The day Brian got deported we did the only thing we could do, we threw a party. They (the forces of darkness, otherwise known as the Home Office) came for him in the middle of the night and dragged him out of bed, kicking and screaming, from the one bedroom flat he rented in Muirhouse. We heard this from Natsai from number 3. The news struck terror, ice cold terror, 9/11 terror in our hearts. And then came the appeals – human rights, compassionate grounds, whatever. He threw everything at them and the system gave him the big fat middle finger. We followed his case in court right up until the fucking savages slammed him.
Tafireyi missed him most of all. Truth be told, he was the only one who shed real, actual tears for Brian. Maybe it had something to do with the five hundred odd quid the cat owed him, who’s to say. We were in the casino on Fountainbridge, the place we always hit dreaming of the jackpot, spending our hard earned cash playing blackjack and roulette, when word got round that they were putting him on a plane that night.
– You sure this intel’s square? Tafi asked.
– Without a fucking doubt. Flight AZ4658, Willard replied over the phone which we had on speaker.
– Toita sei? said Manu.
– Come round to mine’s, said Willard and hung up.
Manu had scored seventy odd pound on the roulette, a lucky zero, got him flush. Gordon had twenty quid etc, etc, together we were worth something like one-thirty, including Pablo who was always skint. It was enough for plenty of nyama: a rack of ribs, wings, drumsticks, nuts, three crates of Carling, a big bottle of Jack, a couple bottles of cider and some fags.
We hopped on the 26, paper bags and all, sat on the upper deck, away from the natives, and hit Corstorphine.
Willard’s place was in the ground floor of a four-in-a-block in Parkgrove. He let us in and the electric started beeping. Then we had to pool up and buy a fiver’s worth of power from the Indian shop round the corner. Pablo put the beats on and we jammed to Winky D’s Vashakabvu. Willard’s hifi was proper dope and the beats poured into the room like we were down Murambinda.
– We’ve gotta track him, said Gordon checking the time, and it was nearly nine.
He took four sheets of A4 paper from the printer and blu-tacked them to the wall. Then he drew Africa in the middle, even put Madagascar – a blob – on the right side, then he drew a little island, top left – us – and squiggly lines all around with little sharks swimming in them. Europe was just a Uish V turned to a C next to us. X marked the spot – Heathrow. Down in Africa, O was Harare. Then he ran a straight line in the middle of Africa and called it the Equator. Genius.
– Has he been smoking? Willard asked.
– No more than usual, we replied.
Let’s switch this motherfucker present tense, see if it flows better.
We’re sat in the living room, each hooked up, matrix style, to his phone, texting, Whatsapping, Facebooking, tweeting, talking to and at one another and the world. The TV is on the X Factor results. Some random chick from Leeds is crying, because she wants it so bad, she just wants to be a professional singer, that’s all she’s wanted to be in her seventeen year old life, and her nan’s dying of cancer, and she just needs one more shot at it, she needs the public vote. That’s some sentimental shit right there, addictive and heart breaking. We are fucking moved.
Willard’s already got the nyama in the oven when Tino, Nashe, and Bomba show up because Manu’s texted them. Tino’s in baggy jeans and a Yankees top and cap, rigged out like he’s African-American, ready to hit the club. But first they hit our booze; we feel it like a kick in the balls.
– That’s the plane taking off now, says Gordon, pointing at Heathrow on his map.
We wave to/through the ceiling to the sky, clink bottles and say good-bye to Brian. Hasta la vista, baby. We say stuff like, Brian was such a cool cat, and regale each other with tales about shit he’d done for us like putting up Pablo when he was evicted from his squat or helping Manu with his coursework – positive stuff, uplifting. We talk about how Babylon’s trying to bring us down. Power to the people. Fuck the Tories. Then Willard is screaming in the toilet, we all rush in and he’s standing at the sink spraying water on his willy.
– What the fuck?
– I was handling chillies and didn’t wash my hands before I took a wazz, he says through an incredible haze of pain.
– You poor bastard, Pablo says above our sniggering.
– I’m dying here, says Willard in phenomenal agony. It’s worse than getting it caught in the zipper.
– Pour some milk on it, says Manu who’s a nurse, a mental health nurse, which makes him the closest thing we have to A&E.
We leave Willard leaning over the sink, shagging half a pint of Cravendale. He’s a brilliant chef, the meat smells divine from the living room. Someone else stumbles into the room. It’s Samanyika on his mobile.
– What’s up, cocksuckers, he says and goes back to his call. He drops a crate of Stella on the coffee table, and when he’s done on the phone he turns to us. You wouldn’t believe what happened to me on the bus on my way to work this morning. So, I’m sat on the upper deck and it’s hot like hell, and I’m sweating like a pig. The windows are all steamed up and it’s like being in Equatorial Africa. Now, I look at the window beside me, and I want to reach up and open it, only I can’t. I’m totally paralysed. I ask myself, what right do I have to open this window, on whose authority?
– That’s some philosophical shit, says Gordon.
– If you were hot, why didn’t you just open the damn window? says Pablo.
– That’s the thing, I was hot, but how could I possibly know how everyone else was feeling? It’s impossible, right? Samanyika waits for a someone to respond, but there’s silence all round which he takes to mean he is right. Who was I to decide on everyone else’s behalf that the window should be open?
– Man, you’re deep, says Gordon.
– I suppose I could have asked the people immediately around me, but then that would just be the unilateral decision of a small undemocratic cabal, so, to open it up, I could have held a plebiscite, asked everyone on the bus, the upper deck at least, whether or not they wanted the window open, Samanyika says. But here’s the paradox, was fifty plus one percent enough to swing this vote my way, or would a two thirds majority be necessary. Even if I got ninety nine percent of the vote, what if there was a single old man on there, all arthritic, bronchitis, the chill in his bones, would opening the window count as an infringement on his fundamental rights? This thing’s been super bugging me and I can’t seem to crack it.
– Buy a car, says Pablo.
The chick from Leeds gets the vote by a whisker. Her cancer ridden nan must have felt some relief from whatever agonies she was enduring. Her rival, a twenty something year old dude from Paisley, kinda stands in front of the giant screen, watching highlights from his brief pop career, before they send him off the gangway into that great oblivion to which all reality TV stars must return.
– He should have said his mum had HIV or something, says Bomba.
– That is tasteless on so many fucking levels, Gordon replies.
It silences us for a minute and then Willard comes in with the nyama which we eat from a communal tray, like people do kuroots. It’s proper spicy, giving our mouths a taste of what his balls had been through. We can’t touch our phones with our greasy fingers so for a few minutes we were all locked together in the same space-time co-ordinates, listening to the sound of bones cracking, Freeman singing Handina Godo, throats swallowing.
They say shit about the brain drain, how having young fucks like us away from the Motherland represents a new phase in the underdevelopment of Africa, kinda like what happened back in the slave days, except now they don’t take us on ships in chains, we kinda fly economy class and eat plastic tasting plane food en route. In Willard’s crib, the brain drain was nine formerly middle class lads between the ages of twenty two and thirty eight, all trapped in some sort of relativistic time freeze, doomed to perpetual adolescence. Yeah, right, we were the brain drain, and the best qualified of us was a fucking nurse. You could just feel the GDP flow out of Africa through our arses.
After we eat, Pablo brings out a pouch of mbanje and rolls a big fat joint. Not to be outdone, Nashe whips out some baby powder, chops up a few lines on the coffee table and rolls a tenner.
– That shit’s not natural, it fucks up the brain circuitry, says Pablo.
– You think? Nashe replies.
– Yeah, I read it on the internet. It completely rewires your brain and stuff. It’s dangerous, you just don’t know what’s in it, man, says Pablo, lighting up and taking a pull.
Nashe actually hesitates from snorting for about half a micro-second.
– And what you’re doing is supposedly safer? he says.
– This is natural, your shit was made in a lab somewhere in the jungles of South America and brought here plugged up someone’s rectum. It’s disgusting. Pablo gets animated. I mean, how can anyone even know what’s in there. You think they have grad school chemists making this stuff, nah, why would you put yourself at risk like that?
– I hate to say it, but since we telling it straight, I think, P’s right, says Gordon taking the joint off Pablo and hitting it. There’s just certain lines you shouldn’t cross and that’s one of them. Dangerous.
– Bullshit! You guys ingest artificial, factory made, chemical substances all the fucking time. You’ve done so your entire lives. Gordon, you’re asthmatic right, how about that inhaler of yours? Have you heard of betaglucanase or propylene glycol alginate? Can you even pronounce that? Here’s a simpler one for you, sulphur dioxide – clue, you’re drinking it right now. Nashe raises his voice. How do you even know what’s in that skunk, the chemicals in the hydroponics they used to up the THC? You don’t, do you, so stop talking shit.
– Geez, no need to go all Harvard on us, says Willard.
– What gets me riled up is this sanctimonious crap like your Islam is better than my Christianity, says Nashe, snorting another line.
– The religion with the beards, Nashe replies.
We’d lost our religion or were in various stages of losing it. It was the price we paid, the contagion of living in the Godless west. Only Manu still went to church from time to time, some Nigerian thing, but even he drew the line at giving the prophet ten percent of his income.
Gordon gets up and goes to his map.
– He’s somewhere there now, he says, pointing at wavy blue lines which may be the Mediterranean.
– And how exactly do you know that? asks Nashe.
– Because that’s on the flight path.
– Tell me something, says Pablo. If Brian’s plane crashes into the sea, will his body get eaten by those sharks you’ve drawn on there?
He actually looks serious. That’s how stoned he is.
– It depends if it lands intact, Gordon replies thoughtfully.
– What if the plane burst into a ball of flames before impact and Brian was cooked…
– Are you thinking rare, medium, or well done?
– I don’t know… Let’s call it medium rare, for argument’s sake. And so if he was cooked, would the sharks still eat him? If they did eat him would they then develop a taste for cooked meat as opposed to the raw stuff they eat every day?
– I think they’d just eat him but I don’t know if they’d develop a taste for cooked meat because of it, Gordon replies.
– You see, I read somewhere that early humans started cooking with fire, perhaps, after someone accidentally dropped a piece of meat in the fire or even an animal struck by lightning, and that’s how we developed our taste for it, then we started cooking food which makes it easier to extract the nutrients and energy locked up in it, and so our brains got bigger and that’s how we conquered the world. So I think if sharks did the same thing, and their brains grew, then it would be them against us and we’d get wiped out.
– Like the sharks in Deep Blue Sea?
– Hang on a minute, says Samanyika. Just how do you think these sharks would cook with fire since they live in the ocean? Duh.
– Good point.
– Hurrah, the world is saved, Samanyika says drily.
The conversation just morphs into something else, and we talk about cranial capacity, opposable thumbs, bipedal vs quadrupedal walking, anything else that comes to our chemical engorged minds. The room has the sweet scent of weed and tobacco smoke, perhaps with a touch of the potpourri on Willard’s table. It’s just after midnight and Nashe decides he can’t be arsed going to the club, which sets off a string of protests from Bomba and Tino, but he tells them to go without him if they want, but he’s already exerted >drag-max on the whole thing, which is a disaster because the shops stop selling booze at ten.
– I’m gonna call some babes over so we get this thing going, says Pablo.
Drinks pour down our throats. We consume substances from far away. The room spins, comes to a halt, spins, comes to a halt, summersaults and cartwheels. We talk over one another, have meaningless conversations about the meaning of life, our lives. We discuss politics and economics and women and everything under the sun. We hate our jobs, we hate our bosses, we hate our country, we hate our parents. We are Grumpy Smurf.
We break out into a spontaneous choral rendition of Bob Marley, singing every little thing’s gonna be alright. Pablo has a bassy, grungy voice, like his vocal cords have been sandpapered raw. Tafi’s on tenor, our very own Pavarotti. But we are beyond voice, we’re singing with soul and it doesn’t matter if we can’t hold our notes too well, or if we trip over the lines. What matters, the only thing that matters, is we’re singing away in the night, squashed cans of beer/ bottles of cider/ shots of Jack held aloft, waving above our heads, so that in that moment we are exiles, revolutionaries in a foreign land, Guevaras and Tongogaras.
Must have woken the neighbours coz someone from upstairs is thumping on his floor – our ceiling. We pipe down, yell a few sorries and stop singing.
The room is hot with our body heat.
Pablo’s babes still haven’t shown. This thing feels more like an Irish wake than a party. Bomba finds a spot in the corner, near the radiator, grabs a cushion from the sofa, curls up and KOs. Willard brings him a duvet from the bedroom. Samanyika’s pounding on the bathroom door, coz his bladder’s bursting and Tino’s taking too long.
Rufaro, Tatenda, and Max show up fourish. They’d been to the club and say it was whack. Law of diminishing returns, we’ve been hitting those joints for way too long. Time to leave it for the kids. But we don’t wanna grow old, we can’t because we don’t wanna end up in nursing homes here, waiting to be buried in icy ground. But we don’t talk about death or long term plans or anything like that because we fear the future, to peer into time, make plans that won’t come to pass. We’d rather be here in the moment, talking about anything at all that can divert our minds from the reality of our situation. We’re not related, but we’re family, bound together by our common experience and shitty green passports.
More bodies drop to the floor and sleep in whatever nook and cranny they can find. Only the hardcore crew, Nashe, Gordon, Samanyika, Max and Pablo are still up to greet the first shreds of blue dawn that come into the room. Gordon stands up, tip-toes over bodies and stands by his map. He points a finger on O and taps it a couple of times. We know what it means, what he’s thinking, but we wait for him to say it anyway.
– That’s it now. The eagle’s landed. Brian’s definitely back home.
We imagine the motherfucker with a small bin liner, that’s his hand luggage, containing underwear, socks and a toothbrush, all his worldly possessions, stepping out of the Boeing 747, his nose assaulted by new familiar scents as he walks down the metal stairs, his feet clanging as he goes. And when he reaches the bottom, flip-flop shod feet firmly on terra firma, he raises his head, turns his face up to the sky, slow motion – movie style, raises his right hand up, eyes squint he is dazed by the oppressive brilliance of the sun.
Then someone nudges him on from behind. He moves one leg forward, then the other, then he’s walking, staggering, going forward and back at the same time.