EXCERPT: 'Misfits; Reflections on Identity, Race, and Prejudice'

By Kari Mugo

I have learned not to ask certain questions, not to demand certain answers. I do not ask about war; I do not ask about loss, or what happened to him before we both came here.

This evening, with the winter light outside playing in the trees, he tells me. He tells me of war, of hiding, of running, the imminent urgency and simultaneous waiting. He remembers this: July 1989, a dusty Volkswagen. It is about 6:30 in the evening, the big, bright orange sun on its way to setting. He has escaped the war that seems determined to rage unceasingly. He crosses the border from Somalia into northern Kenya, that indistinct part that is more Somalia, but by law Kenyan. He is in the front seat of his father's car, eight years old, his head sticking out the window. He remembers the air. "I know you won't believe me, but it was different."

He remembers the air. He had never breathed air so rarefied, so lush, so luxurious. It was the taste of freedom. He tells me he licked it. To taste it, savor it. He laughs at this, and I laugh too. We are flushed with wine, with excitement. Over time, though, he tells me, "the smell dies"; it is not the same.