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Copyright 2015 Camille Leone

This story is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and incidents are invented by
the author or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any similarity to
actual persons or events is purely coincidental.
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in form or by any means
without the prior written consent of the author.

I have always been under the control and care of men. In the beginning of my life, I followed
orders because it was expected. I had no choice. But I am in America now. And things have
changed. – Aaliyah, from RUSH: The Book of Aaliyah

Aaliyah

My father came into the center much like he does every day, with a smile and a wave for
each person he passes in the hallway. The shirt he wears is so yellow that it reminds me of a
freshly picked banana, and like his grin, it is bright and playful. As the director of the Somali
Bantu center, Ba’ba is a person of great importance. Many of the refugees look to him for
guidance and with eyes full of awe, as if he can snap his fingers and they will magically become
US citizens. Each morning he calls out to the men who line the hallway, “Hello my friend, hello
my brudda.” It is how he greets those he knows well, and even those who are strangers.
Sometimes he raises his hand in the air and slaps the welcoming palm of the younger boys, as if
he is one of them. He even acts as young as them. “You are da man,” he tells them, and they echo
his words. For many it is the first bit of English they will learn. Ba’ba walks with a little skip and
his head is held high, as if he is very, very happy.
My second mother, Kerai, is already at work. She gives my father a fierce scowl because he
likes to flirt with many of the female refugees and workers. She has already warned him several
times about what she will do if he ever cheats on her.
I think my father takes her threats seriously. I also think he would like to keep his guss
weine in one piece.

There are only men on our board of directors. Men who laugh behind my father’s back at
how joyful he seems. Men who look at his playfulness with envy. The same men who want his
job. I think he is very glad not to work for the Target store anymore. Now he gets up and simply
crosses the street to his job of employment. And his picture is in a glass frame along the wall for
all to see when they enter the center doors. He no longer must call himself “Abe” to make people
feel comfortable. Now he shakes the hands of every new refugee and tells them of his time in the
refugee camps of Kakuma and Dadaab. If we were back in Somalia I think I would not be alive,
because I have brought dishonor on my family. And that is why my father will not speak with me
anymore. Instead he tells my second mother what he wishes me to know, or he sends messages
through my little brother Abdi, so that he may take my son to the mosque. I am grateful that
Ba’ba has accepted my son.
Ba’ba gives a very big smile showing all his teeth to put the new refugees at ease. The only
time his smile fades is when he looks at me, for I have disappointed him by not marrying Daniel
Semboga. The Bantu community knows I am no longer with Daniel and that my son is not his
son. Now there are whispers whenever I enter a classroom. And when I sit at my desk, reviewing
the paperwork of the new refugees I can feel them watching me. When I stare back their eyes are
cold, much like the people who disapprove of seeing a white man, a wii caddaan like Aiden
come into the center to pick up his son, and to fetch me.
They respected Daniel. And for a time, they tolerated me. But that was because they were
willing to believe my son was his son, and that one day, we would be married. But now everyone
knows I have sinned before Allah. And for this, I must pay.

It was a no brainer. I was home, so there was no reason for my son to go to the refugee
center. Aadyn didn’t seem too disappointed that he’d be spending the day with me.
“We’ll go down by the lake and catch a frog to go with your turtle,” I promised.
“And then a puppy?” His large brown eyes, so like Aaliyah’s were lit with excitement.
“Sorry, champ. Your mom says no dogs in her house, at least not until you can take care of
one all by yourself.”
I swung him up on my shoulders, making a game of it. I’d taught him how to whistle, among
other things. Even though I wasn’t a member of the Suicide Kings anymore, danger had a way
of following me. We played hide ‘n seek, and I threw a bunch of rocks across the pond, just so he
could see how far they’d skip across the water. Around lunch time we headed back, cos Aadyn
needed a nap and a mid-day snack. But I stopped dead in my tracks when I heard gunfire. I
grabbed Aadyn off my shoulders, whispering for him to stay flat on the ground, just like we’d
practiced. It’s a hell of a thing to teach a four year old to steer clear of bullets. But we’d brought
him into this world, one that wasn’t pretty and didn’t care if the victim was man or child . . .
I just prayed that my son was hiding like I’d taught him, because these guys weren’t just
hunters. They were some sort of home grown militia, and their targets wouldn’t be animals, but
people. A couple of grunts and nods were directed my way, nothing too friendly and nothing
threatening. They were feeling me out, just like I was doing to them.
“Didn’t expect to see another living soul out here,” one of the men said, walking towards
me. He had to be about forty, square shouldered with a bad sunburn.
I nodded, pulling the bill of my cap down. “Howdy.” I extended my hand, and we shook.
“Most of this is my property.”

“All this is your land?” His surprise seemed genuine.
“From that small lake to the gravel road you came in on,” I said, throwing up a thumb in the
direction of my house sitting a few hundred yards behind us. “I’ve been working on my place,
tryin’ to have a nice, safe home for me and my family. I heard all the shootin’ and I came out to
investigate since it sounded so close.”
“Hell, we’re truly sorry about all the ruckus.” He gave me a pained expression, like he was
truly remorseful. “Hope we didn’t scare your missus.”
“Ain’t like she’s never heard gunshots before. I do some target practice from time to time
out here.” I added that last part just cos I didn’t want him to think I’d never handled a gun, and I
wanted it known that I did own ‘em.
The people sitting the cargo bed were getting restless. So was the lady sitting up front in the
truck’s cab. She stuck her head out the passenger side and gave me a long look-see. Her white
blonde hair was teased high on her head, and her lips were frosted pink. “I need to go to the little
girl’s room, Rodger. Ask your new friend if I can go potty.”
If that was my cue to invite her into my house, I wasn’t budging. Thankfully ‘Rodger’
stepped in.
“Shut up, Glenda,” he snarled. “You see I’m talking here.”
“But I gotta go!” she whined. “Alright, I’m gonna make a mess right on the seat. I warned
you.”
“Women,” he muttered, giving me a look that required a Yeah, I know how you feel, bro nod
in return. “She talks too damn much, but man, does she give a good blow job.”
I didn’t bother to nod at that one. Or laugh. All I kept thinking of was whether little Aadyn
had run off by the pond. What if he got too close to the water? What if he’d fallen in the
water?
“Well, it was nice to meet all of you. But I need to, I gotta get my kid.” I didn’t dare turn
away from them. Instead I slowly walked backwards, following a picture in my brain of the path
to the house. I thought about the day lilies Aaliyah had planted on either side of the gravel and
stone walkway. The same stone that Turk had put in for her. The further away from them I got,
the more I felt like breaking into a full out run and screaming my son’s name. And I started
sweating and hoping . . . no, more like I began frantically praying that Aadyn was alright. After
thinking about finding his tiny body, lifeless and floating in the water I started shouting his

name, barreling towards the pond, spinning around and around and pushing back overgrown
weeds, looking anywhere for my boy.
My visitors pulled off. The ones hanging from the truck bed laughed at me, thinking I’d
gone plumb crazy. They don’t know just what a madman I could be, especially if anything
happened to Aadyn. And just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore I spotted one of his little
sneakers. He was curled up and sleeping on a flattened bed of cat o’ nine tails. And I wondered
which one of us was really dreaming.

End of Excerpt
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