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61 Suleman Hersi - Untitled image

.خَلَقَ الْإِنسَانَ مِن صَلْصَالٍ كَالْفَخَّارِ

.وَخَلَقَ الْجَانَّ مِن مَّارِجٍ مِّن نَّارٍ


He created man from sounding clay like unto pottery.

And He created jinn from smokeless flames of fire.

                                            – The Holy Quran, 55:14-15

Qoraxle Beach, Berbera, Former British Somaliland
August 1991
The Present

In the searing heat of midday, a child lay hiding on the beach amongst the stench of her tribesmen’s bodies.

Qoraxle, a small port town in Berbera, was enshrouded by mountains, sea, sun and as far as the rest of Africa was concerned, a civil war. The villagers slept through the afternoon heat, yet the unifying call to prayer for Asr would resonate throughout the divided country and across the ocean soon. The red sullied sand of the beach spread in a curve until it dissipated into a far blur. There seemed to be no horizon, to the point where one could not discern where the empty sky and monotone sea met. The girl, Hawa, had been lying there for a few hours. Her eyes calculatingly followed the shape of the overbearing yellow and orange cliff face to her right, that hung over the blinding Indian ocean, like a precariously leaning suicidal figure.

The beach was eerily quiet.

A part of Hawa tore herself off the ground and stood up. She would rather jump off that cliff, than lie there waiting to be killed.

Her black hair was knotted with despair and sleeplessness, glowing a bronze and henna red in the relentless Somali sun. She wore a shiid coloured by age and blood, and a garabsaar that hung in cascading lines of orange off her hollow collarbone and jutting shoulders, far more animate in the wind than the sunset painted sea. She put her hands together in prayer, bringing her little henna tainted fingertips to her face, her nails clogged black with dirt and blood. There was a design of a small circle with little triangles dotting the circumference, printed on both her palms. An emblem of the sun, and the seal of her tribe.

Her desperate prayer was interrupted as somewhere in the distance she heard the crack of several AK47s. They had finally found her.

Qoraxle Hinterlands, Berbera, Former British Somaliland
August 1991
A Few Hours Ago

Hawa was lost in the mountains. She trudged aimlessly as she waited for the opaque sky and shadowy sea to give way to dawn break. As the shepherdess of her family, she usually left Qoraxle before dawn to take the sheep to graze in the mountains of the hinterlands. Yet something had gone precariously wrong, and despite the feeling of foreboding, she had continued down a path she had not taken before. Sleep weighing her down, she’d dozed off under a sparse tree as the sheep grazed. She had jolted awake as she became aware of an imminent eerie, permeating feeling casting over her like dark clouds suddenly rolling in and over themselves on an empty sky. Her limbs responded slowly at first, as if unwilling, and then she bolted up, seeing the sheep were gone.

She had felt a convulsive chill run through her and turned to see three red lines of henna engraved on the trunk of the tree. The marking of the Jinn. Everyone knew Jinn resided in the Qoraxle mountains. In her hasty escape, and simultaneous search for the sheep her family entrusted her with, she had also become lost herself.

Now Hawa wandered aimlessly, looking for Qoraxle. When the sun lit enough of the world around her, she decided to search for the nearest village. After a few hours walking inland she was surprised that she did not tire or grow thirsty. Hawa found the remnants of an abandoned nomad camp with three bul. It was as if the whole place was trapped in limbo.

Hawa, unsettled, was speeding through the campsite when she heard the crackle of a radio, playing eerily to no audience in particular. “-Qoraxle village has been bombed this morning by the regime. The hospital was the first to be targeted and reinforcements are too far away to arrive on time! Everybo-”

Before Hawa could even register a feeling of immense dread for what was happening to her town, the momentary palpable silence was disrupted by a sudden shaking of the earth in rippling waves that threw her into a sudden panic. It was a grenade, and close by. The abandoned camp was being targeted. The second blast uprooted the bul itself and Hawa could not even muster a scream before she was sent scattering like the gritty sand. Before the ringing subsided in her ears she saw two huge grimy vehicles roll up through the swirling smoke and dust. They came to a jolting stop so close to her little sprawled body Hawa felt they would run her over. There was a moment’s silence as the jeep and a large truck stopped, and Hawa dashed into the nearest bul, under cover of the flying dust.

She heard the car door open and dipped back behind the yellow cloth covering the mouth of the bul as what she assumed to be the leader barked an order. She supposed having found nothing, the men scuttled back into their vehicles. They started the engines again ready to speed on.

Hawa knew she would never make it to Qoraxle on foot, so she sprinted after the truck, leapt up, fingers clutching perilously at the edge, then leapt inside. She crept and crouched, hidden amongst the guns, bullets and munitions, under a hot plastic tarp. Hawa vowed she’d escape the second the truck paused.

Just as Hawa though the journey was never-ending, she peeped out of the tarpaulin to see they had stopped at Qoraxle Port, her home. Yet the bustling town port had been reduced to silence and was devoid of any human presence. The truck rolled up to the beach where it stopped. This was Hawa’s chance to escape. Flinging the tarpaulin over her head, she bolted out.

But not before she was spotted.

Qoraxle Beach, Berbera, Former British Somaliland
The Present

The sparse yet peppered sound of gunfire chased her. It came closer and closer, the silence punctuated by her own erratic heartbeat. All Hawa could hear was her own haggard breathing. There was nowhere to hide on the clear beach except amongst the dead bodies, so she plastered herself to the side of someone who could have been her uncle. She could taste the sweat, salt and soullessness emanating from his body, and although it made her gag, the idea of rotting along with the rest of these bodies murdered angered her more. Somewhere overhead, the manic shouts of one of the soldiers came closer and the stuttering of the gun became increasingly unstable, interrupted by bursts of noises escaping his mouth. Bile swirling in her stomach, she peeped over the corpse.

He made his way towards her.

Hawa prayed she had not been spotted and tried her best to play dead. The soldier gripped the previously aimless gun and held it with a new purpose. The guttural noises were within earshot, but combined with the garbled tone of his tribal dialect, Hawa could not discern what he was saying. The soldier’s eyes were too big for his head, in a way Hawa found scary and were darting around so fast his feet stumbled into the dead.

“Come out, child! There’s no fun in hiding amongst the dead when you’re still living.”

Hawa began shaking as if she was possessed.

The man had his back to Hawa and tripped over the body she was hiding behind, crashing into her. Desperate, she crawled out from under him and over stricken faces. Although she tried to avoid them, her fingers found grip in gaping gazes, mouths and wounds. She was expecting a bullet to embed itself in her small frame by the fifth body, but instead the soldier let loose another burst from his AK47 at an enemy that was not Hawa. She dived to the ground and saw that he had not, or could not see her.

The soldier ploughed on through the dead as Hawa was left behind, unnoticed and alive. Shaking uncontrollably now, Hawa felt the essence of her being flaring up. He was only a few metres away. Something had forced her to stagger up, blinking sand and dust from her eyes. From behind, he felt Hawa’s uncanny gaze fixated on him, burning the back of his head and boring into him hotter than the noon heat of the sun. He turned his head over his shoulder slowly, to meet eyes with what he had not seen earlier. His face contorted into an expression of genuine terror. He was not seeing her, but something else, something not yet diabolical. Screeching, he abandoned his gun, stumbling over the bodies and the phrase: “Jinn! Jinn!”

He ran back the way he came to the group of soldiers he had wandered from, repeating jinn until his voice went hoarse and out of earshot.

Hawa felt a sudden sense of relief, and felt some control over her limbs again. She did not know what had made her stand up so abruptly. She wondered why the soldier had thought that she was a jinn. Yet as she thought this, with a surmounting feeling of terror, she heard loud voices approaching. It was the hysterical soldier, with many chiding voices following, as he swore he had seen a possessed child on the beach.

Hawa could not outrun them. She let a sigh out into the wind and turned her face to the sun, her eyes closed, fingertips to her lips, hands cupped in prayer. She rubbed her face with a weariness far beyond her years and opened her eyes, bright spots of white light fluctuated before her. She realised what needed to be done, and no longer worried. Instead she thrust her orange garabsaar over her bony shoulder and looked to the precarious cliff from earlier.

It jutted out at an inviting angle.

Hawa was known as a fiery child, because of her henna-ember dyed hair and ambitious, independent attitude. And this time, she was determined to put out the flame of her soul in the bottom of the ocean before any enemy tribe or rogue militia would put a bullet through her temple. Taking matters into her own hands, Hawa’s small bare feet left behind red ribbons of blood as she made her way steadily to the top, her toes curling over the edge of the sharp cliff.

In uncensored ugliness, she saw now below a spectacular display of bodies. They were plagued by the militia, who were slowly making their way across the dumped bodies searching for her. They had AK47s on their backs, with cartridge belts strapped around their bodies. They rifled through the contents of their enemies’ pockets, stealing inflated money, false identification, imported watches and personal photographs of beloved family members. Hawa could not bring herself to be angry anymore. Resigned, she stood up and gathered her shiid in her fists instead.

In a local masjid a few kilometres down the beach the muezzin performed the third call to prayer for Asr, a holy and pure melody that echoed down the beach and reverberated through the blasphemous bodies of those both butchered and breathing, so that every man and woman, rich or poor, from the tribes of the Hawiye, Isaaq or Darood would wash their sins away with ritual ablution and lay their foreheads to the ground as one to ask Allah for forgiveness. The call continued:

“. . .  الفلاح حي على. حي على الصلاة

Hasten to prayer. Hasten to success . . .

The murderers below ignored and drowned it out with their own pillaging sound of sacrilegious success. Hawa looked down in disgust as one of the men below ripped apart the front of a mother’s shiid and prised something from around her neck. Hecelebrated by thrusting the glinting object up to the sky and the men around him congratulated him, slapping him in the back with a friendly nudge of their guns.

Hawa cried then, first because she felt she was the only human there that day, and secondly because she would also be the last. She felt the wind curl its long, slender and pointed fingers around her shiid, and flung her across the open space, out to the sea far enough so that when she washed ashore, her soul would have long departed from her. She imagined she fell with the grace and suppleness of angels, ready and accepting, and wished to be obliterated into nothingness in the water below.

As she crashed through the surface, the water clawed its way down her throat and settled in the cave of her lungs like a beast returning home. But she found herself not drowning, and instead she felt her body and garments slowly floating back up to the surface, despite her desperate attempt to sink lower. She thrashed and kicked so that the sea sucked her soul to the bottom, she breathed in so deeply she imagined she’d vacuumed the whole ocean into her little lungs, but her fiery attempt was put out by the force of the sea.

No matter what chance to embrace death came her way, it seemed she would not die.

Hawa did not know for how long she was underwater but she finally glided to the top, and her face broke the surface. Before she could notice the passage of time in the sky, she breathed the despised air, the heavy velvety blackness of the sky dotted with glittering sequences cast a revenant glow on her wide forehead and cheekbones. Hawa felt the cool air on her burning face and as she lay on undulating waves, she wondered why she was still alive, and could not help thinking that something had indeed been preventing her from dying.

Suleman Hersi (Photographer) is a 27 year old civil engineering student, who holds a BS in engineering. He has always enjoyed being creative, and has tried his hand at various art forms including poetry, short stories, rapping, and beat-boxing. Photography is a medium he returns to regularly. From 2013 to 2016, Suleman simply used his smartphone to capture images; by 2017 he found freelance photography work. His dream is to work as a concert photographer, as he enjoys the show energy and atmosphere. Suleman will travel to Somalia next year for photojournalism. He resides in Asker, Norway.

Instagram: @ihersi

Asma Ismail (Author) is 23 years old and lives in Birmingham, England. She works as an English teaching assistant in a secondary school. After completing her English and Creative Writing degree, she still hasn’t let go of her storytelling roots, and appreciates opportunities where she can share creative work that holds true to her culture and identity as a Somali.

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