not have been so keen to boast.

It is true that most of our friends at school were going to be somewhere during the ceremony. The whole event would take place over the course of two weeks, culminating in the dedication of all the religions involved and the signing of the Accord would be broadcast live to almost eight billion people.

But, aside from the building excitement, life went on much as it had. There were natural disasters, sporting events, marriages, divorces, famous deaths and, regrettably, terrorist attacks and wars. This was life, in all its contradictory beauty and horror.

As we began our senior schooling, both me and Aadila dedicated more of our personal time to studies, each trying to outdo the other in grades. I knew I could not seriously compete with Aadila, but I gave it my best shot. It was in the visual and performing Arts that I excelled and for three years running I managed to score the main character in Drama, beginning in year 10 with Lady Macbeth and culminating in year 12 with Abigail in the Crucible. I did very well and Aadila was, predictably, happy for me. As far as Math and Biology were concerned though, well, let’s just say that if it was Drama, I would have been content with a backstage role.

I also did quite well in Art and my favorite piece, The Noose, hung on our living room wall proudly for all to see for some time afterwards. It was an impressionist painting in oils which had a dark, faceless figure hanging from the ground upwards as an inverted reference to darker times we all hoped were in the past. It was pretty grotesque, but my parents saw it for what it was. When I unveiled it, everyone cheered, but Aadila wore a decidedly quizzical expression. But when she cocked her head she finally said, “Oh I get it.” Everyone laughed because it was so  ridiculous. It was one of those rare times Aadila blushed noticeably and then smiled weakly when she realized she was the only one who still didn’t understand the meaning.

I remember that moment very well, not only because of what I just described, but because of what happened the very next day.

We knew Aadila’s Uncle Abdul Ali was coming to Australia, along with his wife and their two sons, but what we didn’t realize was the fundamental change that would take place in such a short space of time. So dramatic was the shift from happy, content friendliness to uneasy tension, that it is difficult to put it into words. But his arrival into our uncomplicated life would literally rock the very foundations of our world and push us all in a direction none of us wanted to go…


Aadila is Arabic for “Just, honest and upright”.
Abdul Ali (Aadila’s Uncle) means, “Slave of the High One”
Liban (Aadila’s father) means “successful”
Ghania (Aadila’s Mother) means “Beautiful”.
William/Bill (Cassandra’s father) Christian name meaning Desiring Protection (Wil= desire Helm=Protect)
Elizabeth/Beth (Cassandra’s mother) Christian name meaning (originally from Hebrew) “God is abundance”
Mansur (one of two sons of Abdul Ali) means “Divinely aided or victorious”
Radi (Younger son of Abdul Ali) means “Satisifed, content”
Saquib (Deceased older brother of Aadila) means “Shining Star”
Cassandra (Protagonist) Greek name meaning "Shining Upon Man". 5 comments

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