MALAK, DESERT CHILD.
CHAPTER TWO, MALAK
But now, he could also hear the sea breaking on the rocks just below the Kasbah, the sound coming in through the small high window in the room. He could make out the salt in the air and the smell of fish, so he left the house and walked down to where the fishing boats had arrived and the fishermen were selling their catch.
It was still sunny but a sea mist had descended over the port and beach area, giving it an air of mystery, of enchantment. The magic was broken by the Moroccan haggling going on all over as the trading took place. The fish was selling well, especially the big pieces and as he wandered men hailed him in Arabic or Spanish and waved fish and octopi and nets full of prawns before him. Pete smiled and thanked them shaking his head; if Latifa had been there they would have bought two or three good fish, bass or grouper, to take home. Sea Bass cooked on an open fire, or a whole monkfish, or grouper, the inevitable Spanish Mero, life wasn’t bad and he was hungry again.
He saw a family; a woman with two girls and a baby in arms arrive to buy fish. As they came closer he saw that it was Latifa. Then the two girls came up to him smiling, he was confused, bewildered, beautiful girls their hair covered with silk hankies in a time-honored way. He was taken aback as the older one kissed him on both cheeks, and then, only then he realised who they were and Malak ran at him and threw her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek. Pete took her and held her at arm’s s length. He felt quite emotional, a lump in his throat, he felt that he was with his family, his woman his baby and his beautiful daughters. All the fishermen were looking on and smiling and laughing calling “schuina schuina” “Beautiful. Beautiful,” And Pete looked at the little girl.
“You are beautiful Malak, so lovely. “ She couldn´t understand but knew what he said and ran off to Latifa suddenly bashful. Latifa took him by the arm and pointed,
“Fish?” Pete nodded so the bartering began, whilst he, looking around, spotted Murdiyyah, the elder girl who had taken charge of the baby, he smiled at her.
“Hello,” Murdiyyah smiled back at him and as she and Malak stood together playing with the little girl baby Pete felt so happy and full. I don´t deserve this he thought, why don´t I? Just because I can´t cope, no you fool you could if you just do as the shrink said and take the lousy pills. Then he thought, what is it anyway that I deserve or don´t? It´s nothing, just a couple of kids, I put my hand in my pocket fixed them up for a few days and now I feel like they´re mine. But they are mine, as much as anyone else´s, they´re mine to love from afar. You know if it came to the crunch I wouldn´t mind dying for them if it would make them safe and happy, I would know that I had meant something to someone.
I feel better now than I have for a long time. He thought, you are indeed sweetening these moments for me little girl, I will see how far I can go in sweetening yours more before the enormity of things climbs on my head before it all begins to drown me again.
Chapter four, Jeedah
“He thinks I don´t know but I know, he wants something, maybe he wants Latifa. He is Jeedah´s sort of man she would have spoken with him, she always knew “”If you don´t know child don´t speak to them let them figure out your thoughts themselves if they can, say nothing.”
Sometimes she would put her hand on my head and say, ”It´s no use Malak, your face says it all, you are too magnificent too proud where did you come from child who are your people? It´s in her blood, your mother’s and in your´s but you are more special you will never give up.”” I
never understood, it´s only slowly that words she once said to me would begin to mean something.
“Murdiyyah must say no, always, I know he wants to do it to her like to mother, I will kill him, he knows this, jajajaja he thinks I am Jeedah, maybe I am.
Why did he let her die, I know he did not kill her it just happened, but he let her, but she always said I must never blame him, he is only good, I must speak to him and ask him to help
me. The men go to the mosque to see him but Jeedah says he will hear me from anywhere, thatthe beach is a good place because there is lots of his beauty there, all around.
When she died there was a cat, a black cat, fat, maybe she is in the cat, maybe she is now a cat, some people say it, they say she was not good that she was a witch that her man was very afraid of her that my father was very afraid of her, but now she´s gone, she´s gone and I have no one I can speak to. Murdiyyah is too busy speaking to boys and she will make them also want to put it into her, I cannot fight all the boys in the Souk, last time there were three, they are cowards, lucky we were outside the hamman, the lady from the Hamman says I am a spitting cat, she brought buckets of water to wash away the blood, it was all their blood.
Latifa is my friend, I play with her baby so she does not cry. The baby pulls my hair, she hits me, Latifa laughs as she loves her so much. I think Latifa should not let the baby hit me but I do not mind as Latifa is her mother and Latifa is my friend. We eat most days because Latifa
gives us food, at home there is nothing. Before people used to bring food to our room but then he would laugh and abuse them so they stopped coming, he would throw the food on the floor and stand on it. But Latifa is good she is not afraid of him, I wish she was my mother and not that
baby´s. I don’t think I love anybody, only Jeedah Hazza but she died.
There come those boys they walk along the edge of the wall with their backs to it, I snarl and they jump. I never make trouble with them they always laugh and call me names, but not now, they know I have no fear I
will do anything, I will even kill them if they hit me. They don’t like me because we are from Sahara and we have no food or clothes and my father is always carrying a bottle they say it is a curse and evil from Shaytan, so my father beats Murdiyyah and my mother, and the children
beat me, I am tired, it was good when Jeedah was alive, and Murdiyyah and my mother are always so afraid, I don’t understand why, if they were not afraid he would leave them alone.
Chapter seven, Marsa Ben Mhidi
You never forget the feeling of awe, struck into you by the raw power of military machines suddenly looming up before your eyes, all matted camouflage greens or greys, noisy, mechanical, super-efficient killing machines, faceless and reckless in the elimination of defenceless warm blooded civilians. It occurred to me how I would feel if all these people
gathered here, all these wonderful warm children, full of gaiety and life, were in fact Syrians sitting in Aleppo or Mosul being targeted by one army or t’other.
They came over the hills, a death squadron, led by a Russian Mi-28ne attack helicopter, nicknamed Havoc, probably the most effective strike helicopter in the world In close battle formation. Behind the havoc, appeared three Mi-17 Gunships each capable of carrying up to 30
troops, or vehicles, with a further Havoc bringing up the rear. They thundered towards us indescribably immense, overpowering and growing as they approached.
The noise was incredible, an increasing crescendo, a massive wall of pure heart-wrenching sound. As if in a movie with special effects, one of the Mi.17´s peeled off as the squadron reached the built up area, and commandos started spewing out of her, rappelling down at great speed, three at a time as she hovered at a low level, presumably to secure the outer limits of the town. The second M-17 moved in to sit directly above the free area in front of the police building, sand was whisked crazily into the air like in a sandstorm whilst helmeted, visored commando´s, armed to the teeth started landing directly in front of us, and moving out to take up their positions.
All the while one of the two havocs had sat above guarding the landing of troops, and the third Mi-17 which presumably was carrying the mysterious General. The second havoc was constantly circling the whole area from much higher up in the sky. A single rocket fired by any lunatic within the town, seeking to hoist his own futile flag of protest would have provoked the total annihilation of the town and all of us standing there, something the American Government calls collateral damage, as long as it doesn’t happen in the US homeland. The true word for it should be wholesale murder.
Troops checked out the police building and took control of it, and effectively of the whole town, martial law had arrived.
Then the third Mi-17 landed Just outside the police courtyard and a vehicular ramp was lowered allowing more troops to emerge this time shielding a giant of a man with a long black beard who marched in their midst.
Chapter sixteen, Tanirt, I am out listening to the desert
The morning sun casts long shadows so that even from where their supply caravan is travelling over the rise of a high dune, they are able to discern the oddity on the far horizon, a shape, camels and something else, laden but lightly, and still, stationary.? Immediately two dark
blue hooded figures wheeling their horses around and detaching themselves from the main body gallop down in a cloud of flying sand while the rest of the caravan adopt a defensive stance in
case the vision is a threat of sorts, a ruse, a diversion or indeed just that, a mirage of ill omen. The Beni Kahini or at least the fear of them, if they actually exist habitually keep the trade routes open and safe, but the desert teaches them many lessons and one such is not to assume anything.
He leaps from his mount and approaches the unconscious figure, uncovering her face and pulling the camels toward him to unravel the mess of ropes which are choking her.
“It´s a woman!”
They feed her and give her drink and place her in a pannier hanging on the side of one of the big camels in the caravan, balanced, with two boys now riding in the other. The old woman who heals says she is young and strong and sleep will cure her.
She moans and talks loudly as they travel forward into the heat of the day and onto the reddening horizons and the suddenly darkening sky, he Salaheddin, well named because of his prowess and his courage in battle, becomes as if a shepherd tending his lamb, or perhaps he becomes a lamb enamoured at a glance with this beautiful creature. As the cold descends he covers her with a blanket and the women look at each other, this man, this Salaheddin has always been solitary because Allah has not yet sent him the woman he must choose.
When she awakes they are just one day away from the next oasis name Tambua where there will be pasture for the animals and water to replenish their gourds and skins with. All around her the tribe gathers, their fellow traveller and a mystery for so many days, she stands head and shoulders above the women of the caravan, or at least she appears to, in spite of her dishevelled attire and abandoned look she stands upright and her head high in the air. Salaheddin stands before her and asks her who she is, she answers in a strange tongue. Salaheddin considers and then utters just two words: Beni kahini and all those around fall to their knees and lower their eyes. The woman takes two golden coins from a purse secreted on her person and proffers them to Salaheddin who lifts his hands in silent refusal. “What´s that for? He asks in Arabic, not even glancing down to see what she is offering. He can see from the
colouring of her face that she has understood and she just stands there lifeless until her palm turns seemingly of its own volition spurning the coins..”
“Pick them up” he orders one of his men, “return them to the lady.” It´s not pride nor a game of wills, rather a challenging of what is and has been, that the Beni Kahini have been a spirit kingdom in this region for many centurys and that their laws and customs are firmly embedded in the subconscious of all tribes, that they are a race apart and that he Salaheddin must be different to them purely because of blood and breeding and geographical circumstance.
Given of course that they actually exist at all as they are but a whisper, an idea a series of ideas imposed and cemented by time so that the people have passed them from generation to the next and yet never a sighting, a confirmation, till today that is, if what Salaheddin has spoken is right. And Salaheddin has no quarrel or question for these people and their system, their way, he only objects to being different according to their theoretical dictates, and of course because he has been smitten by this woman.