morning a hulking figure, sporting a blue helmet and
Desert Storm camouflage abruptly opened the cell door.
He simply stood in the doorway, holding his nose and
surveying the detainees pensively for a long moment
in a silence broken only by the jingling of his numerous
"He doesn't look friendly today," the oldest
of the group said quietly to Ahmed.
"Don't worry," another youth whispered in
a tone that was far from convincing. "Perhaps
they're going to release us today." A moment
later, the guard called the names of three inmates,
which included Ahmed.
"You're free to go!" the guard shouted in
English with Turkish accent.
Before the echo of his words had died Ahmed was putting
on his shirt, and if by magic the other two detainees
were already outside the stinking cell. No good-byes,
and no release formalities and of course no explanation
why they were arrested in the first place. There was
a stirring in the cell as Ahmed walked out in a jubilant
mood, but it was apparently painful the other boys
would remain in detention indefinitely.
"Wait!" shouted the youth who was accused
of shooting the Italian soldier.
"When are you going to release us?" he said.
"I insist my innocence," he beseechingly
The UN guard laughed a humorless laugh and slammed
the vault-like steel door so hard it echoed throughout
the building. In desperation, the remaining inmates
crawled to their corners of the cell, cursing the
United Nations and the Americans.
At a meeting between US Special Envoy, Robert Oakley,
UN Commander, General Cevik Bir of Turkey and CIA
Station Chief in Mogadishu, it was decided that Ahmed
and the other two young gunmen were victims of mistaken
identity and should be released from the UN detention
The meeting took place aboard the helicopter carrier,
USS Ranger against the background of an intensified
rocket attacks on suspected hiding places of General
Mohamed Farah Aideed, the fugitive South Mogadishu
warlord. AC-130 Spectre attack planes landed at the
airport on a UN request.
2000 soldiers of the Quick Reaction Force were deployed
around the airport and at militia strongholds in the
south of the city. Men from the ultra-secret Delta
Force and SEALs (The Navy's Sea, Air and Land) were
deployed at road junctions and at UN Command Post.
The US military had also thrown in some of its best
war gadgetry into the hunt for the elusive General,
including the Navy's Orion plane, which slowly circled
over the devastated city, with cameras so good that
they can photograph a face in every detail from 5,000
feet up. Harrier Jump Jets also flew over the city,
backed by Tomcats, to herald the arrival of the Quick
Reaction Force and the Delta Force. The Delta is so
secretive that men of the force fight behind enemy
"It's like searching a needle in a haystack,"
said a Marine Corporal as he watched scores of Black
Hawk and Cobra helicopters firing their missiles into
suspected snipers' nests.
At the severely shattered Bakaaraha arms bazaar, where
until now you could buy everything from ballpoint,
laptop computers, large screen colour computers, cell
phones to bazookas, AK-47 assault rifles, hand grenades
and the deadly .50mm Browning Machinegun, at a duty
free price, Ahmed stood in front of his now bare hovel.
His eyes ached, his forehead hurt. The door still
remained askew on its hinges, but looters finished
the job. Even the old mattress is gone. He spied the
surrounding areas as if he had never been there before.
He thought of Araksan and the boy. Where are they
couple met in front of the gutted K-4 Hotel, where
Araksan sold cups of hot tea to the rebels as well
as to retreating government soldiers at the height
of the uprising against the military despot. Government
death squad killed her husband and his bullet-riddled
body was dumped in front of their house. She had to
bury him on the spot with the help of some neighbors.
Her 12-year-old son, Darman, sold cigarettes in street
corners to supplement their income.
Araksan found Ahmed disgusting. To her there was much
about the young gunmen that was repulsive. He was
in his late teens of average height. He dressed roughly
in a loose dirty army coat, a baggy pants and flip-flops.
He was filth and chain-smoked, joined street battles,
slept few hours in the mornings and rose without bothering
to wash himself or changed clothes. To his comrades
none of these mattered.
Araksan discovered later that the rough and strong
smelling youth was kind at heart. Usually he comes
in the evenings when the boy and his mother were sitting
for their modest dinner of rice and lentils. He told
the boy stories of travels (which he himself never
undertook), wars, adventure and
Somali folktales. He seemed to have rehearsed almost
all the popular Somali love songs and poetry.
It was on such evenings that she took an interest
in the young militia and for the first time since
the death of her husband, she felt at ease with a
He was respectful but never fawning; he laughed and
occasionally criticized the warlords and clan elders
"The clan elders do not want to end the factional
fighting," he told her one evening as they sat
in front of the fireplace, waiting for the teakettle
Now standing in front of his looted hovel, he was
mentally depressed. It was the illegal detention that
pained him most, caused him to sob openly for the
first time in his life.
He knew he was wrongly accused of ambushing the Pakistani
they tried to search for weapons across the street
from his hovel.
swore that he was one of the gunmen who killed the
Pakistanis in an ambush. But the truth was later discovered
that he was at the time miles away from the scene
of the crime.
He sobbed so hard that he was sure his neighbor, the
heavily bearded owner of the half-demolished warehouse
must have noticed. He could feel the sickness inside
him steadily growing extensively. How could he explain
to young Darman and his mother the Americans arrested
him as a bandit? Sweat was popping out of his forehead
and armpits. He could feel it soaking his shirt and
"Could you step in here for a moment, young man?"
said the warehouse owner, smiling and showing gold-filled
Ahmed swaggered non-challantly through the cracked
door of the warehouse. The older man smiled again
at Ahmed, putting his forefinger virtually across
his bushy lips, as if afraid to be overheard by eavesdroppers.
Then he told him that his woman was here to inquire
about him, but didn't know where she was going.
"All I know is that she was worried sick about
Ahmed felt that he ought to say something, but didn't
know what. The only thing he could think of is where
did she go, but that sounded stupid and silly. Besides
the man already said he didn't know it.
As if he was reading his mind the old man said: "Just
gone from here without saying anything else."
"Mahadsanid, Jaalle," (Thank you Comrade),
Ahmed said finally and wobbled toward the door.
At the door, he paused and turned back.
"Can you lend me a gun?"
Abruptly, the man pulled out a G-3, the German assault
rifle, from a gunnysack with trembling hands and handed
it to Ahmed.
"There are four or five rounds left in it. Avoid
the Americans and use the shots sparingly. And don't
forget to return it," he mumbled in a cracked
"Mahadsanid," Ahmed said, this time truthfully,
and walked out.
He was now literally without home or country, he thought,
as he checked the gun. He knew that it was risk walking
in the streets without a gun. Common criminals and
escapees from the mental hospitals would not hesitate
before they intercept a young man walking in the streets
of the war-torn city without firearms. Guns are the
local currency and an insurance policy in a country
where law and order completely broke down. And the
G-3 is one of the deadliest weapons after the AK-47
and M-16. It fetches little fortune at the sprawling
Sinai Market, not far from the destroyed Bakaaraha,
and Ahmed was wondering how easy it was for the warehouse
owner to lend it to him without hesitation. Rumor
had it that the man is a paid informer of the American
CIA and the United Nation forces in Mogadishu.
In view of the man's hatred against the militia in
the past, Ahmed had no doubt that it was true, but
the ease with which he was able to borrow the brand
new gun from him without collateral or question still
puzzled him even more. It was impossible to believe
the man's generosity.
He shuddered over the grim prospect of being arrested
again by the UN peacekeepers for possessing firearms
illegally and sends him back to that stinking cell
in the bowls of the former Italian Tennis Club with
the solid stonewalls three feet thick. The Italians
used it as wine cellar. It also contained overhead
steel railings for hanging salami and sausages, but
the UN authorities removed them.
He thought of the US Marines, most of whom are decent
young men, eager to help anyone in a jam, and if you
voluntarily surrendered your weapons to them, they'd
even give you a receipt. They may even give you a
packet of Hershey's or C-Ration! He and his comrades
carefully avoided the French contingent of the International
Task Force, who unlike the US Marines and Army Rangers,
shoot anyone walking in the streets with a gun, and
don't ask questions. Most of the men belong to the
soldiers of fortune known as Foreign Legionaires based
in neighbouring Djibouti.
After he was released from the UN detention center,
he didn't waste his time to look for Araksan and her
son. He would scan the ghost city, avoiding UN and
US patrols. He scanned the few makeshift markets,
places where people still sold things, despite the
anarchy. He kept himself busy. There was always time
to think about all sorts of things.
He went to the K-4 Hotel which was now rebuilt and
housed members of the international press covering
the "big profile." Image-conscious CNN sent
their best reporters to Somalia, because Americans
were involvement in what was described as the first
humanitarian invasion in history. Ahmed did not locate
her, because US Military Police have removed all hawkers,
or street vendors, from the area.
One night, a militia youth he knew, told him that
the boy and his mother moved to another shantytown
in the eastern neighborhood, after their lean-to have
been destroyed by fire.
"There's very little music out there these days,"
the youth told him, referring to the sound of gunfire
common in many parts of the city. "But beware
of the freelancers," he added with a frown.
At the shantytown, dubbed as OPEC, because women who
cradled automatic rifles sold petrol, engine oil and
kerosene in Jerry cans on the roadside. But now everybody
gathered around the food vendors.
Half blocks away all shops and eating-houses have
been looted and burned
the ground. The only things that are left intact are
the gaping concrete walls, where students had painted
anti-government slogans. Of course, nobody paid attention
to the graffiti anymore. People are now worried about
how to get food for their hungry children. One fresh
slogan said: "WE WELCOME THE US MARINES."
Someone also fixed colored letters to the wall of
a dilapidated school to spell out "WELCOME MR.BUSH
AND HAPPY NEW YEAR," reference to former US president
George Bush's impending visit to Mogadishu and Baidoa,
which the international press called The City of Death.
Though a few looked elsewhere for food or firewood,
inevitably, as if drawn by the muezzin's call, everyone
ended up at OPEC.
Ahmed was walking down a dust road, thinking where
to turn to next, when suddenly out of nowhere the
boy appeared in an alley reeking with the stink of
piss. He was carrying packets of Embassy cigarettes
in one hand and a vintage Italian Tommy gun on the
"DARMAAAN," Ahmed shouted over his lungs.
The boy sagged the side of a half-demolished wall,
panting with joy.
"Ahmed!" he gasped. "My God! How did
"Don't talk," he snapped. "There's
no time. Let's get out of here!"
He snatched the Tommy gun from him and threw it away
furiously into the gutter.
"That thing is for grown ups. Besides it is a
"I didn't shoot anybody."
"That's OK. Let's find your mum. Do you know
where she is?"
"Yes, at the corner of the gutted police station."
As they trudged through the maze of winding alleyways,
past the crowded food stalls, keeping to the shady
part of the sidewalk, Ahmed began trying to explain
to the boy why he was arrested. And after a brief
rest under an acacia tree in front of the walls with
the anti-government slogans painted on them, he poured
out as much as he could. He stifled a yawn and stood
up before he dozes off.
They continued to run until they reached at the corner
of the gutted police station. The policemen and their
commanding officers were either massacred by the rebels
or took off for the south of the city, shading off
their blue uniforms in the process. And sure enough
an angry crowd lynched many. It was action against
the military dictatorship, they believed.
Araksan was slumped on a wooden stool, selling cups
after cups of heavily spiced Somali tea, when she
saw them; she swirled around and run toward them.
"Ahmed! My God! It's Ahmed! What… happened?
She heard her stammer.
"It seems we are once again reunited as a family.
What happened is not something that can be discussed
"I …I'm sorry," Araksan cried. Her
eyes blurred with tears, as she embraced both of them.
"It just makes me throw out to think about that
SHORT STORY IN SIMPLIFIED ENGLISH FOR OUR YOUNGER
To be continued…