The One From Timbuktu
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.
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.
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
“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.
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.