2009/07/17

THE MUSIC OF BONES


Abdul-Aziz Baraka Sakin

the Music of Bones
A short story
translated by Kat Stapley

The little battle, which I generously describe as trivial, we fought that battle against armed rebels, west of the Murra mountain in the Darfur region. Under an odious mountain range, with no water, no shade, not even any air to move the stubborn sunbeams that beat down on our cunning heads, the smell of the gunpowder was still in the air. The sighs of the injured and the yells of the wounded echoed in the open, confusing the heat of the still and heavy air which hung like an eternal mourning over all the death in the place. This place was a real paradise before the war. We were exhausted and scared because of everything, even the swift unexpected and inexplicable triumph we achieved. We had always expected a defeat or a very hard-won victory as we were besieged and left with no choice save dying slowly or fighting. We almost ran out of ammunition and fuel for our vehicles. Our water and food were depleted and the air force could not break the siege imposed on us by fierce and wily warriors who knew the place better than the snakes and wolves that lived there. We heard their voices and their laughter. We were wounded by their gunshots, but without seeing them. In the first desperate raid we launched against them, we defeated them, but we don’t know how. Here are their corpses and their wounded, crying out for help. Corpses are spread about everywhere covered in a mixture of blood and hot yellow sand. There were also fatalities and wounded amongst our brigade. We have not buried the dead yet, neither have we questioned the wounded, and that was a priority which we should have accounted for to study the battlefield well so as to anticipate how the situation would develop. That is one of the ABCs of military know-how. We were confused, worried and all over the place. We laid the wounded under a huge rock which had formed in the shape of a small cave that ran deep into the mountain. It might have been used by wild animals in the old days when there was still open space for wild animals. We left the dead to enjoy the sunset. We answered the cries and calls of the wounded rebels with insults and sometimes kicks, but we were clearly worried. However, Mousa, whom we called merciful Mousa, treated all the wounded indiscriminately and skilfully. He behaved responsibly and compassionately, which is what he was known for. He had learned it from the International Red Cross, as he always told us. Everything would have passed without problem had Al-Jaweesh[MO1] Al-Mahdi not insisted on killing one of the injured captives, claiming he deserved it for a reason which only he knew and would not reveal.
We were later told that the injured man had gestured to Al-Mahdi with his middle finger.
As usual, Mousa the merciful objected as he was the only one renowned for his beliefs prohibiting killing or torture or refusing to treat injured captives. He would defend his beliefs tooth and nail. He started a heated argument with Al-Mahdi. Then they started fighting. Then Al-Mahdi used the butt of his rifle, and in a swift acrobatic move Mousa was thrown to the ground. When we noticed the small fight between the two tall, slim men from the same brigade, all of us sixteen men and two women intervened to separate them. Al-Mahdi had already picked up a loaded rifle ready to fire, taking a defensive fighting position near the rock where the injured rebels were. They forgot about crying, moaning and calling for water or exchanging their wills. Instead, they stared at us wide-eyed. They scrutinized Al-Mahdi and Mousa the merciful, who was lying unconscious on the ground, uttering strange sounds. Their last chance of survival was ebbing away. Al-Mahdi ordered everybody to sit down, saying: “Otherwise, I will finish you off one by one.”
We sat down.
He ordered us to put our hands on top of our heads and face the north with our backs to him. He wanted that done “quicker than the wind”.
We did it.
He threatened that if anyone made a move, whether friendly or otherwise, he would “flatten him”.
We nodded, indicating that we understood.
When we heard the whirring of bullets, despite all the threats and promises, we all turned round towards him. He had his foot on the back of an injured captive who was facing the ground, his head sinking in the burning yellow sand under the weight of the boots and body of Al-Mahdi.
Al-Mahdi shot the injured captive in the heart: tak tak tak tak tak tak[MO2] .
Six deadly bullets from a Kalashnikov. The captive was finally silent. He was completely, totally, for sure, undoubtedly, absolutely dead: Six bullets from a Kalashnikov by old Jaweesh must have killed that injured captive: tak tak tak tak tak tak.
When Al-Mahdi lifted his foot from the head of the dead wounded captive[MO3] , the captive stood up dusty, tall and dreadful in complete silence. Al-Mahdi stiffened astonished, his mouth fell open, stupefied. He was absolutely unable to utter a single word. One swift punch to his head by the dead wounded captive and Al-Mahdi was lying on the ground half-dead. Then in another decisive move, the dead wounded captive turned Al-Mahdi over, fixed his foot on his back and bent his back into a horrible giant arch. He held Al-Mahdi’s head between his huge hands that were filthy with dirt. He turned the head gently and carefully to the right, then to the left, as if he was a doctor trying to examine a patient’s neck. Then with the speed of lightening and the devil’s skill, he whipped the head backwards at a sharp angle, letting us hear the bones of Al-Mahdi’s neck exploding, shattering, and accompanied by a deep impudent grunt similar to a Do Wa Za tune. The tune kept echoing in the air for a long time. Meanwhile, some Kalaj Kalaj birds sang as they flew eastwards in the empty sky. The dead wounded captive then lay down feeling a special pleasure. He laid his hands at the sides of his tall, heavy and calm body, and died once more.

Publication details to add,
title of work in transliterated Arabic and English, publisher, place, year.

[MO1] Is this really his name, or part of a description of him?

[MO2]I’ve amended the noises to sound English.

[MO3] It seems better in the English this way round, as the death happened last, and he was known to the reader first as a wounded captive. I think it works better with him dying again, too. The sring in the tail!

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إستاذي العزيز...
للخوف من واقع الذات النفسي وحتى لا يفضحهم أمام ذاتهم القلقة فإن أهل الغياب الذهني والنفسي لا يجدون سبيلاَ غير أن يجلدوه بسوط "الزار". وهنا تكتمل هستريا الجنسانية المكبوتة في صحراء العدم......

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