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***

Her mother said, “Father has been killed. We must go to live with his rich sister.”

“Where?”

“Shamil lives in England. She has her own shop. She never goes hungry.”

“But where is Father?”

“He was killed in the desert. They buried him in the sand.”

“How can you be sure?”

“You must help me with the twins now, Salej.”

At night Salej thought of Father. He had been gone a long while, but one day he would come home. He would have jewellery for Mother, sweet things for

the twins, a pet lizard for Salej.

The day they left, everyone cried but Salej. She told her friend Cedra, “When Father comes, tell him we are gone to live with Aunt Shamil in her shop in

England. Give him this scarf of mine.”

Cedra nodded, wide-eyed.

Salej watches the other children. Two of the bigger girls are turning a rope while others run in and jump over it. They are all chanting something. If Cedra

were with her they would join in. Cedra was never shy. With Cedra, Salej knew how to play, too

***


Mother is waiting just outside the gate.

“Everyone came but you, Salej! I thought you were lost.”
“I am here now.”
“We must hurry. The shop is very busy.”
“Where are the twins?”
“Pff! They are already home one hour. More. Notice which way we walk, Salej. Tomorrow you must come alone.”
“Why must I come? No one talks to me.”
“To learn English, you must listen first. Use your ears and repeat what others say.”
“Quiet!” roars Salej.
“What is that?”
“It means the children must stop talking. The teacher says it when we open and close our special tables.” Mother is
puzzled,

so Salej adds, “The table has a lid, and inside are books and pens.”

“Do you speak when you open your magic table?”
“Of course not,” Salej answers hotly. “I have nothing to say, I never open my table, there is nothing in mine.”
“Pff!” Mother says. “You must do as the teacher tells you.”

They reach the shop. Aunt Shamil is weighing beans into a paper sack and there are customers waiting. Mother waves Salej

through to the back.

The twins are in high spirits under the friendly incandescent light globe, hiding behind sacks and boxes, leaping out

to shoot each other with invisible but noisy guns. Salej sits gingerly on her fold-up camp bed and for a long time they continue their game, ignoring her and making the dust fly. Finally, one of them runs along the narrow path between the teetering plastic crates and Salej’s bed. She grabs the wriggling, red-faced tot, Pala. Once she is silenced, Eliph emerges from a dim corner.

 

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