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Each morning Isiah sings in the yard. His voice wakes me and I lie for a few moments listening to his words.

It is not yet seven and the radio is on and now I sing along to the songs. Beside me a boy is collecting water from the well and I watch the angle of his body with the heavy bucket, the line of women balancing tubs on their heads. We boil milk with ginger and cardamom; Sarah’s coming over for breakfast.

Shabani is back from the mosque in his white ankle-length thawb and is already climbing barefoot amongst his chickens. At school we teach tiny children to draw letters, upside-down and back-to-front images of ‘e’. Each morning they run to us as soon as we arrive, their small bodies pressed to us and ten hands up our arms. Mama Ally hennas our hands one day with a thick, brown mixture. There are lines of our palms and dips across the tips of our fingers and so now my nails are orange and will grow out in crescents of colour.

Sarah and I are fed like we haven’t been fed for years. Like babies, we are, given plates piled high with rice and beans and banana, love and generosity. We can’t say no to these plastic dishes in front of us which are refilled as we protest, our hands to our stomachs. ‘It would be rude not to’ a friend might say to me if I suggest we go for a drink – but, really, here, it would be rude not to. So we eat on the floor, with our hands, the baby across from us testing the strength of his legs. Fed in the way when your heart is breaking.

Walking back from school, we talk about when we were teenagers and laugh a lot. Her hair is blonder in the sun and I love the way she points out the swallows and we both remember our dads. An old man is asleep under an umbrella for shade.

Agatha, one of our children, leans her back on my legs, holds my hand to her chest. I can feel her heartbeat.

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