The Runaway- Episode 15
by Luula Jama
The nightmares Mumina had been having about the boat accident and the children drowning were replaced by dreams of the police accusing her of blowing up the boat. “Murderer! Murderer!” people screamed at her trial and she saw her parents in the back rows, weeping that they were better off when they thought she had died. Piles of money fell from the sky like rain, drowning her and then there were gunshots.
She woke, sweating and panting, and poured water over her head. She rearranged herself under the creaking ceiling fan and tried to get back to sleep. Usually, just the time she would drift off, the subax call to prayer rang through the windows and woke her again.
Instead of praying, Mumina laced up her running shoes and slowly jogged around the neighborhood, the only person awake other than men at the mosque and the bread man pushing his green cart of fresh baguettes, honking a bicycle horn. At first, she went straight to work, after changing, without washing but after meeting Jama, Mumina started taking more time prepping for her day.
“You’re an idiot,” she told her reflection in the mirror as she adjusted her masar. “He isn’t even at the hospital anymore.” But he might stop by.
He had stopped by, a few days after he checked out of Peltier. He brought Mumina an English newspaper from Hargeisa and a green French-Somali dictionary. Then he came by the next week at lunchtime and followed Mumina to her shady spot by the ocean even though she tried, half-heartedly, to shoo him away.
“You’re like a Djiboutian fly,” she had said.
“Persistent,” he had said.
“Easily squashed.” She had pretended to stomp on his foot to discourage him from coming with her but he took the plastic bag with her lunch and swung it over his shoulder.
“I never see you pray,” he said one day, during the walk to the ocean. Mumina felt safe with him along and had returned to her favorite spot, though she never checked for the money. “I come to the hospital at prayer time and you are the only one still working.”
“I can’t pray,” Mumina said.
“You’re a Muslim, right?”
“There is no God but God and Muhammed is his prophet!” Mumina said. “There is no God but God…” Her voice grew louder and a pack of wild dogs barked at them.
“Okay, okay,” Jama said. “I believe you. So why can’t you pray?”
“Allah won’t accept my prayers.” She hung her head. “I’ve done terrible things.”
“What terrible things could someone like you do?” Jama asked. “You saved my life, is that one of them?”
“I hardly saved your life. Instead of praying, I run,” she said, dodging the question. “I feel the heat on my face, the strength in my legs and the breath, the breath Allah gave me to live, in my lungs. That’s how I pray.”
“Don’t you miss the salat?”
She did. Mumina missed with an ache that felt like burning. Tears pricked her eyelids and she nodded.
“Maybe if you told someone what you did, talked about what happened, you’d be able to pray again. Allah is full of mercy.”
Jama took her hand in his and Mumina didn’t pull away. She was tired of being afraid of the police, of Zaynab, of avoiding Bashir and dreading running into Rashid or Ahmed in town. She hated having a secret and was starting to miss her parents. And she still hadn’t been able to save enough money for night school, Zaynab took it all for rent. Maybe she should use the hidden cash. Maybe it would be better if she told someone, at least part of what had brought her to Djibouti and about the money. But could she trust Jama?
“You can trust me,” Jama said, as if he could read her mind. “I’ll prove it. I’ll tell you where I came from and what I’m doing in Djibouti.”
Mumina stared at him, surprised that he seemed to have a secret too.
“I live in Yemen,” Jama began. He told a story about being engaged to a Somali girl in Yemen who had been killed in a car accident. His parents wanted him to marry, to have children, but he was too upset to think about other women. They decided to arrange a marriage for him to a young relative from Hargeisa. The woman was heading to Yemen on a boat but never arrived and rumors reached his family that the boat had capsized, like so many filled with refugees, and that all the passengers had drowned in the Gulf of Aden.
“I came to Djibouti to find work and to leave behind the memories of the women I am supposed to marry.” Jama hung his head. “They all die. I’m like the fiance of death.”