“Hodi… Hodi… Hodi…”
“Ignore him,” the Tanzanian Pastor Gabriel said to the visiting American Jake Chambliss, as the pastor was comforting their host and his wife. Pastor Gabriel was a hundred-and-thirty-pound African minister to whom the missionaries from America would come to get coordinated and situated. That ended once they discovered he was so willing to proselytize to the Muslims. While missionaries wanted to spread the word, they also wanted to make it back home someday. Only standing five-four and sporting a dark African complexion textured with pockmarks and a few rogue white whiskers to match the color of his hair, this pastor walked as though he had an army of millions at the ready behind him. Unprepared for actual hand-to-hand combat himself, due to age, his faith gave him an air of invincibility.
Jake took it upon himself to reinforce that faith. Jake liked that Pastor Gabriel was still allowed to walk the earth and spread his immense wisdom and knowledge of the Gospel. He wore a black button-down shirt under his cross necklace and nice brown slacks that hid the dust that would collect on his regularly shined black shoes.
Their hosts had just lost their second child in a year. He’d succumbed to malaria. The first one was sucked into a drainage pipe during a heavy rain in the middle of Tanzania’s rainy season. It was now June, and the dry season had begun. Instead of rain, the air was polluted with dust that would make the throat soar and the eyes redden.
“Hodi… Hodi… Hodi…” The gate knocker wasn’t giving up. There was an obvious anxiousness in his voice.
Pastor Gabriel had been rolling some hot ugali in his right hand provided to him by his hosts. The left hand was the dirty hand. All eating and transactions must be done with the right hand because the left hand is used for going to the bathroom in a land where toilet paper is a luxury to those in the villages. Ugali is a paste made of pounded corn flour in boiling water. It’s dipped in mchicha, which is like a spinach, or in meat if you’re lucky. Its main purpose is the fill the belly and stave off hunger. The pastor dipped it in the mchicha, leaving the meat for his hosts who needed it more. He took a bite.
“Hodi… Hodi… Hodi… Pastor Gabriel, I really need to talk with you. Please, Hodi, please, please.”
Whoever it was, it was rude to interrupt the pastor in the middle of consoling the bereaved. It was in times like this, when unfortunate villagers start to question the existence of God, that it was especially important for Pastor Gabriel to reinforce their faith with scriptures from the Bible. The amazing thing about Pastor Gabriel, at least in Jake’s eyes, he didn’t even need to open the Bible in his hands. It was as if he knew it by heart. Jake had met the pastor through some missionaries who would make sure the pastor was fully stocked and had what he needed. In exchange, they’d get informed about where their services were needed most. That was before they’d stopped coming as often or even at all. The missionaries were from the U.S., and Jake had been working security for them or whoever else needed it. He and the pastor really hit it off though, and he decided to stay with the pastor and his wife.
Gabriel said, “Can you go and help him?”
Jake dipped his ugali, took a bite and walked to the bamboo gate that walled off the center square of the U-shaped structure formed by the bereaved family’s three mud huts.
Jake opened the gate and said, “Marahaba.” Marahaba was the term used to receive those who knock with the term “Hodi.” Hodi was used as a verbal doorbell. There was no electricity on most bamboo doorways, so “hodi” is Swahili for “ding-dong,” but not really. It’s said with respect, which obviously implies that ugly Americans with their loud doorbells juiced up with a constant flow of electricity are just disrespectful. Jake recognized the elderly gentleman from church and from the Muslim cafes. He was a quiet understudy of Pastor Gabriel. Not quiet, as in secret. Quiet, as in he listened more than he talked. A lot more. Maybe it was in secret, but Jake was trained to see things. It wasn’t a secret to him.
Seeing who it was, Jake said, “Shikamoo.” That was the term used to greet elders with respect and reverence for their wealth of wisdom. Pastor Gabriel told him it was actually a term from back in the slave days. It was a term used by the slaves to greet their masters by saying “I am at your service” or “I am at your feet.” That meaning had long been forgotten and replaced with more of a respectful meaning. It was more as if you were imitating Jesus when he washed the feet of his disciples before the Passover feast on the night in which he was betrayed. Not to be served but to serve, even those whom you know might betray you.
“Ali, Ali, they’ve taken Ali again.” The elderly man was more agitated than Jake had ever seen him.
“Who took him?”
“The Muslim boys. Many Muslim boys. Five or six of them.”
Jake looked to Pastor Gabriel for guidance. Without saying a word, the pastor waved his hand telling him to go and help Ali. Ali was a boy that helped out at the Muslim café. He’d get water and help the owner with whatever was necessary. The Muslim café was an outdoor pavilion with some benches under a straw-thatched roof. Mohamed, the owner, would make really strong coffee in a big black kettle, which he served in small cups to men who’d sit around and talk politics and religion while their wives worked in the fields. Unlike in America, in Tanzania, that’s all they talked about. Politics and religion. And if you were a Muslim, your women worked.
Being braver than just about any man he’d ever met, Pastor Gabriel would visit the café at least three times a week. He liked to talk religion. While the Muslim men didn’t admit to believing what he said and would crack jokes as his expense, they tolerated his company because he was so respectful. Maybe even enjoyed it. Most did anyway. Of course, he had his detractors. They’d occasionally express themselves with death threats, but Pastor Gabriel was fearless, almost recklessly so. So, Jake sort of felt it was his responsibility to make sure no one actually made good on those threats. He saw someone in need that seemed completely unaware that he even was in need, and Jake considered protecting Pastor Gabriel as an obligation.
Sometimes, Jake couldn’t believe what Pastor Gabriel was telling these swarthy Muslim men, all hopped up on espresso-strength coffee. He’d bring the Bible and slap them in the face with what they saw as blasphemy against their religion. Jake knew the pastor was right, especially after seeing what he saw while at war in the Islamic world. Stuff that cannot be unseen and can only be described as looking Big Evil in its face with nothing more than the measly weapons supplied by the Big Government that the Big Evil considered the Great Satan.
Armed with nothing more than the Word of the God of the Jews and of the Christians, the same God these Muslim men considered to be Satan, Pastor Gabriel would regularly try to convince them that they were the ones who were actually worshipping Satan. It was not the preaching someone would give if he liked his throat uncut, but Pastor Gabriel’s faith was as strong as the army of millions in front of which he walked.
He’d tell them about the prophecy of Daniel, that 1290 days after the daily sacrifices ended, there will be the Abomination of Desolation. In 583 BC, the daily sacrifices at the Temple Mount ended because the Jews, held in captivity by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, were able to return to Israel. According to Genesis, the 1290 days were really prophetic years according to the prophetic calendar, where there are 360 days in a prophetic year. 360 divided by 365.24 days per calendar year is a multiplier of 0.9857. Multiplying that by 1290 prophetic years, he’d get 1271.5 calendar years. 1271.5 years after 583 BC would be 688 AD, and that was when the people of Allah began to build the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount where the second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in the first century. Then he’d talk about the forty-two months mentioned in Revelation, which is three-and-a-half years, or one-half of the seven-year tribulation. Forty-two months of thirty days is 1260 days. When translated into 1260 years, as had been done before, and added to 688 AD, he would come up with 1948, the year that Israel was reestablished. In brief, his point was that more than a thousand years before the birth of the Prophet Mohammed, Daniel had prophesied the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and the building of the Dome of the Rock, which Revelation had prophesied as put there by the Beast, though Daniel had prophesied that the Beast would be a kingdom. Then he’d go back to Revelation to prove that this beast of the kingdom was the kingdom of Islam and that the number of the Beast, 666, was actually the number of a man, and that man was Mohammed. Every day he’d come up with some new mathematical proof that the Bible was preparing for the rise of Islam for centuries before Mohammed, and he’d scold them for blindly worshipping the wrong god. He’d do the math in the dust with a small bamboo stick, and it would stay there until the wind erased it. He swore that math was the language of God and the only universal language.
Pastor Gabriel wasn’t bringing a warm and fuzzy Christian message of love and that Jesus died for everybody’s sins. He brought these Muslim men the Sword of Jesus. The Word of God. Jake realized he was Pastor Gabriel’s witness. He let the pastor argue and make God’s point, but he remained quiet. He was the army of one that the Muslims could see, but nowhere near enough in his own mind. For once in his life, Jake felt inadequate and liked it. The challenge this obligation presented made him feel needed.
Fortunately, Tanzania had a strong military. There wasn’t a lot of war. These military guys were big, strong and completely unwilling to waste time on troublemakers. They’d break heads and ask questions later. However, there were indeed troublemakers, many who’d made their way south from South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. For the most part though, the soldiers would let the pastor do his thing. Sometimes they’d cut him short if he was getting too close to a truth that was starting to inflame tensions around the peaceful coffee pot. Their job was to keep the peace and, not wanting to openly disrespect a man of the cloth, they’d use Jake as their interpreter. Some of the Tanzanian soldiers liked Jake and would often wonder out loud how Jake was crazy enough to stand by this man who was on his way to being put in the ground by unnatural means.
He could only tell them he had no need to make excuses for fulfilling an obligation.
“You could just go back to America. Why your obligation?”
“If not mine, then whose?”
They never had an answer to that question. Jake’s selfless bravery only served to make him appear bigger in their eyes. He wasn’t the missionary that came with words, books and food. His mission was one of deeds, and they appreciated that.
The old man led Jake to Ali, walking faster than he probably should have. Just another indication of the seriousness of the situation. First, they walked to the road along Lake Tanganyika. This lake was four hundred and fifty miles long by about thirty miles wide. The local fishermen were making their way out to the lake. At darkness, they’d light lanterns to bring the fish to their nets. The lake would be lit up at night with the many lanterns. It was beautiful. Jake loved to get his hands on the expensive and delicious Kuhe, but he was happy to settle for the sangara or even the degaa, anything to give the ugali some flavor. Nothing on the docks looked or sounded amiss. Just the sounds of wood banging and men talking.
The old man, whose name Jake couldn’t recall, kept walking south and then suddenly turned left in between mud huts and into a large gathering of small huts. They passed several huts, veering left and right and left and right. Finally, the man pointed at an alleyway between larger buildings. He was done walking. Wouldn’t say a thing, but just kept pointing with a look of horror on his face. Maybe the horror was inspired by the quiet.
Jake walked into the alleyway. He could smell trash and human waste. The sun was on the horizon and very little of its light was willing to venture into this godforsaken alleyway. Jake was starting to think he may have been lured away from the pastor. He kept going though. At the rear of the alley, right before it was blocked off by a wooden door, he saw light shimmering off the freshly spilled blood of Ali. They had killed him. Beating him was just for kicks. His belly was slit open, and his innards were hanging out. He had no breath.
Little Ali had been seeking out Pastor Gabriel’s wisdom. He wanted to know more than just the math. He wanted to know about Jesus. Pastor Gabriel was low-key about this, and he had warned Ali many times he was going to get in trouble if he continued to seek him out. Ali kept coming though. He had brilliant questions for a child of his age, and the pastor had the answers.
Now, he was dead. A fury was building in Jake. It was the fury he’d spent years learning to tame. An old friend that can quickly become his enemy but moreso the enemy of his enemies. Woe be to his enemies once Jake’s fury began to rise.
Jake took off his shirt and covered Ali’s abdomen before he picked the boy up in his arms. The old man that had brought him was gone. Ali wasn’t more than seventy pounds. Jake walked slowly back to where he’d left the pastor with a solemn scowl on his face. Others looked at him, but none offered a word or help. It was as if they’d all seen it coming and were afraid to take a position on any of it. They’d glance over and then quickly look away. Jake’s shirt was covered with blood, but at least people were spared having to see what was under it. It was gruesome. Jake had to, at one point, put the boy down so that he could tuck the boy’s innards back into his belly.
When he’d gotten back to where the pastor remained with their hosts, he opened the gate without knocking to immediately see more horror. Pastor Gabriel had been decapitated, and the husband and wife had been stabbed to death. The pastor’s body had fallen to the ground, and his head was left sitting on his Bible splayed open upon the chair. A knife handle was coming out of the top of his skull. The Bible was soaked in blood.
Jake set the boy down and tied the goat away from the bodies. Its face was covered in blood.
The fury was no longer tamed. As if a switch in his head had been thrown, Jake Chambliss went from witness to soldier. Actions were dictated by instincts, while thoughts were for the civilized.
He ran shirtless through the village and back to the cement home where he stayed with the pastor and his wife. A brick wall with a metal gate surrounded the home. There was barbed wire above the wall, and shards of glass had been cemented into the top of the wall. He unlocked the gate and ran into the house to get his guns. There is a time for peace and a time for war. This was a time for war. There was no other way to satisfy this untamed fury. It would take an elephant tranquilizer to stop him, and that might not even be enough.
Before Jake ran into the house, he noticed a blanket left over the barbed wire atop the protective wall to the left. Following the muffled screams,he ran directly to the pastor’s bedroom. There were three men in there with Pastor Gabriel’s wife. Two were holding her arms, while a third was trying to rape her. Jake put the knife he’d grabbed off the table through the ear of the guy caught with his pants down and threw his body across the small room. The punctured head bounced off the wall. The other two came at him.
The guy on his right punched at him. Jake grabbed the guy’s arm, brought him in and twisted his arm behind his back so hard he ripped it right out of the shoulder socket. The man’s screams ended quickly after Jake lifted the man off the ground by yanking his neck back until the spinal cord had snapped. A death move he stole from Chuck Norris in the movie The Octagon, or maybe Force of One. He didn’t have time to remember. He slammed the body to the cement floor for good measure. He wanted Satan to hear the sounds of hell being paid.
The other guy backed up after watching what happened to his friends. Jake walked after him to the rear corner of the room. With a look of horror, the man held his arms forward in hopes of keeping Jake at bay. No luck and no mercy for rapists. Jake grabbed the guy’s hair, slammed his face on his lifted knee, and then twisted the guy’s head until his neck snapped. Another twist, and he’d have ripped the guy’s head right off his shoulders. But Jake was trying to control his fury. It’s a multi-step process, but it was underway.
He went right to the pastor’s wife. She hadn’t moved. He pulled her skirt down and realized they’d stabbed her in the chest. He tried to wake her, but she wouldn’t move. There was no pulse. They were trying to rape a dead woman.
It was still time for war.
In the kitchen, Jake grabbed some dried pork and put it in the mouths of each of the dead rapists. Let that be a lesson, let the rest of the Muslims learn that they have more than just their lives to give up. Yeah, it was offensive, but that was the point. No mercy for the wicked.
In the room where he’d been staying, he loaded his things into his backpack and put on his fatigues and a clean green shirt. His guns were loaded, and he put them in their appropriate places. He was armed to the teeth now. Finally, over some clean and dry socks, he laced up his combat boots. The mind was ready, and now the body was.
On his way out, he grabbed some food and stuffed it in the food pocket of his pack. Then, he went back into the pastor’s bedroom. From the stand, he grabbed one of the pastor’s Bibles. The one he used for private study when he was writing his sermons. He also grabbed his other cross necklace, made of turquoise and silver. He put those in the pocket for personal items.
Walking out of the pastor’s home for the last time, he was breathing hard. With each breath, plumes of exhaled air would send the dust swirling around his nose. His fury was being converted into fuel.
Jake woke up covered in sweat and ready to battle whatever brought him out of his nightmare. He slowly realized he was alone in the room of his childhood. There was light sneaking in behind the blinds. It lit up the dust in the air of his dead parents’ home. His home – the one he’d hoped he’d someday be able to live in again. The comfort of home wasn’t enough though to let him escape the nightmares that regularly plagued his sleep. This was one of his three least favorites. It always had him thinking about Pastor Gabriel, the pastor’s wife, and little Ali throughout the day, trying to figure out what he could have or should have done to prevent what happened.
Sure, his vengeance was swift and just as much a part of the nightmare as the deaths of his friends, but he’d been woken up before the vengeance part. Why this dream, he wondered, why? Why now?
As he sat up in bed with the blankets thrown to the side, he felt the cool morning air on his sweat-soaked skin. Anxiety rippled through his belly until his whole body was able to shake and shiver it off. It really was one of his least favorites – one of the dreams that almost invariably preceded a nightmarish day. While the body fuels the mind, the mind guides and prepares the body. Jake’s mind did it with dreams that were seemingly unaltered portions of his life – there’s nothing more nightmarish than real life. Sometimes life is so awful the mind doesn’t even need to make up horrors.