The cheikh listened with great empathy, while pretending to be otherwise occupied. When Mouheini had finished, he turned around, “Alhamdulillah, you are safe now. Thanks be to God that the armed men did not get a hold of you.” Turning to Housseina, he said, “Please bring our guests water for their bath, and food to dine on. Tomorrow, we will fill their jerry cans with water from our borehole.”
Mouheini turned to Housseina: “Fada also mentioned something called a borehole. I still don’t understand what this is.”
“It’s a special type of well,” the girl replied, “that makes water easy to get from the ground. You will see for yourselves in the morning.” She handed each girl a long candle.
Despite their weariness, the cousins washed themselves with the warm water, pre-heated outside in the sun during the day. It was the first bath that they had enjoyed in many months; in fact, they had forgotten what clean skin felt like. They had never been so clean, because their prior baths had all taken place in the marshes. Housseina laid out colorful clean clothes for them to wear; clothes that she had sewn for herself and her younger sisters. She also brought out a dish of millet laden with goat meat and vegetable sauce, which the girls ate ravenously.
“Where is Fada?” Mouheini asked Housseina, hoping to thank him and wish him a good night. Longing for the familiarity of his presence, she would have preferred to spend the night at his home. “He has gone to be with his family. You will see him in the morning,” responded the cheikh’s daughter, “Eat and rest now. Your bed has been laid out over there.” Housseina pointed to a mattress lying outside of the home, near the mattresses of other children and women who had already fallen asleep. It was much too hot to sleep indoors. Raichatou turned toward Takat, declaring, “We will sleep well tonight.” Both of them smiled.
Mouheini also wanted to smile. But she had a longing she did not understand, to talk more with someone she hardly knew. And she could not help but go over the day’s events: their near escape from the armed men, the boy in the well, and baby Tahir at home. She picked at her food while the younger girls feasted. Takat, committing senti, exclaimed, “we have been welcomed here as if we were princesses!” The other two girls giggled.
Finally, the trio lay their weary heads to rest; Mouheini slept in the middle, ever-protective of her little cousins. She lay awake looking at the stars, pondering many things. She could not help but think of her imminent wedding with Abdoul. She knew she had no right to question her parent’s choice, but why must she marry Abdoul? Why?
In the middle of the night, Takat woke up screaming from a nightmare about the face of the boy who had died in the well. Mouheini held her tight, caressed her hair, and sang her back to sleep.