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A Court Of Fowls: Episode 54

...Precisely on schedule two men were marched into the square and pushed
through the crowd onto the platform. They stumbled, which was not surprising as
each wore a hood over his head, secured around his neck with a piece of rope....

Nimrod and his crew witness two executions.

Michael Conrad Wood continues his thriulling novel set in East Africa.

To read earlier episodes of Michael's novel visit
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Chapter 18

Nimrod took a whole month to organise the covert expedition to
Kismayu. During this time, there were some minor tasks to accomplish.

Apart from procurement of food supplies and some running
repairs to the dhow sails, the Kaambooni blacksmith was put to
work manufacturing three grappling irons; a sturdy marine tow rope
was acquired from a Lebanese trader; a portable force pump was
loaded onto the dhow in case the hull of the vessel we intended to
‘borrow’ had to have sea water ejected. Joseph advised that mechanisms
for raising any of the idle boats’ anchors may have seized. If
that were so, an anchor chain might have to be cut. In the absence of
oxy-acetylene, heavy duty hacksaws and plenty of spare blades were
purchased as a precaution.

As Nimrod confidently expected, an unemployed ex-merchant
seaman with long experience of marine engines was readily identified
in town and was eager to join the crew. His name was Khadra
which was perhaps a good omen. Nimrod offered him fifty dollars a
day with the prospect of a substantial bonus if he could get the stolen
boat’s engines operating while still in open water. The major immediate
task for Khadra was to fulfill Nimrod’s desire to have an engine
fitted to our dhow. Our new engineer clearly knew his stuff. He
came up with an old Land Rover diesel engine which he adapted for
purpose by replacing the radiator with a heat exchanger. A tail shaft
and propeller of approximately the right size were taken from another
vessel in Kaambooni which had not seen service for a couple
of years. A rudimentary exhaust system was rigged up using a car silencer.

Khadra’s ingenuity and Nimrod’s foresight provided our boys
with a new luxury aboard the dhow – a choice between power and

This is how Nimrod recounted the journey:

‘When we set off Amina, you will remember the weather was fine. Almost
as soon as Kaambooni was out of sight we began to encounter stormy conditions
on the voyage north. It took four days before we could just about detect the evening
lights of Kismayu. We are used to rough seas by now, but during the entire
time we were all as sick as dogs and struggled to keep the dhow from capsizing.

Fortunately we were able to drop the sail and deploy the new engine until the
wind dropped. Even then there was torrential rain. Finally we were able to guide
the dhow into the safety and shelter of the town harbour. We had not intended to
stay over but it would have been foolhardy to put our plan into action in those

Not wishing to die of exposure, we were forced to seek refuge in a local guest
house which went by the name of Wiil Waal. When the six of us walked in,
we must have looked like drowned rats. Certainly we had the appearance of battered
ruffians. The place was near empty however and the proprietor was pleased
to have our business. There was an anxiousness about him. He told us to watch
our step in Kismayu. The town was now under the effective control of al-
Shabaab, the Islamic fundamentalist group with connections to those people who
are influenced by Osama bin Laden. You know the ones I mean. Those who flew
planes into buildings in New York and Washington. The very same.

We all slept like logs. In the morning we ate a hearty breakfast, essential fuel
for the day ahead, cooked by the proprietor himself. As his pretty wife fussed
around us at the table, she told us there had been news that two foreigners were to
be executed that afternoon. The rumour was that it was to be done in the way the
fundamentalists seemed to derive most satisfaction from – beheading! I’m sure
Amina, it is not good to be without one’s head.

At least we were pleased to see that the weather had turned fine again. When
we got back to the harbour we found two al-Shabaab men on board the dhow.

They had opened up the hold. I felt fear constricting my chest because we had left
our weapons below, even if they were well concealed. I tried to obscure my anxiety.

‘Assalaamu alaykum,’ I said to them.

The shorter of the two sneered back, ‘Allah, the Sovereign, the Most Holy,
prescribed that the greeting should be used only by the people of Islam. Which
you are not!’

‘You are right, of course. I meant only to follow the advice of Allah, as intelligent
men should, and speak in a manner which sows the seed of friendship,
from my heart,’ I smiled.

The man did not respond with matching congeniality. ‘I think you are the
owner of this dhow. Is that correct?’

‘You are very right. I am sorry if we have moored in the wrong place. We
were caught in last night’s storm. I hope that unlike us, you were safe and dry.’

‘What is your cargo?’ the short one continued, confirming his disinterest in
idle chatter.

‘We have none as yet as perhaps you can see. We were on our way to Hobyo
to collect mangoes and chickens. Then we would like to return to Kismayu to
trade them.’

If nothing else, al-Shabaab were realistic. They knew there was hunger in
parts of the south. Any movement of food by whatever form of transport could
only be of benefit to the populous they sought to influence.

They relaxed a little,
seemingly swallowing my story, which I borrowed from your own time in Hobyo –
when you were destined for the slave market in Djibouti!’

‘Why do you have all this equipment below deck? That bilge pump for instance,
and the grappling hooks?’ the little one asked.

Obviously they hadn’t found our guns.

‘Our craft is very old. So old that the tar which binds its timber is starting to
come away. We take on a lot of water. The dhow is too small for a fixed pump
to be installed. So we use that one. And we need the hooks for beach landings,’ I

The turbaned men skipped off our boat, looked me up and down, and then
the tall one spoke for the first time. You will never guess what he said, Amina.

‘Where did you buy that coat? I would like one just like that.’

I grinned and agreed with him that it was indeed a very good garment, if now a
bit old. I offered to bring him one from Nairobi and to leave it at Wiil Waal for
the princely sum of two hundred dollars. He frowned at that, but we shook
hands anyway. Before leaving, the smaller mongrel asked about our schedule.

‘We intend to head off on the evening tide,’ I told him.

‘Then you and your men will attend the execution this afternoon. We expect
it. Two Djibouti devils are to be relieved of their heads,’ he confirmed. ‘It is important
that the public witnesses the justice inherent in Sharia law.’

‘What was their crime?’ I asked, mildly curious.

‘You will be told at 4.00pm. The execution will be at the market square. Do
not be late.’

We had plenty to do on the dhow. The storm had tattered our sail again and
it needed further repairs. We had to swab the decks and bail out the cargo hold.
Below, we checked over our guns to make sure no water had penetrated their oilskin
covers. What was left of the morning passed quickly. Then we slept for
maybe two hours.

I asked the boys what they thought about attending al-Shabaab’s version of
justice. We agreed that not going might arouse a degree of suspicion or at least
place a spotlight on us, given that we had been instructed to be there. We were
men and could see the deed done, however sickening it might be.

At the appointed hour there were hundreds of people pushing and shoving in
the square, wrestling to get the best view of the action to come. A simple wooden
platform had been constructed and the baying crowd circled it as they might a cage
fight. There were al-Shabaab men everywhere, easily identified, taking on as they
did, the appearance of bin Laden himself – with the lungee turbaned headdress,
the full length plain white dishadasha and the brown wool Afghan-style
waistcoat worn for effect if not practicality. Each carried an AK47.

Precisely on schedule two men were marched into the square and pushed
through the crowd onto the platform. They stumbled, which was not surprising as
each wore a hood over his head, secured around his neck with a piece of rope.

Their hands were also bound behind their backs. I could see that one of the men
had twice or even three times the girth of the other.

More al-Shabaab jumped onto the platform, surveying the crowd and now
demanding calm. Among them were the two who had boarded our dhow. One of
their leaders began to read from a prepared text:

“To the people of Kismayu. Praise be to Allah for the blessings he bestows
upon us this day. We mourn the turmoil and the torrents of innocent blood
spilled during the time of the warlords. Now the mighty reign of Allah has come
in their place, and through the Book of Allah, we have the ruling authority
among you, the people. Criminals and miscreants will be dealt with in the way
Allah intends. With the language of fire and the sword, embodied in strict imposition
of Sharia Law. Before us today are two such criminals. Men who have
been convicted of taking our womenfolk away from these shores and to have profited
from their sale into slavery. Men who flagrantly disregarded our respect for
women, who stripped them of all dignity, even their clothes.”

At this there was an angry roar from the crowd and the cry went up for
blood. “Kill them, kill them,” they chorused, like a scene from ancient Rome.

“Yes my friends. Allah has so instructed. Now we are going to end their miserable
lives. No longer will they be able to prey upon our womenfolk. And we
will deal in similar fashion with anyone else we discover contravening Allah’s
commandments. Un-hood them now for all to see! Let them gaze upon the people’s
anger, the people’s demand for justice, in their final swine-like moments.”

“KILL THEM, KILL THEM,” the crowd roared again, in a deafening

When the hoods were removed I could scarcely believe it. The men’s faces were
bloodied from obvious beatings. Their mouths were gagged tight and they barred
their teeth over the coils of dirty cloth upon which they choked. Their eyes were
wide with evident terror. I don’t know why I hadn’t put two and two together before,
but suddenly I recognised the big man. It seemed his crazy eyes were burrowing
directly into mine as if pleading for rescue. It was al-Rashid!

Captured, but from where I could not tell.

There was nothing to be done. He was going to pay for what he did to you
and others who fell foul of him. That Nadifa you told me about, whose throat he
slit, would soon be rejoicing in heaven.

The executioner came forward, holding what looked like a large kitchen
knife. Knowledge of what was going to happen made a knot in my throat. I
could not swallow. Four men held al-Rashid but when the knife bit into the back
of his neck he rose like a raging bull and succeeded in freeing himself from their
grip. He looked like a shaggy dog shaking water off its back.

His tormentors sprang back at him, double in number, like army ants pinning down a giant beetle.

This time they held him firmly. There was no repeating his desperate bid for
freedom. Al-Rashid slumped, exhausted by his first and only attempt. Blood already
streamed down his back. The man wielding the knife resumed his grizzly
business, now frenziedly cutting and sawing at the back of the Arab’s thick neck
with the apparently blunt blade. Through the gag I could hear al-Rashid’s muffled,
tortured cries of pain. And then he went limp altogether. Who would not
have? The executioner continued his work, a heavy sweat on his brow brought on
by the effort. He spliced the spinal chord and at last al-Rashid’s head came away,
his contorted features held high for all to see and jeer at. What an end, even for
him. When the turn came of the smaller man I could see that he had defecated
and pissed himself. Little wonder. When he too had been despatched I signalled
to the boys that it was time for us to leave.

I suggested we eat again at Wiil Waal. Walking there, we were silent,
shocked by the spectacle of what we had seen, knowing inwardly that it had not
been a demonstration of true justice – only a very public form of retribution.

Somehow however, it didn’t affect our appetite.


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