I was taken back to the events of the fateful day. When the whole world was on fire. Big yellow flames lit up the camp. Loud noises of thunderous blasts mixed with groans of pain from fellow soldiers. People scampered around yelling. I could hardly hear what they said in their guttural cries. At a distance I could see a man wavering while a gigantic tongue of flames licked through him. Gunshots everywhere.
More out of instinct than training, I stayed down. Still struggling to comprehend the happenings in the aura. From all around, my colleagues let out their last shrills of death. The smell of fire and burning tires filled the air. Sweat draped my body and my jungle shirt was all wet.
A soldier on the run was shot in the back and his body fell on me with a thud. His head lay on my chest with warm blood quickly travelling all over my body. I trembled in the heat of bewilderment. The air was awash with their commands and husky voices. They jumbled their Arabic and all I could hear was quarrels. I lay still as a dodo expectant of the worst.
Isolated shots hit and rebounded across all rooms in my head. I knew they weren’t taking any chances. They were here for nothing but to steal, kill and destroy. I tried to put my composure on a handle as I waited impatiently for the bullet. Or to be taken as a POA. The bullets I had been instructed to riddle into the body of my enemy were now about to turn on me. How disloyal.
All these while, the blood of the fallen man laying lifeless over my body oozed and gave me a bloody bath. I persevered the smell of fresh human blood as it glided over my numb skin. Insanity gripped. I wanted the blood to flow into my mouth so I could taste death that hovered around like a dragon fly over a river. My head was blank, plunged into darkness. Suddenly the dead man was followed into his death by a bullet that spread his brains all over my face.
I died long before death descended. But I woke up to gunshots in the air and the heat of the sun. The brutal militants were celebrating their victory. The taste of victory was rife in their celebration. To them, this one win meant universal win against these people who only harbored opinions about humanity. There was a smirk of pain to put on any face that thought life was any special. Every burst of the shot shook my being to the root. I wished I was among those who were already dead. It is always better to wind up dead than have the misfortune of the thought of death while breathing in air smelling of its horrid escapades.
With their heads swollen with pride of having brought down a whole military camp that had thwarted their existence, the wild brutes were at it again. Their voices came in and suddenly, someone was holding my leg. Instinct instructed me to act, perhaps kick whoever it was in the balls and, once free, take off but common sense lurking in the shadows of dread opposed. Clearly the prospects were thinner than a spider’s thread.
I wondered what the militant wanted in a dead bare black leg. Clearly, there was no boot to steal, for the shameless thief who steals from the dead. In retrospect however, this one was into far worse endeavor. He tied my leg with a rope and I was dragged on the hot sand of somali land like a log. Dust flew into my nostrils and I dared not sneeze. I could perceive shuffles of more bodies being dragged by my side. Friction did its part in tuning up the intense pain I was undergoing thus I was knocked unconscious and offered a worthwhile break from the fire.
Later, I could feel the wrath of the sun on my legs. My whole body was on fire, from the pain, from the heat, from the bitterness. Something passed me a note instructing that I lay still if I was to ever look at the faces of my torturers and grin.
The pain became unbearable. I was approaching a breaking point and indeed I snapped and sat up. And I imagined myself looking nothing shot of a zombie. It felt like there was a ball of orange coal logged in my chest. For the first time, I unclosed my eyes. The hot noon sun forced a squint on me. I could only behold a hazy world of dead soldiers strewn all over. Dust repainted their uniform, for those who had any, brown. The militants stooped facing mecca with their wrapped heads moving up and down from the ground.
The same instinct which had been leading me ordered me to leap to a nearby thicket and weigh my chances from there. Between hope and I was darkness. I was not sure if I still had that opportunity to hope. It all ends at the grave. And looking at my situation from all angles, I was headed there real fast.
I sneaked away while they wobbled. In the temporary safety I lay on my back and sighed hesitantly. Whoever their god was had found it in his heart to gift me with a breather. I seized the opportunity to stack up my life. To focus my last thoughts on my wife who had dedicated her life to me. She was beautiful, tender and softhearted. Being a lover of country music I hoped my situation won’t be like that in the video of Brad Presley’s Whiskey Lullaby. The thought of whiskey reminded me that I was thirsty. My tongue was dry and swollen.
Suddenly a wave of grief consumed my soul. I began mumbling to myself how sorry I was not to fulfil the promise of returning to my wife. The shatter of her heart would be heard in my grave when finally she learns of my demise. Tears mixed with blood, brain matter and dust particles and raced towards my ears.
I hated myself for making promises I could not keep. Regrets wielding excruciating pain consumed my soul and smothered the pain on my body. However, I congratulated myself for trying to wear the patriotism jersey that always ended up haunting its bearers. Soon I was to join a team of veterans like Dedan Kimathi who drowned in puddles of their patriotic blood. Somehow I found comfort in that even if there existed zero chance that my statue would make it to the city center or anywhere else for that matter.
A rattle snake glided towards me. Death is like a fisherman. Once in its hook, successfully unhooking yourself never translates to salvation. I lay still, a trick I was now an expert in. The brown snake with black patches slithered over my skin and headed straight into a hole a few yards from my hide out. I let out my breath only to behold two thin militants wielding AK47 rifles surging forth.
I was thrown into the sharp blades of dilemma. It was a game of tiger or woman. However, this one was custom; tiger or tiger.
I willingly chose to die by snake venom than to endure torture from the brutes I so despised. For its worth, it is far better to die by the fangs of an animal itself than those of one passing for a human being. I slid into the anteater hole. The snake, disturbed from its siesta, engaged me in a staring contest. We locked eyes until the viper gave up and crawled out. And I knew I owed him one.
Sounds of sandal crushing on sand drifted closer in doubles and I held my breath. The conversation grew louder and went mute immediately they were near my hiding.
Soon, the whiff of fresh shit filled the air. In my hole I didn’t mind for the stench of death was far much worse. The militants having emptied their bowels walked away feeling good. What with the victory still riding their air. The steps faded away until they merged with the gush of blood in my ears and I let out the breath.
The warmth of the dark hole and the intensity of the pain worked together and sent me into deep sleep. Perhaps it was my last before I was eventually dragged into everlasting slumber.
I woke thundering sounds of helicopters flying over El- Ade town and bombs detonating like the ones in the morning. I suspected it was the KDF rescue team giving the militants a taste of their own battle. I clunk to hope like a kid clinks to its mothers dress when being dropped at school for the first time.
I crawled out and I met images of a town on fire. Tables were turning. What a great way to take turns in setting each other on fire like drunken dragons. I stood stock still, unsure of what to do next. Just then, I heard a commanding voice behind me saying.
“Wewe ni nani?”(who are you?)
And before I could answer we were at the Defense Forces Memorial Hospital. The smell of the medicine made me sick. Corporal Tabut was still mute. He only took instruction as the military regulations clearly stipulated. We lay on our respective hospital beds, with Corporal just across. I stared on the cream walls but actually saw fire embedded deep within the reflection from the overhead fluorescent bulb. And I drifted into sleep.
Saturday, 16th January, 2016 three days after the indelible experience, I was discharged. Corporal Tabut was still mute, unable to speak a word of his meeting with the Lord. I called my wife at the bus station informing her of my arrival. She wasn’t excited at all. Her voice was flat and doubtful.
That evening I arrived home just when the sun was setting. Creepy veins of darkness were starting to show up. The sight of my village gave me a sigh of relieve. I looked at the door to my wooden house and smiled at the fact that behind that door, waited my wife. Behind that door, I knew, was where home was at.
I knocked hesitantly.
I adjusted my packback and entered triumphantly only to meet head on with a sharp cold steel. It drove deep into the side of my neck and I fell. I saw my wife in all her glory leap over my body and embraced the thickening darkness. The world got dingy until I could see nothing. I struggled to see the face of whoever had drove the machete into my flesh to no avail.
As I drifted into gallows of death I had fought with defiance, I received a revelation. I was not only a prisoner of war from the ruthless militants. Behind my back lurked dark figures that had engaged me in an unending battle I did not know I was in. For the fallen in the field, their names made it to the silver plate in the memorial wall at the barracks. For me, I had died a death not befitting a soldier.