Solid Air

I remember, about half my lifetime ago and halfway across the world, I woke up suddenly from sleep. I crawled out of the tent that was my mosquito net and stood for a minute or two listening. The air had a certain heaviness to it. Something was not quite right; the nocturnal ‘music’ howled screeched and meowed by the stray dogs and feral cats had ceased. Nature seemed to be waiting on tenterhooks for something to happen in the parallel world that lived in and on it, the world of humans. 

Then it began; bang!  A gunshot pierced the silence of the dark pre-dawn. The first was then quickly followed by a dozen other echoing bangs. I came to my senses at that moment and ran, making a beeline for my parents’ door. Halfway across the hall I noticed they had done the same for there I met my father. 

For the rest of the morning my brother and I sat on the floor in the middle of the living room while our parents carried out the arduous job of dialling every number contained in a good sized book to make sure friends and family were alive and well.

All the while we remained low fearing that one of the many bullets that peppered the air outside would stray through the window.

Over the course of the week, two images were imprinted in my mind. The first was of a particular night when the rebels who were staging a coup against the government took it upon themselves to burn the street next to ours. From the window of the second floor I could see the line of flame that stretched from end to end.

The second was the river of people displaced by the war that surged up and down my street carrying their belongings, their injured and in some cases their dead.

A few weeks later news had spread that the rebels had commandeered a fighter plane, that the people had nicknamed ‘the Alpha Jet’ and also a certain child soldier armed with a rifle had started to terrorise the area. 

At night, the vigilantes burned a line of tyres along the road at both ends to prevent the rebel vehicles from entering and doing the same thing that was done to the next street along.

On one such a night, we were sitting in the basement where we had then taken up residence when there was an almighty roar and the earth began to shake. Dust and plaster fell from the ceiling above, dislodged from where it had rested for almost a century. I felt the old house was about to collapse when, as abruptly as it had started, the pulsating stopped. A bomb had been dropped on our house. I thanked God for the fact that I was still alive. Deep in my heart, however I wished dark things upon the pilot of the jet, wished him a slow, and painful death. Later on I was to discover that the pilot was a woman making all the curses I placed on ‘him’ obsolete.

After the bombing, we decided to leave Sierra Leone. However I still fail to see how a device made to explode on impact blew up hundreds of feet above anything tangible. I believe it was a miracle, a patch of solid air perhaps…



20 years have passed:
You know nothing now,
But the stories echoed.
20 years have passed:
They said not to go,
You won’t return whole.
20 years have passed:
Who will you know?
Even a baby you left,
Is now a man grown.
20 years have passed:
Your daily school route,
Is a maze now unknown.
20 years have passed:
You know those green hills,
And that warm breeze you feel.
20 years have passed:
Your ancestors are here,
Bone upon bone.
20 years have passed:
The cousins abound,
And the uncles and aunts.
20 years have passed:
Strangers know your parents,
Their parents and more.
You see how rootless,
You were in that other world.
20 years have passed:
Your home is your home,
Her name is sweet Salone.

The pieces were written just over ten years apart about events- as the second piece suggests- that span twenty years. Who knows what the next chapter may bring, where the next journey will lead?

I felt the need to publish them in tandem instead of separately, as first intended, in order to balance out the sentiments. We do not dwell on the bitter past, rather on the present hope that our love and loyalty will translate into a glorious future of peace and prosperity.

Needless to say the first piece was written by a teen recollecting the memories of an 8 year old so my fact-checking may not be watertight. Feel free to set the record straight in the comments.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

2 thoughts on “Journeys

  1. Really amazing blog! Filled with detailed imagery. Nice to hear about your experiences. Salone will indeed prosper!

  2. Very well written. You’re a brilliant story teller Francois. Of course the experience was a sad and traumatic one. One which many of us around that age have various recollections of. May we never have to relive days like those ever again.

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