This Land Belongs
New Excerpt from Part 3
Chapter 23 – Into the Hinterland (Part 3)
The Bedouin knew it was surveillance, meant to frighten them, but the airplanes had never, so far as they knew, caused any immediate loss of life. The temerity of the pilot, they agreed, was something to be wondered at.
However, despite this reasoned dismissal of the threat, Ibrahim sensed they were disturbed by what they saw as the marker of a new twist in the progress of the conflict, a possible game-changer, certainly something that amounted to a worrying breach of their sovereign space. The fortunes of conflict were now to be defined by the altitude of clouds as well as the reach, shape and cover of land. It was an unnatural intrusion, a theft of their shelter. They had not imagined that occupation could descend from the sky.
In the company of the Bedouin, old men and young, Ibrahim and Ali sat in a ring round a fire, while tea was being brewed in the long drawn-out stages of bitter to sweet. The bitter was very harsh and kept the men awake until well past midnight. Much was said about the beast of the sky that had suddenly appeared as a force to be reckoned with in their fight for freedom, so uncompromising and existential as a threat to which they felt unequal in arms but superior in resolve. What was the beast’s intention, they asked? Did it matter if they were spied on from above, their camp no longer hidden? Were they indeed being spied on, or had they merely been spied, in the exercise of some other mission of no particular concern to them?
They recounted times past when they had welcomed the Europeans who had come on foot or horseback, and more recently some in four-wheeled vehicles. How unwittingly they had disclosed their privileged knowledge of the great sand sea. When the Italians returned later armed with guns, the audacious deceit awakened a rebellious spirit in them. They would never again divulge the locations of springs, or water courses running through the limestone steppes and in channels beneath the desert. They would not let slip where gold was to be found, nor any other precious ore. Those matters which were a mystery to the stranger must remain a mystery.
Now, as Europe moved into Africa, as the land was being torn apart like remnants of cloth to be divided between empires, and now that Italy was moving south from the coast, her intention was as clear as the rallying howl of a wolf to its pack stalking a flock of sheep. The sky itself was pierced and shredded, and from now on they would have to hide in wooded ground. They spoke of new meeting places, places for storing caches of guns. They spoke of their safe havens of mountain farms that provided food and volunteers.