“It’s today, Nelani.” Miriam and the other girls were excited. “Your interview with First Lady Bathsheba.”

Nelani looked round the circle of smiling faces. Since she and Miriam had moved into the Soul Side girls’ block, she had been waiting to hear when First Lady would see her.

They were sweet girls, and Nelani had been surprised and pleased that there were almost equal numbers of black and white girls. They had all made her welcome, many of them stroking her arms, the same way Miriam did. It must be a Soul Side thing.

One of the girls, Merab, was pregnant, and Nelani had asked Miriam about that.

“Like, how did it happen, when she says she’s been here over a year? I mean, when we get to see Caleb and the other boys, there’s never any chance of a girl and a boy sneaking off together, the way there’s always an older sister or brother chaperoning us.”

She had pulled a comical face as she said it, but Miriam didn’t share her humorous disgust, remaining serious.

“Naturally, to make sure Father Abraham’s worthy girls aren’t contaminated.”

“So Merab? She’s unworthy?”

“Of course not!” Miriam was shocked. “Merab has been very specially blessed.”


“By Father Abraham.” Miriam’s face always glowed radiant when she talked about him.

Nelani stared at her. Surely Miriam didn’t mean what it sounded like? No, how could she? These were good people.

And now she was going to meet him, the man who had started Soul Side and brought all these dear, kind people together. Well, she was, if First Lady Bathsheba found her worthy.

“How old are they?” she asked the girls surrounding her, all looking so happy for her that her day had come. “First Lady and Father Abraham? I mean, the name Father Abraham sounds really ancient, like an old man in robes with a long grey beard.”

Giggles erupted all round her.

“Silly Nelani.” Naomi gave her a hug. “He’s nothing like that, you’ll see.”

“I don’t know how old he is, but he’s definitely not ancient,” Miriam said.

“But not just a young guy either,” Keturah added. “He’s so handsome, and he dresses amazingly, and always smells so nice.”

“First Lady has some gorgeous clothes too,” Naomi said.

They themselves always dressed modestly. Miriam had been shocked at Nelani’s shorts with the little cotton lace inserts at the tops of her thighs when she had appeared in them, her first morning at Soul Side. Wanting to fit in, Nelani had accepted the gift of one of Rebekah’s old skirts that covered her to just above her ankles. Her legs kept getting tangled up in the fabric, and she had nearly tripped a couple of times.

Merab – the blessed Merab as Nelani thought of her – was chosen to escort her to First Lady Bathsheba’s cabin.

“When is your baby due?” Nelani asked on the way over.

“I’m not sure.” Merab’s smile was serene.

“Hasn’t the doctor given you any idea?”

“We don’t believe in doctors here.”

A piece of information that Nelani found disturbing.

“So you don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl? Will you move out of the girls’ block when it’s born?”

“That’s for Father and First Lady to decide.”

Nelani shook her head. Everyone here was so loving to her, and she desperately wanted to fit in, but she didn’t think she could ever be as unquestioningly accepting as Merab.


Tell us: Is Soul Side what it claims to be, or is it a cover for something else?