The Long Haul
It was a quiet morning on the coast of Mombasa. I slowly crumpled out of my bed and put on the only clothing I had, which was some ripped trousers and a t-shirt that looked like an old piece of bark. Mama was still asleep, her sickness getting worse by the day. One day I took her to a local daktari, but he knew nothing about her condition. There were no hospitals anywhere, and nobody to tell me what was wrong with her. All I could do was watch as she dissolved into an unknown sickness. I could do nothing.
After giving Mama the last of the mpunga we had, I slipped into my homemade sandals and trudged out the door. I’d been a fisherman for almost nine years, and I still struggled to put food on the table for me and Mama. The sun beats down on my neck as I walk along the dirt road of the undeveloped city of Mombasa, Kenya. The harbor is only a few minutes from my house, so I usually walk to save money. I don’t have enough money to sustain a peugeot ride every day. Once I get to the harbor I see my friend, Bakari walking along the dock and wave, catching up to him in the process.
“Hodi, Kwame!” Bakari yelled.
“Good day, my friend” I yell back. Me and Bakari have been friends ever since we were boys. His mother and mine were so tight, some people assumed they were sisters. Sadly, his mama died a few years ago. Bakari was never the same, cheerful guy he had always been. He was like a statue. We walked down the dock, waving to all the other fishermen that were rigging their vessels for a long day.
We hopped into our small, rickety fishing boat, the Bahari Wawindaji, and left the port swiftly. Today was just like any other day. The sun shined brightly, the ocean was the same beautiful blue it had always been, and life was just as challenging. Bakari started to rig the sail while I got the old fishing rods ready. I always kept a wooden carving of an elephant in my pocket, in hopes that it might give us a good catch. Mama gave it to me when Baba died, to help me feel better. I looked up. We were about to pass Mashua Muuaji, a group of rocks infamous for putting gaping holes in even the toughest boats. We usually kept clear of those rocks but today we were determined to get all the big fish that were in that area. We both knew that we were about to risk our lives, but both Bakari and I were in need of money. I had spent the rest of my money on food, and Bakari had to pay off an old debt. We needed anything we could get our hands on. As our ship neared the rocks, my stomach churned, knowing that if our boat was wrecked, we would both have no job, no money, and no food. We passed through the rocks, silently and carefully, but then I heard a loud scraping sound. Our boat squealed as the rocks bent Bahari Wawindaji and mangled her helm. Suddenly, another, larger, rock hit our ship with a loud slam, and I fell sideways. Our boat was almost all the way on it’s side, and I was starting to head for the water, and potentially the rocks. I latched onto one of the barrels secured to the ship and held on for dear life. Suddenly I felt a jolting pain as my hand scraped against the large boulders of Mashua Muuaji. I let go and fell right between the side of the boat and the rocks. Bakari saw me fall, and tried to get to me, but he fell, hits his head on the rocks, and went still. He was either unconscious or dead. I was on my own now. I knew I had to get out of there. The boat would crash against the rocks and it would be over. I would be dead. Bakari would be dead. Mama would die without anyone at her side. With one last jolt of energy I latched onto the boat and started to pull myself up. The boat was getting closer. I got my upper body out. The ship inched closer. One leg up. The boat was about to hit. I started to pull my other leg up, and then BANG!
I woke up, pain instantly taking over. I screamed, wondering what on earth was hurt. I looked down and a shiver rushed through my body. My whole right leg was gone at the middle of my thigh. I looked around the room. The same daktari I had talked to about my mama was sitting in a chair, reading an old book. He looked up, giving me a grave smile. I panicked.
“Where is Bakari?” I asked, worried about the only friend I had left.
“He is alive, mwana, but he needs rest, and so do you.” The old daktari said in a calm voice. A sigh of relief escaped my mouth. At least Bakari was alive. I looked down at my missing leg, cringing at the thought of trying to get a job with such a disability. The daktari walked outside and returned with a glass of water.
“What happen to my leg.” I asked him.
“It was crushed up against the rocks, so I was forced to take it off.” He said.
“What...who...where am I?” I said in a storm of confusion. everything happened so fast. My day was just like any other until we headed for those rocks.
“Drink up, my friend. You need your strength.” He said in a concerned voice.
“So, what happens now?” I asked, fearing the worst.
“Nothing, my friend. There is nothing else I can do. I can provide you with some magongo,or crutches, but thats as far as my services go.
“What will happen to my leg? I asked.
“It could get infected if you don’t seek better treatment soon” he said in a dull voice.
He handed me the magongo and I slowly limped out the door. The sun beat down on my face the same way it had the other day. I looked around. People with baskets and carts bustled through the busy streets. Young boys were playing soccer with a dirty, deflated, ball. What was I to do? I couldn’t get a job, and was bound to get an infection if I didn’t get to a better hospital. I started walking around my childhood neighborhood, wondering who could be living in my old apartment. I was about to go back to the old shack where my mama would lay dead or alive. I was afraid to go back. I turned around and saw a massive cargo ship parked in the harbor. Fisherman were loading crates of minerals and fresh fruit into the cargo bay. I painfully made my way over to a man writing on a clipboard.
“Where is this ship headed?” I asked him. It took a few minutes for him to look up, as he was busily taking notes.
“To the United States.”
“Are you taking passengers?”
“No, this ship is strictly for cargo. We don’t want any peasants stealing the minerals.” He sounded like he was afraid of me. Like I was a savage.
“Well, good day to you sir” I said as I limped away.
The man simply continued to scribble on his clipboard, and didn’t say another word. I knew I had to do something. I walked back to the shack where my mama was. She lay there, clinging to life. I touched her face, it burned like the sun. She looked at me and flashed a weak smile.
“I am going to make you better, mama” I said. She couldn’t talk, only nod in acknowledgement. It sat in the old wooden chair in the corner and drifted off. I awoke in the night. Everything was silent. Mama was asleep and the streets were like a desert. Not a single soul walked the streets. I got up and looked out the door. The massive cargo ship bobbed in the harbor, ready to brave the seas tomorrow. I started to walk out the door. This might be my only chance. The ship would take us to America, where hospitals and daktari are plentiful. I dragged an empty cart in front of our little shack. Carefully, I pulled mama into the cart, my wound burning from the stress. I couldn’t push the cart with crutches, so I tied a rope to the cart and then around my waist. I started to walk, step by step I dragged the cart a little bit closer. My body was exhausted, ready to shut down. When we got to the ship, I could see no way to get in. The hatch was closed, but there was a ladder that hung from the side of the boat. Now I needed help. I pushed the cart into a bush and went off to find Bakari. He lived very close, but the crutches were like a weight, dragging me down. I got to his shack and opened the door. I limped to Bakari’s bed and shook him. Startled, he leapt from his bed and almost attacked me, until he saw the missing leg.
“Kwame, why do you come so late?”
“My friend, there is a ship leaving for the United States tomorrow. I need your help to get my mama on. It’s the only way to save her.
“You know what they do to stowaways, you know” Bakari muffled
“I know, but it’s the only way.”
“Alright my friend, how are we going to get on this vessel?”
“There is a ladder. Come on” I started to limp out the door. Bakari followed, trotting beside me. He had a cloth wrap around his head from the wound he got in the boating accident. Other than that, he was the same muscular, strong, Bakari I had always known. When we got to the ship he saw my mother laying in the cart and gently picked her up.
“How are we going to get her up there?” Bakari asked
“If we tie the rope around that post, we could pull her up.”
“Good plan, Kwame.”
Bakari swiftly climbed up the ladder and then tied the rope around the post. I tied the rope around mama’s waist and gave Bakari a wave. He started to hoist her up. It was working. I was worried though, sunrise was coming, and the ship would leave soon. Once mama was there I looped the rope around my waist and Bakari hoisted me up. We all crumpled to the floor in exhaustion. We had made it. We picked up mama and carried her into the cargo bay. We found some blankets and lay her down behind a crate of bananas. Bakari stood up and shook my hand.
“What?” I was puzzled.
“I am leaving, Kwame.” Bakari said in a stern voice.
“Why not come to America with us? You can start a new life.”
“It’s just that… my father. He came to me. He said I could come live with him. He is very wealthy and owns lots of mines here in Kenya.”
I couldn’t speak. Bakari and I were never going to see each other again. He turned toward the door, and then suddenly we heard a tapping. It was getting louder. It was footsteps. I beckoned Bakari to come hide with us and he made his way over to the crate of bananas. I could see the guard through a gap in the wall. He was carrying a gun. The owners of the cargo ships that go from Africa and the United States have started to put armed guards on their ships to protect the ship from African pirates. I knew this guard had the authority to shoot any trespassers. The man with the gun walked into the room where we were hiding. My breaths almost non-existent, silent as the streets at night. Mama was asleep. It was almost impossible to tell she was alive. She was like a ghost waiting for passage to the afterlife. The guard took slow steps, making sure to look behind every crate. His flashlight shined like the sun. He was getting closer, but we couldn’t move. Me and Bakari looked at eachother. His eyes were calm, but frightened. I slowly lifted mama up and tucked her farther behind the crate of bananas. I ripped a piece of fabric off of my shirt. I got a dark rock from the ground and began writing. Two words. Two almost meaningless words that would change the outcome. I signaled something to Bakari and he nodded. I clenched the fabric in my hand. Then, I walked out in front of the guard and held up the piece of cloth. He immediately pointed his gun at me and started shooting. Bakari slipped by in the dark and escaped. I could feel so much pain rushing through my body, but not a word escaped my mouth. I was emotionless. I dropped to the ground, my face as stoick as the sea. The ringing of gunfire bounced in my head. I was dead. The guard picked up the piece of paper and read it. Take Her it said. the man looked behind the crate only to find an old woman gasping for air. She was still alive. The guard, shocked called for help and two men came and picked her up. I don’t know whether she made it or not, but I know that no matter what, it was worth it.