Rabbit raises his hands in mock prayer and gazes up at the dark-veiled heavens. 'Let the end be soon, there are only so many injustices a man can stand before he despairs.'
Deqo readies herself to run in case they both come at her; her skin is hot, her muscles limber, she can disappear into the night as if winged.
Faruur throws his stick to the ground and waves his hand dismissively at Deqo. 'Do what you like. I am too old, drunk and cold to chase after anyone.' He bends down and picks up his bottle.
Deqo hopes they will fall asleep soon so she can spend the night beside the fire, warm and well, rather than wide-eyed in her barrel, her knees pressed up against her chin, her back against the cold metal, trapped like a breech birth in a hard, dead womb.
Rabbit and Faruur are pulling at their bottles, eyes sealed, as peaceful and distant as infants drugged with breast milk and soft, scented lullabies.
She has seen these two in town, laid out along the steps of the warehouses near the hospital, sleeping through the hot, shuttered hours between noon and afternoon prayers; the hours which she spends collecting guavas, pomegranates, mangoes, bananas and papayas from the farms along the ditch. She gathers them in a cloth sheet which she spreads in the faqir market, guarding her patch until the sun relents and the maids and cooks appear with their straw baskets to purchase cheap food for their own families. She makes up to fifty shillings a day like this enough to buy a baguette filled with fried lamb, onions and potatoes. Girls are not allowed into the tea shops so she has to eyeball the schoolboys until she finds one honest-looking enough to go in for her. She has only been fooled once, taunted through the glass door as the khaki-uniformed boy stuffed her baguette into his grinning mouth, his hips swinging side to side as he scoffed it. She kicked him hard in the stomach when he finally ambled out of the teahouse, her daily bread tight and swollen under his skin.
She hates schoolboys. There are, in fact, only a few people whom she likes: Bashir, who sells well water from the back of his donkey but fills her tin cup for free; Qamar, the tall, plump, fragrant divorcee who wraps her up in fat arms and pets and kisses her in the market; and the blind ma'alim, Eid, who teaches the market boys and girls Kitab under a willow tree near the museum.
Rabbit's sarong has gathered up around his knees, his snores quietly audible beneath the fire's burning. Her legs are tired, her eyelids eager to drop, but she can't sleep here with them. She sits down heavily on the mulch and crosses her legs. She will wait until the sunrise and then tip out the water from her barrel and sleep for a couple of hours.
* * *
A dawn loud with birdsong erupts around her, black wings flapping in the diffuse sunlight between the trees. Deqo quickly turns to where the drunks were sleeping and is relieved to find them still slumbering in a heap by the burnt-out fire. She gets to her feet and heads for the pathway to Hargeisa Bridge. It is early enough for her to reach the central mosque before the free bread and tea they give out in the morning is exhausted. Already the heat has dried the night's rainfall; only a faint dampness remains in the undergrowth, causing her plastic thongs to squeak. She had found them blown beneath a whodead stall one evening, too battered for the stall holder to bother picking up before he rushed home for the curfew. They don't match, one being larger than the other, but they stay on her feet. She has grabbed all of her clothing from the wind: a white shirt caught on a thorn tree, a red dress tumbling abandoned by the roadside, cotton trousers thrown over a power line. She dresses in these items that ghosts have left behind and becomes an even greater ghost herself, unseen by passers-by, tripped over, stepped on.
Copyright © 2013 by Nadifa Mohamed
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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