Winner of the Fresher Writing Prize 2017 (Flash Fiction Category)
Read by Rutendo Musikavanhu
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I saw them as I walked towards the tent that I shared with mama and little brother; two men dressed in such a way that you could tell that they were not from here—blue jeans, black fitted shirt, black boots, and what looked like bulletproof vests. They were surely not from here. Their boots alone gave them away. Only Baba Ahmed wore a shoe here. Although he almost never took them off, it was as efficient as an umbrella with large round holes. In the evenings when he lay on his mat in the open, the little children would insert pebbles through the holes in his shoes. He allowed them. It was a game he enjoyed as much as they did.
As I walked up to the men standing with mama they turned towards me. I am not sure if it's from the noise I make from dragging my feet, weighed down by the mass of my pregnancy or if mama had pointed me out.
‘Ah, you are Aisha. So good to see you,’ the one with the glasses said.
I cannot remember his name. He was so full of laughter. He was so nice. The one with the glasses. They came to talk about my baby. He even asked if I had a name for it. No one had asked me that. I mean, why would they when they were still judging me?
He was always smiling. Not the kind of plastic smile the NGO workers have when they came on Sundays to ration juice like shots of gin for libation. No, no. He had the understanding smile. As if he had been pregnant before. As if he had been forced on the floor by three IDP camp workers, his legs spread open. As if he had been pregnant before and not known which of the three men was his baby's baba.
I saw anger in his eyes when I expected anger and compassion when I expected compassion.
"Look at me; don’t look at the camera,” he continued saying as if redemption lay in his eyes.
He came into the tent with the other one without glasses and showed him the things he should "zoom in on": the one pan burnt in and out, the mattress stuffed with rags. Our poverty.
I was not even ashamed. Someone else, I would have escaped into the camp until they left with their cameras. But he was something else. We had a connection. His was not a practised smile.
As his colleague packed up and he talked to mama in his gentle voice, I walked up to him.
"Can you give me money to buy clothes for baby?" I asked.
If he heard me, I could not tell. He didn't look down at me.
“Allah will give you all the clothes you need,” he said moments later as he hurried away, maybe to smile at Mary in the other tent who had a baby in her tummy too.