Morning came with the wind and our little green ship was moaning with the high waves. “Hurry, hurry.” Shouted Abshir, “Hurry!”
There was a large wooden motorboat on board our ship and it was carefully lowered into the sea. Abshir told us to follow him and Yolo into the boat. We climbed down a rope ladder and stepped lightly into the boat that seemed not quite large enough to carry us all. There were twelve of us huddled in the morning mist in the boat. I looked up and saw the one-eyed man and the woman watching us. There were some others we were leaving behind too. They shouted “Bonne Chance!” And then they raised their guns in victory to us. Yolo yanked the motor boat to life and we lurched into the sea. I watched as our ship grew smaller and smaller and finally it disappeared as though it had sunk. We were flying along on the open sea now, our motor boat was buffeted over and over by the lines of waves. Abshir watched his compass and talked into a radio. We were all given radios and reams of ammo.
A grey elephant appeared in the distance. I pinched Gabriel and said, “Look! An elephant!”
“That’s no elephant Alexander!” Gabriel looked sick. “That is the Russians. I just know it.”
“Yolo! slow down, there they are!” Abshir looked through his binoculars and waved his arm to the West, he wanted Yolo to stalk the elephant like poacher.
We stalked her for what seemed like ages, but perhaps it was only a few hours. She remained quite small in the distance and the sun passed over us and began to rest just on the edge of the sea. The fog of the previous day returned and then darkness fell over us. The elephant began to twinkle with little lights in the distance, we could see her perfectly lit and traced by her lanterns. Yolo gunned the engine and we flew across the sea with nothing in our way. Abshir rode the bow of our boat bravely and determined.
Gabriel pinched my arm and I smiled at him. I was not certain what was going to happen next and time seemed to be out of control now. Time had been left somewhere behind us in the ocean. The salt was burning my forehead and the palms of my hands tingled.
Yolo sped right to the side of the elephant -- she was still and heavy in the water. A watchman, a Russian looked down at us from the great sides of his naval ship and Abshir shouted to him in a language I had only heard once before, it was the language he spoke with the old Muslim. The watchman disappeared quickly and we heard much commotion. “Hurry! Hurry!” Abshir shouted and we all climbed up the sides of the great ship. We jumped on deck, with our AKs down and ready. But there was no one. We all looked at each other. This was puzzling to the men. Gabriel and I could tell that this wasn’t right -- weren’t we in for a battle with the Russians now? “They are cowards! We will find them. They are hiding somewhere.” Abshir told us to split up. Gabriel and I followed him and 3 other men down one side of the ship while the others went across the deck. We peered in windows and kicked open doors. No one. We came upon the galley with a table set for dinner, there was much food and wine and the plates appeared to be half full . . . the Russians had been eating here only minutes before. We went to the table and greedily ate the food. There was lamb and couscous and potatoes. I was so hungry and again time was lost and I splintered from my body as I took in the food. The rest of the men showed up, they had found no one -- empty beds, an empty engine room, no one. They found two life boats and so we surmised that they hadn’t escaped by boat. We ate all of the food in the galley and finally sat down to the table to drink the wine. There were Russian cigarettes and we smoked them and the men seemed almost to have forgotten why we had boarded the ship. But Abshir had not forgotten. He sucked the flesh of a leg of lamb and watched out the galley door, and then I saw a thought rise in him. He threw the meat bone to the floor and rose from his seat, “Hurry, hurry! I know where they are! They are in a safe room somewhere on board. We’ll find it and shoot our way in.”
We came out of our dazes and ran out the door and up the starboard side of the ship with Abshir leading us. He ducked into a passageway and started trying all the doors, he shouted to Yolo to remain out on deck and told Gabriel and I to stay with Yolo. As we stood guard on deck, we heard Abshir and the men scouring the ship for the door that might lead to a safe room. I looked out on the night horizon and saw a star twinkle low and bright, very near the sea. I pinched Gabriel and told him to look at the funny star. We watched the star and it became two stars and then they became three . . . I realized they were not stars at all, but the lights of a fast moving ship! “Yolo! A ship is coming!” Yolo spun round and squinted, “Merde, merde, merde! nous sommes baisés!”
Yolo left us to find Abshir and they all came running to the side of the ship to watch the approaching ship. It was coming so fast we had no time. No time at all. The ship seemed to break into smaller ships and we could see the high speed motor boats that it had sent out to maneuver more quickly. We decided to climb down the sides of our “captured” ship and try to make a getaway in our own little boat. We piled in and Yolo yanked at the motor, he yanked and he yanked, but she wouldn’t start. “Hurry! Merde!” Abshir pushed Yolo aside and tried to yank the motor himself, but nothing, she just sputtered and then there was nothing but the light of four or five suns shining on us and the clicking of guns ready to fire. There were so many many men and their skin was as white as the light, as white as the shaved ice that our fathers liked to have in their Coca-Colas and they shouted to us in that language. Abshir shouted back to them in their language and some of them laughed. They didn’t expect Abshir to be educated.
They made us climb back up the sides of the big ship and they surrounded us. They carefully took our weapons away and they were especially interested in Gabriel and me. One of them leaned into my face and took my silk tie between his fingers, “How old are you?” He spoke English, a very strange English, but it was English. I stood stiffly and told him I was fourteen years old. He asked me how old Gabriel was and I told him the same. They gathered us on a wide open swath of deck at the rear of the ship and shackled us all together. There was some commotion toward the bow and we watched as the crew we had attempted to take prisoner earlier emerged from a hatch in the deck. They had been under our feet all the time; listening to us run about like fools searching for them.
Now there were many of them. Many many Russians and they were not weak at all. Abshir had underestimated their size and their strength. They were clever warriors, like Alexander the Great. And we were thwarted so easily by them. There had been no shots fired and now we were all alive and facing each other. They decided to shackle us all together and there they left us on deck with just a few of their men to watch us til the sun rose. The sister ship arrived at our side and we were overwhelmed by her size. It was a true war ship . . . it was bigger than any river or mountain I had ever imagined. I wanted to fall asleep but it was impossible to fall asleep in chains. So I closed my eyes and tried to swim away in my mind, just like the Englishman taught me. I swam and swam up a long river and I swam so swiftly that the crocodiles were unable to eat me and the hippos were astounded as I passed them.
They put us on the big ship in the morning. They put us in a large cell below deck and told us they were taking us to a Russian prison. Abshir hung his head, all his courage seemed to have left him. Gabriel and I sat close to one another. We didn’t say a word, but we could speak with our minds. We dreamed to be back on the land, any land at all. I wondered if they would really keep us in the Russian prison, surely because we were only boys they would let us go?
Days went by. I don’t know how many because I couldn’t see the sun rise or set. The Russians opened the door occasionally and brought us bread and water and they even gave us some goat meat. The sun would pour in through the door when they opened it and that was the only way that I knew it was day. Yolo began to complain of pains in his stomach and they took him away. Not long after they took Yolo away, two Russians came with pencils and paper and they asked us lots of questions. We told them our names and our ages. We told them we were from Somalia. Abshir found some courage and he told them he was educated. He spoke to them in their language. He told them we should be returned to Mogadishu and they scowled at him.
The next day they came and told us to come on deck. They lined us up and put a large rubber raft down in the sea. There was no land anywhere. The sun was very high and there were not even sea birds in the sky. We could tell we were many many miles from Somalia. They told us they couldn’t take us back to Somalia. And they couldn’t take us to Russia because it would be too much trouble to try and convict us. Abshir shouted and started to protest. They pushed him overboard. We watched him fall and fall and hit the water with a terrible splash. We watched as he struggled in the sea to get to the rubber raft. We shouted to him, “Abshir! Abshir!” and he got hold of the raft and pulled himself in. He sat in the raft and looked up at us like a lion in a trap. We turned and faced the Russians. They told us to climb down the ladder and get in the raft with Abshir. The one that came to me on the first night and asked me how old I was gave me a metal box, “This is a beacon. Keep it in the boat with you. Perhaps someone will find you.” The beacon beat in my hand like a lion’s heart. I thanked the Russian. I believed him. I believed someone might find us. But they never did.