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The orchard of lost souls [text (large print)] / Nadifa Mohamed.

By: Mohamed, Nadifa, 1981-.
Material type: materialTypeLabelBookSeries: Charnwood.Publisher: Leicester : Thorpe, 2015Edition: Large print edition.Description: 336 pages (large print) ; 24 cm.Content type: text Media type: unmediated Carrier type: volumeISBN: 9781444822403 (hbk); 1444822403.Subject(s): Women -- Somalia -- Fiction | Somalia -- History -- 1960-1991 -- FictionGenre/Form: Large type books.Summary: It is 1988 and Hargeisa waits. Whispers of revolution travel on the dry winds but still the dictatorship remains secure. Soon, and through the eyes of three women, we will see Somalia fall. Nine-year-old Deqo has left the vast refugee camp she was born in, lured to the city by the promise of her first pair of shoes. Kawsar, a solitary widow, is trapped in her little house with its garden clawed from the desert, confined to her bed after a savage beating in the local police station. Filsan, a young female soldier, has moved from Mogadishu to suppress the rebellion growing in the north. As the country is unravelled by a civil war that will shock the world, the fates of the three women are twisted irrevocably together...
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Complete and unabridged.

It is 1988 and Hargeisa waits. Whispers of revolution travel on the dry winds but still the dictatorship remains secure. Soon, and through the eyes of three women, we will see Somalia fall. Nine-year-old Deqo has left the vast refugee camp she was born in, lured to the city by the promise of her first pair of shoes. Kawsar, a solitary widow, is trapped in her little house with its garden clawed from the desert, confined to her bed after a savage beating in the local police station. Filsan, a young female soldier, has moved from Mogadishu to suppress the rebellion growing in the north. As the country is unravelled by a civil war that will shock the world, the fates of the three women are twisted irrevocably together...

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Excerpt provided by Syndetics

DEQO Deqo steps barefoot across the festering mulch that slides beneath her feet. Her red plastic thong sandals hang delicately from her fingers, and beads of water drip from the trees as if the branches are shaking their fingers dry, splashing her face and neck in mischief. She hides behind the wide trunk of a willow near two crouched figures, her face framed in a scorched cleft where lightning has flung itself in a careless fit. She whispers her name to give herself courage. The men's talk is distorted by the music of raindrops falling over thousands of trees in the ditch, their leaves held out like waxy green tongues. The drought that had tormented her in Saba'ad is over, but she is in no mood to enjoy the downpour. On either side of the trees are the stray dogs, thieves and promenading ghosts of Hargeisa. The swish of cars crossing the bridge and the susurrations of secret policemen come to her through the darkness. The barrel in which she sleeps is cold, too cold. The scraps of cut-off fabric that usually line the bottom are floating in kerosene-rippled water, the emeralds and sapphires of a peacock's tail flashing on its moonlit surface. She shivered with goose-pimpled skin for as long as she could bear it and then sought out the drunks and their fire in a moment of reckless desperation; she wonders what they will do for her, to her. She wants to know if hyenas can only be hyenas when confronted with a lamb. The heat of the men's fire blows over her, its crackling and its colours warming her. They have built a bombastic blaze, full of their alcohol; it lurches at the dark, quivering trees before stumbling and falling back into the barrel. She breathes in the smell of damp smoke, the taste of fresh ash. ' Waryaa, hus! Can you hear something, Rabbit?' one of the drunks slurs to his companion. 'Oh Brother Faruur, only the complaints of my poor stomach,' the other replies. Faruur doesn't reply, his ear cocked to the side, his face concentrated and stern. He reminds Deqo of a dog, his body taut, his ear attuned to the hiss of faint breath, his twitching nose-hairs trapping and tasting the sour-sweet odour of blood. 'There is someone over there in the bushes,' Faruur says triumphantly. Deqo steps out with a thudding heart, preferring to reveal herself than be caught; she marches straight to the burning barrel and puts her palms out to drink in the heat. Her brazenness works; Faruur and the other man look down in confused silence, both of them anxious that their hallucinations have returned. The fire holds her hands and beckons her closer. It is like bathing but without the sting of water in her eyes or the awkward exposure of her naked body while unseen eyes watch. Faruur's eyes are sick soups of yellow and pink, glossy like an infant's, the bottom lids slack. He looks Deqo up and down. 'Get away from here, from our fire!' He picks up a piece of wood with a nail spiking out and grasps it aloft as if to strike her. Beside his unlaced shoes leans a bottle of surgical spirit, half drunk. Deqo meets his gaze. He thinks he can chase her away, they all think that. 'Man, be a Muslim. Let me get warm and then I'll leave you in peace.' Faruur keeps his arm up and Deqo remains calmly by the fire, her hands like two explosions. Slowly his arm relaxes and falls to his side, the weapon still in his hand. The other drunk reaches out to grab at her thigh; she jumps quickly beyond his reach. ' Oof! Go grab your father, you disgusting old lizard,' she shouts. The two look to each other and laugh, the hacking, husky, wheezy laughter of men with tuberculosis. 'Now, look here, Rabbit, we go to the effort of building a fire, collecting wood, buying matches, sacrificing our precious alcohol to get it started on this wet, godforsaken evening, and then this ... this kintir ... this overgrown cunt comes along to steal our heat.' A moth flits around Faruur's head as he speaks. 'What has the world come to?' 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. Clutching onto the scrub she pulls herself up the steep embankment, avoiding the thorns pressing into her skin and the excrement piled up in the dirt. There are only two bridges across the ditch, this concrete one and another made of rope near the Sha'ab quarter that swings precariously as you cross it. The bushes beneath the concrete bridge are crammed full of rubbish from the pedestrians above. In the six or so weeks Deqo has been in Hargeisa she has met many people she knows or dimly recognises from the camp along this bridge. The men stand out in sarongs of navy and maroon check, probably sold all over Ogaden by one trader from Dire Dawa. These men look uniformly old and familiar: sunken cheeked, bow-legged, hunchbacked and wild-haired. Some meet her gaze with a sharp, sidelong glance that pierces the clouds of her memory, and then she remembers them from Saba'ad: he rented out a wheelbarrow, he volunteered at the clinic, he sold goat milk. There are only a few people crossing the bridge today, and she can run her hands along the peeling white iron railings without moving aside for anyone. Toyotas and trucks slow down beside her to navigate the gutted tarmac of the bridge. As she crosses from north to south Hargeisa she hears chanting. A flotilla of small clenched fists appears in the distance, approaching her as if pulled in by the tide. Local schoolboys and girls in pastel-coloured uniforms pump the air shouting, 'No more arrests, no more killing, no more dictatorship!' Their faces are frank and happy, the outlines of their individual bodies obscured by the flow of their movement. They block the road ahead so Deqo waits on the bridge to get a closer look at them. The bridge vibrates underneath, one hundred or two hundred feet drumming on the fragile structure. Deqo can see a few children without uniforms and some young men, too old for school, within the group. They sing a song she has never heard before: 'Hargeisa ha noolaato , long live Hargeisa.' The children closest to her look her up and down and scrunch up their noses . Deqo wraps her arms around the iron railings behind her back and stares as the children make a spectacle of themselves. She has spent her whole life observing; hers are the eyes that always peer from behind walls or rocks, infuriating everyone with their watchfulness. But since she lost her friend Anab there is no one to lie down with at night, no one to divulge her secrets to; instead they put down roots in her mind and grow in the mulch of her confused life. The schoolchildren are tightly packed onto the bridge, a shifting mass of blue, pink and khaki. She looks towards the north side of the bridge and sees red beret soldiers lined up across the road. Deqo finds them attractive: she likes the dark bottle-green of their uniforms, the gold on their epaulettes, the jaunty angle of their famous hats; she even likes the silver pistols that hang like jewellery from their hips. The schoolchildren are silent, nervous, and when a whistle blows they scream and run back in the direction they came. The lean, tall soldiers pull out batons and chase the children. Deqo is caught in the melee and joins the stampede to avoid getting trampled. She feels like a sheep being herded into an enclosure. Hands grab her and push past, some almost dragging her down, but there is nowhere to escape to, the south side of the bridge blocked by another line of soldiers. The schoolchildren fall over each other trying to avoid the rigid, stinging batons. Their fists are now open in surrender, held aloft as if in promise of good behaviour. Deqo trips over a boy and falls at the feet of a soldier; he grasps her dress in one hand and the boy's arm in the other and drags them over to a massive lorry waiting beside the road. The bed of the truck is so high the soldier has to let the boy go to throw Deqo into it with both hands; the boy follows and then other captive students. Reaching for the soldier's hand, Deqo tries to plead with him to let her go but he slaps her in the mouth. The taste of blood on her tongue, she looks around in shock at the flying skirts and limbs, as more and more children are forced into the vehicle. Black netting covers the side but that is the only difference between it and livestock trucks. An older boy with long ringlets down his neck tears a hole in the netting and clambers out the side, and other brave ones follow him. Deqo peers down at the distant ground, too afraid to try. The vehicle is soon full of clamouring schoolchildren pressing against her on all sides. A girl sits next to her, crying open-mouthed, choking on her sobs. Deqo can feel the girl's bones and flesh grinding against her own as the truck's engine starts and they roar across the uneven road. Even in this teeming truck the girl smells fresh, her skin and uniform so scrubbed with soap that her perspiration has the heady, detergent scent that wafts out of the dhobi -houses. 'Don't cry,' says Deqo, placing a hand on the girl's arm. 'Don't touch me!' she shouts, pushing Deqo away. An older pink-shirted girl throws her arm proprietorially over the crying girl's shoulders and kisses her head. ' Shush, shush , Waris, I'm with you.' Deqo turns her head away and purses her lips. I don't owe you anything, she thinks. In fact I should be angry with you for causing trouble, stupid girl. She doesn't understand why the schoolchildren and soldiers keep fighting. They all have food, all have homes and parents, what is there to squabble over? They should go to the refugee camp and see what life is like there. She covers her feet with her hands, ashamed by her dusty, long-nailed toes, the calloused, scaly skin, her red cotton smock fraying at every hem. Pulling her knees together she draws away from the boys sitting nearby. They do not hold their bodies as far away from her as they do the schoolgirls, she notices; there is barely an inch between her and any of the boys' limbs. They always nudge her in the street too, making her feel small and grubby. There isn't any dhobi -smell about them, only musk as sharp as vinegar that rubs onto her skin as they fall against her with the truck's tortuous drive. The truck dips into one last pothole and then stops, the engine still trembling under the hood. To her right is the central police station, the first place she saw in Hargeisa after the stadium. A red beret pulls down the lip of the truck bed and ushers out the children. Ordinary policemen in white shirts lead them to the station, holding two in each hand by their shirt collars. Finally it is Deqo's turn and she recoils as the red beret reaches for her; he is like a figure in a bad dream, silent, cruel and persistent. She squeals in pain as his vicelike hands grasp her ankle, another hand moves to her thigh and he yanks her out. Her body is not her own, she thinks; it is a shell they are trying to break open. A policeman with his trousers belted over his fat gut and his flies half done up swears at the prisoners, slapping the back of Deqo's legs with a flat, hard palm and wrangling her arms behind her back. Holding her wrists and those of the fragrant girl's in one hand he marches them through the haze of dust that the struggling protestors have kicked up and ascends the tall, rain-stained concrete steps into the police station. In the dingy, dark corridor a young guard sits on a metal chair to the right. He looks at the passing schoolchildren with big, melancholic eyes. 'Help me,' she mouths as she skids over the green-tiled floor, but he doesn't shift, just cradles his gun with long, large-knuckled fingers, veins twisting under his smooth skin. Deqo feels as if she is treading water, pulled into a current she can't escape. The schoolchildren are led through to the cells, the girls put into one communal cell and the boys pushed deeper into the station. Deqo's wrists burn where the big-bellied policeman has been squeezing them and she shakes them in the air to cool. A few steps into the cell she is overcome by the stench of excrement. Older prisoners have to sit up and move to make room for the protestors and complain loudly at the intrusion. Four young women with their hair in thick plaits huddle together along the back wall. One of the large women kicks at them and shouts, ' Roohi , move it'; they obey and she spreads out her rush mat in the small space they had shared. Some of the schoolgirls start snivelling again as they look around the cell. Deqo rolls her eyes at them; she feels superior to these naive, sheltered girls who protest while knowing nothing of what the real world is like. They cannot appreciate the roof above that will keep them dry, the bodies that will keep them warm, the dripping tap in the corner that will quench their thirst. The women and girls shift constantly, trying to stand as far from the waste bucket as possible. Every breath Deqo takes is shallow and cautious; this smell sends her back to the refugee camp and the cholera outbreak that ended Anab's life and nearly her own, both of them falling asleep but only one of them waking up. In the ditch she has at least become accustomed to space and the fresh scent of trees. Some of the prisoners look comfortably at home. One young woman is breastfeeding her baby and chatting, her legs stretched out. Her friend is dressed gorgeously in pink and silver, with black hair dyed gold at the tips. They seem untouched by the situation around them. In contrast, the girls with the plaits appear to have been in the cell for weeks. One of them is barefoot, her trousers blood-stained near the crotch, another has small, circular scorches all over her bare arms. All of them are emaciated, their hips like metal frames under loose trousers, their necks long and drawn, their dark-lashed eyes sunken into black holes. Policewomen in navy uniforms pass by the cell bars, their trousers tight across their backsides. Deqo wonders what the girls have done to be treated so badly and if she will be kept inside with them. Looking between them and the pretty women, she manoeuvres closer to the pretty ones to see if their good luck will spread to her. '... that he is free, that the last child wasn't even his own,' the one with gold-dipped hair is saying. 'You believe him?' replies the mother. 'No, but what can I do? I have been bitten by love.' 'Well, bite it back,' she laughs. Deqo laughs too and they look up suspiciously. 'Didn't anyone tell you it's rude to eavesdrop?' Deqo smiles apologetically. 'Let her be, she's not doing any harm. What are you doing here? You stole?' Deqo shakes her head violently. 'I don't know, ask these people,' she gesticulates dismissively towards the students, 'they put me in trouble.' 'Is that so?' she smiles. 'What is your name?' 'Deqo. What's yours?' 'Nasra, and this is China and her son Nuh.' 'Why are you in here?' The women look to each other and chuckle. 'It is part of our job,' Nasra answers coyly. * * * The policewoman has a neat beret perched to the side of her pinned-up hair and possesses a strange combination of femininity and menace. 'Which one of you is Waris Abdiweli Geedi?' she calls in a harsh voice. The fragrant girl pushes past the others and presents herself before the policewoman, who beckons her out of the cell with a henna-painted finger before locking the door again. The prisoners ease into the small space the girl has left behind. To Deqo's amusement, fragrant girl does not so much as look back at those she has left behind; the girl who had thrown her arm over her in the truck is left to stand there, head hanging. Deqo is pleased: when arrogant people like that are are forced to see how little they really matter she feels a small charge of satisfaction. One by one the schoolgirls are called, bailed out and hustled home by their fathers, mothers, uncles and elder brothers. They are released before the boys to protect them from shame; the shame that grows and widens with their breasts and hips and follows them like an unwanted friend. Deqo has long been aware of how the soft flesh of her body is a liability; the first word she remembers learning is 'shame'. The only education she received from the women in the camp concerned how to keep this shame at bay: don't sit with your legs open, don't touch your privates, don't play with boys. The avoidance of shame seems to be at the heart of everything in a girl's life. There is at least a chance in this women-only cell to put shame aside for a while and flop down without wondering who might see her legs or who might grab her while she sleeps. She finds a space near an elderly destitute woman on a rush mat. '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. No answer. '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?' 'From Saba'ad.' '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. At first she had believed her mother was a jinn who had changed into a human for only a short while and then had to change back, but she was always too cold to have had a mother made of fire. Then she thought her mother may have been blown away by a typhoon, but too many older orphans said they had seen her walk away on her own two feet. Finally she decided that her mother, this 'whore' they talked about, was not like other women who lived and died beside their children, but another kind altogether, who knew that her child would be clothed and fed, just not by herself, like a bird who lays her egg in another's nest. So Deqo had grown up thinking herself a cuckoo amongst the other camp children, whose parents were all refugees from the fighting and famine that had swept across eastern Ethiopia from the seventies into the eighties; some were Somali, some were Oromo, but they all had their families or even just their family names and clans to help them. Deqo deeply wishes she had a second and third name; she won't be greedy and ask God for a whole abtiris of seventeen names or anything, just two more would allow her to puff out her chest and announce her existence to people. When she was too young to know better she had taken the name Deqo Red Cross because that was the name of the clinic she lived in, but the frowns on the white-uniformed nurses' faces let her know it wouldn't do as a replacement name. She lived as just Deqo, or sometimes Deqo-wareego when the nurses shouted at her, and waited for her prayers to be answered. When Anab Hirsi Mattan came into the orphanage at around six years old, head shaved for lice and wild with grief, Deqo was charged with looking after her. When she ran away to the burial ground Deqo was in close pursuit, nervously waiting and watching while the little bat-eared girl beat her hands on the mound of earth covering her mother. The older graves were marked with rocks, planks of wood, or thorny acacia branches, but the newer ones were unadorned, rolling up the hill in a wave. The cemetery resembled the vegetable plot between the dispensary and orphanage, pregnant with plantings that would never grow, watered with nothing but tears. Anab shovelled her hands into the dirt as if she was trying to dig up her mother or bury herself; eventually she tired, defeated, and laid her face down on top of the grave. Deqo had then approached and stretched out her hand; Anab took it, her fingers bleeding, and sloped back with her to the orphanage. Deqo took ownership of Anab from that day, sleeping and eating beside her in the large tent that housed fifty-two orphans and strays. Every day she and Anab ate canjeero for breakfast, played beside the standpipe where the earth was damp and malleable, followed funeral processions to the cemetery, had an afternoon nap and then played shaax with mud counters before the unchanging supper of rice and beans and lights out. Lying in the dark, whispering and tittering, Anab called her Deqo-wareego Hirsi Mattan; they were newfound sisters, thrown together like leaves in a storm. * * * The myriad buildings that Deqo is slowly learning the names and purposes of appear in the edges of her vision as she steps into the pitted road. The library for keeping books to learn from, the museum for interesting objects from the past, the schools in which children are corralled and tamed, the hotels for wayfarers with money in their pockets - the existence of all these places brings pleasure, despite her belief that as a refugee she is not welcome inside. In the weeks since her arrival in Hargeisa she has learnt something every day just from observing the life around her. In the first few days she slept in the market, led there by electric lights and children's voices. She huddled rigidly under the stalls with a few girls and many, many boys fighting and sniffing all night from little bags that gave them leaky noses. She left there and found a concrete area in front of a warehouse that was swept clean and raised above the dust of the street. She found a little sleep there until one night a pack of stray, short-haired dogs found her, growling and barking as she hid her face in her hands. They drew the attention of the watchman who frightened them away and then banished her too. She had then stayed a week outside the police station, hoping for their protection against boys and strays, but instead there was the constant disruption of police cars, of foot patrols and military vehicles sweeping up and down the road. Eventually, she had gravitated closer and closer to the ditch, lured by its quiet thicket and isolation, to the point where she is now perfectly comfortable sleeping within its deep darkness, unafraid and undisturbed, unless it rains and a deep chill enters her bones. * * * Deqo reaches the ditch and turns off at the red-berried shrubs that mark the path towards her barrel, speeding down the slope and only staggering to a stop when it comes into view. It is a mysterious sanctuary that swallows her up at night; she doesn't know who brought it here and only found it herself by accident one moon-bright night. She scoops up the rainwater that had so tormented her the night before and quenches her thirst, the taste of kerosene faint at the back of her throat. Then she pours the rest over her head and torso, squeezing the excess from her thin smock. It will dry in the time it takes her to collect all the fruit she needs from the farms. She hurries over to Murayo's plot which lies near the right bank of the dry waterbed, far from the noise of the road, where a flock of birds roosts and chats, their nests like bad imitations of wicker baskets. They fly up and hoot at her approach as if to warn Murayo. It depends on how Murayo is feeling each day as to whether she will allow her to glean the fruit, but since Deqo alerted her to the burglar crouching on the roof of her mud-built home she has been generous. Deqo scans the ground for the squishy, over-ripe mangoes she can eat herself before bothering with the hard, green fruit still ripening on the branches. Today there is only one lying splattered in the weeds, its orange flesh trembling with black ants. Up in the trees she checks the foliage for snakes. She once grabbed a sleeping green snake as she climbed, its mouth suddenly yawning, rigid and white in her face, making her fall clear out of the tree. She spits into her palms and hugs the slimmest trunk, above which are a clutch of mangoes that have a nice red blush to them ready for picking; her hands hold her up while her toes slip against the smooth bark. Before she loses her grip she grasps the branch that holds the mangoes and plucks them off one by one, throwing them gently to the ground, then edges back towards the trunk and slides down, enjoying the sensation of the trunk against her skin. She collects the mangoes in her damp skirt and rushes away before Murayo comes to water her crops. The next plot is larger, dominated by dense banana trees, some so laden that the bananas hang near her head; she takes six, all that she can carry in her skirt, and turns back to town. * * * At the faqir market Deqo retrieves her piece of cardboard with the slice of advertising still visible on it from the pile on the ground and lays out her merchandise in two rows of six, alternating banana and mango. She has tried other jobs: collecting scraps of qat to sell to the dealers, pulling grass to sell as goat feed to housewives, sweeping the main market when there aren't enough girls in the evening, but this is her favourite. Her workday is over early and she has no boss to tell her what to do, and on the days that there are no customers she can eat the pilfered fruit herself. Most of the other sellers are middle-aged women, with hefty arms and feet overflowing the edges of their sandals. The only one of them who is always kind to her, Qamar, is not there today so Deqo sits on her haunches and waits for customers. They come slowly, browsing the other stalls before deciding they can get the cheapest price out of her. She watches how the other sellers haggle and imitates their impatient gestures and harsh words. 'Take your shadow off of me if you're not interested,' she shouts. 'You are blocking people with more than lint in their pockets.' She says this with a straight face despite her tiny ramshackle body and the twigs in her hair. The bananas go first to a woman carrying a toddler on her back, and then the mangoes disappear in ones and twos. She holds the money in her hand with satisfaction; there are no dramas today, no thieves encroach and no arguments take place. She hates those days when honking, clumsy women stampede through her patch in pursuit of someone or other. 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.' 'How much?' 'Twenty?' 'Forty.' 'Thirty.' '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. Nasra throws her head back and groans; she doesn't seem to recognise her. 'Take it to her.' She pulls Deqo into the bungalow and locks all three latches again. Nasra leads her into the courtyard and her pale pink diric lights up in the sunlight, engulfing her body like a flower bud. The bungalow smells incredibly sweet despite the rashes of black damp growing up the interior walls, and Deqo inhales deeply. Nasra knocks on the bare wooden door on the opposite side of the whitewashed yard. ' Isbiirtoole, drunkard, your nectar is here,' she calls. China opens the door and the courtyard fills with music in a foreign tongue. 'Give here.' She snatches the package before Deqo can hand it over. 'I know you ... It's our little jailbird. I didn't know you were in the trade.' 'What trade?' 'The booze trade, of course.' 'I'm not. I have a stall in the market.' 'There is no need for pretence here; one thing about Fucking Street is you can be yourself.' 'Where do your family live?' Nasra asks. 'I have no family.' 'No grandmother, no aunt, no cousins?' Deqo shakes her head. 'No grandfathers, no step-siblings, no half-uncles. I look after myself.' Each time she says this it feels more true. 'So where do you sleep?' 'Over in the ditch.' Both of the women tut. 'Ooh, you have a stronger heart than me sleeping in that haunted wasteland,' China says, unwrapping the newspaper and unscrewing the lid of the bottle. The ethanol clears every other smell from Deqo's nose. 'It's not haunted, I'm not bothered there.' 'Until someone comes to slit your throat while you're asleep,' Nasra says. 'That won't happen, no one can find me where I sleep.' Deqo feels a shiver along her spine despite her words. The women look her in the eye. They see her in a way that most other people don't; she doesn't constantly lose their attention. Nasra rubs a hand over Deqo's hair. 'What is it like being all alone in the world at your age?' The question hits Deqo like a falling branch. She shuffles her feet a little and tries to pick through the words lodged on her lips: frightening, tiring, free, confusing, exciting, lonely. She mumbles incoherently and then stops. 'I can still have a good life.' Nasra looks down at her with tears in her eyes. 'With enough luck you can. You lucky?' China asks, her voice suddenly louder with the drink. Deqo cocks her head and smiles. 'Sometimes. I just found this torn shilling outside, that's quite lucky.' 'You are going to need more luck than that, child.' China throws her head back and lets out a laugh that echoes off the walls and tin roof. Her baby wakes and begins to cry inside the room. 'Oh, shut up!' she yells before slamming the door shut. 'Give this money to the woman who sent you.' China counts out one hundred and fifty shillings from a huge roll and then squeezes back into the narrow room. 'Good luck, little girl,' she says as she waves Deqo off. Nasra leads Deqo back to the front door and pushes another ten shillings into her palm. Just as she is about to walk away, Deqo stops and turns back to Nasra. 'Can I ask you something?' she says in a faint whisper. 'Huh? I can't hear you.' Deqo bends in closer. 'Can I ask you something?' Nasra nods cautiously. Deqo licks her lips nervously. 'Are you a whore?' Nasra tenses with anger but Deqo doesn't run or laugh, she is waiting, eyes wide, for an answer. A few moments pass and then a twinkle enters Nasra's eyes and her smile answers the question. * * * Deqo crouches down by the roadside an hour later, chewing on a lamb baguette; the bread is stale, the lamb cold, but she doesn't care. In her mind she goes over and over her exchange with Nasra. If she is a whore then China must be too, so why had she kept her child? If it wasn't necessary to abandon him then why had her own mother abandoned her? Deqo swallows with difficulty as the notion that her mother might have kept her enters her mind. Did she see something wrong with her? Was she running away from a child whose bad luck was written across its face? As if to punctuate this thought a car drives past and sprays dirty water from a puddle over her legs. She rises and brushes the drops and breadcrumbs away, kicking a stone in frustration at the back of the car. Sour-faced and melancholic she walks back in the direction of Nasra's house. The heavens break open and she trots forward, skipping and sliding. The rain smells fresh, heady and green; it cleans the town and makes the paintwork on the buildings shine again. On a wall beside the market is a portrait of the old man with protruding teeth, the President. She has noticed it many times, but the raindrops now falling over his face look like tears and she stops, suddenly arrested by the sad expression on his face; despite the military khaki and gold braids he looks out to her with infinite loneliness. The dark clouds and the empty street drag down her already low spirits; in this kind of weather you should be at home with a family, dozing, playing and sitting snug by a fire. She feels cheated, cheated and spurned by the world. She wipes the tears off the portrait and continues up past the main market and antenna-eared radio station, along the perimeter wall of a large school loud with loved children and through her faqir market. She reaches Nasra's street shivering and with rivulets of water running down her nose and the inside of her dress. The street has changed entirely; it is full of wild children dancing half-naked in the rain and lifting wide-open maws to the sky. Chickens flap between their feet and goats are forced to dance on hind legs in their arms. A cacophony of music blasts from each dwelling: songs from the radio, others warped by over-played cassettes and a few trilling from the women inside the homes. The previously thick waste in the gully is now flowing away in a small stream and the plastic bags caught in the tree branches shine like balloons. A girl of about eight with hair plastered to her face runs up to Deqo and drags her into the melee; holding her tight to her chest she spins like a whirling dervish, cackling. Deqo laughs too, enjoying the delirium; her sadness floats above her, hanging there for the moment, then the girl slips and they both crash to the mud, limbs intertwined. 'What's your name?' Deqo pants. 'Samira, you?' 'Deqo.' 'I haven't seen you before.' The girl smiles and reveals small brown teeth. 'I am from far away.' Deqo knows the way smiles fade when she tells people she is from the refugee camp. A woman with bare feet leaps towards them; she is thin and angry. 'Samira! Samira! Get up off the dirt, you little pig!' 'I have to go.' Samira rushes to her feet before the woman can slap her bottom. She runs into the shack and the woman follows, her feet like a wading bird's as she navigates the mud. 'Deqo, is that you?' Deqo lifts her head from the mud to find Nasra squinting at her. She slides up and wipes the stripes of dirt off her face. 'Come inside, you'll get sick,' Nasra orders. * * * An incense burner heats up the room as Nasra rubs a towel over Deqo's hair and body. 'There isn't any water at the moment, you'll just have to stay a little dirty for now,' she says. Deqo looks around the room as the warmth returns to her skin: at the pink walls decorated with film posters, the fur rug on the blue lino floor, and the white furniture crowding around her. This is the finest room she has ever seen. Totting up how much all of the furniture, clothing, ornaments, knick-knacks and cosmetics must have cost in the market, she takes a sharp inhalation of breath. Whores live well , she thinks. 'Let me put some milk on the stove.' Nasra drops the towel on her bed and leaves the room. Deqo tiptoes to the framed photos on a table; all the pictures are of Nasra, but in only one of them is she smiling. Her eyes move aside and she picks up nail varnish bottles one by one: pale pink, bright pink, dark red, electric blue - she would like to paint a fingernail in each colour. Everything in the room is gorgeous, made for pleasure; the soft rug is bliss against her tired feet, sequins twinkle on the gauzy purple curtains, the bed has pillow upon pillow. She struggles to see what shame there is in being a whore if it brings such luxury to a life. Nasra seems incapable of any work apart from beautifying herself; she is too delicate and too pretty to labour in the dust of the market or to wash someone's floors on her knees. Nasra returns with two mugs of milk. 'I was thinking about you earlier.' Deqo smiles and quickly hides her mouth behind her hand. 'It is wrong for any child, but especially a girl, to be sleeping anywhere near that ditch, with the wild dogs and even wilder men. If you wanted to, you could stay here; there is space for bedding in the kitchen and you'll be warm at night. We need help around the house, cleaning, preparing food; you could look after China's baby too. You would like that, wouldn't you?' Deqo looks her square in the eye. 'Why do you want to help me?' Nasra puts her mug on the floor and sits back on the bed. 'Because I was once not too different from you: lonely, hungry, uncared for. I hitched a ride to Hargeisa and arrived with nothing more than a toothstick and a change of underwear. I know how it is to be a girl on the streets.' 'I can really stay here? You won't send me away?' Nasra smiles. 'Not unless you do something terrible.' * * * 'That is China's room as you know, over there is Karl Marx, and in the corner the new girl, Stalin.' Nasra points to three closed doors made of rough planks on each side of the courtyard. 'You have to clean their rooms but if the doors are closed you leave them alone.' 'Are they foreign? Their names don't sound Somali.' 'No, those are their nicknames; every girl has a nickname on this street.' Deqo skips beside her. 'What is yours?' 'Every girl but me. I liked my own name well enough and didn't care about anyone finding me.' She opens the kitchen door to reveal pots, pans and long knives dumped in a large plastic basket in one corner, and a mat, blanket and cushion in another. 'It's not the Oriental but it's better than the ditch, no?' Deqo nods. Falling asleep in a warm kitchen with the smell of proper food in her nostrils is good enough for her. 'We all like to cook for ourselves but you might be asked to help chop or watch over dishes. When you're not cleaning stay within earshot in case we need you to run an errand.' * * * That night, as Deqo huddles in the kitchen, imagining her barrel in the ditch empty and miserable without her, she hears men's voices. She jumps up to peer out of the doorframe. All of the doors to the women's rooms are thrown open and light spills onto the courtyard. 'Stay away from me!' a young girl shouts from the hallway. 'Oof! I don't want you anywhere near me, you cannibal.' Deqo guesses that it is Stalin. An older man appears, carrying a leather bag into Karl Marx's room. He looks back, smirking, as Stalin continues to pour curses onto his head. He enters the room without knocking and then the glowing strip of light underneath Karl Marx's door is extinguished. All through the night Deqo is woken by slamming doors, raised voices and other more mysterious sounds. She feels more anxiety here than in the ditch, but also insatiable curiosity. She suspects the origins of her own story lie in a place like this, that it is time to uncover the facts of her birth. Her eyes remain wide in the dark, her ears attuned to every little squeak, her dreams evaporating like mist. It had been far easier to sleep in the ditch, where it was too dark to see and so quiet at times that she could hear the blood rushing through her veins. * * * The morning comes, bright and demanding, just as Deqo is falling asleep. She resists its call for as long as possible before realising just how late it is. She eats the canjeero that someone has placed beside her on a tin plate and washes her face and arms under the weak flow of the courtyard tap, unsure if she is allowed in the bathroom. Shaking her arms dry, she peeps into Stalin's open door and, finding it empty, grabs a cloth from the kitchen to start work. To her it is just an excuse to touch interesting things; she has no idea how to clean the various jars, instruments and trinkets scattered around the room, but she enjoys handling them, turning them around in the light and imagining their use. Eventually her attention turns to the mattress on the floor with its sheets entwined into floral ropes; she shakes them out, smoothes them back over the bed just as she has seen the nurses do in the hospital, and then lifts the striped pillow. She does a double take at the sight of the butcher's knife hidden beneath it. She doesn't touch but leans over to take a closer look: the blade is a long, wide slice of silver, the black handle has grooves moulded into it so that it can easily fit into a hand, and around the point where metal meets plastic is a dark stain that might be rust or old blood. 'Get out of here, thief!' a girl shouts before pushing past Deqo and grabbing the knife, pointing it at her face. 'Who told you that you could enter my room?' Deqo raises her hands in terror and points to the courtyard. 'Nasra,' she stutters. 'Nasra! Did you bring this street kid into the house?' the girl yells. Nasra joins them in the tiny room and pushes the knife away from Deqo. 'Stalin, what are you thinking? I said she could work here. You can't just stick a knife in every stranger's face.' She sighs. 'Didn't you see her asleep in the kitchen?' 'I went out to buy my breakfast.' Stalin looks Deqo up and down. 'You shown her to anyone yet?' Nasra glares at Stalin before ushering Deqo out of the room. 'Go to Karl Marx's room, she won't say anything to you.' Nasra closes the door and stays behind with Stalin. Deqo looks over her shoulder. Still trembling slightly, she decides to stay out of Stalin's room in future and leave her to clean it on her own. Stalin is the opposite of Nasra: stocky, muscular, stern-faced, her hair pulled back from her face and pomaded - she looks ready to beat someone to a pulp. What did she mean about showing me to someone, wonders Deqo. I am not a wild animal, there is nothing to see. She crosses the yard to Karl Marx's room and knocks before entering. It takes a few seconds for her eyes to adjust to the gloom, but when they do she sees Karl Marx on her back with her palms on her chest. Deqo stands beside the door, unsure if the shape on the bed is breathing or not. 'Come in, I'm not dead. Not yet anyway,' Karl Marx says without opening her eyes. 'I have come to clean your room.' Deqo holds back the sneeze tickling her nose. Karl Marx doesn't move a muscle; her profiled face is sharp and pale against the blue wall. 'Clean it then.' Her words seem to come out through her large ears or thin nostrils as her lips do not move. Deqo takes the cloth and sweeps a layer of dust off the windowsill, but it is inhibiting having another person in the room. Karl Marx begins to shift, flinging her legs to the side of the bed and yawning loudly. Deqo glances at the woman's skeletal naked body, her protruding collarbones forming a yoke around her neck, bleeding sores crisscrossing the skin on her meagre thighs. Deqo examines her discreetly and sees a woman who should be in hospital. Karl Marx grabs a corner of the bedclothes and dabs at the blood on her legs; she is unperturbed by her appearance and slowly rises, showing the two triangular bones of her buttocks as she retrieves a diric from the floor. Deqo feels a lump in her throat and hums softly to distract herself. 'You one of Nasra's?' ' Haa, yes.' 'You selling?' 'Selling what?' 'The thing between your legs.' Deqo takes a minute to decipher what could be worth selling or even possible to sell between her legs. 'No! I clean and run errands only,' she says hurriedly. She imagines Karl Marx doing what the goats and stray dogs do when they mount each other and is disgusted. That is what makes a whore a whore, she realises, and her eyes widen. Karl Marx sits down heavily and looks at Deqo with lowered eyes. 'I was your age when I started this.' Deqo cannot see what anyone would want with Karl Marx; she looks like she has TB, typhoid and every kind of sickness going. In Saba'ad people would have run from her. 'Look at me,' she says. Deqo stops and looks her squarely in the face. 'How old do you think I am?' There are already white hairs on her head, her breasts beneath the sheer diric hang down to her navel; she is far into old age in Deqo's estimation. 'Go on, say it.' 'Fifty? Fifty-five?' Karl Marx laughs, revealing broken khat-stained teeth. 'You little bitch! Take twenty off that and you're close.' Deqo smiles in return, not believing her words but too polite to challenge them. 'Why are you called Karl Marx?' she asks. 'Because I have shared and shared and shared until there is nothing left to give.' She clutches at her bosom and sighs. 'What about Stalin and China?' 'Stalin is named after Jaalle Stalin of the Russians for her brutality, and China is a favourite of the coolies. Nasra doesn't want a name.' Her attention turns to the store of white medicine boxes on the floor, and while Deqo straightens the bed she crunches tablet after tablet in her mouth. 'What will your name be?' 'My name is Deqo, I don't want it to change,' she says firmly. If Nasra didn't need a new name to live here then nor would she. 'Wash those clothes for me, would you?' Karl Marx points to a pile by the door. Deqo hesitates, unsure if laundry is one of her duties, then decides to ingratiate herself with Karl Marx; it can't hurt to have another ally against Stalin within the house. She picks up the laundry and leaves. * * * Deqo drops Karl Marx's clothes into a basin in the courtyard and then scrubs them under the tap with a green soap; the trickle of water is so slow that she leaves the basin and attempts to finish the rooms before returning. After knocking three times on China's door and not receiving a reply, Deqo pads across to Nasra's room, where incense burns in a white clay urn. Nasra has just had a shower and her hair is wrapped in a towel away from her long neck. The skin above her knees and elbows is paler than the rest and mottled with small moles that rush over her chest and thighs; she rubs a milk-white cream on her body with a rough motion, kneading the flesh between her fingers and pulling it away from the bone. 'Take some.' Nasra holds out the bottle. Deqo squirts a tiny amount into her palm and returns the bottle. The scent of the lotion, the razor blade and the myriad jars of perfume on the dresser seem to express the metamorphosis from little girl to woman, the necessary grooming and management demanded by a body grown large and wild. She rubs her hands together and puts them to her nose, the lotion's scent is overwhelmed by soap, charcoal, bread and sweat. Nasra rips the towels from her head and body and stands in all her splendour before the wardrobe. Deqo averts her eyes, but the difference between Nasra's solid thighs and backside and Karl Marx's makes her want to look again and check how a grown woman is meant to be; to see how many changes her own body will undertake. 'You slept well?' Nasra flicks through the folded piles spilling out of the wardrobe. 'Yes,' Deqo replies enthusiastically, despite the fact she barely closed her eyes. 'Good. Maybe you will stay with us then.' Nasra dresses, choosing her clothes carefully. 'You have to tell me if you need anything. I want you fat and happy, understood? I want you to be my little girl.' 'Yes, Nasra,' Deqo smiles broadly. 'Have you ever seen the sea?' 'Never.' 'I will take you to Berbera one day, to see my family.' 'What's it like there?' 'The same as Hargeisa but with the sea next to it, and fishermen selling their catch on the beach and Yemenis touting qudar , a kind of date drink, and my mother with her scissors cutting my hair every month.' Nasra smiles. She turns on the stereo and then changes the cassette, searching through tape after tape, declaring the provenance of each as if she is a radio presenter: Indian, Arabic, Congolese and American. Deqo cannot tell them apart but likes them all; the room suddenly feels crowded and animated by invisible musicians, singers and dancers. Nasra finds a Somali song and then settles back on the unmade bed, a photo album in her hands. She flicks through it; the photographs have the texture of distant, half-forgotten memories behind the opaque paper and Nasra's smile fades. Deqo looks over her shoulder at the images: bare-footed young girls playing in the surf, a hard-faced matriarch glowering in front of a savannah studio backdrop, a thin, wild-haired man standing proudly in front of a white boat. 'Who is that?' Deqo jabs a finger at the photo. Nasra wipes away the greasy mark left on the film before answering, 'My father.' 'Is he a fisherman?' 'He was.' She turns the page quickly and skims through the other photographs without really seeming to see them. 'I don't know who or what my father was,' Deqo says with a nervous giggle. She tries to place an arm on Nasra's shoulder and then thinks better of it. 'You're from the camps, aren't you?' 'Yes, Saba'ad.' 'Well, he was probably a poor nomad then, and your mother a long-haired sultan's daughter from a village by a river, and they met and ran away together for love and had you. Is that right?' Nasra jumps from the bed and shoves the album in a drawer. Deqo almost purrs with delight; Nasra's story fills her with light and warmth. 'Yes! Yes! Yes!' she wants to shout, but she just swings her arms instead. The truth is so brutal in contrast. She has no knowledge at all of where the rest of her family are; there are no stories passed on by cousins, no villages to return to, no genealogy to pass on if she ever has children of her own. She is like a sapling growing out of the bare earth while others are branches on old, established trees. Her teenage mother had a mark on her neck the shape of a crescent moon and dots burnt into her chest like an old woman, Nurse Doreen had said. That was all the description she had. No face, no body, just burnt dots and a crescent moon to remember a mother by. 'Who has flooded this damn place?' shouts Stalin from the courtyard. 'Oh no,' whispers Deqo and rushes back to finish the laundry. * * * As the courtyard shifts from blue to indigo to black, Deqo picks dirt from under her fingernails and feels the bones of the house cracking as it eases into the night. Soon each corner of the house is lit by paraffin lamps, and she falls into a light sleep that dulls the noise around her but doesn't silence it: footsteps, clicking locks, laughter, faint music, discussion, bed springs, silence. The smell of tobacco wafts over from Nasra's room to the kitchen. It is late when Deqo hears a rapping on the back door, insistent bursts every ten seconds. She scrambles to her feet and places her ear close to the door. She peeps through the keyhole and sees a waste ground where rubbish is dumped and charcoal made. She is frightened at the thought of letting that darkness in. 'Who is it?' she demands with more courage than she feels. 'Open up! I'm here for Nasra,' a deep, male voice replies. 'I am not allowed to let anyone in.' He kicks the door. 'Either let me in or I will find my own way.' 'I can't let you in!' Deqo jams her shoulder against the door. Silence, and then the scrape of feet up the wall and over the corrugated tin roof. Deqo ducks down as if he might fall on top of her. Within moments a huge man in a long overcoat leaps down into the courtyard. Deqo can just pick out his nose and sneering lips under the shadow of a military beret pulled low over his forehead. He straightens his knees and disappears towards Nasra's room and Deqo hears Nasra's door lock just after he enters; she hides in the hallway as first Stalin, then China pop their heads out of their rooms. She returns to the courtyard and crouches to spy through the window into Nasra's room. Deqo's eyes and ears strain to take in as much of this drama as she can, her face creeping upwards, her nose jabbing the glass. The man towers over Nasra; he hasn't removed either coat or hat but paces around her as she stands erect in just a red satin underskirt pulled up to cover her breasts, a cigarette burning between her fingers. They don't speak or touch. Nasra catches sight of Deqo's eyes in the window and slams her palm against the glass. Deqo rushes back to the kitchen, ashamed to be caught spying, and throws the blanket over her head; she balls up her hands and digs her nails into her flesh, angry that she has made Nasra angry. She doesn't cry but sits with her back to the wall feeling bereft. Nasra doesn't come and eventually she hears the man leave through the back door. She spends another sleepless night in the kitchen, her sense of safety breached, waiting for more giants to jump over the wall and appear right before her in the middle of the night, with guns, or knives, or with nothing but their strong hands to squeeze the life out of her. * * * Deqo wakes late to footsteps all around her. The charcoal stove burns a few inches from her feet and Stalin kicks her leg to move her out of the way. 'Deqo, get us some sugar from the shop,' Nasra asks, as she fans the fire and takes a bundle of notes from her brassiere. Picking up her caday from the mat, still bleary-eyed, Deqo stumbles out into the street, brushing her teeth while she walks. She is met by a cacophony of crowing cockerels, braying donkeys resisting their harnesses, young boys play fighting in school uniforms, women shaking buckets of feed at their goats, and the drumbeat of adolescent girls beating carpets with sticks. She stops to watch a cat suckle the kittens mewling around her and then continues on to the corner shop feeling content with her new place in the world. In the camp it was as if each day brought a new threat - maybe a fire, or flooding, a new outbreak of illness, or someone would die inexplicably; life was just a tightrope to be walked pigeon-toed. Deqo and Anab would imitate the German doctors in the camp by checking each other's pulses, feeling their foreheads for fevers, and knocking sticks against their joints; they made a joke of it but the fear of falling sick was always there. Of the children in the orphanage, five had already died, three from disease and two in a violent clash between different clans. She remembers the tubes of reed matting they had been wrapped in before burial, the rolls so narrow and small they resembled cigarettes. During the fighting that killed the two boys, the aid workers were sent away for a few days, and it had occurred to Deqo then that they belonged somewhere else, that this camp was just one of many camps they had seen, that their real homes were far away, safe and rich. Nurse Doreen was the only one to stay behind. She was like a mule, tireless and uncomplaining; the harder it was in the camp, the more excited she seemed. She had tried to describe her childhood in Ireland to Anab and Deqo; she had a pony, she said, and cows, and it rained nearly every day she could remember, and it wasn't the kind of rain people looked forward to here but a hard, cold, stinging one that made her grandmother's bones ache. Deqo had enjoyed playing with Nurse Doreen's long, grey-streaked hair as she spoke and imagining it the tail of her own horse; Nurse Doreen had liked Deqo to place her cool fingers on the red, burnt skin of her shoulders where it refused to go brown like the rest of her arms. Nurse Doreen was good, was goodness; she gave that word meaning in a way few people did. Deqo feels a pang of longing for the woman her life had once orbited around. She wonders how the Guddi will explain her disappearance to Nurse Doreen. They will probably just scratch her name off the register and give no explanation; no one dares challenge them, least of all the aid workers who have to do what they are told by the armed policemen who bounce around the camp in jeeps. Just a few paces from the corrugated-tin store, Deqo's attention turns away from the blue sky criss-crossed with vapour trails to the street, and the blur of flared jeans, afros and tight shirts as dozens of young men and boys pelt past her. They are pursued by soldiers in various vehicles. As the street narrows the soldiers disembark and chase on foot, jumping on their quarry as they scramble up walls and seek shelter in the rambling confusion of yards and alleyways. A young boy inside the store creeps out of the back of the structure and hides inside a derelict goat pen nearby. It is like a huge, furious game of hide and seek that Deqo is excluded from, one reserved just for boys. A lorry pulls up to block the far end of the street and some of the captives are led to it, heads bowed, arms twisted behind their backs. A woman bars the entrance of her bungalow with her body, but two soldiers throw her out of the way and drag a boy out by his long hair. The woman trots behind, pleading for his release: 'Let him go, he is all I have, he is too young for conscription, let him go, walaalo .' Deqo stands on the outskirts of this scene, enveloped by dust and holding her arms protectively over her chest; she is reminded of the slaughter of animals during Eid at the camp, when nomads arrived with sheep and goats and sold them to the wealthier families, the animals separated violently, bellowing. She enters the empty store, takes a packet of sugar from a shelf and leaves the money in its place before fleeing to Nasra's house. The women are at the door when she reaches the bungalow; they peer up the street. Stalin has a smirk on her face but the others look anxious. 'It's the second time this month. What do they want with all these kids?' China shouts. 'Cannibals, they want to eat the fruit of our wombs,' replies Karl Marx. 'Look at them run! Wasn't that the bastard who threw a rock at my window? Not so tough now, is he?' Nasra chews the corner of her headscarf and doesn't join the conversation; she places a hand gently on Deqo's back and leads her into the house. * * * Deqo stands in the darkness of the bathroom and shivers as cold water pours out of the bucket above her head. 'Scrub your hair,' demands Nasra. Thick lather drops into her eyes and sits on her neck; the shampoo smells so good that Deqo keeps stopping to take deep inhalations. 'You'll look beautiful by the time I've finished with you.' 'Where are the soldiers going to take those boys?' Deqo asks with her eyes closed. 'To the south, to train for the military.' Nasra fills another bucket from the tap and throws it over Deqo. 'Don't they want to become soldiers?' 'No! Why should they? This government isn't on their side.' 'But the President cares about us, he is our father.' Nasra laughs. 'Well, that is what the songs say, but I don't think that is the truth. You learn that in Saba'ad?' Deqo nods and shows off the dance that Milgo taught her, her feet squeaking against the wet floor. 'Steady yourself, that dance won't win you any friends here.' Nasra slides her hand up and down Deqo's bare back, washing away the last trail of lather. Stalin appears and leans against the doorframe. 'You have your work cut out with this Bedu. Look at her chicken legs - and she's not even circumcised!' Deqo cups her hands around her privates; it had felt natural being bathed by Nasra, as if she was an older sister or mother, but the way Stalin looks at her makes her shrink. The woman's eyes pick her apart and seem to say, 'Look at you, no one loved you enough to even circumcise you; you're wild and dirty.' 'You don't have anywhere better to be, Stalin?' Nasra says dismissively. 'Not now, no. I've got a knife if you want me to cut it off, hey Deqo?' Deqo edges away from her, her legs pressed tightly together. 'You think you looked any better when you arrived? You were followed by fleas wherever you went. Get out of here!' Nasra scatters water at her. 'If you're not careful, I will sell her from under your nose,' Stalin retorts before retreating. 'What did she mean by that?' Deqo asks, her eyes to the ground. 'Nothing, she's just a fool and jealous that you're better looking than her.' She cups Deqo's face and squeezes her cheeks playfully. 'Don't let her bother you. I am your protector now and no one gets the better of me.' * * * Just as the curfew is about to bite, Deqo is stirring a lamb stew that Nasra has put on the stove when someone bangs at the main door. 'Open it!' shouts Nasra from her room. Deqo finds Rabbit, the old drunk from the ditch, swaying on their doorstep. He pushes into the house and without looking at her makes a clumsy beeline for China's room. 'My darling, habibti, it is your friend here,' he croons, beating his yellowed palm on the splintered wood. 'Who told you to come here?' China bellows, pushing the door open and shoving his shoulder. 'My love, you have two things I want, let me have just one and I'll be on my way.' China reaches into the pockets of his grey trousers and pulls out the empty white lining. 'Do I look like the Red Cross to you? I don't service beggars or accept them in my house.' 'Just give me a swig of whisky, then.' He holds out his hands and cocks his head to the side. 'I was a good customer when I had money, you know I was. I might even be that dear boy's father.' 'In your dreams.' China grabs Rabbit's padded shoulders and lifts him off his toes. 'As if you have anything in you apart from disease and alcohol. You have nothing to do with my child!' Nasra enters the courtyard with a smile on her face and then Stalin and Karl Marx join the audience. 'Beat the fool!' shouts Stalin. 'You still owe me a hundred shillings.' Karl Marx bends down and takes the battered shoes off the man's feet. 'I'm keeping these till I get my money.' They are like cats with a mouse, Deqo thinks, batting him around for pleasure. 'Ladies, I am a poor man, I give when I can. You should have mercy on me.' 'This isn't a place for mercy, you know that, Rabbit,' Nasra says, winking conspiratorially at Deqo. 'The world hasn't done us any favours, why should we help you?' 'I'm not like the others, I have never hurt you. Don't humiliate a helpless old man!' He sounds pitiful, on the verge of tears. Deqo giggles guiltily; it's true he hadn't hurt her, but it's exciting to see him dangling in the air, being taught a lesson in respect by these women. Stalin kicks him in the backside and then they all pounce on him. 'Throw out the trash,' they shout together. While Deqo holds the door open, they each take a limb and carry him out, swinging his body a few times before slinging him into the street. 'A curse on all your heads,' he shouts as he hits the dirt with a thud. Deqo closes the door on him. The women slap each other's backs and seem more joyful than Deqo has seen them so far; it feels as if it is not just Rabbit that has been expelled, but some tension or cloud has been lifted too. They laugh and laugh until they are bent over and weak. 'Poor man!' wheezes Karl Marx. Deqo leans against Nasra and wraps her arms tentatively around her waist, beaming too. * * * Just as Deqo has become accustomed to the heavy drum of rain on the corrugated tin lullabying her to sleep, the rainy season comes to an abrupt end. A whistling draught replaces the leak of water from the rusted roof as jiilaal winds try their best to sneak into the bungalow. Nasra stuffs the holes with cloth when Deqo complains of the cold and leaves the stove burning a little later into the evening. The shrieking wind reminds Deqo of the hardships the jiilaal would bring to Saba'ad: red, infected eyes from the grit, old people perishing from the night chill, fights between the refugees over water. It was a time of forbearance and endless waiting. The only good thing it brought was deep, cloudless skies. She remembers clambering up the barred window onto the flat roof of the orphanage with Anab and watching the camp settle into sleep. If there was enough moonlight they could see pale mountains in the distance and beneath them a swathe of the camp. Everything crisp and clean, the sky blue-black and the stars like a thousand kind eyes watching over the forgotten people, smoke from cooking fires spiralling up like prayers. She feels a pang for that view, for that moment in life when Anab was beside her and the world they knew was calm and peaceful; there is no way to reclaim it even if she returns to Saba'ad. The routines of the house have become familiar to Deqo and she knows which customer is for which woman: the younger, smartly dressed men go to Nasra, the middle-aged husbands hiding their faces behind sunglasses to Stalin, the drunks and gangster types to China, and the humble workers to Karl Marx. Nasra complains that there are only one or two customers willing to brave the curfew most nights and they are China's type rather than hers. Once upon a time they had journalists, and businessmen with dollars in their pockets, she said, rather than hawkers, drunkards and criminals. The last night of the year arrives and the only male voices to be heard in the house are from the radios; it is too cold, dark and blustery for even the drunks. The evening passes glumly with Deqo sitting on Nasra's bed, watching her rearrange the room; she moves the furniture from one place to another and throws out many of her possessions because she claims to be bored with them. She leaves the pile in the hallway for Deqo to pick over and then throws herself face down on the bed. 'What I wouldn't do to leave this place!' she says, squeezing a pink cushion into her eyes. Deqo lightly strokes the back of her hair. 'Who would have said my life would come to this? I'm clever, you know. I'm not a drunk like China or illiterate like Karl Marx. I could have been someone. Once you do this it's like you can never get out, never be anything else. I go outside and people look at me as if I'm a ghost walking around in the daytime.' 'Is that why you don't leave the bungalow much?' 'That and I feel as if I have nothing left out there. Why am I even telling you this?' She drops her head onto the quilt and then brings it up again. 'I don't feel like a real person. I have no family, no friends, no husband, no children. Every day I open my eyes and wonder why I should bother getting up, or eating, or earning another shilling. No one would miss me, in fact my mother would be happy to hear that I have died, she would clap her hands and say that her shame has been lifted.' Nasra hides her face and sobs, and with wide, anxious eyes Deqo sits up. 'I would miss you, Nasra,' she says hurriedly, patting her back. Nasra doesn't reply and Deqo understands that she is not enough for Nasra, not by a long way. * * * The first day of 1988 is bright and blue-skied, the street outside littered with leaves and broken twigs blown about the previous night. Deqo holds a hundred shillings tightly in her right hand, a gift from Nasra to celebrate the arrival of the new year and to maybe apologise for her tears. The little girl who danced with her in the rain is sitting with her mother on a large cement step, resting her face on her knuckles; Deqo waves in greeting but when the girl raises her hand her mother yanks it down. The wiry woman narrows her eyes at her. 'Keep walking,' she shouts. Deqo holds up her head and marches on, but her stomach does a small flip as Nasra's words return to her; she doesn't want to become another daytime ghost. Looking down at her freshly painted red toenails and the clean, lotioned skin of her feet, Deqo sees no reason for anyone to look down on her. She looks good in her mind, better than she ever has before. Her cheeks have filled out and the constant headache she used to have from hunger has gone, but she also feels heavier, slower and less sharp-witted now that she doesn't have to graft for every little morsel. She feels as though she is in disguise: dressed in Nasra's hand-me-down green skirt and white shirt, she wonders if anyone will recognise her at the market or if she will pass for one of the plump and carefree local girls. Deqo veers off to the left to explore an open area she hasn't noticed before; there are scrubby bushes in a sandpit and boys kicking a rag ball. Deqo and Anab had sometimes joined the footballers near the wide, empty riverbed beside Saba'ad; for no obvious reason some matches would just grow until maybe a hundred players gathered, creating a gravelly pitch that stretched for a mile in each direction. More makeshift balls would have to be made from rags tied up with shoestring when the others crumbled under the stampede of toddlers and teenagers, girls and boys - the girls often just picking up a ball in their hands and running to the goal because they couldn't understand why they shouldn't. On those afternoons, when the girls abandoned their buuls and chores and the camp was veiled by the dust they kicked up, Deqo had run and run and leapt for the golden sun, a bright medal just beyond her reach. After watching the boys kick the scrappy ball around listlessly for a few minutes, Deqo skirts the sandpit and strolls up to a crossroad with four tracks leading away from it. She chooses one randomly and passes the giant power station, the Pepsi factory with rows of trucks parked outside, and then after another patch of scrubland there is the ditch, full of trash and spirit bottles, and a rope bridge to the other side of town. Looking down on the ditch from the swaying bridge, it is hard to believe that she once spent her nights there; it is a wild, dark jungle, a no-man's-land full of threat and danger, her barrel probably full of snakes or scorpions by now. It is the kind of place where human skeletons might sink into the soil undisturbed and unmourned. She is a different girl now to the one who had sought shelter in that wasteland; she must have outgrown and abandoned some kind of shell or cocoon there. The market has been her salvation, its noise and smells and rough interactions have kept her human, and she reaches it with relief, clasping the treasure in her hand more tightly. She has never had a hundred shillings before and has to fight the desire to hide it from herself for a rainy day, but Nasra made her promise to buy something frivolous with it. The spot where she had sold stolen fruit is hidden behind the large backs of several middle-aged market women. Children swarm around her newly long legs - pallid glue sniffers, shoeshines, pickpockets, religious students in long white robes and prayer caps, street sweepers - there are enough of them to populate a small town of their own, with hierarchies, feuds and alliances to match anything the adults can muster. No one recognises her, her transformation complete; who would believe it is the same Deqo who used to sleep in a rusty barrel? She catches her reflection in a mirror hanging up in a clothes stall and sees a girl with neatly pinned up hair holding her nose imperiously high. Nothing grabs her attention enough to part her from the hundred shillings until she reaches a corner stall with animals. The trader, sitting on a stool with a white lamb cradled in his arms, has dark, pitted skin and oily straight hair and smiles a generous smile as she approaches. A tortoise crawls lethargically around his feet, tied by a leg to the stool, various birds squawk and flap inside cramped cages, and in the depths of the stall she can see a small brown-mottled fawn sat on its haunches. Deqo quietly kneels beside it and the fawn looks at her with terrified, wet eyes. 'How much?' Deqo asks the trader. He scratches his jaw before answering, 'Give me five hundred.' She runs a hand over the animal's back; it trembles with each rapid heartbeat. It should be with its mother. 'I only have a hundred.' 'Oh, forget it, then.' He turns back to the street and spits. 'What do you feed it?' 'Cow's milk. Why don't you ask your mother for more money if you like it so much?' 'I don't have a mother.' She scratches the fawn under its chin and its ears flick in response. 'Or your father then. Or...' He drags a straw basket over to his stool and tips it so she can see inside; a flurry of yellow chicks fall over each other and chirp in alarm. 'You can have one of those for a hundred. Pick one.' Deqo pats the fawn on its head and then examines the chicken orphanage. She pities their fragility; it would be easy to crush one in her palm. She sticks her hand in and strokes the downy chest of one flailing on its back. The first two years of her own life had been spent in the overcrowded cots that contained the camp's youngest orphans, where they were left to clamber over each other and poke curious fingers into unguarded eyes. Somehow she had emerged from that cage and learnt to walk and talk and feed herself. 'I'll take her. And when I have enough money I'll come back for the deer,' she says resolutely. He mock salutes her and takes the money. 'I'll be waiting for you!' Deqo walks back to the house slowly, tickling her face with the chick's fuzz; she hopes that it will one day grow into a proud, bright-plumed hen, the matriarch of her own ever-expanding brood. * * * China steps over Deqo to set the kettle on the charcoal burner; she harrumphs and makes indistinct complaints aimed either at Deqo or the baby tied to her back. The boy's face is squashed hard against China's back; it looks uncomfortable but he doesn't whimper. Deqo is half grateful, half envious that she has never been carried like that. The chick is on her lap, walking up and down the length of her thighs. 'I thought you were meant to work in this house, not just sit there with that thing and eat our food?' 'I have finished the cleaning, China. Is there anything else you would like me to do?' she replies calmly. 'Well, take this weight off my back for a start.' She unwraps the boy and dumps him into Deqo's arms. Nuh's arms flop to the side of his body; he smells as strongly of alcohol as his mother and seems drunk too, his eyes half closed and motionless. She looks up sourly at China. Why did you get to keep your child when you can't even care for him? she thinks. 'Deqo!' Nasra exclaims. A tall man with a wooden cane stands behind her in the courtyard. 'You're back. Is that what you bought?' She points to the new chick. 'Have you named it?' Deqo shakes her head. 'I'm still deciding.' 'Does that child belong to her?' the man asks. He lifts his sunglasses up to look at her more closely, muttering something into Nasra's ear. 'Of course not, that is China's son.' The man steps further into the kitchen and bends down over Deqo; he smiles and reveals two gold canines. 'Pretty girl,' he says, catching her nose between his tobacco-stained fingers. 'You're in good health, aren't you, Deqo?' Nasra gently pulls him away from her. Deqo nods shyly. 'Let's talk in my room,' Nasra says, leading the visitor out of the kitchen. 'Oh, you're set for the chopping board, little one,' chuckles China. 'What do you mean?' 'You'll soon find out.' China takes Nuh from her and walks back to her room with a flask of tea. Deqo shoves the chick into her skirt pocket and stands beside Nasra's door, but she cannot hear the conversation no matter how hard she presses her ear to the wall. Deqo goes back to the kitchen, telling herself to not be so suspicious; Nasra wouldn't let anyone hurt her. * * * The new year brings new customers - soldiers and plenty of them; the man who jumped into the courtyard returns nearly every night and brings his comrades with him. The house of women has become the house of men, and even Stalin seems humbled. Unhindered by the curfew, they arrive at midnight and leave before dawn, but by that time the bungalow is in chaos, with displaced cups and glasses everywhere, broken plates thrown into the kitchen, cigarette butts and empty bottles littering the courtyard, washing pulled from the line and trampled, urine all over the toilet floor. The women sleep all day, exhausted, while Deqo cleans. The old customers do not come, afraid of the soldiers, and she misses their neatness. It is hard to sleep when there is music all night and footsteps a few inches from her head, but it is their voices that really bother her: Why do men speak so loudly? They shout rather than talk and laugh like the world needs to know they are laughing. She covers her ears while they boast about how the city is theirs, how they can do what they like and no one says anything, and as if to prove that, one of the young conscripts likes to run into the kitchen, pull up her skirt and then escape while the others guffaw. They declare each week that planes and artillery and bulldozers are on their way to Hargeisa, but Deqo never sees them. The chick, now named Malab after her honey-coloured new feathers, has also come under threat from a strange young soldier with a shaven head, who tries to stamp on her if she leaves the safety of the kitchen. The presence of the soldiers has made the neighbours even more hostile than before and the front door is streaked with goat shit. Deqo begins to cover her head and a little of her face when she heads for the market after Stalin is caught by local women and beaten with brooms. They are angry that their husbands and sons have been taken away, and some had come to the house earlier to plead with Nasra to find out from the soldiers where their loved ones had gone. She had refused. It was Nasra they were after, Stalin said when she staggered in, bruised and limping, but the neighbours would send a message through any of them. After the dry season ends, Karl Marx packs a suitcase and leaves one night without bidding farewell to any of them. Nasra, China and Stalin remain behind but are subdued; they take what they want from Karl Marx's room and continue to play act with the soldiers, laughing dryly at their jokes and dancing strangely with them in the dark courtyard. Nasra is glassy-eyed and drinks from China's bottles; she looks through Deqo when she tries to talk to her, her words slurred and incoherent. She has lost weight despite the money she is drawing from the soldiers. Deqo asks why she doesn't send some of them away if they are upsetting her, but Nasra pushes her away and tells her to leave her alone. The air warms up as the months pass but little rain falls; the one tree in the courtyard is desiccated, and even the plastic vine Nasra decorated it with is bleached and brittle. Only Malab thrives in the bungalow, growing fat on the corn Deqo feeds her; everyone else is tired and fragile. None of the women cook anymore; there is just bread, fruit and biscuits to eat and Deqo can feel her wrist bones again. On her way to the suuq she often passes children tied by the feet to a barrel or stake outside their home. They stand for hours as punishment for some misdemeanour, staring at her with absent eyes, rubbing the places where they have been whipped or beaten. Everyone is angry - even the sky is grey and motionless; there doesn't seem to be space for anything but silence and obedience. A new checkpoint is set up at the top of the road and she recognises some of the soldiers from the night visits; they let her through easily while others are stopped and searched. The market is bare and each item is sold at a new, higher price every time she goes there. Many of the traders have disappeared altogether and there are large dark spaces where their stalls used to be. The animal seller has departed along with his tortoise and deer. Deqo feels herself retreating into the past. Memories of Anab alive are eaten up by images of her dead, the quiet penetrated by her cries, the heat and then the cold of her skin as the cholera emptied her, now washing over Deqo in waves. What had made the life seep out of her body but not Deqo's? Had she just wanted to return to her mother enough to leave her little doll body behind and vanish from the earth? * * * Carrying a string bag of papayas and oranges, Deqo opens the door and sees a wide pink suitcase in the hallway. The door to Nasra's room is ajar and she peeks in. The floor is covered with clothes and shoes and Nasra picks through them in a panic and stuffs them into a shoulder bag. Deqo continues to the kitchen before Nasra can shout at her. Malab scuttles excitedly beneath her feet, pecking at her bare toes; she is almost fully grown and her sharp beak stings. Deqo pushes the hen away and begins to peel an orange when Nasra calls her name. The old man with the sunglasses is smoking behind the door while Nasra stands in the middle of the room, dressed in black and wearing a headscarf. She holds her arms out and gestures for Deqo to come closer. 'Little one, I have to leave for a while. I need to go to Ethiopia to find a new job, but you won't be alone, Mustafa is here to look after you. You have to do what he says, OK? He will keep you safe.' 'Can't I come with you?' She reaches out. Nasra pushes her hands away. 'No, that would be too much trouble for me. You stay, you can take my room, you can have all of my things while I am gone.' Her eyes don't meet Deqo's but flit around from one corner to another, and her hands tremble slightly as she throws garments from the bed towards her wardrobe. 'You'll be fine, Deqo. Mustafa is a good man,' she says, but her voice cracks unconvincingly. She watches mutely as Nasra wanders the room, stuffing documents and random belongings into her handbag: red nail varnish, tweezers, comb. A car horn sounds outside the bungalow. 'But Nasra...' 'But nothing! I have to go, stop nagging me.' She yanks her shawl over her head and rushes to the hall, dragging the heavy suitcase with both hands she reaches the front door and slams it shut behind her. Deqo's attention turns to Mustafa. He raises an eyebrow at her. 'Let her go, what do you need her for?' 'When will she come back?' Deqo says, holding back her tears. 'Come sit down with me.' He stubs out his cigarette on a dirty dish, puts an arm around her shoulder and leads her to the bed. 'You've grown since the last time I saw you. That's the thing about little girls, you change every day.' Deqo shrugs his arm away but he grabs the back of her dress and drags her to sit. 'Come on now, don't be like that. We can start off in a good way or you can thrash around and make it worse than it needs to be.' 'I don't want you! Get off me!' she cries, twisting away from him. 'Deqo!' She bristles at the sound of her name in his mouth. 'Watch her leave if you want.' He points to the window with one hand while still holding her dress in the other. Deqo clambers over the bed and catches a flash of Nasra darting from the boot of the white vehicle to the passenger door. She disappears behind the tinted glass, the engine revs and with a blast of saxophones and drums from the stereo she is gone. Mustafa lets go of her and leans back on his arms. 'I will take better care of you than she ever did.' Deqo cups her face in her hands and tears flow onto her palms. She feels her strength seeping out of her and into the soft, rumpled bed. Mustafa's presence encompasses her; his breath, his sprawling flesh, his silent menace. She takes her hands away from her eyes and checks the distance to the door. Her legs are folded under her while his dangle over the side of the bed. 'How much did Nasra tell you about what she does?' he asks, scratching his stubble. Deqo shakes her head but doesn't reply. 'Don't look like your world's caved in, good girls like you are usually the most popular, you'll make a fine living.' Deqo bolts for the door before he has finished speaking but he grabs her ankle and wrestles her to the floor. As she screams he covers her mouth with his hand; his fingers taste of tobacco and ghee. Deqo bites down on them until she tastes blood, but he rips his hand away and punches her mouth. 'China! Stalin!' she cries. 'They won't help you!' he sneers. He pulls her skirt up; she is not wearing knickers because she had washed the two pairs that she owns in the morning. She sees a black stiletto on the floor and reaches for it while he is trying to prise open her legs. He doesn't see it coming as she forces the heel into his eye. He is thrown back in pain. She pitches the shoe to the side then escapes from the room. She runs blindly into the street, her pulse pounding in her temples. She heads instinctively for the market, past the first checkpoint and into a deep throng of shoppers. She navigates around the dawdling figures, clawing her way through until a flat-bed truck parked horizontally across the entrance to the market stops her flight. The crowd is transfixed by the sight of three dead bodies on the bed of the truck: three old men in red-checked sarongs, brown bloodstains like bibs on their white shirts, camel leather sandals on their feet, a nomad's hangol staff beside one of them. Around each of their necks is a board with 'NFM' written on it in red ink. The soldiers seated around the bodies look like hunters posing with the wild animals they have caught, an element of embarrassment on their faces at the wizened, toothless specimens they have found. One of them adjusts the position of the head nearest to him with his dusty boot. No one says a word, neither soldiers nor spectators, it is a silent lesson; a blizzard of flies hovering over the truck makes the only sound. Already the corpses are beginning to turn in the heat; their faces have ceased to have any kind of spirit in them, just slack skin over bones. Copyright © 2013 by Nadifa Mohamed Excerpted from The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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Library Journal Review

The plight of women and girls in Somalia is the focus of this involving second novel by Mohamed, one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists and winner of the Betty Trask Prize for her debut, Black Mamba Boy. This story shifts among the viewpoints of nine-year-old Deqo; Filsan, a young female soldier; and Kawsar, a widow savaged by Filsan for trying to rescue Deqo from a beating. The year is 1987, the eve of the Somali civil war. Women are victimized because of their age, sex, and politics. Children are especially vulnerable, and there is a horrific scene in which blood is taken from them until they die, in order to provide transfusions for those on the "right" side of the cause. Women can also be brutes, and Filsan, despite her own suffering, is hard to like. Still, each character, in her drive to find safety and belonging, is fully realized and at least somewhat sympathetic, and the novel builds to an unlikely but satisfying ending when the three characters' paths cross again. VERDICT Highly recommended for fans of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Americanah) and Tahmima Anam (The Good Muslim), whose novels also deal with the impact on individuals of dictatorships and the struggle for independence. [See Prepub Alert, 9/9/13.]-Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly Review

A brutal confrontation in pre-civil war Somalia intertwines three women's lives in this devastating second novel by Somali-born Mohamed (after Black Mambo Boy), who is named in Granta's 2013 "Best of Young British Novelists" list. The story opens in 1987 in the city of Hargeisa, as the widow Kawsar and the orphan Deqo prepare for a pro-government rally that all locals are required to attend. Deqo, who is nine, has been promised a new pair of shoes if she dances for the crowd. When Kawsar saves Deqo from a beating for forgetting her dance steps, a female soldier, Filsan, arrests Kawsar and beats her so severely that she can never walk again. As Somalia descends into revolution, Kawsar struggles with her painful memories; little Deqo survives on the streets, selling stolen fruit and sleeping in a barrel; and duty-bound Filsan's career unravels along with the country. The three women's paths, perhaps a tad too coincidentally, cross again later, and they take refuge together behind the "grief-blue walls" of Kawsar's home near the titular orchard. Mohamed is a lyrical writer, and although her material could easily be exploited, she does not so much milk it for emotion as elevate it to a kind of searing poetry. Agent: Ben Mason, Fox Mason Ltd. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* The lives of three Somalian women intersect in Hargeisa in the days before the 1987 revolution in Mohamed's (Black Mamba Boy, 2010) powerful, transcendent novel. When Deqo, a nine-year-old refugee, messes up a ceremonial dance, a widow named Kawsar steps in to protect her from a brutal beating. Kawsar is arrested by Filsan, a zealous young soldier, who beats Kawsar when the widow talks back to her at the jailhouse. Kawsar finds herself housebound with a broken hip as her friends prepare to flee Somalia. Deqo seeks refuge with a quartet of prostitutes who give her shelter in exchange for household chores. After spurning the advances of a powerful general, Filsan finds herself relegated to desk duty until she's given an opportunity to go on a mission to deal with a town believed to be aiding rebel forces. As the country tips over into a full-scale revolution, the three women find their paths converging under very different circumstances. Mohamed evokes the burgeoning unrest of a city on the brink of chaos with vibrant, evocative language and imagery, crafting a story that will stay with readers long after the final page is turned.--Huntley, Kristine Copyright 2010 Booklist

Kirkus Book Review

Mohamed (Black Mamba Boy, 2010) takes on the Somali civil war of the late 1980s with the intersecting stories of three women: the elderly widow of a former police commissioner opposed to the authoritarian regime; an ambitious army officer trying to meet her military father's expectations; and a 9-year-old orphan living by her wits. Deqo is in a group of children set to dance at a military celebration in Hargeisa in northern Somalia, but when she forgets her steps, the women in charge beat her. Elderly Kawsar, who has attended the festivities with reluctance, rushes to help the child. As Deqo runs away, Kawsar is arrested. Unfortunately, Filsan, the officer in charge of interrogating Kawsar, has just been humiliated after refusing the sexual advances of a senior officer, and she takes out her fury on Kawsar. Coming home to her close-knit neighborhood unable to walk, Kawsar dreams about her daughter, who committed suicide as an adolescent after being abused by soldiers. When the government's battle against the insurgents intensifies, Kawsar's best friend tries to convince her to leave, but Kawsar stubbornly refuses and ends up alone in the abandoned neighborhood. Having run away after Kawsar's intervention, Deqo ends up living on the streets until she is taken under the wing of a local prostitute. Deqo thinks she has found some semblance of protection, but when the prostitute leaves town, Deqo realizes she's been sold to a pimp and bolts. Meanwhile, Filsan struggles to find her place as a woman in the military. Mohamed does not shy away from showing Filsan's capacity for brutality as well as her vulnerability as a lonely, morally confused woman. She and her captain begin a tentative if doomed relationship before the rebels' strength begins to overwhelm government forces, and the three heroines face final challenges. Despite some strained coincidental connections, Mohamed creates three memorable characters and makes the experience of what it was (and remains) like to live through the chaos of Somalia's dystopia disturbingly real.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.