"Bontate, wait, wait. I have a question." The room was smoky and in uproar. Justice had earlier told them his abridged version of the world domination under which they were currently struggling. The last two hours they had been telling him their stories. His friend and interpreter, Tamil, had introduced him to his friend Yusub who had brought them to this room where about a dozen old men had been playing cards and dice. While he was talking to them the room had filled up.
After he had explained to them, with Tamil's help, that 'Bontate' was South African for gentlemen, he found they responded to it. Even now they quietened. Tamil looked at him enquiringly.
"Listening to your stories, I'm asking myself are you people the so-called infamous Somalian Pirates?"
Although most of them had little or no grasp of English they had all caught the phrase 'Somalian Pirates'. The resultant uproar made Justice worried that he had said the wrong thing until he saw Tamil stand up chuckling. He was a big man. He roared over the heads of the hub-bub. "BONTATE!!"
There was instant silence but when they saw it was Tamil who had shouted, to Justice's amazement they all started laughing. The more noise they made, the more they shouted at each other 'Bontate' and the more they cackled. Eventually even Justice had tears streaming down his face.
Eventually one very old man stood up and the room quietened. The old man started explaining and Justice learned, through Tamil, that they were all retired Somalian 'pirates'.
"In our families we have been pirates for generations. Those of us present here have earned our retirement, except Yusub who has stopped in for repairs and supplies.
"When our ancestors first became pirates, maybe five hundred years ago, the world was a much simpler place. Slavery was rife and it took cunning to survive. But our ancestors realised that their survival meant nothing unless we fought back. So we learnt to sail. And we set up a system of spies all up and down the east coast of Africa at all the ports. That way we always knew which boats were carrying people as cargo. Then we would hunt that boat.
"In the first hundred years we were pretty useless. Our skills were rudimentary and our boats were worse. Often the best we could do was just sink the boats laden with our friends, families, knowing that to drown was better than what was in store for them.
"But we improved and started rescuing more and more people. When they saw how often we were winning they started using their navies to protect the slave ships. Those were hard times for us but at least we still knew who was the enemy.
"When slavery was allegedly abolished, nothing really changed except the slave trade went underground. They had to be secretive. Most of the slave boats started disguising themselves as fishing trawlers. But we were already operating underground so they couldn't hide from us. But now their governments could not openly defend them anymore. They developed a new strategy.
"Suddenly there were a whole lot more 'pirate' boats. Mostly portuguese and arabs. At first we thought it was some kind of private army that would try to defend the slave ships. But they were just ruthless cut-throat pirates. Only they never ever targeted slave ships. They obviously knew which ones they were. Instead they targeted ships carrying valuable cargo, occasionally even passenger boats, anything that would make big headlines about the wicked Somalian pirates.
"Sometimes they got busted, sometimes we got busted. Before they started operating we never got busted. We sometimes got sunk by navy ships but they never arrested us, they just left us to drown unless we were able to rescue our own. Now we would get arrested. But whenever they got arrested we would always see them back in action again very soon. Then when our guys got busted, for rescuing women and children, they would suddenly find themselves facing charges of hi-jacking maybe a swedish trawler, terrorising, even murdering the crew and stealing valuable cargoes. It's happening all the time. So where's the justice?"
Justice grinned. Then said soberly, "Meanwhile the media are having a field day, but we know who owns the media."
Suddenly Tamil jumped up and screamed something unintelligible. There was an answering shriek from beyond the door. Justice looked at him alarmed. Seeing Justice's face, Tamil sat down and grinned at him sheepishly. Next thing the door opened and half a dozen young Somalian girls entered bearing trays of tea, coffee and injera.
Once they were all sipping and munching quietly, Justice asked Tamil to introduce him to the old man who had been doing all the talking. Tamil was very pleased. He introduced him as Talib, the oldest of the retired seamen and the custodian of their history. Once the introductions were over Justice asked him, "So do you still only target slave ships?"
"It's a hard question. The world has become a place of dirty tricks. We feel we need to fight back more. We see foreigners plundering our countries. We are not only Somalians. We have spies in many ports and we see foreign ships laden with materials plundered from our countries under the guise of foreign investment and trade deals. We are often tempted to take back what belongs to us."
Justice looked at him. He sighed and mopped his face with a large handkerchief.
"We tried it once. It was a disaster. We need much better resources before we can move in that direction."
"It was a big ship and we were no match for her. We only managed to hole her while our boat was nearly crippled."
"It was your own boat?"
"No, no, listen. The big ship got away leaving a terrible trail of oil. We damaged our own coastline badly with that alone. However when they realised it was us and not one of their renegades, there were very soon American ships hunting us down.
"I don't know where they came from but they were at the spot where it happened before dawn the next day. Our poor boat was still trying to limp home. They picked it up before lunch-time but by that time one of our other boats had collected all but the essential crew members."
"When was this?"
"Two, no, three years back. The last I heard the crew were being held at Gitmo. We never heard of them since then. I mean we can't exactly step forward either. We should never have done that thing but we've come to a point where what we doing is like bailing with a coffee cup." He indicated the miniature cup he was drinking from. Justice noticed the man was not angry. He was sorrowful, almost heartbroken. He reached out and took his hand, almost as if to shake it, but he just held it where it lay in the old man's lap.
"We gonna do something, baba. We are. We gonna do something."
* * * * * * *
Back at Salem's crib Bob is singing from the headphones around Edie's neck
"Oh pirates yes they rob I
"Stole I from the merchant ship
"Minutes after they took I
"From the bottomless pit"
Salem was very quiet, building a spliff. Edie was stretched out with her shoulders resting against his leg, watching her brother.
"It's hectic, the things I've learned and seen in Africa these past six years. The past, the present, and judging from the past and present, it will be the future too. We have to do something and it's gonna have to be drastic and it's gonna have to be soon."
"Like now," Salem said, lighting the spliff. He was looking a bit pale after listening to Justice's story.
Edie looked up at him. "You alright, my baby?"
"Yeah, wait." He moved her away and went over to the hi-fi. "Bob was like the prophet but Tosh was the genius. Listen." He skip tracked until Tosh was singing 'Equal Rights and Justice' at which Justice took a bow, but soon the lines he was looking for came over the headphones. He passed Edie the spliff, saying to Justice, "Here this bit." Tosh was singing
"Everyone is talking bout crime, crime
"But tell me who are the criminals"
But Edie had got up to jive while she smoked so they couldn't really hear it, only her singing along.
Salem looked at Justice, "So is there a plan?"
"You don' wanna hear it. It's drastic. In fact it's radical. It's also long, complicated and still in need of a lot of work. And I needa go n see my mum. I really do."
"Okay so just the bare bones, the outline as such."
"Firstly we gotta Lockdown Africa. Of course first we have to get a big enough following in at least 30 countries in Africa. At least. After that the push will be Lockdown Africa ? Everybody Out."
"Well it's like this, all multinationals, all foreign investment. No more corporonialism. No more imports, no more exports, no more mining or any environmentally damaging industry. We just gonna give them a deadline, 'You got jus' so long to get out before there's complete mayhem'." He started cackling.
"They'll think you're mad."
"Yeah. N they'll leave. In droves. Well even give them free flights in the end. These are the last planes outta here ladies and gentlemen. There will be no more coming in. Well pay our debts in second hand aeroplanes, cars, whatever."
"We'll all die without any transportation."
"We all gonna die if we carry on like this. This way we'll get ahead of them in the alternative energy game and we'll nail them all for polluting the environment. Sure the transitional period will be mayhem. The governments are not gonna like us cos we gonna dissolve all internal borders and they will jus' become infrastructure service providers.
"Here, take this, it's gone out again. Listen, I gotta go home to Momma." He kissed Edie on the cheek. "See you later."