The Easter break was a restless but productive one for me; I finally settled down to begin the sequel to my 1st novel Golden Sands (read excerpt here https://tlsplace.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/golden-sands-prologue/ and find out how to buy it here https://tlsplace.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/buying-golden-sands/).
This is the draft of the 1st chapter of that sequel, called SANDSTORM. It’s all I’ll make available publicly before its published (don’t ask me when o). Hope you enjoy it. I’ll be reading from it at the Write Right Prize Giving Event.
Just in case you haven’t heard about Write Right, please read about it here https://tlsplace.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/write-right/ and then go and read the top 5 Write Right entries here and vote for your best entry. https://tlsplace.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/write-right-top-5-entries-read-and-vote/
Like I said, I’ll be reading at the Write Right Prize Giving Event which holds at LitCaf, 1st Floor E-Center, Sabo, Yaba on Saturday April 13, 2013. The event starts at 4pm. I’ll hope to see you there. Now, enjoy SANDSTORM.
It was mid-December and the harmattan season was at its peak. Idris and his family lived right at the heart of the cold, dry and dusty winds that it brought in the deserts that surrounded Machina. In this season, men sought the comfort of their wives more regularly than during the rest of the year and the evidence nine months later was all the proof needed. Idris himself had been born in September, one of the many young men in his village of the same age and month. When things had been normal, they had made sport of horse riding, an ancient tradition borne from their Kanuri heritage. They would cross the border from Nigeria into Chad on horseback, and meet up with friends, with him at the head, as was his rightful place as the song of the chief of his clan. To them, there was no true sense of Nigeria, it was all Kanembu land, land that had been home to the Sefawa dynasty, one of the oldest in the world. He, Idris had been named after one of the greatest Mais of the Kanem Borno Empire, and he carried the name with a fierce pride, vowing one day to live up to the honor bearing such a revered name amongst his people bestowed.
But things were far from normal these days, for everyone lived in fear. It had started when rough men looking men had settled around their village, in land that was desert. They first came into the village only to trade for supplies. Even though they were used to travelers coming to their village for such things, as they had done for hundreds of years on this desert route, he had been the first to warn his father that these were no mere travelers. Normal travelers came for a few days, replenished their supplies and moved on with their journey. But these men stayed, and not only did they stay, their numbers increased with time. But his father had taken his warning lightly, telling him that there had been days in the past, days when his own father had been chief, when such parties gathered around their village to travel across the desert. For theirs was at the terminal point of what had been the Trans Saharan trade route, in the days of empire, before the white men came. And so, in his nostalgia, the old chief had ignored the men. But Idris had watched, and he had seen. He had seen men ride into their camp, not on horseback, but in military vehicles, the type that sparsely patrolled the Nigerian border. He had seen the guns coming in, and he had wondered why they needed such automatic weapons if they were mere travelers across the desert.
One day, the men finally struck. It had been time for Subhr, the first prayer of the day and the whole village had gathered to pray as was their practice. Suddenly, they saw in the dim light of the morning dust approaching and everyone thought a sandstorm was coming. Then they began to hear chants of lai la inla la growing louder and realized it was people that were coming. Idris was under no illusions as to who these people were. Everyone had waited, until the men got to them. There were at least fifty of them and they all carried automatic weapons in their hands and wore battle fatigues. They looked like they were not afraid to use their weapons. Their leader stepped forward and spoke to the crowd in Hausa.
“We, the true servants of the Prophet have come to bring true Islam to your land. Anyone who stands in our way will be shot and shall not see paradise for demons will receive the soul of such an infidel. Do not attempt to call on the Nigerian government for help; for we will defeat them, Allah is with us. Do not attempt to call others from your tribes across the area, for our brothers have taken them over this glorious morning. It is a total takeover, the beginnings of a new dawn when we shall take Nigeria from the evil government and establish Sharia in the land. First, we require two of your young men for a special assignment for the Jihad against the great Satan called the Nigerian government. They will be selected here and now, and they will join us as honored brothers.”
Immediately, about ten of his cohorts raced into the crowd of men and selected two at gunpoint. The others unlatched the safety of their guns and trained it on the crowd. No one dared to move. They pushed and shoved the fellows they had selected towards their leader and he placed a hand on their shoulder and announced to the crowd
“We welcome these ones to our ranks, as soldiers of the faith. The only family they have from today is the one that welcomes them. If they attempt to leave Allah’s army, every member of their family will be slaughtered without mercy. But if they are faithful in their service, they will secure a place for themselves in paradise.”
Then they shoved the men into their ranks. None of the villagers spoke a word. They seemed to be under a collective shock, some spell have taken away their voice.
“We will return to our camp now, but will keep watch on the village. Do not get in the way of the Jihad, and do your part, as every good Muslim should.”
With that, they turned around and began their chanting again into the sands of the desert.
That had been two years ago, and in that time, they had returned to take twenty more “soldiers” from their village. One man had returned to the village in defiance after being taken away, and the Shona Shona, as they were now called, had come in at noon that day. They razed his hut to the ground, slaughtered every single member of his family, from his aged father to his infant nephew. They didn’t kill him however, they simply killed everyone else that was family to him and took him back to their camp. After that episode, no one dared to defy them again.
Idris had however not been touched. They relied on his father, the chief to somewhat coordinate the supplies that they received from the village, and in return, they left the old man’s son. His father had once suggested that he flee, but the memories of the slaughter of the defector’s household were too vivid in his head. He could not leave without putting everyone he loved in danger. And so he stayed, walking a tightrope everyday he woke up, always breathing a prayer of thanksgiving to Allah whenever he went to sleep on his own bed.
The Shona Shona had seized all the transistor radios in the village when they took over. In their own version of Sharia, having radios and listening to music or news was haram. But he was lucky, he was the chief’s son. And so since they had more than one radio in their house, they simply handed over the biggest one and kept two of the smaller ones.
At first, he didn’t make sense of the news but it gradually became clear to him. A man had tried to blow up the Emir of far away Kano. He had the bomb strapped on himself, and it would seem he was meant to blow himself up along. There had been a problem and the bomb refused to detonate. He had been caught alive and his name had been given – Anwal. It hadn’t rung any bells in his head, until the next day. The Shona Shona came around, and another slaughter ensued. It was then he realized who the Anwal they had spoken of on his radio was. And it struck him, clear as lightning what the “soldiers” taken from his village were sent to do, why they were never seen again.
He tore into his father’s room, boiling over in anger.
“Baba, we have to do something,” he began.
“Keep your voice down, young man. Do something about what exactly?” his father asked in a low but firm voice.
“Sanu baba, I am sorry for barging in. But I have just found out what these people are taking our young men away to do. They are sending them to kill themselves. All those bombings we have been hearing about, those are our young men. Anwal was caught, and that’s why they came to kill his family. This has to stop otherwise we will all be finished in no time.”
“I’ve known about it for a while now, Idris,” his father responded in an even lower voice, tethering on the edges of a whisper.
“You knew and didn’t do anything? You are the chief of this clan, Baba,” Idris said, following his father’s example by whispering in spite of himself.
“And what would you have me do? Fight them? With what? They have weapons we could not even dream of having. They have more men, and the few we have, they have even taken away. They are battle hardy, while our men haven’t killed anything more than a Sallah ram all their lives.”
“We are Kanuri warriors, we can call on other clans to help us drive these people from our land and avenge our brothers. There is still honor amongst our people and they will come.”
“Children and their impulsiveness. You think I have not tried that? The Shona Shona are systematic, they have established camps in the main clans, none can come to our aid. And the clans that have tried to fight, they have slaughtered wholesale. So this is the best course of action. We have sent secret emissaries to the government in Damaturu severally, but they have not come to our aid. We even sent to the oil companies that have now come into the land since the Golden Sand thing, but they have not come. The Shona Shona are not a threat to them, so we are on our own. I have negotiated with them to leave my own son alone; they have at least honored that. Do not do anything foolish that will bring their wrath upon us.”
“Baba, you forsake the safety of your people, for your own? You are chief baba, you are a Kanuri chief!”
“And a father. If I cannot protect the clan, but can protect my family, should I not?”
Idris had had it. He stormed out of the room, leaving his father sad. Insha Allah, he would do something about this.
Professor Bruno Lopez sipped on his coffee before his fireplace. The grey was beginning to become more than the brown in his hair now, and his hairline had receded by half an inch. He as a small but energetic man, whose only periods of inactivity during the day was this quiet time he spent before the fireplace. He liked to let his mind wander to places he had been and enjoyed, the three women he had married and divorced in his lifetime, and his son who had died in Iraq. After he had lost Carlos, he had devoted himself to his life’s work a hundred and ten percent, to fill the gaping hole his loss left.
His work, he thought. It had required that he work from home, and so his lecture schedule had been reduced to once a week, since he had insisted on continuing at the university. The official explanation had been that he had had a stroke when Carlos died and was now in therapy. He had moved into this house at that time, and the basement had been transformed into a two floor deep laboratory that would be any scientist’s dream. That was five years ago now. After years of toil and countless near misses, he was finally within grasping distance of his most important work yet. He sipped on his coffee again. He had done well for an illegal immigrant from across the border to the south. He was living his own American dream.
Carla came into the room and served the cookies he had requested for. She made the most excellent cookies and with his evening fireside coffee, it was the perfect way a day went. After she served him, the slender blonde went about arranging his living room. They hardly spoke outside of work related things, and he preferred things that way. It made him feel good that an immigrant like him now had full American household staff, blonde and all, at his beck and call, calling him sir. He shut his eyes and immersed himself in his reminisces.
Carla waited for the professor to relax like she knew he always did before she removed the safety of the silenced pistol, still concealed under the flap of her uniform. The professor was a stickler for all the nuances of service, uniform included. Unknown to the professor, his house was under constant CIA surveillance; his work was of that critical importance to them. She had toyed with the idea of taking out the video cameras but she knew that would be picked instantly by the ever vigilant hawks that would be monitoring the video in some CIA safehouse not too far away. She didn’t want to risk discovery and the CIA wasn’t stupid. Taking out cameras that had been so well concealed could only have been done by someone professional who had access. Years of work would have gone down the drain.
She quietly went to the back of his stuffed chair and from under her skirt, placed the nuzzle of the gun on the chair right behind the professor’s head. The chair would deaden whatever sound the silencer did not handle and she would not look suspicious in the video. She needed only one shot at that range, and the professor merely twitched and fell back into the chair. The agent monitoring the video would have seen nothing more than the maid cleaning the professor’s chair and the professor moving to allow her reach some spot.
She meticulously continued the cleaning for another fifteen minutes before she left the room. With unhurried movements, she changed from her uniform into a simple pair of jeans, boots and a winter jacket. She took her own car and drove out of the building as she would normally do. But today, rather than drive to her small Washington apartment, she drove straight to the Grant County International Airport. Once there, she met the man she had spoken with for the last five years but whom she had never met and who had told her the code words earlier today.
“Welcome comrade,” the tall, tanned man whispered into her ears as he hugged her close. She didn’t say a word but just followed his lead towards a waiting Gulfstream V. She recognized it as belonging to one of their oligarchs but she knew that the government “borrowed” these items whenever they required them. The relative anonymity of private jets made international movements of people the government wanted to keep anonymous and unconnected with the government easier. The moment they got into the plane, it began to taxi. She was going home for the first time in ten years.
Secretary of State David Wright had just heard the worst news possible. And what was worse, it would be his job to pass that news to the President of the United States. Just that morning, the opposite had been the case. After the dire trend of events that arose due to insurgency in Nigeria, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the post Chavez civil war in Venezuela, oil prices had soared to an all time high of over two hundred dollars per barrel. And that had affected gas prices and gas prices affect the prices of every other thing in the United States. Inflation was running away and the president’s ratings were at an all time low. What made it worse was that it was an election year. And first and foremost, the man was a politician, and David knew that he would be willing to try anything to drive the oil prices down, and ensure his political survival for a second term. And that stupid Republican cockerel wasn’t making it easier for him. He crowed of the woes of America under the current president. So David was alarmed when his agents informed him that the president had secretly met the Russians to discuss possibilities and the Russians had made an offer accompanied with demands any American president would find it difficult to meet. They simply wanted to take advantage of the situation to get even with the Americans for the breakup of their Soviet Union. They had never come to terms with their own failure, those Russians. They blamed the American capitalists for everything.
He had also heard an even more alarming proposition. New oil had been discovered in Northern Nigeria, it was one of the main things fueling the disturbances there. Some warmongers were already singing the song of an Islamist insurgency cum terrorist haven in Northern Nigeria, and David knew what would come next if they had their way. Another costly, stupid war in Nigeria, another Iraq. But this time, America would lose any legitimacy it had and be seen as a resource grabbing imperialist. They did not have the cover of weapons of mass destruction like they did in Iraq. They did not have 9 11 as a tenable provocation like for Afghanistan. American citizens were not being slaughtered. No civil war in Nigeria yet, just random bombings. America would lose its shine if it invaded Nigeria for cheap oil. It would be a disaster if they invaded Nigeria, and then the Chinese defended them. America would have handed China the halo they had been looking for.
So when Professor Bruno had called him this morning, he had been overjoyed. He had finally cracked it, and within a year, they could begin to produce commercially viable replacements for their external supply of energy. He had called the president immediately to give him the news and the man had been elated. A way of escape had finally appeared and they would trumpet the American spirit and ingenuity to the highest heavens.
The day had passed with him floating in the clouds, until Agent O’Neil had called him a couple of minutes ago and told him the professor had been murdered, and all his papers burnt before the assailant escaped. He was miffed. “Who? How? When?” he had asked in quick succession and he had gotten the answers just as quickly. The maid was a sleeper agent. They had the best of tech, the best of eyes and the best of brains monitoring and securing the professor, and yet, they had been beaten by the most rudimentary of espionage type operations. But he knew that it was those rudimentary types of operations that required the most talented ones. She had probably overhead the professor informing him of the breakthrough this morning and had decided to neutralize the professor before he finally went public. A shot to the head, in his study, in a position that the cameras could not detect any foul play. She had left the country in a Russian owned Gulfstream jet immediately after but since she left the house as she would normally do, they hadn’t been watching her and so had only learnt of her getaway after finding her car and questioning airport staff.
“Damn!” David exclaimed. Those Russians were trying to hem them into a corner. Even if they could assemble a team to reconstruct the professor’s work, they couldn’t possibly do it before the elections, and they were counting on the president acting like a politician.
He would not say this over the phone. He called his driver and got into his winter coat and stepped out into the pitch black night. On his way, he called the Secretary of Defense and the Vice President. They agreed to meet at the White House in thirty minutes. It was going to be a long night.
Musa Bature stood in front of what had been his office until yesterday. Today, it lay smoldering before his eyes, blown to smithereens in the wee hours of the morning. The boss, Dipo Ipaye was entering the gate when the bomb went off. Dipo was an early bird and so Musa wasn’t surprised. In spite of just being in the car park, the front of his car had been damaged by the explosion and he was in the hospital from the shock and cuts from the shattered glass of his windshield. The security man had not been that lucky, there had been no car to shield him from the effects of the explosion. He had been flung against a pillar and his chest had shattered on the impact. He died before he got to the hospital.
Barely a week before that time, Musa had written a scalding editorial about the Shona Shona and how they gave peace loving and balanced Muslims like him a bad name. He had also challenged the leaders of the group to sacrifice themselves in a suicide operation in their jihad if they believed in it as much as they claimed, instead of sending followers who were probably coerced to blow themselves up. He had also posited that the lethargy and cluelessness displayed by the government in dealing with the Shona Shona clearly meant only one thing – that top government men secretly supported and financed them. It would seem that his thoughts had hit closer to the truth than he imagined
The editorial had spread like wildfire on the internet and youths had taken the song up, and it had begun to gather momentum with people taking up the slogan Shona Show Yourself all over and protests ranging from the internet to the streets of the main northern cities. After all, he was a northerner calling out the Shona Shona.
But they were not one to take such lying down and the Shona Shona had threatened fire and brimstone and the wrath of Allah on him and the infidel newspaper he worked for. They had released a Youtube video and he had thought the whole gesture hilarious. He had waved the threat aside as mere rhetoric on their part – surely the would not attempt to hit a Lagos target, so far away from their north eastern stronghold.
Clearly, he had underestimated them. They had struck and they had chosen to strike this close to home. He clenched his fist in anger. They had chosen the wrong target this time. If they didn’t take things lying down, he was their equal on that account. He would destroy them, even if it was the last thing he did. He turned around and drove to the hospital.
There was a buzz going through the camp. They had received a great honor from their supreme leader in Maiduguri. Their camp had been chosen to send a fighter for a very special job. Their success at producing the fighter who successfully took the battle to the infidel newspaper in Lagos must have contributed to it. Their leader swirled around with pride as he mobilized his men. They were going into the village to get the one they had been cultivating for just a time as this.
Panic swept through the village as the Shona Shona chanting got closer to them. Whenever they chanted like this, it could mean one thing and one thing only. They wanted another jihadist. But as the men got closer, they got a sense of their number. From how loud it was, it would seem the whole camp was coming. And that could mean only one thing; they were coming to wreck vengeance on some family who had dissented in some way. People huddled up in fear in front of their houses, there was no point hiding.
But today, they didn’t stop at any of the houses in the village. They went right to the center of the village, to the chief’s house.
Idris was also in front of the house, along with his father. When the leader of the Shona Shona reached them and his father bowed respectfully to the ruffian with an AK-47, he felt an urge to vomit. The sight was repugnant to him.
“We have come to honor you, as Allah wills,” the leader said.
Idris saw his father become tense and his eyes darted furtively around
“Ah, I and my family are not worthy of such an honor,” the chief said, bowing.
“No one is worthy of Allah’s honor, but yet he chooses us, praise be to him,” the leader responded.
“How then may my family be of service to Allah in this matter,” the chief asked, fearing the worst.
“You have a strong son, and his heart is that of a lion like you. He will serve Allah well, by taking the Jihad to the infidels. Our Sheik has requested specifically for him, that he will be as the sword of the Prophet, Salalah Alayu Wasalam himself to the infidels.”
The chief fell on his knees and held the legs of the leader, pleading profusely “have I not served you well? Please spare my son, I beg you, do not take him away from me, he is my only son, my heir!”
The leader roughly kicked the chief away from himself. He unlatched the safety on his gun and his men followed suit, flanking out to surround the chief’s compound. “You want to stand against Allah’s will?”
Idris had had enough. He stepped forward before the leader and shoved the man in the chest “you murderous rogue, get away from my father, or insha Allah, my dagger is the last thing you will see before you go to hell,” he said, drawing his dagger.
“Idris!” a female voice shouted from behind him and he turned to see his mother kneeling beside his father. The men had rounded up everyone in his compound and had guns pointed at every one of them.
“Drop that foolish thing you are holding before you kill your own parents, bastard!” the leader shouted.
Idris looked from his family, to the leader, to the men who had by now surrounded him with guns trained on him. Clearly, they wanted him alive, they would have wasted him if they wanted to kill him. It was a choice between preserving his life and that of his loved ones, and throwing all their lives away. Only then did clarity as to the choices his father had made in the last few years hit him. The man had been no coward. Idris dropped the knife.
Instantly, the men fell upon him and began to badger him. They beat him until the darkness swallowed him and he lost consciousness.