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University Life Café


brown brick building

The One From Timbuktu

Age 7:  
My mother tells me that  
She is taking me to a place  
Where I will learn many things  
About the sand beneath my feet  
The blood that pumps through my heart,  
And the sky above, which cradles the moon  
As if it was a sleeping newborn.  
We decide to go through the market  
And I grip tightly to my mother’s hand  
So as not to get lost in the sea of  
Spices, sounds, and shiny things.  
It’s so much to take in and   
I cannot wait to return.  
We round a corner and - -  
A man in blue stands before us,  
With a gun in his hands.  
We stop and for a moment,   
I don’t know what will happen next  
And I am frightened…  
But after a few words from my mother, the man steps aside  
And we continue on.  
For a moment, I wonder if he has anything to do  
With the rumblings and other noises I’ve heard  
Outside of the city.  
But the questions stop when  
My mother and I  
Finally arrive at the place.  

Age 14:  
As I walk home from my studies  
I am accompanied by the smoke of desert blazes  
And the rattle of machine gun fire.  
The men in blue have grown large  
In number and influence throughout the city.  
Nevertheless, I continue to study   
The lessons of my ancestors  
And follow the path of my Sufi brethren  
Who preach tolerance for others  
And that the only way to please and   
Come closer to Allah  
Is through contemplation of self.  
But the rumblings outside of the city  
And the men in blue within  
Remind me to stay aware at all times.  
My mother rarely leaves for any place  
Without my father or I at her side.  
Yesterday, I walked by   
The Sidi Yahya Mosque and I noticed  
Several cracks that were not there  
When I was younger.  
Legend holds that if the seal is ever broken  
The end of days will be upon us…  
I pray to the Almighty that such tales are not true.  

Age 21:  
I am awoken  
By the rattle of an AK-47  
And the bloodcurdling screams of  
Several of my neighbors.  
I rush to the nearest window and   
Behold a ghastly scene:  
Two neighbors dead with gunshot wounds to the head,  
Another man lies curled in a pool of his own blood.  
He wanted to write, but these new warlords,  
Who ran off the men in blue  
Decreed that such action was  
An offense to Allah  
And have set out to cease all writing in Timbuktu.  
The two dead tried to stop them.  
Just then, my door flies open and one of these  
Monsters steps inside.  
Holding a paper in one hand and a pistol in the other,  
He glances at the sheet  
And then grabs me by the arm   
And drags me out into the street.  
He throws me next to the bleeding man, and I see—  
They’ve cut off his hand.  
The man with the pistol grabs my right arm  
And stretches it out  
As another man wielding a blood-stained machete  
Steps forth.  
“Pl-Please stop”, I whisper.  
They say nothing.  
“Please stop”, I say louder.  
The man with the machete wipes off the dripping blood  
“Please Stop”, I begin to shout.  
The man raises the machete above his head.  
“PLEASE STOP!” I scream.  
But just before he swings, my mother pushes him out of the way,  
Distracting the man with the pistol long enough  
For me to break free.  
“Run!” my mother shouts.  
I don’t look back and run as fast as my feet  
Can carry me.  
I hide beside the Sidi Yahya Mosque until the coast is clear.  
And when I emerge, I look back and see  
That the seal has been broken.  
The legends are true… My world is no more  
And it is clear  
That I can no longer stay.  

Age 28:  
It has been seven years since that day.  
I have not returned.  
I know not of the fate of my father, my neighbors  
That once populated the African metropolis.  
But I do remember the teachings;   
They’ve served me well  
Outside of Timbuktu’s ancient walls.  
Even though the seal of the Sidi Yahya Mosque  
Has been broken  
And the words of our ancestors  
Are held hostage by those despicable fanatics,  
I am filled with hope.  
For as I cradle my newborn daughter  
Like the sky does the moon above,  
I vow to tell her and all who will listen  
About the wonders and knowledge of the city of 333 saints.  
For even though the seal is broken,  
I recognize now that my world did not end.  
Because with the knowledge that I carry,  
I will vanquish the armies of ignorance and intolerance  
And return what is a treasure of all mankind  
To its rightful owner: this little girl.