Mercenary Black Mamba - Chapter 22
From Salae onward, they could no longer see the Tubu tribe’s camels. Camel caravans were mostly in the northern regions of Africa led by the Tuareg and Tubu tribes. The Tuareg tribe had control in the south of the Sahara desert and the Tenere desert in Niger. The Tubu tribe moved around the middle of Chad in the Sahel region carrying low-quality clothes and golden kitchenware on their camels’ backs.
All the team members had worn a gandoura on top of their combat attire. The clothes that they usually wore were not well-ventilated, so they were drenched in sweat to their underwear, and the sand had dug in through the seams of their clothes and rubbed the skin. They felt as though they had wrapped themselves in aluminum foil and stepped inside an oven.
Black Mamba was realizing how good Korea’s climate was. The heat made his nose dry and his throat and mouth ragged. He took a glimpse of the old Tuareg tribe member. He was simply giving directions to Emil who had grabbed the wheel. He didn’t talk aside from those few instructions. The empty scenery continued until sunset. His tension lowered.
“Emil, I didn’t realize I’d miss the greenery so much.”
Emil dragged up as much of his mucus as he could and spat it out.
“Black, the greenery isn’t the problem, the dust is. My respiratory system is weak. I feel like my lungs are going to rot. I think I met the wrong partner.”
“Why? Has your burning comradely feeling cooled already?”
“Damn it, I was only selected because I was Black Mamba’s partner. I should be rolling around at the Shari Hotel right about now,” Emil complained after taking a look at his watch.
“Who was the person who fought tooth and nail to protect his partner on Mount Cinto, again?”
“Whoa, whoa, friend. Let’s not dig up the past.”
Their mouths soon turned grainy due to their conversation. Now they understood why Ombuti didn’t talk as much.
“Fck! Where are the plains where lions and zebras swarm around? Where’s the lake where the cranes fly about? Fcking heat, mosquitoes, flies!”
Black Mamba drummed the console with his palms and vented his frustrations.
Emil, still behind the wheel, laughed.
“There are hyenas where there are lions. Vast dust and no plains. The red hills without a lake have flies instead of cranes. My friend denies reality. Africa’s reality. N’hésitez pas, je vous écoute (Don’t hesitate, I’ll listen.). Tu n’est pas mon type (You’re not my type.).”
Emil recited Michel Polnareff’s song, “Qui A Tue Grand Maman?” (Who Killed Grandmother?). It was the rookie’s leisure to not yet know harsh realities.
The captain patted Black Mamba’s shoulder.
“Look, Black, if you want to see the forests and plains, you should head South. The northern African lands only have open space, desert, and flies. If you want to see the lions, you need to head south. So hold on a little. We’re going north after all.”
Koreans didn’t know Africa very well. They knew about the river Thames that was 336 kilometers long but had no clue about the Congo river that was 4370 kilometers long. They knew all about the 50 states in the U.S. but hadn’t even heard of the countries in Africa.
The Africa that Koreans imagined was the Sahara desert, black people, poverty, and wild animals. This was the same for Black Mamba.
The plains were full of trees and grasses. Female lions chased after zebras, elephants roamed the Savannah, cheetahs sprinted after prey, camels crossed the desert with the sunset as the backdrop. Those were the sights he had dreamed of when he was told he would be dispatched to Africa.
But that was not the reality in front of him. This was a land where the sands flew from the desert in thick winds, a dry land of nothing, a land without greenery, with crops that had dried due to the drought, corpses of animals strewn about, and the flies that swarmed around those corpses covering them in black. There was nothing that resembled the animal kingdom he had seen on television.
There were dried, yellow tree stumps and grass, Wadis that blew dust, yellow lands where black volcanic rocks lingered, dirty, wild animals that made high-pitched noises while eating the corpses, and a few strands of acacia that stood on the dark red lands.
The scenery didn’t change even after driving through several hundred kilometers. He was bored to the point that he became depressed. The animal kingdom he had imagined in his mind had long turned into a kingdom of drought and flies.
All that remained of the journey where the scenery failed was boredom. Of course, no one wanted the boredom to stop. If the boredom stopped, it meant blood would flow. Everyone preferred boredom over blood.
The vast lands continued on the horizon. Black Mamba began to entertain himself. He sliced the flies that swarmed around him with his kukri.
With his sight, the flies were enlarged to the size of a fist, and the ones captured in his dimensional sight were as slow as snails. Black Mamba chose to slice off the right then left wings. Despite the small space, the kukri sang through the air.
“What the hell?”
Emil, who saw the fierce swings of the large sword, cowered.
“I’m hunting flies.”
Emil’s face wrinkled.
At first, Emil didn’t realize what Black Mamba was doing until he saw that flies were collecting on the floor of the pickup. Then he realized the disgusting nature of his partner’s game.
He shook his head. He couldn’t get used to his partner.
Emil was looking at the flies then realized that their wings were cut. He squawked.
“Black, just kill them!”
Flies that had been sliced in half at their waists started to fall from the air.
The next afternoon, Team Ratel entered the outer borders of Barelgazal. They were at the channel that was rumored to carry the water of Lake Chad several hundred meters underground. But what was the point of a large underground water channel? The emptiness of the land above only grew worse.
It was a succession of dried waterway, rocky hills, and swamps. No animals could be seen. The only living beings that scurried in response to the vehicle’s loud rumble were the few lizards and unknown snakes. The small reptiles of the Savannah didn’t welcome the sudden intruders. They quickly burrowed into the ground or disappeared into the swamps.
Black Mamba and Emil suffered the boring drive with their bodies relaxed, but the captain and Ombuti didn’t lose a single aspect of their surroundings. Kanem was also a FROLINAT influenced region. They couldn’t relax even for a bit.
Sergeant Burimer was in the second vehicle, and he didn’t let go of the binoculars in his hand. This was the same for Sergeant Morris in the fourth car who kept standing guard with his binoculars. It was only Black Mamba and Emil who were relaxed.
He didn’t memorize the entire map of the FROLINAT just for show. On the south of the Bodele lowlands, there were over 5000 guerrillas stationed in the Sahel region. The 5000, once released into the vast Sahel were only but a handful of grains on the front line. They wouldn’t be able to effectively cover the entirety of the central northern regions of Sahel.
The map indicated that the sentries were stationed around Kanem and Tibesti, near the northern ends. The reality was that a few groups of 10 were distributed, stumbling around the Sahel. Team Ratel had disguised themselves to avoid attention.
Even if they were the main force, Team Ratel was but a small platoon. They would melt if they were surrounded by a large force. Ombuti kept rearranging their route to avoid the eyes of the security forces. That naturally made most of their travels off-road.
When there was a clash, they had to choose between killing the enemy or dying themselves. It was a problem for them if they become captives, too. A captive escaping by biting their tongue was something only possible in movies or novels.
One 10-kilogram bullet was enough to end everything. There were no idiots who would drop a captive in the water, leave them in the desert, or leave them unattended. That kind of fantasy was something that could only be found in 007 movies.
One could luckily escape. But some problems followed even after the escape. The lands were vast and empty, and it was easy to die from the heat, cold, starvation, or dehydration.
Team Ratel were intruders in Chad. To avoid the guerrillas, they had no choice but to lean on Ombuti’s experience and decisions.
Ombuti was a talented guide. He had spent 20 years in the Sahel region driving his camel caravan. He had also personally led his army into battle with the FROLINAT. The chances of attaining a better guide than Ombuti were rare in the Sahel regions.
Black Mamba, who had been talking with Emil to chase away the boredom, hardened his face. The air was trembling. He could feel a pulsing ill intention coming in waves. This was an entirely different ill-intention than the one he had felt from the leopard. It pressed down on him as if to compress his entire body.
“Avez-vous des sousi?” Emil asked.
“Voyant, un avion vibre (You see, a plane is vibrating.).”
The captain was confused. He couldn’t understand what he was saying.
“Is it the enemy?”
“No, not that. There’s a chill. The air is vibrating.”
Ombuti, who was listening in, frowned.
“Pas du tout? (No way?)”
A while later, something black appeared in the sky. It was a dark fog that rose into the sky against the backdrop of the yellow lands. It had appeared in the west and began to turn into a v-shaped formation. It came closer.
Black Mamba tilted his head.
“What is that?”
The dark fog was above the ground and not on it. It also didn’t move fast. And what was the vibration in the air?
“Dubai!” Ombuti shouted.
“Dubai? The city Dubai of the Arab Emirates?”
Ombuti cracked a smile at Emil’s question. “Dubai,” in Arabic, meant “grasshoppers.”
“Sauterelles?” Black Mamba repeated.
He knew that “sauterelles” meant grasshoppers because of his extensive French study. The black clouds swarmed over the sky and land in an instant.
A noise, like a plane’s engines when it left the runway, resounded. He marveled at meeting the flock of grasshoppers that Moses was rumored to have called in to annoy the Egyptians, the grasshoppers that had ruined the lands of Wang Rung, the grasshoppers that were rumored to number over 30 million in South Africa, and the grasshoppers that appeared as a face of horror in horror movies. Country boy Black Mamba went out of his mind.
The dark clouds drew nearer. The buzzing sound turned into one of rain. The black clouds had no end in sight either in width or height.
“Take cover under the tarp!” Morris shouted.
Grasshoppers weren’t poisonous insects, but they bit apart people because of an excess of serotonin. They usually dug into the body through the nose or ears.
Black Mamba stuck to his sitting position. It was ridiculous to use a tarp to avoid grasshoppers. He didn’t want to miss out on the incredible scene that he would never experience again. All the others jumped out of the pickup, covering themselves with the tarp or crawling under the pickup.
A summer shower rained down on the party: swarms of finger-sized grasshoppers poured down like hail. In a single moment, he was surrounded by a black cloud. Countless insects bumped into him and dug into his clothes. The feeling of the grasshoppers hitting his skin was like a stab with a stick.
The sky and earth reverberated with buzzing. His saliva dried and his neck became stiff. He found it hard to open his eyes and breathe. Ant-sized nymphs dug into his nostrils and ears without hesitation.
“Ugh, what the hell!”
Black Mamba got nervous and jumped out of the pickup to cover himself beneath a tarp. In a frenzy, he shook off the grasshoppers that had dug into him.
The sound of the grasshoppers banging against the tarp was like falling beans. Time, long enough to smoke three cigarettes, passed. The sound of falling beans ceased little by little.
Black Mamba crawled out from under the tarp. He stopped to take a look around him. Nobody was watching. They looked ridiculous cowering under the tarps in fear of a grasshopper swarm.
He stared at the dark cloud headed towards the east. It was a disaster that hit and disappeared in no time. Following the mosquitoes and flies, the grasshoppers gave him a similarly intense welcome. He came to dislike Chad more and more.
“The woman brought incense and prayed for help from the gods, and the men set fire to the fields, dug burrows, and wielded sticks to fight the grasshoppers.” He recalled this excerpt from a story, a description of locusts, by Paul Buck.
Now that he’d experienced it, it was a story that didn’t make sense. This was a swarm that was immense in width and height. There was nothing that could change it by lighting a fire, digging traps, and swinging sticks. He agreed that it was a calamity that could only be prayed for.
Black Mamba couldn’t hide his excitement. He had witnessed an attack of the grasshoppers with his very eyes. His chest was pounding in marvel of nature. If such a swarm covered land as small as Korea, the country was bound to end.
“Keke, is it your first time seeing a grasshopper? To think I’d see the Black Mamba running in fear.”
Morris, of course, laughed.
“Damn, he saw.”
He sighed internally.
“It’s my first time. It’s an impressive evil.”
He had felt the intent before he saw the swarm. He had shivered at the ill intent that he could feel from the grasshoppers.
“They had passed through quickly because there was nothing to eat in these lands. They can travel 200 kilometers in a single day by using the wind. The place where they had swarmed to must be in ruins by now.”
Ombuti, who was explaining, began to frown. The lands that had already been broken apart by drought were about to be ended for good.
“Allah hu Akbar.”
Ombuti kneeled, raised his arm to the sky, and started to pray. He wished that his fellow countrymen wouldn’t suffer any longer.