Child of Somalia

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
The story of a young boy forced into piracy in Somalia

Submitted: October 11, 2016

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Submitted: October 11, 2016



He’s given a rifle for his thirteenth birthday, oily and worn. He holds it awkwardly while his mother frowns and his father nods approvingly. He’s told he must never lose it, and that his training will start tomorrow.

“It’s a great opportunity for our family,” his father says. “Do what they tell you, and you’ll make us rich.” His father is beaming, and the boy looks around the small shack, at his mother’s shabby dress, and at his older brother standing solemnly at her side in his tattered work clothes. He nods and clutches the rifle tightly in his hands.
The next morning his brother walks him to a warehouse near the docks. The boy carries the rifle on his back through the streets, and the people he passes eye the weapon warily, then smile reassuringly. They arrive at a dilapidated building of brown sheet metal and his brother knocks on a rusted door. A man with a pistol in his hand opens it a crack. He sees the boy and waves him inside. He says goodbye to his brother and steps into the gloom where he’s led down a hallway to a room where men sit around a table smoking cigarettes. The man with the pistol introduces himself as Dakar and gestures for him to take seat. He’s told to place the rifle on the tabletop and the tall man named Dakar hands him a box of ammunition. He’s shown how to load the clip and how to work the safety switch. One of the other men teach him how to clean the barrel with a piece of dirty cotton rag and a thin metal rod, then they bring him out back where he’s taught how to hold the riffle tightly against his shoulder and look down the barrel through the iron sight at his target. He takes aim at a stack of old tires and pulls the trigger. The weapon kicks hard into his shoulder, the burst of gunfire deafening. Bullets rip a hole through the patched sheet metal fence high above his target and he nearly drops the smoking weapon onto the ground. Dakar cuffs him on the the head and he falls to his knees with a yelp. The tall man lifts him roughly to his feet and another man with a cigarette dangling from his mouth hands him a fresh clip and tells him to try again.
Practicing with a grappling hook, he throws it as high as he can onto the roof. Tugging on it carefully, he pulls it back until it grips into the metal rain catcher on the edge. Not knowing if it will support his weight, he begins to climb. The rain catcher creaks, but he’s fast and light, and makes it to the top easily. The men look at each other, impressed, and after he’s lowered himself back down, tell him the defenders may try to spray him with a fire hose or dump boiling water on his head. The make him try it again, and a man on the roof tries to shake him off. He clings to the rope tightly and scrambles up the rest of the way, nimble as a cat. The men nod, and tell him to come back down.
The teach him how to use the GPS to find their target, how to read a map, and he practices short phrases in different languages.
“Put down your weapons,” he says over and over in English. Dakar tells him he must say it confidently, and that he should point his rifle at the person he’s saying it to for emphasis. The boy practices for hours, and is cuffed on the head again for stumbling repeatedly over a phrase in French. During a dinner of wine and muffo patties eaten at a dirty table in the kitchen, Dakar explains the process of taking a ship. He tells the boy never to kill anyone unless absolutely necessary.
“A ship’s crew and passengers are valuable hostages,” he says, and the boy nods.  
Early the next morning, the men take him to the docks and instruct him to get into a faded Panga with a rickety sounding motor. As they skip across the waves, he admires the sun rising in the east, painting the water a deep orange. He shades his eyes with his hand and watches the horizon, looking the cargo ship they’ve been searching for. Finally He sees a dark shape, wavy and indistinct with distance, and points excitedly. The men aim the boat in its direction and he feels a charge of apprehension. Removing the rifle from his back, he checks the safety and shoulders it again.
 As they draw nearer, one of the men hands him the grappling hook. The freighter grows with each passing minute and is now massive and the boy takes a deep breath, telling himself not to be scared. They pull the Panga alongside the vessel, walls of high steel tower over there little boat. Without warning, the ship accelerates, its props churning the ocean into white foam. Their boat bobs dangerously in its wake as Dakar coaxes the engine and they try to catch up. They pull beside it momentarily and the men yell for him to throw the line. He tosses it as high as he can toward the rail but it falls short, plummeting into the ocean. Pulling the rope hand over hand to bring it back in, the shouts of the men and noise of the engine are a jumble of confusion in his ears. Then he’s flattened by a powerful jet of water from a hose above. Dakar releases the tiller and picks up a rifle. The Panga slows and Dakar fires a burst of automatic gunfire, but by then it’s too late. The cargo ship pulls ahead, its wake so turbulent they cannot attempt pursuit. Dakar cuffs the boy on the head in frustration before taking the tiller and turning the little boat back to shore. That night, he practices throwing the hook again and again. Tossing it onto the roof and climbing the wall so many times that when he lies down to sleep in his small cot he cannot move his stiff fingers. He wants to cry, but he thinks of his family and what the men told him earlier, that they’d be trying again tomorrow, and he must not fail again.
It’s nightfall when they set out again. Holding the grappling hook in one hand, he twirls it casually and watches the stars. One of the men tell him they’re getting close, and he shifts his gaze to the horizon, something jumps and lands in the water with a splash, leaving ripples of silver under the glow of the moon. Then he sees the first flicker in the distance, lit like a torch by hundreds of deck lights, is a spectacular cruise ship. Worth untold sums in ransom, they will not try to take the cruise ship.
The Seals would come, Dakar told him. And we will not try to fight the Seals.
When they’re close, Dakar cuts the engine, and they drift past like ghosts. The boy sees men in dark suits and women in long dresses dancing on the deck, the music of a boisterous band drifts to them over a dark ocean. As the music fades, he turns his gaze once more to the horizon and spots a single light. Dakar sees it too and twists the throttle. It is an oil tanker, even more massive than the ship they tried to take last night. He clutches the hook tighter. The ship they’re chasing turns away and begins adding speed. Oil tankers are slow, lie low in the water, and fetch good ransoms. He can feel the excitement of the other men, and one of them tells him to get ready. Then he hears it, the chop chop of propeller blades, and his body goes taunt with fear. From the starlit sky an inky black shape approaches at high speed and the men raise their rifles. One takes aim with a rocket and the boy crouches low, peering over the edge of the hull. The helicopter swoops in, rotary cannon spraying bullets into the water all around them. From a loudspeaker they’re bombarded with commands in English, telling them to throw their weapons into the ocean. The men look at Dakar, who curses and tells the man with the rocket to loss it overboard. If he were to miss, they’d be cut to shreds. The boat slows to a stop, and one of the men tells the boy to throw his rifle into the ocean. He takes it off his back and lets it slip over the side. Leaning overboard, he watches it disappear and wonders what his father would say.
Then they’re surrounded by inflatable rafts full of men in black body armor and holding modern looking weapons. With his hands on his head, he looks at the soldiers in awe. They jump aboard the boat and search everywhere. Taking the GPS from Dakar, they throw everything else into the sea. The soldiers tell them to get into on of the rafts, and once they’re on their way, the helicopter sinks the boat with a burst from its cannons. The men sit in silence during the ride in the Zodiac. Onboard a Navy destroyer, they’re put into a wire cage lined with cots. The boy eats a meal of rice and chicken and watches the men and women go about their duties. He wonders what will happen to them. One of the men puts a hand on his shoulder and tells him not to worry.
In the com room, the captain of the destroyer attempts to radio a member of the Somalian government. When he explains the nature of his call, they disconnect. He radios a representative of the government from the country that owns the oil tanker. They too refuse custody of the pirates, and decline to press charges. The Captain curses as he slams down the receiver.
The next morning, the pirates are made to shower and given clean clothes. After a breakfast of bacon and eggs, they’re escorted in handcuffs and at gun point back to the zodiac. When they reach the shore, they’re set free. They stand on the sands of Mogadishu and watch the rafts speed away until Dakar tells them to start walking. Sullen and quiet, they head home. Away from the soldiers, their leader is fuming. The new foreign clothes are disgraceful, and Dakar tells them he’ll catch hell for losing the equipment and the boat.
“We must succeed on our next attempt,” he fumes. The boy stands as far away from him as he can.
Days later he finds himself once again on the water, this time in a newly built Panga, trying to catch a freighter their informers at the docks tell them just passed inspection at a Mozambique port and is now headed to Africa. They have new weapons, and a faster engine. He’s standing in the bow, leaning out over the water, gazing into the horizon with his hand held to block the sun when he sees the flash of a modern freighter. He watches the sky for the attack helicopter, but nothing mars the brilliant blue. This time there’re not alone. Two other Panga boats follow along behind them. The ship they’re after belongs to one of the richest companies in the world, and they’ve added additional help.
Approaching the freighter from the stern they’re able to remain hidden from its radar. The small wooden boat rocks dangerously in the pounding wake, and one wave lifts them into the air, nearly sending him into the ocean. He hunkers down after that, peering over the edge as they get nearer and nearer. One of the men yells for him to get ready. Pushing away his fear, he picks up the grappling hook. They’re close enough now, and he prepares for the throw. The stern of the ship towers over his head, and with the boat bobbing crazily, he tosses the hook. It falls short by inches. He’s reeling it in when he stumbles and falls to his knees on the deck. Dakar looms over him, a pistol in his hand, having given up the tiller to another man. The boy jumps to his feet, pulling the line frantically. He manages to get the hook up over the side and prepares to try again. Behind him, Dakar watches intently. The boy turns back to the ship and throws the hook as hard as he can, watching it as it arcs through the air and over the upper rail. When it falls, he pulls the knotted line hand over hand and smiles when it will no longer move. Dakar yells at him to go, and so he begins to climb. Swinging precariously over the rushing water, trying not to look down, he pulls himself hand over hand, pushing hard with his legs, focused only on the railing above.
He makes it to the top, heart racing, and drops onto the deck. Looking around, he sees no one, and unslings his rifle. Walking to a door, he looks through the window and sees men asleep in cots. He tries the handle but it’s locked, so he continues to the bridge and the observation tower, trying to keep low and out of sight. A sailor opens the door and steps out onto the deck. The man reaches into the pockets of a long pea coat and withdrawals a pack of cigarettes, then a zippo lighter. The boy lifts his rifle and flips off the safety. The man senses movement and looks up. He sees the boy and the rifle pointed at his chest, and drops the lighter to the steel deck with a clang. The man raises his hands slowly. With practiced care, the boy says, “Take me to the captain.” The man eyes him closely, bends down, he retrieves the lighter. The boy lifts the weapon and peers through its steel sight. With a nod, the man turns and leads him to the navigation house.
The boy follows the sailor up a steep flight of stairs. At the top, stationed in front of an array of computer screens and instruments, sit several men and women. The man says something and they all stop and turn as one. A woman screams, and the man in the pea coat puts a hand on her shoulder. The captain stands and tells the boy to put down the rifle. The boy clears his throat and levels the weapon at his chest.
“Stop the ship,” he says.
The crew are gathered in the control room. They have their hands zip tied and stand or sit quietly while the pirates go through the ship looking for valuables.
Dakar interrogates the Captain in a separate room, and after some discussion, the Captain agrees to radio in the ransom demand on the condition that none of the ship’s crew are hurt. Dakar asks them what they’re carrying.
“Military equipment,” the Captain says. Dakar’s pistol is pressed against his head. “The owner of this vessel is a private contractor.” Dakar smiles and re holsters the gun. They bring the crew to the guest house and lock them in, all accept the Captain who Dakar keeps in the com room. Together they wait for a response on the ransom demand. Twenty minutes go by and they get it, a counter offer. Dakar nods his head, agreeing to accept. He tries to hide his excitement as he gives the captain the bank account information.
The pirates have found the kitchen and are eating a meal of roast beef and vegetables that was supposed to be the crew’s dinner. The boy finds a date square under a glass dome and pops it into his mouth. It’s so sweet, the flavor so intense, that it makes his eyes water. The men finish the meal, laughing and boisterous. The mood is light and the men get drunk on chilled wine and whisky they find in a bar fridge. The boy slips out and walks to the rail. Its dark now, and he looks out over the ocean and thinks of his family. Then he hears the sound of breaking glass, shouting, and gunfire. Looking back to the Galley, he see’s dark shapes crouched around the door. Smoke drifts through a hole in the window and he hears coughing from inside. Not knowing where to go, he runs back to the observation deck, unslinging the rifle as he goes. The sound of gunfire is everywhere now. The door to the observation deck is unlocked, and he rushes up the stairs to find Dakar still with the Captain in the Com room. The Captain is speaking into a microphone, but stops. The men look at him, and he tells them the Seals are onboard the ship. Dakar curses, and pulls his pistol from its holster. He points it at the captain’s head and tells the boy to hide and to shoot anyone that comes through the door. The boy stands in the corner among the navigational equipment. With the rifle in his hands, he checks the safety and takes a deep breath.
Time slows as they wait. Finally a man dressed entirely in black tactical gear appears and points a modern looking assault rifle at Dakar. He hesitates when he sees the hostage and the pirate tells him to stay back. Other Seals try to enter the room, but are waved back by the first. Dakar presses the pistol against the Captains head and the boy raises his rifle and points it at the Navy Seal, looking down the barrel and through the sight at the man’s head. The Seal puts his gun down on the floor and Dakar turns his pistol toward the unarmed man. “No!” the boy hears himself yell as he swings the rifle around and pulls the trigger. Dakar goes down and the Seals move in, pulling the Captain away and shielding him with their bodies. They point their weapons at the boy and yell in a language he doesn’t understand. The boy lays the rifle down gently at his feet and puts his hands in the air.
He’s brought back to the destroyer and asked if he wants to stay. They know he cannot return to his own country, so they offer him enrollment in their military academy, telling him that if he accepts, he’ll never be able to see his family again. The boy nods as he signs the document with a scribble, though it’s written in a language he doesn’t understand, and smiles thinking that one day he could become a Seal.

© Copyright 2017 Dominic Wilcott. All rights reserved.

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