Chapter 7. The Empire Strikes Back
Jay’s House in Lamu Town 3 days Later
The next few days were silent for Maskat. He slept for long hours and the same orange-red raging bull nightmare would wake him up in the middle of the night. Each time he would get that dream, he would be frozen in place. It felt as though his legs and soul were hammered down to the courtyard floor with nine-inch nails.
3 days after his injury, Maskat was able to finally go over to Jay’s place and could finally tell him what Omari did to him.
“Fuck that pig!” Jay said angrily as he took out a vinyl record whose cover had a large factory pumping out dark clouds of waste and a subtle pink pig floating above it in the clouds.
“Listen to this one, it's called Animals by a band called Pink Floyd.”Jay’s older brother, Salman, was going to college in London and would bring back a lot of these records and new movies every summer.
The record started singing: “Pigman, Big man…Hahaaaa…charade you are”.
Jay and Maskat spent hours, and even whole days, in Salman’s room, listening to classic rock and hip-hop. They would also sometimes get into his dad’s collection of Radio Tanzania Dar Esalaam. Tanzania was East Africa’s music goldmine in the eighties and came to the brink of extinction later. Just like Lamu Town, Dar Esalaam's music became a matter of national heritage that required effort to preserve with time.
Salman’s room felt like an interstellar portal. Purple and Indigo Indian mandalas hung on each wall and candles were nicely set up in every corner of the room. There were three guitars hung on the wall and beneath them a whole closet full of records from every genre and place in the world. In another corner, lay the entertainment center with a large screen and a boombox with a double cassette player, and a VHS system.
When they were 12, they watched many classics that opened Maskat to the world. Back to The Future was by far his favorite. Both Jay and Maskat related so much to ET and loved watching that movie over and over again. When they got a little older, they started watching more action movies that came out such as Die Hard, and by the time they were 14 they had figured out that if they waited long enough after the credits, they would frequently find a pornographic movie that Salman had recorded on top of the video.
Jay and Maskat went on shifts to avoid getting caught. One of them would watch the naked people on the screen and the other would watch out for anyone approaching the room to give a warning signal. They almost got caught several times and thought they were getting away with it just like everything else they did together. Jay’s father knew exactly what they were up to though, and he was happy about it.
Jay’s baba, Fumo Shabani, was one of the most relaxed and accepting individuals in Lamu. He had grown up in Tanzania to Aweer parents, a sect of Swahili culture that is rare and known for their nomadic and hunter-gatherer lifestyle. There were so many sects in Lamu , and it has been one of the most exemplary places for cohabitation where Shiaa and Sunni Muslims got along together and with other religions as well
Fumo Shabani, Jay’s father, was named after Fumo Liongo, a mythical hero that exemplified co-existence. In Kenyan mythology, Fumo Liongo was a son and heir to Bajun royalty and one-day rebels killed his family and he escaped, being ousted into the forest.
A group of Aweer hunter-gatherers saved him from starvation, and the once presumed king became an able hunter and skilled nomad. He goes on to live with the Aweers until one day, he falls in love and marries an Orma woman. Fumo learns about herding with the Ormas and masters livestock keeping. They eventually have 2 children who become of both royal (Bajun) and farmer (Orma) heritage, with hunter-gatherer (Aweer) skills.
Fumo Liongo’s family embodied the union of cultures that created a single regional Swahili system, and Fumo Shabani was regarded as an open-minded secret keeper by everyone at Lamu. He was also of true Aweer descent, which made him more of a true reincarnation of the mythical hero.
He would frequently hold circles at home where he would help people resolve their issues. He had so much appreciation for the goodness within everyone and always encouraged Jay to explore and go beyond his comfort zone. Maskat found Fumo’s attitude towards Jay bizarre but still wished his Baba was more like that.
Maskat was feeling better after a few more days and his testicle was almost back to normal proportions. The amount of music and movies they were exposed to over the weekend helped Maskat get his mind off Omari and the brutal episode he had encountered.
He was excited to be back on the pitch and practicing with the team again. This week’s game was special: they were taking on the 1st place team where Omari happened to be the goalkeeper. He had a clean sheet most of the games, and Maskat was thrilled at the potential of scoring a goal against him.
He went back to school and could feel something boil deep inside when he heard Omari’s voice nearby. He would try distracting himself by going back into his imagination where he would score a goal between Omari’s legs.
He replayed that moment over and over again. Someone would lobby the ball over to him, he would swing his leg in the air and strike the ball straight through the gigantic goalkeeper’s legs and into the net. Oh, the glory Red Socks would live because of him, and oh the sweetness of scoring against Omari and humiliating him.
During the break, Maskat went out to the hallway looking for Jay and instead, caught a glimpse of Leila, leaving the hallway from the other side. She had a long straight back with feminine shoulders and he could not help but stare at her figure. She was laughing loudly with two other girls as they gathered left the hallway. She was everything he wished for and he wondered why she had not sent him a response yet for his letter.
He felt his heart spread its wings with hope, and thoughts of him and her walking through the carnival rushed through his mind. He felt lucky that she could not see him and could enjoy her presence without the anxiety he felt when talking to her.
He quickly went into her class and looked at her desk for any clues that she got his message. He found nothing. He looked into her desk and found several notes that seemed to be between her and the girl that sat next to her. He opened the crumpled piece of paper and read what he could while frantically looking around him.
“He is cute but a little weird…Don’t know if he is my type” Maskat hoped that wasn’t about him. “I am going to the beach tonight with Azizi, he seems really cool and has written me a song on his guitar!”.
Maskat’s heart sank really quickly. He could feel a ravenous amount of shame fill him up and dissolve any sense of gumption he had rallied the past week. His world was torn, and he felt so much guilt for waiting too long.
As he walked, the deep coarse voice whispered loudly from thin air:
“You are slow and uninteresting. Why would she even consider going out with you?”
The voice continued.
“You need to be more like Azizi, you need to be cool so that you can have a shot with girls like her.”
Maskat kept walking faster, trying to avoid the voices.
He felt so stupid to think that his father’s advice would’ve worked, and felt some deep resentment towards Baba. As he walked out the classroom, he looked down at the trash bin and there it was: His note to her and the box of his mother’s untouched Nyoma Choma.
His heart sank thousands of meters into the Indian Ocean and dissolved in the unforgiving darkness of its depths.
"I told you" the voice whispered.
He spent the rest of the day quiet and burdened by the pain deep within his heart. It felt worse than his father’s beating and Omari’s kick in the balls. He was confused by its power and did not understand what he did to deserve this.
The thoughts kept racing like bullets through his brain, and he felt exhausted. Life had suddenly felt so bland and cold. His fascination with Leila, which had fueled him with excitement for so long was no longer valid. He felt so much shame for what he had experienced and could not share it with anyone.
When Jay saw him later, he asked why his face was so ‘upside down’, and Maskat anxiously asked him to just leave him alone.
Maskat liked people asking him about how he felt but didn’t like talking about it much. All he really wanted was for others to realize that he is in pain.
When school was over that day, Maskat went into the restroom, put on his football clothes, and went straight to the field. He sat for an hour in the locker room before anyone else showed up and stared out onto the wide brown grass. He was angry at the world and did not know what to do about it.
The team started coming into the locker room and getting ready. Their coach, who was only 18 years old, gave them a very elaborate pep talk that Maskat remembered nothing of. They were all pumped to go out and beat Green Mamba and the starting 11 players were announced.
Maskat started on the bench as usual, and he watched in silent resentment as Omari walked on the pitch. Maskat was fuming.
The game was tough as expected, with a lot of fouls and rough play. By halftime, the Green Mamba was ahead by a goal and the score was 2-1 with the Red Socks trailing. Maskat was subbed on during minute 65. With 25 minutes left, the team was getting tired, and it was getting harder and harder to get through the Green Mamba defenses.
It seemed impossible that a chance would come...until it did.
The Red Socks playmaker dribbled on the left field and swayed the two large defenders towards him before skillfully passing a through ball that somehow found Maskat wide open, with nothing between him and Omari. Maskat dribbled straight towards the goal. Everyone on the Red Socks sidelines got up and held their breath.
Maskat’s speed got faster and faster, he felt like he was running for his life. He approached the 18-meter line, Omari started moving towards him to try to stop the threat. Maskat’s eyes locked on Omari’s. Maskat’s body started to heat up with a ferocity that transformed his whole being into a gigantic red, blazing and fuming bull that lit up with a brilliant orange trail.
Maskat looked at the goal, and it was not the net but Omari’s wide-open groin. He gave the ball two more touches, and with all his bull’s strength, at full speed and with frightening accuracy that surprised even him, slammed the round rubber ball straight into Omari’s crotch. He saw the giant’s eyes roll back as he collapsed with a large “Thud”. No one had ever seen Omari fall or collapse before.
The ball fell shortly next to him. The referee pulled his whistle and signaled the end of the match. The Red Socks coach was furious at the lost chance for the equalizing goal, most of the Green Mamba team surrounded the fallen giant and Maskat could barely see him anymore.
Maskat crouched for a few seconds. He was filled with both excitement and terror at what had just happened. He had barely caught his breath from that sprint before he saw Omari’s legs start moving again. His face was red and engorged with both anguish and anger. He waddled right and left, got back up, and started making his way through the crowd.
He started running towards Maskat while holding his groin with his right hand. He chased Maskat across the field, and much to his relief, noticed Azizi crouched down at the water cooler a few feet in front of them, taking a sip of water.
“Aziziii! Aziiziiiii! Stop him!” Omari’s voice rang across the soccer field with a strong echo that made time stop. “Aziiizziiiiiiii!”
Maskat approached the cooler with Azizi to his right. Azizi was just about to stand up from the water cooler. Maskat's heart stopped at first but quickly realized his advantage. He ran towards Azizi, and everything seemed to slow down. Maskat took two large steps, grabbed Azizi by the waist, and slammed his face into the metal cooler with both hands.
The bully crashed into the metal faucet headfirst cutting his forehead and fell to the ground with his back to the cooler before he could realize what was happening. Azizi was blinded with blood over his eyes and screamed with pain and terror.
For a split second, the image of Leila came to Maskat's head. There was no thinking in that situation. Maskat knew no one would protect him. He felt both the pain of the rejection and the fear of Azizi catching him.
He couldn’t resist. He reached in and punched Azizi’s face, smashing the back of his head and left scapula into the metal again. Omari’s sidekick, and the second biggest boy in school, fell on the sandy pavement with a bruised and bloody face that was unrecognizable, and a body paralyzed with contusions in both his back and his chest.
Maskat started running again. It was very automatic. He ran as fast as he can. He ran faster than he ever did. Omari was too slow to keep up. His screams and threats made him seem closer than he was. After a while, Maskat stopped looking back. He ran faster and faster, and soon, the threat of Omari catching him had become extinct, but Maskat continued running.
He was running from everything else, he was running away from a restricted life, away from Baba and his expectations, away from the fear of others, but most of all, Maskat was running away from the pain that he felt from Leila’s rejection.
He ran as far as his tired legs could carry him. He got all the way to Shela and made it through the narrow pathways and onto the deserted beach where he lay low and watched the sunset.
He found a coconut on the ground waiting for his arrival.
He cracked it open and quenched his thirst vigorously.
I'm a man
I'm a make a new plan
Time for me to just stand up and travel new land
Time for me to just take matters into my own hands
Once I'm over these tracks, man I’ma never look back
And I'm gone
I know right where I'm going
Sorry, momma, I'm grown
I must travel alone
Ain't gon' follow no footsteps I'm making my own
8 mile Road