The Black Eyes of Akbah (an excerpt)

 THE BLACK EYES OF AKBAH At the port in Mombasa Anika asked a guard where they might find the Black Eyes of Akbah. The man said if they just walked along the docks they would surely find it if it was there. Eric suppressed his laugh. Africans were so wonderfully simple.

They went into a bar, ordered a beer and two glasses, and asked a waitress if she had heard of the boat. She hadn’t, but then she never paid attention to the names of boats. She was more interested in the sailors than their vessels.

A grey-haired African with his front teeth missing overheard their conversation and wanted to know why they were interested in a boat with such a name. Eric explained that they were looking for an inexpensive way to India. “This is not for you,” he said. “Not a proper boat.”

Anika said they knew it wasn’t a passenger boat but that they were used to roughing it and besides, it would be an adventure.

“White people should not ride on such a boat,” the old man said. His breath smelled of beer. Anika asked him why a boat could be all right for an African but not for a white?

“God made us different,” he said. “Me, I can sleep anywhere; you, you need a bed, sheets, pillow. Me, I no be afraid of the dark. You, be plenty afraid.”

“That’s pretty general,” Eric said. “We’ve been living in Africa for two years now, we’re not afraid.”

“You have not traveled by boat,” he said.

“Not yet,” Anika said. “Why should we be afraid of that?”

“Some boats not proper.”

“We heard we could get to India for a hundred dollars each,” Eric said.

“Money is money,” the man said looking at Eric’s half-filled glass. “Life is life.”

“And beer is beer,” Eric said, offering him the remains of their bottle.


By mid-afternoon they located the Black Eyes of Akbah. It wasn’t a very pretty ship, its hull was rusted and the paint was so faded that the name appeared as a blur. “Well,” Eric said, attempting to make light of what they were looking at, “As Ishmael said when he first saw the Pequod: Holy shit, what a sorry looking hunk of metal this is.”

Anika laughed. “I thought that’s what Katharine Hepburn said to Humphrey Bogart when she first eyed the African Queen.”

Boat jokes, Eric thought. They were in sync. A good sign.

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