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SHALI

Some say Shali was a hero and a saviour, some just a lost soul and others claim he was a vicious, murdering brigand.  Some even say he didn't even exist...  just an ephemeral, elusory idea...

Until Mark Milton befriends the lonely Arab on a sea voyage to Fremantle, he has never spared a thought for Mozambique or its people. Ibn-Tamat changes that, however: he is a master storyteller and Shali's legend spans the years to embroil them both in its powerful embrace.

Across the endless veldt Mark must relive Shali's exploits in his quest for the truth.

In Store Price: $24.95 
Online Price:   $19.95


 Buy as a pdf  Ebook version - $AUD9.00
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ISBN: 978-1-921574-87-0 
Format: Paperback
Number of pages:203
Genre: Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

Author: Will Harman
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2010
Language: English

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AUTHOR PROFILE  

Will Harman grew up in Lowestoft, an English fishing town and went to sea at the age of fifteen.  A marine engineer by trade, he has travelled the world in the shipping, fishing and oil industries.  

Married with three children, he now lives in New South Wales. 

Read a sample:

SHALI 

 

A

 Mozambican prawn is the delicacy that everyone should sample when on that coast. With its tail a hand’s span in length it has become a universally recognised icon, so to pass it by is like visiting Suez without seeing the canal or Pisa sans the leaning tower. Moreish they may be when suitably prepared, but like most things beautiful they can be hazardous too. Freshness is of course vital; for once on the turn they can prove an absolute bugger to the digestive tract. Though perhaps hard to credit, it is almost certain that one such treacherous prawn from Lourenzo Marques (or Maputo as it’s now called) was the catalyst to set into motion a comedy of errors which, in the space of a week, dispossessed a man of his birthright and begat a spark that set fire to the shirttail of a nation.

Ibn-Tamat first told me the legend of Shali.

 

An odd man, Ibn-Tamat, a born raconteur who had about him the way to enthral his listener like no one I’ve met before or since. Although I was ready to take it all with a hefty pinch of salt, he won my curiosity and as I listened, I slowly but surely came to recognise his every word for truth. Irrespective of the fact that we broke every law of that country together, or maybe due to it, the innate stickybeak in me led on to subsequent research, which revealed there was much more to Shali than even he let on.

Such was his skill with the spoken word and despite the fact that years have passed since that first telling, his every word is etched into my memory as if it were only yesterday. I just close my eyes and I’m there again...twenty miles from shore, with the spicy aroma of Zanzibar still carrying clear on the warm breeze...wafting over a moonlit, tropical ocean to that tiny passenger deck where he began his tale. Now that I’m the only one left, the very last to know all of the true facts, I feel compelled: it almost seems a duty I must discharge, to tell his story to the outside world.

      

He joined us in Aden.

It felt good to be at sea again, after the stifling heat of the port. Once clear of Steamer Point, the ship’s speed produced a welcome breeze and those of us not on duty found a rail to lean on and enjoy it. The pale-blue cloudless sky canopied pale-blue water, shimmering just like shot silk beneath the hammer-fist of a blazing noon: the ship, a living being once more, pulsing beneath my feet as those grey, barren hills slipped slowly past. Wrapped up in my own petty troubles, I’d given them no interest until a voice behind me purged every last thought from my head.

‘To think the Gordon Highlanders died for them, eh.’

Focusing first on all the forbidding, desolate beauty of the view, I turned to the speaker. Somehow his precise, clipped words had evoked the expectation of a youngish, rather pukka Englishman and certainly not the grizzle-bearded Arab who leaned awkwardly on an ebony walking stick. His sparkling white robe and headdress were like a soap-powder commercial and the broad-weave burnous hung open to reveal one of those curved silver daggers at his waist. My confusion obviously showed, because he chuckled into his whiskers.

‘A Scotsman whispered that behind me on my first visit here.’

‘Oh,’ was all I could think of to say. The captain had told me I would have company for the rest of the passage, but I hadn’t given a second thought into whom it might be: even had I done so, my most whimsical ideas wouldn’t have picked this guy. Despite the immaculate attire, he was somehow twisted or misshapen, so the clothes didn’t hang correctly on his slight frame. There was something odd about his face too: the colour of old copper coins, it was lined and crumpled, as if it had been worn for too long – and dark piercing eyes, the whites of which were almost yellow and put a really disconcerting manner about him…or maybe it was the way he looked me straight in the eye, as if he were studying my thoughts.

‘Seems to put mankind into his true perspective.’

‘Oh?’ I said again, mentally telling myself to find something more intelligent to say. It was only then that I grasped the anomaly in his features: the pepper and salt of his beard was definitely in stark conflict with the fine line of his jet-black eyebrows. So utterly absorbed was I in that discovery, I almost missed his next words.

‘The purser tells me you are travelling to Fremantle, also.’

‘Yeah, I’m the supercargo.’

‘Supercargo eh? I didn’t realise that office still existed.’

‘I don’t suppose it does normally, but we have special goods aboard.’

Those oddly incongruous eyebrows lifted in question.

‘Horses,’ I explained. ‘Well, pregnant mares to be precise.’

‘I see...and it was deemed prudent not to fly them?’

‘Exactly.’

He asked after their breed and an easy chat followed. Whether you hate or love them, I have always found the horse a great conversation booster. He seemed very knowledgeable on equine matters and Mount Shamsan was just a blur on the horizon when I excused myself to check on my charges.

We met again at dinner, when the first mate introduced him as Hafiz Ibn-Tamat and it seemed the most natural thing in the world that our talk should resume on the passenger deck. Simon, the captain’s steward, brought me my evening medicine and Hafiz’s eyes lit up.

‘Tennant’s lager? I haven’t had one of those in a while. Is there another where that came from?’

Simon grinned. ‘I thought all you guys were teetotal.’

‘Only the Moslems – I am Maronite when necessary.’

‘One Tennant’s coming up then...or should I make that two, Mark?’

I just smiled.

Hafiz’s wit and good humour passed a most pleasant evening – the precursor of many and for the first time, I started to enjoy this voyage. He proved to be a mine of information when we went ashore together in Mogadishu, in Mombasa and again in Tanga, but his demeanour changed subtly as we headed further south. Thinking I may have inadvertently abused some Arabic etiquette, I questioned it, but he assured me to the contrary and changed the subject.

‘You speak of many things, Mark, yet you tell me nothing about yourself. Is this too private a subject or maybe too painful?’

‘Neither – just not a very interesting one.’

‘Hmm, I will make you a deal then. You tell me why you are going back home with your tail between your legs...and I shall tell you of Shali.’

I didn’t know how he knew, but he was spot on the money – that was exactly what I was doing. In just four years I’d lost my stables and every cent I’d inherited. Upstart newcomers are fair game in the equine world and Newmarket is a hard school. Van Pelt had offered to bail me out, but in a betting motivated industry it’s as well to recognise a losing streak for what it is. With next to nothing left, I’d jumped at the opportunity of a paid passage back to Oz on this ultramodern tramp ship. The mares were happy as Larry in their air-conditioned luxury below decks and the job was a doddle.

‘Who is Shali?’

‘Ah... Well there you have it... No one really knew for sure, you see. Some say he was just a vicious murderer, some say a lost soul and others a saviour. He was actually just an ephemeral, elusory idea...just a social enigma that had the army and the PIDE baffled for years – and conceivably helped to topple their rule.’

‘The PIDE?’

‘The secret police of the Portuguese fascist rule in Mozambique – the organisation the Gestapo was modelled upon.’

‘Now why should that interest me?’

‘Because, Mark, you remind me of Shali. Mm, it’s quite remarkable how much you resemble him – as he was thirty years ago, of course. He was taking a paid trip home to Fremantle too – though he of course had no intention of letting anyone know it was a one-way trip.’

‘An Australian? You knew him?’

‘Oh, quite well. Do we have a deal?’

With nothing to lose and my interest piqued, I nodded and began to quickly gabble my tale of woe, but he shook his head.

‘Oh no, no, that will never do... To make the story worth listening to, I need to know what your feelings were on those events...why you made the choices you did...and what you learned from their consequences.’

I thought he was being a bit nosey and tried to weasel out.

‘But it’s ancient history now. It’s done and best forgotten.’

‘Come now, we are in camera...indulge an old cripple. We have not a thing pressing and time to kill. Will you not try?’

With a little more coaxing, I eventually did try and suddenly found myself waxing lyrical about living and breathing all matters equestrian. So incongruous it seemed, in that warm-scented breeze, to be explaining the joys and heartaches of icy mornings on the downs, with horses snorting steam: of cursing lads with frozen fingers and cantankerous owners demanding miracles.

It’s a strange thing and nothing to do with Shali’s story, but in the telling of my own, numerous details of things that may have altered my course became glaringly obvious. I gave them a lot of thought in my bunk that night.        

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