Malak, Desert Child
The Boy Who Sailed to Spain Book 2
by Paul Ogarra Genre: Magical Realism Fiction
The first time I saw her she melted the ice in my soul.
Malak is a tiny beautiful five-year-old girl child. She lives in a cave in dire poverty with her drunkard father and her Saharoui mother and sister. Her enemies are all the towns children who victimize her and her sister because of their race and condition. Her only friend is a single mother named Latifa, and Malak´s grandmother Jeeda Hazzah who dies of cancer.
But Malak is the champion of her family against a violent father and the children of the Zoco who she fights singlehandedly. This is a magical and often mystical story of a young girl and the people she stumbles upon, as she is rushed away by her uncertain destiny, to the land in which her mother was born, the Sahara Desert. The unravelling of Malak's story is also the unsnarling of the web of intrigue surrounding the North of Africa, and it´s peoples and history, and the reasons for many current dilemmas in this land of witchcraft and mystery.
The tale begins in earnest when a wandering ex-warrior happens on the child and is struck by her magnificent courage and beauty. After a significant episode with her drunken father and his cronies, having interceded on the family´s behalf, he flees with them on a stolen high-speed cruiser heading for Western Sahara and freedom. In the course of their errant journey, they are taken into threatening custody by the Algerian police. Malak´s personality and mystic nature make of her the flux in an adventure which begins as a race to return her to her maternal grandfather´s family. A flight of mercy will become a race against time as Malak and her friends take on the impossible. In this, they enlist the help of many tribespeople. Some tribes known to all and others lost in the wastes of the mysterious desert and the annals of history.The story comes to an emotional and pent up conclusion in the least expected possible fashion.
As he ate, he noticed the beautiful facial features of the child and her long thick hair. Even though she was dressed in rags and dirty, her face smeared and her hands black, the child was striking. She glanced at the food, still attending to the baby, and even though she looked away, her eyes wandered back to the overladen dish. Then she’d put her chin out abruptly as an inward gesture, a self-correction, and look elsewhere. She’s starving poor little cow, Pete thought, but proud, amazing a five-year-old urchin with a gutful of pride.
“What is her name?” He pointed at the child.
“Malak” she replied. “Her mother works, so she and her sister are on the streets all day.”
“So what’s the problem with school?”
“No money.” She said something about him to the child, who turned and looked at Pete. Her teeth were white and perfect, and her smileentirely unexpected in a face whose total lack of expression must have been the child’s only weapon against the evil and negligence which was happening around her, and which she instinctively knew was so, so wrong.
“Give her couscous.”
“No, she will have what we leave.” So he went to the other room and found a plate and a fork. He stacked the big platter high with semolina and placed it beforethe child, who fell on it like a wolf cub, using her hands to devour it ravenously. He gave her bread and a Coke.
“Malak!” he said loudly, and she looked up but continued eating. “Tell her to stop.”
Latifa, his friend, spoke sharply to her and the girl stopped and looked at him. “She says she is sorry.”
“She has nothing to be sorry for, just tell her she will make me happy if she uses the fork.” Latifa spoke to her, andthe little girl listened attentively, humbly. Then she laughed, a peal of heartfelt mirth, looking at him, and Pete, caught unawares, grinned back in spite of himself. She ate the rest of the food with the implement, experiencing some difficulty. As she ate, she kept looking into his face and gently laughing.
Paul O´Garrawas born in Gibraltar on the 8th May 1952. Paul and his three siblings were the children ofschoolteachersand were reared with English discipline, immersed in romantic literature on the one hand, and a large local family of uncles, aunts, cousins and a doting grandmother, who was Spanish from Cadiz, on the other. Childhood was spent roaming across the Up South,Rosia,and Europa point areas of Gibraltar engaging in childish games and adventures, readingextensively books such as Enid Blyton’ adventure series, ‘Famous Five,’‘Secret Seven,’‘Swallows and Amazons Forever,’John Buchan and the ‘Gorbals Die-hards.’Saturday mornings were a day for avoiding the displeased grimaces ofmonocled and overweightcolonels, delving and searching through the shelves of the old Garrison library to discover new horizons, characters,andstories. The journey of discovery that had begun with Baba the Elephant eventually began to grow richer as the classicswere devoured. In 1967,he looked on as fellow students of Jewish persuasion prepare to leave for Tel Aviv to defend Israel. Shortly after, thearrivalof General Moshe Dayan at the gates of Cairo, signaled to the world that Israel´s direst moment hadbeen overcome. Paul, at the earliest timepossible,set off in a steamer from Tangiers, sailing to Southampton.After a spellin London,he left the UK to discover his roots in Malta.He alternated callings as a tour guide of Morocco and recoverer of broken down rented cars in the desert, tour guide of south Spain and eventually running a flamenco club on the Costa del Sol, in the days when the Costa was still a new and exciting place to visit. Eventually,he set off again to discover new places in the Middle, theFarEast and thePhilippines, and when Perestroika and Glasnost finally arrived at the hands of Mihail Gorbacheff and the Soviet Union was open, set off to discover the East there. He studied Russian at St Petersburg and spent time travelling to the Republic of Udmurtia, Kazan, Siberia and up an uncharted river to meet Tribes that still lived in the area. Later to Nizhny Novgorod and the South Volga, then tothe Ukrainetravelling from city to city, falling more and more in love with the great Russian writers and painters as he went. Seventeen years ago at the age of fifty, Paul contracted renalcancer.He was operated on successfully at the Bullfighters Hospital in Pamplona in North Spain. Metastasis was practically impossible the surgeons happily reported. Two years laterthe cancermetastasised to his lungs on which hewas duly operated,andhalf of his lungswere removed. Later for reasons undefined he suffered strokes in both eyes and lost partial sight in one eye and total in the left which he duly recovered by swimming and praying. Seventeen years have gone by since the renal cancerwas first discovered, and seven years since his last operation and everything is fine, remission seems to be total. Paul’s still swims at least one or two kilometres per day all year round, travels, practises martial arts and fervently believes that the Lord leads him by the hand. After leaving thehospitalhe spent some time in Tangiers, hairless, gaunt and on crutches, but enjoying the warmth and affection of many new friends there. Then off to Prague to study filmmaking, made several shorts but finally decided that he would first write and then make movies when the time came.
What is something unique/quirky about you? Quirky, Unique.I suppose we all feel a bit unique, in fact it´s quite scary really so many people these days, especially young kids are amazed at their own specialness, overwhelmed by their own greatness. This is nothing new, in the early 19thcentury in Revolutionary Russia people felt much the same, and look what happened. I perhaps am different to many in that I pursue humility as a desired form of being. It seems to me that humility is a much more attractive trait in a person and truly more satisfying for the individual practising it.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
Just after Russia opened up, I travelled to Nishny Novogorod to visit some friends. They actually lived in a village some distance away from the capital in an area where tanks were manufactured, and so was a special security area. Of this I was unaware. In a country railway station I was taken by the beauty of the overhanging trees and the traditional structure of the station building and tracks, and being an ardent photographer, I started taking photos. Suddenly a whole gang of really big scary men materialized out of nowhere, grabbed me and my camera and dragged me out to waiting cars. One of the vehicles was a police car with flashing lights, the others large black Volgas. I had been arrested on suspicion of terrorism because I was taking photos in a public building. They relaxed a bit when they learned that I lived in Spain and they began talking football, Barcelona and Real Madrid, a subject in no way close to my heart, but needs must. It was only later in the day when my friend´s 96 year old grandmother turned up, on my behalf, as patriarch of the family I was staying with, that I was freed. I won´t mention Grandma´s style, that must be another story, but she appeared dressed like “Ma baker”, 96 year old and sprightly as a girl, strong as an ox, and winking at me as she berated the police, I wasn´t sure whether to be pleased or dismayed. I had only met her once before, on which occasion she grabbed me by the lapels and started kissing my face, whilst her granddaughter beat her on the back shouting “Babushka(Grandma), he´s not Pepe, he´not Pepe, another case of mistaken identity. It turned out, that the said Pepe, another friend of my hosts had on occasion of his visit bought Babushka flowers every day.
What are some of your pet peeves?
Being quite an easy going type of person I don´t really get peeved at much, just one thing though that does spoil my day are bad manners. Perhaps it´s where I live,but it just gets to me when folk never give way. In fact they overtake, cut across, push, and get even more narked , I think, at my beaming smile which is the only way I know to handle it. And this is walking, not driving their cars.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I was born and grew up in a tiny but wonderful place, a British colony named Gibraltar. My father was a school headmaster, in fact he started the first post war school on the Rock, as they call it. I was one of four, two brothers and two sisters, and we were truly blessed with love, variety, adventure and lots of reading.
If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
If I knew I´d die tomorrow, I´d fight , kick, pray and scream in an effort, however futile to remain alive. When I do go, I want to be heard kicking the walls of the coffin as they take me out. This is probably why I am here today, no way am I going to lie down and die just because they say it´s the norm.
Who is your hero and why?
My hero is a wonderful wonderful couple, my oncologist, Dr Cobos and his wife. Fifteen years ago they saw this baby in their hospital who was doomed to die from some disease common in the village of it´s birth in Morocco. The child would die unless the machinery to save her were purchased and she were nursed constantly for her duration of life. Dr Cobos and his wife took out mortagages and purchased the machines, and dedicated the next 11 years of their lives to nursing this child at their home as if she were their daughter, and giving her a chance at a life. She died knowing great love on her eleventh year, and the Doctor and his wife were heartbroken. They had lit a candle in the wind,with all their care and sincerity. except it wasn´t a candle it was a little girl, and they loved her. When I see them now, they hug me and kiss me and tell me I am a lion, because I am a survivor; but I hold them away and look at them and I tell them that I am nothing , that they are truly giants amongst human beings.
What are you passionate about these days?
I am passionate as ever in my search for love, any type of love, I see it in others sometimes but it always seems to elude me, perhaps it´s my cross. I sometimes think that I should become a missionary and go to live in some far off location where people need help, these are probably the places where people go who are full of love to give.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
All sorts, swim, walk, go and sit in the sun and have a conversation with my dog Mr Harry although he´s a bit restless and fidgety.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
Well, the only thing I have ever been to is the Gibraltar literary festival, which is fact one of the best in the world, so I am told. I went as a speaker and met lots of fascinating people, in particular, one really wonderful personage with whom I struck up a friendship. His name was Ray Keene the world famous Chess Grandmaster, a man of great simplicity and warmth who actually later invited me to his oncoming birthday dinner. Trouble of course, was that most of the guests were grandmasters and I have always been really lousy at the game. It was a great privilege though, and I enjoyed it very much.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Otters have always been special for me, mainly because they make and live in dams. I also have a soft spot for squirrels and the cosiness of their homes or dreys, and the nut gathering for winter. Remember The Wind in the willows, and The Brer Rabbit books, well I do with great fondness and also Babar the elephant.
What inspired you to write this book?
Children inspired me, little kids with nothing at all going for them in a world of people who are all aware of evil, and yet in the main too complacent or afraid to do anything about it. I´ve met kids like Malak, and guys like the General. Also I have for years watched while the Saharaoui people bravely accept their lot, bringing up their children in abject conditions, and I would love to be a tiny help in getting the world to be aware of their plight and do something about it.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I will write books and try to improve my style, with the dream of one day reaching Faulkners bootstraps . My next book is a collection of short stories, and after that the next, in the series made up of The boy who sailed to spain and Malak Desert Child.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
I believe that most characters in most novels, are based on people the author knows, or has met. In some cases, a character can have features in his/her makeup, attributable to various friends or acquaintances of the writers, so that the character is really the embodiment of aspects of various people the author knows, all bundled up into one.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Malak Desert Child?
Well the characters evolve with the telling of the book, of the story. Malak is just a small girl living in poverty at the mercy of a brutal father, but she´s very gutsy, and for some reason, she calls it faith, her life starts to change. It changes by circumstance, but she is very strongly instrumental in it´s happening. And it happens to all around her, in fact to the whole region.
Chenouali, the general, also starts off being a believer in good, and in the possibility of rising above evil, but then he loses his way. He is a somewhat complex character, apparently with a multiple personality. But the true metal of his persona finally comes through.
Masuhun and Moon both have their roots in my previous novel,the boy who sailed to Spain. Masuhun is a young knight in shining armour who occasionally falls off his horse and Ruben his eccentric British Sancho panza.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
They happened, it sometimes amazed me when I woke the next day and found what I had written, sometimes it was so good that I did not believe it was mine. I still get emotional when I read certain bits, like Malak´s monologue in chapter 4, or Tanirts confession about her escape, or even sanctuary in the previous book, the boy. In my heart of hearts I know that the hand of the Lord was involved, and I always beg him to forgive my presumption in thinking this.
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
Well I had to be careful, I did not want to upset anyone. I used ancient Berber names, for example Masuhun, means he who has been anointed. Chenouali is a pure invention relating to the type of Algerian names in use at the time. Malak is an Arabic name meaning Angel. Tanirt, Afra, Tintziri, Kella, Murdiyyah, all Berber names.
Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Only to communicate with me about the story if they feel the urge, after all, writing is for me only a way to communicate with other people. If you think of it writers are quite lonely people, their world is what they create and the people who will read and share the idea with him /her.
What is your favorite part of this book and why?
I love the part where Malak and her family go into the big tent to meet the General. Its funny because of the way the chapter evolves and all the heady conversing and self searching, and all these tough suave soldiers , an exclusive company, an esoteric mileu. And then this beautiful little girl charges into the tent and tells the almighty leader where to get off.
What do you think about the current publishing market?
I think that too many talented writers are disheartened by the protectionism that defines most information industries. It strikes me that an industry has sprung up to cater for would be writers, but that in the main, it´s, dis-informing, dishonest, pompous, and efficient only in its ability to quell ideas and novel fresh styles of expression. I would say to all writers, decide if your book and its style is exceptional and good, in true sincerity. If you consider it´s very good then go for it tooth and hammer and never give up.
Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?
I read extensively and have done so all my life. I prefer fiction, and good literature. I don´t pretend to be a purveyor of the best myself, but I try. I´ll read anything if it´s good even a newspaper, although I do this sceptically. I will always read the informative writings of a few people like Patrick Coburn.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
I prefer to write in relative silence, with just normal street sounds floating in my window.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
One at a time, start to finish. Short stories are a different kettle of fish, I can have a few on the boil simultaneously.
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