Sabisa Forest. home of terror!
The safari lodges built by the British colonial government all over the forest were European style log houses with wooden windows and doors, tiled roofs. Big hardwood tree had been felled to build them and they stood on firm stone foundations; stones gotten from the granite quarries in the mountains of Gwoza on the easternmost part of the old forest which was right on the Nigerian border with Cameron. Not much of modern building materials had been used to build the log houses and this made them all part of the natural scenery.
After the British colonial government left, the log houses were abandoned for so many years until the creation of the Chad Basin National Park Reserve saw them renovated to their original state by the Bornu state government who managed to keep them in good shape for a few years until the terrorists arrived. When Boko Haram finally took Sambisa forest over and forced the government to withdraw, they took over the log houses too and promptly reassigned all of them to their kingpins.
El Soldat’s lodge was a big log house by a little waterfall. It sat in a wide clearing on its own in a separate part of the forest, surrounded by the tall mighty trees. The access road cut right through the forest to it.
Even running all the way, it took Alex nearly two hours to cover the distance to the lodge. He found it easily enough but was surprised at how quiet it was considering the recent bomb attack and the ‘many men’ he had been led to believe was here. Part of the west wing of the lodge had been blown wide open by the blast, the huge logs of hardwood that made up the walls were scattered around. They had apparently put out the resulting fire in time, bringing the damage effectively under control and saving the rest of the lodge. Alex figured that the conveniently available waterfall and the resulting stream coupled with all the empty buckets he was seeing around the place had a lot to do with things.
He scouted the entire area carefully and found only four guards. There were two well-used footpaths leading off from the wide clearing further into the thick forest, but neither was his problem right now and he had little time so he concentrated fully on the lodge.
There was a sentry post, a log hut with thatched roof, at the end of the access road, just within the clearing, and three armed men sat there on benches, talking. The fourth armed man stood guard on the veranda of the log house and Alex guessed that the door he was centered on was where the girl was. The wooden windows on that part of the lodge were closed so there was no way he could check to confirm.
El Soldat’s jeep was nowhere in sight, which meant El Soldat wasn’t around. He was most likely still at the meeting with Abubakar Shekau in some heavily guarded fortress deeper within the forest, thought Alex. There was nothing for it but to get the girl and then wait for him to return.
Alex could see everything in the clearing very well from his hidden position just within the forest. He was in a low crouch by the trunk of a big tree just inside the tree-line on the southern part of the clearing. He wished he had a silencer for his pistol or rifle, it would have made dispatching these guards a lot easier now. But he didn’t have a silencer so he had to do it the hard way.
Alex retreated a bit further into the gloomy forest, cupped his hands to his mouth, tilted his head skywards and began to make the high-pitched screams of spooked wild turkey.
A hundred yards across the clearing, the three men stopped talking at once and corked their heads to listen.
They knew that sound only too well. Turkey was a favorite delicacy to them, but it had been so long anyone had come across one, which now made it a very rare delicacy indeed. Since this past year, bush meat, in general, had become so scarce in the forest that they were all beginning to rely heavily on stolen livestock from outside the forest and the few fishes caught by the local fishermen in the streams within the forest, but neither was in abundance anymore now. The Fulani herdsmen had all migrated south sharply with their livestock and the streams were becoming overfished.
Two years ago, a little stroll in the forest would easily produce two good-sized antelopes, and then there were the plentiful guinea fowls swarming the banks of every stream. There had been meat in abundance then, but now nothing. There was almost no game left in the vast forest and it was very baffling to all of them. It was like all the animals had vanished into thin air, even the guinea fowls which used to be a problem in their thousands.
The leader of the men was a hard-faced twenty-nine-year-old man called Umar and he was tired of the fish his thirteen-year-old wife was always serving him now. It was always the same bony kind.
Umar was on his feet in a second, snatching up his rifle and running across the clearing towards the forest wall beyond which the turkey definitely was. His men were right on his heels and even the guard on the verandah was bounding across clearing to join them.
They covered the distance to the tree-line in seconds and all came to a halt just a few feet from the tree line, their AK-47 rifles at the ready.
With his free hand, Umar signaled quickly for them to keep quiet and spread out. The men obeyed and moved forward into the trees in perfect formation to trap the turkey.
This turkey would roast over a fire today!
Alex had already changed position. Rifle discarded, commando knife out and in one hand, he stood glued to the back of a big tree as the first man went past him in slow motion, searching the undergrowth with his eyes for the turkey.
Alex was on him in a second, catching him from behind and slitting his throat in one smooth motion. He lowered the inert body quietly to the ground and moved on swiftly to the next man who he already had in sight a few yards away. The man died on his feet as his head was twisted very quickly and powerfully from behind, snapping the neck like a twig.
The third terrorist was less than twenty yards away, and seeing the sudden movement in the corner of his eyes, glanced over in time to see a dark figure hurl something at him. The commando knife hit the man in the throat, burying its eight-inch steel blade completely in and the heavy sound of his body dropping to the ground, alerted Umar just ahead of him.
Umar jerked around fast and stared in shock at the masked Nigerian soldier standing right where the turkey should be. He never stood a chance.
Alex had his pistol out in a flash and fired once.
The bullet hit Umar in the forehead and he dropped dead.
Alex broke out of the trees with his rifle at the ready. He ran swiftly across the wide clearing, covering the sixty yards of open ground to the lodge in seconds. He took the four front steps at a go and went down the veranda quickly to the door.
He tried the handle on the door, but it was locked and the key wasn’t in the lock. He examined the lock quickly. It wasn’t as solid as the thick wooden door.
Stepping backward, Alex launched himself at the door, hitting it solidly with his shoulder, but it held firmly. He moved quickly back again and hit it with his shoulder a second time, then a third. At the fourth try, the lock gave slightly. He slammed his booted foot powerfully into it and the door exploded open inwards.
The room was dark, but Alex’s sharp eyes adjusted swiftly as he walked in. He saw a mattress on the floor, a table, a center rug, and then he saw the girl.
She was on her knees in the furthest corner of the room, cringing against the wall, crying in her terror.
Alex went straight across to one of the wooden windows and smashed it open with one powerful blow from the solid butt of his rifle, letting more daylight in. He moved over to stand in the middle of the room, pulling off the ski mask from his head so the girl could see his face clearly in the light. He saw the look of recognition in her eyes, and then the terror began to leave, but a look of confusion came over her face and then fear.
“I saw… I saw Rufai shoot you. I saw you di…die,” she stammered.
Alex shook his head. “I’m not dead. I am wearing a bulletproof vest so the bullets never got into my body,” he opened his shirt to reveal the black vest. “I was knocked unconscious for a while, that’s all. I’ve come to take you home and we need to go now.”
He stepped forward and extended his hand to her.
She didn’t hesitate. She took the hand at once and scrambled quickly to her feet, cleaning the tears away from her face with her other hand.
Alex looked her over quickly. She still wore the long green robe and hijab, but looked okay. He looked into her eyes. “Stay very close to me at all times. Always keep firm hold of my shirt so I know you are with me, do you understand?”
She nodded quickly, jerkily. “Yes.”
Alex turned at once and moved quickly towards the open door.
He stopped at the door and took a quick look out first, scanning all around outside with his eyes, looking for any sign of movement. Seeing none, he headed out into the veranda and moved quickly towards the stairs, rifle at the ready.
Sweeping the grounds rapidly with his eyes, Alex led the way out of the lodge and across the wide clearing, heading straight for the access road. He moved quickly, but at a controlled pace so the girl could keep up with him, keeping a firm hold on his shirt at all times so he never needed to look around for her.
The road which led to the lodge through the thick forest was empty, but Alex knew it wouldn’t be so for long. He hurried down the road for three hundred yards, and then headed to the right, entering directly into the forest, pushing the girl in ahead and checking the road one last time to make sure it was empty as he followed.
Several feet into the forest, the ground dipped slightly into a gentle slope. Alex found a suitable spot and pulled the girl down with him.
The huge trees all around here formed a thick canopy above that completely cut out the rays of the terrible afternoon sun above. The forest was gloomy here, but still hot and humid.
Alex put away his rifle at once and turned to check the girl on her knees next to him.
She was breathing hard and looking around fearfully. She shrank back as he reached out to take her hand.
Alex didn’t try to touch her again, but maintained eye contact as he tried to establish a connection.
He spoke gently but firmly. “Stop being afraid, you are with me now and nothing can hurt you. I know you don’t know who I am yet, but you will and very well. For now, try to trust me completely and I swear, I will protect you with all my strength. No one will be able to reach you again without getting through me and that’s impossible. Even if these terrorists come in numbers, they will never be able to reach you again. I will get you out of this forest and then take you back to your home, this I promise, do you hear me?”
She stared at him silently for a moment, then relaxed visibly and nodded, but kept watching him with a slight frown on her lovely face.
“Did Rufai hurt you too badly?”
She shook her head.
“Did the Arab hurt you in any way?” he asked again.
She shook her head again. “No.”
He looked her face over carefully for any sign of injuries, then reached out to take her hand again, and this time, she did not shrink from him. He took both her hands and checked the bruise on the wrists carefully, then reached into his trouser pocket, got out a tube of ointment and handed it to her.
“Rub this ointment very well into all your wounds and all over your exposed skin. It’s a disinfectant as well as an insect repellant and sunblock. We’ll soon be on the move, but first, we wait here for a while so I can deal with the people who kidnapped you, ok?”
The frown was back on her lovely face again as she stared at him.
“Okay?” she said with a slow nod.
“I will be just ahead of you by the road. Stay put here and no matter what, always be quiet. When I’m done, I will come to you and we will get out of here quickly, okay?”
She nodded again, more relaxed now. “Okay”
Alex let her go and got his rifle. He scrambled forward through the undergrowth back to the road and positioned himself carefully at the edge so he could see all along it yet remain well hidden.
The road was still empty.
He glanced at his watch. Twenty-four minutes past noon.
Alex settled down to wait.
He didn’t wait long.