The wind is wailing. At home, that always meant the weather was changing. It was exciting because the land would be refreshed, we would be refreshed.
Here, the wind signifies nothing. It never stops. It wails through the spaces between the tents in the camp, this place that all of us now call home, as though it’s accusing us of being in its way. Sometimes, it blows a few tents down, scattering the last remnants of their occupants’ lives.
I try not to think about all of this during the day. Life goes on and there is much to be done; water gathering, cooking, looking after the younger ones. But it hits me at night, stinging my eyes like grains of sand in the wind. Even worse, I know that the militia could come for us at any time. They live among us, our attackers, and we, like fish trapped in an ocean rock pool, are easy prey for them as they move freely between the shadows.
I know I should stay put, especially at night, but I can’t keep lying here, listening and waiting. I need to know what’s going on beyond these flimsy walls. I need to know whether anyone is out there.
The wind and the slap-slap-slapping of the faded tarps drown out the sounds of my footsteps as I cross the packed earthen floor. I peek through the tent opening, looking up and down our narrow row. It is one of thousands that criss-cross the sea of matching tents. The moon is full, so it should be easier to see, but it glows red through the clouds of sand kicked up by the wind.
Our row is empty. I watch for a while, expecting a hooded figure to appear at any moment, its machete or rifle flashing in the moonlight. I think about lying back down but something – the moon, perhaps – tugs at me, drawing me out into the windy night.
I pick my way along the row, pausing whenever I think I hear something, or when a new row joins mine. I’m so busy listening and watching and imagining shadows into being that I don’t notice I’ve turned down a path I’ve never taken before.
It’s not until a few minutes later that I find myself, improbably, at the end. The end of the unfamiliar row, the end of the camp, the end of the wall of tents where the wind howls unhindered as though it was the end of the earth.
My breath catches in my throat. At the front of the camp, the only other part of the perimeter I’ve been to, there is always a flurry of activity; aid workers, registration desks, food being handed out, people gathering. But that is miles away.
Here, there is nothing. The red, dry, dustiness spreads out before me, from the tips of my toes to as far as I can see. There are no trees, no huts, no roads, not even a footprint. Just the red moon, hanging low over the western edge of the sky – on its way to America – and the first golden light of morning leaking over the eastern horizon. And me, at the edge.
I stretch out my foot and press it down into the earth, leaving a single footprint.
I don’t think I can find my way home, so I sit down and wait for the sun to rise.
* Title is a quote from Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon