Sunday, October 19, 2008

Another disgarded prologue.

This prologue, while perhaps my most exciting and best written, cannibalized one of my better chapters. It was a big no no. If the purpose was to get the book started and entice a reader, it succeeded. But I withdrew it for obvious reasons. You can't start a book in the middle just to get noticed.

Northern Kenya, Chalbi Desert – September 2, 2002

On a stony desert road in the desolate region of northern Kenya, broken down and sixty kilometres from nowhere was the last place I wanted to be. So when I heard a loud clunk, I knew it was fix the car or suffer consequences.
The roar of the engine dropped into the Beetle’s tat-tat-tat idling. I kicked at the limp accelerator.
“Shit!” I slammed my fist into the steering wheel as the car rolled to a stop. Shifta territory. The Somali word for bandit, the Shifta are a notorious group of armed Somalis who cross into Kenya’s northeast province to rob passing motorists.
The warning of a bearded shopkeeper came back to me from earlier that morning. “They’ll take your money, they’ll take your food, but what they want most is your shoes.” He shook his head and handed me the change. “For people who walk miles and miles every day in the rocky desert, shoes are the most precious thing. They will kill you for your shoes!”
And here I was, a hapless Canadian in a shiny blue beach buggy that just happened to break down in the middle of Shifta territory. I stepped out of the car and scanned the terrain. Ankle high patches of hay-coloured scrub brush and thorny bushes extended along the flat landscape, ending where a wall of brown desert haze melted into the blue horizon. No Shifta, I thought, crunching my feet over the road and opening the rear engine cover. My eyes settled on the steel accelerator cable, dangling like a broken piano string.
I scrambled about the car in search of a tiny O-ring clamp that I’d once used it to fix a similar problem. Forty minutes later, with my luggage spread out along the side of the road, I conceded the piece was lost and slumped back into the meagre shade of the driver's seat. The water in my bottles was warm enough for making tea. Beads of sweat dripped from my forehead and my mind raced over options. How could I bind two cables together without a clamp?
I scanned the cab of the car, moving from one object to the next before discounting it. Rubber bracelet? Useless. Speedometer or wristwatch? Don’t think so. Shoelaces, change in my pocket? Nope. The pen or the washer on the floor?
The answer didn’t come and I ran out of things to look at. I blinked the dust out of my eyes and let my mind wander, staring across the rugged plain.
My thoughts drifted back to my former nine-to-five job, sitting in an air-conditioned bank office. Certainly better than lying in a pool of blood and having a bandit walk off in my Reeboks. Then there were my mother’s words before I left. “Don’t go back. You’re going to die in Africa.” She had tears in her eyes as I boarded the plane.
Mom’s Prophecy spurred me back to my mission. The gusts of wind blowing lines of dust across the desert road made the only sounds as I took periodic swigs of hot water. Another half hour passed and the only idea I managed to come up with was to repack the car. I ambled out, packed up, and lifted my luggage back into the rear. Once finished, I scanned the terrain to the west of the road, focusing on something moving in the distance. I blinked once, then again, and again. It can’t be…
My heart began pounding like a jackhammer and I took several deep breaths. From a kilometre away, three lean figures approached at a steady pace. A bright red shirt discerned one of them from the yellowish landscape.
Think Dan, think bloody fast!
I glanced from item to item twice as fast as before. Shoes, wheels, rocks, shirt, string, zip, bolt, nut, washers, roof rack…
Wait, back up. That’s it!
I scrambled through my tool kit, glancing over my shoulder at the approaching men and spilling half of the tools in the process. With a set of Allen keys and a wrench, I went to work on one of the roof rack’s nuts and bolts. Switching to my fingers, I pursed my lips in concentration and twisted the nut the rest of the way off. With the nut, bolt and two washers in hand, I ran around to the engine.
I passed the two sides of the broken cable through the washers, trying in vain to reassure myself. Maybe they’re not Shifta. Maybe they’re just harmless, local tribesmen. A spout of dust kicked up twenty metres away, followed by a sharp crack - the report of a distant rifle.
Maybe not!
I fought the urge to run off into the desert, and certain death. With an effort, I forced my hands to stop shaking as I pulled the cables taut, passed the bolt through the washers and fiddled with the nut.
The piercing scream of a bullet passing overhead made me flinch. I nearly dropped the nut into the bowels of the engine, but caught it and fumbled to get it back in place. The wind picked up, making me squint to avoid the whipping dust.
“Gotcha!” I worked it tighter with my fingers before making the last turns with the wrench and Allen key. Finally, I slammed the engine cover shut. Less than half a kilometre away, two of the three men walked and the other stood aiming the rifle. I darted around the car and jumped into the driver’s seat.
A third bullet ricocheted off the rear rim, making an enormous clang. I gritted my teeth and took shallow, gasping breaths while starting the car. It rumbled to life and I hit the accelerator, but the cables were loose. The car slowly picked up speed and I glanced back at the three men. They began to run.
My foot was to the floor, but the car remained sluggish for more than a minute. It gradually accelerated until I was bouncing over the rough terrain as fast as I dared.
I heard another clapping report over the crunch of the tyres and rumble of the engine and gripped the steering wheel with all my might, willing the car to not break down again. My heart continued to race and I kept checking over my shoulder every few seconds until I put several kilometres between us. Thirty minutes later, I began to relax. I lifted my head and started to laugh. A roaring, victorious, I’m still alive and have my shoes kind of laugh. I shouted at the road, at the desert, “You can’t stop me! I’m the man, I’m invincible, I am the King!”

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