'Get me a cup of water,' the woman croaks.
Deqo looks at the reclining figure, so old and self-important. 'Get it yourself.'
The woman sighs. Deqo notices that she is missing all of her front teeth. The woman nudges her with her foot. 'Go on, my sweet, just get me some water, I have an axe slicing through my head.' She makes kissing noises to cajole her.
Deqo tuts and rises to her feet; she will ask for water for herself too, fill up her stomach a bit. She waits by the bars; she can hear the policewoman talking at the end of the corridor.
'Jaalle, Jaalle! Comrade, Comrade!' Deqo cries out.
'Comrade Policewoman with the hennaed fingers and black koofiyaad, we need cups here.'
The policewoman approaches and pushes a tin cup through the bars. 'Don't try and be funny here, little girl.'
'I wasn't trying to be funny, I just wanted water.'
'Aren't you too young to be selling yourself? Or have you been stealing?'
'No! I haven't done anything, honestly. They mistook me for a protestor.'
'Where are you from?'
'So what are you doing here?'
'I work in the market. I never steal, never!'
The policewoman's face softens a little; she tilts her head to the side and looks over to her colleague.
'Luul, this refugee girl is here by mistake; she was pulled in with all those protestors this morning.'
The other policewoman comes to join her. She is tall and flat-chested, unable to fill out her uniform like her friend.
She pulls a face. 'Let her out, we're not going to get anything for her.'
'True, she's a waste of bread,' laughs the policewoman with the henna on her fingers.
The door chimes open once again and Deqo runs to the old woman on the mat to hand over the cup before stepping out into the corridor of freedom.
'See you another time, Deqo,' Nasra calls out.
Deqo waves back.
The policewomen walk on each side of her in silence.
'Jaalle, when will that woman be released?' asks Deqo, before being led out of the station.
'Never you mind, you should stay away from women like that, they will drag you down into their nasty ways. Stay away, you hear?' She adjusts the beret on her head.
'Is she a ' Deqo hesitates at that powerful word that has plagued her throughout her short life.
'A whore? Absolutely, and much else besides.'
* * *
Deqo marches back to the ditch with her eyes to the ground, deep in thought. She still has time to collect fruit from the farms and reach the market before it closes for lunch. Her legs propel her forward robotically but her mind is whirring with memories from Saba'ad, stirred up by her encounter with Nasra and China in the cell. 'Whore's child, whore's child, whore's child!' That's what the other children in the camp had yelled at her for as long as she could recall, but she hadn't known what a whore was; it sounded bad, like a cannibal or a witch or a type of jinn, but no adult would describe what made a whore a whore and the children didn't seem to know much more than she did. She was born of sin, they said, the bastard of a loose woman. From the children's story her nativity went like this: a young woman arrived in the camp alone and by foot, heavily pregnant and with feet torn to shreds by thorns. The nurses at the clinic bandaged her feet and let her wait for the child to be delivered. She refused to give her name or her husband's, and when Deqo was born she abandoned her own child without naming her either. Deqo had been named a year later by the nurses when she climbed out of the metal cot the orphans were kept in and began disappearing; Deqo-wareego was her full name, 'wandering Deqo', and she had learnt that the one thing she could do that the other camp children couldn't was drift as far as she liked. She belonged to the wind and the tracks in the dirt rather than to any other person; no watchful mother would come after her shouting her name in every direction.
Copyright © 2013 by Nadifa Mohamed
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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