last night i shared a shower with a frog. as the water poured from the pipe, still hot from the sun, i saw him bouncing in the corner of my eye. i thought at first it was a jittery cockroach, jagging back and forth in the light carrying through the door’s warped frame. or is it a mouse? neither prospect made me start, accustomed already to sharing space with insects and animals who, in my usual home, so insulated from the real world, would seem intruders. i blinked the soap away, and it hopped onto the bottom of the doorframe. it sat there, wet from the splashes, throat bulging with breaths.
i considered kissing it, but couldn’t remember if frogs were only princes disguised, or if there were a princess or two in the mix, similarly cursed. i decided against it, to spare the awkwardness.
“i didn’t expect that.”
“i’m sure. to be honest, i didn’t either. when i saw you go in for the kiss, i was gonna say something, but, well.....”
“you were a frog.”
“not a great place to be a frog.”
“tell me about it.”
“not much water around.”
“hardly at all.”
“well. i guess i’ll get going. i should probably get back to my kingdom.”
“sure. and i should....finish rinsing off.”
“soap can really dry your skin out.”
the door creaks open.
“hey....uh...frog prince. my sarong’s outside on the line, if you need some clothes.”
“actually, that would be appreciated. when i make it back home, i’ll send it back with some jewels or a goblet or something.”
“don’t worry about it. and hey, sorry i wasn’t some damsel or whatever. i kinda forgot that the frog thing was, like, a dude thing.”
“yeah, we’re pretty much all guys. the girls usually get put to sleep, or held in a castle. that kind of thing.”
“noted. anyway, good luck.”
“you too. thanks again.”
i rinsed off, and creaked the door open a crack.
“you sure you want to do this buddy?”
he bounded out, hopping in the dust towards the middle of the compound.
i’m told, that an hour after the first rain, the night is so loud with the jubilation of their croaked calls that you can’t sleep. these days, it’s silent. no rain, none for months. some mornings, there are clouds, but by noon, they are burned off by the sun’s blaze, harmless things.
last week, i visited the new arrivals’ area. in a midday heat of 40 degrees, an acre of plastic jugs, yellow, red, white attended to by women and children who had heard of a possible water delivery. we stepped out of the truck, and into a crowd of children, each trying to hide behind the next, then getting pushed to the front in a churning cycle of curious eyes. i tried to read them for the dull daze of sickness, or starvation. i knew, though, that those children would surely be in the homes of sticks we had just passed, a hot breeze flapping the plastic sheets above their bed of rags.
i ran into one of our nurses crossing the compound yesterday, and she told me that she had brought water and soap to ten more people who had just arrived, and that tomorrow they would get food. not today, though. no food today. a leader of the nearest camp block put a call to the other refugees to contribute what they could for the newest citizens of one of the world’s fastest growing communities.
6000 last month, more expected this one, most arriving with no food, nor water, nor shelter, to find none, a weekly call going to those who have anything, to share it with these strangers.
and yet, this place, with all of its nothing, is better than what they left. some say its market, barely a blink, is the biggest they have seen. and the most peaceful.
i talked to a man who has been here, in dadaab, for twenty years. “i have no plans to go back,” he said. “everything is here. my friends, my children. one day, though, perhaps my sons and daughters will return. where did you say you were from? Canada? yours is an amazing country. you take many somalis.” he smiled and shook my hand.
i dry myself off, open the door. i walk behind the shower. the ground behind it is dry. no sign of the frog. i listen. the drone of a distant television. above, the clear night sky sparked with stars.
i take my sarong off the hanging line, and walk towards my room. in the corner of the compound, the frog pushes himself into the smooth dust, deeper, sand dry on his skin, the showers splashes a memory. far below, in the baked earth, he waits, saving his voice for a kingdom yet to come.