Where Soldiers Fear to Tread by John Burnett

Where Soldiers Fear to Tread by John Burnett

Author:John Burnett [John S. Burnett]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Random House
Published: 2007-01-31T16:00:00+00:00


Nobody Knows Where the Bullets Go

WE HAVE ARMED guards of unknown effectiveness inside and outside the compound, but as far as we know they sleep most of the night, rising only at dawn for prayers, their holy murmurs our wakeup call that drifts through the quarters. We think they serve as weathermen; we think they will let us know, unwittingly perhaps, which way the wind is blowing. If we were going to be attacked, the guards would be forewarned and they’d slink away into the night. If the confrontation were less than violent, merely another siege, the guards would be permitted to tell us directly and to play out their role as protectors. If we were to be removed and held hostage, they would presumably turn on us and for the real money join forces with the kidnappers.

We had locked the door and propped a hardback chair against the knob. But it was a puny barrier that anyone with a good foot and hard boot could kick in. How serious was Major Yeh Yeh? Was it a threat? What did he intend?

I awaken from a fitful sleep in the early hours, suddenly alert and laved in sweat.

“You turn off the fan?” I ask quietly.


The night is filled with a liquid emptiness, hollow, without even the sensation of sound.

“Doesn’t sound like anybody’s out there.”

“You think the guards are gone?”

“I don’t know. It feels bad.”

“I’ll go check.” Swinging my feet off the bunk, I duck out from under the mosquito net and creep barefoot down the hallway, feeling my way in the dark. I make not a sound. Outside, around the corner, I can look out onto the dirt lot and the small open shed where the staff usually gathers.

In the shadows under a single lightbulb, our trusty guardians lay snoring, sprawled out on their robes in the dirt, their guns propped nearby against a wall. It is unlikely anything is going to happen this night.

Here in Kismayo, none of us really expects to get shot. In spite of my ill-fated plane ride over the Jubba—and there is a burning sensation deep in my gut when I think of it—we believe that at least here and now, no bullets will be targeted specifically toward us. Down here on the ground the bullets that will kill us probably would be meant for someone else. We are of no value dead. While we have been under siege, held hostage, threatened, and shot at, we are alive; some of my colleagues somewhere on the river are in fact doing the jobs to which they were assigned.

There is, however, an underlying certainty of kidnapping.

Two Italian relief workers in the north were kidnapped only a few days ago, and our fear now of being held for ransom is acute. Somalia is known for its copycat events; a clan kidnaps an aid worker in the north, then a clan in the south realizes that this is a splendid idea and attempts the same.

A conversation with Chet in the morning in the open dining area is one more attempt to put into focus this tooth-and-claw existence.


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