The air was hot and dry. It smelt of hope. It reeked of dust levitated by the sweeping wind. The brownish-yellow grasses were crisp and twisted. They ran lowly and sideways along the dusty brown roads till they touched the skyline. Dadaab was probably a few more miles away, a little less far from hell.
Aziza pulled the sleeves of her dark silk robes up to her elbows as she took one harrowing glare at me. She stooped and began to move her palms across her hand as though performing an ablution without water.
“Please let me say one more prayer” she said.
She stepped onto the cloth she had laid on the floor. It was a fabric of white cashmere turned light brown with streaks of dark red from her bloodied feet and the brown footpaths that led away from the city of Mogadishu.
Her gaze rested on Abdi who lay still, perfectly still in the warmth of the crimson earth. She knelt down to pray, her cracked, wrinkled lips barely moving. For a moment, I thought it was her eyelids that did the supplication. She bowed her head to the dust.
I had first set my eyes on her just a few months back while doing my routine inspection in the city of Mogadishu. Sounds of explosions and gunshots laced the airwaves. Glasses shatter, dust and madness twirling the deserted marketplace like the fury of an aggrieved tempest. This occurrence wasn’t unusual. It wasn’t the first I had experienced. It was probably the most pitiful. Confusion was out on the streets as buildings collapsed during grenade explosions. Women clustered in tiny groups and took refuge behind the burnt, rusty skeletons of military trucks while they talked in hushed tones.
The air was filled with acrid smoke from burning rubber. Aziza had rushed into the compound with bloodshot eyes, her red pashmina scarf loosely wound around her head. She had made her way past without noticing me. Once she was in the house, she had Kofar’s head on her laps. He had looked at her as if to assure her that the war was over. Her eyes were moist and she blinked back the tears that would have fallen. Kofar’s dark pupils had rested on her cheeks; they seemed to foretell that the rains that hadn’t poured in three seasons would eventually fall. She shut her eyelids and allowed her eyes to burn in the pool of hot tears that she had refused passage. His body had lost the warmth that she had felt for the ten years that they had been married. It was cold and still. She opened her eyes and allowed her blistering tears pour on his skin. If he had listened and stayed away from the battle front of the civil war, if only he had loved his life more than his hatred of finding refuge in Kenya, he wouldn’t have looked so lost in his frozen stare.
She raised her head from the ground and sat on her legs folded backwards. She was wearing a faded grey caftan. She held her tesbliu; beads strung together on a thread and moved her lips without parting them each time she pulled a bead back into her clutched hands. She looked at Abdi. He was still sleeping.
At first the concern of the Somalis that resided in the capital city of Mogadishu was the war. The people had more than the recommended dose of lunacy as clans wrestled against other clans. You might just wake to hear that a Bantu was shot to death on his way to his home the previous night or that one of the officials of the Transitional Federal Government was chopped to pieces by unknown persons suspected to be members of the Al-Shabaab movement. It was just a non-stop deliric cycle. But even in the face of the gunfire, explosions and anarchy, the people had learnt to survive. They would dig further into already dried wells in their compounds and create tunnels to make room for their food and their children. One season passed, and another yet the rains didn’t pour. Ridges in the farmlands could only boast of withered stems of maize plants. The land depended on rain and the gods withheld it from them. Maybe it was a contrived arrangement of their maker to put an end to the insane wars by depriving them their sources of energy. The cattle at first survived, but they looked like cloth spread over a framework of ribs. Then they fell one after the other upon the face of the earth. The people grew thin and long, their pale faces becoming bony with sunken eyes.
After her husband’s burial, Aziza made hundreds of tiny curry meatballs, Sambosa. She stuffed them in a covered bowl and carried the last keg of water she had saved for the journey ahead. Sarura, her younger sister was to carry the foodstuffs and clothing while she carried Abdi, her four-year old boy on her back. She also held the mat that they would lay on the floor. She had heard that the journey from Mogadishu to the Dadaab Refugee Camp was about 450 miles, but she also heard that they had water and food there. She had heard stories that Aminat, her friend was there with her family and they all looked well-fed and fat. They started on their journey, along with six other women who were heading out of Somalia too. They didn’t have the donkey-carts that some of their predecessors had gone with because there were no donkeys, only skulls of what they could have been along the roads. Aziza saw bones along the bush paths. She saw big skulls joined to a tiny skeleton frame which indicated that a child had died there. Other times she saw dried limbs, propping out partly from the clay ground. She would clutch on to Abdi more tightly. As the journey progressed, their food supply dwindled. People began to eat secretly only when the others slept, and those that had some left had their bags bound to their chest while they slept.
As the road spurn its wool endlessly, they began to get fewer. Sarura broke out with high temperature and fever that saw her shivering in the heat of the sun. Measles bust out from her forehead at first, then it spread all over her body. Aziza tried to help her but grew weaker as she had run out of food. Her sister had slept all through the night and refused to rise. Sarura’s body had frozen in the chill of the night. Her face was calm and darker. Although Aziza didn’t have the strength to bury her sister, she gathered sand from the road and poured with on her corpse. She still stopped in between journeys to say her prayers to Allah She did this five times between every dawn and dusk.
She raised her head from the ground and looked over at Abdi. I could tell that she feared that he was permanently asleep, like Kofar, like Sarura, like the fallen heroes that had refused to rise from their deep slumber. She beckoned onto me to sit beside her. I could see the tears in her eyes as she latched on to my robe. She tugged at it and fought till she cried with the last strength she had. I tried to comfort her. I put my hands around her waist. She moved her slender body from side to side like one sitting on a rocking chair. She pressed her lips firmly against each other and dug her nails into my skin. Her tears didn’t stop running but she had stopped fighting. Her frame had become suddenly tranquil on my chest.
Although I had been saddled with the duty of extermination. Everybody called me “Death- the wicked” even though I was just an usher to the afterlife. I had fallen in love with Aziza, the love that made her husband fall quickly at my hand. I knew that the affection that I had would destroy her, so I walked by her only at a distant. It hurt that I could only feel the warmth of her body for a few seconds after which she was free from the pain and hunger and suffering. I lifted Abdi in my arms and took upon myself the task of getting him safely to the gates of Dadaab.