SWAHILI SUNSET by Dan Fletcher
Masai Mara Game Reserve, Western Rift Valley, Kenya
August 8th 1961
Maliki grimaced as his brother pulled the laces together tightly on the last of the leather straps covering his sinewy arms, meant to offer some protection from the lion’s attack. They were alone together inside the make-shift hut of rattan walls and thatched roof, getting ready for Maliki’s imminent initiation into manhood.
“Why can’t I go with you tonight? I have every right to hate them as much as you do!” Maliki was referring to the raid that his father, Chief Zuberi, was planning on a British settler’s farm. The attack was set for the early hours of the following morning.
“You heard him, not until you become a man,” replied Damo, smiling at his younger brother. “Anyway, you should be concentrating on today. If you don’t...you might never get the chance.” His expression turned grave as he stared intently at Maliki.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine,” said Maliki, puffing out his chest, “nothing scares me, you know that.” Maliki avoided looking back into Damo’s eyes, trying to keep his breathing regular. Both of them knew that many boys had failed the test, with fatal consequences.
“Come on, let’s go. They’re waiting for us,” Damo said, pulling back the kudu hide covering the entrance, and stepping out into the dawn’s early light.
The sun was still below the horizon, but was announcing its triumphant approach by reflecting on a thin layer of cloud high up in the stratosphere. The clouds glowed orange; golden, red and yellow rays burst through their sides. The water filled cotton buds acting like giant prisms, sending the refracted multi-coloured light in multiple directions.
As impressed as he was by nature’s fireworks display, Maliki headed straight for the group of six men, who stood huddled around the smoking camp fire. They stopped their animated discussion, watching him as he approached. He knew that they too were searching for any sign of nerves. Maliki showed none, striding confidently towards his father.
“A good day to go hunting,” he said, looking up at his six foot five inch father. Maliki would probably exceed that height when he stopped growing. But although he was only thirteen he stood just a couple of inches under six feet.
“This is not a normal hunt, remember that,” Zuberi replied, shaking his head.
“I know that father, you have no need to worry, you’ve taught me well,” Maliki said smiling. He embraced his father with the arm holding his spear, so that their ebony chests touched. The other held his four foot tall shield, slightly wider than his toned body. The rest of the men were similarly attired, in their centuries old war dress.
“I’m not worried about your ability. If you weren’t ready I would not have permitted it. What I worry about is your over-confidence,” replied the Chief, putting his hand on his son’s shoulder. “Now make me proud!”
“I will father.”
“The lions will be leaving if we don’t hurry up. As soon as the grass is dry they’ll be gone,” said Damo, heading towards a track leading through the bush from the clearing their temporary village was built in.
They were being forced to move so often to escape the authorities’ resettlement programmes that they had stopped caring about appearance. The ‘village’ was a disorganised collection of twelve hastily erected thatched rondavels, in a small area hacked out of the thin forest and undergrowth.
Maliki and the rest of the group followed Damo in high spirits. Maliki joined in their chatter, anticipating the celebrations they would be enjoying later that day. As the bush became denser around them, the men became quiet, gliding effortlessly through the wet undergrowth using long gracefully strides. Maliki heard the unmistakable sound of a warthog grunting as it searched the bush nearby for grubs, whilst an orchestra of birds were waking in the canopy above them, singing their different tunes to the rising sun breaking through the leaves.
Damo raised his hand, signalling the men following Indian file behind him to stop. He beckoned Maliki to join him at the front with a short wave. When he reached his brother’s side, Maliki could see that they had reached the limit of the forest.
“They’re just over there,” Damo said, pointing to the left of the gigantic boulder squatting in front of them. An erratic rock four stories high and a few hundred feet wide, left there by the melting glazier as it carved its way through the rift valley millions of years ago.
“Where?” said Maliki, squinting against the sun, which had broken the horizon, showing a crimson slither.
“By those two smaller rocks near the end...look, one of them’s moving now!” Damo found the den when he scouted for the pride the day before, so he knew exactly where they were, and how many. There were eight in total, four young cubs, two lionesses, an adolescent two year old male, and the elder leader, Maliki’s target.
“I see them,” Maliki said, heading out of their concealed position on the edge of the forest, and into the open field of dead grass that separated them from the rock.
The others appeared silently from the bush behind him. Moving like silent spectres in their white war paint they formed a bull-horn shape, with Maliki at the centre. Once he was sure that they were in position, Maliki started walking slowly towards the pride, moving against the light breeze, masking their scent. The others followed suit, keeping their formation, treading slowly and deliberately. As they got closer they spread themselves out slightly, widening the horns and spreading the net.
At some thirty meters away one of the lionesses heard their approach, jumping onto a rock to get a better view. She focussed on Maliki and let out a deep growl to alert the rest of the pride. The battle-scarred male woke from his slumber and rose up from its haunches. Shaking a dark and matted mane it let out an enormous roar that shook the ground beneath Maliki’s feet. The lion moved forward towards him, snarling menacingly in an act of protection. The men started banging the shafts of their spears against their shields and chanted rhythmically, taking turns to bait and distract the lion, causing it to circle between them. The lionesses moved the cubs further into the recesses of the rocks, with nowhere else to escape to. The tips of the horns formed by the Masai men where touching the rock face either side of them, effectively blocking any escape.
The moment of truth arrived. Maliki stepped forward and let out a guttural scream. The lion stopped its pacing and turned to face him, snapping growls at the men either side. Maliki screamed again and took another step forward, ramming the three inch wooden spike on the bottom of his shield into the ground and preparing to spear the lion from his fixed position.
Instead of charging him, and leaping as expected, the scarred veteran moved backward slightly. Maliki heard his father shout a warning at him as he pulled the spike from the ground and prepared to take another step towards the cornered lion. But it was too late. Sensing his opportunity the huge male attacked. Rushing forward, using one enormous paw, it knocked Maliki’s legs from underneath him, sending him crashing to the ground. The beast pounced on top of him, biting into his arm, clawing the left side of Maliki’s face as it grabbed hold. Maliki let go of his shield and tried to struggle with his ferocious attacker, grabbing its mane with his free hand. The razor sharp teeth passed through his flimsy leather armour as if it were paper, grinding on Maliki’s bone. His primeval screams became even louder as the huge cat worried at his arm, tearing flesh and muscle apart, and the searing pain ripped through him.
Unexpectedly the animal let out a sharp pain-filled roar and went limp on top of him, crushing Maliki’s chest with its weight.
“Help me get it off,” Maliki heard Damo shout, from what sounded an awfully long distance away. The dead animal was awkwardly dragged away and Maliki could see his brother looking down at him anxiously, a bloody spear dripping in his hand.
“No!” screamed Maliki, just before passing out, realising that the worst shame possible for a Masai had befallen him. By killing the lion to save his life, his brother had effectively exiled Maliki from the tribe and his family forever.
East of the Village of Kisii, Western Rift Valley, Kenya
October 21st 1991
David lay anxiously in wait, fighting the urge to urinate. They had been watching the waterhole for five hours since arriving in the mid-day heat, using the animal’s resting time to find a suitable hiding spot. He could no longer feel his feet, and wondered how his father managed to look so comfortable.
“We might as well give up,” David whispered, fidgeting as his urge to pee overcame his desire to shoot his first buffalo. He had hunted smaller animals before, but having just turned sixteen, this was the first time his father allowed him to try his honed skills on more dangerous game.
“I thought you were the one who wanted to do this?” replied Sefu quietly, smiling at his son. “Be patient, they’ll be along soon. They’re always the last to come, just before dark.”
The waterhole was the only one for miles, enticing a small herd of impala, zebra and three giraffes to drink the brackish water, and risk being attacked by the crocodiles lying in wait. The giraffes splayed their front legs apart gracefully to allow their heads to reach the much needed liquid. The gazelle and zebra took brief sips before flicking their heads up, ears turning and eyes twitching, as they nervously scanned their surroundings for predators. All the time keeping a beady eye on the stationary crocodiles, stoically submerged in the water, just their eyes, nostrils, and the ridge along their backs poking through the water’s surface.
It was the height of the dry season, and the receding waters were very low, their retreat marked by a staining of the shallow banks all around them. The long grass had been scorched tinder crisp by the fierce African sun, the season of bush fires would soon be upon them. David could taste the dust in-between his teeth, carried on the hot breeze hitting his face. Dusk approached, and the light was starting to fade.
“But...,” said David, stopping as he spotted a dark familiar shape emerge from the shrubbery to their right. The buffalo, a huge bull, stopped a few meters out into the clearing and raised its nostrils to sniff the air, scenting for danger. Pausing briefly, it then proceeded towards the water’s edge, the other animals moving out of its ambling path. It was the perfect target. Replaced by younger males, the old bull would have left the herd to live out his final years alone, wandering around in an endless nomadic search of food.
David’s hand trembled slightly as he aimed down the beaded scope of the Lee Enfield .303, his bodily functions forgotten. The rifle was old, a throwback to the British occupation, but one of the most reliable and long-serving ever made.
“Breathing,” Sefu instructed him quietly.
David took a deep breath, and held it for a second. Allowing for the two hundred meters between them, light breeze and slight drop, he breathed out slowly and gently squeezed the trigger. He aimed for the heart, above and behind the beast’s front haunches. Just as the shot rang out, and the rifle recoiled into David’s shoulder, the bull lurched forward searching for clearer water, having stirred up the mud with its own hoofs. The bullet missed David’s intended target by a few inches and deflected off the bull’s rib-cage, tearing into its lung instead. Fatally wounding, but not killing it instantly. The other animals scattered in an instant, leaving the injured prey to stagger slowly back into the bush and disappear from sight.
They rose slowly to their feet, muscles cramped and legs unsteady after being immobile for so long. David shot his father a worried look as he slung the rifle strap over his shoulder. They both knew that a wounded buffalo was extremely dangerous. Instead of searching for cover like most prey, the intelligent and enraged animal would be trying to circle around them and block their escape. Many a hunter was mauled to death by their fierce horns and trampling hoofs, sometimes just by startling them as their paths crossed in the night.
David followed his father into the bush and they slowly made their way along the track between the acacia bushes, and the circulation eventually returned to his aching legs. The two inch long spiky needles caught him occasionally, digging deeply into his flesh. Treading one careful step at a time, the pair underwent a painful and nerve-wrenching ten minute trek, heading west towards the parked LandRover, trying desperately to stay downwind from the buffalo.
The bush started to thin out and they reached the edge of the veldt where the jeep was parked. David relaxed, loosening his grip on the rifle held in front of him. There was a loud crack as a branch on the ground was snapped under the buffalo’s weight, hidden in the last of the bushes to their left. As it ambushed them, David's father pushed him to the side with his elbow, swung his rifle towards the charging mass and pulled the trigger, instinctively aiming for the head. The large .303 slug shattered the buffalo’s skull and exploded into its brain, killing it instantly. Its momentum causing it to continue and slide to a halt inches in front of their feet, its legs twisted at unnatural angles.
“That was close,” Sefu stated, shouldering his rifle and wiping the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.
“Close? I think I wet myself,” replied David. They both burst into fits of relieved laughter.
“I’ll get the jeep,” Sefu said, a few shaking minutes later. The twilight was dwindling and almost gone.
They gutted the beast under the glare of the headlights, Sefu hacking it into quarters using his machete. Between them they still struggled to lift the pieces onto the back of the vehicle, their chests heaving and arms swelling as they did, getting covered in blood.
“You can drive,” Sefu said, tossing David the keys when they finally finished and he closed the tail-gate.
“Thanks,” replied David, grinning and jumping into the driver’s seat quickly. They left the entrails on the ground for the scavengers and headed off carefully over the bumpy terrain, the LandRover buckling under the enormous load it was carrying.
“That was delicious,” said Waseme, licking the grease from her long delicate fingers, “well done you two.”
“Father killed it, not me. If it wasn’t for him we’d probably both be dead,” replied David, his voice muffled by the piece of meat he rammed unceremoniously into his mouth.
“I’m sure you would have reacted if I hadn’t,” said Sefu, smiling graciously, “you did well to get such a large one in the first place. We’ll get this salted tomorrow and it will feed us for months.”
“There’s so much, can I take some over to Auntie Farisi?” said David, looking at his mother hopefully.
“You know that’s not possible. Now eat up, it’s late and long past bed time,” replied Waseme, casting Sefu a nervous glance.
“But why am I not allowed to see her when she lives right here in the village?” said David, waving his arm in the direction of the unseen huts, nestled in the valley beneath where they sat around the blazing camp fire. They were carving the meat off as it cooked, suspended on a spit, the smell as it sizzled and spat was almost as delicious as the taste.
“You heard your mother, it’s time for bed so shut up, and eat up,” instructed Sefu.
David knew better than to pursue the question now, it would only mean more chores if he disobeyed, and there were already enough of those as it was. He knew that his mother’s Masai family had disapproved of her marriage to Sefu, who was from the Kikuyu tribe. But that was years ago, long before he was even born. David thought that by now there might have been some form of acceptance. There wasn’t, the tribal rift was as big as the great valley itself, timeless and unmoving.
David’s father never spoke of it, but his mother had told him the stories of meeting Sefu when he moved into the village and bought a small farm. He was one of the many Kikuyus who took advantage of the land redistribution under Kenyatta, Kenya’s first President, in 1964. They were forced to keep their love a secret, making it stronger, according to his mother. She eventually risked the wrath of her father and married Sefu five years later. When she was shunned by her family, Waseme rejected Masai traditions and turned to the Christian faith.
“Don’t forget to read a page of your bible tonight,” she said, as if reading David’s thoughts.
“But you said, it’s late,” pleaded David.
“I suppose just once won’t hurt,” replied Waseme, “now off you go, we’ll see you in the morning. Don’t forget the chickens will you?”
“Don’t worry they're safe, I locked them in earlier,” said David, sighing dramatically, he got up and dusted the bits of food from his lap.
“Good night then,” he bent down and kissed his mother gently on the forehead.
“Sleep well,” she replied, moving closer to Sefu.
“Good night,” said David, smiling at his father briefly before turning and heading for the wooden barn come farmhouse.
“Night son, see you in the morning,” called out Sefu to his retreating back.
David sat bolt upright in bed, wondering what the loud noise was that had woken him from his deep sleep, and why the usually dark room was bathed in light. There was another loud blast from the horn of the vehicle outside and David’s groggy brain slowly put two and two together. His father had told him about the attacks on the farm where he worked during the sixties. He squinted blindly around the room. When his eyes eventually adjusted to the harsh light, David could make out his father, crouched next to the door, with his rifle held upright in front of him.
“Who is it?” he said, peeling back the blanket, and swinging his legs over the edge of the squeaky metal bed.
“Stay still and keep quiet!” barked Sefu, glaring at him briefly before cocking his head back to the door.
“Listen to your father,” said Waseme quietly, seeing David look towards his rifle, propped up in the corner of the room opposite his bed. David remained where he was, trembling as the adrenalin pumped through his veins. The silence was broken by another long blast on the horn.
“Come out now and you won’t be hurt,” was the loud cry that followed the blast.
“How do we know that?” shouted Sefu through the door, beckoning the others to move to the far corner of the room. Crawling on all fours, David followed his mother as instructed and they crouched, holding onto one another.
“You have my word,” replied Maliki, grinning wickedly at the man holding an AK47 machine gun beside him, who beamed back enthusiastically. There were two more men in the cab of the old Bedford truck, another four circling the back of the house and five lined up in front of it next to Maliki. Completing the squad of twelve men dressed in un-matching t-shirts, assorted trousers and trainers. Contrasting their attire they moved together with military precision. The two things that they all had in common, was that they were incredibly tall, and sported identical weapons.
“Anyway, we have the building surrounded, if you don’t come out in sixty seconds, we’ll burn the place down, with you in it.”
David could hear movement behind the house, confirming that the unseen intruder was telling the truth. Standing up his father leant his Lee Enfield against the wall next to the door, out of sight, but within reach.
“Hold on, I’m coming out,” Sefu said holding his hand up to Waseme, who was urging him not to go by shaking her head.
David's father opened the door and stepped out into the harsh glare of the headlights, staying within reach of his rifle. Taking in the numbers that he was confronted with, Sefu must have realised that putting up any kind of fight would result in an instant barrage of bullets from the six weapons trained on him.
“Step forward, away from the door” instructed Maliki, smiling amiably. Sefu dutifully moved a pace towards them.
“What do you want?” said Sefu, shielding his eyes with his hand.
“Just somewhere to stay for the night, that’s all. Who else is in there with you?” replied Maliki, letting his machine gun drop.
“Just my wife and son...you’re welcome to stay the night if you wish, we don’t have much, but I can offer you some food and shelter,” said Sefu, who was left little option.
“See I told you they were hospitable around here,” said Maliki, turning to his entourage, “you can relax. We won’t find any trouble here.” The men responded by lowering their weapons, some of them smiled, but remained in their positions.
The through the open doorway David could see that his father seemed to relax slightly, and he moved towards the group with his hand out stretched, “I’m Sefu...” His greeting was cut short by the rapid movement of the man standing to the left of Maliki, who struck David's father viciously on the temple with the stock of his gun, dropping him to the ground. As Sefu raised his hands to protect himself from further blows, the man thrust him face down in the dirt, pushed his knee into Sefu’s back and the weapon’s muzzle into his neck.
Maliki and the other men rushed into the building, fanning out they circled David and his mother, cowering in the corner. David stood up in front of Waseme, shielding her.
“Leave us alone!” he screamed at Maliki, spit flying from his mouth.
Maliki responded by moving forward quickly and grabbing David by the testicles, squeezing them with considerable strength. David experienced a pain so intense that he was barely able to react. All he could manage was to put his hands on Maliki’s and feebly try to pull it off. Maliki’s grip was like iron, and he pulled David to the middle of the room by his scrotum, squealing in protest. Maliki finally released his grip and twisted David’s arm behind his back effortlessly. Pushing him in front of him to the doorway, he booted him in the backside, sending David sprawling beside his father.
“Bring her outside!” shouted Maliki.
Two of the men shouldered their weapons and moved to the corner. They picked Waseme up by her shaking elbows and manhandled her outside to join the others.
“Good, I want this bitch to see what happens to traitors, especially ones that marry our own people as well as steal our lands. Get them to their knees!” snarled Maliki, spitting venomously in Waseme’s face. “Make sure she watches.”
One of the men pushed her to the floor and used both hands to hold her head, fixed towards David and his father, unable to turn away. Maliki stepped in front of Sefu and aimed his machine gun at the kneeling man’s head.
“No!” screamed David, just as Maliki pulled the trigger. He only let off one round, which burst Sefu’s head like a watermelon, sending bits of flesh, bone, and blood spraying over the side of David’s face. His father’s corpse fell backwards grotesquely, his knees trapped underneath him keeping him in an awkward slumped position.
Waseme broke free from her captor and launched herself forward. She attacked Maliki with her nails and scratched at his already ravaged face. He grabbed her hands and pulled them away, David watched in horror as he held her easily, smiling, inches from his mother's face.
“I think we’ll have some fun with this one before we kill her. Keep him alive until I have finished with her, I want him to hear her screams.”
“You bastard!” shouted David, managing to struggle to his feet, glaring hatefully at the man’s demonic features.
It was the last thing he remembered, before the man behind him smashed the butt of the AK into the back of David’s head, and the darkness enveloped him.
Residential Suburb, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
August 28th 1992
Clarissa took one long last look around the bedroom. Most of her childhood and teenage memories were pinned or stuck to the walls. Ribbons for winning various running events, photos of her growing up with her parents, birthdays with her father’s family gathered around the cake, her best friend Jenny. Clarissa turned for the door, suitcase in hand. Stifling a tear, she thrust out her chin and headed downstairs.
“So you’re definitely going then,” grunted her father as she joined them in the living room.
“I’ve told you pa, it’s what I want to do,” replied Clarissa, putting her heavy case down near the door. She turned back to face her parents, who were stood with the hearth of the empty fire-place behind them.
“First Atlanta’s not good enough,” said her father, “then, when you do graduate from Berkeley, you want to go and join the god damn CIA!”
“Samuel,” scolded Sarah, brushing back a golden lock of hair, “you know I won’t abide that kind of language in our home.”
“I’m sorry darling, but why won’t she listen to plain sense. There’s plenty of folk around here that would appreciate a skilled lawyer like Clarissa,” he replied, “aren’t they good enough for her?”
“That’s not fair, I know that you had to struggle, but times have changed pa, people aren’t so badly off around here anymore,” said Clarissa, with a slight frown. She didn’t want to offend her father. Clarissa was proud of the peaceful sit-ins that he had carried out with thousands of other black Americans at the University in the early 60s.
“They haven’t changed that much, believe me,” replied Samuel, shaking his head.
“We’ve talked about this a million times. The best way for me to change the system is to be a part of it,” Clarissa said.
“You can do that from right here, defending local people. What do you think you’re going to accomplish in Langley,” replied Samuel.
“Now come on, she’s made her mind up and that’s that. If I’d listened to my father we would never have got married, now would we?” Sarah said, putting her arm around Samuel’s shoulders.
“Hmm...I guess not, but he was a bigot, you can’t really compare him to me,” replied Samuel, “any-ways...” A couple of knocks on the door interrupted him.
“That’ll be Jenny,” Sarah said, “give me a hug and you make sure you take care of yourself.”
Clarissa was glad that she had been spared another one of her father’s lectures on the KKK and the civil rights movement. He was hard to stop once he got going.
“I will ma. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine, and I’ll call as soon as I arrive,” Clarissa replied, breathing in her mother’s perfume as she kissed her on the cheek.
“Let me help you with your suitcase,” said Samuel, moving towards the door. “Hi Jenny, she’s just about ready for you,” he said, after opening it.
“Hi, Mr May, I guess you guys are as sad to see her go as I am,” Jenny replied.
“We’ll all miss her, that’s a fact,” said Samuel, managing a weak smile. Picking up the suitcase he went ahead of them to the car. After he had loaded it into the trunk he turned to Clarissa and hugged her tightly.
“Come back soon, promise,” he said.
“I will pa, now come on, I’ll have to get going or I’ll miss the train,” Clarissa replied, pulling away from him. Samuel closed the door for her after Clarissa got in, and she rolled down the window.
“Take care, love you.”
“Love you too pa,” turning to Jenny she said, “come on let’s get going.
“See ya’ll,” cried Jenny.
Grinding the Datsun’s gear stick into first, she pulled away from the kerb, a defiant puff of smoke coughing from the exhaust. A single tear ran down Clarissa’s cheek as she watched her parents fade away behind them, waving to her from the porch.
West of Mount Kilimanjaro, near Kingori, Tanzania
March 15th 1998
“You’re sure the others are asleep?” said Mohammed, staring up at the almost pitch-black sky.
“They’re all sleeping like babies,” replied Khalid. As half of the eight teenagers sleeping in the tent were under sixteen, it wasn’t far from the truth. He followed his compatriot’s gaze. Framed by a break in the clouds, the millions of stars clustered together forming the Milky Way appeared close enough to touch.
“Good, how are your preparations going?” said Mohammed, tilting his head towards him.
“Fine, I’ve found a villa with a suitable garage to buy, all I need now is the cash,” Khalid replied, stirring the embers of the fire with a stick. The wind picked some of them up and whisked them away. “Is it ready?”
“Yes, I’ll give it to you before you go. What about the truck?” Mohammed said, shuffling to face him, remaining cross-legged in the earth.
“That’s no problem. There are hundreds of them in Nairobi. I’ll pick one up next week and start adapting it,” Khalid replied. He was to make a hidden compartment in the bed of the vehicle, big enough to store the 500 cylinders of TNT, each one roughly the size of a soda can, along with the aluminium powder and detonating cord.
“Excellent, when you have it ready let me know, and I’ll make preparations to come and join you.”
Once Khalid had all the bomb components in place, Mohammed’s expertise would be called on to assemble the device and mount it in the bed of the truck.
“Have you got the explosives?” asked Khalid, staring intently into Mohammed’s eyes. After all, everything depended on Mohammed being able to get the TNT into Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, using his demolitions company as a cover.
“They arrived last week, praise be to Allah. I didn’t risk a phone call as I knew you would be coming today,” Mohammed replied, grinning, “It will be shipped over to you in due course.”
“So we’re all set then?” after their months of careful planning, and readying the boys, Khalid found it hard to believe that things were really starting to happen.
“Don’t worry, my friend. You will soon have your chance to strike a blow at the infidels. Tomorrow I will decide which of the men will have the great honour of carrying out this historic jihad. Their names will be spoken for centuries, I wish I could complete the mission myself,” stated Mohammed.
“We must all play our part as Allah wills it,” replied Khalid, not fully sharing Mohammed’s love of rhetoric. He often wondered how the spoilt son of one of Tanzania’s most powerful ministers had ended up running the country’s wing of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ). Mohammed seemed to hate his father as much for fighting with the British in World War II, as he hated the Americans for meddling in Middle-Eastern affairs.
“You should get going, the rains are on their way,” announced Mohammed, standing up and stretching like a cat in front of him, his hands clasped together above his head.
Khalid rose, following him to the smallest of the three tents. Indeed, there was the smell of rain on the air, even though the clouds were far off in the distance. Lighting a small gas lamp on the folding table, Mohammed found the satchel he was looking for, amongst the assortment of supplies and munitions stored along the side of the canvas.
“Here you are, and may Allah be with you,” he said, hugging Khalid and kissing him on both cheeks.
“And with you,” Khalid replied, returning the embrace. They headed out of the tent to the Nissan 4x4 parked beside it. Khalid got in without another word, threw the bag on the seat beside him, and turned the ignition half-way. Waiting for the glow plugs to heat up, he turned the key fully and the jeep rumbled into life.
It would take him over twelve hours to reach Nairobi, but the first hour of the journey was the worst. There were no border patrols, or border, to speak of, and if Khalid did get stopped he would just pretend to be lost, a common occurrence in the area. The difficult bit was the twisting tracks across Kilimanjaro National Park, which had become waterlogged, the season’s rains making them even more treacherous than usual.
Khalid struggled to keep the vehicle on the slippery surface and away from the sharp drop to the left of the track. As he made his way around the north face of the ancient volcano, and into Kenya, the heavens opened, and it started to rain torrentially. The tired old windscreen wipers failed to keep up and Khalid peered through the film of water, struggling to see the road ahead.
PRESENT DAY, NAIROBI
August 1st 1998
“No!” screamed David, sitting up and causing the sheet to fall away from him. His brow and naked torso glistened with sweat, as he stared wide-eyed around the room, struggling to come out of his recurring nightmare. It always seemed so real, like the seven years in-between never even existed. The face of his father’s killer was etched on his mind, haunting every sleeping second, as well as most of his days.
David hit the shower, but the pelting cold water did nothing to cool the fires raging within him, or his desire to wreak vengeance on the scar-faced man. In every raid he was sent on for the GSU, the paramilitary wing of the Kenyan Police, David hoped he would find the animal that had shattered his world. Massaging shampoo into the tight wiry curls of his shortly shaven hair, David felt the back of his head, where the irregular ridges of bone protruded, another permanent reminder of that horrific night.
Trying to shake the thoughts, David focussed on the day ahead. Leaving the shower, he towelled himself dry and dressed quickly in his combat fatigues and boots. Tying his belt around his waist, David took his pistol from beneath his pillow and slipped it into the holster. Donning his beret, David quickly checked his appearance in the mirror and left the apartment. With no insignias, his uniform could have represented any military force from around the world, as was the intention. Just in case they got shot and left behind, on one of their many skirmishes across the border to take out rebel camps.
Traffic was light at this early hour of the morning, by Nairobi’s standards anyway. There was still the odd scooter or van to avoid as David weaved through the streets in his battered old 504. He drove north-east out of town on Thika Road, which terminates in the foothills of Mount Kenya. Ten minutes later he pulled up in the secure compound outside GSU headquarters, strategically placed opposite the ‘De La Rue’ money printing facility.
“Good morning Jozi,” David said, setting off the alarm as he strolled through the metal detector. The desk sergeant shook his head as he over-rode the alert.
“Good morning sir, I do wish you’d stop doing that, I’ve told you before, you’re supposed to take your weapon off and collect it on the other side.”
“What’s the point, I’d only have to put it back on again. I can understand visitors being scanned, but it’s ridiculous that we have to go through it every day. Do you want me to do it again?” replied David, reaching for his belt.
“No, that won’t be necessary sir,” said Jozi, smiling, “anyway, you better hurry up. Superintend Tanui has called an emergency briefing. I’ve been told to send everyone up as soon as they arrive.”
“Thanks Jozi, any idea what it’s about?”
“I’m afraid I can’t help you there sir, but it must be important. He told me that the Commander and a very important guest would be arriving with him,” replied the sergeant, noting down David’s arrival in the log.
“The Commander?” said David. In the five years since he enlisted in the GSU, David had never met Commander Abasi, who rarely frequented headquarters. Preferring to stay encamped with President Moi and his elite bodyguards at the palace.
“Yes, apparently the great man himself will be here,” said Jozi, rolling his eyes. David had heard rumours that Abasi’s treatment of his staff left a little to be desired.
“I suppose I’d better get moving then, I don’t want them to catch me here,” David said, glancing towards the door before bounding up the narrow staircase.
David sighed as he entered the briefing room. The only seat left was in the middle of the room, next to Lieutenant Idi Tikolo, his partner and the bitterest of the 48 officers present. At fifty-two, Idi had been passed over for promotion more times than the rest of them put together. David apologised to his colleagues that moved out of the way, smiling knowingly at him as he negotiated the narrow space between the rows of chairs.
“Good morning Idi,” he said, finally dropping into the unwanted vacancy.
“Nothing good about it, another waste of time no doubt, probably cutting our pensions again,” Idi answered, sneering. “They only bother getting us all together when it’s bad news.”
“You’re probably right,” said David, turning away to try and diminish the effect of Idi’s over-powering body odour.
“You know I’m right, the last time was to tell us about the cut in pay, as if it wasn’t low enough before.”
The other officers in the room were also chatting amongst themselves, and there was a general buzz of excitement. One not reflected by Idi. David often wondered why the Superintendent had paired them together. If he was hoping that some of David’s enthusiasm for the job would rub off on Idi it wasn’t working.
“Attention!” cried one of the officers nearest the door as it opened inward.
The seated men rose in unison as Superintendent Tanui led a small group up to the front of the room.
“Good morning everyone, please, be seated,” announced the Superintendent, “Most of you will be trying to guess what this is all about, so rather than prolong your agony I’ll hand you over to Commander Abasi.”
The Commander, waiting in the wings, walked up to join Tanui, in front of the screen and blackboard. There was something familiar to David in how the tall man walked. When the Commander turned to face his audience it revealed the ragged scar down the left side of his face. David’s heart froze and his breathing stopped as he fought the urge to launch himself from his seat.
“Good morning gentlemen, I’m afraid we have little time so I’m going to get straight to the point,” stated the Commander, surveying the room, “We have had confirmed reports that EIJ terrorists are planning an attack in Nairobi in the next few weeks. As yet we don’t know what the target is. We’re going to have to work fast, put in extra hours, and pool all our resources if we are going to locate and stop them in time.”
David allowed himself to start breathing again. He gripped the arms of his chair, watching the man he loathed deliver his speech. Part of him hoped that the Commander would recognise him and that he would be forced to act. He had run through killing him in his mind so many times. David had no doubt that he could reach the man and break his neck before anyone in the room was able to react.
“This is Clarissa May from the CIA,” continued Maliki, waving in her direction, “she’s leading the investigation from their point of view, and knows more than I do about the details. Miss May?”
David’s eyes stayed focussed on Maliki, as the Commander made way for Clarissa on centre stage.