Undertaking this trek beneath the torrid mid-afternoon sun was unbearable; Mouheini’s entire body felt like it was baking. The girls had not been able to fill up their jerry cans, and were desperately thirsty. With each step, they felt like weights were being added to their feet, and their donkeys walked as if all the water cans were full rather than empty. Mouheini did not like flogging them, and so she resorted to pulling the weary beasts, while Takat and Raichatou helped by pushing from behind. During one of these efforts, one of Takat’s flip-flops got caught on a protruding plant root, and she fell flat on her face. She ruefully examined her shoe, which had torn apart. From then on she winced at every step, because the earth burnt her foot. However, she dared not voice her pain; she did not want Raichatou and Mouheini to worry. What could they do for her anyway? Even the donkeys were too exhausted to carry her.
They stopped counting the dried marshlands that they walked through. On the one hand, these parched spaces of earth provided shade, thanks to the acacia trees that grew there. On the other hand, both the girls and the donkeys stepped on one long painful thorn after another. Along one of these marshland stretches, Raichatou yelled out, “I can’t move, I can’t move.” Mouheini looked back to find her hobbling on one foot.
Both Takat and Mouheini rushed to the injured girl’s side. Raichatou had been punctured by a particularly long thorn that had “nailed” her shoe to her foot. Mouheini, using all her strength, helped pull out the thorn while Takat held Raichatou’s hand. The girl’s whimpering brought everyone to a standstill. They looked at one another and began crying. “I cannot get that boy’s face out of my head,” Takat admitted, sobbing. “I know,” Mouheini answered. “What a terrible way to die. He went in there to help us have water. And he died for it. Dear Allah, why oh why?” She quickly pulled her spirits together, “I know that this is difficult, as it always is getting water. But we’ve got to think ahead. Tahir is sick at home, and mom is waiting for us. I know aunties are waiting for you. We will find water, I promise you.”
Looking at Raichatou, Mouheini asked, “Will you be able to walk?” Then, glancing at Takat, realizing only now that her cousin was walking with only one shoe: “What happened?” Takat reassured everyone with a grim smile: “It’s not so hot anymore, and I’ve gotten good at avoiding the thorns.” The girls walked on.
The sun began to set on the horizon as the trio neared the second well. Mouheini tried to improve the spirits of the younger two by recounting a story about a genie who fell in love with a human maiden. She was deep into detailing a love sequence, when suddenly, machine guns rang in the distance. Mouheini jumped. Confused, she looked around. She saw nothing strange. Again, they heard more gunshots, followed by men’s angry screams. Suddenly, several pickups transporting dozens of men whizzed past, lifting up a huge cloud of dust in their wake. Dressed all in white, the men whooped and pumped their AK-47s into the air, as if in celebration. The girls fell to the ground, hiding behind their donkeys.
Mouheini grabbed onto Takat and held her tightly. More angry voices and screaming rang out from a distance, prompting Mouheini to pray, “Allah, protect us. Do not let these frightening men catch or hurt us.” Lifting herself up behind her donkey, she peered over to see if the men were still in sight. It seemed as if they had not noticed the girls, and as if they had, they had more pertinent business at hand. Nonetheless, remembering the stories of rape and violence she had heard about armed men from the West, and already traumatized by the long day’s event, she yelled out at Takat and Raichatou to run away, ordering them to leave their donkeys behind. They ran and ran, until they collapsed on the ground from exhaustion.