We had to go. Our tiny corner of Somalia was peaceful, but peace doesn’t bring rain and doesn’t feed children. We started to watch death come. First the animals went, then the people started to follow. Dead animals mean dead people close behind them. No reason to cry much in life, I think, but now I cried. It scared the children, and so the children cried too. 

One in each arm, one clingin’ to each leg, the smallest slung on my chest . . . there was no room for another, but she was already growin’ anyway. When days of crossing the land became weeks, I saw that I was lucky. My boys had come to the world first, then my girls, so the boys could carry their sisters on their backs. My husband led the cattle.

We tried Mogadishu first. Thousands of us went, hearin’ they were giving out rations. True, every few days came a bowl of porridge from the gov’ment. One per family. All those little hands in the bowl, scramblin’ for slop, tryin’ to be the quickest, tryin’ not to let it slip through their bony fingers. How can you stop your children fighting for food? And me tryin’ not to take too much, but there was the one growin’ inside of me. What about her? 

My husband went off to sell our near-dead cattle. He never came back, and I know a bullet got him, ‘cause bullets rang from morning ‘til night. Folks got used to it, so used to it that silence sounded strange. “Mogadishu music,” they called it. But I couldn’t get used to it, and it seemed movin’ on to Kenya would be better. Heard there were camps there givin' food, and no bullets.

And so we walked on. 

Now we were named “nomads.” Nomads with some clothes to share between us, a few pots for cooking, and what else?. . . Nothin’ to cook now though, nothin’ to cook for the last 12 days. Just water to drink.

She was born in her own gush of water, under a tree at dusk. Qali, I named her – ‘precious.’ Her brothers and sisters watched as I pushed and pulled her into the world. Under that tree they made a circle around us. But she was just too small, and me with nothing to give her, dry as the sand we shuffled through. She didn’t even try to eat, just tried to cough when the dust clouds hit, but didn’t have the strength. All night we rested there, and into the next day. 

The puddle where she was born had dried up now. Inside I already knew she was gettin’ ready to return to the dust. I couldn’t keep her alive, and so I couldn’t keep her. I laid her under that tree and tried not to look at her eyes. Her tiny mouth opened to cry, and nothing but a hollow sound came out, again and again. 

Soon she was gone, and we walked on without her. I never stopped hearin’ that hollow, empty sound – soft music that’ll ruin you.

And what was here in Kenya, when we finally made it? Half a million nomads, they say. That’s no camp, that’s a city. Half a million bodies around us, alive, dying, and dead. And the smallest graves you ever seen. No grave for mine though, just sand. 

Qali – her name was the only thing I could give her.


Jessica sometimes writes fiction inspired by news stories she reads on the BBC.