Exercise in action.

NOTE: They’ve just hit something in the road, which sent the car off course onto the dirt in the desert. There is a dramatic scene of panic that proceeds this one as the car careens off road. They were traveling on a highway in Somalia. Ahmed is the driver. Jane is the local fixer/aid worker. Carla is out on an assignment to cover the famine where she is also digging into the GM monopoly on food aid. This passage is from a book I’d like to write.


Punching in the numbers frantically, Jane’s fingers froze when she saw through the dust what was coming at them. A pack of young men wielding AK47s were running towards the vehicle. They wore balaclavas to protect their identity although the uniform of worn out camouflage jackets hinted at a militia and spelt danger.

‘Did you get through?’ Carla was looking at her bleeding forehead in the mirror of the damaged sun visor when she too caught a glimpse of the men approaching the vehicle. ‘Start the car Ahmed, quick. Start the God damn car.’

Ahmed turned the key. ‘I’m trying, I’m trying.’ But when the car didn’t respond, in defeat, he raised his hands helplessly in a non-threatening pose. ‘I’m sorry Miss Carla, it’s too late and this motor doesn’t want to go anywhere.’

Carla managed to get the paper cover off the sticky plaster and plug up her wound. The training she’d done prior to the trip had instilled in her the need to keep herself healthy, but it hadn’t prepared her for the terror pumping through her veins. At least eight scrawny young men on unsteady legs were now standing by the windscreen, ‘Out of the car. I said out of the fucking car. Now!’ The smallest of the group shouted boisterously.

The gun barrels pounded on the metal skin of the jeep, a fragile shell against such high-velocity weapons. Ahmed’s door was flung open and he was dragged from the vehicle first. The youths were laughing and dancing while firing rounds into the air; bang, bang, bang. The shots cracked overhead. In the commotion, Carla was having trouble opening her door. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably and she couldn’t grab the handle. ‘Get out before I shoot you out.’ The menacing tip of the gun was now tapping against her cracked window and pointing right at her. Tearing her eyes away from the scene and Ahmed, she looked at the door panel. It was locked. ‘Get this door open now, lady.’ Carla didn’t realise it but she was in shock from the bump to her head and her movements were not coordinated. She could hear Jane in the back crying. A second later, a larger guy arrived at her side of the car. He was holding a pistol and looked like the ringleader. ‘Open it, now.’ His gun scraped across the glass. Eventually, the door swung open and she was dragged out.

The small guy with an AK47 pushed her to the ground. He smelt of alcohol and sweat. The aggressive midday heat mixed with dread made her feel quite ill. In the seconds that followed, Carla was dragged by her arms at gunpoint across the scorching sand and deposited next to Ahmed. ‘On your knees.’ Her head hurt. Although she’d worn trousers to cover her skin, her knees were blistering from the surface heat as if resting on burning coals.

There’d been three of them in the car, but only two were kneeling in the dirt. Where was Jane? Were they bandits? A group of rogue child soldiers left over from the war? Then she heard Jane’s voice, but it wasn’t a good development. She was crying and begging them to leave her alone. Carla turned to look for her, but the Russian-made metal tip forced her to turn away. ‘Keep your fucking head down, lady, or you end up like her.’ The ground was arid and unforgiving here. Someone was smoking pot, another was swigging something that smelt like whiskey. ‘Move out of my way.’ One by one, grunting like wild animals, they took their turn to rape Jane. She screamed in agony, begging them to stop. Her cries for help echoed across the open desert but only Carla and Ahmed could hear her. Carla’s stomach was churning. It was the most sickening sound she’d ever heard; young men raping a defenceless woman. Her body began to have convulsions.

‘Don’t hurt her, please. Please, she has a daughter who needs her.’ Carla tried to shout, but nothing came out. Fear had stolen her voice. Ahmed had a gun to his head and could do nothing. He had his own family to worry about. Would she be next? Carla focused hard on the ant scurrying across the sand in front of her to block out Jane’s howls, but it was hopeless.

Within minutes Jane’s wailing became a tortured whimper, but they kept at it, swapping over and over until they’d each had enough. Overwhelmed by the terror of what was happening to Jane and what might happen to her, Carla’s senses slowed down as if she were the one smoking pot. After the men were done, each fired a single shot. The explosion of rounds being forced from a barrel sounded; bang, bang, bang, followed by a high-pitched ping in Carla’s right ear bringing her back to real time. A bullet She heard a thud and saw the sand in front of her jump. She’d counted seven rounds, but the last two shots sounded different. The bangs were followed by a thud that she didn’t see. Silence. Jane’s weeping had stopped. Then Carla lost control of her bladder. The warmth of her own urine trickled down her legs. She’d never felt so humiliated and horrified in her life. If this was it, life had played a vicious trick on all of them.

‘Put it on.’ A black hood was thrown on the ground. ‘Put it on now.’ The rifle jabbed her back as Carla pulled the hood over her head. This was more than a robbery. Her face smothered in the thick fabric, breathing became a struggle. The hood was suffocating. They were baking out there, likely about to be killed or raped and no one was coming. No one was coming. The eternal night of the black hood bore down. The gunmen were crazed, shouting at each other in their mother tongue. Carla’s wound stung under the coarse fabric. The plaster had come loose from the sweat.

‘Stand up.’ The solid metal of the gun shoved against her rib cage, Carla breathed hot air onto her clammy face. She stood up. The blood rushed to her head, she became dizzy before regaining her composure. Her hands were guided to someone’s shoulders by rough hands, one with a missing finger. ‘Hold him and walk. Walk now!’ Recognising the fabric of Ahmed’s clothes immediately, Carla felt a light relief. The material was the type used in sports outfits. It was smooth to touch. She squeezed Ahmed’s shoulders with affection. He replied with a tiny lift. Jane was dead they had each other now.

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