By Juma Sei
WANT Original Content
When I was eight years old my mother and father came to me with news that would forever change my life. “Juma… Kenya… Niah,” the rest came to me in mangled nonsense but by the end I knew one thing: I would soon be uprooted from my life and planted in the seaside city of Dalian, China.
I could do the cliché thing and tell how amazing living there was, my first day, my last day, how this experience “made me a different person,” I really could tell you the whole shabank, but don’t worry, I won’t. At the time it all seemed normal, nothing out of the ordinary – at least not yet.
I woke up that morning planning to spend the weekend as I did any other: doing nothing while getting everything done. I would remain locked in my oval office, finishing whatever history paper, math problem set, or English reading I had due the following Monday. Not once would I remove myself from this self-induced quarantine.
As usual, my father opened the office door and ordered me to breakfast. I grouchily rolled out of my cocoon, grabbed my phone, and went to brush my teeth.
Feeling the persistent need to check that rectangle of communication, with one hand I kept on brushing and with another I grabbed the device. “Hey, sleepover tonight?” it read. Yet again my good friend Max felt the need to actually do something with the weekend. I ignored the text and kept on brushing.
After making it through the weekly ordeal of a family breakfast I probed mother about Max’ message. She agreed and in I flash I was grinding my teeth in the back of the car, sitting in slow traffic.
We arrived at Max’ modest home and I thanked Mr. Liu for the drive. He left me standing in front of the brick house, patting my pockets frantically, hoping I didn’t forget my inhaler. I turned around and trotted up the cold brick steps. It’s funny, in a matter of hours I would be trotting down those very steps in an attempt to sneak out, but lets be patient – I’ll get to it.
Mrs. Igelbüscher a six foot four German women with big beady blue eyes – Max’ mom – opened the door and in a mangled English-German accent came the words, “Hallo Juma.” From there, we exchanged in the standard awkward greeting between parent of friend and friend of child. Where you know that you know the person, yet without fail every interaction is awkward as can be. She soon directed me to the living room and I shuffled by her, keeping a giant fake smile on my face as I prayed to see my friend.
“Finally!” Max jeered as I walked into the living room. My pigment filled face shrouding the blood rushing to my cheeks, “there he is.” To my surprise, Lukas, a fourteen-year-old Austrian giant and Jannick, an invariably overjoyed Trinidadian boy, were also there. These three were my best friends, we did everything together and, like Jannick’s everyday mentality, I was overjoyed. The gang was together again.
For the next eight hours we sat together playing Call of Duty, eating box upon box of warm pizza, talking about any game, girl, or middle school gossip encompassing our minds at the time. We laughed, stupidly, until our lungs and heads ached. Both sore with remnants of joy. By every definition of the phrase, we were having a ball.
I got up and yawned like a lion after the hunt: my mouth forced open as wide as possible while my eyelids pressed up against each other, engaging in a fierce duel for the greater portion of my eye. “How long has it been anyway?” I probed the group. “Check your phone,” Lukas answered with a subtle arrogance, not saying these words with any ill will, he simply meant to be a smart ass. I checked the device. It was two in the morning and we had done absolutely nothing all day.
What’s funny is how people can do nothing productive all day and still have the time of their lives. Up until that point we did nothing but talk, eat, and sit on couch brain-dead playing video games, yet I still remember it vividly. Enough so that I can recount everything we did nearly three years later.
“We really need to do something,” Max said half-heartedly, his eyes still fixated on the television screen while his thick fingers darted from side to side cradling the console controller. Jannick chimed in that he was hungry so, in an attempt at being the “bigger man,” I thought it seemed like a good idea to get out of the house. Of course I never really wanted to leave, however, what you must understand is as a 7th grade male I fancied being the progressive one in our group. At the time, the best way to highlight this was by hiding myself in an adventurous mindset. I looked to my friend and said, “Well, we could bike to the nearest McDonald’s.”
To my surprise, the group agreed with this notion; we were actually going to do this: sneak out. We stuffed our sleeping bags, making sure they looked like four comatose bodies to the untrained eye. From there, one by one, we crammed ourselves into Max’ garage, a ten by ten foot room with a giant Nissan minivan parked in the middle. We maneuvered our way in between his family’s parked giant, general storage, and the bikes hanging on the wall, all the while consistently staying quiet as church mice. Noise was our enemy; we carefully took down each bike and rolled up the garage door, making sure to win the ongoing battle with our foe. Down the driveway we went, our bikes underneath us, quietly riding off into the streets of Kaifaqu.
You see the thing with me is, I’m a worrier, not in the sense of a great fighter, but in the sense that I over analyze everything in my life. I don’t like to break the rules because everything is so much easier if you don’t, and, as you would imagine, that bike ride was beyond nerve racking for me. As my compatriots road carefree through the empty, dimly lit streets of KaifaQu, I rode separate from the pack, off in the corner sulking. None of this felt right and I had to inform the group… I had to. “Guys,” I said carefully, making sure not to sounds like a wimp, “we really should head home.” I immediately regretted opening my mouth at this point, for with these words came the burden of great shame. Just a second ago it was my idea to leave the house; yet, there I stood telling the group we need to turn back. I was a coward and I knew it, I’m an introvert and I should’ve accepted that to begin with.
After revealing my true self to the group I endured a barrage of teases and taunts. It seemed like they had an arsenal of jokes and slurs aimed my way, and believe me, they fired at will. By the end I was left mute and riding along as the sharp night wind forced my eyes shut. They made fun of me for, as they call it, being a, “pussy,” and, as I call it, for wanting to do the right thing.
As one would expect, as our trek progressed I loosened up a bit and before I knew it I was having fun again. After all, how could I not? This was the gang.
We turned left at a roundabout intersection and there it was, the Holy Grail: McDonald’s.
We placed our bikes outside and strode on in, happy to feel the warm breathe of a space heater contact our skin-invading goosbumps.
As one would expect, the staff was taken aback in seeing a group of teenage boys waltz into a restaurant at three in the morning. They looked at us both with surprise and a bit of judgment, seeing as Lukas, Jannick, and Max, were all laughing so hard they neared the brink of crying.
We chose a seat by the glass windows and then went to order.
“Come on let’s eat,” Jannick said, nearly dragging the rest of us with him.
“Not really hungry,” I told them.
You see, I was very hungry at the time, however, I believed that if I didn’t order something, this was all less real. As if ordering something pinpointed me to this location and by not doing so, no one could ever tell I was here. Ever since we left Max’ home I feared being caught and told on, I figured that by not ordering something there was no evidence, thus the probability of me being caught was lowered and, in turn, the probability of me being told on was lowered as well.
My friends knew I dreaded being told on and never missed an opportunity in using this for their comedic relief. They made me feel like a caged animal, forced to do tricks at their command. Telling me every few minutes that a combination of teachers from school was walking into the McDonald’s. Time and time again they brought up this silly charade, and time and time again I turned in anguish. I knew they were just messing with me, however, a little part of me turned because I was never sure, and another turned just for the hell of it, you know? When you emphasize everything and overreact to things with one goal in mind: being funny.
Soon they fell upon an odd combination: P.E. coach, Mr. Henderson, and fifth grade teacher Ms. Smith.
As they tried their best to convince me that those two were actually walking into the McDonald’s I sat there, fed up with their nonsense and refused to turn. They continued trying to convince me, and after a while I decided, “What the hell, if I turn, they’ll shut up.” So, I turned, and almost feinted.
Coach Henderson and Ms. Smith were actually walking in! My mind went into overdrive and I had one objective: disguise myself. Keep in mind that the only barrier between me, freaking out on the inside, and them, walking in on the outside, was a glass wall. I tried to hide within the glass. It was a perfect plan, people can’t see through glass right? My thoughts were nonsense; I was frantic, a deer in headlights.
By then, to my right, my friends made fun of me for my actions and to my left, my teachers were staring at me. They did nothing at first. The coach and elementary teacher stood outside somewhat in awe as they watched a skinny black kid try to hide in a McDonald’s window. Thoughts darted in my head has honeybee’s darted within their hive, “What do I do? What do I do? What if they –,” before I could finish the thought, they walked in.
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