On Wednesday morning, as most of the country was either reeling from the election or celebrating it, a slim, long-faced youth named Syed Shah sat in his family's darkened living room in front of a blue hard-shell American Tourister suitcase and contemplated what it means to be a man.
The suitcase was brimming with papers. "Work Permit," said one manila folder, in handwritten English and Urdu script. Beside it, photocopies of expired diplomatic visas were strewn across the pistachio-green carpet. He must figure out what to do with these documents so his family can keep working legally in the United States.
On a couch nearby, Shah's mother sat and cried. This was once her husband's responsibility; now it is her son's.
Until a month and a half ago, Shah was a pretty typical teenager. The oldest of eight children, he worked part time as a cashier, played soccer every night with his friends and was president of the cricket club he started at Alexandria's T.C. Williams High School after arriving from Pakistan with his family 21/2 years ago.
But in September, three months after Shah's graduation and a month before his 20th birthday, his father, Musharaf Shah, 47, was killed after making a Pizza Hut delivery in Old Town, the victim of an apparent botched robbery. That was one of three jobs he worked to support his children, his wife and the twins she is due to deliver next month.
Two men were indicted Monday in the killing, and they could face the death penalty if convicted. But that didn't seem to be much on the son's mind this week. Dressed in a black shirt, baggy black pants and a black knit cap, he was thinking about green card applications and the three part-time jobs he is suddenly juggling to keep his family afloat.
Like his father, Shah has a finely drawn mouth, serious almond-shaped eyes and a trim black beard that defines his jaw line. Like his father, he now works at Pizza Hut, though he runs the cash register instead of making deliveries. He also has jobs at CVS and Giant.
It is not what his father wanted for him. He wanted his oldest son to study medicine. "He always said, 'Don't work. You don't need to work,' " Shah recalled. "He said, 'I'm here to work for you guys. You just finish your education.' "
Education was, after all, why they were here. Musharaf Shah believed that U.S. schooling would get his children ahead no matter where in the world they lived. He spoke four languages and had been a diplomat with the Pakistani government, living with his family in Iran and Syria before coming here to take a post with the Pakistan Embassy. When the posting ended unexpectedly and the government wanted to move him to another country, he said no.
"He said, 'My kids are now in school here, and we don't need to disturb their education,' " said Jafar Hussein, a longtime family friend who has been helping sort their affairs. Instead, Musharaf left his job at the embassy and found other work -- delivering The Washington Post and the Washington Times in the early morning, working at 7-Eleven, Kmart and later Pizza Hut in the daytime and evenings. He was always scanning the classifieds for better jobs, and he joked about attending college with his kids.
"Some people said, 'Come back to Pakistan,' " said his wife, Musharat, 39. "He said, 'No, my children are small. I don't want to spend even one day away from my children.' "
As her son nodded and helped her with some of the English words, she recalled how her husband was never too exhausted after work to play with them. "With child, he was like a friend," she said. "For girl, for boy, always playing but not tired." She offered to help out by working as a seamstress, but her husband said she didn't need to. "He was too much good father. He was too much good husband." Her voice wobbled. "He was too much good friend."
It was Musharaf who earned the money and set up the bank accounts. He wrote the checks. He called during the day to check on what the children were doing. Ten days before he was killed, he bought a Medion computer for his daughter's birthday that now gleams in the corner of the living room. "He did everything, he knew everything," Hussein said.
Now the son must take a crash course on all the father knew -- including driving and caring for the family car. "He wouldn't give the key to me," Shah recalled. "He said, 'It's dangerous -- you drive too fast. Where you need to go, I'll drop you.' " But now the Toyota Camry his father used for pizza deliveries belongs to Shah. He pays the car insurance, $200 a month, and he takes the Camry in for repairs, which this week cost the family $700.
On top of that, there is rent: $1,360 a month for the three-bedroom Alexandria apartment. And the medical bills that will arrive for the twins' birth. Like many new immigrants, Musharaf Shah did not have life insurance. Pizza Hut paid the funeral expenses, including shipping his body back to Pakistan, and the family said the company has promised to pay $800 a month in workers' compensation for the next two years. It has also started a fund for donations to the family.
Last weekend, the Key Club at T.C. Williams, where Shah's sister Mahra is a junior, held its annual charity four-square tournament and sent all the money plus some additional donations to the Shah family, a total of $860, which Pizza Hut has said it will match. On Wednesday, his mother applied for a work permit, but when the twins are born, working will be hard for her.
To Shah, the contrast between his life before and his life now is stark. He still plans to start classes at Northern Virginia Community College in January, because that is what his father wanted. But when asked if he ever sees his soccer mates or goes out on weekends, he laughed. "I have to be a father," he said. "I feel like, my father used to do it, now I have to do it."
Syed is not his father, though, and filling the role of a man who cobbled together $4,000 or $5,000 a month is daunting. "All the liability's on him now," Hussein said. "There's nobody to help. So everybody's worried about him."
Syed Shah returned to his pile of papers. His mother lowered herself heavily onto the couch. Outside, golden leaves floated off the trees and landed on the front porch near the large and small shoes and the pile of children's bicycles and the shiny plastic "Pizza Hut" placard that once sat atop the family car.