Excerpt From All Knowing All Merciful

New Africa

That year the killing came to Mauritania. It caught Chai Zemmour by surprise, although the winds of death had blown across Africa for a century, turning cities into abattoirs and nations into dust.

It was the last gift of the colonial powers, that wind- the legacy of all the old conflicts they had not cared to settle, all the incompatible peoples and religions they had massed together, before they kicked their fledgling nations out of the nest to fly or fall.

For a time the Cold War kept the wind at bay, as the two great powers sheltered this state or that one under wings of guns and money. But all the while the wind blew harder and fiercer, straining to reach its prey. And at last it grew so strong that nothing could stop it.

Hammas Zemmour was a White Moor, but so dark of complexion that he could easily have been mistaken for a black. A more worldly man might have foreseen the troubles this would cause, but Zemmour was too deeply immersed in the study of God’s infinite wisdom and mercy to feel the first faint stirrings of the wind.

He was tall, slender, slightly stooped. His voice was quiet; his eyes were wide and watery.

Scion of a poor but ancient family in the town of Oulata, where the cliffs descend to meet the trackless sands of the Mraie, he had been trained as a scholar his whole life, and knew little outside the Shar’a and Koran.

When the killing began, Zemmour was making rapid progress through his last year of Seminary in the little town of Moudjeria. Its whitewashed walls were not yet spattered red, the quiet of the noonday street was still unbroken by gunshots and lamentation. In those final weeks he often thought of his return to the shifting sands of Hodh- his native district. And of the great Sufi teacher Ardash Youdane, to whom he had written many times, and who could no longer refuse to take him as a pupil once Zemmour completed his studies. He wondered if Youdane looked forward to meeting him.

Zemmour would have been surprised to learn that Ardash Youdane was among the first to take up the gun. Youdane was in a difficult position, for his life had once been saved by a Lekwar taxi driver named Mohammed Serigne, and it was well-known, or at least widely suspected, that they had become the best of friends. This rumor had made Youdane uncomfortable for some time, and would surely prove dangerous with the countryside up in arms against the blacks.

And so it was that Ardash Youdane found himself crouched outside Serigne’s window one cold night.

Serigne’s house was a long, white rectangle with a high fence around his car and livestock. Youdane was at the only window he could reach without passing through the gate, which was locked. Blue television light glittered up from the house's depths.

He rested on one knee and cursed his age and the gravel underfoot and the sharp stucco wall he leaned against and the weight of his rusty shotgun. Zey’s face retained its usual look- good-natured and wise, for it was the shape long years of practice had creased into it. Yet the flickering light did strange things to the hollows of his eyes.

As the old man peered into the house's depths, there was a crunch on the gravel behind him. He spun around.

There, silhouetted against the stars, was a huge shape that he knew to be Mohammed.

"Zey, you came." the taxi driver whispered. "Have you heard the radio my friend? They’re killing everyone."

He stuck out a massive hand to help Youdane to his feet.

As Serigne’s great scarred fingers came into the light Youdane had a sudden memory of when that hand had plucked him out of the path of a truck. For an instant he smelled burnt brakes, hot steel, and petrol. He felt the same odd relief that Serigne had seized him by the caftan- that a black man’s fingers had not touched his skin. His resolve wavered.

Then he remembered that the taxi driver had asked him about his radio, and the awful unfairness of fate crashed back in on him. This man, a Lekwar for God’s sake, owned a television. Yet Zey, a person of impeccable lineage, had only a radio, and was forced to make his living from religious flummery.

He took Mohammed’s hand and pulled himself to his feet, using his revulsion at the touch of black flesh to make himself press the barrels of the gun beneath Serigne’s chin.

At the sound of the shot, the house’s door flew open and Serigne’s wife appeared, lit from behind by the flickering television. Her youngest son peeked past her hip.

"Mohammed!" she cried.

Youdane wiped off some fragments of her husband’s teeth and set his shotgun through the chain-link fence.

"What has happened?" she called out, standing unsteadily.

The blast tore off her stomach and wounded her son, who fled, wailing, in a crooked bloody arc. Chickens went everywhere in a flurry of squawks and feathers.

The boy could barely be seen in the yard’s one dim light as he reached the fence on the opposite side, and began to climb.

Youdane opened his gun and scrabbled to pluck out the spent shells, hooting with pain as his fingers touched the hot metal.

"God is great, God is just." Youdane muttered as he dug in his pocket for the spares. "Please God, please let me load my gun before he gets away."

The boy was three quarters of the way up when Zey’s arthritic fingers touched the fresh shells. As he fumbled one out, the boy reached the top.

The boy swung double over the fence, and his feet had just pointed straight up into the air when Youdane shot him in the face. He fell with a muffled gurgle, and the old man slumped against the fence.

"God is merciful." He sighed, and turned his gaze heavenward.

An infant began to cry. It brought Youdane back to the task at hand.

He patted his clothes to see how many shells he had left. Only four. Serigne had five more offspring and it would take one shot to get through the padlock on the gate. Still, he might put two children close together and kill them with one shot- perhaps dash the baby against something hard.

He frowned and rubbed his shoulder, thinking of the effort that it would take to swing a baby. But above all, he must not seem to lack resolve, he reminded himself. He must become above question.

And so, grumbling, he set to work.

There was much to be done and it was harder than Youdane had thought. After he found the Serignes’ store of rope and tied them to the taxi’s rear bumper, he discovered that he still had to hunt up some petrol and a funnel. The long drive into town was difficult too, for the corpses kept snagging on things and the ropes were forever getting tangled.

Still, no one ever questioned his hatred of the blacks again.

Youdane moved into Serigne’s house and found life much improved. So he sent for his wife, Fatimatou, and his daughter, Kadijatou and established a household.

For a week he was deluged with annoying requests to lead raids against the blacks. He grudgingly complied, and even built up a name for himself as the scourge of the eastern Tagant. But when his daughter arrived he found a way to avoid such nuisances.

You see, Kadijatou was his offspring by an old liaison with Kwemze Mufanna, an American student.

Kwemze was one of those Americans who call themselves "African," and had come to the mother continent in order to find Utopia. Within eighteen months she found Africa instead, and left.

She had also sought the ancient wisdom of the Sufis, but instead found Ardash Zey.

When Kwemze departed, she was surprised to learn that she could not take her infant daughter with her, for Mauritania’s laws did not permit unmarried women or foreigners to have custody of children from good homes.

Youdane hoped that having a child with American blood would help him obtain an American passport. In fact he understood the passport laws imperfectly, and overestimated the effect his cunning would have on the process. So he was left with a useless, squalling burden to add to his many misfortunes. The child’s dark skin made her doubly worthless, as both a girl and one who could not be married to her family’s advantage.

But now that black skin and woolly hair were a boon from God. For the lechery of black men was well known. It should be easy for Kadijatou, tall and lanky though she was, to lure them to their doom.

The house lay a good way outside the town of Tichitt, on the track that led to the well called el-Kseib. That well was the one source of water in the eastern djouf, and the only hope a refugee from the Tagant district could have of making it through the deep desert into Mali, where black people were killing Berbers instead of the other way around.

The house was, in short, exactly the place where a wandering Senegalese would seek shelter. Fatimatou was told to give them food, while Kadijatou was to give them any enticement short of the sexual act itself (for which, Youdane assured her, she would be instantly killed). In the late evening Youdane would return from instructing his pupils or associating with his friends and kill anyone his women had caught.

Kadijatou had grown up knowing little of her father, who only came to see his wife when he was in need of funds and either ignored the little girl or kicked her out of the way. Yet after her breasts began to sprout, she came to fear his caresses at least as much as his blows. So while she felt certain qualms about her role as temptress, she took comfort in the fact that it would keep Youdane out of the house.

As the owner and proprietor of this trap, Youdane could not be expected to spend his time off roaming around the desert, and would instead be free to pass his days in socializing, scholarly debate, and explaining the way of the Sufi to delightful young ladies.

Youdane was elated that he had not given in to the pleas of Kwemze’s wealthy family and sent the child to America. It would have been unthinkable in any case to expose Kadijatou to the dubious moral influence of an unwed mother- let alone a foreigner, but all the same he was happy that he had been strong.

It was a good life, or would have been, had events not overtaken it...