The African Equation

The African Equation by Yasmina Khadra

Book: The African Equation by Yasmina Khadra Read Free Book Online
Authors: Yasmina Khadra
that scared and overwhelmed me: it was as if my mind was numb.
    Moussa fired into the air to re-establish his authority; the shots did nothing to sober me. I was helped onto the track and then into the back of the pick-up. As I was hoisted on board, Blackmoon whispered in my ear that if he hadn’t forced me to kneel, Joma would have shot me down … Shot me down? I found it hard to grasp those words. Did they have a meaning? If so, what? And to whom, the attacker or the victim? How could I resign myself to the idea that a person could be shot down as easily as a tree being felled? And yet, hadn’t Tao been thrown in the sea like a cigarette end being thrown on the ground? … Yes, you ask yourself too many questions when you’re trying to convince yourself that what you’re seeing isn’t a hallucination, that the nightmare you’re living through is one hundred per cent real. The truths you’ve been avoiding blow up in your face; the ordeals you thought were meant for others become yours with such clarity you find it hard to bear. Are they premonitory signs of the End, of a time when the dark ages and the modern world come together to give birth to destructive androids and show mankind the shortest route to its own extinction?
    My kidnappers had stopped laughing. They were staring at me in silence as if I’d returned from the dead. Unwilling to look at them, I turned away and gazed beyond the two vehicles that were following us, beyond the dust they raised, far, far away, where the earth and the sky merged and formed a line as tenuous and fragile as the thread holding me to life … Life? … Was I alive? … I had the sudden conviction that I was merely living on borrowed time.

    The scrub was starting to grow scarce and, as the convoy plunged further inland, the desert became more marked, the few clumps of vegetation vanishing as if by magic. Apart from the vultures and the odd animal startled by the roar of the pick-ups, the area was like a deserted planet, deadly in its monotony, given over to heat and erosion. A jagged line of grey dwarf hills extended across the plain, like the spine of some fossilised prehistoric monster. To the north, a boulder-strewn
stretched to infinity; to the south, the earth fell away abruptly, crisscrossed by a jumble of dried-up rivers. All at once, huddled in the shade of a low hill, there appeared a ruined fort surrounded by barbed wire. This was our kidnappers’ rearguard. They were delighted to have returned to the fold, filthy and exhausted, but safe and sound. A broken gate led to a parade ground presided over by a long-unused flagpole. On either side, lines of squat barracks, some completely collapsed, others partly burnt and covered in tattered tarpaulins and sheets of iron; a well with a pulley, a rubber bucket on the coping; an enclosure for a few bored-looking goats; a water tank rusted on the outside; a lorry with its bonnet torn off next to a sidecar motorcycle straight out of the last world war; and finally, opposite a hovel with wire netting aroundit, a clumsily whitewashed rat-trap above which flew an unidentifiable rag that was meant to be a banner: this was the ‘command post’. A group of bandits were waiting for us on the front steps – doubtless, the commanding officer’s praetorian guard, a dozen armed eccentrics, standing stiffly to attention in a way that was meant to look military but was sadly lacking in credibility. Some wore paratroopers’ uniforms with boots and berets pulled down over their eyes, others threadbare civilian clothes, with misshapen trainers, espadrilles or sandals with straps – they all raised their hands to their temples in a regulation salute when a knock-kneed officer emerged from the command post to greet our convoy.
    Moussa ordered his men out of the vehicles, lined them up in a row facing the command post and presented arms to the officer, who returned the salute with a smug look on his face. There was an exaggerated

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