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by Gabriel Timar
Description: During the 1930's, over the hot, arid desert of the Horn of Africa, the magic of flying and the sensuality of controlling an aircraft capture Laura. Would her burning desire to fly and the love for two men consume her?
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, 2008 ebook
eBookwise Release Date: September 2008
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [209 KB]
Reading time: 134-188 min.
Hot, humid air hung over the harbor of Mogadishu. Even the seagulls did not bother to fly in the hundred-degree heat. The white coral buildings reflected the blinding African sun. The few white shirted individuals chewing khatt, sitting in the shadow melted into the background. In the midday heat, the colonial civil servants wearing the dark suits and ties by executive order did not dare venturing onto the steaming streets of the city.
In the early nineteen thirties Somalia, an Italian colony acquired the Mediterranean look, although in the heart of the city the market remained vibrant and distinctly African.
The S.S. Oleandris tied up for two days, and the passengers landed to do some sightseeing and shopping. The twenty-one year old Laura Blake-Stanton enjoyed the scenery very much. As she grew up in India, the heat did not bother her. She felt at home on the steaming sidewalks in the midst of the exploding kaleidoscope of color. In addition to Arabs, Asians and Chinese most East African tribes were represented at the market.
Laura's stepfather was sitting at a quaint sidewalk café, while she waded into the melee of the Somali businessmen.
On the middle of the square, the temporary shelves of the sidewalk vendors displayed items manufactured in the distant corners of the world. Opium, herbs, gold, Persian rugs, Burmese aphrodisiacs, Chinese ivory carvings, Russian icons, Dutch electric razors, and fake Schaffhausen watches competed for the scarce shelf space.
Laura suspected most of the merchandise smuggled or stolen, but this was par for the course in the colonial market places. After much haggling, she bought a red, silk headscarf, a hijab, usually worn by the willowy Somali women, allegedly the most beautiful, most desirable females of the Dark Continent.
From the middle of the square, she fought her way to the sidewalk where the better stores stood embedded in stone or coral buildings, and stepped into a silversmith's shop. First, the smiling owner started speaking Italian, but since Laura did not seem to understand, he switched to English: "What can I sell you today, Missy?"
"I heard about a silver broche called the Mogadishu star. Have you any in stock?"
"I have many. What size do you desire?"
"Well, I don't really know. Let me see them."
From the shelf, the man took a large tray full of beautiful broaches shaped like an ornate, eight-pointed star.
"All sterling silver," the man said. "I give you good price."
Laura looked at the jewelry, touching and picking them up. Finally, she took one, about two inches in diameter.
"How much?" she asked.
"For you, Missy, but only for you, I let it go for an English pound."
Laura put it down as if the broche burned her fingers.
"I didn't know this piece of junk was made of gold," Laura said. "I want a silver Mogadishu star."
"This is silver," said the man. "Special price, sixteen shillings, not a penny less..."
Laura learned to bargain in India.
"I give you five," she retorted.
"I am a poor man, Missy. Silver is very expensive these days. I cannot possibly sell it for less than twelve shillings."
"Look," Laura replied, "You seem to be an honest man. Therefore, I'll offer you eight shillings for the star, but I know I am overpaying you."
"Have heart, Missy. I have two wives, many children, and a sick mother. Ten shillings is my very last price."
Laura took a deep breath, shook her head, and remarked: "It is contrary to good judgment, but since I have to return to my ship and have no time to find another silversmith, I am going to accept your ridiculous price."
She took a ten-shilling note from her purse and put it on the counter.
"It was a pleasure doing business with you, Missy. The Mogadishu star always brings good luck."
Laura pinned the broche on the lapel of her blouse, and holding on to her purse stepped out onto the sidewalk.
The scent of oriental spices mingled with the smell of sweating bodies. The excited cacophony of the many languages dazed her a little. Her stepfather sat at the same table with two Somali men, and engaged in animated conversation.
She waved to him, and he signaled to her. Edward Blake stood up and walked to Laura.
"Did you buy everything, darling?"
"I want to buy your birthday present. Do you think I can wait until we tie up in Mombasa?"
"You should buy it here, Laura. I have an old friend in Mombasa and when we get there, we should visit him. You won't have time to go shopping there. Besides, I heard that Mogadishu was much cheaper. We still have plenty of time to return to the ship."
"Okay, I will look around."
"Very well, I am going to have another cup of tea. I'll meet you here at the café in about an hour," he said.
"See you later," said Laura.
Her stepfather disappeared in the colorful crowd. She thought of buying silver cufflinks from the same silversmith who just sold her the star. He was still sitting behind his counter, and stood up greeting her as an old friend. The bargaining was less intense, but in the end, she managed to buy exactly what she wanted.
Leaving the shop, she stopped on the sidewalk looking in the direction of the café. Her stepfather was sitting alone.
It is just like Chittagong, she thought. The heat is oppressive, but I love the energy of the place. I think I am going to like it in East Africa.
Laura started toward the café, but before reaching it, someone came out of the nowhere and pushed her into a narrow laneway between two buildings. Strong arms grabbed her and a dirty hand clamped on her mouth.
"If you scream, I kill you," whispered the man holding her.
Although fear almost paralyzed her, she did not lose her head. She nodded, and as soon as the man's grip loosened a little, she kicked him in the shin as hard as she could, and with the heel of her shoe stomped on the man's bare foot.
The attacker roared like a wounded lion, and for a moment, his grip loosened. Laura started screaming, but somebody hit her on the head. Her knees buckled, and she could not make a sound. Someone hit her again.
When she regained consciousness, she felt most uncomfortable, could not breathe or move, and had a king size headache. It took some time to realize that someone had tied her hands together, and surgical tape covered her mouth. She did not see anything, but in a few minutes, her eyes adjusted to the semidarkness. Faint rays of light came in through the cracks in the heavy wooden shutters on the window.
She lay on the earthen floor of an empty room in a house built of white coral.
I hope nobody raped me, she thought and wiggled her hips. She felt her panties being in place, and the thought calmed her. She knew if someone had done anything to her, would not have bothered to put the underwear back on her unconscious body.
The ship must be gone, she thought and hopelessness started overtaking her. It took some time to begin thinking clearly: "If my grandmother at the age of ten could escape the rebellious sepoys in 1857, I could get out of this place as well. I am sure my stepfather and the police are already looking for me. I must free my hands and get out of this prison," she told herself.
Slowly Laura rolled to the wall, and tried to stand up. As she got to her feet, the sharp coral of the wall cut into her naked arm.
I should have worn long sleeves, she thought, but the sharpness of the coral gave her an idea. If the damned thing can slice into my skin, it could also cut the rope.