Authors: Mark Donovan
By Mark J. Donovan
COPYRIGHT © 2015
All rights reserved, including the rights to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
Cover design by LLPix Designs
For my wife Elaine and my children Scott, Eric and Alyson who have provided me with love and happiness throughout the years.
Chapter 1 (February 26, Friday 1:00am, Yemen)
A bead of sweat glided down the anxious man’s forehead, rolling onward and over his brow and eventually finding its way into his right eye, causing him to wince slightly in pain. The man knelt silently behind an abandoned and crumbling mud-brick building, his attention laser focused on a community well located a hundred meters ahead. He was wearing a black thobe and a keffiyeh that covered his head and face. Pressed tightly to his eyes were a pair of night vision binoculars. It was just after one o’clock in the morning and the small Yemenis village center had been void of any sign of activity for over an hour. He glanced down at his watch before quickly returning his attention back to the well. He would wait five more minutes and then proceed forward with his mission, if all was still quiet.
As the man continued to look through the binoculars he could feel perspiration soaking his body and clothing. He repeatedly pulled the binoculars from his eyes and wiped his brow to alleviate the stinging from the salty sweat.
The small village sat on the eastern shores of the Red Sea and despite the fact that it was technically winter, the midnight air was hot and humid. Positioned just thirteen degrees north of the equator, it was not uncommon for the village to experience ninety degree temperatures during the daylight hours, and dropping only to the mid-seventies in the evening, even in February. Also, due to the extreme heat, evaporating moisture from the Red Sea caused constant and nearly unbearable high humidity levels. Consequently, the evenings, like tonight, brought little relief from the heat and humidity to the small southwestern Yemenis village.
The man knew that it was more than the heat and humidity that was causing him to perspire so profusely. He was anxious and his body trembled with nervousness as he subconsciously listened to the seconds tick off in his head’s internal clock. He had been given explicit orders to carry out. If he was successful, Inshallah,
, he would be rewarded handsomely. If he failed, he, along with his entire family, would pay with their lives.
The fear for his family was racing through his mind when the alarm clock in his head suddenly went off. He pulled the binoculars from his eyes once more and looked at his watch. It was time.
He reached down with his right hand and felt blindly into the open green knapsack resting on the ground next to him. Pushing downwards through the cushioning foam, his hand nervously clenched around a small steel tube that he had been given thirty-six hours earlier by a masked stranger. He did not know what was in the steel tube, and nor did he care to know. All that mattered was that tonight he was doing Allah’s work.
He pulled the steel tube from his knapsack and held it firmly in his trembling right hand. With his other hand he raised the night vision binoculars to his eyes once more. It took all of his mental concentration to control his hand from shaking so that he could see through the binoculars clearly. The greenish black image of the village center came into focus as he peered through the lenses. He scanned left and right, and then fore and aft of the community well, confirming one last time through the eerie high tech imaging that the area was still void of human activity.
As he pulled the binoculars from his eyes and slipped them back into his knapsack, he slowly exhaled. It was a futile attempt to release some of the tension in his body and to calm his pounding heartbeat, but it allowed him to delay his mission a few seconds longer and gather his courage. He knew being caught slinking around the village’s community well at this time of night could very likely lead to the deaths of his wife, children and parents.
He let his eyes readjust to the night sky while he slowed his breathing. He looked down at his right hand. A crescent moon, though low on the night horizon, provided just enough light for him to see the small shiny metal cylinder he was holding.
The cylinder was approximately thirty centimeters in length and two centimeters in diameter. The bottom of the cylinder was bulbous in shape like a test tube. A screw-on lid was on the other end. With a slow and firm counterclockwise twist of the lid the man felt an ever slight movement, a crack in the seal. He immediately stopped turning and silently stood up, his heartbeat once again ramping up and pounding in his ears.
Stepping around the crumbling mud-brick building he walked silently towards the community well. Twenty seconds later he stood over it. Wasting no time, he unscrewed the steel cylinder’s lid and quickly poured its contents into it. As he did, he could hear a small trickling sound at the bottom of the shallow well.
Feeling the cylinder nearly empty, he shook it several times over the well to ensure every last drop of its contents was delivered. On the third shake he felt a slight drop of moisture from the cylinder hit his eye. He wiped his eye with his free hand while he continued to shake the cylinder a couple more times.
Satisfied the cylinder was empty, the man fumbled with screwing the lid back onto the cylinder as he scurried back to the abandoned mud-brick building. Relief filled his body as he picked up his knapsack and placed the empty cylinder into it. With one final glance back at the community well, he tossed the knapsack over his shoulder and walked away from the village, quickly disappearing into the desert night like a silent wraith.
Chapter 2 (February 26, Friday 6:00am, Yemen)
The muezzin’s voice reverberated loudly throughout the small village and in the pre-dawn air as he recited the adhan into a microphone that he held close to his lips. To the east, the early morning skyline resembled a painter’s palette, with an array of colors that slowly morphed from a darkish purple, to a lighter shade of blue, and to eventually a fiery orange tinge near the edge of the Earth. The sun’s rays had not quite kissed the morning dawn in the eastern skyline.
The muezzin’s voice was amplified and broadcast over a speaker system mounted at the top of the sun bleached white minaret that was part of the small village’s ancient mosque. He was calling the village’s two hundred residents and followers of Muhammad to worship. His booming voice echoed throughout the small village in a haunting sound, as if Muhammad himself were hailing his followers to morning prayers. Slowly, men emptied out into the street from their mud-brick houses. They walked to the mosque to perform salat, the second in the five pillars of Islam that requires Muslim faithful’s to offer prayers five times a day, with the first occurring at dawn. Their women and children, however, stayed behind to pray in the privacy of their homes.
Twenty minutes later, with morning prayers finished, the village men began to hurriedly exit the mosque. They, along with the women in the small village, were off to begin their daily routines of life.
Like most of the other men in the village, Aleena’s husband, Hamza, left directly from the mosque for the port city of Mocha, a once thriving city of commerce that had one time been known as Arabia’s chief coffee exporting center. A history and title that had long since faded.
As Hamza passed by their home, Aleena stepped from the doorway stoop. Her dark brown eyes sparkled through the slit in her head scarf as she looked at Hamza and handed him a small cloth bag filled with bread and dried fruit. He took the bag from her appreciatively and gave her a warm smile before continuing on his way.
Aleena watched as her husband hurriedly made his way down the dusty village road. He seemed to be walking on air she thought to herself, as she observed the extra spring in his legs, and the extended gait in his stride. She could tell her husband was excited with anticipation. A smile formed on her face. He’d make the three kilometer southerly trek to Mocha in about ten minutes at the rate he was moving, she thought to herself with a laugh.
Like the other residents of the small village, Aleena and Hamza were of very limited means. However, they had a home, inherited from Hamza’s deceased parents, and a beautiful little daughter given to them by Allah. And as was the case with most of the other village men, Hamza eked out a subsistence living working as a fishermen on the Red Sea. Consequently his small family had never suffered from hunger, a feat he prided himself on. Death from malnutrition was a common malady in Yemen.
Hamza continued to walk swiftly as he made his way to Mocha and breathed in the salty fresh air. The other village men trailed him by a couple of hundred meters, and the separation continued to grow. He was anxious to get to his boat as he planned to fish for tuna today. He had heard from a couple of his fellow fishermen the previous evening that several tuna were caught the day before only a few kilometers off the coast of their village. If he could catch even a single tuna he would earn enough money to provide food for his family for several weeks. International buyers in the Mocha fish market paid a high price for Red Sea tuna. But rowing out to sea three kilometers would take him the better part of the morning, and he would have to repeat the effort in the late afternoon. He knew his fishing time would be limited and hence why he was in a rush.
Reaching down and picking up a large plastic empty water container from her kitchen floor, Aleena reflected on her husband’s joyful mood the night before. Hamza had come home excited and in a festive mood with the news from the other fishermen in the village, and about his plans to catch tuna the next day. After dinner and evening prayers, he had played with their young daughter for nearly an hour before putting her down to sleep, something that he had rarely done. When they went to bed, Hamza had told her that he was convinced that today would be his lucky day, Allah willing.
She laughed to herself as she remembered his smile and playful spirit. Hamza had always been a happy man in years past. But his handsome smile had been a rare sight in recent years. From a harsh pain that he could not seem to bury. A pain that she too had also had to deal with and eventually put behind her. She quietly hoped that the lighter spirit and warm smile she witnessed the previous night would return more frequently to the man she so loved.
Aleena closed the door to their home. Carrying the large plastic empty water jug she began her early morning journey to the village center. As with all the other residents of the small village she acquired their water from the shallow community well located in the center of the village. A small child’s voice chattered excitedly next to her. Aleena’s five year old daughter, Manha, was by her side.
Like all the other women in the village, Aleena wore a traditional black abaya that brushed along the dusty street as they walked. A niqab, or veil, covered her head and face, with only her brown sparkling eyes exposed to the morning sunlight. Due to her pre-pubescent age, Manha wore a simple long dress with no head covering.
A small doll sat cradled in Manha’s arms, her attention riveted to it, as the two women made their way to the village center. Manha whispered and cooed quietly to the doll, as if it had been crying and she was consoling it as a mother in some way.
Aleena looked down at her daughter and lightly smiled. Manha was her little angel. They had lost their first child, a son, five years earlier when Manha was born. Aden was only three years old at the time when he had fallen from his bed in the middle of the night while he slept. Hamza found him the next morning beside his bed, lifeless from a broken neck. The loss was devastating for Aleena, but even more so for Hamza. Aden was his only son. It took Hamza over a year to come to terms with the loss. If it had not been for their sweet Manha, Aleena may have also lost her husband she thought to herself.
Aleena placed her free hand on her daughters head and said, “Manha, you will make a fine mother one day.”
Manha looked up from her doll and at her mother and gave a big ear to ear smile. “I hope so. I want to be a good mommy just like you when I get big and have my own children someday.”
“Oh, I know you will,” responded Aleena with a smile as they continued their walk to the well.
When Aleena and Manha arrived at the community well there was a number of women mingling around it. Some had already filled their water containers and were talking excitedly to one another through their veils. Another woman was in the process of turning the crank that raised the bucket from the bottom of the well. Manha ran up to the sill edge of the well and said hello to the woman. Even though she was wearing the same abaya and niqab as the other women, Manha recognized the woman turning the crank as her aunt.
“Hi Aunt Nasreen,” said Manha in a bright and cheery voice.
Nasreen turned to her niece and gave her a big smile that Manha couldn’t see due to the veil that covered her face. “Hi Manha, and how are you doing this fine morning?” asked Nasreen as she continued to turn the hand crank.
“I am happy. Last night daddy played with Selma and me.” Manha made a quick glance down at her doll. “He says he will have a big surprise for mommy and me tonight when he returns home. He said he’s going to catch very big fish today.”
“Your daddy is a great fisherman. I am sure he will. He always caught more fish than any of your uncles when he was a boy.”
A bucket attached to the end of the rope that was connected to the crank handle rose up from the surface of the well. Nasreen stopped turning the crank, and with her free hand pulled the bucket to her and rested it on the sill edge of the well. She then unscrewed the cap from her empty water container and placed the cap on the sill edge next to her. Lifting the heavy bucket with both hands from the sill, she poured the water from it and into the plastic container. Manha watched silently.
When the container was nearly full, Manha asked Nasreen if she could have a little water. Aleena, who had been talking to the other women, had just come over to Nasreen and Manha when Manha asked for the water.
“Manha, don’t pester Nasreen,” Aleena lightly scolded. “You can have a sip of water from the bucket I fetch from the well.”
“No, she doesn’t have to wait Aleena” responded Nasreen, as she picked up the plastic water container cap and poured a little water from the bucket into it. “Here Manha, drink from this.” She handed the water filled cap to Manha.
Manha drank the water from the cap. As she handed the empty cap back to her aunt, she said, “Thank you Aunt Nasreen. I was very thirsty.”
“You’re welcome,” responded Nasreen, as she screwed the lid down onto the water filled plastic container.
A splash sound echoed up from the depths of the well as the empty bucket hit the water surface with a thud. Aleena gave the bucket a few seconds to fill before beginning to turn the crank. As she did, Nasreen said goodbye to the two of them and went on her way.
Manha turned her attention back to her doll and began cheerfully talking to it again while Aleena raised the heavily laden water bucket to the surface. A few minutes later, with the plastic water container filled, Aleena and Manha said their goodbyes to the other women still congregated around the well and began their short journey back to their home to begin their morning chores. As Aleena struggled with the heavy water container, Manha skipped by her mother’s side, holding her doll tightly in her arms and singing to herself.
The smell of freshly brewed Arabian coffee permeated the air. Aleena had just poured herself a cup of the wonderful smelling beverage that she had made from the water drawn from the well earlier. As she sipped the coffee, Manha came running up to her and began tugging on her abaya.
“Mommy, my stomach is not feeling right.”
Aleena bent down to check on her daughter when the muezzin’s voice began to sing out again from the mosque. It was time for noon prayers.
Manha’s face looked alabaster white and her eyes were sunken in, thought Aleena as she gently felt her daughter’s forehead with her lips. No fever though. Her skin felt cool and dry.
“Do you feel like you‘re going to become sick?” asked Aleena as she leaned back to look into Manha’s eyes.
Manha shook her head side-to-side in an agonizing look of pain. “No, I need to use the bathroom,” she said with a look of flushed panic on her face.
Aleena rushed Manha over to the dehydration toilet, which was nothing more than a hole in the floor in the back corner of the tiny one room house. Aleena lifted Manha’s dress and helped position her over the toilet. While Manha hugged her mother and whimpered quietly, a hot surge suddenly released from her lower intestines, soiling the concrete squatting slab beneath her.
With Manha feeling some level of relief, Aleena cleaned her up and put her into her bed. As she laid Manha onto the bed she remembered she was late for noon prayers. After giving Manha a gentle kiss on the forehead Aleena quickly cleaned herself for prayer service.
Over the next two hours Aleena rushed Manha to the toilet three more times, with each occurrence becoming more urgent and intense. And from the constant diarrhea and subsequent dehydration Aleena saw that Manha was becoming increasingly weak. She could also feel Manha’s little heart racing when she put her head to her daughter’s chest.
To combat the dehydration, Aleena repeatedly brought Manha fresh water from the plastic water jug to slake her daughter’s thirst. Aleena had also drunk several cups of water, as the returning midday desert heat and humidity had once again made the house insufferably hot.
She was changing her daughter’s soiled bed sheets, while Manha rested on her own bed, when a sudden stir in her own lower abdomen abruptly caused her to pause. As she looked over at her sick child, she felt another convulsive wave rip through her body. A surge of panic hit her as she winced in pain. She rushed to the toilet. Like her daughter, she was suffering a similar attack.
Feeling severely weak, she made a feeble attempt to clean herself. As she did, she thought of what could have caused the two of them to become so suddenly ill. Either they had contracted the illness from someone, or they most likely ate or drank something that was contaminated. Aleena was unaware of anyone in the village complaining of similar symptoms. So it had to be something they ate or drank.
She thought about what they had eaten in the past day. Everything had been cooked, so it was unlikely that their sickness was brought on by any food that they had consumed. She gazed over at the plastic water container. It couldn’t be from the water she told herself. She drew it fresh from the well today. The well had always provided clean water. It had to be safe she told herself unconvincingly, just as another wave of contractions hit her and caused her to bend over in agonizing pain.
Nasreen suddenly burst through the front door, her face a pasty greyish white, her hands clutching her stomach.
“Help me Aleena,” she said faintly through dried and parched lips, as she closed the door and collapsed onto the floor.
Aleena ran to Nasreen’s side, temporarily blocking out her own excruciating pain and weakness from her mind. Aleena immediately saw that the lower half of Nasreen’s abaya was soiled in waste. As she bent down over Nasreen, her insides suddenly knotted up into a tight ball, racking her in a blinding pain that caused her to gasp for breath and fall over onto Nasreen.