Kathy has overheard her daughters talking to Yuko’s kids about their dad being lost and their house submerged underwater, and she decides she has to lie to her children for the first time. She tells them that she heard from Zeitoun last night. Though they are initially skeptical, they believe her, or at least want to.
Kathy has to balance her own attempts to figure out what’s happened to Zeitoun with her responsibility as a parent to calm and reassure her children during such a stressful time, especially in a new place.
The phone rings again and Aisha, another sister of Zeitoun’s, calls to ask where he is. Kathy calmly tells her that he is fine. But she goes online and immediately sees that while the current death toll is around 118, Mayor Nagin thinks it may climb into the thousands. Checking her email, she sees that Ahmad has included her in a message to another aid agency. Kathy calls the Claiborne house again and again. When she puts the kids to bed, she says that they’ll have new sheet sets in all the bedrooms when they redo the house.
Now, in addition to her children, Kathy must keep in mind the feelings of Zeitoun’s family and attempt to reassure them even while she continues to panic herself. Kathy bounces from one activity to the next, forcing herself to pull away from the worst news and yet drawn to anything that might give her a sense of where Zeitoun is. Eggers continues the suspense here, not giving us Zeitoun’s perspective at all, but first showing how his sudden absence affected so many others.
Walt calls and says that he’d spoken to a friend, a U.S. marshal, who had driven towards Zeitoun’s house but couldn’t reach it because of the water. He tells Kathy he’ll call a friend with a helicopter.
The broad support network that Kathy and Zeitoun have built around them in New Orleans is now proving fruitful: many want to help.
All day Zeitoun’s family calls from Lattakia, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, asking why Kathy hadn’t heard him yet, and updating her on the news (which she can’t bear to watch), which talks of looting, rapes, and murders. She realizes that the media must be putting a hysterical spin on the situation, but still feels helpless. Syria is so much safer, they tell her: she should move back there.
Again, Zeitoun’s large family, scattered all over the world, is both a source of comfort for him and now, ironically, a source of greater stress and anxiety for Kathy. Their comments on Syria are a telling reversal of the way many Americans think about the Middle East.
Kathy goes into the bathroom and realizes that for the first time a stripe of white hair is rising from her forehead. Yuko forbids Kathy to answer the phone when there’s a call from Syria. Yuko answers instead.
The stripe of white hair is a physical proof of Kathy’s emotional state, only partially aided by Yuko’s thoughtful advice.
That day, Yuko and Ahmaad take Kathy and the kids to Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where the Red Cross has set up a shelter and had representatives from missing-persons agencies. Kathy brings information and a photo of Zeitoun. The Red Cross takes down all the information, telling Kathy that thousands of people have been located, and order is being restored every day. Kathy leaves somewhat cheered, thinking Zeitoun might be at a hospital, injured, and it won’t be long before they find him. But now the kids are confused about where their dad really is. Kathy tries to shield them, but feels weak.
For the first time, the authorities responsible for restoring order after Hurricane Katrina seem to have a handle on dealing with the thousands of people affected by the storm. By realizing the scope of the problem—how many other families are trying without success to contact loved ones—Kathy feels less desperate and alone, even if she cannot fully succeed in shielding her children from confusion.
Kathy calls Claiborne again, and then the phone company to ask if the lines are down. They say that if it’s ringing, it works, but there’s no one to answer.
Another idea on why Zeitoun might not be able to reach Kathy is tested, and fails.
Aisha seems most affected, alternately worried, resigned, and irritable. That night Kathy brushes her hair to comfort her, and in response to Aisha’s questions tells her that Zeitoun is not dead or drowned. Kathy realizes that Aisha’s hair is coming out in clumps as she brushes it. Kathy can’t imagine what could be worse than this.
Like Kathy’s stripe of white hair, the thinning of Aisha’s hair is a sobering physical reminder of the stress that has stemmed from Zeitoun’s disappearance—in particular, from living in a constant state of not knowing.