Artisha and Artesha Davis are settling right into seventh grade at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Beltsville. The twins have nearly perfect attendance. One made the honor roll; the other is close. Their new friends save bus seats for them, share secrets at lockers between classes.
It's their mother, Joanika, who is longing for home.
"You coming with me?" she asked them recently.
"No, we like our school," they said.
That the hurricane could separate the mother from her twins -- even temporarily -- underscores the emotional cross-currents hitting Katrina evacuees. Before the storm, the three were carving out a life that included moving from a dangerous public housing complex to a safer duplex, starting a pasta-making business and enrolling in a New Orleans charter school that had both twins thinking about becoming police officers.
"She is totally devoted to her children. I mean absolutely devoted," said Sister Lilianne Flavin, 65, a Catholic nun who first met the family a decade ago.
Katrina hit hard in many ways. Although it spared the family's home, at one point Joanika had to float through deep water on a box-spring mattress to help get her sister and her sister's children. The family eventually took a Greyhound bus to Washington and moved in with relatives in Laurel.
Within a few days, Joanika had the twins, 12, enrolled in school. They found a $1,200-a-month apartment. She got a bookkeeping job in Columbia, getting a ride there from a co-worker. She says she has received less than $2,000 in assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross. Worried about making the rent -- and upset that she was uprooted from the pasta business she had kept going for nearly 10 years -- she flew to New Orleans a week ago.
She wanted to see how much of her business was intact, and she misses the city, all the friends she had.
"I still have unfinished business in New Orleans. . . . I do plan on going back and reclaiming my life," she said.
One possibility is that she could return to Maryland briefly, then go back to New Orleans for as long as nine months. The twins would stay in Maryland, moving in with an aunt to finish the school year. Then their mother might return to Maryland, or the twins might move back to New Orleans.
The twins understand the connection their mother feels with New Orleans.
"Nothing's wrong," Artisha said.
"She's trying to better herself," her sister added.
-- Dan Morse