I save up three weeks pay and hire a motorbike and soon I’m threading through a packed marketplace I’ve only ever visited in early childhood, back when everything was bright and spicy. Today rain hangs in the clouds ready to fall like a sudden upturned umbrella, and everyone hastens to get home. I beep my horn with one hand and choke the throttle with the other. I’m fishtailing dirt everywhere, and old men in fruit stands swear at me. Tourists and Indias and Tarquins look on disgustedly. This is not the country they want. Fuck them, really. My left leg hangs off one side of the bike and scrapes in the dust, wearing away the already filthy plaster cast at the heel. I’ve tied a bandana around my mouth to stop myself swallowing flies, but I feel them hammering my face as I swing out onto the highway.
Little out-of-town kids run beside me for as long as they can, and then their dogs, and then it’s just me. The motorbike seat is so hard it feels like there’s no skin left on my arse by the time I get to a decent flat stretch of road where I can hoist myself up by my arms and hurtle straight ahead. I pass two rattling trucks full of farm equipment and before I know it, it the airport gates loom up before me, and there’s the big sign. Jamhuri ya Muungano wa Tanzania, written in a font that was popular maybe 30 years ago. Before I saw the airport for the first time, my rheumy-eyed grandmother would whisper that planes left this city eternally but she never did see one flying in. I thought it profound at the time but then I learnt from my dad that grandma was lucky to see a hand coming fast at her face lest of all a plane high up in the air.
I ride the bike through the front entrance, under the watch of two armed guards in their own glass booths. They both bear the facial scars of some hand-to-hand civil disquiet, one of the many before I was born. The one on the left wears glasses, but his eyes glow white behind them like broken china pieces. He lifts his head at the other guard, and they both step out to block my path. I kill the throttle on the bike and coast to a stop in front of them. Disgustingly, I find my hands lifting from my sides without thought. They pat me down on either side with gun muzzles, and I give them an ID card. The guard on the right, tall as a spire, scrutinises my face against the ID image. He grunts and throws my card back at my chest, which I grapple at clumsily, allowing my sentries snorts of wan humour. The one with the glasses says, “Get going,” and I do. I try to spray dust up at them as a parting shot, but I fishtail lamely, waggling the bike across the dirt in embarrassing shakes. One of the guards calls after me: "Never send a boy," he shouts, "to do a man's job."