Tuesday, March 27, 2012

In Your Name

Ronald Mtumbo could not stop thinking about it. Does taking the possessions of a dead man constitute a sin? Hell, he wasn’t even certain it was a crime, though what he was engaged in at this point certainly was. But having to witness what he had was both a crime and a sin, and something he would likely never wash from his eyes so long as they were attached to his brain.

The man was just trying to help. A visitor; a not so bright visitor considering the danger he’d put himself in so as to see his dying mother one last time, but what is a good son to do? When the gunfire started, Ronald knew to hide away. From experience he knew there was nothing one could do that wouldn’t get one killed. The world gave no mercy, even children offered no compassion.

The warlord who’d killed him was only a boy, thirteen at best. His army of a dozen lost souls, all his age or younger were already damned by their actions. Trained and equipped by some random militia, now apparently operating on their own, laying waste to everything they touched, they swept into Ronald’s village like locusts, aware of nothing but their infinite hunger for blood and money.

This stranger had run to help a small child in the street, one cut down by a lesser thug, but for his crime of Samaritanism, he was executed by the leader, like a goat on a sacrificial altar. Ronald had not been able to turn away as he could not move lest he risk discovery. He so wanted to cry out his misery and shame that he’d had to bite through his tongue to keep silent. These were his people. killing themselves, killing for nothing, becoming anything but human.

To steal the man’s wallet and papers; was that a sin? Ronald knew it was. Yet shortly after he'd rifled through the man's pockets and come up with a handful of materials, the stranger was dragged to the town’s garbage dump and thrown on a pile of flesh, and then soaked in gasoline and burned. There would be no identification, no information sent to relatives, no headstone in commemoration. This man was gone, vanished, never to be seen again. Yet, was he really.

It took virtually every penny saved over the course of Ronald’s 43 years to have the passport altered and to purchase airfare. He’d never wanted to leave his Somalia. He’d had hopes that he could somehow make a difference, until his wife and child were killed in a spurious firefight between two passing factions. But now, there was nothing to eat, nowhere to go, nothing to live for. His only choice was to begin again, as an entirely different person, in an entirely different life.

“Mister Sengbow? Sir? Have you anything to declare?”

By the time he heard the man addressing him Ronald realized he’d said his name 4 times already. Not HIS name really, but his name.

“Cheng-bot’” he said accenting the last syllable. “In our tongue the TS sounds like your CH, and the W is a click sound much like your T.” It was true, though he had no idea if Thomas Tsengbow had pronounced his name tribally, or favoring his new language.

“You seem a little preoccupied sir” the customs agent asked while lifting an eyebrow. “Are you sure you have nothing to declare?”

Ronald, err, Thomas smiled. “I am truly sorry” he said. “I was trying to recall if I’d turned the stove in my hotel off this morning when I left for America.”

The agent laughed. “Been there, done that sir. Might I ask why you were in Somalia?”

“To attend a funeral” Thomas stated calmly. “To say goodby to an old friend.”

The officer nodded. “I see. It’s a hard thing to put a loved one to rest” he said.

“I believe at every death there is born a new life” Thomas offered. “And as to Ronald’s death, I believe this is exactly so.”

“Good attitude” the agent said as he stamped Thomas’ passport; "I wish it were mine. Well, welcome back to America Mister Tsengbow. Welcome home.”

“To the land of the free” Thomas said smiling. “Thank you so much” he added.

As he stood on the walk waiting for a taxi, Thomas embraced his future with a promise. “I owe you my life and I shall make you proud Thomas Tsengbow” he said to himself; “you will be known as a good man, a kind man, a generous man. I will atone for my sin, in your good name. ”

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