Bloody hell! How did you get that great bump on your forehead?
I hate it when perfect strangers start with questions about my bump. That was the story of my life; it shouldn’t be the story of my death as well.
I see. You’re Nadia, aren’t you? Well, strap on your pregnancy so it’s comfortable. How did your Induction go yesterday?
Very well thank you.
You still remember Detonation Training?
How does one go about forgetting how to yank a ring?
There’s no need for sarcasm in The Movement. So you’re ready to go?
I’ve been ready for weeks.
Good; bloody good. And how did you get that great bump on your forehead?
I’ve had it a long time, Mr. Asif. ― Is it a problem? Is there a rule in The Movement that women with bumps on their foreheads can’t be suicide bombers?
No, but as your Dispatcher post-bomb publicity is my job. That’s quite a nasty bump, Nadia. Bumps don’t look good on videotape. Bumps and women don’t go together.
I don’t believe this. I’m blowing myself up for The Movement and you’re talking to me about looking good?
Look, you can be ugly for all I care, but ―
So now I’m ugly?
― I’M JUST SAYING YOU HAVE A BLOODY GREAT BUMP ON YOUR FOREHEAD!
So what, Mr. Asif?
Look, I’ve been running Suicide Dispatch for eight years. I know what I’m doing. When I mail out copies of your video journalists are going to say: ’Poor woman, they tortured her into doing this: see that great bump on her forehead…’
So that’s it? I should call off my suicide because I have a bump on my head?
Why don’t you come back when the swelling goes down? Maybe next week? I have another appointment shortly, as it happens…
…I’ve had this bump since I was eight years old, it won’t go down even if I come back next year.
Hmm. Maybe we can be creative with a veil or something… so how did you get it?
I don’t like to talk about it.
I’m your superior in The Movement, Nadia; discipline. Remember your Induction training. Tell me about that bump right now, or else ―
Or else what? You’ll kill me? I’m a suicide bomber, Mr. Asif, you can’t scare me.
Oh yes I can, Nadia. Martyrs never get tetchy with me, this same office also dispatches the education cheques for their children and I…
I’m not trying to be difficult but isn’t this the same kind of oppression I’m killing myself to end? I can’t believe I’m seeing it at The Movement’s secretariat. You’ve been harassing me ever since I got here, insulting me…
If you’re nervous, just say so and I‘ll reschedule you. It’s quite normal. Four out of every ten bombers reschedule at least once. No one will ever know, and you will still remain on the List of Martyrs – unless you reschedule again.
What happens… to people who reschedule twice?
You don’t want to know.
But I do.
Reschedule twice and we will brand you a coward, Nadia. We will kick you out of The Movement. Your family will disown you. This is a serious outfit, we have no time for bloody time-wasters. ― But you’ve still got your one chance, should I reschedule you?
I’m not afraid.
No, really. I always want for my suicides to die with an easy mind. Leader Mahdi should be watching the theatre on satellite TV right now, waiting for your moment of glory; but I‘ll explain to him that this was just your first rescheduling ―
I said I’m not afraid.
So how did you get that great bump on your forehead? I have to know what to say when the Leader asks.
I will explain that to him personally.
Oh yes? So after you blow yourself up I’m to look for one of your stubborn ears at the theatre: ’Hello Ear of the Stubborn-Great-Bump Woman, Leader Mahdi will now like to know the secret of your great bump?’
I’m a Martyr. I have a right of audience with Leader Mahdi before I die. It is there in the handbook.
That right was secretly abolished years ago. An enemy spy infiltrated us and queued up to be a Martyr ― just to meet and assassinate Leader Mahdi. Nobody ever sees the Leader anymore, for the security of The Movement.
Come on, all my life, I’ve longed to meet Mahdi!
There are no exceptions, Nadia. Leader Mahdi no longer does pep-talks. As we speak, he’s on a fund-raising mission in China.
I don’t believe this: Leader Mahdi is now more difficult to meet than God himself…
Nadia! Now, don’t blaspheme!
That’s fact, not blasphemy, I going to meet God this afternoon but Mahdi is out of bounds – and I’m dying for him! Even murderers get a last wish or something…
You’re dying for a cause, not a man.
…So there will be pieces of me leftover ― like my ears ― after the… blast?
…like… like my… like my breasts?
Have you no shame? Why should you speak to a man who is not your husband about b-b- buds? What does it matter Nadia! You’ll be dead anyway! That’s the whole point of blowing yourself up for goodness sake!
I don’t want my sons to see pieces of me on TV. Give me a bigger bomb, Mr. Asif. I want a bomb that will blow me into smithereens. This one is too light for my anger anyway.
Strap that belt back on, Nadia. I can’t give you a bigger bomb. Anything heavier than this will make you look ten months pregnant. We don’t want folks getting suspicious about you.
What about Jansen? After Jansen’s bomb they couldn’t even find a piece of him for DNA testing.
Jansen’s was a bloody truck-bomb, that was what it was; and he was sitting on it! Look, do you want to die or not? I’m here to shoot a video, not to hold your hand!
What if I pull this ring and it doesn’t go off? What should I do?
Don’t worry, you won’t be able to do anything. Once you pull the ring you’ll be in pieces.
But what if it doesn’t work? Even a brand new Mercedes can break down outside the dealer’s shop. What if the bomb doesn’t work?
It will, I assure you, it will.
I just like to be prepared, that’s all. I might bump my bomb against a door and knock a wire loose…
If you bump the bomb on a wall your pregnancy will go off prematurely! Carry it as carefully as you carried your real babies!
I will, but I’m a good DIYer too. I once bought this TV that didn’t work. Turned out it was just the fuse. I didn’t even need a screwdriver…
We don’t do fuse bombs Nadia! This is a bloody yank-and-go, nail-and-barbed-wire bomb, do you understand? There’s nothing user-serviceable inside. Don’t go messing around with it or else ―
Or else what? So it blows up, that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
Not if you’re fiddling with your pregnancy in the ladies toilet and you end up killing yourself and an old woman powdering her nose. This bomb is designed to take out important…
Oh, so women aren’t important enough?
I can see your game-plan, Nadia: provoke the Dispatcher into canceling your slot – isn’t it? I’m not playing your game. Just pull the ring, okay? If it doesn’t go off, come right here.
If I pull the ring and it doesn’t go off I’ll have a dozen policemen sitting on my head – is that what you want? For me to bring the police back here?
Nadia, I’ve dispatched fifty-six bombers from this office. They all exploded ―
What about Nero ―
Forget Nero! Listen to me, pull that ring and you will kill yourself, okay, that is guaranteed.
That’s what you said to Nero. Instead of exploding, his bomb burned like a tank of fuel. He didn’t kill anybody, he didn’t even kill himself ―
Nero’s case was different ―
He was just running all over the place, screaming like a madman, now he’s lying in a hospital bed with his intestines covered in cellophane. His eyelids have been burnt away and he hasn’t got any skin at all. Nurses have emotional breakdowns after two days of tending him. They say the Enemy is keeping him alive as a punishment ―
Nero’s case was different. It was a satchel bomb and it happened when I was on leave. I’ve sacked that Assistant Dispatcher; well, actually I just blew him up right after Nero. Don’t you worry, I guarantee you that this particular pregnancy will kill you outright. I swear to this with my life. The Leader is relying on you to get right inside the theatre before pulling your ring. Your target is twenty people, okay? They taught you how to faint, did they?
Good. A pregnant woman fainting will draw people around her and then, KABOOM.
Don’t say that.
Whatever you do, wait for at least a dozen people ― My body-count is 1,990 dead, not counting injuries. Now go out there and take me over the 2,000 mark.
Have you ever been… just a little bit… afraid?
Afraid? Me afraid? Didn’t you do Induction training? Fear is the cobblestone we walk on. Fear is the trampoline we bounce on. Fear is…
Please wear the bomb, Asif.
Please. Wear my bomb instead.
Don’t be bloody ridiculous, this is the pregnancy model ―
It’s not as big as many pot-bellies I have seen ―
Dispatching is my own skillset.
Even my son can run this old video camera, and as for pulling this ring, any monkey can do it ― if it isn’t afraid.
That’s out of the question, I’ve been dispatching for many years ―
That makes you far more experienced than me, Asif. Plus… I’m afraid. You are not.
No problem, I’ll book you in for another Induction course, and I’ll reschedule you for an Easter Bomb, we always do one or two bombs over Easter. You will be in a team of three. Dying together usually helps.
Will you tell the Leader that…
…That you chickened out? Oh, he’ll be mad we didn’t get our bomb out today.
HUDA’s planning a strike this weekend. If we don’t beat them to it, they get to lock-down the headlines for another week.
Nadia, you should keep up with the revolutionary news: we’re losing funders to HUDA! We can’t afford to let them blow up more people!
Maybe I could still…
…no that’s okay, I was supposed to take my son to his school’s mini-league anyway. ― I was happy to cancel it for a bombing of course ― but if I leave now he will just catch the game.
Oh, I’m sorry. Is your son watching or playing?
Playing. He’s a great striker. You won’t believe this but his ambition is to play for Arsenal! Imagine that! He’s just a kid though. He’ll grow out of that silliness.
Children! They can embarrass you sometimes.
Oh yes, and me a season ticket holder at Man U! But he’s okay, really.
I’ll miss my children.
How insensitive of me; don’t worry, you won’t, you’ll see. And you won’t even feel any pain, I guarantee that.
You don’t think?
Oh no. You’re dead before you feel any pain, and after that, their education is guaranteed. You’re A-okay yourself, Nadia, guaranteed front row in Heaven watching over your kids. It was sad about your husband though. How many years were you married?
Look at that! A seven year-old dream destroyed! By the way, I’m sorry we couldn’t give a scholarship on the basis of his sacrifice.
He wasn’t a registered member… if we gave scholarships for every independent activist who died heroically after hearing the Mahdi’s messages, we would be broke.
Go home and brood, Nadia. Brood over all the people the Enemy has snatched from you, okay? A one-week fasting also helps. Think of your husband, think of your parents ―
My parents were killed in a hurricane.
That’s the Enemy for you. We never used to have these wild hurricanes. It’s all these nukes they’ve been testing in the middle of the ocean that’s done it, screwing up the weather like this. Think of those four children you’d have been struggling to raise on your own. The Movement will send them right through university when you’re gone. It’s for the best. You don’t have to worry…
I have only two boys, Roma and Rube. It’s there in my file.
Well, think of Roma and Rube.
What do you mean, ‘how’?
How should I think of them? Should I think how they like to play football as well? How they prefer Real Madrid to Arsenal?
Think how they have to grow up bloody fatherless because of the Enemy! Think how they will grow up knowing that their mother was a heroine, not a coward! Think how you can barely feed them, whereas under The Movement’s Unlimited Martyrdom Scholarship it could yet be Dr. Rube and Dr. Roma someday! The woman who blew herself up last month was a doctor of pharmacology! A graduate of the Martyrdom Scholarship―
I’ll blow myself up, Mr. Asif! I really mean it.
Yes, today. I will… or ― no wait! Put me down for an Easter bomb, Mr. Asif. Rube’s birthday is just before Easter―
Did you really pass Induction training? Who recruited you into the Suicide squad?
Why? Will Katia have to refund her introductory commission if I reschedule?
It’s sabotage! Anyone who recommended you for the suicide squad is a bloody saboteur!
But what’s so important about blowing up the theatre today? The Easter crowds are much bigger.
Don’t you read the papers? The Pregnancy begins today. It’s a play that ridicules Leader Mahdi. A bomb on the opening night will send a clear signal.
That the Leader is not to be trifled with. He may have been underground for ten years, but he is not a figure of fun. Remember what happened when the Prophet cartoons…
I want to die for a cause, not for a person.
If the Leader was killed tomorrow, think how damaging to the cause it will be.
So the Leader will definitely be watching TV?
Definitely. You still want to do it?
Won’t your son miss the kick-off?
If you’re sacrificing your life my son can sacrifice his first half. You want to do it today?
Okay. Start the video.
I knew you had the balls for it, Nadia! I knew it! Now, where’s your husband’s picture? Hold it up like so, that will immortalize him, your Rene will treasure this video all his life.
Him too. Wrap this banner around your body, let the message show, like so. And put some powder on that bump, pull the veil down some more. We’re rolling now: when did you say you got the bump on your head?
…I was eight years old.
Was it a motor accident?
No, it was football.
You? Playing football.
I loved football as a kid, my father even hired this coach… are you recording this?
Yes, but don’t worry, this bit won’t go to the TV stations. It’s just for our record, for when the yellow press starts writing stuff and nonsense. So your father hired this coach?
I don’t know if I want to say this on…
I’m sending this personally to Leader Mahdi.
’A good header starts from the waist!’, That’s what the coach was saying to us, ’From the waist!’ ― and there we were, a dozen kids practising heading skills on a Saturday morning… a headbutt was all it was.
I still don’t know what happened to the other kid but I was unconscious for hours. When I woke up, I had a bump half the size of my head. It’s gone down now. That cured me of football… you’re laughing!
You were! And why did you switch off the camera?
You don’t accuse me of laughing on video, this is a historical record and you’re making me look bad. Focus on your husband, your sons, the Leader. We’ll take it again… this time it’s for real. These five lines were written by the Leader himself. Just follow the script, okay? Harden your face and read it through. We’re rolling now:
I am killing myself because for the sake of my family. The world cannot stand by and watch the…
Why did you say ‘because for the sake of’?
I didn’t! I said ‘for the sake of’?
That’s not what I heard. Look Nadia, it’s just five lines, okay, please read carefully. Harden your face, this is serious business. We’re rolling now:
I am killing myself for the sake of my family. The world cannot stand by and watch the same people cheating, killing and maiming us forever, making obscene profits while children die everyday. My dear children, ha ha, I am dying to…
What’s the bloody matter Nadia! Why did you say ‘ha ha’?
That’s what it says on your card: open bracket, ha ha, close bracket.
You are supposed to laugh, not say HA HA! You’re not a bloody illiterate!
First I’m to harden my face, now I’m to laugh! How can I do both at the same time? And why should I laugh when I’m about to die?
Every suicide bomber laughs to show courage, to show you don’t care about your life.
But I do.
Look here Nadia, I gave you the option of chickening out and you rejected it. Now I’m running late for the second half as well! Bloody women!
I heard that.
I said it for you to hear! It’s just five lines! Any old idiot can read five lines!
I am nervous, okay? You’re putting me under pressure with all this sniping at me. All you want is to go home and take your son to his match…
…keep my private life out of this.
You brought it in. I don’t know what kind of people are running The Movement nowadays. All you’ve been doing all day is demoralising me ―
Me? Demoralise you?
― boasting about your son’s football… You think I don’t want to take Rube and Roma to matches as well?
You’re just a calamity of a bomber! Any excuse will do for you!
Why can’t your wife kill herself as well.
Look here, Nadia, nobody forced you; you volunteered.
You’re also a volunteer, so why am I the one wearing the bomb while you’re drawing a big salary for shooting a stupid camera…
Watch your mouth, Nadia!
Ya ya. What are you going to do to me? Kill me? Your mates are carrying real guns ― The Movement is so desperate for people that it is sending women to do a man痴 job ― and you’re busy playing with video cameras, training footballers for Arsenal. Some revolutionary!
That’s it! I’m canceling you. Unstrap that bomb right now, Nadia! Dying for The Movement is a privilege and you’ve just blown yours! I’m sending a full report on this to Leader Mahdi! I’m putting you down for disgrace and expulsion. Kiss your scholarships goodbye!
I’ll write to Leader Mahdi as well. You demoralized me with all this football talk. You and your wife should be sent for Re-Orientation. You need a course on Football versus the Revolution.
Ha! I’ll like to see that envelope: To The Great Leader in China! That will get very far.
I’m not a dunce; I’ll send the letter through my cell head.
All letters for Leader Mahdi are forwarded through this office. You’ll be wasting your time.
Mr. Asif…you won’t disgrace me, will you? I’m so tired, you won’t believe it…just reschedule me, I’ll be better by Easter. I have had a really bad case of nerves.
You’ve had your chance, Nadia, you’re out. Out. Out of The Movement. I’m sending the message upstairs. You’re finished, you hear me? Finished. You won’t be able to show your face again, your sons…
I’ll do it today.
It’s too bloody late…
I’ll do it right here.
I’ll show you. I’ll pull the ring right here. Throw the video cassette out of the window Mr. Asif, you’re going to be a martyr too.
You’re crazy. You’re mad. You’re raving.
But I’m brave, see, I’m brave. One yank and…
DON’T! Don’t do it, Nadia. It is pointless, remember your Induction, every suicide is rationalized only by the death of the Enemy.
You are my Enemy, Mr. Asif. You’ve have been mocking me and laughing at me and threatening me since I got here.
Me? Nadia! I love you as my blood sister.
You got that right. This pregnancy will certainly mingle our blood.
Think of my wife, think of my children, think of…
…the football match, yes I know. You can have your miserable life back, Mr. Asif, but I want something in exchange…
You can have anything. Money, Easter bomb, anything. I can give you the cash for your son’s scholarship right now. Up to university. Just don’t pull that ring, Nadia.
I just want to see the Leader, Mr. Asif.
Impossible! Anything else but that.
Then prepare yourself, Mr. Asif. We’re going to meet God.
You’re a coward, you’ll never do it.
Don’t worry, Mr. Asif, you’ll won’t feel a thing.
Please, Nadia, what have I done to you? Ask for anything else, anything else in the world.
Get me the Leader on the phone.
You were just boasting how you could dial him up and report me. Asif, I’ll count to five and then we’ll both submit to God’s judgment. One…
You want to kill him don’t you? You’re like the other man, a plant, a spy!
All this was a ruse wasn’t it? Your only goal was to kill the Leader―
Well, HE’S DEAD! You hear me? DEAD!
Dead, damn you! He was killed six years ago; but we dispatched the spy who shot him to hellfire before he could tell the Enemy.
We’d have lost most of our funding if the truth came out right away, so we thought we’d tone down his personality some, while we built up a successor. But the more he disappeared from sight, the stronger his reputation grew.
But his Sallah message…
I write all his circulars from this computer. We decided that the Mahdi will never die. He will be like… like… like Uncle Ben’s Rice. You know the face on the packet? Who cares who actually makes the rice? Eh? That happy brown face is the brand. That’s what sells the rice. So now you know, please unstrap your bomb. You’re in the inner circle now, Nadia. Look, I’ll give you a desk job. How’s that? You get to keep your scholarships and your life!
Your Sallah message sent my husband to his death. Now I have a really good reason to hate you personally, Mr. Asif. Where was I? Four…
Prepare to meet your Maker again.
I’m very rich, Nadia. Very, very rich. I can―
I went through Induction, Asif. I put all the wealth of the world in one purse and toss it in the deepest sea. I spit after it.
Let’s go to the game, Nadia. You have to meet my family. Your sons need never want…
You’ll never understand their wants. They made me promise to take Leader Mahdi out of this world. Pick a number, Asif, five or a hundred?
Then let’s finish the countdown. Five…
Bloody hell! Please Nadia…
(first published in African Writing Magazine [No 10] Illustration by Nayee)