Breach by Olumide Popoola Read Free Book Online

Book: Breach by Olumide Popoola Read Free Book Online
Authors: Olumide Popoola
than the words that leave your mouths. The way you hide your snigger – almost – so that you are ready to catch it should she change her mind.
    ‘If the police come you just say you didn’t know.’
    ‘She is driving. I’m staying here.’
    ‘No one has to know.’
    Her voice shows you how reasonable she is. ‘The baby is very young. It would be smuggling.’
    ‘No one would know.’
    ‘Then why do you tell me?’
    Mariam is still darting back and forth between you, enthralled. The suspense.
    Now the woman’s friend arrives, baby in arm. ‘Hello.’ She is another optimist; you can see it straight away. ‘She just learned this,’ the mother laughs. ‘Spitting bubbles.’ And on cue the baby blows bubbles.
    What is this? What do they want? You have other things to do. You offer her nothing: no reassuring words, no acknowledging smile.
    ‘I’m sorry. Really. I’d love to. If I could.’ The woman is waiting. She can’t do this. She really can’t. Surely you must agree. But your eyes are on the baby.
    ‘Take care.’ She’s understanding.
    Mariam offers a goodbye, but you move your head only slightly. The two women walk off, baby spitting and gurgling.
    ‘We tried,’ Mariam says. ‘Next time.’
    Back at the camp entrance a guy is threading another man’s eyebrows outside a wooden hut, right next to the new shop. Mariam boxes you in the sides; both of you laugh.
    She pulls out her phone, eyebrows raised, almost excited. She is good at this. She is a manager, a manager of affairs. Hers.
    It is especially busy at the entrance to the camp. You watch the endless back and forth. People are always moving; the everyday is a complicated negotiation, a feat of endurance.
    Mariam is quieter than usual. Normally she speeds ahead, getting in front of whoever is on the other side of the phone. It makes the storytelling easier. It’s not a lie then, she thinks. It’s just a story. When you asked her, ‘How is that different?’ she replied, ‘Because they have not asked me. Not directly. I am just saying something that could happen.’
    ‘It’s not happening, though,’ you replied, but Mariam had wiped away your concern.
    She pulls you along with her. You have now passed the slip road that leads back onto the motorway. The police van is parked on the opposite side, like it hasbeen all day, except for the time when the officers change shifts. Their uniform must be hot on a day like this, the bulletproof vests hanging on them like deadweights. Once in a while they parade in their heavy boots and their helmets with visors through the camp, down the main street and back, showing their presence. A reminder that this is merely an unspoken toleration, the staying here. The empty tear-gas canister another cue.
    Mariam stands very still, doesn’t say anything but ‘Yes’, and ‘I understand’ and ‘I’m sorry’. Her voice is flat, no optimism, nothing.
    You hold her hand and wait. As soon as the conversation finishes she drops the phone, her hand limp.
    ‘I need to send money immediately.’
    ‘Yes,’ you say, and pick up the phone.
    ‘You don’t understand, Habena. I really have to make money. Today!’
    ‘OK, no problem. Don’t worry, it will be OK. All of this, it’s just a glitch, a minor delay.’
    You feel like a traitor, using Mariam’s own words when her eyes are much heavier than yours and starting to leak. She turns away from the police, her back stiff.
    ‘Her ulcer… it burst. I took too long.’
    The silence between you is painful. It is too familiar: the impossibilities, the out-of-options.
    ‘Listen, Habena, she is in hospital, but now it’s even more expensive. It’s not the time to tell them I am not working, that I have nothing.’
    You can’t say anything. It’s not the time to say that you were right all along, that she should have told them.
    Her eyes. You can’t look at her.
    ‘Tonight. Where the lorries park.’
    You know the spot she is talking about. Other women

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