The Week I Almost Died
My name is Josiah and July 25th, 2008, will forever be imprinted on my mind because it was the day I almost died. Perhaps I’m being a little extreme, but I was shot at. The week of July 25th was filled with an immense amount of stress and slight trepidation because it was the week I was moving from my home in Nairobi, Kenya, to the U.S. to begin a Master of Divinity program. It was now Thursday and my graduation would be the following day. As the day passed, I tried to rest, focus on packing and playing with my four-year-old niece, Miriam, but the stress and anticipation of the upcoming move loomed over me. In fact, I had been nursing a migraine for most of the week, and it wasn’t showing any signs of weakening.
My parents were currently on holiday in Missouri, visiting my brothers and would, unfortunately, miss my graduation. I was house sitting for them and was able to move some of my belongings there. As I sat in my parents’ sitting room, I caught a whiff from the kitchen of the stew my sister, Ruth, was cooking for me. All week I’d been living off restaurant food and sandwiches, so my sister’s stew and Chapati (Kenyan bread) was a welcomed treat.
I sat on the couch with Miriam and tickled her underneath her ribs. It was a spot that always exerted a giggle or two. Sure enough, she let out a couple squeals of delight. She was my best buddy and I was going to miss her terribly. On the coffee table nearby a melodic ringtone belted out from my phone. I reached over and pressed the talk button.
“Hello friend. How is the packing going? Are you ready to go?” I immediately recognized Eric’s voice, our neighbor from down the street.
“I’m doing good, man. Not quite ready but getting there.”
“Well, I’m on the way to your house with my sister and brother to say our goodbyes, but we can’t remember exactly where you live.” I tried to give Eric some landmarks, but he wasn’t quite getting it. I decided it would be easier for me to meet up with them and walk them the rest of the way.
“Ruth, Eric, na brother yake na sister yake wamepotea, wacha niende nje tukutane!” I yelled out towards the kitchen to Ruth in sheng (slang for Swahili) to let her know my friends were lost and I was going out to meet them. She stepped into the sitting room with slightly raised eyebrows.
“I’m not so sure you should go out. It’s already dark.” Ruth responded also in sheng, which was always our language of choice with one another. I grabbed my jacket and threw it on.
“It’s only 7:30, don’t worry I’ll be right back.” Suddenly Miriam jumped up and grabbed my arm.
“Uncle! I don’t want you to leave!” She screamed out also in sheng.
“I’m not leaving for America now, Miriam. I’m coming right back, just going down the street to meet some friends who are lost.”
“Uncle Josiah, utarudi.” Miriam looked up at me with those beautiful brown saucer-like eyes of hers swimming in innocence and admiration.
“Of course, I promise. I’m coming right back.” With a wide grin, I tried to exude as much confidence as I could to her and Ruth.
A moment later I was outside searching for my friends. As I glanced up and down the street, they weren’t anywhere to be found. I popped open my cell phone again and dialed the last incoming call. I was talking to Eric and trying to figure out their location when we both heard some popping noises and screaming in the distance.
“Was that firecrackers?” I wondered out loud, almost to myself.
“No, I don’t think so. I believe somebody just got mugged.”
“Mugged? In this neighborhood? It’s such a quiet place.” At this point, other neighbors had gathered to investigate the noises. We stood there nervously, around a silver pickup truck, searching for any clues as to what was going on.
“That’s true.” Eric responded.
“Well, I’m going to get off and try to figure out what happened. I’ll see you guys soon.” With that I clicked off and turned to my neighbors to ask if they’d heard any news. Immediately my phone rang again. I peeked at the screen and saw that it was Ruth but didn’t want to answer. She was probably wondering the same thing we all were, but I didn’t have a single detail to tell her yet, so I slid the phone back in my pocket without answering. Before anybody could answer me, two guys appeared from down the street. I noticed one of them had a brown paper bag slung over his shoulder.
“Hey man!” One of my neighbors called out to the men, as they got closer to us. “Do you know what’s going on?”
“Oh yea, it’s really bad back there!” The two guys were walking hastily and didn’t even attempt to slow down, but one of them spit the words out at us as they sped by. Seconds later a group of men came up, trailing them from behind.
“What’s wrong with you all? Those are the thieves! Hey guys! Those two are the thieves right there!!” The group of men directed their yells to us but were angrily gesturing towards the two men who had just rushed past us. I think we were all dumbfounded, and in that moment didn’t know what to do or how to help.
Almost in a flash, the one carrying the paper bag pulled it off his shoulder, jammed his hand inside and pulled out a silver object, which looked like a gun. Before anyone could react, he twisted his body around, gripped the gun in his right hand and pulled the trigger. It sort of happened in slow motion, yet it was the fastest few seconds of my life. The windshield exploded in the truck nearby. Everybody fell to the ground as the glass shattered on top of our heads. I know in a lot of movies they describe these types of moments as life flashing before the character’s eyes or the character had a life-changing epiphany, but neither of these things was true for me. There wasn’t enough time to think about the promise that I had made to my niece before I left the house or how Ruth warned me not to go out. All I remember was the feeling of terror that arose somewhere from the depths of my belly and held my body hostage. I couldn’t think and could barely breathe. Everything occurred so slowly yet so quickly. Life was suddenly suspended.
After the thieves ran off, with the angry mob following closely behind, I waited for things to calm down. Dazed and slightly terrified, but alive, I made it back to my parents’ house. Miriam was crying as Ruth confronted me with the banging sounds she heard. I explained to her what happened, and she lost it, grabbing me in an embrace.
“Sitaki ukufe, usiende nje tena!” As my arms wrapped around her, I promised Ruth that I wasn’t going to die, at least not tonight, and I definitely would not be going back outside for the rest of the evening. I stared at my hands and realized they were shaking.
Not long after, my friends finally found our house but felt they shouldn’t stay long because of the craziness that occurred. I didn’t argue since my mind was reeling at this point. My migraine had been revved up to another level of pain, and there was no way I could handle hosting.
Being shot at sounded like a joke in retrospect and not a situation that could happen in real life. I couldn’t believe we were talking to a couple of guys who could have killed us! It’s almost unbelievable, but it happened, and my life was spared for some reason.
Friday morning, I woke up at 5a.m. to a pain that felt like a metal object was battering against my brain. There was no time to nurse it because my brother-in-law and I had to leave early to find parking for graduation. It was a grim day and almost in the shadow of the traumatic events from the previous night. I felt like I was on a distant planet, but as I sat through the very long ceremony, I attempted the impossible task of disassociating my body from my head. For a little while I was able to zone out and envision the next day when I would get on a plane to Orlando, FL, and all of this would be behind me. Unbeknown to me the fantasy of a smooth and peaceful jetway to graduate school in the U.S. would be disrupted with even more turmoil, which would feel like boulders blocking my destination at each and every possible turn.