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Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side, come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines, with a monarch’s voice,
Cry ‘havoc’ and let slip the dogs of war.
                                    Shakespeare: Julius Caesar

Ate (AH-tay) was the Roman goddess of vengeance, better known to us by her Greek name of Nemesis.

This is the story of how I became a priestess of Ate.

 

Hot from Hell               by: Debbie Cybill

 

Prologue

IT FELT so good to be in the bush again. After all those months in Khartoum when I had to wear a business suit I had been so frustrated. In a climate like that, just imagine a business suit! Mind you, in those wretched air conditioned offices the jacket was necessary, but once I stepped outside onto the dusty hot streets it was ridiculous. Sure, I could wear Arab dress in the evenings when I did my shopping in the Soukh, but that was still male dress, even if the robe had a skirt. It was cooler and more comfortable than a western businessman’s suit, but not what I wanted to wear.

All the months of discussion about the channel to be dredged through the Sudh and how to go about it. The Blue Nile drains from the Mountains of the Moon in southern Sudan only to meander through the great swamp of the Sudh, where so much water evaporates under the tropical sun. Egypt wanted some of that "wasted" water for itself and was pushing the Sudanese government to allow a great channel to be dredged to drain the Sudh and divert more water down the Blue Nile to Khartoum and on to Egypt.

But the United Nations wanted some kind of survey of the Sudh to see how the waters were used by the people, by the wildlife and the water birds, before it would allocate money for the project. Then, it would be possible to measure the effects of any kind of project.

I was contracted to carry out this survey, though how one person could survey an area as big as California was beyond my imagination. At least it would take me out into the bush and the swamp lands where I could be myself. Finally I was on my way in my Land Rover, equipped as a water chemistry lab, dressed in jeans and a bush shirt. I was about to be myself again.

I stopped in the shade of a huge acacia tree and took a swig from my water bottle. I looked around for other traffic, not that I was on a road of any sort; it was just an automatic reaction. I threw off my shirt and stepped out of my jeans and underpants. I pulled on a pair of panties, white cotton trimmed with lace; I didn’t want to wear nylon panties in this climate. Next a matching camisole; no bra because that would have necessitated padding. Not in this heat, thank you very much. I stepped into a denim skirt, not too short for driving a Land Rover and then added a chambray blouse. How good it was to wear a skirt again after all that stultifying time in a man’s business suit. It was not exactly gorgeous or glamourous, but appropriate for a woman driving a Land Rover in Equatoria Province of the Sudan. I dabbed a little Clinique liquid foundation onto my cheeks, fixed it with powder and applied bronze lipstick, not that I expected anyone to see me, but they both contained SPF 15 sunblock, and in any case I liked a minimum of makeup.

Chapter 1. Fishing for lions

HOW TO begin this tale? Now, do not tell me to begin at the beginning, for there is no beginning to events of this kind. I guess the best place to start is with the event that resulted in my own involvement in it all.

It was all my own fault really . . .

The Land Rover would have to get stuck just when it was approaching dusk. I threw off the pawl of the self-recovery winch, slopped out into the mire to pay out the cable and waded through thigh-deep mud towards a solitary tree. Dragging the steel cable behind me I felt it growing heavier as more was paid out and the hem of my skirt was soaking wet and muddy. By the time I was on drier ground, I was having to stop and tug at it to pay out any more. I should really go back to the Land Rover and free a few more yards from the winch-drum, but the thought of that mud and all those leeches deterred me. I chose the lazy man’s option of yanking at the cable.

By the time I had secured it around the acacia and sloshed my way back to the Land Rover, 35 yards away, the sun was below the horizon. I stooped to feel how tight the cable was on the drum before starting up the engine to haul myself out, and then I felt the cable shaking. What on earth was happening? I climbed back into the cab and switched on the ignition and the head-lights. Neither seemed todisturb the half-grown lion cub, which was playing with the cable like a kitten playing with a piece of string. Now what? I switched off and settled to wait for half an hour until the cub should move away. The sounds of the African night rose around me, the whine of mosquitoes dominating everything else. I heard the laugh of a hyena, and nearer at hand the cough of a leopard. A gazelle screamed. Was it the leopard that had caught it or the hyenas? Slowly the chorus of frogs rose in volume, with the occasional splash as one jumped off a tussock into the water. Why hadn’t I been more careful about picking my way through this bog-land? Because I was in a hurry, of course. Serve me right. I should have gone on foot first to check that the solid land was passable instead of trusting to my view from the cab. I was furious with myself and impatient. No wonder that in the days of the British raj, they used to call the District Commissioner here the "bog baron". I switched the engine and lights on again. Now there were two cubs. And their mother. I hurriedly doused the lights and the engine. The Land Rover had no doors and only a canvas canopy. I hoped the lioness had already been successful in her hunt tonight. I hated to carry a rifle, even though I was supposed never to be without one, and had left it behind. Now I wished I had it with me. The lioness roared and was answered by another. Closer. I could be patient no longer. This time when I switched on the lights I saw two lionesses, and two more cubs, three-quarter grown and frisky.

The leeches were becoming bothersome. I had not had time to remove them when I returned to the Land Rover and now it was too late. Not that I could see them. The moon had risen by now and I could see the lions without any need for head lights. Another exchange of roars, and this time a female with three younger cubs arrived. Then the lion and two more young females. Was this the end? A lion, five lionesses, three with cubs, thirteen in all. That lion must be proud of his pride. Food must be abundant for breeding to have been so successful.

An outbreak of high raucous laughter showed where hyenas were squabbling over some carrion. The lions took no notice. That must mean that they were well-fed. I sighed in relief. If they were hungry they would have no compunction about driving hyenas away from their prey. Indeed, hyenas are more successful hunters than lions; lions more often take carrion from hyenas than the other way round. It was going to be a long, itchy night. The mosquitoes were biting well now. What could I do if the pride attacked? Nothing I supposed. The canopy would never hold them, and I had no protection. A fish rose with a plop, startling me. Towards dawn I fell asleep, and woke with sunrise to a stiff neck, almost surprised to find myself alive. A marabou stork stood nearby in thewater, looking at me down its long nose.

Finally there was light enough to pick off the leeches. Eleven of the pride were still there, dozing in the slight shade given by the tree. What was I going to do? I couldn’t haul myself out into the middle of a pride of lions. Even if they had left me alone all night they would surely react if a Land Rover ground its way into their midst. And I would have to descend to free the cable. I reached for my water bottle, rinsed out my mouth and took a swig.

The sun rose higher; I had no more sweat, only dry salt. An Egyptian vulture and two kites circled overhead. One of the lionesses twitched, rose to her feet, languidly stretched and yawned. I could see right down her throat. She moved off at a stately pace, her cubs following her, towards a larger tree, some 300 yards farther off, on a rocky out-crop. The lion growled gently, then followed her. Slowly the rest of the pride came to life, each one stretching before pacing off, then lying down in the shade. Only the lion lay head up, surveying his domain from this new vantage point.

Was this the moment to try to extricate myself? I switched on the ignition, engaged the clutch on the winch and started paying in the cable. The Land Rover inched forward. I looked over at the pride. They were all sitting up now, watching me. I stopped, but kept the engine running. All but the lion settled down again. Once more I engaged the winch clutch. This time the cubs ignored me, but two of the lionesses sat up. As I continued to haul myself out they settled down once more, all except the lion. I had reached dry ground. There was a strong smell of lion where the pride had rested overnight, that tom-cat stench mingled with ammonia and rotting meat.

I dropped from the cab and freed the cable from the tree. The lion had risen to his feet and was pacing over towards me, his body close to the ground in the stalking posture.

I jumped into the cab and started up just as the lion charged. Its claws ripped the canvas.

I accelerated. Was I going to be fast enough? The Land Rover jolted like a bucking horse. Could I accelerate quickly enough to escape the lion? I doubted it on this boulder strewn terrain.

The lion charged again. The Land Rover dropped into a bigger pot-hole than usual and I was nearly thrown out of the open door from the jar. The end of the cable, which was still trailing behind, flew up in the air like a living thing. The lion grabbed for it, aborting its charge. The hook caught in its mouth and in moments the accelerating Land Rover was dragging a dead lion behind it.

The Shilluk villagers cut it up and roasted it. They said it was delicious.

Chapter 2. The Royal Court of the Shilluk

THREE days later when I reached the court of the paramount Chief or king of the Shilluk - the Reth, as he is known - of the two million Shilluk people, I found that the tale had preceded me, totally distorted, of course. I had first met the Reth when we were students together at university in England. At that time I called him Edward and he called me Derek. I did not know if he recognized me or remembered that I used to be a man. After greetings and the ususal exchange of politesse he asked me, "What kind of gun did you use?"

"I had no gun with me."

He looked surprised and beckoned to one of his men. "The village chief says that there was no hole of any kind in the skin, no bullet hole, no spear hole, no knife hole, and no gun in the truck," he said.

The Reth turned to me, "You killed a lion with your bare hands?"

I tried to tell him how it had happened, but he would not listen.

That is how folk legends start: I became the woman who had killed a lion with her bare hands.

The Reth turned to me again: "We have an old oracular pronouncement that Armageddon, the final war between the forces of good and evil, will be heralded by the arrival of Lion-wrestler. Have you ever wrestled with lions before?"

I stood in thought for a moment thinking of that dreadful occasion when I had been scared out of my wits by another lion. The Reth took my silence as a positive, then he said, "Tell me about any other occasions when you encountered a lion." So I told him.

Chapter 3. Stalked by a lion

THE elephant grass there really deserved its name; tall enough for an elephant to hide, growing like bamboo, the tall grass savannah skirting the southern fringes of the Sahara. This was not strictly desert. The rainfall was too great for that, even if the rainy season did only last six weeks.

The wadi made a broad highway, a sandy tract a hundred yards wide, twisting and turning between the stands of elephant grass. It must be an impressive sight in the rainy season, a swift-running river, lasting for just a few days. Now it was just sand. But underneath that sand there was still water that had soaked down.

The river never ran to the sea, or even to an inland lake. Instead it sank into the sand. It was my job to drill down through the sand, with a spade and a ten-foot long soil auger, to discover just how much water was hidden beneath the surface, find out how good it was and to plan on its utilization.

I picked up my canteen, checking that it was full, put my lunch in a pocket of my back pack and checked my sampling gear. I eyed my rifle. Another fifteen pounds on top of everything else I had to carry. I shouldered my pack, picked up the spade and soil auger, shrugged my shoulders and left the rifle lying in the Land Rover. It would have been so much easier to drive the Land Rover from one sampling point to another, but fuel was in short supply.

It was still quite cool just after dawn, a mere ninety degrees, and I made good progress, walking down-stream and sampling the bed of the wadi at intervals, drilling down to the water table with my auger, taking samples for water quality assessment, and measuring the level. About noon, when I had drilled 36 times and covered about ten miles, I spied an Acacia tree, the first I had seen that was big enough to cast shade for a short siesta.

After lunch I started back up the wadi again, moving more slowly in the heat of the afternoon, but covering the ground more quickly since I did not need to stop to take samples. I should be back in camp well before night-fall. About four o’clock I reckoned I was two kilometres from my Land Rover when I came upon a fork in the wadi. The elephant grass effectively obscured all land-marks. The breeze had totally destroyed my foot marks in the dry sand, and I was no longer sure which fork I had come down. I thought it was the one to my right. Why had I not paid better attention on my way down?

Half an hour later I came upon a clump of trees, one a big shade tree, and three smaller red-barked acacia trees, the favourite food of the giraffe. I had certainly never passed those trees on my way down the wadi. I must have taken the wrong fork.

I turned back. It was going to be touch and go now whether I made it back to camp before dusk; the sun sets at six in these tropical latitudes. I plodded along for no more than a minute in my own footsteps before the prints in the sand brought me up in astonishment. On top of my own were the spoor of a lion, moving in the same direction as I had been before I turned back. From the marks, the lion had been stalking me and had slunk off into the elephant grass as soon as I turned round. I had never seen it.

Now it became a matter of urgency to reach my camp and my rifle before dark. The sun was perilously close to the horizon. I hitched my back pack higher, now much heavier with fifty pounds of samples of water and wet sand, and shouldered my soil auger like a spear or, rather, like a giant corkscrew. With that weight I could not run, nor would it have been wise in that heat and with a lion nearby.

I was thankful to make it back to the fork without catching a glimpse of the lion, but I knew it was there somewhere in the tall grass between the two branches of the wadi, on my right hand. I kept near the center of the wadi, perhaps just a little closer to the left-hand wall of grass. The sun was half down now and the breeze had died away, as it always did at night-fall.

Was that a rustle?

Was there something big in the grass?

I caught a glimpse of a head. A giraffe! I relaxed for a moment.

Then the lion charged, taking me from the rear. Like all man-eaters, it was an old male, gaunt and under-nourished. Instead of snapping my neck the lion got a mouthful of back pack and water-sample bottles, and impaled itself on my soil auger, knocking me down in the process and causing the spade to fly out of reach.

Somehow I kept my grip on the auger as I struggled onto my feet, holding off the cat which could neither reach me nor pull back, held by the twist of the auger embedded deep in his chest. The cross bar of the auger was firmly braced on the ground.

We were both tiring, but even half-starving as he was, he was still twice my weight. I gripped the long auger between my chest and my left arm, and worked my knife out of its sheath where I kept it strapped to my left upper arm, hilt down. His canine teeth were broken and his claws worn and blunted. Dare I try to go under the claws and stab the cat? The lion swatted at me, just missing my right fore-arm. But it was slow. I ducked under and stabbed at the lion’s neck. This time I did not escape a raking from the claws, but I had severed the jugular.

I had felt nothing, but I looked in horror at the blood welling up along my arm, weak and trembling. Then the endorphins kicked in, and I felt suddenly elated. Now it was just a matter of keeping my grip on the steel auger until the lion bled to death, hoping not to lose too much blood of my own.

An hour later I staggered into camp with a stripp torn from the tail of my shirt wrapped tightly around my right arm. I pulled out my emergency medical kit and gave myself a s hot of morphine, then unwrapped the strip of my shirttails from my arm and examined the wounds. The bleeding had stopped but lion’s claws are dirty and often infected with rotting meat. I sprinkled sulpha powder over everything and gave myself a shot of penicillin before binding the whole thing up with a gauze bandage

The hyenas laughed loud and long that night. When I drove my Land Rover to the site of the kill the next day all I found was scattered bones and a badly twisted soil auger. Now I would have to do the trek over again and take new water samples. But first I must straighten the auger. Fresh shots of penicillin and morphine and I decided to head back for base instead of taking fresh water samples.

It was an erratic drive back through the bush, zonked out with morphine, driving with one hand through the trackless savannah. Fortunately I met up with another of our Land Rovers, this one with two men in it. One of them took over the driving from me. Once at the base the nurse of our outfit redressed my wounds and I soon recovered.

THE RETH seized my right arm and pushed up my sleeve. There in plain view were the four parallel scars where the lion had raked me.

"Yes, you are Lion-wrestler," the Reth pronounced. "Tomorrow we go to the shrine of NeeKang. Dare you come with me, Lion-wrestler?"

NeeKang was the half legendary hero-founder of the Shilluk nation and I knew that no non-Shilluk have ever been into his shrine and lived to tell the tale. I was intensely curious about the shrine.

"I shall be deeply honored, Excellency, to accompany you to the shrine of your great ancestor." ::Yes, and scared shitless too::

I continued, "How could anyone regard me as heroic, as a wrestler of lions? Why! I am even afraid of the dark!"

"There sounds to be a story in that. Won’t you tell us all about it?"

The Shilluk like nothing better than tales after dinner...

NONE of us heard the bomb land. We were all asleep in the basement. Since the air raids began to occur every night we had not bothered to try to sleep upstairs, but it had become routine to sleep down here, even without waiting for the air-raid sirens. Indeed, we didn’t even realize that the sirens had sounded; we were pretty much insulated from outside noises down here. No, it was not the bomb itself, but the bread-bin rattling down the cellar steps and landing on Hamish’s chest that woke us all.

"Ouch."

"Are you all right, Hamish?"

"What hit me?"

Mother reached for the light switch.

"The electricity’s off."

Just then there was an enormous rumble. We all felt the house shake, then the noise of the rubble falling on the floor above us. "Derek, go and check if the gas is turned off properly at the mains."

"Yes, Father. I turned it off before we came to bed."

"Well go and check, anyway. Fire’s the worst danger just now ."

I checked in the dark. We had all accustomed ourselves to do these things without lights. "It’s off, Father."

"Here’s what hit you, Hamish. It was the bread-bin from the top of the cellar steps."

Mother had shone a flash-light around and spotted it at the foot of Hamish’s bunk.

"Don’t use flash-lights more than we need, Jeannie, we don’t know how long they will have to last. There’s no water in the taps, not even in the hot water tap, so I suppose the hot water tank has been wrenched away. Is the water can full, Derek?"

"I filled it last night, Father, so we should have five gallons at any rate."

"Good, but check it anyway."

It was full, as I knew it would be.

"I think, Alistair, that you and Derek should see if it is possible to get out through the cellar door before we decide we are trapped. Don’t you think it might just be possible that we could? While you do that I shall just inspect Hamish to make sure he is not really hurt."

Mother was taking charge, as she always did.

I held the torch while Father poked at the rubble where the cellar door used to be. Nothing would budge.

"I wonder where the door went. It must have been torn off its hinges before this mess fell. Look, here’s a bathroom fixture from upstairs."

"Is there any way out, Alistair?"

"No, nothing will move, Jeannie. It’s all locked solid. We’re here for some time I fear."

"Hadn’t you better inspect the ceiling to see if there is any danger of it’s collapsing on us?"

"Right you are, my love."

Father and I inspected the ceiling, or rather the underside of the floor above. In the alcove where we had our bunks everything was sound, but over in the far corner it was bulging.

We had reinforced the bunk alcove some months before with four by four beams, laid both horizontally and vertically, but elsewhere we had used vertical two by fours as braces for the floor above. After building the two double decker bunks out of two by fours and pieces of old carpet we still had a stack of two by fours left that we had kept in the basement for any emergency. Some of them were pressed into service to shore up the bulging floor. The sledge-hammer from the tool chest was used to hammer them into place and to push up the floor, however slightly.

"Perhaps the noise of hammering will attract the attention of the rescue crews. Quiet, everyone, and listen for any signs of activity overhead."

Not a sound.

Bit by bit Father and I explored the cellar, looking for weak points, either to facilitate our escape or else points where the ceiling might fall in on us. Meanwhile Mother and my brother Hamish, who was only nine, five years younger than me, inspected the food resources.

"Why don’t you look for the bread, Hamish, and return it to the bread-bin. And you need to find the lid of the bread-bin too. Did anyone note the time when we were awakened?"

"I did, Mother. I looked at my watch and it said 3.03. It’s now 4.46."

"Good lad! I suggest we try to sleep for a few more hours, and then in daylight I expect the rescue teams will dig us out."

"Goodnight, everyone."

Despite all our good intentions I for one found myself too wound up to get to sleep easily, but I did eventually manage it.

Despite everything, we slept late that morning. I woke up at a quarter past eight, but Hamish was stirring before me, whimpering a little, perhaps in pain from the blow on his chest five hours before, perhaps in fright. I never did find out. W breakfasted by the light of a single flashlight on cornflakes and milk, pretty much our normal breakfast at that time, but we could not make any tea to wash it down. We had plenty of candles, but did not yet dare to light one for fear of fire.

"Lick your dishes clean, everyone. We can’t spare water for washing." Mother turned out the light and we discussed our plans while sitting in darkness. Father summarized his ideas.

"I think the best thing to do is to try to burrow through towards number 34. The noise of our digging may attract the rescue teams, and we certainly can’t dig upwards with that mess over our heads. Since there is only about twenty feet between the two houses I don’t suppose we shall be lucky enough to be able to dig upwards between them, but we can try."

"I can’t think of a better idea, Alistair. The noisiest part will be breaking a hole in the wall. Let’s hope that brings the air raid wardens. Do you think we dare light a candle now?"

"Can anyone smell gas? You boys have a better sense of smell than I do. No? Then let’s try just one. Come on, Derek."

I found the candles and lit one, which then burnt brightly and steadily. For a moment I was mesmerized by the light and studied the grain of the nearest wooden beam, fascinated by the way it ran.

"Come on laddy. Stop day-dreaming and let’s get started."

Picking up the pick-axe Father led the way to the far corner of the cellar and I followed with the sledge-hammer and the candle.

"If we begin fairly high up in this corner we should tunnel in the right direction, and by keeping high there should be little risk of soil caving in on us." Mother had followed us over.

"Don’t you think you should shore up the ceiling a little more before you begin, Alistair, just in case?"

"I’ll get the wood, Mother, I know where it is." Hamish was excited by the thought of having something to do. He struggled across with a piece almost too big for him and I hammered it in place. He brought another and then a third.

"That’s enough, Hamish, or we shan’t have space to swing a hammer."

"Everyone quiet, while we listen if the rescuers have heard the hammering."

We all held our breaths and listened.

"I guess not. Let’s get on with it. I’ll start with the pick-axe, Derek, and then perhaps you can break things a bit with the sledge. Everyone back, where I shan’t hit them with the back swing."

The pick-axe just bounced off the concrete and after ten minutes Father stopped to wipe the sweat out of his eyes.

"Perhaps you could start a small crack with a hammer and chisel, Alistair, and then enlarge it with the pick-axe."

"That’s a good idea, Jeannie. Do you feel up to trying, Derek."

"I’ll give it a shot, Father."

I selected a two pound lump hammer and a one-inch chisel and then studied the wall face. Holding the candle up to the wall I thought I could detect a barely perceptible hair-line which might be a weak point and placed the chisel against it. I was right. A dozen blows and the hair-line widened to a crack.

"Find the small crow-bar, Hamish, and let’s see if we can pry a chunk out."

No such luck. It took ten minutes more with the chisel and then with the pick-axe before it was possible to insert the crowbar and pry a small chunk loose. We all stopped and listened for the rescue teams. If that noise hadn’t attracted their attention nothing would. Still the pick-axe would do nothing but bounce off the concrete. We attacked the surface again with the hammer and chisel and succeeded in starting another crack at an angle to the first. Now Father tried the sledge-hammer. The crack widened enough to insert the crow-bar and we pried out another chunk.

"Time for lunch, everyone."

Had it taken us all morning just for this little bit of excavation? It would be Christmas before we got out at this rate. Lunch consisted of bully beef sandwiches, no butter, and a cup of water, followed by canned peaches. We all went over to inspect the wall.

"It looks to me as if you have done the worst part. It should go much more easily now. But you can’t leave the debris lying here in the way. Don’t you think you should carry it over to the other corner, where the ceiling is bulging down? If you stack the rubble and soil there it may soon be enough to support the ceiling."

Mother was right. As usual. She was the real planner, while Father was the doer.

"Hamish, why don’t you make that your job? Fetch the broom and shovel and carry the rubbish over there."

Hamish scurried away to find the tools for his share of the job. Crow-bar and sledge-hammer proved the most useful tools in enlarging the first hole until it was big enough to accommodate me. I fetched over a wooden crate and stood on it to begin excavating the soil beyond. The soil was surprisingly hard and I had to use the pick-axe to loosen it before shovelling it out for Hamish to cart away. When it was Father’s turn to dig he had to enlarge the hole a little first, then began to tunnel obliquely upwards towards the surface. By teatime we had penetrated about four feet and it became necessary to crawl into the hole to move further. ‘Tea’—this was the "North Country" where the meals are different from the south of England—at five o’clock, consisted of sardines and bread, a small salad with oil and vinegar and a cup of reconstituted dried milk. No tea. It would be dark outside by now. Back to the tunnel.

"I don’t think we need to shore anything up here, Derek. Nothing seems at all loose and we are pretty near the surface anyway. There’s no real point in going up any higher so near the house, and it’s dark outside anyway, so we shouldn’t see anything if we did break through. Let’s see if we can’t do another five feet before bed. I’ll take the first stint."

It was moving much faster now. Father got right inside the tunnel and passed back the dirt between his feet, where I threw it out to Hamish. There was no longer room to swing the sledge and most of the work was done with the crow-bar backed up by the lump hammer and chisel. Father simply scrabbled away the loosened dirt with his gloved hands. After half an hour we swapped places. We were now advancing at the rate of about two feet an hour, so that by the time we called it a day and stopped for supper we had a tunnel about ten feet long, or about half way to the next house, number 34.

We could not wash for supper, but simply brushed off the dirt as best we could and discarded our gloves. Over supper, consisting of more reconstituted dried milk, canned peas and carrots, we discussed our progress.

"We’re about half way to the Williams’s house now. I guess that’s the point where we have the best chance of finding ground free of fallen debris. I think we should try to break through to the surface first thing in the morning. Don’t we have any real milk left, Jeannie, instead of this dreadful stuff?"

"I was keeping it for breakfast to go with the cornflakes; we can’t make porridge. We have just enough milk. Clean your plates and cups everyone and then let’s sing Christmas carols for an hour before we get a good night’s sleep."

Hamish immediately started singing "Once in Royal David’s city," in which the first verse is usually sung by a solo treble voice. His sweet treble—he was in the church choir—rang out sweet and clear. For the second verse we all joined in in unison, even me with my unsure light baritone, still with the adolescent’s crack in it. In the third verse first Father and then Mother began to harmonize. For an hour we sang like this, generally in four part harmony, "In the bleak midwinter", "The holly and the ivy". We guyed "Good King Wenceslas" by adding stylized gestures and nearly broke down in a fit of giggles. We did not sing "Tannenbaum" for that had become identified with the Hitler Youth Movement, though we did sing other German carols, such as "Silent Night", with which we finished.

"Goodnight everyone. Let’s hope it really is a silent night tonight."

Next morning I was the first awake, at seven o’clock, according to my luminous watch dial, and lay for a moment feeling all the aches and pains from the previous days unaccustomed tunnelling. I climbed off my bunk and made my way over to the drain in the cellar floor, which was all we had in the way of a toilet. Mother stirred and Father groaned. He too was suffering from stiff muscles from the tunnelling. We breakfasted on cornflakes and the last of the milk with a little water to wash it down.

"No, you can’t have a second cup, Alistair. We must conserve what we have."

"Let’s get on with it then, laddies. You take the first stint, Derek and I’ll pass the dirt back to Hamish."

"I think I’d better help Hamish to cart the dirt away. He can get in the tunnel behind you and pass it out to me," said Mother. "I think we should try to tunnel vertically up to the surface and see if we can get out. We are about halfway between the houses now."

"That’s what I thought too; it’s why I wanted Derek to start. He will fit in the space better than I can."

It was more than a mite uncomfortable hacking at the roof of the tunnel with the dirt falling on my head, but I only had to go up about two feet before I came across the rubble that had fallen between the houses, wooden beams, bricks, which I thought at first threatened to fall on my head, and an iron pipe. The whole thing was locked solid. I thought I saw a hint of light between all this, and there was certainly a waft of air. An hour’s effort wasted. Father took over from me and we continued the forward progress, a little faster now that we had the hang of it. We had tunnelled another four feet before Mother called a halt for lunch.

"I don’t suppose we should try again to go upwards?" Father sounded dispirited.

"No, you should continue to the Williams’s house, Alistair. It will be easier to break through their wall into the cellar, since there will be no packed earth backing the wall. It should give much more easily."

"I guess you’re right, Jeannie."

"With any luck, Alistair, we should be able to get out from their cellar, and if worse comes to the worst and they are trapped too we can combine forces to start the next tunnel to number 32. With Jamie Williams helping the tunnelling could go faster."

"You’re right as usual, Jeannie."

I was only fifteen minutes into my stint when I felt a great thump on my back as the roof caved in behind me, pinning my lower body to the floor of the tunnel and extinguishing the candle. Only my head and my left hand were free. The pressure seemed intolerable at first and then numbness set in. The worst part was the complete and absolute darkness: not a glimmer of light. I could not even feel Father’s efforts as he struggled to free me., but finally he succeeded and dragged me back into the cellar. I was not badly hurt, just somewhat shocked; I had not even panicked.

"We’ve nothing to shore it up with, but we must carry on somehow, Jeannie. I must try to do all the excavating myself."

"Nonsense, Alistair, we just have to take more care, that’s all. The boy’s not hurt. If we can’t shore up the roof we’ll just have to cut the roof away up to the surface and the accumulated rubble up there, which won’t fall. Or if it does, then we have a way out. Derek can rest for an hour while you and I start on that task."

Mother crawled into the tunnel and started attacking the roof with a crowbar. All the way along the tunnel she found rubble, beams of wood, tangled plumbing parts, bricks, but no more chance of a cave in. By teatime they had succeeded in clearing the tunnel roof without finding anywhere they could cut up through the rubble to get out. After tea I took another shift at extending the tunnel towards the Williams’s and by supper time we had cleared the concrete face of their cellar wall ready to try to break through the next day. We hammered on the wall but could hear no sound in reply.

"Let’s hope that’s a good sign, that they were able to get out and there’s a passage for us too."

"I fervently hope so. Let’ have an hour of carols and then turn in."

Once more we began with "Once in Royal David’s city," letting Hamish sing his solo, before running through our repertoire of carols.

"We’ll be able to go out carol singing in the streets after all this practice and raise some cash!"

"Don’t be silly, Alistair. Sleep well everyone. Goodnight, Hamish; goodnight, Derek. Come on, Alistair, let’s turn in too."

Hamish woke soon after five, and no-one could get to sleep again after that. We had an early breakfast, reconstituted dried milk with our cereal this morning, and then, despite our aching muscles started to try and break down the wall. After ten minutes with the hammer and chisel I thought I felt the concrete giving under my blows, but it took another fifteen minutes before the chisel broke through.

"Gas! I smell gas."

Father blew out the candle and yelled to Mother to blow out the other one and find the flash-light. The smell of gas was strong and we backed out of the tunnel.

"Let’s hope it escapes through the rubble over the tunnel. But how can the cellar be full of gas? Go and check our gas-line, Jeannie, and see if it is still giving gas from the main."

Mother turned the gas key. The needle did not move.

"No, there’s nothing coming through here. The authorities must have turned off the gas at the mains an hour or two after the bomb."

"If their gas pipe was broken by the bomb, Alistair, an hour or two would have been enough to fill the cellar. Oh, those poor people. If they were there they must have been killed by the gas. And the cellar must be well sealed for the gas still to be lingering."

"What do we do now?"

"I think we should give it an hour for the gas to disperse and then continue. You had better be the one to break through the wall, Alistair. I don’t want Derek to be the one to find dead bodies. Let him work for an hour until he has enlarged the hole somewhat and then you take over to make the final penetration."

We gave up tunnelling to make our morning ablutions, such as they were. Mother had designated a far corner of the cellar as our toilet, with a bucket of soil kept handy to cover everything up, so there was little smell. After we had all made ourselves comfortable I crept into the tunnel and started once again on the wall, this time by torch-light. The smell of gas was much less now, but there was a somewhat sweet, sickly smell in its place, the smell of death as I afterwards discovered. After 45 minutes I exchanged places with Father, who soon enlarged the hole enough to climb through.

"Derek, go back and ask Mother to come to the wall, please."

"It’s as you feared, Jeannie. Jamie and Mairi Williams are dead, and already bloated and stinking." He threw up.

"We all have to be strong, Alistair. Help me through. I want to find something to cover them with before we continue our digging."

Mother drew their bedding up and covered them where they lay, and then called for me to come through. Father was still sick and shaking and I was feeling very nervous.

"It looks as if they never heard the bomb and died in their sleep, Alistair. Go back and keep Hamish company until you can pull yourself together. I don’t want him left alone. Derek and I will explore this cellar and see if there is any way out."

Mother and I went up the cellar steps and found an immovable tangle of debris. Then we inspected the floor overhead, which was not bulging anywhere, even though the Williamss had not braced it like we had.

"It looks as if the fall is less bad here than in our house. Where’s their coal store, Derek?"

We went over to the other side of the house from where we had entered and found the coal. I looked at the coal chute, where the coal was delivered.

"Do you think we could get out that way, Mother?"

"Why don’t you try to get up there and squeeze through? Here, let me help you up."

"It’s no good like this. I’ll have to find a crate to stand on."

I dragged a packing case over and this time found I could reach to draw back the bolt on the coal-hole cover. It opened outwards and I pushed hard against it. It seemed to move slightly, but I knew that I was pushing against fallen debris. Just then Father and Hamish came through the tunnel, giving the covered bodies a wide berth.

"I’m trying to move the coal door. It gives slightly, but it opens outwards and I can’t move it far."

"Is it hinged at the top like ours?"

"Yes it is."

"Then let’s try to remove the hinges, then we might manage something."

"Why didn’t we try our own coal-hole cover?"

"It’s in the part of the cellar where the ceiling was bulging worst, so there had to be lots of debris on top, and besides we might have brought everything down on top of us just there. I thought about it, Jeannie, but there seemed no future in that approach."

"I guess you’re right, Alistair, but how about here."

"Derek’s right; it does give a little."

Father was still pale but seemed to have collected himself. He was able to knock the pins out of the hinges and then to slide the door partly to one side.

"I can see daylight."

He took the crow-bar and pried at the tangle of debris. Bit by bit he was able to remove pieces of iron pipe, an old shoe, parts of a kitchen table, bricks, plaster and lath.

"Here, Derek, you have a try."

I pried out more bricks and suddenly could see the sky.

"Can you hear anything out there, Derek?"

"Not a thing, Mother. There doesn’t seem to be anyone about."

"Well, it’s still early in the day. I expect the rescue teams will resume work soon."

I went back to prying at the debris and soon had an opening through which I could crawl.

"Shall I try to get out and work at it from outside?"

"Yes, but be careful, Derek. If it’s safe we can send Hamish up after you."

I threaded my way through the hole, scraping my side on one bit of iron, but I was finally through. Not a person in sight, no traffic, just a scene of devastation. I could not see a single complete house standing, but ours seemed to be the worst.

"Send Hamish up, Mother. There’s no-one about and nothing seems about to fall. Tell him to beware of that piece of metl on the right."

It did not take the two of us long to enlarge the hole enough for Mother to climb through and then Father. We clambered over the debris to the road and looked around.

"What are you folks doing here? Don’t you know it’s off limits? Thinking of looting are you?"

The voice startled us. We all spun around.

"Who the devil do you think you are to talk to us like that? From your shoulder flashes you are supposed to be rescue workers, I see. If you had done your jobs properly we should not be here. This is the third day since the bomb buried us in our cellar over there and we have taken all this time to dig ourselves out. Ourselves, not you, you set of incompetents." Mother paused for breath. It was the only time I ever heard her use an expletive.

"Where do you live?"

"Just over there at number 36. We had to burrow through to number 34 to get out and it took us almost three days. And another thing, the people in 34 are all dead. They died in their sleep, of gas. If you had turned off the gas as soon as the bomb hit they would still be alive."

"We didn’t think anyone could still be alive in 36. Just look. It’s the worst damaged house of the lot. We’ve been working on other houses where there seemed more chance of finding living souls. I’m sorry. I’m sorry."

He seemed on the verge of tears.

"I’m exhausted, and I’ve already seen 27 dead bodies from this one land-mine. Now you tell me there are more, but at least you are alive. Charlie here will take you to the reception centre where you can stay until you find somewhere to go."

It was not until two days later that we found out that all my uncles, my cousin Jessica and all my remaining male cousins—those that had not died earlier in the Battle of Britain—had been killed that night. Another piece of news that meant relatively little to us at the time, but was of crucial importance, was, "The Japs have bombed some Yankee base in the Pacific" a few hours after the Germans had almost destroyed my family.

Apart from the three of us, my paternal grandfather was the only male relative I had who survived that night. Pearl Harbour, the death of the Williams’s—the only deaths I had seen until then—and the devastation of my family became inextricably entwined in my memory. And ever since I have preferred to sleep with a night-light. I am not exactly terrified of the dark, but absolute blackness makes me uneasy.

Chapter 6. The shrine of NeeKang

IT WAS three the next morning when we set off to visit the shrine, a convoy of four Land Rovers and Jeeps. The Reth had shed his Western clothing and was dressed in the robes of an African chief, with a leopard skin across his shoulders. I was wearing my usual denim skirt and blouse with sandals.

Suddenly we were upon the earthworks that marked the shrine, looming up through the darkness brilliantly lit by the headlights of the convoy. I did not at first see the wooden palisade on top.

We all alighted from the Land Rovers and stretched. The Reth beckoned to one of his men, his son Rupert as I afterwards discovered, and assigned him as my escort and interpreter. We formed up into a procession, the Reth leading, and made our way through the maze that formed the guarded entrance to the compound.

As we walked along Rupert turned to me and asked, "My father wants to know if you are the man he knew as Derek when he was a student."

So the Reth had remembered me. "Yes, that’s me."

Rupert digested this laconic statement for some time as the Reth made obeisance to the cave through which NeeKang was supposed to have descended to the afterworld. By now he was surrounded by a about a dozen priests, each one carrying a fantastic construction crowned with a tuft of black ostrich feathers, looking like nothing so much as gigantic feather dusters. Rupert told me these were iconic expressions of the spirits of the Reth’s ancestors. The Reth was prostrate now, and the chanting louder.

"Are you a woman now, then, Lion-wrestler? Have you been cut? You talk with a man’s voice."

"No, I have never been cut, and I never shall be. Under this skirt I am a full and complete man. I just prefer to dress as a woman. Or to tell the truth, I feel a compulsion to dress as a woman."

"We have some people like that among us."

Chapter 7. NeeKang

THE RETH had now risen to his feet, and Rupert said to me, "Come, Lion-wrestler, the Reth wishesto present you to NeeKang."

I stepped forward and stood facing the Reth, who took my hand, turned me around and led me to the entrance to the cave. We walked into the cave like this holding hands, then stopped about ten paces inside. The Reth chanted some words, I heard the echo, and then a great roaring noise. The Reth bowed low and I copied his actions. He said a few more words and we both bowed again before backing out of the cave, never turning around.

Once in the sandy area in front of the cave the singing and dancing began. The priests with their feather dusters bobbed around sedately, the younger men more vigorously. That was when I realized that all those within the compound were men, no women at all, except me. The drums started, then a solo flute joined in, wavering high above the sounds of the singing, that great men’s chorus, so characteristic of eastern Africa. I suppose an hour had passed in this hot and dusty song and dance when the Reth once more seized my hand and led me out through the maze of the entrance to the outer compound.

I was met by an amazing sight. All the warriors of the tribe were drawn up in ranks, each man with an oval hippopotamus-hide shield and two assegais. At the sight of us they gave a great roar and as one man bowed down, almost as if they were worshiping us. In fact they were giving thanks to NeeKang for accepting me instead of striking me dead.

Now I was a folk hero, and not just among the Shilluk, as I soon discovered. My work took me among the Anuak, the Dinka, the Pari Lokoro and the war-like Aruak peoples of the southern Sudan. I was greeted everywhere as Lion-wrestler, the harbinger of Armageddon, the man-woman, the Amazon, the strong one.

The tension had not lessened since I was here last, but rather had increased. The tension was not a result of my appearance among them as Lion-wrestler, as some journalists have insisted, but had been building ever since the Muslim Brotherhood seized power in a coup d’Etat and began their program of forced conversion of the southerners to Islam, after proclaiming that the law of the land would in future be Sharia law, the old law of the Koran. I was just the harbinger of this civil war, as a swallow is the harbinger of summer, not its cause.

Sudan is a divided country. The northern half is inhabited chiefly by light-skinned Muslims who call themselves Arabs. The south is home to a variety of darker-skinned peoples, almost none of whom are Muslim; a few are Christian, but the majority follow the religions of their forefathers. Slavery never really died out in the Sudan, even under the tenuous British rule of the first half of this century, and the common name by which the northerners referred to the southerners - the Shilluk, Dinka, Aruak, Pari Lokoro, Anuak and others - was Abeid, slaves.

Now in this post-nuclear age, the valued slaves in northern Sudan were the women house-slaves, not the male field hands. And of course there is the usual complement of eunuchs to guard all the women.

Chapter 8. Slave Raids

I WAS working in Aruak territory when word came of the first of the major slave raids of modern times. I had just come into the town of the Reth of the Aruak when a straggling line of boys made their way in from the west, half-starving. There were about 50 of them, all pre-teens, and two of the older boys, perhaps 12 years old, were the leaders who had organized this party. The tale they had to tell was horrendous.

A party of Dongalawi soldiers from the north had descended on their village at night. We learned later that these were regular army troops. They had come in firing automatic rifles at random, and then set the huts on fire with napalm. As the people came running out all the men were gunned down and the women and children corralled. When daylight came the soldiers placed slave-yokes on the women and girls, killed any teen-aged boys and babies, and drove the younger boys off into the bush. The women and girls were loaded into army trucks and driven away to slavery in the north, household slaves if they were fortunate, brothels if they were not.

This became the pattern for slave-raids over the next months and years. But I am getting ahead of myself. I must return to my story.

The pilgrimage of the boys, as it later became known, was terrible. The youngest were no more than three years old and none of these survived; two four-year-olds were the youngest survivors. The boys ate leaves and insects, anything they could find, and many of them became ill. Twenty three children died on this trek, leaving 49 survivors, all starving when they came into the town. In a later trek a group of 800 boys made it to Ethiopia, taking eight months for the ‘pilgrimage’, and about 300 died on the way. But that was later.

The fury in the town boiled over, and the Reth had a hard time trying to control the people, but at last he persuaded them that first they must invoke their goddess Atwa. Everyone rushed off to the shrine of Atwa, dashing ahead of the Reth, and of me, walking beside him. As we approached the shrine the crowd parted to let us in, the great carved wooden doors swung open to admit us and then closed again behind us. One reason that we had been the last to arrive was that the Reth had taken time to change from western garb into the traditional kingly robes of his people, with the inevitable leopard skin over his shoulders.

Voices were raised, everyone talking at once until the Reth quieted the crowd with a great shout. Then quieter explanations of what had happened, a quiet introduction of me as man-woman, Lion-wrestler. Rage mounted but I saw a few of the priestesses eying me curiously. Finally one of them threw me a bundle of clothing and said something incomprehensible.

"She told you to put these robes on," said one of the men of the Reth’s court.

I opened up the bundle, and found that it consisted of the same sort of women’s robes the priestesses were all wearing. I put everything on over my own blouse and skirt, then I looked around at the priestesses. I finally understood just who Atwa was. She was the Latin Ate, goddess of vengeance, little altered, and all her priestesses were transsexuals or transvestites, just as they had been in Roman times.

They had claimed me as one of themselves. The invocation of the goddess of Vengeance seemed interminable, then the great gates were thrown open and the priestesses boiled out. Then began the exodus into the bush. The town was abandoned. Gone were the assegais and the hippopotamus-hide shields - they were only for show and ceremonial occasions, much like the scarlet uniforms and bearskin hats worn for the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. In their place appeared the AK47s, the bazookas, the camouflage jackets and the flame-throwers. Guerilla warfare began.

A platoon of Dongalawi troops was ambushed - probably not the one that had raided the Aruak village - and the three survivors horribly tortured to death. The simplest, and in some ways the most horrible torture, was to cage a prisoner in full tropical sun with no water. A strong man could last two days, provided he did not scream and rage and lose water that way.

Colonel Tom Garang led a revolt of southern troops serving with the northern army and these served as the nucleus of the Southern Liberation Army, which soon took the city of Malakal on the White Nile, the capital of the Upper Nile Province. He made this city his headquarters. In my opinion this was too far north for what was largely a guerilla operation, but his troops possessed armour and could defend it. Northern Sudan is desert; in the extreme north it only rains about twice a century. In Khartoum, the capital, the rainfall is about three inches a year, all falling in a period of three weeks in midsummer, but at Juba in Equatoria Province it rains as much as 100 inches a year over a period of three months. Equatoria is ideal country for guerilla warfare, all rain forest and thick bush, tiny plots of growing crops sufficient to support a guerilla army, but invisible from the air. Only Juba was held by the government troops, and Juba was surrounded. All supplies had to be brought in by air.

The centre of the country, around Malakal, has heavy summer rains, but the land is flat and almost bare of trees, and in the rainy season vast areas are flooded to a depth of two feet or more. Villages are cut off and all communication must be along the few roads. This is not country for guerillas; they have nowhere to hide. In the dry season we could blow up a few stretches of road and skulk off through the grasslands, but that was all.

But farther south, in the bush and tropical rain forest it was the soldiers who had to keep to the roads, what roads there were, while we could raid them almost with impunity. The northern desert men had no idea how to care for guns in the constant humidity of this country, and more often than not their weapons jammed. My people could attack at night with impunity. I say ‘my people’ because that is what they had become. I abandoned my western dress and wore the dress of the avenging priestesses of Atwa, even going bare-breasted at times, for I have the breasts of a she-male and I am not ashamed of them. I found that many of the priestesses too had prominent breasts, and learned that soon after their initiation into the priesthood they were poulticed with a herb and given a herb tea to drink to promote breast development. I suppose this was one of those plants that produce steroids with hormonal activity.

Most of the raids were led by priestesses who were often the fiercest of all the people and more likely to take revenge on captives. Indeed, no captive lived long. Most of them were castrated before being staked out in the sun, for the ants and dehydration to kill them. It was not for nothing these priestesses served a goddess of revenge. Vengeance was their creed and now it became their whole lives.

Chapter 9 A full priest of Ate

THE first commando raid that I led was to ambush a military convoy on its way from destroying an Aruak village, pillaging, looting and laden down with trucks full of women wearing the slave yoke. By this stage in the war at the first sign of troops entering a village boys would run to the nearest commando detachment. In this way we could plan to ambush them on their way out.

It was simplicity itself and became the blueprint upon which numerous other ambushes were based. We chose a defile through which the convoy must pass and stationed my men along the eastern rim, the higher one. I carried a bazooka and my lieutenant Kabo another. I stationed Kabo at the upper end of the defile while I took up position at the lower end, with our men armed with Kalashnikov’s between.

We all knew that trucks would be filled with women who would be chained, so no fire was to be directed at them, even if some of the trucks were troop carriers. As the convoy wormed its way down the track at the bottom of the canyon we waited quietly. None of my men needed black camouflage paint but I did and my face was covered with grease and soot. As the lead jeep pulled level I fired at it with my bazooka, the trigger to Kabo to fire at the last jeep in the line. They erupted in flames and effectively blocked the way forward and back for the army convoy; they were trapped. Soldiers leapt from several of the trucks and were immediately gunned down by my men. They wasted no ammunition, just a quick burst of three bullets for each soldier, as I had trained them over the last weeks.

The troops began to return our fire, aiming at gun flashes, but the guerillas kept moving from tree to tree, hidden in the dark, while the Dongalawi soldiers were fully illuminated in the headlamps of their trucks. We were outnumbered and out gunned, but the advantage was on our side. We knew these hills, we above them and we were hidden in the dark.

"Look out Jubwa," I called, "There’s one of them climbing the cliff just below you."

By now I had learned their language, but many of them had attended mission schools and had some English, so that we conversed in a mixture of Aruak and English.

Jubwa leaned forward over the cliff edge and struck with his cutlass. The soldiers head beat his body to the foot of the cliff. Another climber was trying to reach our position. I threw my knife and hit him in the throat. I would have to reclaim my knife the next day. It became apparent that the officers had been travelling in the lead jeep, for now the soldiers were a leaderless rabble. One by one we picked them off with rifle fire. The last dozen or so threw up their hands in surrender. We made our way carefully down into the defile and took them prisoner, then turned to release the women from the trucks. They went wild and tore into our prisoners. I learned later that several of the women had been raped that day.

The first of the prisoners fell to the ground with his eyes gouged out. The bound prisoners had no defence against the enraged women and not one survived. I had been hoping to take at lest one alive, preferably an officer. We took no prisoners back to base that day, and very few in the raids that followed.

It was becoming clear that intelligence was the key to carrying out these raids and we quickly established a network of informers in the city as well as our people in the villages. These proved invaluable in enabling us to abort the raids by the northern troops and ambushing them often enough.

By now the women were fighting too and often taking more risks than the men. It was a woman of the Aruak tribe who drove one of the captured Dongalawi jeeps into their barracks in Juba loaded with high explosives. We did not have sophisticated explosives available; no semtex, no plasctique, only good old fashioned nitrate and diesel oil but the suicide bombing destroyed the command centre and killed over 300 of the enemy.

This raid was dubbed terrorism by the United Nations, but to my people it was something else. Djana, the driver of the deadly jeep had been raped by soldiers, her daughter captured in an earlier raid and now thought to be in a brothel in Khartoum, her husband son killed with napalm. She had nothing left to live for and decided to take some of the hated northerners with her.

I put my training as a naval diver to use when the northerners started to use gunboats on the Nile. Despite the danger of crocodiles and the risk of waterborne diseases such as Schistosomiasis I took to the river, simply snorkelling. Nothing more was needed and anyway we had no scuba gear. But all I needed to do was to swim along underwater with a snorkel to plant mines on the sides of the gunboats while they were at anchor. In one night I sank five of them and was able to swim away with no more than a bullet graze for my pains.

Then there was the time when eight of us in a canoe crept up to the pier in Juba. We attained surprise again and were able to demolish the big radar antenna. This time the guards opened fire on us and two of our men fell. We had no guns with us, only knives and spears. Juma threw a spear and brought one of the riflemen down. Akob crawled up behind another and cut his throat. By now it seemed about time to leave. There was none of this nonsense about taking our dead with us. That is a luxury only the USA can afford. We sank into the river and swam away under our canoe until I felt it safe to climb in.

It was soon after this caper that the chief priestess approached me. "We should like you to become one of us."

By now I was almost more at home in the Aruak than in English which I had not used for two years.

"I am very flattered," I said, "That you should think me worthy of the priesthood. But I am not an adherent to your religion."

"You adhere to the religion of Vengeance for all or wrongs at the hand of the Dogalawi. Our goddess is the goddess of vengeance. And you are Lion Wrestler, one of our legendary heroes."

"You flatter me too much. It is true that I wrestled lions but that does not make me a hero. But you are right: vengeance on the slave raiders is a driving force in me now."

"Then you will become one of us, one of the priestesses of Atwa?"

"What does that involve, ma’am? How can I become more of a priestess of Atwa than I am now, dressed in the robes of a priestess and leading vengeance raids like all the other priestesses."

"To become fully a priestess you must cut yourself, Lion Wrestler. You must lose your manhood and become truly a woman."

"I must castrate myself?" I thought back to the day among the Shillong when I had boasted to Rupert that I should never allow anyone to cut me. How hollow that sounded now.

"I shall help you, Lion Wrestler. You will not need to do it alone as so many of us have done."

Despite my boast to Rupert I had often toyed with the idea of going the whole way and transitioning through SRS. But now it looked as though I should have to carry out the operation myself.

The High Priestess held up a knife made of volcanic glass, obsidian. "This is the best blade to use."

She was going too fast for me, assuming that I would do it. Perhaps she knew me better than I knew myself. I looked at that obsidian blade.

"I will do it, ma’am, but not with that. I will use a sterile scalpel from the medical kit in my Land Rover."

The Land Rover had hardly been used. For one thing we were guerilla fighters, moving about the forest on foot. For another, we had very little fuel, only what we could capture from the enemy in our raids. I pulled out a wrapped scalpel, hoping it was still sterile, but to be sure I set a calabash on the fire and boiled the scalpel, together with silk sutures and haemostats.

When I was ready the High Priestess sat down behind me on the ground and I leaned back into her as she supported me around the knees. I poured a little araq onto my scrotum, hoping that the strong spirit would cleanse and sterilize the skin. Then I took the scalpel out of the calabash of hot water, shook a few drops off it and started a longitudinal incision from the base of my penis to the perineum just in front of the anus.

It smarted, but no more than that, and I watched as droplets of blood formed along each side of the cut. I rinsed my fingers in araq and fished around with my fingers inside the sac. My fingers closed on one of my balls. I clamped off the spermatic cord and threw a silk suture around if before cutting it with the scalpel, then removing the clamp. By now I was in agony; more than the bullet wound I had received in one of the raids, but I forced myself to reach in and pull out the severed testis, handing it to the High Priestess. It was an effort to repeat all this, searching with my finger tips for my other testis, clamping the spermatic cord, ligaturing it, cutting the cord and finally pulling it out and handing it to the High Priestess.

It was my intention to sew the slit with silk sutures but before I could do that I passed out. When I came to I had a great poultice on my groin. It hurt like hell still, but not like it had before. I could bear it.

"Welcome, my daughter. You are now truly one of us."

"What happened, ma’am. I wanted to sew myself up, but I could not."

"I placed a poultice of soothing herbs on your magnificent injury, my daughter. You will soon heal, and them you must undertake the next stage of the dedication to the goddess."

What had I let myself in for? She was quite right; the poultice soothed the pain and I did soon heal. But what was this second stage?

I learned what it was about two weeks later. I took the same sterile precautions as before, such as they were, but this time the High Priestess guided my hand as I cut into the urethra to make a new opening for pee. She stuck a reed straw into the incision so that it might heal without closing up. Then, she poked a burr down the eye on the end of my penis. I knew what the result of that would be. It would cause scars to form inside the urethra. When the scarified tissue healed the two sides would fuse together and the only way out for pee would be the new hole. Now I should have to squat to pee. Not that it made much difference, because all the men as well as women squatted to pee and I had been doing that for the last two years. But now I should have no choice.

We held a great feast to celebrate my ascension to the priesthood. ‘Great’, of course, is relative. We had little food and it was a year since I had eaten any meat at all. The slave raiders had killed all the cattle of my people and the only meat was wild game. But for this feast someone killed a warthog. The northern muslims would have been horrified: this was pork ,after all. But to us it was veritable ambrosia. To accompany this pork, which was roasted on a spit over a wood fire, we had millet grits, gumbo and chili peppers all mixed into a single dish. What a feast that seemed to us!

Chapter 10 I leave the Sudan

TWELVE years later the civil war continues, neither side making spectacular gains, but without any chance of a peaceful settlement. The Muslim Brotherhood refuses to give up its attempt to impose Islam on the whole country, slave-raiding continues, the southerners understandably refuse to accept either of these and the war is entering a stalemate with little but skirmishing going on. About three million people have died. It was certainly not Armageddon, but it is a dreadful war nonetheless.

It was a year after my accession to the priesthood that we decided it was time I returned to civilization and attempted to raise funds to support the Southern Liberation Army. I was the only Caucasian who had fought with the guerillas and could tell the tale at first hand.

Clearly, I could not go north. I should be arrested promptly as a rebel. I had disappeared from the north on a scientific expedition and they all would assume rightly I had gone over to the rebel southern side. Moreover, it seemed certain that my fame as Lion Wrestler had reached the north. What greater prize could thy have than the capture of the great Lion Wrestler.

So I had to get out south about, through Uganda. It would be easy enough to cross into Uganda, but what would my reception be there?

I overhauled my old Land Rover and planned my route through the mountains. All my old clothes had rotted and I had nothing beside my priestesses robes. I decided that it would be best to brazen it out.

It took me three days to drive the 80 miles to the border. There, I said farewell to the High Priestess and to Kabo, my lieutenant. They turned round for the trek back to the camp. I drove on into Uganda.

I had driven about 90 miles inside the country of Uganda before I met up with a police patrol.

"I am a white man, driving to Kampala," I said in English.

The Lieutenant looked me up and down. He looked at my bare feet, at my breasts, and above all at my robes.

"You are Lion Wrestler," he said.

"Yes, I am. How did you know?"

"We have heard of Lion Wrestler’s exploits against the slave raiders. We know that Lion Wrestler is a white man or woman. Which are you?"

"Both. I am Lion Wrestler, man-woman, redeemer of the Nilotic peoples of the Sudan."

He lit a pipe and puffed it for a moment. "Welcome to Uganda, Lion Wrestler. Do you have a passport?"

I fumbled amongst my few western possession and handed over a mildewed, termite chewed passport, barely legible but sufficient in his eyes.

The lieutenant spoke to the members of his patrol in a language I did not understand, perhaps Wagand, the lingua franca of Uganda, perhaps some tribal tongue.

One of the patrol came up to me and shyly touched my hand. "Lion Wrestler," he half whispered in English. He was soon followed by the rest of the patrol, all anxious to touch the hand of the notorious Lion Wrestler.

This was all very well, but I needed to reach Kampala and the British High Commission. What would my reception be like in the capital.

The Lieutenant offered to provide me with an escort, so off I went to Kampala with a lead Land Rover and another bringing up the rear. Once in the capital I found the police all agog with the news of the arrival of the famous Lion Wrestler; the Lieutenant had radioed ahead. I soon found myself the centre of a motorcade as I drove to the High Commissioner’s office.

I walked into the consular section, reeking to the heavens with the odour of my unwashed people. It must have been two years at least since I had washed, if I did not count my few immersions into the Blue Nile during raids. My bare feet were hardly appropriate to these hallowed portals, not were my robes with their lice in the seams.

"You can’t some in here, miss," said the consular clerk in Kaganda. I knew those few words.

I replied in English, "I am an Englishman who has lived in the bush for the last three years. I need help, first to transfer money from my bank account in England, then to purchase clothes , and finally to get back to England."

I produced my ragged British passport.

"I see this was stamped in Madi three days ago. Where were you before that?"

"I was in the southern Sudan. I was trapped there among the abeid, the slaves."

"You are Lion Wrestler."

So my reputation had penetrated even the British expatriate community here.

"So you know something about me."

"Yes we do. I m not sure we can help you without offending the Sudanese government."

"Perhaps if I could see His Excellency."

"Dressed like that and stinking like that?"

"Yes, dressed like this and stinking too. If you had been in the bush as long as I have you’d stink too. And these are the only clothes I have. I wear them with pride as appropriate to my position among the Nilotic peoples."

The High Commissioner was far more welcoming than the clerk in the consular section.

"Come in Doctor Cybill. I have heard something of your adventures. When you have been able to clean up you must tell me more. But in the meantime what can I do for you?"

"Well, sir." It’s always advisable to butter up these diplomats. "I have no money here, though my bank balance back home is reasonably flush, so I need to transfer some funds. Second, I need somewhere to stay until I can leave for home. Then, I must obtain some western clothes so that I can look more respectable, though how I am going to be able to stand shoes after all this time in bare feet is impossible to conceive."

"The High Commission can advance you funds for your immediate needs. That should cover clothes and things. And if you would care to stay with Lady Tierney and myself at the Residence we should be happy to accommodate you until you find your feet. Oh, dear me! No pun intended."

And so I cleaned up and stayed with Sir Roger and Lady Tierney for two weeks. Funds were transferred from home and I was able to buy a plane ticket.

Back in London I linked up with an organisation that was raising funds for the Southern Liberation Army of the Sudan and did my part by committing to a lecture tour. And I finally completed the SRS that I had started in the Mountains of the Moon and legally changed my name to Debbie. I often dream back to my days there in that hell of the civil war.

I HAD stayed with the people for the first three years of the war, dressed as a priestess of Atwa leading a commando of guerrillas, like all the other priestesses. The transsexual and transvestite Amazons, leading their troops on raids, showed less fear than any of their men. We all may have desired to dress as women, but every man there admitted that we were the strong ones.

But I was the only one who ever wrestled a lion.

Twice.

 

 


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