My phone bleeped—Rashid was nexting me. Though I'd resisted, Laura had pushed for Rashid to have a phone. It was a way for her to always know where he was, which, in an age of school shootings, felt like a necessity. He wrote:
When are you getting home dad? Had a test. I was shook.
Soon, Monster. Late tomorrow or Friday. Everything ok?
Had a test. I was shook.
"Shook" was Rashid's word for describing any little trauma at School.
Did you do well on it?
I suddenly realized what time it was in DC.
Wait. You're not allowed to use your phone in class!
Haha gotta go.
An hour before my connecting flight was scheduled to take off, over the speakers I heard the muezzin's call to prayer. Most travelers, including the grizzled patriarch, stayed where they were, but a few men got up and followed signs to the prayer rooms. After a moment's hesitation, I took my bag and joined them.
While that long-ago trip to Rabat had blunted my desire for adventure in the wider world, Haroun's was only enhanced. He became a student of Africa and after returning from Afghanistan went to work for Global Partners, advising Western corporations on the potential benefits and downsides of investing in the region. He traveled extensively, writing reports and sending me emails full of passion and excitement, littered with photos of camels and locals, tourist shots all. He got to know so much of West Africa that even after I started with CIA I sometimes quizzed him about on-the-ground knowledge our files sometimes got wrong. Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia—he knew these hot spots like the back of his hand. And he was, in a way, the inverse of me. Where I needed silence and study to comprehend the world, he required noise and stink and human contact. Haroun was having the time of his life before it ended.
In August 2009, he was in Mauritania, working up an analysis of the feasibility of petroleum exploration in Taoudeni Basin, when he returned from the field to meet with his French clients. Nouakchott was one of his favorite capitals, an assessment I'd never understood. With Dakar to the south and Marrakesh to the north, why love a city so crushed by poverty that it couldn't even keep its harbor in working condition? But he found things to love, even choosing to rent rooms from locals rather than hide away in the air-conditioned modernity of the Semiramis or Le Diplomate. So on that day he took a taxi from run-down Sebkha to reach the French embassy.
August 8 was a hot day, though I suppose he was used to it. Outside the embassy, I understand, there was only a little foot traffic. A couple of gendarmes out jogging, a few passersby, and a young man, a jihadi, in a traditional boubou robe that hid his suicide belt.
The gendarmes and one passerby were injured. Only the terrorist and my brother were killed. That was ten years ago, and when I thought of West Africa I still pictured Haroun outside the French embassy, under the hot Mauritanian sun. I suppose I always will.
Beside strangers in the prayer room of Mohammed V International, I bowed and prostrated myself before God and, for the first time in many years, prayed.
This excerpt ends on page 14 of the paperback edition.
Monday, June 1, we begin the book A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh.