So I had been gone from this so-called promised land, this American wonderland, for almost 4 years to the date. As my old Dugsi teacher recently told me: I just went on an extended vacation of sorts. When I was last in America, the first black president was in his second term in office. 7-11 sold frozen, pre-cooked pizzas for $5 on EBT, then they’d heat it up for you in their high powered microwave ovens. The government was, in effect, subsidizing a hot-and-ready alternative to Lil’ Caesars famous offering of the same ilk for hood niggas in the struggle. I remember standing in long lines for meager payouts: DSHS; too sick to care, too tired to do anything but shuffle one foot in front of the other; medicated.
In 2013, I was a wildly different person and America was a wildly different place. When I left that Seattle-Tacoma airport, when the Emirates airline began its rapid ascent to cruising altitude and I began my descent into self-reflection, into trepidation, into barely controlled madness of the introverted kind. Maybach Music Volume II blasted in my iPhone headphones, from my iPhone 3GS that I had bought for $20 off of a tweaker late one night in those perpetually rainy city streets. That was the first iPhone I ever owned, and it was no small accomplishment to me: purchasing an outdated iPhone off the street with dirty money. With guilty money, more soaked in filth than the conscience that kept me up ’till sunrise every night: festering in its own self-pity, in remorse at a life that could have been and never was, eating away at me. To fall so far from grace, to sink so low after such lofty expectations were placed on me: cognitive dissonance, at best.
I wandered through those grimy downtown alleyways with not a hint of fear in my heart, shoulder to shoulder with the rats and wine-bums and heroin-junkies and crack-heads and the resolute dabblers of all vices at once. I sought the most dangerous of situations because life was too sterile and pre-determined to an acute degree of safety in America. I shrugged my shoulders, careful not to dislodge that chip on the left as I skated away into the foreground, skin drenched in fluorescent streetlights and bathed in acrid rain.
I left trails of dissatisfied hearts in my wake, I left nothing to chance. I fulfilled not a single obligation, or commitment; I vacillated as a pendulum with a broken metronome attached. I was broken inside, shattered outside. My knees, my elbows: raw, freshly scabbed. My palms, my wrists: shredded like a 3-cheese Mexican blend. I had no friends, though I was surrounded by hordes of indifferent passers-by at any given time. I slept in parking garages from time to time, when the night called for it, having only my skateboard as a pillow and my box of swisher sweets clutched tightly to my chest; praying to wake up in a different reality. Wiping the discontent off my eyes before the homies saw the real me; plastering that goofy-stance of a smile onto my face, my eyes telling another story entirely.
I bled from the tear ducts, my saline solution long since having been spent. I lived my life on the edge of the gutter, on the precipice of utter humiliation. Still, somehow, I had the audacity to walk around with arrogance. What a coping mechanism that was: feigned indifference. I was broken then and I’m still struggling to collect the pieces to this day. It’s only by the grace of Allah that I never crossed that line into oblivion, that I was able to somehow find my way back to daylight. It’s only by the grace found only by the Indian Ocean in Mogadishu that this internal longing for recompense found some small measure of satisfaction.
So that iPhone 3GS got stolen from me by some Canadian Dhaqan Celis (Return to Culture) kid in Galkacayo, city of my ancestors. I ended up getting Malaria that same night, what an introduction to the concept of Qadr (Allah’s Divine Decree). Things happen as they were meant to, and it’s only a matter of how fast you come to terms with it that you can really begin to understand this thing called life. I lay on that 3-inch thick twin-sized Styrofoam bed-mat in my mother’s house (I hesitate to call it a mattress, it was literally some sponge material on the floor) for no less than 6 days. She saved for 10 years, one penny at a time, to have that house built for our future in Somalia; forever indebted to her as I am, I was grateful that no one was coming to collect rent, ever. I shivered and I shook. I sweated and I froze. I released my bowels and my stomach; I could barely lift my head off that pillow (the used one, the hand me down one that my younger brother had already worn a nice groove into over the last year or more before I got there).
The only thing that kept repeating throughout my mind, lost in a hazy fever-dream that had no beginning or end, was the picture of that Canadian kid walking off into the distance of the alleyway as he pretended to be making a phone call. “Yes, Uncle. I’m good. Did you get the money? I’m really broke and could use a 50 or two. No, I can’t hear you, hold on.” He turned to me and gave me the “give me a second” finger, walking into the alleyway and pointing as if there was a magical spot halfway down the block that had perfect cell reception. How could you let yourself get played like that, Said? You came to Africa with no money, with a suitcase full of clothes that your dad bought for you at a second-hand store. You couldn’t even pay for your own clothes before you were kicked out of America, poverty clause. What kind of an excuse for a grown man are you? You’re supposed to be so smart, how could you not even pay your own bills?
What kind of an excuse are you?
It didn’t matter. All I could do was wonder if I would survive this incident, my first time getting ACTUALLY sick in Somalia. If I did live to tell the tale, would I continue to be the coward I was known to be in Seattle or would I track this dude down and get my phone back by any means? Never mind that I couldn’t fight, and that word on the street was that homeboy had bodies on his record, which is how he ended up exiled to Somalia; it was a matter of principle. You can’t let people see that your weak in Somalia; even if everyone knows how weak you are, you hide it until they come to carry you to your grave; die brave, even if it means an early grave, right?
I lived to tell this tale, so clearly I never showed my bravery. At least, not to him. He ate that phone, and he ate well for several days. The money from the sale of my phone on the street was probably spent before I even recovered from my bought with malaria. I think there’s a funny kind of irony in that whole scenario: I bought a phone on the street, most likely hotter than the devil’s sundress collection, and that phone made it all the way down to Somalia with me ( a place that’s even hotter than the devil’s drawers, underneath that very same sundress collection on a Spike Lee day in Brooklyn).
That phone ended up getting stolen from me, which is funny because the guy I bought it from most likely stole it from someone else; drug addicts have habits and habits are not very discerning when it comes to your previous sense of morality before they took hold of your life.
The phone that I bought on the street, was taken from me, and sold on another street. A street that wasn’t even a street, more potholes than dirt. No pavement to be seen, the ground so uneven that you struggled not to fall face first on any given walk to town.
Anyway, no matter.
I never got the phone back, nor did I get any compensation, or just desserts, or revenge, or anything of that sort. I learned that you can’t trust people just because they share similar life experiences with you in a foreign land that you once called home. I learned that Allah gives and Allah takes away, and you don’t have a say in the matter. I learned that you can huff and puff your chest all you want, but that Wiley Wolf was only a fable character and most likely never even made eye contact with those pigs: he was scared like you were scared. He is you, but you run away from him still.