Nadifa Mohamed's Black Mamba Boy

Extract from Black Mamba Boy

This extract comes from pp. 1–2 of Nadifa Mohamed’s Black Mamba Boy. Feel free to highlight any portion of the text to annotate the passage with your own thoughts.

I am my father’s griot, this is a hymn to him. I am telling you this story so that I can turn my father’s blood and bones, and whatever magic his mother sewed under his skin, into history. To make him a hero, not the fighting or romantic kind but the real deal, the starved child that survives every sling and arrow that shameless fortune throws at them, and who can now sit back and tell the stories of all the ones that didn’t make it. I tell you this story because no-one else will. Let us call down the spirits of the nine thousand boys who foolishly battled on the mountains of Eritrea for Mussolini, who looked like my father, lived like him but had their lives cut off with blunt axes, the ones starved to death, the ones who lost their minds, and the ones who simply vanished. Boys like Shidane Boqor Our fiery boy! Our pilferer of canned goods! Our dead child! Light the torches for his flight to heaven. Let his shadow always haunt his tormentors. Let them bathe for all eternity in the Shebelle and Juba before their sins are washed away.

My father’s life has been an exercise in a strange kind of liberty; if he outwitted death then his life was to be completely, perfectly his own, owing no debts to anyone or anything. Like his mother before him, he sharpened his spirit on the knife edge of solitude; stylites on their pillars, they saw loneliness, aloneness, oneness as divine states. The mother of all sailors is meant to be the sea, but Ambaro was more powerful, more tempestuous, more life-giving than any puddle of water. She gave life to my father over and over again, guarding him as did Aeneas. She took his paltry little life and moulded it into something epic. Her love was violent, thick lava that she poured into her son’s mouth, she cut her veins and transfused her hot wild blood into his soul. She was all that he needed in life and he remains here testament to what a mother’s love can do, it turns wax into gold.