There are two places a man will let his guard down at. Both places start with the first letter of the name of a female dog. B.
B in Luganda is a smelly word, one that follows a fart. It smells of sewage, a natural atomic bomb from the ileum. Stinky! It scatters elements in one’s grey matter when it enters through the nasal phalanges. It invites droves of Musca domesticae. Every housefly I have seen craves fresh B. It’s their favorite dish. It’s what they live for. For the entire 28 days of their life span, they could eat it everyday without second thought. It’d never get stale because to them, it’s the go to meal, their comfort food, their Chef’s Special.
When Musca domesticae land on B, they drool an army of enzymes whose name I don’t know. These enzymes take position like troops on a mission to decapacitate their enemy. They break down the moist B particles into their version of paprika soup. Then the flies slurp down this broth into their bellies, feeling drowsy by the time they are done. They won’t fly with a sober brain thereafter.
We are fortunate that in our story, the B we are looking at, where men drop down their defenses and let their brains go chacha are not as dramatic as fly food. Men will loosen in bars and barbershops. That’s how I met our protagonist, in a barbershop that was in the basement of a flat surrounded by other concrete structures. He was my barber.
“Bro, I was ready to make that trip to Europe,” he tells me.
He runs the brush over my hair.
It starts at the turn of this decade. The Arab spring is catching on. Facebook is drenched with videos and pictures of protests and brutality, bloodshed and masses marching towards or running from gun wielding military people. These are still the day when WhatsApp isn’t yet so popular. And there another uprising in a West African country where our protagonist is about to find himself.
He has lived in Ghana all his life. But he can’t find a job. He can’t feed himself. He can’t afford to put a roof over his head. He’s in his twenties and life just served him a bag of rotten mangoes. His lips are dry from the scorching sun, stomach churning out of hunger. His skin is pale. It’s cracking as though he’s a dry land in the desert. Life is not worth living in this place, he thinks to himself. But it is home.
A friend tells him of a life in a country called Italy. This friend paints a picture of Venice and Florence and Rome. He sees the slanting tower of Pisa. The thought of having pizza every day lights up his eyes. It seems like a better future than what he’s currently having.
He makes up his mind.
He doesn’t tell me whether he has money or not. My guess is he has none.
“I crossed the border to Cote d’Ivore. I needed to get to the coast,” he says as he trims my hair.
It was around the time the Ivorians revolted against their then president, Laurent Gbagbo. We are talking 2011. Our protagonist gets to Abidjan and guns are blazing like a scene from an action-packed movie. There is gun powder and lead flying like birds, sound of gunshots and tankers in the city, magazines in the air you’d think it’s a fireworks party gone bonkers.
He’s running for dear life, jumping over lifeless bodies on the road. He is ducking, hiding in trenches and in buildings with bullet holes. His goal is to get to the harbor in Abidjan.
“My brother, it’s by the grace of God that I made it to the port.”
He gets on a ship that’s heading to Italy. He doesn’t remember how many they were on that ship. What he is sure of is they were less than 10 young men, all running from the life that they currently had. They sailed from on the Atlantic Ocean into the Mediterranean Sea.
“What was it like on that journey?” I ask.
“It was cold, freezing bro. We shared leftover food that was thrown at us by the guys running the ship. We ate what we could. We scoured through the bins sometimes. We needed to survive on the sea.”
The sea is a world of its own. It lives according to its own terms. It has waves when it wants and stays still if it wants. The water scares you for a moment but when you realize there is nowhere else to go, you accept whatever fate will befall you. And you make peace with it. It’s like accepting the inevitability of death.
It takes them five days to dock somewhere along the coast of Italy. The skyline is different, the land looks greener than he had imagined. The air smells fresher than what he’d left as he ran from the bullets.
“But I ended up in a camp. It wasn’t what I thought would happen. It isn’t where I thought I would be.”
He works his way out of the camp, learning some Italian, begging and trying to make something for himself. He doesn’t eat the pizza he imagined he’d have an endless supply of. It turns out, to eat Italian pizza, you’ve got to buy it. And to buy it, you need money. Our guy here had empty pockets.
“At this point, does your family know where you are?”
“Yeah, I found a way of calling them when I was in Italy. I had no wife, no kids. I was fine. I called my parents and brothers to let them know I was okay.”
He shapes my hairline. I feel a cut on my skin from his machine.
“When did you move here then?” I ask.
“About four years ago.”
“And how did you get to Germany?”
“Bro, it’s by the grace of God.”
He doesn’t delve into the details.
“It’s by the grace of God, bro,” he repeats. “I prefer living here. It’s easier to move around. The system allows me to work and earn a relatively decent wage.”
“Do you speak Deutsch though?”
“Not so well. The advantage here is that Germans are open to speaking English. You’ll always find a way when you’re stuck.”
He applies some stuff on my head. It feels cold. He asks if I like the way I look in the mirror. I tell him it’s okay. I get off the barber’s chair and pay for the haircut. He shakes my hand and says, “God bless you, bro.”
I wave him goodbye and leave him to serve his next customer.