She rises and shakes the dust off the cardboard.
'Yaari, little one, come over here a minute,' calls a woman with a blue and gold threaded turban on her head.
Deqo walks to her and stands stony-faced with her hands on her hips.
'I'll give you a few shillings if you deliver something for me.'
'Fine,' Deqo smiles in triumph. 'What do you want me to take?'
The woman reaches behind her back and pulls out a package wrapped in the light-blue-inked official newspaper October Star.
Deqo takes it in both hands and feels the shape of a glass bottle inside.
'Don't drop it and don't you dare open it. The person waiting at the other end is called China you hand it to her and no one else. If any police approach you just throw it away, you listening?'
Deqo nods, intrigued.
'Hold it like that!' The woman's upper arm wobbles as she arranges the package in an upright position under Deqo's arm. 'Tight, tight, squeeze it.' The whole exchange has raised sweat beads on the market woman's forehead. 'Go, keep your head down and look for the blue painted house on the street leading left off the end of this road.'
* * *
The area the woman points to is a part of town Deqo has been frightened to venture into before. The market women refer to the place as a kind of hell in which dead souls live; people who have left behind any semblance of goodness congregate in its shacks drunks, thieves, lechers and dirty women.
The road tapers into a narrow alley, the market disappearing more with every yard until there are just fragments of it: a cloth, a squashed tomato, a torn shilling note that Deqo picks up to add to her stash. The sun is high above and the smell of goat and donkey droppings grows stronger in her nostrils. She passes fewer stone-built bungalows and more mud brick and traditional aqals modernised with tarpaulin and metal sheets in place of wood and animal skins. It will be easy to pick out a blue bungalow from these neighbours. She sees children everywhere, bare-bottomed and tuft-haired, five-year-olds carrying two-year-olds on their hips or staring out from entrances with solemn, hostile expressions. 'Dhillo! Whore!' one little boy in a red shirt that stretches to his knees shouts at her.
She picks up a small rock and lobs it at him, missing him by a short distance; he ducks back into his shack with a squeal.
Her sandals are full of grit; she stops to shake them out and notices a gully of dirty water running to the side of the track, small jagged bones lodged in the mire as well as pieces of plastic and twisted wire. This side of town seems abandoned by the rest, left to sink and slump and rot; she wonders why anyone would stay here if they had the whole of Hargeisa to choose from.
She finally spots a small, blue breezeblock bungalow and knocks on a metal door painted in diamonds of orange and green. The tin roof buckles loudly in the sun and flies buzz in the wire mesh covering the windows. Beside the blue bungalow is a jacaranda tree with a goat happily lost in its high branches, nibbling at fresh shoots.
Deqo waits a long time before knocking again; she checks around the sides of the house for any movement.
'Who is it?' someone shouts from inside.
'I have a delivery,' Deqo answers nervously.
Three locks click open and then a figure takes shape within the gloom of the hallway.
Deqo recognises her hair first, the broad band of yellow at the tip of her waves.
'Give it to me,' Nasra says yawningly.
'I can't. I need to give it to China.' Deqo looks down as she speaks.
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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