Hiding in Plain Sight

Hiding in Plain Sight by Nuruddin Farah Read Free Book Online Page B

Book: Hiding in Plain Sight by Nuruddin Farah Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nuruddin Farah
mean in your language?” he says.
    â€œSomething to do with a baby born with a birthmark.”
    â€œYou were born bearing a birthmark?”
    She improvises. “I was named after an ancestor.”
    â€œWhat is your country of origin?”
    Bella doesn’t fancy giving her life history to this stranger either, so she turns on the radio, which jabbers away in a language she does not comprehend.
    David asks, “Do you understand this language?”
    Several young men circulate among the cars with things to sell: fruit, combs, cell phone chargers, and shoelaces. People buy from them as they sit in traffic. Bella rolls down the window and prices several items just to engage these young men and women in conversation and avoid a further exchange with David.
    â€œBarni, eh? That is a beautiful name,” David says.
    In truth, she is rich in names. Her mother called her Isabella, but only when she was upset with her, lengthening the vowels and rolling her tongue over its syllables. Bella is the name by which she is known outside her immediate circle. Barni is her middle name, which affords those who are most intimate with her the chance to address her as BB.
    The question is not what is in a name, but rather how many of them she can answer to. She thinks it is a useful thing to have an array of names, each presenting her with different possibilities. Well aware that people she encounters rarely forget meeting her, even if they did so fleetingly. Yet she sometimes delights in denying having met someoneand, if challenged, asks if they remember her name—whereupon she insists that she is called by a different name. Outside the Horn of Africa, she prefers the use of her Somali name; inside the Somali-speaking region, she is Bella.
    A blind man with a boy for a guide pushes his way toward the car. He is as determined to get her attention as the street hawkers, it seems. He recites a Muslim prayer, wishing her safe passage, and touches her elbow when she isn’t looking. She shrinks from the physical contact and rolls the window up again. Just then the traffic moves.
    Presently, she spots a web in the corner of the floorboards, close to where her foot is resting, a web woven and then forsaken, and then she sees another, this one active, in which a bigger spider has recently trapped a tiny insect, which is now trying to wiggle its way out alive. Bella bends down and frees the insect, which shakes its whole body and then tenses, like a gymnast readying to somersault and hit the ground with his feet wide, balanced and firm. The spider goes in determined pursuit, and both vanish through a gaping hole in the floor of the car.
    With nothing better to do, Bella returns her attention to the driver. She volunteers that she has missed Africa, missed the smell of night fires, the mellifluously tonal languages, and the calls of neighbors across a village courtyard after a day’s hard work has left them too exhausted to bother with the formality of coming out of their homes.
    The driver asks, “So you were born in Africa?”
    â€œBorn and brought up a Somali,” she says.
    â€œBoth your parents are Somali, are they?”
    Again Bella seizes up, and as the traffic moves a little faster, she revisits the most salient fact about her life, which is that for most of her early years she believed Digaaleh, nicknamed “Arab” on account of his very light skin, to be her biological father and Aar her full brother. Shewas seven when she first made the acquaintance of Giorgio Fiori in 1988. Fiori was then on a return visit to Mogadiscio in the capacity of leader of an Italian government delegation charged with determining if Italy should continue funding university education in Somalia and for how long.
    Bella, as it happened, would meet her father again less than a year and a half later, when she and her mother and Aar fled the anarchy surrounding the collapse of Somalia to the coastal city of Mombasa,

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