After more than half a year of searching, Bill's mom Dawami has found a job, doing housekeeping at Georgia State University in downtown Atlanta. She's excited to be saving up, hoping to move her family to a new apartment, and to bring her daughter Neema to America.
The down side: She works the late shift, 2 to 10 pm - while her husband Hassan works the overnight shift at a chicken processing plant in northeast Georgia.
So for the past few weeks, Bill, 10, and Igey, 8, have been adjusting to life as latchkey kids. Finding dinner in a cereal box. Climbing on kitchen chairs to reach the bowls kept in the high cabinets less frequented by roaches. Falling asleep with the TV on to chase away nighttime fears.
Friends' parents from ICS have been driving them to and from soccer, and feeding them occasional dinners, and I've spent a few nights with them. But mostly they're alone, or watching TV in the company of friends from Indian Creek, until their friends are called home to bed.
"Sometimes I'm scared," admits Bill, "when it's dark outside."
Dawami's absence is keenly felt, not just by her boys, but by their fellow tenants - the bugs. Before, Dawami, a meticulous housekeeper, labored to keep the complex-wide roach infestation under control inside her apartment. Now, they've taken over: crawling the walls, the couches, tables, inside the oven. They drown under leaky taps, and fall out of the toilet paper as it unspools.
The other night, as Bill worked on a rocks and minerals poster for science class, roaches circled it appraisingly. When his glue stick expired, and we had to improvise flour-and-water paste, they glommed onto the drops that fell on the table. When he went to bed, they showed their helpful side: adults and babies swarmed the poster, eating away all the paste that had squeezed out from under his index cards. By the time his mom got home, the borders were perfectly tidy.