The harmattan had been blowing for weeks. The air was cool in the early morrning, but as it heated up with the sun we were caught and scorched throughout the day in its relentless embrace. At this season of the year, your skin peels off as if you are about to undergo a metamorphosis. Every beat of your heart is like a burning stab in your chest.When the White Man was here, he also feared the harmattan; when it blew he became wary of the native population who were labelled generally as “an irascible people, given to unpredictable reactions”. To tell the truth, the Europeans were affected by the atmosphere of neurosis and so were in the habits of taking their holidays during the harmattan season,
as if to escape from an evil they never learned to come with, in spite of their long presence in the area. Even the animals were not excempt from the generalised psychic disequilibrium; like humans, they became agressive at the slightest alarm.
That Thursday, in spite of having slept, I felt that my fatigue of the previos day had only increased. My head hurt when I moved it. Like everyone else I carried my bad temper with me into the streets and to my work. At this season, when even objects lose their original shape, when leaves are loosened and fall from the trees, when even the wood in the furniture warps and laminated surfaces chip, an ill-placed word can provoke disputes and brawls. They say that this is the time when Satan recruits his exterminating angels to bring the faithful servants of the Lord to damnation; they say that even Nature turns her back on living creatures,ashamed of her dusty appearance, and goes into hiding, to await the return of her lost beauty. They say that the harmattan,in South Majiland, is when insanity reigns supreme, insanity that waits its opportunity to spread and engulf everyone like a tidal wave; and to be sure, in the Tropical Circle, madness is also the curse that heaven brings down on men to punish them. The rumour spread that only an access of madness could have incited the Messiah-Koi’ to arrest his most faithful lieutenant, Halouma, and that the evil jinn of Messiah-Koiśm were one by one being brought to judgement by the local divinities. One comment lead to another and soon rumour had the whole population haunted by the threat of malevolent divinities, fears and threats that were being formented throughout the last few days by undergroud members of the People ‘s Workers’ Association. The population became more and more vulnerable. And so, on this particular Tuesday, when the harmattan had all our nerves exposed, as soon as it was light, the news spread of an invasion by malevolent jinn.
The city was gradually caught in the grip of a panic as artfully manipulated as it was secretly propagated. the inhabitants assembled everywhere in little groups around a few agitators who spoke endlessly of the presence in the city of diabolical forces. Those citizens who didn’t listen to the oracles kept themselves busy to escape from the strangehold of fear. One man living in the outer suburbs had climbed on to his roof with an empty bottle and fixed it on the ridge.