It is time to pray. Discreetly I leave the room as Ali Hassan begins intonations of the Fajr and I wonder if the Supreme One, if It be, prefers welcome and thanks for the day in a particular form. From deep in my youth comes a memory of being woken just before the dawn and I shrug it off and wait for the prayer to end. Ali Hassan is the only man I trust in Tanzania right now.
My thoughts, as he prays, flit to Tallinn. Odd how tripping over one word on the way to another makes a path. Cody pants and undoubtedly, as the Daily News loves to point out, five new stomachs enter Dar es Salaam in some attempt to feed. It is dreadfully hot. Even dawn offers little respite and I think longingly of my little home on the shores of Stockton. I look at Cody and wonder if he remembers chasing the gulls. Odd that we grow more tolerant of our own sentimentalities as we age. Cody barks once. I turn, Ali Hassan has joined me.
"So you are enjoying Dar?" He laughs as if it is understandable I prefer somewhere else, but I answer honestly.
"I am very much enjoying Dar, just last night I heard some amazing music that somehow made me sad for the mountains of my own land."
"Yes, yes," he laughs, "Taarab can have that effect. It makes everyone miss home!" He laughs again and I laugh.
"You are looking for The Untouched One then?"
His question is sudden and direct. The laughter is gone.
"Is this another of his names? Medicine Man?"
"It is the same," he nods slowly.
"I will take you to Iringa. He is not there, but you will learn things. But The Untouched," he pauses, "your...Medicine Man, he prefers jungle. He does not really like Tanzania!"
"I can make it to Iringa on my own..." I start.
"No. No! It is important, for a note from me will not get you the introductions you need. I will come with you, that is the only way the doors will open. You seek death, but there is purpose in it."
"I do not seek death," he laughs and pauses, then says more seriously, "I hope it does not seek me. Yet."
Cody approaches him and Ali Hassan bends down to pet him, looking him in the eyes.
Hours later we are in another Cessna, careening over and around the mountains that play hell with the ride. We are as likely to end up slammed against a mountain as we are landing in Iringa, but despite this Ali Hassan's mood has improved considerably. Despite everything, he is going home. I look at the bare landscape beneath us, they say people come from everywhere to birdwatch here, and sometimes one of them is shot by a poacher. Ali Hassan gestures and soon we are landing.
We tried to make our entrance inconspicuous. Iringa is big enough that we shouldn't be noticed, buses and trucks pass here on the way to Dar or Zanzibar all the time, but yet it's not large exactly. Even if this might be a Tanzanian equivalent of say Edmonton, it's not much bigger really, then an average suburb of Toronto. The mountains in the distance rise up reminding me how lost I've become. Suddenly I've had a premonition and I feel a cold sweat, for I feel I must play it all out, but I think I know where I will end up.
"We will avoid taxis from the airstrip, a friend of mine will meet us and we will meet a few others and switch cars at a restaurant. Not much, but we know this town, they will know if we've been followed. Still, we will never be safe. The Untouched knows much more than we do. We are not quite professionals the way you are, I think."
I nod to show I understand, still lost in thought.
I am able, Cpl., to remember lately, the time before I fought addictions and grief, though I still turn from most of these memories, sometimes I forget and am lost in them. I wonder what I mumble in my sleep Cpl., when I cannot turn away?
Ali Hassan's friends are a serious lot, and we discuss much politics and philosophy. It has been a long time, and it seems, even longer when I have been among those of my own kind, or at least those familiar with the routines of our kind, who actually considered why it was they carried the burdens we all must about us. I'm convinced these mindless thugs like those I encountered in Sydney will one day learn this. Medicine Man knows, I know he does, but it is not anything he would know about himself.
"No!" Ali Hassan shouts at his friend Mkwawa makes a point, "you forget that Céline and his generation were the first generation in more than a century forced to reckon with just how cheaply they were regarded by their governments. It was government that ruled without fear of its people! Government that refuted all the revolutions and the myth of revolution. Why would Céline find much to differentiate one government from another? And where survival is not a skill but a lucky positioning of the flesh, what is their to differentiate one individual from another? There is no heroism, there is only thought. It is the only distinction worthy of notice."
"No, he sought a new imposition of hierarchy. He was desperate. Like us. I wonder how we recognize truth where there is no such thing complete of itself." Mkwawa held up a hand as Ali Hassan attempted to rebut this.
"I know your faith Ali, and I respect it. Obviously. But even faith is not truth, it is assertion and its validity as truth extends only as far as the community that agrees to it." Ali, out of respect to Mkwawa, and perhaps me, was silent. A hush fell across our lively table, and then Euphrase, an older, bent man, leaned forward and began to speak to me while everybody listened.
"I think I know why you are here, though Ali has kept his silence. I think there is only one reason one such as yourself would be here."
The lack of breathing as everyone unconsciously squared themselves to what came next told me they knew what Euphrase would say next.
"If you wanted to, I've no illusions, you could kill all of us, but you will not touch him. He is slow the way waves are slow on a quiet day. But try and stop a wave my son. At Zanzibar, where I buried my wife, my child, my life, I pushed at the waves, but my fury was nothing to them. I was young then. Much younger. My sense of outraged justice though, was nothing to a wave. The Untouched is such a wave. I hated the ocean and moved here, but there are waves everywhere. And I buried more of those who I loved. I say this to you, all of this which is my life, because I know and I wish to save one life, at least that. If I do not, well, there are others I would like to have saved more. I will still drink konyagi and eat mandazi."
I nodded to show I appreciated his mark of respect and honesty. He clearly was the leader of this small group which, as Ali had informed me, mostly acted as vigilantes against government corruption. "I have myself killed two policemen," one of the men had informed me, "and I do not ever question what I have done when I think of them. Other things yes." His near peace of mind would be nice, I think, for the nights when I lie there convulsing, begging for the tranquility that sweats from the needle's edge and vainly calling some angel down to whisper forgiveness and assurances that it was the only way, every time.
I could not help but wonder, if Medicine Man had been here, why had he bothered to let them live? They were excellent for amateurs, but they were not pros. Just dangerous enough to accidentally kill you. Why would Medicine Man leave them then?
Perhaps? I tucked away the thought.
The safehouse was comfortable. Cody even enjoyed a brief foray along a nearby creek, mostly mud at the moment. I left him tied to a tree a bit down the way and assured him I would visit before dawn. The night was not to continue so comfortably I felt.
My suspicions were correct. I did not hear them enter, but two of Ali's friends had air taken from their throats and bled all over the small kitchen, smearing the teapot we had used a couple hours earlier, the walls marked in a primitive language of violence, the ink flown from outstretched and pleading arms and gashes to the throats. But Medicine Man's thugs were not so careful as they thought, for I was waiting to be surprised. And when I heard sounds under the sounds of night, I knew they sought me and made myself, new words with their blood on the walls of the room I was to sleep in. Then I kept my promise to Cody and went to visit him at the creek and we left, otherwise unaccompanied. I write you from the second floor of some bank, where the dawn can be seen just now arriving again.
Ali is safe and undoubtedly prays his Fajr to another morning. I wonder if I am the first he unwittingly lead to this trap? Perhaps another will visit with him to Medicine Man's first web.
Still, I plan to meet with this Euphrase before I leave. He knows things and there are things that happened here. Not all amateurs are useless. And I enjoyed a pleasant enough day thinking about things I used to think about. I continue to trust Ali and think he will redeem himself, though I doubt I will see him again.
hoping you are well,