Dawn met El-hanook no better than dusk had left him: pensive and contemplative. And as he prepared for the mission, he moved between his matrimonial bedroom and that of his three children, observing all as they slept. Atisha, as usual, was graceful and their kids, simply adorable. As he kissed each on their foreheads, he wished that the moment would last forever. Steeling his nerves however, he headed to the dinning table and scribbled a note; the letter would come later.
In it, he left instructions for Atisha to say at home with the kids, at least for the day, because he did not trust himself to speak to her directly. Casting one last forlorn look on his cherished home, El-hanook took a deep breath and stepped out into the cold embrace of the chilly morning, to commence his assignment.
El-hanook arrived at the rendezvous point just as the first flickers of daylight greeted the earth. It was an abandoned warehouse located on the outskirts of the city. He made his way through the decrepit gates, walked briskly across a small expanse of shrubs and grasses and was soon at the entrance of the building. As he pushed open its creaky doors, his operational vehicle came into view. He opened its door, settled in and performed a quick scan of the tools of his trade for the day: the loaded jacket, the detonation triggers and a piece of paper containing instructions for the mission. Like clockwork, El-hanook assembled the pieces together and wore the jacket beneath his clothes. It fit him perfectly. He took three quick short breathes, roared the car to life and started for the mall.
It was some minutes before noon as El-hanook pulled up on the street where the mall sat, imposingly. He had taken his time during the ride, in obedience to one of the instructions he had received: ‘You must wait for the appropriate time. So drive around the city for a while. Do this also to calm your nerves’.
El-hanook knew why the Sect had picked Jabok City Mall as its next target. Located in a Government Reservation Area (GRA), it boasted of a chain of stores of international renown that offered the latest fads in fashion, electronics, home appliances and entertainment. It was the pride and joy of the government; a classic example of what happened when the public and private sectors collaborated. Consequently, its main patronisers were the indigenous well-to-do and foreigners, who were somewhat far removed from the activities of the Habalani. Therefore the sect needed to make this score count and El-hanook could feel the weight of that expectation on his tense shoulders!
As he approached the entrances to the mall, he observed that the number of people entering and leaving the complex was unusually large. Then he recalled that it was a public holiday. ‘We really want to make a defining statement’ he mused. At the main gate, his car was stopped by security personnel. A guard walked up to him. El-hanook recognised him and smiled.
“Hello Mr El-hanook. What brings you to this part of town?” It was Peter, a resident of his neighbourhood.
“How’s work today, Pete? I just came to get some stuff for the holiday!” From the car’s side mirror, El-hanook spotted another guard checking the undercarriage of the vehicle with some equipment. ‘The fools; if only they knew’ he thought.
“I almost didn’t recognise you; I know you own a blue Chevrolet. Where did this come from? Peter asked again.
“Well, my wife borrowed it for the day. This belongs to a friend. Can I go now?”
Peter looked to his other colleague, who gave the all clear sign. “Yes, you can, Mr El-hanook. Do have a nice day”
“Thanks Pete. See you at home” El- hanook said as he put the car in motion. He had not driven for more than a few yards, when he heard a large voice boom from behind him- “HALT”. It was from a third guard he had not seen. As the security officer approached the vehicle, El-hanook’s mind was immersed in a plethora of thoughts; his pensive hands gripped the steering wheel in a death-like vice. ‘Was his apprehension that obvious? Had the security sweep on the car revealed the truth?’
The man was soon astride the car. His face was devoid of expression.
“Sir, are you aware that you have a broken tail light?”
El-hanook heaved a big sigh of relief. “No, Officer. As I told Peter, the car belongs to a friend. So I’ll inform him as soon as possible”
“We work with the local police on these matters and we don’t want our customers receiving tickets, do we?” The guard flashed a smile.
“We certainly do not. Thanks for the notice” And with that, El-hanook proceeded to the parking lot of the mall. It was located in an underground enclosure, a few hundred meters from the main shopping hall. The training he had received at the sect made him instinctively look for and identify the security cameras and he brought the car to halt at a position obscured by one of the columns supporting the structure. El-hanook immediately disembarked from the car and proceeded to peel off what was hitherto the body of the car to reveal a new car colour. He dumped the camouflage in the booth and retrieved a new pair of number plates, with which he replaced the previous ones. He straightened himself out and checked out the triggers. Satisfied, El-hanook proceeded to the mall itself. The plan was going accordingly.
Now inside the main hall housing the many stores, El-hanook scanned the entire set-up and noticed only a handful of security personnel. Surely, it was an abysmal number for a mall of that size. El –hanook walked around, joining the frenzy of excited shoppers, pretending to window shop until he found a spot that gave him a vantage position overlooking the parking lot , in obedience to another instruction : ‘After your arrival, wait until the fifth car has parked after you, before you press the first trigger.’
After watching the first and second cars announce their arrivals, El-hanook focused his attention on an ecstatic little boy clutching his gift, his proud parents a short distance behind him. The scene brought back some memories of him, Atisha and Fatrid, their only son. He wondered what his family would be up to at that moment. The blare of the fifth car or so soon broke El-hanook out of his reverie. He had to act now or else….
As he pressed the first trigger, the force of the explosion threw him off his feet, notwithstanding his anticipation of the blast. The scenes were better imagined than experienced. Thick black smoke billowed from what used to be the car parking lot, even as shattered glass panes and upturned merchandise dotted the inside of the mall itself. The once happy shoppers soon became a mad throng that begun to race wildly for the various exits. As Children cried and mothers searched for loved ones, the management of the mall pleaded for calm to no avail. El-hanook got up to his feet and composed himself. Now was the defining moment. He bullied his way to the central area of the mall, looked upwards and began to chant the creed of the sect, as his hand made its way to the second trigger.
Until a voice stopped him dead in his tracks. “Papa, papa!” It belonged to Fatrid, his only son, running towards him.
El-hanook’s eyes widened in terror. “Wha..at, wha..at are you doing here? Where is your mother? He asked, clutching his son in his arms.
Atisha soon showed up, cutting a desolate figure. El-hanook could not hide his rage, turning his attention to his wife.
“I instructed you to stay at home today!” He yelled above the din. “Why are you here? Didn’t you read the note I left on the dinning table?”
“What note?” Atisha responded breathlessly. “I came to buy things for Fatrid’s birthday. You have been distracted lately, so I decided to do the shopping.”
El-hanook sighed in despair and as he stood up with his six year old son in his arms, a paper aeroplane in Fatrid’s hand, pricked his ear. It was made from the note he had scribbled on.
Suddenly, in the midst of the chaos, El-hanook became calm. “Did the girls come along with you?”
Atisha shook her head. He was grateful for that.
“Then we must leave immediately.”
As they joined the teeming throng that swarmed to safety outside the mall, El-hanook could feel the fear palpitating through his son’s body. A fear that sent shivers through his spine. Then suddenly Fatrid spoke into his father’s ear and asked “Papa, are we going to die today?”
El-hanook had long ago made his decision, when he deactivated the second trigger.
“No, son! Today we live, to die another day!”
At a safe distance from the shopping mall, a keen observer made a call.
“Hello Sir. Thin boy hit his mark but Fat Joe did not take- off. What is the next course of action?”
The voice at the other end was stoical. “Return to Fort. We wait for eagle’s return.”