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After travelling for several hours, the family had just settled into their new location with ample grazing ground and access to water nearby. The mother was disassembling the hut, sticking the Dhigo and Udub firmly into the soil and in close proximity were the two young girls holding the harness of the camel on which their elderly grandmother sat. Just as the two girls approached the hut, they were ambushed by loud chanting and the cries of ululating women drifted along the cool breeze and landed on their ears.

This they realised was an emancipation of the soul (it is not very often that weddings take place in the nomadic settlements) and were quickly impassioned. Imbued with an intense passion to participate in that wedding, the girls exchanged giggles and elatedly talked of attending the dance session afterwards. And quite rightly so, for this was their chance to mingle with the locals and exchange some verses of poetry.

Their grand-mother who, due to infirmity of age was too weak to walk and had to travel on camel-back, heard all the girls’ excited wails from her resting point. She too, though, hears the voice of ululating women resonating from the dark plains, not far from where they were now settling. After the girls had discussed their plans to attend the wedding, the grand-mother interrupted them and said:

‘Girls, girls! Would you stop the camel so that I can dismount and join those ululating women…’

They girls were taken aback by this request and stared at each other in amazement, unable to decide whether the old woman meant what she said or merely spoke in jest. This feeble woman, they thought, could not stand the noise and the dancing that takes place.

‘O’ grandmother, are you joking or have you finally gone insane’ they said.

Their grandmother smiled and then laughed, shaking her head slightly. Little do the girls know about the feelings of the old woman and what she is going through! Little do they know that over half a century ago, in an evening very similar to this, the very place that they have now settled bore witness to their grandmother’s first wedding! And in a manner similar to this evening’s wedding that the girls were planning to attend, many people from all over the countryside attended her wedding too. It was even perhaps here where her firstborn’s umbilical chord was buried. But to all this they were unaware, over taken by the wails of the wedding nearby. Even before the start of their long journey to this place, the grandmother was well aware of where they were headed and the wedding taking place.

In a short, succinct poem, the old lady relates her complete life story to her adolescent grand-daughters, wistfully lamenting her ripeness of age and the different stages in her life. She said:

 

  • Beri baan, beri baan          
  • Wax la dhaloo dhulka jiifta ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Bilig bilig baraar celisa ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was newly born, lying on the ground

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I scuttled around tending to lambs

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Daba-jeex dabka qaada ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Rukun rukun, reeraha u wareegto ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was entrusted to kindle the fire

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when aimlessly I ran around the huts

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Raamaley riyo raacda ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Habloweyn had hadaafta ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a juvenile guarding the goats

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a strolling mature girl

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Aroos indha-kuulan ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan 
  • Mar curad marwo reerle ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a mascara-clad bride

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a first-time mother and a housewife

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Laba-dhal laafyoota ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Saddex-dhal sit sitaacda ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was an elegantly ambling mother of two

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a dazzling mother of three

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Afar-dhal afo aada ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Shan-dhal sheekaysa ahaa 
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was the finest mother of four

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a gossiping mother of five

  • Beri baan, beri baan 
  • Lix-dhal liibaantey ahaa
  • Goblan talo aduunyoy 
  • Ma hadaan gabooboo
  • Laygu qaaday guro awr. 
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a triumphant mother of six

    Woe to you o’ world!

    did I now become old

    That I am carried on camel-back

 

Image by Photogenic. Story translated from Guri Waa Haween.

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The First Encounter
The Second Encounter

For centuries, men have always been the ones to take the first step and advance a relationship. They have been at the driving seat and still are, but sometimes it is satisfying just to take a step back and analyse the situation, without being emotionally involved in it at all. Most people have the tendency to rush into the first waiting arms they encounter, and thereby, with their high enthusiasm, dispel any hopes of a possibility of interaction and relationship. If nothing else, crowding your object of desire creates a sense of insecurity, which becomes immediately unmistakable. That is why I have given her some time and space – so as not to appear needy and wanting and leave adequate room for imagination.

Then I visited her, as the day was coming to an end. She was, as i always expect, at her usual place when I spotted her from afar. The closer I got to her, the more appealing she became and the more she glowed. Her back was turned to me, as she held a paper cup in her hand, talking to a colleague. I could her her laughter as she chatted away. Her colleague spotted me, looked at me for a few seconds and at once whispered something inaudible to Sacdiya’s ear prompting her to turn around.
“Hey, Shaafi, how are you?” she said in a rather lively manner.
“I am fine. How are you?” I replied in a calm tone, “How’s your day going?”
“It’s alright, not bad.” She said with a beautiful smile and look to accompany it.
“I see,” I said, observing her. Her eyes this time. They had something repressed, an inexpressible attachment or possibly anticipation.
“I’d like to taste them all,” I said, pointing to the Ben & Jerry’s ice creams displayed appetizingly in the glass container.
“Which one would you like to taste?” she asked
“I’ll have all of them”
she looked at me with her eyes wide. “All of them?” she questioned
“Yes,” my eyes fixed on her
“Are you sure?”
“yeah, why not?”
She smiled, just widening her lips without parting them completely, her eyes cheerful.
“How about I have a taste of your favourite one?” I said
She looked up. She wasn’t expecting it. I caught her off guard. I wanted to get to know her better, without asking her. Her likes, her dislikes, etc, and perhaps by talking to her more, I would even bring out her lurking doubts and anxieties. There lies within everyone, somehow or the other, a feeling of inadequacy that they repress by wearing a mask. What perturbed her, I wondered!
“I don’t really have a favourite one. They are all the same,” she replied, wriggling her thumbs and running her eyes quickly over the ice creams tubs.
She looked up at me once again, picked up a tiny tasting spoon and looked around. I followed her eyes, as they carefully went over each tub of ice cream on the display counter, carefully analysing each. There were sixteen tubs in all. She went from one to the other, as if tasting them each with her eyes and determining their texture on the palate, denouncing one then moving on to the other. She stretched her extended hand to a tub of Chocolate Fudge Brownie, and then retreated. Perhaps, I thought, she remembered what I told her on our first encounter – that I don’t particularly like chocolate.
“Taste this,” she finally said, holding a spoon of Cherry Garcia in front of me.
“hmmm..not bad at all,” I said, after recovering from the onslaught of the freezing dollop.
I lied. I didn’t like it. Cherry Garcia isn’t one of my favourite B&J’s ice cream, but The Vermonster wasn’t in stock, so I had to settle for something like this. It was rather bitter and too fruity, but I had to carefully conceal my distaste as her eyes cautiously scrutinized my face for a reaction. She picked, after some deliberation, her favourite ice cream and I didn’t want to let her down.
“What film are you watching today?” she said, after a while
I looked at her, studying her facial features, her lips, her eyes, the few strands of hair that managed to force their way through her black scarf, as if hunting for some fresh air, despite her constantly pushing them back to their territory.
“You” I said. God, how cheesy did that sound, I thought, but it was too late to take it back so I went ahead with it. I was on my way to North Greenwich station to meet some friends, but as they were late I though, I’d stop by the cinema and recapture some magnificence from her sight. Of course, I came to see her, and I knew she wouldn’t believe that I did, solely, come to see her. A clear case of “runtaa sheeg, beenta hala moodee” (utter the truth, so it may come across as falsehood) The cinema, anyway, was only about 3 minutes from the station.
She smiled at me, displaying the set of brilliant white teeth and looked down at the ice cream tubs below, still smiling. Her hand inadvertently rubbed the silver edges of the ice cream container, and then she stared at me.
“No, come on. Really, what are you watching”?
“I’m not watching any film”
Her eyes still stared at me, this time with an inquisitive look.
“I came to see you. You know – to see how you’re doing”
“Came to see me?” she said, half surprised and incredulous, half smiling, with a coy look in her eyes. I thought I saw a glint in her eyes as she said that.
“Yeah, I came to say hello. It has been a while since I last saw you, hasn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess”
Her stare lowered, but still the smile was plastered across her face as if it was a permanent feature of her face.
“Why? Can I not even come to see you and say hello now,” I said light-heartedly
“No, no, no. Of course you can,” she replied quickly, baring her teeth with a smile again
“But how did you know I was working today?” she asked intrigued
“Instinct”
At that precise moment one customer approached, as if it was timed. A good timing indeed, and time for me to depart. How did the customer know I wanted him to interrupt me at that very precise occasion.
“I’ll see you another time,” I said and slightly moved back to make way for the customer and depart.
She half-extended her hand, as if stopping me or intending to shake my hand, and half-mumbled something unintelligible. I stood lingering, but with a detached mood, intending to emphasize the conclusion of the conversation. Her eyes shot at me. She was hesitant about something – she still wanted to talk and finish the conversation. Perhaps, my last comment had appealed to her. The customer stood staring at us both, waiting for her to finish. I smiled at her, and she reciprocated it with one alluring one and we parted – unwillingly. This should be an enduring spell that she can either reflect upon or keep her vaguely intrigued for some time.

Untill, next time…

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>> Read First Encounter here

The evening came and I was all expectations. The sun and its heat had descended down the horizon, and the few trailing clouds were following in sequence. A clam breeze, playfully wafting to and fro, restored the sense of serenity that has eluded me during the day. Maybe it was the enthusiasm and this newfound excitement about Sacdiya.

The cinema, as anticipated, appeared animated and dynamic. Several people lined up at the box office, again, displaying their usual carefree comportment at such a place. A little child, in a pink frock ran in circles between her parents, her golden ponytail bouncing in the air. Though I was displaying a somewhat convincing feel of placidity and composure, inside my body a fiery argument ensued. Why was I doing this? I was neither besotted with her to be behaving like this, nor so was I engrossed as to revisit her. It was a simple. There was nothing much there, well, except for her smile and her expressive eyes which, indicative of delightful times ahead, prompted a unique form of understanding and communication, implicit in its approach – partly because of her beauty and partly a self-induced embellishment.

I walked over, almost mechanically, to the Ben & Jerry’s counter looking here and there. But Alas! She was not there. A part of me sunk immediately, but kept staring into the delectable ice creams whilst conjuring up images of the day her bright smile sedated me. I walked to and fro, enquiringly, looking for her cocoa skin or her scarf somewhere behind the counters. Several minutes had passed, before I decided to look in a different place. I walked round to the Mainstand, an extensive counter mounted with several tills stationed in the middle of the sphere-shaped lobby of the cinema, and my eyes began their hunt. Dilated and deficient, their source of delight was missing, and find her they will if she was there by any means. It was not long before they found her, carefully scooping popcorn from the popcorn maker. Under the enormous light that looked down upon her, her skin glowed. She hadn’t seen me for a while, as I stood there, staring at her, exploring the contours of her body.

A long queue awaited at her till, all expectant customers, including myself. I advanced towards her, hands twitching, eyes bright, and face beaming. With one customer after another being served, it wasn’t long before the file shortened. Two people now stood between her and me and, no doubt, she had seen me. At once her eyes gleamed in gladness, or so I thought, and her wide smile took its natural form across her face, broadening it, shaping it and transferring it onto mine.

She hasn’t changed a bit. Her smile was still as captivating, her face still seamless, her lithe body unblemished, and her eyes inviting.

“Hope you weren’t offended,” I said as I came within reach of her and the two other customer in front of me had left. I knew very well she wasn’t offended, but this was to give her a chance to have a say about the incident and expand on it. It was what I saw fit to open the conversation with
“No I wasn’t, not at all,” she replied
“Are you sure, or are you just being polite about it?” I enquired, teasing her to say something and get a depth of her reaction
“Yeah.” Came her reply, timidly
There was a slight pause. She waited for me to ask the next question. I didn’t. Sometimes a slight interval is indispensable – it creates a room for imagination and leaves the person slightly lingering. It also creates a brief moment of discomfort and imbalance at this initial stage.
“I actually thought it was quite sweet,” she said, after that brief period, bashfully lowering her head slightly with a half-smile – a sort of an impromptu flirtatious smile which seemed so natural and hard to conceal.
“Thanks,” she added.
“Your welcome,” I said with a smile, though not a beaming smile so as to conceal my liking. “I just had to make sure, you know, some people have sensitive spots and might get offended by such stuff.”
“No, its alright,” she responded, still smiling splendidly.
I found her behaviour obliging and came across as greatly affable. The willingness was there and so was the openness and her guileless eyes could not do much to conceal her swelling appetite.
“What film are you watching?”
“Oh God, I don’t even know…What was it? Oh yeah, that’s it, Blood Diamond,” I had briefly forgotten about what film I came to watch and my friend who was in the auditorium already waiting for me. He came before me and I was to meet him there.
“Oh ok. It’s a nice film.” She replied.
A short moment of silence once again ensued. We looked at each other briefly, eyes staring at each other, following the same path in unison, and smiled.
“Can I have a medium tango please?” I said
“Why don’t you go large for 10p extra”
“I’ll have large one then, but bear in mind, I won’t be able to finish it”
She smiled and pulling a large Pepsi cup from the cup dispenser below started pouring my drink.
“You look exhausted,” I started, observing her sluggish movement, “had a long day?”
“Yeah I feel tired, I started at 2” she replied, placing her left hand on her forehead, furrowing her brow.
“What time are you finishing?”
“10 pm”
I looked at my watch – The short hand was on the verge of 9 and the long hand on 10.
“About an hour and you’ll be in a cosy bed I presume,” I said
I looked at her, now observing her as I always do. God! She is beautiful. There is a hint of naivety about her that is even more ravishing.
“Enjoy your film,” she said as she handed my drink and serviette, to which I courteously smiled a thank you.
I took my drink, went upstairs into the auditorium and reclined on the comfy seat, placing my drink in the holder. I picked the drink up to take a sip, as the trailers ended and the film was about to start, just to realize that I had forgotten my straw downstairs – with her!

Well, another chance to catch a glimpse of her, I thought – and before you say it, it wasn’t deliberate!

p.s It seems like a Third Encounter is well worthy here.

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“What shall we watch?” I said to my friend, as we entered through the double doors of the Multiplex Odeon cinemas.
“Anything. I don’t mind” she replied. After browsing the film lists for about 10 minutes or so, we settled for The Freedom Writers, a film they said was based on a true story. I was in an ecstatic mood, the day was bright and the mere presence of my friend A was an added pleasure. Her company is always alleviating.

With a cloud of joviality, we left the box office and went over to the Ben & Jerry’s counter to relish in the assortment of ice creams colourfully displayed before going into the auditorium. As soon as we approached the counter, laughing and preoccupied in our own world, I caught sight of her standing behind the counter – a Somali girl, approximately 5’7, of slender build with smooth, well-defined features and a complexion akin to darkening of cocoa on a soft skin, with her black headscarf accentuating her glowing colour. The unusual radiance that emanated from her face was incandescent against her cocoa skin.

My surrounding teemed with a multitude of people, laughing, giggling, kissing, holding hands, queuing at the counters, eagerly awaiting their films in excited movement. Nonetheless, she was, by some means, very conspicuous in that crowded place, and at once our eyes interlocked in harmony -in complete accordance – for a few seconds, after which I was compensated with a cordial smile – a smile that I am, hitherto, still rummaging through my brain to find ways to describe. Her burnished lips concealed a beautiful set of perfectly aligned white teeth that glared when she smiled, hence the added radiance. To say that she had the most beautiful smile is an understatement. Her eyes – the windows to her soul – were of dark brown pupils with a bright glint in the middle. When our eyes synchronized with one look, I had, for one moment, thought I stared deep down into her soul and forged an understanding – an amicable understanding though not by spoken word. Something about her eyes uncannily befriended me and, simultaneously, attracted me. They have an unusual power these eyes. They do. A man of sanity would, with one gracious glance, find himself lost wandering in an unfamiliar territory, all at loss for words and gumption.

Our turn came to be served.
“Hi. How can I help you?” she said, upon which we ordered our Oatmeal Cookie Chunk and Caramel Chew Chew.
“Sacdiya” I said, reading the name on her badge and looking at her. She smiled. I took this as a cue to further the conversation.
“Is that your real name, or one of those names they just randomly put on the badges?” I said, my mind not finding anything else to say. I had forgotten about my friend A, still standing beside me. From the corner of my eye I can see her smiling too, perhaps at the oddity of my question or my brashness at such an inopportune a time.

She smiled again, parting her lips widely.
“No, it is my real name,” she beamed.
“Sacdiyaay jacaylkaagi, hurdadan ka salalaa, sariritiba qaban waayey” I said uttering the lyrics of the famous song. “Heard of that song?”
“Of course, Axmad Cali Cigal” she replied with a fervent urge to prove her knowledge of Somali songs. Still A stood beside me patiently, listening to our conversation, whilst Sacdiya, behind the counter, stood with a scoop and a paper cup in her hands – ready to serve us, but stopped midway as we chatted.

After a while, we received our servings of ice creams and bidding her goodbye went to enjoy our film. Throughout the film, her infectious smile lay in front of me, plastered on the extensive curtain on which the picture was projected. The surround sound echoed the few words she uttered behind the cold counter, whilst her name resonated in my ears…

After the film finished, as I walked past her, I handed her a serviette as she waved me goodbye with one of her smiles. On the serviette – the very same serviette she gave me with the ice cream – was written;

If anything has made my day today, it is your smile – your captivating smile.
Keep smiling!

…And I walked away still spellbound by her smile.

p.s Second Encounter to come soon, as it occurs.

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Jim left the house and sauntered along the road with one aim – to get as far away as possible from his aunt. His breath came in heavy pants of cold air, which came out his nostrils as smoke. His head spiralled out of control with lingering doubts and uncertainties. But amid the cold and confusion, a reassuring thought in the back of his head spelled out the words “freedom”. On the other hand, a twinge of fear lay adamant among the newly found freedom and managed to threaten him persistently.

By noon, Jim had covered about ten miles of land and with a few more ended up in the historical parts of Greenwich. Walking past the university and the central market, he headed straight for the Thames River. It was late afternoon, and whatever was left of the sun had started to plummet down the horizon leaving behind trails of magnificent colours. The sky looked like an artist’s flamboyant display of watercolours. The setting sun had left behind its imprints – a layer of orange formed an undercoat for a spellbinding image with several other layers of clouds ranging from dark grey to lighter shades of red dancing across the sky majestically. Standing at the banks of the Thames, Jim gazed at the horizon with admiration and his worries had started to lessen. He watched as an aeroplane swam effortlessly through the clouds, disappearing in the thicker, darker grey clouds one moment, then reappearing in the lighter shades, leaving behind a blazing trail of bright orange.

The serene water reflected the bright conspicuous clouds and enclosed him in a cloak of tranquillity. There wasn’t a tide or any disturbance, but a gentle breeze caressed the surface of the water giving it a ripple effect. He stood there until the last few rays of the sun had plunged deeper and deeper into the horizon and darkness stealthily enveloped him. Even the people striding along the promenade have retreated to the warmth of their home and the burning logs of fire. With this thought and the darkness, the tense fear returned as he sat on the flight of steps by the Cutty Sark. It was in that moment that he realised his lonesomeness and his needs. Suddenly, on an impulse, he conjured up images of his small but cosy attic. At least there, he had a roof over his head, despite the never-ending agony he suffered at the hand of his only relation.
Distraught with self-pity, his throat thickened with anger. He wanted to do something, scream, shout or even break something, but he resisted the urge and unzipped a backpack that he brought along with him. He took out a towel, spread it in a dark corner of a passage by the Thames, and curled up on it. With a few sheets covering him, he hugged his knees and placed his hands between them. He shivered a little and clutched his teeth to keep from clicking.
He had cleared his mind and entered another realm when distant noises caught his attention. It was late at night and unlikely for anyone to be around at such times. The noises came closer and closer until he could clearly hear them. He made out three distinct voices coupled by a few others.

“Should we jack ‘im?” said one of them in a hoarse voice.
“Nah, allow it man. Its cold less go!” said another in a lively voice. Jim took it that he was younger than the other.
A few others interrupted by talking at once, arguing whether to rob Jim’s only possession or to go about their way.
“Fuck it; we made our money tonight, less go” Said a slightly older person in a stern voice. At this point, the loud voices diminished to a murmur and they walked away, their steps fading with the distance. Night after night, Jim heard them walk past him, shouting, arguing and fighting. One night, as Jim sat on his towel ready to sleep at his usual time, the group came by. They had come earlier than usual and Jim was sure he would be hassled.
They approached him striding confidently, wearing multiple sweaters, one on top of the other and hoods obscuring their faces.
“oi, wha’ u doin’ here?” enquired the first of the bunch who came close to him.
Jim didn’t answer, but looked up at him to see his face.
Soon the others joined him and intently stared at him, as if unable to understand his sleeping rough.
“How old are you?” came a voice from his left.
Jim immediately recognized it as the stern voice that he heard a few nights before. He strained to see in the dark, his eyes blurred as he looked at the direction the voice came from.
“Thirteen” he softly replied
“Fuck! And what da fuck are you doin’ here?” screamed the one at the front, standing at the brim of Jim’s towel-marked territory. They started muttering all together.
“Shut the fuck up” said the guy with the stern voice and there was silence all at once. Jim understood it that he was the one in charge. With his finger, he beckoned them to move away, which they did immediately and he kneeled down beside Jim. Taking his hood off to reveal his dark face, he talked calmly to him upon which Jim revealed his reasons for being where he was. The guy introduced himself to as James and offered to give Jim a place to stay.
“You won somewhere ta stay?” He said.
Jim dreaded the company of these nocturnal wanderers and whatever they were up to, but for a warm place to stay he was inclined to follow them. Besides, he didn’t find the calm tone of James, and his self-possessed disposition objectionable. He packed his bag, stood up firmly, broadened his shoulders and, along with the group, disappeared into darkness.

There was complete silence among the group as they walked, and none dared question James as to why he had brought Jim along, even though some seemed to pity him with their welcoming glance. One of them even offered to carry Jim’s rucksack for him while another patted him on the shoulder compassionately. Jim wondered what he had got himself into and their dubious fondness towards him accompanied by their over eagerness made him a little suspicious. They led him through a maze of streets, many twists and turns, dark alleys and abandoned garages, and then finally into a dimly lit street. They marched with one single pace and Jim was finding it hard to keep up. Observing his surroundings, just in case anything happens, he noticed a signboard – “Steephill Road”. The name in fact described the street, which was somewhat steep and the houses descended down the hill. Further down, at the bottom of the street was a block of shabby flats. They boys made their way straight into one of the blocks. Graffiti was painted on every reachable wall of the flat. Some were names, some insults and on a corner, in enormous writing, was the word “Peckham”. It was then that Jim realised that he was in Peckham. He made a mental note of that and went in the flat, up a series of stairs that reeked of urine and vomit, through some claustrophobic corridors, then into a wooden door at the end. Jim memorized the house number, 56, and went in.

Contrary to the condition of the flat on the outside, the inside of their rooms was immaculate, and, with expensive furnishing. They went into a spacious living room, where an extraordinarily large Plasma Screen Television was mounted on the wall adjacent to a portrait of a pleasant-faced black man with dreadlocks. Beneath it, an ornamental desk accommodated a bulky Hi-Fi system and some trophies. They reclined on a set of huge brown leather sofas that took up the majority of the room. Positioned in the middle of the wooden floor room, was a square glass-table that sat on a costly rug. Jim started to feel the warmness of the house and had relaxed a little when he noticed the boys huddled up by a shiny silver chest at a corner. On opening it they waited for James to empty the contents which he promptly did. He took out four large bags of money, bundles of twenty-pound notes, and laid them on the glass table. He put his hand in the chest once again and with it came back another three bags of what looked like powder and another bag of dried, crushed leaves. Jim was perplexed, his mind started to invent all sorts of justifications to make sense of what he had just seen. At that very instant, Jim clearly figured out what he had got himself into, and the prospect, of which getting out of, is very improbable.

…To be Continued

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In the days when Buraan* was a thriving village and maize and crops grew abundantly, a mighty queen ruled over it. She was a highly venerated ruler and womenfolk were forever extolling her virtues. Rulers from distant lands, such as Queen of Sheba, sent her gifts consisting of gold coins to sustain her and her dynasty as well as slaves to communicate reverence and accommodate the queen’s indulgences.

Queen Arawelo was the eldest and shrewdest of King Abdullah’s three daughters. The serene village of Buraan was struck by severe droughts. The harvest season came but there was nothing to harvest. It was the Xagaa* season and Buraan was hit hard, causing the death of many cattle and sheep. Having failed with incantations and prayers, Arawelo one day decided to fetch water from a tiny tarn at the periphery of the woods, at the foot of the mountain. Whilst there, she also vowed to hunt for food and save her village from eating themselves to death.

She set out for her expedition in the early hours of daylight. Accompanied by her trusted squad of female hunters and armed only with her home-made spear, a bow and a few arrows, she fastened her Buraashad* to her waist-band and they set off into the woods. They reached the tarn by mid-day, the following day and after filling their Xabab* with water for the entire village they decided to return. In the middle of the woods, Arawelo and her fellow hunters rested under a tree to seek shelter from the sun. Arawelo was still firm on her decision to make a kill, and thus she set off on her own, filling her Buraashad and giving the water sack to the other hunters. She searched for the entire forest but hadn’t made a kill. Soon it was dark and the elongated tree trunks resembled a legion of soldiers surrounding an enemy. Arawelo had lost all hope of returning home jubilantly to her expectant villagers with a kill, so she made her way home.

Darkness thick upon her came, as she passed the dense part of the forest covered with bushes. She was on the lookout for wild animals that roamed the night and constantly looked around her surroundings. Suddenly, in the dim of the moonlight she saw something quickly dash past some bushes nearby. Wild animals, especially lions were said to be prevalent in that area of the forest, hence the name God-Libaax (Lion’s Den), but Arawelo was a brave girl and would fight it with her spear if that meant her survival. She moved briskly intending to get out of the denser part of the forest. Looking back, she saw the same figure scurry past the set of bushes adjacent to the Acacia tree, rustling them as it moved. She quickened her steps, looking back now and then, to survey her surroundings, when her guntiino* got entangled in thorny bushes. As she strove to free herself from the thorns, the rustling of the bushes became closer and closer. She got up from her crouching position, and looked around; staying still as she held her breath to listen for any disturbance. Just as she untangled her dress, the dark figure pounced on her, knocking her to the ground. It was an animal. It was a man – a strong bare-chested man. Arawelo wrestled with the man, but in vain. He was far too powerful for her lithe body. She was raped 

Legend has it that the revulsion Arawelo developed that night against her rapist, marked the beginning of her legendary cruelty against the entire male population in Buraan and the neighbouring villages where she was to reign over. Soon after her father’s death, who had no sons to be inheritors of the wealth and power, Arawelo, being the eldest daughter ascended the throne. Arawelo was a powerful woman, with a muscular build. Her short jet-black hair was often tied back, enhancing her facial features and elongated neck. Shortly after being crowned, the Queen embarked on a mission of ‘domesticating’ and ‘controlling’ the men – whom she considered feral. She was to accomplish this mission by castrating the male population of the village. She exercised her powers to avenge her rape and humiliation as well the rape of other countless women in and around Buraan. With a dedicated army of loyal subjects comprising of sturdy women, she succeeded in capturing and castrating the vast majority of the males in the villages. The few that were left at the Queen’s mercy were there for the prime purpose of breeding only. They were kept under close observation of her Majesty’s guards, as she was suspicious of them, believing that they posed a threat to her throne. Queen Arawelo had a daughter from her relationship with an elderly villager, Oday Biigay, a wise man who used to compose and recite her beautiful verses of poetry. Years have passed, and her daughter, Aisha had a son and named him Kenadiid. The queen was bent on castrating even her own grandson, but Aisha would dissuade her every time she attempted to. ‘Oh Mother, let him at least grow up a bit’ she would say. On reaching a certain age, the queen would again try to castrate him, but Aisha would find another clever deterrent. ‘Let him at least reach puberty mother’ she would proclaim. On reaching 15, Kenadiid escaped the knife of his grandmother and went into the woods, never to be seen again.

To protect herself and her throne from the males with their manhood intact, Queen Arawelo often set for them tasks that were simply impossible to solve. The first of those tasks involved getting the men to fight a duel, using their spears, in a confined area ringed with burning logs of fire. Such events regularly took place monthly and the village’s most beautiful women would gather around the fire giggling and cheering. The winner of such a duel won his pick among the women and afterwards the Queen had him castrated and put in a solitary confinement

Time had passed and the Queen would propose her next task. This time she asked her subjects to carry out an impossible task – to bring her a camel with a load of fruits on its back. She demanded that the fruits must be brought on the bare back of the animal without any containers, rugs or hide. The villagers tried and tried, but to no avail. There was no way a camel can be loaded with on its bare back for they will just roll off – it was simply an impossible task to accomplish and most of the villagers had abandoned any hopes of doing so.

But when the Queen was told that a camel-load of fruits was sitting on her front garden she was alarmed – her suspiscion that a few men are still left was rekindled. A villager had managed to get the fruits to stay in place by first spreading the camel’s back with a thick mixture of bird lime and mud. This mixture with a few other mixtures of his own invention baked in the sun and acted as a bounding agent for the fruits. Who was this man? The queen wondered. Nobody knew who did this.

It was later found out, after surveillance by the Queen’s guards, that a man disguised as a woman had carried out the feat – it was Kenadiid. The queen then ordered that houses should be checked and that man brought to her at any cost. But the man couldn’t be found, for he came into the village during the day and disappeared into the forest by night. The queen tried tracking him but to no avail.

Buraan had one large well. The well was central to the existence of the village. Herds of Camels, cattle, sheep and thirsty villagers flock here every evening to drink from it. One day, after returning from Sahan* Kenadiid masqueraded as a woman passed by the well on his way to the village and found that a huge throng had gathered at its banks.

‘What is going on?’ he asked a one villager.

‘The Queen is taking a bath in the well today. We have been standing here since this morning and our camel hadn’t had a drink for days’ Replied the villager.

Kenadiid, pushed his way past the crowd and saw his grandmother, relaxed in the well. Her guards were no where to be seen. He returned to the villagers and addressed them.

‘I shall go in the well’ he said ‘if she screams “ba’ayeey*” then I have killed her with my dagger, so stay put. But if she says “Hoogay*” then that means that she is overpowering me and you must come to my rescue’.

The villagers agreed and Kenadiid walked towards the well, descended down into it and without wasting a minute drove the dagger right into her chest. ‘Ba’ayeey’ screamed Arawelo. He had overpowered her, the mighty Queen Arawelo. He then dragged her body out of the well saying:

“Wadkeed Korisooy, Waqwaq ma kaa yeertay”
‘O’ nurturer of her own terminator, did thou not wail’
 

This marked the end of the legacy of the Mighty Queen Arawelo. The villagers lived happily after her death, under the rule of her Grandson, Kenadiid. After the death of the queen, it is widely believed that the men wanting to get even with the women for the cruelty they suffered introduced the female circumcision.

Glossary of terms:

*Buraan = A village in the Sanaag region, Northern Somalia.

*Xagaa = This is the dry season, and falls between July and September. Severe droughts occur during this season and the temperatures usually reach 35-40 degrees Celsius.

*Buraashad = A small personal water container. A Buraashad usually stores water for long periods of time retaining their original cool temperature in the dry season.

*Xab (Plural, Xabab) = Also a water carrier, but this one is made out of cattle hide and is significantly bigger than the personal water container. It is used to store water in a way similar to the Buraashad, but for longer periods of time. Usually every family has at least one or two.

*Guntiino = an embroidered four-yard clothe usually worn by the Somali women. A Guntiino is usually made of a single fabric and is draped around the waste, covering the lower body till it reaches just below the knees. Then it’s pulled under one arm then over the shoulders to cover her bosom.

*Sahan = A nomadic practice where a young man, a scout, surveys far away lands in search of green pastures and water. On finding them, he returns to his people and leads them to the new found land.

*ba’ayeey and hoogay = In Somali language, ba’ayey denotes someone being defeated, whereas Hoogay is said when someone is retaliating. 

Footnote:

In the
village of Buraan lived a pastoral society where rain had always been the determining factor of grazing and prosperity. When hit hard by droughts, a brave girl, Arawelo, decided to save her village from the thirst and starvation. But on her return she experienced an ordeal that would forever change her attitude towards the men folk – Arawelo got raped in the forest of God-Libaax (Lions Den) and from there embarked of a mission to castrate the entire male populations of her village and surrounding areas. She soon became the queen and devised tasks for the men. These tasks could only be accomplished by men who have their manhood intact, which upon completion of the tasks she would castrate them too. Her mission to turn the entire male population of the city into eunuchs would have become successful had it not been for the bravery of Kenadiid, Arawelo’s Grandson who ran away from captivity at the age of 15 and disappeared into the woods. Kenadid disguised as a woman, later returned to the village and killed his grandmother. The village was thus saved from the terrible tortures of the mighty Queen Arawelo and they lived happily under the rule of Kenadiid.

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It is now precisely a week since he had last seen her and he was growing impatient. A week since he’d seen her smile, since he’d seen her elegant amble. Now his soul writhed with boredom, irritated by her mere absence. People are perversely excited by what they cannot have –and he was no exception. Desire now mounted inside him. She was alluring and full of promise – he imagined her to be the sort of woman that could provide him happiness and become the mother to his kids. But now, like a dog, she had him grasping for the bone he cannot have, swinging it in his face, tempting him yet not letting him have it. Or was she merely being stubborn?

She has an unusual shyness about her that is more seductive than anything else. This shyness combined with a unique spirit of a childhood innocence that she has managed to preserve and build upon proved to be powerfully seductive, invoking an enduring kind of spell on him. She is beautiful too, but she has a different kind of beauty to her; not the kind of artificial beauty gained from swarming oneself with toxic substances. No. Hers was natural – as natural a waterfall is, gently sloping down the rocks, forming beneath them a reservoir of calm, crystal-clear wells with slants of sunshine between the leaves lazily caressing the water below. Or the spellbinding beauty, as the sun at dusk, half plummeted, half covered by clouds with streaks of yellow, orange and white, which then seem to be prostrating towards the sinking sun in adoration, or even as natural as her tiny village of Hurwa– in the outskirts of Eden – where evergreens and orchards surround the close-knit community. Her mahogany skin is highlighted by her long jet-black hair descending in strands, covering half her face. If she ties her hair back, it would further elongate her neck and define her beauty.

She is elusive and distant too, and he did not know much about her. Unconsciously he was strangely drawn to her and hoped to retrieve the person that lay beyond that fascinating appearance. She has a presence that made her stand out from the rest of the girls he had seen before – she is wrapped in ambiguity, a little vagueness and a dreamlike aloofness. These periods of absence made his heart grow fonder, engaging his emotions further. Maybe she understood the dynamic of selective withdrawal and was now teasing him with it, he thought to himself.

As the sun sets everyday, he would spend his evening waiting by the riverbank. This is the route she normally takes on her way home from work. He would sit on the wooden bench beside the lamppost and wait facing the water. Then he’d get up and saunter by the elderly couple who frequent the riverbank with their black Labrador with the blue collar leash. Ever since he started his wait for his beloved at the water front, he’s seen the elderly couple almost everyday and if he didn’t notice them one day, he’d wonder what happened to them. He walks to and fro the entire length of the riverbank, impatiently awaiting her arrival. His watchful waiting finally pays off when she does come along, sending his heart into convulsive bursts of merriment.

As she walks her slender body, swaggers with a graceful gait; a rhythmic manoeuvre presumably practiced and polished to provoke and bewitch, yet she, as if oblivious to all this, carries her head high with total confidence and ambles without a care in the world. Her eyes have a piercing gaze – one that hypnotizes and dismantles his senses. Sometimes he’d find himself lost in them – lost in the blackness of those pupils with the shades of brown. And sometimes they’d provide him with some sense of comfort, as he begins to embellish her image with fantasies of his making. She has a well-defined physique, with a lithe waist that invites one to encircle their arms round it, and a silky blue fabric that displays the contours of her body to perfection. She looked good in blue, he thought. He got hot just thinking about running his hands on those curves and the swell of her breasts. He developed a sudden sense of urgency, hunger and delight all at the same time.

Conversations with her might bring him valuable information about her character, her likes and dislikes. Such conversations might also lower her resistance so he might befriend her, he thought, but he didn’t have the courage to approach her. Also, he could neither compose convincing letters, nor elaborate his love using lofty words of love. And on the streets he doesn’t stop her. He’d love to, but couldn’t find in him that much of boldness. So he greets her with a nod, intending to make his presence felt at least, to which she bashfully lowers her head and rewards him with a smile. She too, he now assumed, must be fully aware of this new planet that is looming on her horizon. And when they ‘meet’ – he’d like to call them ‘meetings’ – these ‘shared’ moments of exuberance linger in his mind. And at night, these moments are evoked, every second and every minute of the encounter fetched forth by stimulation. He lies in his bed in a deep trance. He’d close his eyes and sniff the air as for her scent – a scent so captivating that every time he thinks of her, her scent, Lilly of France comes to mind. It’s like he can still smell it in the air. She’d never spoken to him, so he’d imagine what her voice would be like. He’d speak about his love to her in romantic tones, and talk about the troubles he went through and the pains it took to win her heart. He’d assume a sweet, soft voice – a voice that like a melody reverberated in his ears, relaxing him and exciting his emotions. Then he’d whisper sweet nothings in her ears, and she’d giggle – a giggle that pierces his ears, sometimes bringing him out of that trance – then they’d embrace – an embrace so warm and tender, putting behind him any anxiety he had. Then he’d lull her to sleep, and watch her as she sleeps soundly in his lap, smothered in comfort. And the whole cycle is started again the next day.

Months passed without him uttering a word. He observed and admired her from a distance. This was a folly that lay him open to ridicule, for soon his friends started to notice his actions. So out of fear of being ridiculed by his friends, he promised himself that he’d go up to her and speak of his love, evoking in him an unfamiliar sense of boldness. Even though this idea daunted him, ridicule was far worse. Day after day, he’d prepare for what to say, for the right words to utter. And that fateful day arrived, when he became resolute on his decision. He waited for her at that path she usually takes – by the river bank. She is strolling along the path, carelessly as she usually does. The sight of her made him weak in the knees and a cold shiver ran down his spine. This was the moment, he said to himself. She was now a few paces away and trickles of sweat trickled down his forehead, which he rubbed with his kerchief. This was his weakness – talking to girls. There was something about them that frightened him. But everyone has a principal weakness or insecurity. What was hers? He wondered.

‘Hi’ was all he could say when she was within an arm’s length, as his heart was pounding heavily in his chest. With great force he managed to follow it with ‘can I talk to you for a second?’ She smiled and looked down. He obviously didn’t know anything about her, she assumed. Then she glanced up at him, examining his features. She noticed his taut jaw, his well defined cheekbones bearing an old scar, his forehead glistening with sweat as though he had been running, and his hands as he entwined them occasionally. She guessed he was about a year or two her senior and for a moment, she admired his well built body wrapped in the white Polo shirt, his pure white teeth as he talked, and the well-groomed outlook he presented.

He could not understand the reason she was smiling for. For a moment he was happy. Then she began to say something with her lips, signalling with her hands as she did so and that’s when he realised that she was deaf! She took out a pen from her purse and scribbled something onto a paper and then walked away. He unfolded the paper and read what was written: “Alas! Falling in love, happens when you least expect it”. As she walked away, he still stood there on the footpath, his eyes fixed at her, his arms dropped at his side, watching her as she strolls nonchalantly along the path.

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