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Apr/May 2020 Fiction

The Stars Above Somalia

by Peter Bridges

Multimedia painting by Janet Bothne

Multimedia painting by Janet Bothne


Imagine all the worlds up there, he thought, standing on his roof terrace. There was no moon and almost no light from the town, and there were no clouds. Low in the sky, far in the clear black air, shone the Southern Cross. Above him stretched so many constellations he did not know. Philip Daniel sat down on the chaise-longue and leaned back so he could look up. Never in the North could one see such beauty.

After several minutes, he stood up and walked to the side of the terrace facing the ocean. The beach was a quarter-mile beyond him and a hundred feet below where he stood. The monsoon was blowing onshore, and it brought him the low steady sound of waves hitting the sand. They were not big waves. It would be almost peaceful, out at sea. He wished he could be out at sea, sailing across the Indian Ocean on one of those little dhows that sailed so far, trading with Abu Dhabi and Muscat and Madras... In 20 years, in a hundred, who will ever know what thoughts I had, standing here on a May night in Somalia?

Well, he had to admit he was tight, and maybe a little maudlin. He had had a glass of cognac, after more wine than he should have drunk at dinner, at the Paolinis'. Mary had not drunk much, and when they came home, she did not want to join him on the roof and went to bed.

He looked up again. The Milky Way was brilliant. It was not so bad to be the consul general at Mogadishu. When the place became independent, presumably next year, there was a chance he might be named ambassador. A chance. And pigs might fly. He was almost 50, an age when Foreign Service officers began to think about retirement. Few FSOs stayed on till 60, when retirement was mandatory unless one had a Presidential appointment—like an ambassadorship. The candidate for Mogadishu would be some younger up-and-comer, probaby in his early 40s... But the subject for the moment was stars.

Still, thinking again about jobs and people, what should he do about Carson? Paul Carson was the CIA station chief, tucked into the consulate general where he worked most of the day as one of the two vice consuls and so—as Carson had commented to him more than once—enjoyed good cover. He had told Carson more than once that he was deceiving himself but not others about his cover. Just this evening, Francesco Paolini had said something to him about Carson, his capo spia.

That was not the main point. The main point was that something was going on in Mogadishu, something important, something he could sense only vaguely and Carson, it seemed, not at all. If Carson was producing any useful intelligence, he certainly wasn't sharing it with the consul general. When Carson briefed him, once or twice a week, it was mainly to say that things were quiet. But were they, really? Maybe it was time for a new station chief, someone who was better at learning what was going on behind the scene.

In 1950 the United Nations had made the Italians trustees of their old colony that stretched for a thousand miles along the Indian Ocean. Their mandate was to prepare the place for independence in ten years. The end of the decade was now approaching. The Italians had been doing a pretty good job, better than the British in their Somaliland Protectorate in the North. Certainly there were many more people who had an education, in some cases even a university education, in Italian Somalia now than in the British Protectorate. There were political parties, there were a number of people who knew the wide world, even though most Somalis still kept herds in the bush. Most of the Somalis he knew seemed to feel good about their prospects for having a democratic republic. Perhaps the little hints Daniel had been receiving—hints that trouble of some sort was brewing—were off base.

It was pretty well agreed that when independence came, the North and South would come together in a single country. The Somali Youth League was the largest of the parties. It was at some pains to ensure its leadership represented all the major clan groups from both North and South. And, thought Daniel, the Somalis are really democratic in their traditions: no kings nor traditional chiefs, and clan assemblies where all the adult males made the basic decisions. Not unlike the Canton of Zug, in a sense.

Well, the Somalis were not quite as rich as the Swiss—to put it mildly. Not even as prosperous as some of the other Africans. But some of them were certainly enterprising. His friend Abdullahi Osman had told him more than once how he had started out as a ten-year-old in the wide grasslands of the Haud, entrusted with a string of eight camels, with which he would roam the countryside for days in search of scarce pasturage and water. Now at Mogadishu he built villas and offices; he even had a small pasta factory. People like Abdullahi were real entrepreneurs, real capitalists... but at the same time some of the younger educated Somalis were listening hard to what they heard from Moscow.

Abdi Ibrahim, for example. Abdi simply would not listen to what Daniel tried to tell him about the Soviet system. He knew, he said. He knew about the purges and the labor camps and all of Stalin's perversions of socialism; but that was what they were, perversions. The heart of Soviet socialism was sound and good, and Abdi believed there was much that the Somalis could take from it.

Maybe, thought Daniel, the word "take" is the operative one. These Somalis were rapacious... was that too harsh a word? He recalled Richard Burton's account of some Arab telling him, a hundred years ago, that Arabs called Somalis the "give-me-something nation." Perhaps their harsh environment made them that way. The thin boy in the bush with his camels learned to be hard and persevering—to survive.

There was also, he thought, a lot of perseverance and energy in his own people. His colleagues assumed his family background was Anglo. He had graduated from Williams College and married a girl from Vassar whose family had lived in Connecticut for three centuries. But the fact was that his grandfather had been a Christian Syrian who emigrated from Aleppo to Iowa and opened a grocery. His grandfather had succeeded in business, his father had been a greater success. His father liked to tell him that the best formula was "Work hard and get on with people, provide for your family, and save the rest." I have done some of that, he thought. Certainly I have worked hard. And I have come a long way from Cedar Rapids, via Washington and Tegucigalpa and Perth and Calcutta. I stand now beneath these grand stars—and the future is all mystery—and it is time to go to bed.

The next morning he and Mary had breakfast on their patio just after sunrise, the pleasant cool time that Somalis call waaberi. Three bright-colored bee-eaters sat on the phone wire above them, chattering happily. Mary too seemed happy; she had a tennis date with Anna Paolini. But Phil realized that he himself still felt a kind of premonition, a vague worry. Maybe it was the effect of last night's alcohol. He finished his papaya, toast, and coffee and kissed his wife and went to find Sherif the driver.

They drove in the blue official Oldsmobile toward the center of town. The consulate general was housed there, in a three-story stone building that was a decade old and already decrepit. Perhaps when the post was elevated to an embassy, the Department would agree to buy something better.

It was just after 7:30 when Phil Daniel walked into the building. The two Somali guards, armed with billy clubs, saluted him. There were five or six men in the ground-floor waiting room, no doubt waiting to apply for visas.

He walked up the two flights of stairs, covered with a cheap fabric runner, to the top floor and there greeted his secretary, Sandra Carroll. She was the only American stenographer at the post. She worked mainly for him, but she also typed any classified material drafted by the two other State Department officers, Fred Noonan the number-two and consul and Jake McSweeney, vice consul and visa officer. The other vice consul, Carson the capo spia, typed and sent out his own stuff.

There were several good things, Daniel thought, about Sandra Carroll. One was her good humor and friendliness, that shone out in this most isolated of posts. She made fun of the consul general if he came in looking glum—as, she told him, he was doing this morning. "Bad mango for breakfast?" He smiled at that, which was what she wanted.

Another thing about Sandra Carroll was that she spoke good Italian, as befitted a young woman baptized Alessandra, whose grandfather had been a Cairoli when he emigrated from Tuscany to Philadelphia. Daniel's Italian was not bad, but he liked to take Sandra along as interpreter—and she was a good one—when he called on Somali officials who spoke little or no English.

She was also good-looking. Still in her early 30s, dark blond hair, nice figure. She was lithe, he thought as he walked to his desk.

He sat down to read through the folder she had put on his desk. There were a couple of dozen cables from the Department and from other posts. He skimmed through them; most were routine stuff on visa cases. There was the Wireless File that Washington sent overnight to embassies and consulates. This was heavy on official statements, few of relevance to East Africa, but it contained at least a little news, the only current news available except for BBC and VOA—if you could hear them through the static. The local papers were no good, and the Herald Tribune took a week to arrive from Paris. Today's Wireless File had excerpts from a piece in the Washington Post. John Kennedy was going to go all out for the Democratic nomination in 1960, but Adlai Stevenson was probably going to run again, too, even after two defeats. Well, thought Daniel, they'll fight it out between them, and in the end we'll have four more years of Republicans.

There were also several letters from the Department. The weekly pouch must have arrived last night. One of the letters was from the Visa Office, another from the Bureau of Administration. He set both of them aside and opened the third letter, from the Somalia desk officer in AF, the Department's Bureau of African Affairs.

The desk officer was Robert Kinsella, and he was one of the best in the business, young and energetic and discreet. He was also desk officer for Ethiopia, and a demanding ambassador and sizable embassy in Addis Ababa took up most of his time. Even so, Kinsella sent Phil Daniel at least one long letter every week, to give him some sense of what was going on in the Department and, indeed, in America.

"Dear Phil," he read, "Last Friday morning Joe"—that was Joe Leverich, the director of East African affairs—"asked me to go with him to a meeting in G"—and that was the office of Deputy Under Secretary Robert Murphy, the top career officer and number-three in the Department. "The meeting was mainly on Haile Selassie's desire to visit Washington, but the discussion turned to Somalia for a minute and I thought you'd like to know that your name came up. Mr. Murphy asked if AF had a good candidate for Mogadishu when it was raised to an embassy. Of course Joe said you would be fine for the job, and I added a couple of examples of your admirable work. But I have to tell you, and I hope you don't mind my being frank, that while Mr. Murphy said that he knew you were a good officer, he stopped short of saying he thought you should be the Department's candidate. I do not think you should make too much of this. For one thing, I doubt any Republican fat cat will want to be ambassador to Somalia. For another, I don't see any senior officers lining up in the halls to volunteer for the job. But I would feel less than honest if I did not report to you what I heard."

Nice way to start a day, thought Daniel. Well, it's no surprise. Never did think I was one of the fair-haired boys in the Service. Us Ay-rabs are seldom fair-haired. So... screw it.

Sandra came running in. Something was wrong. "Didn't you hear it?"

"No, what?"

"Some Somali pulled a gun, down in the consular section He... he shot Paul. The guards caught him. You'd better come quick."

He was already on his way, shouting to Sandra, "Call the cops and Dr. Antonucci and tell them to get here right away." But she was already on the phone.

When he got down to the ground floor, the shooter had been disarmed and two policemen had him spread-eagled on the floor, at the top of the half-dozen steps that came up from the front entrance. It was a tall thin man with a beard, in a shirt and macawis, the long Somali kilt. Daniel ran into the consular office. Paul Carson was lying on the back on the tile floor, staring at the ceiling. Jake McSweeney was on his knees by him, and looked up at Daniel and said, "He's dead, Phil."

"Where's Fred Noonan?"

"He had an appointment somewhere. Don't know where."

"For Christ's sake, find him. Look at his calendar and go find him."

Daniel turned away from poor Carson, and there rushing in was Mohamed Adan, the deputy commander of the National Police, whose headquarters was just down the street. This was a good man with good English, acquired at school in the British Somali protectorate.

"Phil," he said, "I am so sorry. We are taking all precautions. We will look after all the Americans. Do you know where your wife is? Is she at home?"

"Thanks, Mohamed. I think she is playing tennis. I am going to find her. Can you send an officer with me?"

"I will come myself. Rather, you come with me." Mohamed Adan said something brief to the noncom with him, and the deputy commander and the consul general set off in a police Land Rover, siren whining, with Sherif following in the Oldsmobile. As they drove, Mohamed Adan was on the radio, but Daniel could understand almost nothing of what he said.

They found Mary on the courts at the Italian club, with Anna Paolini. The two women were puzzled if not worried when the American and the Somali came running up. Phil explained to them what had happened. He added "The Police have everything in hand. All's well."

But all was not well. Mohamed Adan took him aside. They walked down the edge of the tennis court, and he said, "Philip, my friend. You know what tariqa means, what it is? You know about the Sayid?"

"Yes, Mohamed. I know a fair amount about the Sayid. I think he was a great man even if the British called him the Mad Mullah. And a tariqa is a sort of brotherhood. But what are you saying?"

"The Sayid headed a tariqa. He died, you know, fighting the British in 1920, but the tariqa still exists. I hear that some of those people want a new jihad, a holy war, against the Christians. They say the Christians are setting up our new republic as a false front. They say you—I mean you Americans—are behind it all. They're not Communists, but they agree with Moscow that you're the big imperialists."

"So the guy who just shot poor Carson is one of them?"

"Yes. We have just identified him. But there are others..."

Daniel cabled the Department that Carson had been murdered and that more attacks on Americans seemed possible. He asked for authorization to close the post to the public and send all the other Americans to Rome until the situation became clearer.

The Department replied two hours later. They agreed, and urged the consul general to consider leaving the place, himself; but they would leave that decision in his hands.

The Alitalia flight to Rome left Mogadishu on Mondays and Wednesdays at 10:00 PM. This Monday evening saw all of the Mogadishu Americans gathered at the airport by the sea. Daniel kissed Mary and said he'd see her soon, and wished Buon viaggio to Fred and Clara Noonan and Jake McSweeney and Sandra Carroll. He had thought briefly of asking Sandra to stay. She would have agreed; but what would Mary have made of that?

The tail light of the Alitalia plane went dim and vanished in the night. The consul general stood on the tarmac and wondered if he was doing the right thing to stay. In any case he was now the only American.

The next morning Phil Daniel went for a walk on the beach at dawn. He had a pistol... at home. It was too bulky for the pocket of his shorts, and he did not think anyone would stalk him at this hour, out on the beach. Or would they?

The tide, never high, was out, and the beach was wide and the sand by the water's edge was hard and good for walking. He walked northward. Only a thousand miles more, he thought, and I will be at the Horn and I can flag down a tanker bound up the Red Sea, for Suez. For Europe. Ah, well.

The bright orange sun rose out of the sea on his right and then disappeared behind a huge, noble thunderhead, a hundred miles east of this poor place in Africa. Poor, but there was a beauty to it.

Yesterday afternoon, he thought as he walked, he had left Mary while she was packing her things, to go call on Piero Coltelli, the Italian administrator under the UN mandate. Coltelli was a pompous plump fellow who had made a career before the war in the Fascist colonial service. He assured Daniel that he had told the National Police in no uncertain terms that they must provide full protection for the American consul general. Daniel thanked him. He already had Mohamed Adan's assurances, and that meant more than anything Coltelli could say or do.

He did his mile northward and turned around. A dozen sacred ibises in a V flew low above him, headed out to sea. The sun came out from the thunderhead. Suddenly the cool morning was turning hot.

Two hundred yards down the beach a man was now sitting, a tall, thin Somali. As Daniel came closer, he saw that the man had a beard dyed red with henna, like most Somali men 40 or older. He had on the typical round brimless cap and a shirt and macawis. He was sitting motionless, hands by his sides, palms on the sand, looking out toward the great thunderhead; toward Mecca.

Daniel did not want to disturb the man and left the water's edge to walk behind him. But the Somali turned and looked at Daniel, a long emotionless look. The man's left eye was half-closed, perhaps sightless.

Daniel returned the gaze, thinking Who are you, really? I will know you again if I ever see you. The Somali turned his gaze again to the sea.

With the consulate general officially closed to the public—and the security situation quite uncertain—there was no reason to keep the front door of the office building open. He told the guards that if anyone should ring the bell and claim a good reason, other than wanting a visa, to come calling, they should phone upstairs and see if he wanted to receive the visitor. There were few visitors.

Meanwhile he kept modestly busy, as before, calling on Somali and Italian notables, keeping up on the unexciting economic and political scene, and attending more luncheons and dinners than he needed. When he went out, there was a uniformed policeman sitting next to Sherif in the Oldsmobile's front seat. There was also a uniformed policeman, now, outside the front gate of his villa, 24 hours a day. Which was not all that reassuring; Daniel had no doubt that after midnight the man went to sleep.

He had told the Department not to send any more diplomatic pouches to Mogadishu, and he would communicate with them just by wire. The consulate general had a telex machine, and he was not a bad typist, so it was not hard to send electronic messages—unclassified ones, that is. Sending a classified message required use of his one-time pad to transpose English text into code, and that was a laborious process.

He telexed Kinsella the desk officer that in any case there was little to report. Carson's killer had been quickly tried in the Somali courts, after Coltelli asked Daniel if he wanted the Italian administration to try to take over the case. Daniel had thanked him but said No. There were no grounds for the Italians to try him, and anyway the Somalis were fully capable of rendering justice.

They tried the man a week after the killing. His name was Ali Ibrahim Yusuf. He had not confessed, but one of the consulate guards testified that he had seen him knife Paul Carson. He was pronounced guilty and hanged the following morning. So now, thought Daniel, the tariqa can add revenge to whatever reasons they have for killing Americans. Or rather American; there's only me now.

Mohamed Adan phoned him early that Thursday morning, ten days after Carson's death, and asked him to come by police headquarters at his early convenience. He was there at eight and found the deputy commander sitting with a worried look. A tall thin corporal brought them small coffees and went out, closing the door behind him.

"Phil," said Mohamed Adan, "I have reached the definite conclusion that you should get out of town, and rather soon at that."

"I understand what you're saying. But why?"

"Why? Because these bad fellows, from what we hear, are planning to rub you out—is that really what Americans say?—and very soon. I am sorry to say I do not think we can guarantee your protection. By the way, the guard at your villa reported that you walked down to the beach this morning. As you do each morning."

"Yes, but this morning there was no one there at all."

"If you go again, there will be. Of this I am sure."

"Very well... I'll go to Rome."

"You mean on next Monday's flight? No, sir, you must not wait until then."

The consulate general's vehicle fleet consisted of a jeep in addition to the Oldsmobile sedan. The next day, at dawn, the jeep—with Sherif driving, Daniel, and a policeman—headed north from the villa on the sandy coastal track. In a half-mile they were out of town; in a couple of miles they stopped and looked back. No one was following them. In five miles they came down to a small sandy cove lined by low coral cliffs, and there they waited. It was a long wait, a couple of hours, but eventually a dhow appeared, chugging up the coast northward, a half-mile offshore. A white flag was visible at the masthead.

Daniel waved a white towel, as had been agreed. The dhow slowed and dropped an anchor in what was fortunately a calm sea. The vessel had been in Mogadishu harbor the day before. Mohamed Adan had boarded it and ordered the captain to stop off this cove and take Daniel aboard. Now after a while, a seaman came paddling from the dhow to the beach in a small skiff . Daniel shook hands with his driver and with the policeman, put his knapsack in the skiff, and with the seaman he headed out to the waiting vessel.

When he had clambered up the rope ladder on the port side, he saw a deck perhaps 30 feet wide, broader than he had expected. The dhow looked old but it was not small, over a hundred feet long. Despite the monsoon blowing up the coast, he could smell strong exotic smells, not unpleasant, nothing he could identify.

There were seven or eight men on the fore deck, standing by the tall stout mast, all looking at him now. A seaman went to the stern to help the rower secure the skiff to the ship.

Halfway from the stern to the stout mainmast was a low deckhouse. The wheel was mounted just aft of this deckhouse—and at the wheel stood a woman, a tall slim woman with a Somali scarf covering her head.

Daniel walked to the woman, just as she shouted to the group of men forward. They began to haul in the anchor. The woman had fine features, gray eyes; she must be in her late 20s. She said in English "I am Aysha Ali Hersi, the nahoda, the captain. You are Philip Daniel, safirka mareykanka."

"The American envoy. Yes. Thank you for taking me on board. But I could not learn in Mogadishu what your destination is, where the ship is going."

"We are going to Dubai, Philip."

"Dubai? The Persian Gulf? I thought you must be going to Aden."

"No, no. We are not carrying animals. Our cargo is mangrove poles for building, that I loaded in Mombasa. I took on two tons of good Benadir cloth at Mogadishu, and ten tons sorghum. Now we sail to Dubai."

Phil Daniel looked at this gray-eyed woman captain. How long would it take to reach Dubai, in the Gulf, a good two thousand miles away, in this little vessel? The anchor was up now, and they were starting northward again. The monsoon wind was on their stern, and it must have been providing some push, but that and the diesel engine chugging noisily below were moving them at what must have been no more than five knots.

Three of the Somalis had brought baskets of limes and a large metal bowl. They squatted on the deck just aft of the mast. Daniel saw they were squeezing lime juice into the bowl. "We need this," said Aysha the nahoda, "For our voyage, so we do not catch scurvy. You know scurvy? A bad sickness."

"Yes, I understand... how long will this voyage take?"

"I raise the sail soon, and we make maybe seven knots. We pass the Horn in five days, Inshallah. Then we turn out to sea. Dubai is 15 days beyond; maybe more, depending on monsoon. From Dubai, if there is cargo, maybe we sail to Bombay."

Well, he thought, it could be worse. The weather would be steady; this monsoon blew out of the southwest for months.

One of the sailors squeezing limes looked up at him. A middle-aged man, beard dyed with henna; a man with a half-closed left eye. The man he had seen praying on the beach.

He thought of the plaque in the State Department lobby with the names of American diplomats dead in heroic or tragic circumstances. How about "Disappeared at sea off Somalia, 1959"? Well, maybe we can avoid that. He looked at his gray knapsack lying at his feet, on the deck. His pistol was in the top pocket and he could grab it in a moment if...

In mid-afternoon Aysha ordered the big square sail set. It added at least a couple of knots to their speed, which must have been all of seven knots now, Daniel thought, almost ten miles an hour!

At three degrees north of the equator the sun goes down soon after six. Aysha had given the helm over to a young seaman, and as the sun began to drop toward the low coast a mile westward, she and Daniel stood at the stern.

She said, "You know my father, perhaps. He is Ali Hersi Farah. We are Somalis in Kenya. My father is the richest man in Mombasa, except for some Englishmen. He owns many lorries and dhows. I have five brothers. They all work in the business, on the land. I sailed boats from when I was a girl. I told my father I want to be nahoda on his ships. He loves me; he named me Aysha for the Prophet's favorite wife, the youngest one. My father said, I will let you captain my third-best dhow. I did that four years. Now I have his second-best. Someday"—this was said with a smile—"I will captain a great steamer and sail to Genoa and Naples."

As the sun neared the horizon, the helmsman turned the dhow a point to starboard, seaward. Aysha explained "You see, Philip, we will not want to be too close to land when it will be dark. Once there was a dhow sailing along this coast at night. A sailor came to relieve the helmsman—but it was no sailor, it was a djinn, a bad spirit, and the djinn drove the ship onto a reef and all but two were killed."

"A djinn? You believe that?"

"Yes, yes. This story is true. This happened 40 years ago, to a dhow of my father's uncle. So we go five miles farther out when it gets dark. That way, if a djinn comes and changes our course, I feel it before too late."

A sailor brought them a dish of rice and roast kid and mugs of hot tea. Philip Daniel sat at the taffrail by Aysha. The sun went down. Far in the west great thunderheads turned gold, then rose, and then all color faded.

This vessel, like some other large dhows he had seen at Mogadishu, had at the stern a captain's cabin, with a row of windows running across the stern from port to starboard. Probably, he thought, copied from some old Royal Navy frigate. He picked up his knapsack and followed Aysha into her cabin. It was furnished with old pieces, chairs and tables and chests of dark wood, that would probably be worth a fortune to a New York antique dealer. Two lanterns gave some light.

She invited him to sit down and gave him more tea. She wanted, she said, 200 dollars in gold to take him to Dubai. He had anticipated being asked a high price, and told her he agreed. "Now, please," she said. So he pulled a little pouch out of his knapsack and counted out six one-ounce gold pieces.

"Six ounces makes 210 dollars. You can give me ten dollars in Dubai currency when we reach there."

"Very well," she said. "Are you married, Philip?"

"Yes. My wife is in America." Why had she asked?

"I have no husband. I am married to my ship. It is all I want. You understand?"

Yes, he said, not really understanding. She was a good-looking woman, and she was smiling at him.

"I give you the cabin next to mine. I bar my door at night. You may bar yours, if you like. Sometimes things are stolen."

She led him back on deck. The helmsman stood there at the wheel in the darkness. Daniel could also dimly see a man forward, standing lookout at the bow. There was no moon, there were no clouds. When Daniel looked up, he saw even more stars than one could ever see back on the coast of Somalia. The Milky Way was a bright belt. He could see Aysha clearly in the starshine, inviting him aft. They sat on the rail. Clearly no djinn was near.

She said, "Do you believe in God, Philip?"

"I hope there is a God. I am not sure there is a God."

There is, she said, and Mohamed is his Prophet. She told him of the Sura of the Romans, in the Holy Koran, and its promise that the good would come in the end to live in the well-watered garden, the garden of Paradise. He looked at her and wondered if he could take her to bed in the broad stern cabin. But was she hoping he could become a believer?

For four more days the dhow sailed up that empty coast. They passed only one village with a few huts, and then a larger place, Obbia, that had many huts and two incongruous white towers. Aysha seemed less friendly. Each evening on deck she spoke to him of the Holy Koran; of the Sura of the Cow, that warned that those who were not true believers should have painful punishment. She said that sometimes at night, at sea, she thought of the Sura of Grandeur that spoke of the peace until the break of morning; that said the grand night was better than a thousand months.

Several times, as they sat, Aysha asked him about his beliefs, but these had not changed in four days. When, on the fifth night, he went to put his arm around her as they sat at the stern in the dark, she pulled out a long knife from under her left sleeve.

He jumped away. "Why this knife? I mean no disrespect."

"You are a faithless, a ferenji. The Sayid was right. We will kill the ferenji. We will kill you."

She lunged at him, but he had already pulled his pistol from his pocket and with its barrel he knocked the knife from her hand, then picked it up from the deck. There were two men at the wheel, the helmsman and another. They had started toward him, but he waved his pistol at them, and they turned back. One was the sailor with the squint. No doubt they had planned to knife him, throw him overboard.

Daniel stayed at the stern all that night. He let Aysha lie down on deck and sleep, while he looked at the turning constellations and occasionally walked a few steps to stay awake, and made sure the two men stayed at the wheel.

At first light the high pink cliffs of Cape Guardafui, the Horn of Africa, lay ten miles ahead of them to the north. A couple of hours later the dhow had rounded the cape and turned sharply to port. They put into a little cove with quiet water, protected by the headland from the southwest monsoon. The sailor who had rowed him out to the dhow a week ago now rowed him in to the beach. Daniel jumped to the sand and motioned to the rower to go back to the vessel. The next minute someone was firing at him from the dhow that was sitting a hundred yards out. He saw two people at the rail—one was clearly Aysha—and he fired two shots at them. The two disappeared behind the rail. Soon the dhow had disappeared behind the headland, presumably bound for Dubai. He wondered if he had shot, had killed, the captain with gray eyes.

Seven hours later, exhausted and dehydrated from a long trek westward in the sun, he walked into the village of Bereda. The village headman had a 25-foot diesel fishing boat. In exchange for two gold coins, he took Daniel across the Gulf of Aden to the sweltering city of Aden, where the British were in charge. The American was happy to see them.

Four days after reaching Aden, he was back in Washington. The story of his adventure had made the rounds in the Department. Without doubt, his friends told him, he would get his reward for hazardous service. Soon he did. It was not an ambassadorship. He was made consul general again, this time at Montreal. It was to be a three-year assignment. He shrugged and foresaw the need to take early retirement unless something really good came up. Meanwhile it was a pleasant enough post, even if life was not adventurous. The consul general's residence was a large and elegant house in Westmount where Mary played bridge with other consuls' wives and they had luncheons and dinners for editors and bankers, Québecois politicians, and deans from McGill.

Sometimes, though, in his office in the afternoon, he sat and looked out at the cold St. Lawrence and thought idly of Aysha quoting the Sura of the Romans. Québec was not Paradise, but then neither was the Department of State. Or Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He thought of those brilliant gold thunderheads on the Indian Ocean, and the white stars in black night—and Aysha, the captain with gray eyes.

 

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