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A Court Of Fowls: Episode 19

...Our first and perhaps natural reaction was to do as Uncle Jama advised and head north. Then my father stopped the car on Via Hiram, a block away from the Presidential Palace, and asked that we pull ourselves together and start to think.

‘It might make the difference between survival and disaster,’ he began ominously...

The beautiful Amina and her family flee from Mogadishu knowing they may be arrested and perhaps killed.

Story teller supreme Michael Conrad Wood continues his gripping tale.

To read earlier episodes of Michael's novel visit

To purchase a copy of Michael's earlier novel Warm Heart please click on

Chapter 7

My father had been the proud owner of a Mercedes, built, he
said, in 1961. I knew that these German cars were the best one could
buy in Mogadishu. Ours was a 190D Heckflosse – so it said in little
silver lettering on the vehicle’s ‘rear end.’ Its black exterior paint was
starting to fade and in spite of much devoted attention, its body
work and chrome were showing signs of rust from years of exposure
to corrosive sea air. Inside the vehicle I loved the feel and
brightness of the contrasting red leather, also worn through in
places, but somehow comforting like a familiar old sofa. Every ride
was a special occasion. Yet as we fled from home in the dead of
night, there was no such sense. We experienced many emotions as
we fought off our sleepiness: fear, anxiety, panic, pity for ourselves.

Above all, the misery of our unsuppressed grief at Mursal’s passing.

We hadn’t even been able to claim his body. How could this have
happened to us? Mother wailed with me in the back seat. We hugged
and held each other tight but could not console one another.

With so little time to prepare there was no plan. The only imperative
was to get away as quickly as possible, with Uncle Jama’s urgent
warning ringing in our ears. We travelled slowly through the poorly
lit streets of Mogadishu, father insisted, in case we attracted undue
attention. He’d been right to point out it was already unusual enough
for a family to be out at that hour.

Our first and perhaps natural reaction was to do as Uncle Jama
advised and head north. Then my father stopped the car on Via Hi-
ram, a block away from the Presidential Palace, and asked that we
pull ourselves together and start to think.

‘It might make the difference between survival and disaster,’ he
began ominously. ‘Like homing pigeons we have started out in the
direction of Berbera. Understandable, yes, to consider refuge with
grandmother. Now I think about it however, surely this would be the
wrong strategy. For one, the northern cities are still being shelled and
God knows what sort of atrocities are being committed up there. We
don’t even know if our relatives are alive.’

‘What then, Papa?’ I asked, with no ideas of my own. I was like a
little girl again, drawing on his paternal strength.

‘We must do what the regime least expect. We will go south and
then up towards the Kenya border. We’ll see how the land lies before
leaving Kismayu.’

I knew he was right about dangers in the north. Yet the prospect
of a surreptitious trip towards an unknown country, filled me with
trepidation. It wasn’t the Kenyans I feared. The way ahead was bandit
country. Their vicious reputation left nothing to our imagination.

‘I’m frightened Papa. You know there are robbers operating in
much of the south. If they catch us they will steal the car and take
the very clothes off our backs.’

For my mother’s sake I said nothing about a deeper apprehension.

Bandits would murder you for a few Somali shillings. They
were armed to the teeth and quite unpredictable. We had all heard
about their raids and terrorisation of villages surrounding the Juba
River, some of which were now deserted, the inhabitants having fled
rather than face bandit tyranny.

‘It’s not an easy choice, I agree,’ said Papa. ‘But on balance, I’m in
favour of Kenya. It is much closer than Berbera. If we headed
north, we’d have more chance of meeting hostile soldiers than scattered
groups of bandits to the south west.’

So we turned the car around and drove out of town in the opposite
direction. As we approached the airport, we prepared ourselves
for the military check point which we knew was a permanent fixtur
on that road – a chain of spikes hauled in front of oncoming traffic,
manned usually by a couple of guards primed to ask stupid questions,
and often to extort money. We stopped, as cautioned. No one
stirred from the little hut at the side of the road, assembled from
sheets of corrugated iron.

‘Let’s just drive around the spikes Papa. The guards are asleep.’

‘No. Like all soldiers, these fellows will think that the security of
the entire nation rests on their terribly important shoulders. While
they may be dozing, they will not take kindly to us trying to circumvent
procedure. Indeed, we risk them firing upon us if we do so.’

With that my father got out of the car and marched confidently
to the hut. Perspiration was forming in the creases of my palms as I
watched him. He was soon engaged in conversation with those inside.

This might go wrong, I thought. What if the men had been
tipped off about us. Mother and I were filled with dread and paranoia.

I couldn’t hear exactly what was being said. A drowsy looking
fellow emerged, buttoning up his shirt as he plodded towards the car.

Without a glance in our direction he dragged away the spikes and
signalled to my father that we should proceed. I felt a surge of relief.

When we were on our way again I asked Papa how he had managed
to smooth our passage so easily.

‘Quite simple my darling girl. They were asleep as you guessed. I
apologised for disturbing them at such a late hour and said that I was
transporting two maids to clean up the airport VIP area in advance
of the Minister of External Affairs’ flight to Nairobi in the morning.
It was your erstwhile employer who inspired the fabrication.’

In spite of everything we somehow found it within ourselves to
titter at his subterfuge. As we passed by the airport complex I
thought about my brief moment of intimacy with Stewart Munro.
How quickly things can change. Stability and happiness one minute;
upheaval, dread and foreboding the next. My new circumstances
made me feel more kindly towards Stewart. How could I know if
there were not extenuating circumstances which forced him to leave
Kenya in such a hurry. Would I ever see him again? Unlikely, it
seemed. The clear priority now however, was to help my parents get
to safety.


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