I sit hunched in a corner at the subway my eyes darting for signs of a good Samaritan while at the same time trying to hide from the glare of the authorities. They’ve already caught me once and taken my details, they do that to homeless people because they say we are more likely to engage in criminal activities than any other person. I retrieve further when the thought of prison comes to mind. I have seen too many movies to know my behind wouldn’t manage prison. I’m not a fighter. I’m a coward, prison is no place for cowards.
I see a couple approaching. The man is wearing a crisp white shirt, khaki chinos and lofs. He has an air of importance even though he looks like a chap who just cleared college and he is juggling his first internship. The woman he’s with is boyish and bubbly you can already see her outgrowing him. Leaving him. Splattering his fragile khaki wearing heart on the floor. The woman is wearing flats and a Maasai leso that fondly reminds me of home, it makes me nostalgic, this is the first time in a long time I have seen something similar to home. I have a longing, I want to be back. Take me back. I stand and start approaching the woman. I’m running. My arms are wide open. I want to hug her. I want to sink my face in her Maasai leso. I want to be home.
I feel a strong wave move from my ribs to my head then back again to my toes and everything goes pitch black. It’s a Taser, it must be a Taser. I wake up in a cell feeling dizzy.
“Homeless person Tased at the subway for disorderly behavior.” One of the cops howls.
“We’ll keep him through the weekend and arraign him in court on Monday.”
“That’s good enough, the way I see it he would be better behind bars than on the streets.”
My heart starts pumping fast I go into shock and start having flashbacks.
“When you get abroad, study hard and make us proud.”
We’re having a fundraiser for my flight, mama looks delighted, at last his first born son is going to have a chance to get his foot in the door. Other relatives look mostly excited while a few look envious. Wearing those, “Why not me?” faces because in Africa everybody thinks America is the opportunity warehouse where everybody is showered with money the minute they make entrance…I have this naïve thinking too. I can’t wait to make my mark, and give back to my family, my friends, to society at large.
My flight is airborne at Jomo Kenyatta international airport, I’m ecstatic, this is the first time I’m flying, and this is the furthest I will be away from home. I can already picture myself getting back and gathering my extended family around and telling them stories of how big houses and tall buildings shrink into tiny dots when you’re in the sky. How the clouds look like fluffy pillows that you can jump on. How the engine roars as if to cheer you on to go catch your dreams no matter how fleeting.
We stop at Amsterdam for refueling but I’m asleep and I’m only woken up by the attendant on the voice over telling us to put our seat-belts on because we are about to land at JFK. The wheels touch down and kiss the runaway, unsure and scared at first before caressing and holding it tightly like a jealous lover. The big bird comes to a halt and I alight and I am hit by the freezing cold of New York like a mallet. It’s the kind of weather that would freeze water midair if thrown out of a cup. I already miss the warm weather in Nairobi.
I settle down in the school hostel. My roommate is white, tall and skinny he wears his cockiness like a wrinkled shirt and I like that because it means he sees me like one of the pals. One of the buddy’s, someone he can catch a beer with.
“You’re sleeping in the top bank, please put a nylon cover on your mattress I’m not a big fun of golden showers.”
I smile, I think of introducing myself by my African name but think against it, it’s too long, too complex, my English name will suffice.
“I’m George, nice to meet you.”
“The names Frank, I’ll be your tormentor.”
And torment me he does by all the different girls he brings late in the night when I’m trying to study my course work. The weed he tells me to puff that I vehemently refuse. I feel the fumes choking me I can’t breathe. I get up, I am still in my cell lying on the cold bench waiting for judgment day like a helpless wounded animal. When did it all go awry? I remember it was a moment of ecstasy, I was feeling homesick and my part-time job of waiting tables at McDonalds made me hate everything. Frank came in with two beautiful girls, she said they were sorority girls and before I knew it we were all naked kissing and touching and squeezing and sniffing some white stuff they called coke.
The feeling was beautiful. It was euphoria and nirvana, it felt as if the world was perfect, I floated my way to morning and woke up feeling like shit. My problems had somehow skyrocketed. I looked at Frank buzzed almost looking dead on the floor with a naked sorority girl on top of him and the other curled up by my side. There was some powder still left on the table that same table that had transitioned from a study area to a dealer’s desk. I had an option, bathe and go to class or sniff the white stuff and join my comrades in Nirvana. I choose Nirvana.
It all flashes before me. Dropping school, renting a studio apartment with Frank. Frank getting caught peddling drugs. Feeling nauseated and dropping my McDonalds job and getting kicked out of the studio apartment. I remember it all now, going to the shelters to beg for food with glue stuck in-between my lips. Hanging out at the subway in tatters begging for change just so I could get my next fix.
How is mama? I wonder, will she recognize me when she sees me? My bloodshot eyes ruined by drugs, alcohol and lack of sleep. My cracked lips and my withered frame. I am heaving. I’m blurred by torrents of tears, I failed mama, I failed myself but I’d rather be home than here. Here where nobody tells me good morning, here where nobody knows my name. I’d rather be home embarrassed than stay here as a social leaper. I get up and wipe my tears, I can hear charter in the distance I press my ear on the cell bars and hear the cops referring to my case and talking about deportation and I smile because I will finally go home.
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I like to think of myself as a reader who writes, a Pan-African who thinks with the tips of his fingers, but when I'm not molesting the keyboard I'm usually destroying yogurt (not Frusion) or staring into the vastness of space.