The Invisible Map

Maaza Mengiste

Tigist sits in a cramped jail cell that the Libyan smuggler uses for an office. It is a block of hollowed out concrete stuffed with a desk and two chairs. She is trapped in a large prison smashed into the middle of the Sahara desert, surrounded by armed men who pace like predators.
“Make the call,” he says, waving his cell phone in her face. “Tell them you’re in Kufra and once they wire the money, we’ll take you to Tripoli then put you on a ship to Italy.” He wants her to call her parents and ask for the ransom for her release. It is twice what her parents make in a year.
Tigist stares at Kufra on the map and shakes her head to sharpen the blurring lines. How long has she been in this place? She can’t remember when her mornings stopped ebbing to afternoons. It is one long hour turning on its own solitary orbit. An endless circular journey marked only by the rise and fall of the stinging desert sun.
She doesn’t know how to ask for money when she didn’t even say goodbye. It had been so hard then to explain the hopelessness of unemployment, the fear of working hard and getting nowhere, the guilt of having more than some and wanting as much as others. It had been easier to simply look in the horizon and say, ‘I will call them when I get somewhere and they will understand.’
“Do it now,” the smuggler says.

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