The westerly city was a welcome place after a long hard motorcycle ride but even more so when you had just suffered a serious act of violence and survived. I met up with my associates and told them the story from the very beginning but they looked at me in disbelief.
They remained sceptic, despite the fact that they had just informed me that a high profile foreigner had been threatened and had already left in somewhat of a hurry. To make matters worse one close friend even suggested that I had imagined it. The bruises had counted for nothing. At first I was astonished, even aggravated, but then I realized that here was I telling my acquaintances a story that could have come straight out of a magazine. I decided to let matters rest and drop the subject as it was clear I was not going to convince them. After all the situation was about five or six hundred kilometres away – the dark side of the moon as far as they were concerned.
Time was moving on and it was now late August. I was getting impatient just hanging around while the events of a few weeks earlier began to fade away. Even after all that happened I was actually considering going back again. There were two reasons this, one, I was curious – the sort of curiosity that killed the cat – and two, there were very important papers that had taken years of research to put together, as well as personal items I needed to collect. I made up my mind that I was going to revisit the Lion’s Den and in all honesty I was not totally convinced that matters had deteriorated to the point of no return.
One afternoon I was sitting in a popular restaurant owned by one of the foreigners when I was approached by a young French man. He had been told that I had recently come from the border region and as he wanted to pass that way to a destination on the other side. He needed some information requiring local knowledge and of the course of recent events. He told me that he was a university student and was studying the politics of the region. “Rather him than me”, I thought. We spent some hours discussing the state of affairs in general and what I had experienced in particular. No amount of persuasion would deter this young scholar from stepping into the unknown. I told him how to get there and advised him to be extremely careful. Furthermore I informed him that I would be returning there more or less at the same time and would call at the hotel to see if he was still around, or had travelled onward. With that we raised a few more glasses and parted company.
The next day I departed the city and made my way east across the plain and into the mountains. About 80 kilometres out I had a slight incident with a military vehicle coming in the opposite when someone hurled a partly eaten orange in my direction. It struck the visor on my helmet but I let this go as a stupid prank. I should have taken it as a more serious omen and turned back. Pressing onwards I had noticed a few trucks passing with furniture, household goods and family members all heading west and again reconsidered my decision to go back. This was a clear sign that people were on the move. What did they know that I didn’t?
Arriving in my town I went straight to my girlfriend’s house and quizzed her and the family for any news. They could only tell me what I had already known except for the fact that there were numerous armed strangers driving around in pick-ups. I sent one of the household out to buy a few beers and settled down for the night. From my observations there did not seem to be too much tension amongst the town’s folk. They seemed to be just curious about what was going on and in fact it had added an extra dimension, manifesting itself as an engaging intrusion into their somewhat routine life.
The next morning I decided to have a look around and to check on the French student. I went first to the monastery to see the brothers. They warned me that it was getting more dangerous and in fact there were militia roaming around their grounds. These were mostly armed with machetes, spears and rifle-like weapons that fired arrows but they looked mean and intent on something; what exactly, had not yet become clear. Leaving the comparative safety of the monastery I proceeded back into town. Once there I visited the hotel and asked if a Frenchman had checked in. He had, and I was taken by the receptionist to his room situated at the rear.
I knocked on the door and as soon as I saw the look on the face of the young man I knew he was extremely anxious. He ushered me inside and informed me that he had people outside his door all night and he had very little sleep. I recognized some of these people from the meeting in the restaurant a few weeks earlier. They were not friendly. Signalling to him not to speak by holding one finger to my lips I calmly invited him to come for a spin on my bike. When we got out of town to a place I thought was safe we discussed the previous night’s activities. He had been harassed all night with people knocking on his door, staring through the windows and generally making his stay extremely uncomfortable. Clearly, he was afraid for his life and now mine. He was trying to convince me to leave with him and this was exactly what I had intended to do, but I was not yet ready. When we returned to the hotel I told him to get some food and stay in his room and I would search out a bus ticket to take him back to the city where he should have stayed in the first place.
In a stern yet compassionate voice I told him, “Be ready at the front of the hotel around 19:30 as the night bus will pick you up from there and take you back west”.
When I returned to the hotel the following morning he was gone.