S for Soldier

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(In 2015, Journalists for Justice published a book called “Black and White. Kenya’s Criminal Racket in Somalia” as a project for the International Commission of Jurists, Kenya Chapter. The book highlights massive cases of the Kenya Defence Forces engaging in acts of corruption, murder, torture and rape among others, with absolute impunity. Though this story has been inspired by this research of KDF’s unbecoming conduct in Somalia, this is a work of fiction. Any resemblance with names of people and places is coincidental. Also, this is one of the most violent stories I have ever written so, for physical, emotional and sexual violence, reader’s discretion is advised.)

Dear Nia,

I wish I could love you. I wish I didn’t have sex with you under that palm tree on the night we first met. I wish I hadn’t had to bury my only brother a few hours prior. I wish you could stop loving me. I wish you didn’t ask me why, why, why I could never feel a damn thing for you. Not a damn thing. I wish I didn’t have to write you this letter. But for a man with nothing much left to him but his ending life and the dying words in his throat, I guess I owe you this. I owe this to the world.

Dear Nia, I wish you didn’t ask me why I couldn’t love you. Because now I find myself having to provide you with an answer which though won’t unbreak your heart, it will, I trust, serve as satisfactory closure for you.

I wish so many things didn’t happen in my life. For I find myself a man filled with wishes; things I could have done differently. I find myself filled with regret.

This is not a love story. The world is full of those. It doesn’t need one more. This is not a story about hate. The world is full of those as it is. It doesn’t need one more. This is a story about bad people who do bad things, and worse people who watch them and do nothing.

But in the end dear unloved Nia, we all get what’s coming to us. It is the only thing you can count on. When I’m dead and gone, and I will be dead and gone soon, don’t shed tears for me. Or I will reach out from the fires of hell and call you stupid one last time.

I never loved you. And this is why.

(Send me an email at chanchori09@gmail.com for a copy of my e-book, “The Realm of Humanity”)

Garbatullah. Somalia. September 2014

In a dusty stretch, Absame stands on his one leg and watches as his father’s goats graze in the distance. At the age of twelve, he lost his right leg to a bullet. Men with their faces covered up attacked their village five years ago, killed three men, one woman and two children. Absame was shot in the knee and had to be amputated by a man who called himself a doctor.

Right there in the dusty vastness, a then five-year old Absame was held by his shoulders by his father and uncle, he was pinned to the ground and he fainted as the doctor sawed his leg off. How he survived, only Allah can tell.

Now he supports himself on crutches and rests under a thorny tree with a meager supply of leaves. A wind blows from the north and he puts his elbow to his face to prevent the flying dust particles from entering his eyes.

But he forgets to close his mouth and the dust finds temporary solace in there. He coughs noisily and faces away from the wind.

The unforgiving sun beats mercilessly down on him and he wipes a thin layer of dusty sweat from his forehead with the back of his skinny hand.

He is dark, has long curly hair which his mother always comments that it grows faster than she can cut it, and he has long brown and yellowing teeth which tend to stick out of his mouth every now and then. He takes a tiny sip of water from a bottle he got from his older sister right before she eloped with a man and brought shame to the family and with an open mouth, casts another lazy glance at the goats.

He wonders what they find to eat in the dust and the thorny bushes.

Later, he leans back and is about to shut his eyes for an early afternoon nap when he hears the familiar sound in the skies. The engine buzz of an approaching jet lazily attracts his attention. He shields his eyes from the sunlight and his mouth hangs open as he locates the jet.

It approaches fast. He smiles. Finally something to grab his attention other than the loneliness of the semi arid dust and quiet and boredom.

He reaches for his crutches and struggles to his foot. A poet in the Garbatullah village tends to say, “Once upon a time there lived a scrawny boy with two legs on him. One made of flesh and the other made of wood. It was not what Allah intended for him when He created him. The boy’s name was Absame, and like his name denotes, he truly was a great one.”

The jet approaches fast and Absame hobbles away from his thorny tree waving with his free hand and yelling with a small voice yet to break;

Absame: Roob i saar, roob baa igu soo socda. Ku dheji carrabkaaga adoo taabanaya. Oh sida aan ugu sugayay roobka duufaankaaga. (Rain on me; rain on me. Wet my tongue with your touch. Oh how I have waited for your caress dear rain.)

He waves excitedly at the jet whose roaring engine seems to make a whistling sound at him. He notices that it has jungle painting on its underbelly. He waves and sings and chatters at it, then suddenly falls silent.

He sees smoke shoot from the jet’s underbelly and two missiles fly from the flying metallic bird. Their whistle in the air is brief. His father’s goats don’t even have time to glance into the sky before one of the missiles land between them and explode noisily.

Absame sees a mushroom cloud rising from the spot where his father’s goats had been grazing only a few seconds ago.

Another missile lands where Absame stands. The boy doesn’t hear it explode. He doesn’t hear the jet fly right above him. He doesn’t hear the pilot in the cockpit saying;

Pilot: Bravo Zulu (This means “a task well performed” or mission accomplished)

A radio crackles to life in the cockpit and a filtered voice says;

Voice: Attaboy. Come on home Captain.

Pilot: Coming home.

Later when his old father hobbles on a walking stick to where Absame had stood, all he sees is a hole in the ground and something that looks like a ribcage.

September 2014. Nairobi.

Dear Nia,

At 07:00h on this day, you sat in front of your TV screen and watched the evening news. And so did millions of other Kenyans and others around the world.

On your screen, you saw the Cabinet Secretary for Defence issue a press statement that read something like;

The Statement: Yesterday our defence forces in Somalia killed eighteen al-Shabaab militants in Garbatullah, Somalia.

The following day, the newspapers around the country had a frontline heading that read,

“KDF airstrike kills 18 al-Shabaab militants in Garbatullah.”

Well Nia, they lied to you.

The statement should have read,

“KDF airstrike kills a 12-year old boy and 27 goats in Garbatullah.”

But hey, why tell the truth where lies can do better? Right?

Kamal.

May 22, 2015. Nairobi.

I am seated in our house with my twin brother Jamaal watching a video on YouTube. I have just returned to Kenya on a two-week holiday from my first tour in Somalia where I am a Private with the KDF.

That explains why I am so interested in knowing as much as possible about the al-Shabaab. Like Sun Tzu sentimentalized in The Art of War,

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Al-Shabaab has a spokesman. His name is Sheikh Ali Mahmoud Rage. In this YouTube video, he is seated on the dust, his face exposed to the world, he is looking right into the camera, and he is saying,

Sheikh Rage: You have to be the army that will conquer Kenya so that we may return to our families and relatives in a state of honor and glory, and uplift them from the humiliation, by the permission of Allah, the Exalted. You are well aware of the situation of the Muslim Ummah in general, and particularly, the Muslims of East Africa, and the humiliation and suffering they are faced with. Therefore, what is needed from you is to uplift the humiliation from the Muslims and repel the oppression of the disbelievers from the Muslims of East Africa, particularly the countries you’ve made Hijra (immigration) from, including Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and even Somalia. It is upon you to protect with your weapons the honor and chastity of our Muslim sisters that is being violated by the disbelievers. It is upon you to protect the Muslim women, children and elderly who continue to be mercilessly killed by the disbelievers, whether they are in Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and even here in Somalia. Our mission is to work towards the implementation of the Shari’ah of Allah so that it governs the entire world. We have to eliminate all other systems of governance and laws of Kufr (nonbelievers) such as democracy, communism and secularism enforced upon us by the pagans and govern the land according to the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet. We have to wage war until we either elevate the banner of Tawheed [monotheism] or meet Allah.

I hit pause on the video and notice that my brother is completely transfixed on the computer screen.

Jamaal: Man! The man has oratory skills, I’ll give him that.

Me: Yeah. Whatever man.

Jamaal: I don’t know. I mean, it’s not like cops don’t come to Eastleigh with their guns blazing every time al-Shabaab is mentioned.

Me: It’s not like al-Shabaab doesn’t storm into a school and kill over a hundred kids.

Jamaal: I don’t know dude. Seems like an eye for an eye deal to me.

Me: Well, my eyes are tired. I’m turning in.

Jamaal: Goodnight mate.

He hits play on the computer and leans closer to the screen.

El-Adde, Gedo, Somalia

Kenya Defence Forces (KDF)-run African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) Army Base

January 15, 2016. 06:30h

Jamaal and myself are ten. We are fighting again, this time because Jamaal has accused me of placing a spider on his lips as he slept with his mouth open again in the fields where we graze papa’s goats and cows.

Jamaal is straddling my chest, thumping my face with his small fists. But they don’t feel so small. I pick a rock and smash it against the side of his head.

I straddle his chest and start hitting him on the head with the rock. I draw blood. I don’t stop. I see his eyes rolling back. I don’t stop.

Papa is screaming from a distance as he runs towards us.

Papa: Kamal! Kamal! Kamal! Walaalkiina waad dili doontaan! (You will kill your brother!)

Papa is yelling. Jamaal is yelling. But it sounds like there is a whole lot more screaming than that. Papa grabs me from Jamaal whose head is bleeding. He grabs the rock from my hand and throws it away. When it lands, it is with a deafening sound of an explosion.

I wake up.

The screaming is not stopping. The building shakes and I hear rapid gunfire from outside. Someone screams, “RPG!!” Another explosion. More gunfire.

I jump out of my bunker and struggle into my pants. This is what an attack sounds like. Men screaming. Men yelling. Assault rifles spitting fire. Bombs going off. Men screaming. Repeat. Every soldier in my garrison is struggling to run and put on some clothes at the same time.

I burst out into the compound and I am hit by the heat, the noise and the smell of burning flesh. I see a soldier running, his entire body engulfed by fire. The yellow flames surrounding an inner, darker screaming frame.

A masked militiaman points his AK47 at the burning soldier and wants to shoot but another masked militiaman yells at him;

Masked Militiaman:  Ha gubo (Let him burn!)

I run. Bullets ricochet around my bare feet. Another explosion. Another “RPG!!” scream. I see four KDF soldiers kneeling in front of two masked al-Shabaab militiamen. The militia is pointing their rifles at the backs of the soldiers’ heads. One of them shouts;

One: Dili iyaga! (Kill them!)

One gun goes off. The soldier’s head turn to a bloody mush and his body collapses. Another soldier, seeing the fate prepared for his head, runs for it. The militiaman gives him a few seconds head start, points the gun at the runner’s back and fires. The runner’s hands fly and he falls defenselessly on the ground.

The other two soldiers’ head are blown clear off their shoulders. I run. The al-Shabaab militiamen lift their guns in the air and scream;

Militia: Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!!

They shoot in the air. They reload. They turn their guns on men. They must be in their hundreds these masked people.

A soldier fires his gun at a few. He drops one militant.  He drops another. A militant points a bazooka at him and shoots. The KDF soldier’s body reduces to a thick splash of red and his gun lies smoking in the mud of red gore; that was once Warrant Officer II Eliud Wanga.

I run. I see men I have drunk beers with die.

I see Private Odero go down in a hail of fire.

I see Lance Corporal Kariuki suffer the fate suffered by men when a grenade goes off right under their feet.

I see Sergeant Lugami surrounded by masked al-Shabaab militiamen. They are pointing their guns at him. He screams;

Sergeant: Fight me! Fight me!

They strap their rifles across their shoulders and pull out knives. Sergeant Lugami loses that fight. Badly. Fatally.

I run. I see the muzzle of the AK47 pointed at me first. Me. Private Salih Mohammed Kamal. Standing in front of the wrong end of an al-Shabaab’s gun.

All around me, men are running, men are screaming, men are calling out God’s name. All around me, men are dying. The only ones who are not dying are those who are killing. The masked ones. Like this one, pointing his gun at me.

Dear Nia,

I haven’t met you yet. But if I had met you, if I had known you, if I had had sex with you on that evening under that tree, if you had cried and asked why I didn’t love you, why I didn’t care, I would have told you the following;

Dear Nia,

So this is it. This is how I die. And in the dark hour of my demise, I wish I could love you. I wish I would bleed out on the sands of Somalia, staring at the overhead clear blue skies, smiling, thinking of you.

But Nia, this is it. This is the end. And I am thinking, ‘I don’t love you. So damn what?’

I wish I had a heart to give you,

Kamal.

A gun goes off and I fall. But in the middle of my fall, I notice that it is his head and not mine that goes boom. It is his life and not mine that just ended on a bright morning, marred by the most violence I have ever seen in my life. By the most violence I have ever seen, period.

People have tried to make violent movies. But there is no movie in the world that is as violent as the Battle of El Adde right now. I wonder why they call it a battle. That word leads one to think that there were two forces fighting.

This is a whooping. This is hands down, a massacre. Genghis Khan kind of a massacre.

A masked man is standing in front of me. He has just killed another masked man. He sticks his hand out at me. He wants to pick me off the ground. Something in my mind isn’t loading correct. But I think that maybe it is one of our soldiers who has decided to don al-Shabaab gear to confuse them and kill them with a little ease.

As I take his hand, I’m thinking that that’s a genius idea. Why haven’t we thought of that? But how could we when we are so busy dying? And running?

I am frozen on the ground, watches all the mess unfolding around me. He yells at me;

Him: Orod Kamal! OROD! (Run Kamal! Run!)

I know that voice.

Jamaal!

I can’t run. He shoots another masked man whose attention we have attracted, and then another and then another. He grabs my hand and pulls me with him as he runs.

Me: Walaal (Brother)

My voice is a little louder than a whisper.

Jamaal: Waxaan helay walaalkaa dhabarkaaga. waad fiicnaan lahayd (I’ve got your back brother. You’re going to be OK)

Dear Nia,

(My unwritten letter to you would have read)

No I am not. I am not going to be OK. None of us are.

I couldn’t love him, love me and love you too. I didn’t have that much love to go around. I remember the first time I saw you. A little more than an hour prior to us huffing and puffing under that tree, passing ecstatic compliments on each other’s abilities. I shook your hand. I ran the back of my hand down your square jaw. I asked you, “do you believe in love?” and you said, “I believe in anything I can see. And I see love all around me.”

A couple of hours later with your panties around your ankles, your brow sweaty, your breathing labored, your vagina sour and your breasts hanging out of the top of your bra, I told you, “I believe love is precipitant of happiness. Your ability to make people happy is equal to your ability to get people to love you. I don’t believe I have any happiness left to share. I never want to see you again.”

Dear Nia,

I meant it.

Kamal.

Jilib,North of Kismayo Somalia.

1,448km from El Adde

January 22, 2016

I’m tired. Tired of the nightmares. Tired of walking. Of breathing. Of living. I just want to go home and sleep but Jamaal keeps saying, we have one last thing to finish before we can all go home and sleep.

The little girl’s name is Khadija and she is three years old. I think that is all I want to say right now about Khadija. I really don’t want to talk about her large brown eyes. I don’t want to talk about how she curls her long wavy hair around her small, pudgy fingers.

I really don’t want to delve into how she blows her cheeks full of air and then slaps them to imitate bomb sounds.

Her mother is Yasmiin. She is thirty years old and everything about her is long and thin. She has a long thin head, long thin nose, long thin lips, long thin arms, long thin legs, long thin teeth, long thin body… she is about thirty years old but she looks older than that. A tough life has made sure of it.

11:08h

Khadija is sitting outside on the sand playing with pebbles. Her mother is seated on a low stool peeling a mango. She slices it into bits and puts it in a tiny bowl;

Yasmiin: Dija

Khadija’s eyes are fixed on the sand. She is drawing a figure with a stick.

Yasmiin: Ha iigu yeedhin markale mar dambe (Don’t make me call you again)

Khadija, without looking at her mother, repeats what she has just said, word for word. She then dips her index finger into her mouth, draws a river of saliva and mixes it into the sand.

Yasmiin: Don’t you want a mango Dija?

Her voice is softer now. Khadija rolls over on the sand, places her palms on the ground, struggles to her tiny feet and walks to her mother. It looks as though she is stumbling like a drunk and the only thing stopping her from crashing face first into the coarse sand is another step forward just taken in the nick of time.

Halfway to her mother, she sees me sitting under the tree outside the house, changes course and staggers over grinning from ear to ear.

Khadija: Amaa! Amaa! Amaa!

She calls as she spreads out her arms. I smile, spread mine out and pick her up. Yasmiin frowns and gets on her feet. Holding out the bowl like it contains feces; she carries it to me and dumps it at my feet mumbling something I haven’t heard. But the look on her face tells me that she hasn’t said anything good.

Me: We’ve upset mommy

Khadija: Mommy…

Me: Mommy…

I bury my face into her little chest and blow air into it. It sounds like she is farting. She cackles and tries to yank my face off her chest. Then she leans over, picks up a handful of sand and rubs my hair with it. She does that. A lot.

Yasmiin, who had disappeared into the house, comes back out carrying a tin pail full of warm water. She pours it into an old and stained bathtub seated outside on the meager grass.

Yasmiin: Time for your bath Dija

Khadija: Mommy…bath.

In between “mommy” and “bath” she has said something that I didn’t catch.

Yasmiin: Yes you need to take a bath right now. And stop smearing your uncle with sand.

January 23, 2016

Jilib, Somalia

10:14h

There is a field at one part of the town. When Jilib was born, this field was meant to be a football field, but a football has not rolled on these sands since 1991. But heads have. Men’s heads. Women’s heads. And heads will be rolling here today.

Jamaal and I have come to town to witness the execution of three KDF soldiers. Al-Shabaab spent the night making the announcement from a speaker hoisted at the back of a pick-up truck.

Announcement: “Dibi ha ka dhex mari mayso qallafsanaantooda, oo adoo u jeesaba, oo iyaga u kici si aad u ilaaliso…”

(Kill the idolaters wherever you find them, and capture them, and blockade them, and watch for them at every lookout…)

And they went around reminding the residents that it was up to every loyal Muslim to kill the idolaters. In this case, Christians. And they read from the Quran 9:5. And they read. And they read. And they drove around asking one, asking all to come and see how great Allah has been to the true believers and what would happen to the kafurs.

Some people are in town to witness the execution because they feel obligated as Muslims to participate. Others are bored and an execution provides for great entertainment. Same reason why Roman citizens would visit the coliseums to watch the gladiators kill each other.

We are here by the hundreds, around the football field. Three pickup trucks drive into the field. Two of them have .50 caliber machineguns hoisted at the back and one is carrying the condemned men.

From the announcement last night, they led people to believe that three KDF soldiers were being executed today. But there are five men in the truck. Three in KDF uniforms, now tattered and bloodied and two in civilian attire. I have never seen torn KDF uniforms before. Once has to be beaten within an inch of their lives for those uniforms to look the way they do now.

Jamaal, who is standing next to me, elbows me in the ribs gently and mumbles in my ear;

Jamaal: I know the two civilians.

Me: Who are they?

His voice is edgy. His jaw is tight. He is gnashing his teeth the way he does when he is upset.

Jamaal: They are spies.

Me: Who do they spy for?

Jamaal: Sometimes for KDF, sometimes for the CIA.

Me: No way.

I look at the two civilians with renewed interest. Nothing about them says spy, but then nothing would. Or they wouldn’t be very good spies. But then, they wouldn’t be very good spies or they wouldn’t have been caught. They are a man and a woman; both of them in their mid thirties.

Me: I wonder how they got caught.

His jaw is tighter now and his breathing is escalated. He knows. He knows how they got caught.

Me: Did you sell them out to your friends in the al-Shabaab?

Jamaal: I know you think I am the scum of the earth, but I haven’t stooped that low.

He hisses and I believe him. He might have joined the al-Shabaab ranks, but then he has never lied to me.

When he graduated from the al-Shabaab training camp, he called me. It was an interesting conversation.

Jamaal: Hello brother

Me: Where the hell have you been?

He had been missing for a year and I had spent a lot of that time nagging Kenya Police, KDF and anyone and everyone, asking them where my brother was. It was a time when Kenyan Muslims were being shot right left and center with so much impunity that I questioned my commitment to the KDF.

And they kept saying they didn’t have him. I didn’t believe them. But now here he was. Calling from Jilib with the “good news” that he had joined his Muslim brothers in the war for Islam.

Jamaal: I have been training for Jihad brother.

Me: You have what?

Jamaal: Are you deaf? I said…

Me: I heard what you said. Where are you?

Jamaal: In Somalia walaal. Where I was meant to be all along.

Me: What are you doing there?

Jamaal: You are an intelligent man Kamal. What do you think?

Me: You need to come home.

Jamaal: And I will. When the law of home is Sharia law. The law of…

Me: You say Allah and I will hunt you down and shove my G3 so far up your ass you will smell it.

Jamaal: I am home little brother.

Me: We’re twins.

Jamaal: Waan ku jeclahay (I love you)

Me: Funny. Because you will shout Allahu Akbar as you chop my head off.

Jamaal: It’s for a good cause. I have to go.

Me: Mom wouldn’t be very happy about your decision.

Jamaal: Mom is dead. You can thank your infidel government for that. And you know who else is dead? Papa. And our little sister. Do you remember her?

I close my eyes and feel her sweaty little palms on my face.

Jamaal: Do you remember Hibaaq?

Me: Damn you Jamaal.

Jamaal: Whatever you say brother. But when your government killed our family…

I hang up on him. And cried in the shower. I curled myself up into a little tiny ball on the floor and let the hot water wash my sins away. It didn’t. I still woke up screaming, crying, asking myself why any of it happened.

And woke up with blood on my pillow. The doctors said that I nosebleed in my sleep and cited hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia as the reason. And I remembered my father having constant nosebleeds. And when the soldiers picked him up with mom and Hibaaq, their bodies were found a month later without a drop of blood on them.

Funny how a man who had spent a lot of his time in life bleeding, died without losing a drop of blood. Asphyxiation. They put polythene bags over their heads and watched them go.

And now here I stand, with my twin beside me. He called me when he became a terrorist. Not many would have done that. He wouldn’t lie now about selling out spies to the al-Shabaab.

Me: But you know who sold them out, don’t you?

Jamaal: I have an idea. Jooji. (Damn it)

Hooded men in army uniforms jump from the trucks even before they can come to a complete stop. They are all armed with automatic rifles.

They pull the KDF prisoners from the truck. Their hands and feet are bound and when they are pulled roughly from the truck, their bodies crash on the ground with a thud. The spies are given a similar treatment.

Once on the ground, knives are produced and the ropes binding them are cut off. Then they are roughly picked up and pushed to poles erected at the middle of the field.

The spies comply silently. Like they have accepted their fate. Even though they look disheveled, the lady looks more disheveled than all of them put together.

Her hair is messy, her face is swollen and she walks with a limp. Jamaal has shared with me what they do to the captured ladies. They are guilty of being women, they are guilty of being infidels and they are guilty of being spies. Rape is just one of the things they do to them. Her eyes are dead. No light in them.

The KDF soldiers on the other hand aren’t very compliant. They are about my age. Early twenties. None of them is twenty-five yet. From the look of things, none of them will ever be. they are not taking this lying down.

So they kick and get kicked back. They beg. In Kiswahili.

Soldier: Tafadhali tusamehe. Hatutarudia! (Forgive us please! We won’t do it again!)

The terrorists laugh. It is a throaty condescending laughter. The kind you get when you are the boss and the man on his knees at your feet recognizes that you’re not only the boss, but he’s also your bitch.

They hit them with their gun butts. They tie them to the poles. They line up in front of them. I look them all in the eye. Or I try as much as possible to. I know them.

Private Johnstone Kiarie. Kenya Army. PF No. 0912

Senior Private Onesmus Kilonzo. Kenya Army. PF No. 3722

Senior Private Aziz Faraji. Kenya Army. PF No. 1402

Deathly silence befalls the field. Only sound is that of the whimpering soldiers. The spies look at their potential executioners with defiance. I find myself wishing that the soldiers would do the same. Even though I am not sure I would.

The hooded men line up in front of the condemned men and woman. Someone yells something I imagine to be an order. The “aim, fire” order.

Guns are pointed. Soldiers cry.

I hold my breath. I notice Jamaal is watching the spies intently. I can tell that he knows them I don’t know how, but I know he knows them. I can feel his fear and his anger.

And when the guns bark, I start. I’m startled. He is not. He doesn’t even blink.

I see the bodies run red. There is a sound a body makes when a bullet hits it. A “TUF!!” kind of sound. I never get used to it. Then blood splashes against the morning sunlight rays before the body loses strength and sags, only attached to the pole by the ropes.

They all die with their chins on their chests, blood dripping from their open mouths one last time.

17:55h

We’re back at Yasmiin’s house. We are seated on a mat in what passes for the living room. There is no furniture. Just mats and blankets.

Yasmiin is seated with us but Khadija is outside playing alone as she does most of the time. Jamaal is smiling and I am afraid of that smile. It is creepy. Just a tiny rise of one corner of his lips.

Jamaal: I forgot to thank you for the hospitality walaashaa (sister.) Mahadsanid (Thank you)

Yasmiin: You and my husband, ilaah wuxuu nastay nafta (God rest his soul), were close. You’re my brother. Your brother is my brother too. Gurigeygu waa gurigaaga. (My home is your home.)

Jamaal: I am happy to hear that. Your husband is smiling from the heavens. Angels always smile when friendship survives the test of time.

Jamaal doesn’t do small talk. Something is cooking. Something bad.

Yasmiin: Alle waa weyn yahay. (Allah is great). Our friendship will survive much more time. My doors will always be open to you. Magaciisa waxaa lagu sarrayn doonaa magiciisa. (May His name be exalted.)

Jamaal: Aamiin. Aamiin. (Amen. Amen.)

In his Kanzu and a skull cap, Jamaal resembles a Sheikh; complete with ultimate wisdom. And now he is shaking his head in agreement of how great Allah is.

Yasmiin: I wish you would spend one more night. In the current turbulence, it’ll be safer if you left in the morning.

Jamaal: Weren’t we leaving for an urgent matter, we would have spent the night.

He stands up and I join him. I have been passive; an observer in what’s unfolding because Jamaal is the one running the show. Yasmiin stands too.

Jamaal: Before we leave sister, something has been laying heavy on my mind and I wish I could share it with you.

Yasmiin: And what might that be?

Jamaal: Well, I’m very happy you asked. You went to the field this morning?

Yasmiin: No I didn’t. I had to watch Dija.

Jamaal: Good mother. (He shakes his head approvingly) Good mother. Well, I saw one or two people get executed. People I knew.

Yasmiin: Oh. (Her eyebrows rise with surprise.) I’m so sorry to hear that.

Jamaal: (He waves as if watching his friends die is nothing) Ah, don’t mention it. It is Jilib. These things happen.

Yasmiin: (Shakes her head sadly) Aad u murugeysan. (Very sad.)

Jamaal: Indeed. Very sad indeed. What I am having a problem understanding though, is how they got caught.

Yasmiin: How do you mean?

Jamaal: Well, (he releases a sharp breath and scratches his head like he is very very baffled) see, the only person who knew they were spies was me.

Yasmiin draws a sharp breath that we all notice. Jamaal included. At this juncture, Jamaal reaches inside the coat he is wearing and pulls out a Colt. Yasmiin’s eyes dart to and fro and I am reminded of a cockroach getting caught by the lights on its journey across the kitchen floor.

Jamaal: Yasmiin, my dear sister, I unfortunately shared their names with your husband who, I am sure, is dead.

Yasmiin: Jamaal, what are you saying? (Her voice displays cold terror. She is not merely afraid of Jamaal. I can tell that she is very terrified of him.)

Jamaal: Yasmiin, (he corks the gun but doesn’t point it at her) did your husband share my careless conversation with him, with you?

Yasmiin: (She now shakes her head desperately and starts crying) Maya. Maya, waxaan ku dhaaranayaa Ilaaha nool, ma aanan samayn. (No. No. I swear by the one living God, I did not)

She puts her long thin hands in prayer position, kneels at Jamaal’s feet, and grabs a handful of the hem of his Kanzu.

Yasmiin: You have to believe me my brother. (She kisses his toes. He is in sandals) He did not.

She is selling it too hard. I believe that the husband did not share the conversation with her. I also believe that she is hiding something.

Jamaal can sense something too.

Khadija: Amal…

Her voice startles everyone. Her very small and innocent voice, completely incongruous with what’s unfolding in the house right now.

Yasmiin: Go back outside! Tag! Tag! (Go! Go!)

Khadija: Amal…

She staggers towards me with her hands held out. Yasmiin wants to pick her up but Jamaal puts his hand to her head and pins her on her knees.

I bend over and pick Khadija up.

Khadija: Amal…

Her young face contorts, her lips curl and she starts crying.

Khadija: Amal… Amal… Amal…

She cannot say “Kamal” so she calls me Amal. And she calls Jamaal, Adeer. (Uncle.) We are identical twins Jamaal and I. How Khadija can tell us apart, only Allah knows. I have been with them only a week, but in that week, she never runs into the arms of anyone but mine. Not even into her mother’s. Poor Yasmiin sometimes has to chase her daughter around the compound to catch her.

Yasmiin’s lips are in her mouth. Tears are flowing effortlessly down her cheeks and she is looking at her daughter who is in my arms.

Khadija rests her head on my chest and looks down at her mother.

Khadija: Amal

Me: Hmm

Khadija: Hub. (Gun)

Me: You know guns?

She points at Jamaal’s Colt

Khadija: Amal..

Me: Hmm

Khadija: Adeer. Hub. (Uncle. Gun.)

Me: Yes. Uncle has a gun.

Khadija: Muxuu sameeyey hooyo? (What did mama do?)

Me: (Baffled) What do you mean?

Khadija: Papa uses his gun to talk to mama too when he is angry.

Yasmiin cries even louder. I look at Jamaal and he looks back at me.

Me: I am going to take Khadija out on a walk

Jamaal: No. We don’t have much time. (Turns to Yasmiin who has her eyes now on the floor. With the tip of his gun, he lifts her chin up and forces her to look at him) Qashin (Bitch), where is Habib?

Yasmiin: I don’t know

She is not crying now. The acting is done. Jamaal squats in front of her and points the gun to her forehead

Jamaal: Do you want to die?

Yasmiin: For Allah

Jamaal: Spoken like a true argagixiso. (Terrorist)

Yasmiin: Don’t kid yourself. You and I are one and the same.

Jamaal: You and I are not the same. I am worse.

He stands. He points the gun at her legs and shoots her in both thighs. She yells. She collapses on the ground. Khadija, who has seen it all before I could turn her away, cries loudly.

Me: What the hell did you do?

Jamaal: Get out!

I carry the crying baby out and Jamaal joins me a few seconds later. He is dragging Yasmiin on the ground and she leaves a trail of blood on the dust. She is crying.

Jamaal: Shut up Qashin! Shut up!

He pushes the muzzle of the gun into her mouth and I can hear the metal clinking against her teeth. He grabs her by the throat and hisses in her ear;

Jamaal: If you don’t shut up, I will do something that even I will regret.

Yasmiin: You monster!

Jamaal: (He is looking her right in the eye) You know me. You know the terrible things I have done. You know what I am capable of. Why are you trying to mess with me?

Yasmiin: I can’t tell you. Please you have to believe me.

Jamaal: You are terrified of me. But you’re terrified more of something else. (He places his hand on her chin) Look at me. (She looks at him) Open your mouth. (She doesn’t so he slaps her hand) Open your mouth, cuntada. (Cunt)

She opens her mouth and he puts the gun in there. He pushes it in slowly then pulls it out then pushes it back in

Jamaal: That’s right Qashin. Nice and slow. Feel the taste of the steel on your tongue. Water my barrel with your saliva. Feel it go down your throat. Enjoy it. Because in five seconds, I am going to yank it out of your mouth, I am going to kill your daughter, I am going to rape you and then I am going to burn you alive. (He leans closer to her, ensuring that they’re making eye contact and asks softly) Do you believe me dhilleysi? (Whore)

She nods. She believes him.

Jamaal: Where is your husband?

He takes the gun off her mouth and wipes the saliva from it on her clothes.

Yasmiin: (Mumbling) lā ʾilāha ʾillā llāh muḥammadun rasūlu llāh (There is no god but God and Muhammad is His messenger.)

Jamaal shakes his head sadly like he has just been trifled. Like his reputation as a monster has just been pissed on by a hound. There is water in the bathtub outside. Jamaal comes over to me and takes Khadija from my hands.

Me: What are you going to do?

Jamaal: I am going to save our lives

Me: We could just go away right now

Jamaal: And Habib and his men will come after us

Me: We can make it. We can make it back alive to Nairobi

Jamaal: Don’t you get it? Don’t you get it Kamal?! (He seems so frustrated) They are all the same! Al-Shabaab. AMISOM. KDF. We can’t run. We can’t hide. We can only fight.

Me: I don’t get you!

Jamaal: Just stay out of my way and let me get us out of this mess!

He literally throws Khadija into the water. He tosses her in there like she is garbage and I yell out,

Me: Dija!

She screams. And it is not the painful kind of scream. This is fear. Cold and hard and omnipresent. Water splashes when she lands in it and her head floats and she screams;

Khadija: Amal! Amal!

Jamaal grabs her by the throat and shoves her head back inside the water and turns to Yasmiin who is crying;

Yasmiin: Stop! In the name of God please stop!

Jamaal: Where is he?

Yasmiin: I don’t know!

Jamaal: Screw you!

Me: Jamaal stop!

Jamaal: Shut up!

He yanks Khadija out of the water and screams;

Jamaal: I will kill her!

Yasmiin: I don’t know where he is

Jamaal: Why did you lie to us? (She is crying and crawling on the dust heading for her daughter, blood staining the sand behind her, her face a mask of terror and pain and cold cold acceptance) WHY?!

He puts the gun back into his coat and yanks out a Swiss Army Knife.

Jamaal: I will cut her into tiny ribbons Qashin if you don’t answer me.

Yasmiin screams and stops crawling. She struggles to her knees. Her thighs are busted up but she screams and hisses through the pain.

Jamaal: Where is he? What’s he planning? (She bows and lets her forehead touch the dust)

Yasmiin: lā ʾilāha ʾillā llāh muḥammadun rasūlu llāh

Jamaal: Don’t pray. There is no God but me Yasmiin. (He thumps his chest with the hand wielding the knife. His eyes are wide and wild. There is froth at the corners of his lips.) You should be praying to me!

He puts his foot inside the tub, steps on Khadija’s chest and pushes her to the bottom drowning her. Before she sinks, she looks at me; eyes terrified, mouth curled, tears flowing, hands stretched to me.

Dear Nia,

She says my name. She doesn’t scream it. She just says it. The way a child sits on her father’s lap and says “Papa”, that is how Khadija, a few seconds before her death, says my name.

“Amal”

I should stop him. I should shoot him even. There are lines that you don’t cross and I have crossed them all. When you are in the process of crossing a line no human should ever cross, you know it. That you have reached a point of no return. That even if you live to an old ripe age and die surrounded by weeping family, this will be the last thought in your mind before the devil drags you to hell.

And on the day that I die, and it’ll be any day now, I will carry Khadija’s little voice in my head to the gates of hell. I will sing about these lines I crossed. I will share them with Satan. And I will feel at home in his domain. Because I will have earned my place in hell.

I have tried explaining to myself that I could not stop Jamaal. He had a gun. He had a knife. His questions were valid. They needed answers. It was what needed to be done for our survival. But the simple truth is, I didn’t stop Jamaal because I was curious about what this kind of darkness feels. And I wasn’t even the one making them suffer.

You asked why I never cared. I cared for Khadija. Trust me, you don’t want me caring for you. Like I said, this is a story about bad people who do bad things. And worse people who watch them.

Kamal.

I collapse on the ground just as Khadija’s head disappears into the water one last time. The look in her eyes is that of innocence. Incomprehension. She doesn’t understand, she can’t understand why this would be happening to her.

Jamaal: One last time

Yasmiin: lā ʾilāha ʾillā llāh muḥammadun rasūlu llāh

Jamaal: Ganaax. (Fine)

He holds the knife firmly in his hand and plunges it into the water. I don’t look. I watch Yasmiin. And with every plunge of that knife into the quickly reddening water, her voice gets louder.

Yasmiin: lā ʾilāha ʾillā llāh muḥammadun rasūlu llāh

Dear Nia,

There better be a god and he better be worth that little girl’s blood.

Jamaal lifts her body off the water. It is dripping with water and blood. Blood so read; I have never seen anything redder.

Yasmiin lets herself see. She doesn’t cry. I doubt she has any tears left. The look in her eyes reminds me of that in the eyes of the lady spy when they dragged her to the pole for execution. No light in there. Just death. Darkness.

Khadija’s body sags in Jamaal’s grip. He lifts it up in the air as water drips from it unceasingly, then he dumps it on the ground like it is road kill. It lands with a splash. She died with a look of fear in her eyes and face. There is nothing more horrendous than the face of a child that died violently.

With the knife in hand, he goes over to Yasmiin, grabs her by the clothes and drags her back into the house. He kicks the door shut, leaving me with Khadija’s body. On all fours, I crawl to it.

When I was ten, papa made me slit a goat’s throat. He said,

Papa: Look into the eyes of the animal you kill. Honor it with your attention. Remember its death. Remember that it lived its entire life for the sole purpose of dying for you. This goat, the way it lived and the way it will die, might as well be Ciise Masiix (Jesus Christ.) It lived and died just for you. The least you can do is look it in the eye as you kill it and let its departing soul be forever etched in your memory.

I look into Khadija’s eyes. They are open and staring at a point in the sky. I hear her voice in my head saying “Amal” and I realize I don’t feel a thing. I want to. I want to be shaken by a sudden shudder of grief, but it is not there. I wish I could feel the pain, the anger, the guilt, but I feel nothing.

I place my fingers on her face and close her eyes.

From inside the house comes the grunting sound of coitus. Well, Jamaal is doing the grunting; Yasmiin is just shuddering and breathing loudly.

From my own jacket, I pull out my gun. I check to see if it is loaded. It is. With all fifteen bullets intact. I check to see if there is one in the chamber. There is. I look at Khadija’s body one last time and wonder if I will ever feel the grief of her death. I know I will. I know I will cry about it in the shower one day; if I live long enough.

I get on my feet and walk slowly, my pistol dangling in one hand, towards the house. I push the door open and it swings without a sound.

On the mat on the floor is my twin brother on top of Yasmiin. He has lifted his kanzu to his waist and pulled his trousers halfway down his buttocks. He is huffing and puffing on her. He said he’d kill her daughter, then rape her and burn her. It appears he is a man of his word.

I have a clear view of her top half. I point the gun at her and we make eye contact. And as he continues pumping her, I shoot. I shoot her once. Her chest gets a red splatter as my bullet sinks into it.

Jamaal: Damn it!

He jumps away from the body and I don’t stop shooting. I shoot her again. And again. Then I walk closer to her and empty the rest of the gun in her. Then I reload; put the gun back into my coat and step out of the house.

Jamaal comes out a minute later;

Jamaal: Sometimes you scare me man. You can be so cold.

Me: Next time you want to kill a baby, use a bullet.

Jamaal: Why waste a bullet on a terrorist when you can just gut it? And don’t worry too much about Khadija. She would have grown up to be a suicide bomber anyway. I have just done the world a huge favor. I deserve a medal.

Soon news will spread about the unfortunate and violent demise of Yasmiin and Khadija. Habib will come and he will bring an army. My idea is to run. We can’t go to back home to Kenya now. Jamaal says he has people in Syria who could accommodate us.

I chuckle. Syria. A bigger mess than Somalia. I pass.

We are left with no option but to fight it out with Habib right here in Jilib. A town which every intelligence body in the world knows crawls with al-Shabaab militants.

Jamaal: Waa adiga iyo aniga iyo walaalkay hadda. Sida maalmaha hore ee wanaagsan. (It’s just you and me now brother. Just like the good old days.)

Dear Nia,

If you’re still reading this at this point, then you understand why I could never put down roots. Jamaal was a monster, but he was my monster. And I had to be a monster like him or I’d have killed him. If God would have showed up that night and told me that I’d have a comfortable corner in heaven if I only killed my brother, I would have told him that heaven is good enough with my mother, father and little sister in it. As for Jamaal and Kamal, we’ll gladly fight it out with the rest of the monsters in hell for all eternity.

When all is said and done, I always was better at being bad than at being good.

Kamal.

January 23, 2016

Jilib, Somalia

06:05h

We are leaning against a wall on a corrugated rooftop in Jilib clad in army uniforms. Jamaal is looking through the sniper scope of his M16 rifle and I am looking through a pair of binoculars.

We have been waiting for almost ten hours now. Waiting for Habib and his army to come home.

Me: I don’t get you man.

Jamaal: What’s not to get?

Me: What are you? Al-Shabaab or KDF?

Jamaal: Do I have to be one or the other?

He adjusts his sight on the scope and swats a fly from his ear

Me: You can’t be both.

Jamaal: If you say so.

Me: What the hell does that mean?

Jamaal: I am al-Shabaab when it suits me. I am KDF when it suits me.

Me: Yeah. And I am CIA and al-Qaeda too.

Jamaal: I used to be like you when I joined the al-Shabaab. I was a true believer. I would have walked into a military camp with a bomb strapped to my chest and gone boom if they’d asked me. Thank God they didn’t.

Me: Saw the light, huh?

Jamaal: Saw the money. Nothing opens your eyes like money brother. (He looks at me as if waiting for me to say something.)

Me: Are you waiting for me to clap or something?

Jamaal: Sometimes when I am talking to you I feel like I am talking to my own image in the mirror.

Me: Well your own image in the mirror wants to shoot you in the face.

Jamaal: As I am sure it does. Brother, allow me to bore you with a little history.

Me: Since your form of entertainment comes with raping and killing, by all means, please bore me away.

Jamaal: The United Nations Security Council Resolution 2036 of 2012 made the export of charcoal from Somalia illegal because the trade boosted al-Shabaab’s finances in a major way. I am talking millions and millions of US dollars a month! The UN sanctions committee in its all out glory decided that this “might pose a threat to the peace, security or stability of Somalia.” And I am quoting here.

Me: Might?

Jamaal: Well, you know the UN. They are diplomats. They don’t like being harsh. In 2011, al-Shabaab made a lot more than 25 million US dollars from levying taxes on trade at the Kismayo port alone. I haven’t even touched on the southern port of Buur Gaabo yet.

Me: Keep talking.

Jamaal: So it’s 2012, right? Kenya has invaded Somalia and captured the Kismayo port from al-Shabaab in September. Initially, Kenya’s invasion of Somalia was clothed in the noblest of intentions. Good people, walking all over bad people’s territory to choke them dead. However, when Kenya captured the port of Kismayo from al-Shabaab, well, I guess they saw the money and decided, screw the mission. Like they say, the highway to hell is lined with people of good intentions.

Me: I am sure that’s not how that saying goes but keep going.

Jamaal: So KDF realizes that they have just inherited a load of over one million bags of charcoal from al-Shabaab at the port and the Somalia Federal Government and the UN plead with the Kenyan government not to touch the loot but Kenya decides, screw it. There is money to be made. And they export the charcoal. And they make a whole lot more money than al-Shabaab ever did.

Me: Charcoal originating from al-Shabaab controlled zones.

Jamaal: Yeah. Charcoal sold by people affiliated with the al-Shabaab. Here is a picture for you. UN has reported that al-Shabaab could make up to $100 million a year. So when KDF starts raking in more money than that, well… like Kismayo residents say, “KDF does minimal patrols. They just stay in their base and are concerned only with the operations of the port.” And someone in the UN added something to the effect that KDF in Somalia are purely in garrison mode.

Me: Do you have evidence to back your claim?

Jamaal: Yeah I have evidence but come on! What are you, blind? And don’t even get me started on the illicit sugar trade. Sugar is being smuggled into Kenya from the Kismayo port manned by yours truly the KDF and they’re making tens of millions of dollars from the trade. Here is another thing. So is al-Shabaab.

Me: I am done listening to your crap

Jamaal: No you are not. KDF could’ve dismantled the al-Shabaab when they took over Kismayo port. But they didn’t. They allowed al-Shabaab to regroup and now collect “rent” from them. Corruption isn’t a side hobby of the KDF in Somalia; it is the main reason why they are here. And to assure people back home that they are actually doing something, they send a jet every now and then to a village to drop a bomb, kill a couple of kids and innocent men, women, goats, cows and camels, then report in the Kenyan newspapers that KDF has heroically killed 30 al-Shabaab militants. Please! If you’re going to treat me like a kid, at least buy me candy first.

Me: And where do you fit in all this?

Jamaal: I’ll get to that. You have heard of the Jubaland authorities…

Me: Ras Kamboni

Jamaal: Yeah, they don’t call them that anymore. Anyway, since they are the administrative authorities in Jubaland where Kismayo is, they work with the KDF. They all benefit from the illicit black and white trade

Me: Black and white?

Jamaal: Charcoal and sugar. KDF and Ras Kamboni levy their taxes, al-Shabaab levies their taxes too and also produces the charcoal, and KDF collects rent from al-Shabaab, they all make some money and go home happy. Or at least rich.

Me: And where do you fit in all this?

Jamaal: In this business, you have to understand that peace cannot be tolerated. In the event of peace, this whole trade dies. There has to be conflict for it to thrive.

Me: So you make war?

Jamaal: So I make war.

Me: You play both sides?

Jamaal: KDF is in this for the money. Al-Shabaab is in this for the money. Jubaland administration is in this for the money. So why should I be the only one in it for the cause? Screw the cause.

Me: But there is AMISOM

Jamaal: Oh God. Are you really this naïve or are you just plain stupid? Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania are too weak to tell Kenya what to do. And even if they weren’t, they don’t have the interest to nose around KDF’s business. KDF and the Ethiopian military have an understanding. They let each other operate freely on each other’s territories. No questions asked.

Me: How about the US and the UN?

Jamaal: Kenya is the strongest ally the US has in the fight against terror in this region. The US military also uses the KDF bases in Somalia to launch its operations but do not expect Kenya to be active. The US lacks enough leverage to tell Kenya what to do so they just work around the problem. The United Kingdom is working out an arrangement with Kenya on training facilities for their military. They can’t push this issue too hard because they don’t want to piss Kenya off. And the UN my dear sir is not a state. It has no military. Best it can do is come up with policies and it has. But there is nobody willing to enforce the policies at the moment. And Kenya has proven to be very good at using these policies to wipe their asses.

Me: So you quit the al-Shabaab?

Jamaal: More like I put my services up for hire by other parties.

Me: Like a whore

Jamaal: (Smiles) Like a whore.

He dips his hand into his pockets and retrieves a flash drive which he hands over to me.

Me: (Taking it) What’s this?

Jamaal: Dates. Names. Amounts of money. Pictures. Videos. Evidence.

Me: And you what? Want me to blow the whistle?

Jamaal: You asked for the evidence. There it is. You can take a chew on it for all I care. Let’s face it. Who am I to pursue justice?

Me: Especially seeing as how your dick is still wet with the blood of the last woman you raped.

Jamaal: Hey asshole, this is war. Anything is fair game!

Me: No it is not.

Jamaal: Why? Because of the Geneva Convention?

Me: Because killing kids is wrong.

Jamaal: And yet you stood by and watched.

Me: Yeah. I did.

Jamaal: Look around you. The world has all but forgotten Somalia. Those tasked with maintaining peace and stability are only interested in making a profit from the chaos. When you have been here as long as I have, when you have been with animals as long as I have, the line becomes pretty blurred. I wish I could say I am sorry about Khadija and Yasmiin, but they are not the first casualties of war at my hand. And if there is a Satan in the ground, they won’t be my last. I am not bragging about my kills. I am just telling you that I know who I am. I see the blood on my hands. And I have to live with it. Do you know who you are?

Me: Yeah. The devil’s brother.

Jamaal: Those spies they killed yesterday, they were with the CIA. Tasked with collecting intelligence on the whereabouts of some dude whose name I don’t know. I don’t even care. They were my friends. Habib, believe it or not, is a Major in the KDF. He started out as my handler for the KDF then became my friend. I told him about Christine right before he died. Well, at least I thought he died. Went to his burial and everything. Didn’t know he was working for the al-Shabaab. He’s the only one who could have sold Christine and the guy out.

Me: How did you end up at El-Adde?

Jamaal: Oh. El Adde. What a mess! I didn’t know you were there. I was contracted by al-Shabaab to kill all the officers. Anyone at the rank of Lieutenant and above had to go. This was an operation that had been planned for months. It was such a badly guarded secret that General Abas Ibrahim Gurey of the Somali Army warned KDF of the attack 45 days in advance. And you know what I don’t get? KDF has been warned of the imminence of the attack weeks in advance, right? Also, a truck carrying a bomb three sizes the bomb that brought down the American embassy in Nairobi, was driven into the compound. Driven!

He makes the sound of an engine.

Jamaal: Brrrrrrr! And nobody heard it coming! Yet the base was being patrolled. And it was a base situated on a plain. In like a desert. And nobody saw the truck coming and opened fire or warned anybody. What? Were the guys patrolling asleep? Were they drugged? Did their guns jam? Did their voices die in their throats? They couldn’t raise alarm? And it was at 6:30 in the morning. There was light outside. Yet an enemy truck drove into the base and went boom. Hadn’t it happened, I’d have said it’s impossible.

Me: So you think somebody let it in?

Jamaal: Right now, I’m not sure somebody didn’t. Also, al-Shabaab is great at propaganda. They paraded the dead soldiers in front of cameras and advertised their might for all the world to see. Yet there are soldiers who have disappeared. Apparently captured by al-Shabaab. Do you think al-Shabaab would keep that a secret? I don’t think so. They would parade them in towns and kill them and tape the executions and post them online.

Me: Do you think there were al-Shabaab militants in the compound before the attack commenced?

Jamaal: I don’t know, OK? I don’t know. In light of the fact that the military keeps hiding things from people, anyone is allowed to guess anything. They were warned 45 days in advance. And they didn’t see or hear the truck driving through the desert and into the base; something a child could see and say, “Mama, car.” They didn’t see it. I smell an entire tunnel of rats.

Through my scope, I see approaching trucks loaded with armed men. Six trucks. Each loaded at the back with a .50 caliber machinegun. Each truck carrying at least six men, each man armed with an automatic rifle.

Me: Whoa. You weren’t kidding when you said it’d be an army

Jamaal: Habib always did know how to make an entrance.

Me: Remind me again why we aren’t running.

Jamaal: Because walaal, (brother) there’d be nowhere to hide. I’d rather get shot in the face fighting than in the back running.

Me: I don’t know man. I always did want an open casket funeral.

Jamaal holds the rifle well in hand, looks into the scope and says;

Jamaal: Alright. Call them out.

Me: (Looking through my binoculars) 12:00 o’clock. 660 meters and closing. (That is the first vehicle). Wind, three quarter value, push left.

Jamaal adjusts the shot accordingly.

Me: (I have eyes on the second vehicle) 700 meters, middle on the road. You on target?

Jamaal: I’m on target

Me: Fire when ready.

There is always beauty in calling out moving targets and hitting them. When Jamaal fires, I cannot exactly see the bullet flying through the air, but it leaves behind a vapor trail that helps me follow its trajectory. I never get used to it.

The bullet sails fast through the air, cutting through the wind. It smashes through the leading truck’s windshield and hits the driver in the face with so much force that it blows his head clean of his shoulders.

The truck loses control and overturns on the road.

Me: It’s a hit.

No time to linger. Jamaal takes the second shot. Second vehicle’s driver’s chest rips wide open with a flashy splash of red and his truck veers off the road. Men start screaming. I continue ranging the targets for Jamaal.

Me: Eleven o’clock. 770 meters. Approaching at 60km/h.

Jamaal takes the shot.

Me: 780 meters and closing fast! Three quarter valve, fire when ready.

Jamaal: I got it brother, I got it.

He takes the shot. It is another hit. I sling the binoculars around my neck and put my gun in position. Through the scope, I pick out targets and put them down. Killing enemies from a distance of over half a kilometer away.

Me: I don’t think we can hold them there much longer.

Jamaal: Do you see Habib?

Me: I don’t know. You are the one who knows what he looks like.

The men down there start firing in our general direction but their bullets keep flying wide.

Me: They can’t see us yet.

Jamaal: They will.

Me: We should change location.

We keep firing. They keep going down. One of them puts an RPG on his shoulder and fires.

Jamaal: Incoming!

They miss. The missile falls tens of meters away from us. But we can’t put them all down. They are simply too many. Someone down there points at us and screams;

HALKAAS! (There!)

Me: They have eyes on us!

Jamaal: Move! Move!

We fire twice more, put two more guys down just as one of them fires another missile at us and the wall explodes into a million particles of dust.

Jamaal: Move! Move!

We are halfway across the rooftop, heading down towards the stairwell that will lead us into the streets of Jilib below us.

Outside, we come across women in burqas, crouching on the ground.

Me: Gal gudaha! Dhaqso! (Get inside! Hurry!)

They scurry into the building we have just left.

Jamaal: Listen!

I can hear them yelling and the engines of the remaining trucks roaring towards us.

Me: We didn’t have much of an exit strategy, did we?

Jamaal: I wasn’t planning on exiting.

Me: You idiot!

We are running on the street, guns ready, boots thumping on the ground, panting lightly; a truck emerges from ahead of us and men start firing. We fire back.

They disembark from the truck and start running towards us. These aren’t hooded like every other one I have met. They are in civilian sleeveless jackets, khaki trousers and boots. And of course, rifles with hundreds of bullets around their shoulder like they are Rambo or something.

We duck into a shop and Jamaal fishes out a grenade, bites off the pin and hurls it out into the street. I hear men yells;

Bumbo! Grenade!

And it explodes seconds later replacing their warnings with yells of pain. We get back into the street with our guns blazing. Those whose limbs haven’t been torn away from them try and shoot back, but it is dusty and their ears must be ringing. They can’t shoot straight. We put them down with ease.

One of them, a young boy of about sixteen or seventeen, is leaning against the wall, his rifle lying carelessly at his feet. Shrapnel has torn his stomach open and I catch a glimpse of peeping intestines through the blood.

Jamaal runs to him and kicks his teeth in with his boots.

Jamaal: Where is he? Where is Habib?

The kid: Making another baby with your mother.

Jamaal takes out his knife.

Me: We don’t have time for this Jamaal.

Jamaal: (Squats next to the kid) Hooyaday ayaa dhimatay. (My mother’s dead.)

He digs the knife into the kid’s thigh and twists. If the kid thought he was dying before Jamaal showed up, now he is sure of it.

Jamaal: Where is that eyga? (Dog)

He twists the knife again, yanks it out with bits of flesh and a bucket-load of blood and plunges it into the other thigh.

Jamaal: (Hissing) Speak cuntada. (Cunt)

The kid: He is in another truck. Heading to his home.

Jamaal: Mahadsanid (Thank you)

He holds the kid’s head back, places the knife on one side of his throat and slowly slides it across to the other end, leaving a rapidly thickening line of blood.

As the kid dies, Jamaal stands and rushes over to me.

Jamaal: Let’s go!

We run to the end of the street. Windows are open. Heads are leaning out. Children are being shielded from the spectacle. Voices are asking in another street;

Halkee ayay tahay? Where are they?

We run; come face to face with a bunch of them with automatic rifles and machetes. We shoot, they shoot back. I see Jamaal’s shoulder rip open as a bullet goes through. He gives a yelp and holds the rifle in one hand, firing as we take cover behind a stationary vehicle.

Bullets land on the vehicle. I roll on the ground and shoot at the approaching feet. Men yell and drop. My gun clicks empty.

Me: Reload!

I hide next to the wheel of the car as Jamaal rolls over and takes them out as I reload. I take out a grenade, pull out the pin and hurl it over to the guys.

They scream. It goes off. We leave our cover, Jamaal reloads and we finish off those who aren’t dead.

We are at another rooftop with a view of Habib’s house. I see through my binoculars, a man in his mid thirties, hugging on Khadija’s body. He is crying, screaming. He is surrounded by tens of armed men.

Me: We can’t take them all.

Jamaal: We won’t do anything.

He is seated on the ground, bandaging his shoulder. He hisses.

Me: Relax. It is just a graze. What do you mean we won’t?

Jamaal: This is where you get off the bus brother.

Me: Screw that.

I see Habib put Khadija’s body back down and head into the house screaming. Something has eaten off half of Khadija’s face. Must be the dogs. We shouldn’t have left her out there throughout the night.

I hear rapid gunfire going off in the house but I can’t see what’s happening in there. Then Habib comes out dragging Yasmiin’s body, puts it in the middle of the compound, yanks a rifle from one of his men and empties it into the dead body. All of it. All thirty something bullets of it.

He yells at the men.

Habib: Raadi iyaga! (Find them!)

His rage sends a chill down my spine.

Me: Oh dude. We are so screwed.

I was busy looking through the binoculars to pay attention to my brother. Now I hear the corking of a Colt and freeze. I turn around and see him standing in front of me with his Colt pointed to his temple.

Me: What are you doing?

Jamaal: We aren’t doing anything because this is where I leave you.

Me: Put the gun down and stop messing around.

Jamaal: Go

Me: No

Jamaal: Go!

Me: No!

Jamaal: If you don’t go, I will blow my head off. And I know you don’t want that.

Dear Nia,

You’re probably wondering why I didn’t let him shoot himself. See, like I said, he might be a monster, but he is my monster. And he knew that. Just like he wouldn’t let anything happen to me, he knew I wouldn’t let anything happen to him.

Me: We can do this. We can take them. Both of us.

Jamaal: Oh Kamal. Always the romantic. You and me, we don’t get to live together like brothers and die together like fools. We don’t get a happy ending.

Me: Then let us have an unhappy one. Right here in Jillib. Together.

Jamaal: Then me rescuing you at El Adde would have been for nothing.

Me: For nothing? Look how far we’ve come!

Jamaal: This isn’t your fight! Now go!

I take a step closer to him.

Jamaal: If you take one more step towards me, I will shoot. (He looks me in the eye and hisses) Do you believe me?

Me: Don’t

Jamaal: Walaal walbahaar ah. (Goodbye brother)

There are men shouting below us.

Me: I won’t make it out alone. They will catch me.

Jamaal: Don’t you worry about that.

Me: What are you going to do?

Jamaal: Don’t you worry about that either little brother. Just get to Kismayo. I will find you there.

Me: How?

Jamaal: Go.

I take a deep breath. I turn away from him. I walk. I jog. I run. I run down the stairs and from the rooftop, I hear Jamaal shouting and shooting.

I come across two people along the stairs, with their backs to me and not wanting to attract attention, I slit one’s throat and stab the other in the ribs before he can react.

They were both armed with fully loaded AK47s and two hand grenades each. I take one AK47 and take the magazine from the other one too and their grenades for good measure. One of them is about my size. I take off my army gear and wear his clothes.

They have blood on them, but that’s a small price to pay for life and freedom.

I get out into the street and run. And run.

I run when I hear rapid gunfire on the rooftop where I left my brother

I run when I hear the bombs go off

I run when men yell Allahu akbar

I run when men scream

I run

I run

I run

February 12, 2016. 14:11h

Kismayo, Somalia

Al-Kataib is an al-Shabaab propaganda media station. I am seated in a horrible motel room with horrible internet connection, reading a few damning documents from Jamaal’s flash-drive on my laptop.

I am waiting. Waiting for my brother even though it doesn’t feel like I should. I know deep inside that he is in trouble and yet I wait. One more day. He’ll come tomorrow. He’ll come tomorrow. Tomorrow becomes tomorrow. Tomorrow becomes tomorrow.

I see a text on my phone instructing me to switch to Al-Kataib ASAP. I do. Habib is on the screen, standing behind a hooded kneeling man in tattered clothes and blood all over him. He appears to have been well tortured.

There is a flag behind Habib and hooded men holding rifles and RPGs on Habib’s either side.

Habib: Kenya Defence Forces Private Salih Mohammed Kamal, I am waiting for you.

He takes the hood off the kneeling man. It is Jamaal. Bloodied, cut, tortured.

Habib: Walaalkiina gacaliyeow, suga. (Your beloved brother is waiting for you). We are all waiting for you at the spot where you killed my daughter. Where you raped my wife and dishonored me and my family. Come now or sida Ilaah ilaaha u yahay, (as God is my witness) I will kill anything and everything you have ever touched. I will kill your aunties and uncles, your little cousins, their little dogs…

Jamaal raises his face and look into the camera.

Jamaal: Don’t listen to him. He talks too much.

Then he spits blood. Habib turns to two of his men and points at Jamaal.

Habib: Hold him.

The two men hold Jamaal in place as Habib takes out a long knife and pries the resisting Jamaal’s mouth open. He grabs his tongue saying;

Habib: Carrab badan oo hadla ayaa ku hadla. (A tongue that talks too much will be cut off)

And right there on TV, Habib makes cutting motions. And pretty soon, he holds my brother’s tongue in his hands. Jamaal is screaming and choking on blood.

Habib throws the tongue on the ground and wipes the knife clean on his pants. He also wipes his hands clean, takes out a gun and shoots Jamaal in one leg.

Habib: For every three hours that pass without you showing up at the place where you forcefully dirtied my wife with your seed, I will put another bullet in your brother.

The Commanding Officer at the KDF base in Kismayo is a man called Major Jackton Kipng’etich. I have his number from the documents I’m reading which I call.

Major Jackton: Who is this?

Me: Private Kamal KDF. I was based at El Adde.

Major Jackton: Where are you calling from Private?

Me: That is unimportant sir.

Major Jackton: What can I do for you?

Me: I have the coordinates for Habib’s location. I know the KDF wants him badly. I am giving him to you on a platter.

Major Habib: Come in Private?

Me: I can’t do that sir.

Major Jackton: Why the hell not?

Me: I am sending you the coordinates right now. It will be in everyone’s best interests if everyone, including the deserter Major Habib, with all damning KDF secrets, go up in flames. Don’t you agree sir?

I hang up. I send the Major the coordinates, take out the SIM card and the battery from my phone and dump them all.

I can almost see the missiles on my screen, shooting from the underbellies of jets and landing on Jilib. I can almost see the entire town going up in a cloud of smoke. Bomb landing on terrorists, children, mothers, fathers, goats and cows alike.

Bombs killing my brother. Bombs, sent to the location by me.

Dear Nia,

I am sure you are familiar with the subsequent headlines in Kenyan newspapers.

“KDF Jet Fighters Pound Al-Shabaab bases in Jilib Town, Somalia.”

For once, they are right. They really do pound the bases this time. And everything and everyone in it. See bombs don’t discriminate. They won’t refuse to go off just because they have landed in front of a car full of children.

But by virtue of using KDF bombs to take care of the problem, I am in bed with the devil. I knew what those bombs would do, and I sanctioned them anyway. I was now both the bad man who did bad things, and the worse man who watched bad people do bad things and did nothing.

Is there a worse kind of a man Nia?

Kamal.

February 16, 2016

13:17h

Dhobley, Afmadow District, Lower Juba, Somalia

I am inside a truck heading for the Kenyan border with Somalia when I come across a KDF checkpoint.

There are two girls, with about thirty years between them. They have been ordered off the bus by KDF soldiers and they are explaining that they are returning to Somalia from Ifo Refugee Camp.

Soldier: Are you coming to meet your al-Shabaab boyfriends?

Girl: No.

Soldier: You know who they are, don’t you?

They grab the teenagers. Six soldiers. They drag them into the nearby bushes. I go through the checkpoint but I can’t drive on. They are little girls. Three soldiers for each girl. I grab a gun and head into the bushes. One bullet for each soldier will do.

But you can only do so much killing without getting a taste of your own medicine. Yes I live six bodies behind, but I live with two bullets in me. And the veterinarian in Dhobley can only do so much for me.

Dear Nia,

I come home a scarred man, still healing from his wounds. I come home a marked man. You just don’t kill soldiers and expect to get away with it. So I come home labeled a terrorist with a price on my head.

I bury an empty casket and mark the grave as my brother’s; knowing that when I die, my grave will remain unmarked, if I’ll even be lucky enough to be buried. I am no whistleblower and the information I have isn’t enough to keep me alive.

Soon, they will find me, they will torture and they will kill me. I have made my peace with that. I can almost hear their boots pounding on the floor as they climb the stairs with guns in their hands, hunting me down.

Three months ago I was deployed on my second tour to Somalia. Only this time, I was unfortunate enough to find myself in the doomed El Adde base on that fateful morning. Or none of this would have happened. I would have remained a soldier, blissful in my ignorance.

Don’t look for me. I won’t be found. Once upon a time, you told me that I would look for you in the eyes of every person I’ll try to be with and I won’t find you.

I have killed three men since. And I have looked in their eyes for you and I haven’t seen them.

With this letter is the flash drive passed to me by my brother. You decide what to do with it. I have seen what this country does to whistleblowers. Imagine what they will do to an alleged terrorist who deserted the army.  Besides, who am I to pursue justice?

Eventually my body will be found in a river somewhere with every bone broken and a bullet in the head. Tell them not to bother investigating who killed me. Like I said at the beginning of this letter, in the end, we all get what’s coming to us. I just got what was coming to me.

I remain a dead man walking,

Kamal.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. The legend lives on. You might have been a drone. A 3D seeing drone. An omnipresent drone seeing all. You have taken this to another level. The kind of extents humans can go to is unfathomable.

    This feels so real. My heart bleeds for Khadija. It bleeds for Absame. It bleeds for victims of terrrorism.

    So many issues in here Charles. Proud of you as always.

  2. The pain that this actually happens to human beings by the hand of other human beings is tearing my heart open. I cry for humanity, I cry for the senseless lives lost through wars and terrorism.
    Charles once again you touched a cord

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