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Next 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 keys.
"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 added.
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 center.

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.

Some 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 lines.

"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 now?

The 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 man.
He was respectful but never fawning; he laughed and occasionally criticized the warlords and clan elders openly.
"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 to boil.
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 peacekeepers
as they tried to search for weapons across the street from his hovel.

Informers 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 underwear.

"Could you step in here for a moment, young man?" said the warehouse owner, smiling and showing gold-filled front teeth.
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.
"Shhh." 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 you."
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 whisper.
"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

to 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 other.
"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 you…?
"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 museum piece."
"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 here."
"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 stinking cell."

To be continued…
By M.M.Afrah©2004

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