Chapter 9. The Highway
At the docks, by the water, in the dead of night. 1984
The sounds of boots came rushing to pull the gigantic ship to dock in the pitch-black hour right before dusk.
“Ok offboard now, everything in the container!” Said a deeply commanding masculine voice.
Sounds of boxes sliding down and being carried somewhere in the darkness continued for about thirty minutes or so as the boots seemed to go back and forth. The men were grunting each time with the weight of each box.
Everything seemed to run like clockwork with little instructions until a strange voice came into the scene.
“Sto-hp right they-re! Who is in chaahrge of this shiip? This is the coastal guard, sto-hp right now!”
In a heartbeat, the sound of a dozen rifles got loaded.
Silence ensued as footsteps made it slowly down the ramp. “Good evening, officer. We hope we did not disturb your sleep” said the same voice giving the commands earlier.
“You are breaking naval law; no ships are allowed at the dock at this hour. I will need you to open these containers for me immediately” Said the officer shakily.
“I am afraid I can’t do that. This is very important work that we do for the Kenyan economy and you do not want to trouble our bosses who are the ones paying your salary.” Commanded the voice, getting deeper.
“There are about 15 guns pointed right at you right now.No one wants them fired, so here is the deal: We will let you go back to your family with a big bonus for your courage.” The man snapped his fingers three times, and a third person made it to where they were.
“Here you go, 10,000 shillings. Mr. Akasha really appreciates the work you do.” The voice said in a mesmerizing way.
The officer didn’t say another word, the sound of the boots continued as the boxes kept being lifted and transported into the container.
Maskat wasn’t sure if that was a dream, or if he had actually overheard that as he slept through his third night of shelter in the once-abandoned docks. He had been too afraid to go back home and lived on the beach for 3 days and 3 nights.
He knew full well that bad news awaited him everywhere. He was mostly concerned by Omari, Azizi, and Omari’s brothers that would surely be waiting for him in town. He had one of the Masai people who sold necklaces by the beach take a note to Jay about his whereabouts. A few hours later, Jay came and found him.
“I have negotiated your return, Maskat.” Jay said looking tired and more serious than he usually is. “I have paid them 1000 shillings each, and all the bars of chocolates that I have acquired from the french tourists. Omari and his brothers are surely safe for you now.”
Jay hesistated for second. “Azizi, however, is a different story. He has sworn to make you pay for what you did to him in front of the teams.” Jay said. “You will just have to be careful, and not walk alone.”
“Thanks Jay. I think I took it too far didn’t I?” Maskat asked, hoping Jay would tell him that Azizi deserved it.
“Yea, what were you thinking! I did not think you had a single violent bone in your body!” Jay said, with temporary relief “Look I have more bad news”.
“Leila went and did a full report on you being behind the market fire, and her and Azizi put in a complaint at the school.” Jay said slowly trying to stall.
“You got expelled Maskat.”
“The expelled me?” Maskat said with a disgusted laugh. “What about these bullies they keep loose all day? All they could do is expel me?!”
“Well at least that means you don’t have to worry about Azizi at school anymore. Let’s just hope the police report about the fire doesn’t go any further.” Jay said.
Maskat made it home safely later that day his parents were full of both joy and despair. They lectured him for days on end, and he let them have it.
The next few weeks were filled with new raw feelings that were alien to Maskat. He felt empowered by some electric quality that ran through his body. He felt lighter and more connected to the ground that he walked on. He was suspended from the Red Socks team for his aggressive behavior, and he felt that it was a small price to pay for these new feelings.
It was as though the same ball that brought Omari to his knees, shattered a mask that Maskat had worn ever since he was born. It was a mask of innocent shyness that shape-shifted based on who he was talking to.
It was a mask that suffocated his self-expression, and now it was gone. He was a cauldron of boiling water waiting for an unapologetic expression.
Bringing Omari and Azizi down, meant that no obstacle will get in his way. Maskat wanted more of that feeling. Everything that his brain had previously said no to, his body was now giving a firm Yes.
He started staying out beyond his father's curfew even when he had nothing to do. He realized that the repercussions can’t be worse than what he had already experienced from his father.
The fear of Zemunke started waning. Zemunke himself was less preoccupied with his son and more on the next steps of his career. He had sent several letters of correspondence to a university in the United States and was chasing dreams of immigration.
It was not likely that a man from Lamu, would be granted a visa, but his contacts in Mombasa and Nairobi Universities were helping him. He spent the next few years frequently traveling there to push his documents. Professor Zemunke was going against all odds, and he was relentless about it.
As the months went by, Maskat found himself being the man of the house more often. That meant that he can be out of the house for as long as he wanted, and Mama would cry when he came back late, but that was about it.
He would stay out with the flippers in performance circles after school and enjoyed those circles more when they turned into rap battles and freestyle hip-hop. He felt like he finally had a clique that can protect him from Azizi. The fear of bumping into Azizi also got less and less as time went by.
The older guys would sometimes give him a beer or a Bhang (weed) joint, and they’d be amused by the young kid that drank and smoked. He felt much more like them and the circles were both freeing and protective.
Maskat’s liberation was so intertwined with marijuana that they can’t be dissociated from one another. Jay started showing him the vast supply chain network that existed around ‘Bhang’ on the island. He realized that by selling it with Jay, he could smoke it for free and make some money, which further liberated him from home.
Maskat started having strong vivid dreams of him sleeping with some of the movie stars he’d watch in Jay’s brother’s room. He’d wake up feeling like his groin is about to explode, and never thought that he could get so hard down there. “That’s how you know you’ve hit puberty” Jay once said.
He was already starting to have a slight mustache, of which he was proud of, but didn’t know what to do with. It felt funny, just like his morning boners. He did not know what to do with those either. This whole process felt like someone just handed him a loaded gun with no target to shoot at.
He started hanging out more frequently with the kids in the circle and mischief would ensue after their flipping or hip-hop sessions. There was a collective sigh of relief and excitement about life, as every boy in the circle strived to become his own man and is pushed with the group onto the next adventure.
They were on a collective exploration of the human spirit towards destroying boredom.
“The years of listening were over; this is the age of action ndugu zangu!” They would sing.
Gone are the rules and confinements of structured life! Onwards and upwards with all-night bonfires that greet the sun in the morning with drunken songs and flipping silhouettes.
To them, one thing was certain, and it was neither death nor taxes. It was money. The fuel to their novel testosterone highs and access to this exploration of what it is to be a man.
Many of the group kept selling Kush, others tried to get around tourism services, a few ganged up, and started stealing a wallet here, a watch there, and an occasional apartment or shop.
This was all petty business for Jay. He remained in the transportation business. He grew from his donkey deliveries to ferries and commodities. By the time they were 16 years, Jay’s connections had gone well beyond the island. People trusted him, and he gave them very good reasons.
He got whatever they ordered from milk, honey, and meat to silk, suitcases, and clothes from as far away as Mombassa. He learned the roads and fastest ways to get to each county, village, and city on the Swahili coast.
The car was an item of incredible fascination to him and learning to drive it was his sole childhood ambition. It was only when he left the island when Jay first saw a motorized vehicle. His face would light up when he was describing the motorized beasts that roared loud and mighty, how fast they would swoosh by the bus and how flashy their colors were.
To him, the car was the ultimate version of freedom. His access to bigger delivery missions funded several trips to Mombasa, where he would meet up with some of the travelers which he served back in Lamu.
One specific mzungu who Jay would deliver Bhang to in Lamu, had a car in Mombasa. Jay traded the Bhang for free driving lessons. It was one of the most important moments in Jay’s life, those lessons would enable everything to come.
“It is the best feeling in the world.” Jay told Maskat. “You slowly press the gas pedal and let go of the left foot, that part was hard, but once I had the hang of it, I was holding the wheel with both hands, shifting gears and going all the way 140!!”
“Whoooaa! Sounds like a good mzungu to make you drive his car at that speed.” Maskat said failing to conceal his concern.
“Yes suppaah! You should come with me next time you can see me drive and he might even teach you.”
“Hakuna Matata! There is a transport company in Mombasa, I am going to apply and be a driver there!” Jay said with pride as he looked out on the shore and watched large boats approach the island and anchor their large containers. They were recieved with much fervor and excitement from the Lamu dock workers.
How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone
Like A Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan