Red dirt littered the outside of the Land Cruiser as we rolled down the unpaved road. Smoke billowed from beyond some of the buildings, and we knew exactly what it was from.
“Do these skinnies really think it’ll help ‘em?” Jonah asked from the passenger seat. “How’ll this change anything?”
I kept my gaze on the road and my left hand firmly on the wheel. The coup had started, and we were in charge of the ambassador’s escort. The embassy was still another five-minute drive, and since the mob blocked the roads by lighting tires on fire, we would probably have to change our course once or twice.
“I don’t agree with the tactics,” I said, “but I can empathize with them. They want an opportunity. Just a chance at a life where they don’t have to wake up hungry.”
Jonah rolled his eyes. “What does that mean? You’re only saying that cause you grew up here! What a sympathizer! You’re emotionally attached t’these… these… people. That’s what’ll get you killed, bro.”
“I’m not attached. It’s more of a respect. I know many of them personally. They’re good people.”
“Yea good people.”
Black smoke poured from a group of locals. I slowed down as I neared them and searched for an avenue of escape. Just as I noticed a hole, the group hurried to throw a few tires and douse them in gasoline. I brought the vehicle to a stop and put it in reverse. A few of the men from the mob ran at us. They slammed their machetes against the metal hood of the Land Cruiser. One man threw a rock barely missing the driver’s mirror.
“Find me another route,” I exclaimed as the vehicle’s engine revved and threw us backwards.
“Ay turn right here. Don’t see any smoke this way, hope they haven’ hit the alleys yet,” Jonah said as he messed with the GPS.
I whizzed down the side road as quickly as the SUV could, hitting bumps and unintentionally testing the suspension system. My view to the rear was a barrage of red dust, and if we were being followed, I couldn’t tell.
A thin man came running into the road and forced me to slam on my breaks. Jonah hit his face on the dash, and cursed a few times with my name in mind.
“Don’ stop. Don’t ever stop!” Jonah yelled.
“I know him,” I exclaimed. “Samuel! Samuel, it’s me!”
The man stopped running and jogged over to the car. “My friend, I am so glad,” Samuel said through a bright white smile. “I did not know if you were not going to get through. Many people out here is very violent right now.”
“Get in!” I said, slapping the outside of the door a couple times.
Samuel jumped into the back seat and pulled the door closed. I heard his seatbelt click, as I pressed down on the accelerator.
Jonah held his brow, “Am I bleeding?”
“No, you’re good,” I proclaimed eyeing him for a half second.
“My friends, it is not good out there. The radio say that the president is dead. General Sanogo is now the man, and he say Americans is why the famine is real bad.” Samuel’s face looked worried. “I do not believe this. But my friends, are you leaving now?”
“Yes thank god, sick’uh this place,” Jonah said still holding his forehead.
“We’re trying, Samuel, but we have to get to the embassy first. We won’t leave without the ambassador,” I said looking Samuel in the eyes through the mirror.
We dodged roadblocks, forcing us to take back roads. We passed soldiers with AK’s, and heard the scream of bullets. No one had shot at us yet, but if they did, all we had were our issued handguns.
“Jus’ five mags,” Jonah Said.
“What?” I asked.
“We only brought five magazines of ammo.” Jonah repeated loudly.
We needed to get to the embassy so we could suit up, and face the challenges head on. I was tasked with radio communications, and I would have had my radio equipment with me, but we had been sent out on short notice earlier in the morning to search for a specific American student living in town. Our task had failed, he wasn’t there, and the two-bedroom loft had been ransacked. We hoped he had found a way out, and hadn’t been grabbed by the mob.
I grabbed my water canteen from the cup holder and held it over my shoulder. “Samuel, drink buddy, you’re still breathing hard!”
“Merci mon ami,” Samuel said as he grabbed the bottle and took a few gulps.
Jonah turned his head towards me.
“He said thank you,” I explained. My right hand pushed the stick into second gear as we turned a sharp corner. “Samuel and I have been friends for many years. Samuel taught me to play soccer, and how to fish using just a line.”
Samuel laughed. “Yes I remember. You got scared one day because a crocodile came near so… so you ran home. You wouldn’t come back for three days,” Samuel chuckled and emphasized the day count with three fingers.
We both laughed.
“Jus’ shut up,” Jonah exclaimed. “This isn’t the time.”
It was true, it wasn’t the time for us to be reminiscing on the past, but for those few seconds, it sure felt good to remember.
“Take this left,” Jonah said. “It’s gonna lead us back t’a main road and I don’ see any smoke. Hope it’s clear.”
I took the turn, and about 500 meters in front of us was a group dancing in the road. They had their machetes up, and a few soldiers waved their AK rifles in the air. I screeched to a stop. As I turned the vehicle around, we must have hit a nail, or a broken beer bottle, because the right front tire blew, throwing the rim onto the rocky ground. The mob had already noticed us. They chanted and sang, and did it while nearing us at an increasing pace. We jumped out of the car, and looked around for an escape. The open road was not an option because we knew farther back the masses would be on their way.
“This way, this way.” Samuel yelled at Jonah and I as we both checked our weapons. He had found an alley between two cement buildings and it seemed to lead to another road.
The mob noticed our pale skin, and was at a full sprint. Their cries were no longer that of freedom, but had turned to hate and anger. I knew that they believed full heartedly in what the radio had said, and that they would have no mercy on us.
“We’re behind you. Go!” Jonah told Samuel as he ran behind the African man.
“Coming,” I yelled out bringing up the rear.
We turned a few corners, sprinting as fast as we could. This labyrinth of cement walls had to lead somewhere. We could hear the mob getting closer and heard bullets being shot off as we ran into the alley. Jonah turned and weaved. We just did our best to stay on his heels. He gained a small lead on Jonah and I, but we still followed.
We turned a corner, and Samuel was stopped. He stood with his hands on his head facing a cement wall blocking our path. It was way too high for one person to reach the top.
“Help each other up! I will calm them, and will tell them you are not to fault!” Samuel exclaimed confidently waving both of us towards the wall. Breathing heavily, he turned back towards the path where the mob would soon be visible.
“No. Samuel, come with us, we can get all three of us up and over this wall. We have time.” I yelled at Samuel who was already facing away from us.
“Samuel, come on. You don’t need to do this,” Jonah yelled.
Samuel ignored his comment.
“We gotta go, if’e won’t come with us, then there’s nothing we can do. We must leave!” Jonah explained.
Samuel looked back one last time. “It will be alright. Goodbye my friends.”
I knew Jonah was right, and thankfully nodded at Samuel. I knelt down to allow Jonah to use my knee as a foothold.
We made it over the wall, and just in time. We heard the cries as they reached the wall. And then everyone went quiet. Samuel was yelling at them and speaking to them in French.
“What’s he saying?” Jonah whispered as we kept up a jog.
“He said ‘they are not at fault’, and I even think he said we were Canadian. He is telling them that we were here to help the people.”
The people started shouting out again. It was hard to tell what they were saying, but whatever it was, it wasn’t peaceful. Then a man hushed the crowd, and eventually, his voice was the only one we heard.
“Mon homme, je suis officier pour le général, où sont les blancs?” The man said. “Le général veut leur parlé!”
“I work for the general,” I translated, “where are the whites, the general wants to speak with them.”
“Sont pas là!” Samuel protested, his voice echoing.
“They aren’t…” I started.
“I got that part,” Jonah interrupted.
A few of the members started yelling, and soon everyone was in an uproar.
The man hushed the crowd again. “Traître, tue le!”
The crowd went wild, and a few faint yells could be heard. I knew they were Samuel’s.
A tear formed in my eye.
Jonah noticed. “What? What is it?”
“They killed him.” I muttered, “Why would he give his life for us?”
“I don’ know,” Jonah answered. “I didn’ even respect ‘im. But he… he was a good man.”