I have spent years going over our past, untangling memories from dreams, trying to pinpoint the exact moment when fate sealed. The easiest place to start is with the most blatant mistake: our mother, Jenny, kept the matchbooks in the junk drawer. Amongst paperclips and rubber bands, bent spoons and thumbtacks, the glossy sheen attracted the kitchen light, creating an irresistible enticement. The logos on the covers hinted at Jenny’s fairy-tale existence—the outline of a slender woman dancing, knee lifted high; two champagne flutes clinked together, surrounded by bubbles; a cartoon trout wearing a top hat and blowing a tuba. I loved to sound out the names: Blue Moon, Miranda’s, Larry’s Lagoon. But that’s where my interest stopped, with these little girl fantasies of my mother as a glamorous star.

1.

What is it like to lose everything? Younis was first asked this question by a well-meaning development worker, a friendly young man whose specialty was working in war zones. They sat across from each other in cheap plastic chairs beside a bomb-scarred house that served temporarily as a hospital. Just for a chat, he had been told. Just to see if he needed help, to see if he could be helped.

“It must be so difficult,” said the man, whose face was serene, “to wake up one morning and see that life as you knew it has ended, that so much has been destroyed.”

Despite his youth, Younis sensed immediately that the man was trying to get him to do something dangerous. His first instinct was to play it off, to make a grim joke of it—the house was getting old anyway; destruction as a form of camouflage; at least now we don’t have to maintain the roof—anything to deflect the course of the inquiry.