The boy wondered if this was it for him. He scoured over the dozen papers before him, hanging on to every word like his life depended on it. But it did depend on it. He had never borne this much, his eyes watered. A tear from his left eye sips gently through his lashes and streams mid-cheek before making a tiny inaudible splash on the stack on his hands; right on the word ‘Terror’

He could feel the invisi-wisps of cold tease the back of his neck before surging down his spine. For the first time, he lifts his head up. A hit of adrenaline and his senses are heightened. Eyes shift to the origin of the incessant ticking now synced with his heartbeat. 10:28a.m and counting. There was something vaguely digestive about the odor of the room or perhaps a projection of his pangs of hunger. And despite the not so plausible lighting, that was the most luminous room he’d been in since he left home the previous day.

His eyes search and scan through the packed empty room, housing different media crews amidst the common folk. They would crucify him that night. He stopped at the front row; on faces familiar. His mother; a puffy red-eyed middle-aged woman smiles at him. A smile dipped in puzzles, concern and ensuing struggle to keep her cool. His father; a middle-aged man nods his way with a tinge of concern oozing through his expressionless face. He folds his fist at the periphery of his chin which interpreted ‘Be a man’ as he signaled at him to wipe those tears away.

The boy could not help it. He grew abject; tears of defeat almost blinding his eyes as he looks to his left; to the judge, but more so the gavel; of when it falls, what would the verdict be?


The boy’s parents are allowed audience with their little one. In situations dire as this, there was no time for sentiments. They walk over to the wooden chamber their son was in, to acquaint themselves with the charges he was facing, only to further be shocked by their discovery;

Suspected to be in communication with ISIS.

Planning to travel to Libya during his holiday; he even has his visa ready.

Sought after by ISIS for his IT skills.

Were among the many from the pages of circumstantial suspicion.

They were asking for 3 months of holding as they conduct further investigations.


The boy’s mother lets out an exasperated sigh. “Since when are you doing IT even?” she said, startled looking.

“I have no idea.” Said the boy, who was a business major, sounding apologetic.

“Have they beaten you or mistreated you in any way?” Asked the boy’s father.

“No,” the boy replied.

“Well, don’t worry,” said the father, filling in on the silence. “We’re taking care of it.”

“Yes,” intervened his mother, “it’s going to be okay.” a whizz cropping in her voice, and then she turns to her husband of 21 years. “But what’s he even going to say? Just look at him”

The boy was cold and scared. He’d had too many first times in those 14 hours. I guess that’s the order of your 20s. But his sprung on him all at once, just 20 days after his 20th birthday. That was the first time he was allegedly on the wrong side of the law. The first time he’d slept outside of his house while at his hometown in Mombasa; in a police cell, with a concentrated urea scent taking the place of air; laying close to dozens of sweaty strangers, there was hardly space for turning without someone displacing you. He lay there on his back, in pitch darkness, mumbling all the prayers he knew. It was also the first time he’d been in court and a series of more first times were to come. And though he’d been trained by the ‘felons’ he met while he was awaiting his hearing in the court cells downstairs, he still didn’t have that first-hand experience.

“These things don’t go easy just like that.” Said the mother.

Thinking on his feet, the boy’s father holds his shoulder and says, “Okay, if the judge asks you anything, just say ‘I have a lawyer, he’ll be here in the afternoon.’”

The boy’s name is called out aloud by the prosecutor cutting short the family reunion. He quickly stands as his parents are ushered back to their seats.

Ndiyo mheshimiwa, Yes your honor.” The frail little boy says, as he faces the magistrate.

The prosecutor asks him whether he’d like the trial to take place in English or Kiswahili. To which the boy replies ‘Kiswahili.’

When the case was being presented, the boy gets up on his toes with every ounce of strength and courage he could muster in himself, raises his hand and shouts,”Samahani mheshimiwa, nina wakili ataingia saa nane, Excuse me your honor, I have a lawyer and he’ll be here in the afternoon.”

The magistrate faces the insolent boy fumingly and tells the prosecutor, “Tell the boy that he can only speak after I’m done.”

The boy’s shoulders cave in, he felt small. Not exactly small, it was more on the lines of picking up a jerrican with all the strength you could master assuming it to be full only to find out that it’s empty. Only raised to a power that broke you. There suddenly was hollow where his naivety had just escaped from, slowly being filled by a sinking feeling of emptiness.

Now, the boy understood English. In fact, in his secondary school leaving certificate they acknowledged that he was a good English orator, but due to the choice he’d made, the prosecutor relays exactly what the judge says, in Kiswahili.

The court calls upon the defendant, who in this case was the state, represented by an officer of the A.T.P.U, who was among the armed men who ambushed him in his home the previous night. A Cushite looking fellow with a kind face tapping into the ‘I mean business’ vibe. As he read through the dozen pages, inaudible gasps and blank stares of disbelief rented the court room, as the boy hangs his head, everyone startled looking except for the media crews who were smiles like yapp, WE’VE GOT A STORY.

Immediately the defendant was done, the prosecutor calls upon the accused if he had anything to say in his defense.

To which the boy shot up forcing the same energy he had mustered the first time, “Samahani mheshimiwa, nina wakili ataingia saa nane.”

The magistrate asks what the lawyer’s name was and the clueless boy looks over to his parents who also seemed to have no idea, and the boy replied with the first name that came to mind, “Yusuf.”

Coming of Age, Court, Family, Mistaken identity, Radicalization

Hassan Kassim

Hassan Kassim is a Mombasa-based Creative non-fiction writer, recently longlisted for the Toyin Falola prize, blogger and translator of Kiswahili work. A beneficiary of the Penpen program by African Writers Development Trust(AWDT) commissioned by Culture at Work Africa and the European Union(E.U), and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Management. Hassan writes about the ill-documented Communities of Coastal Kenya. His work has appeared in Writers Space Africa; his 2 non-fiction stories published in the anthology 'Twaweza,' a collaborative effort of 12 African writers on the African identity and set to appear in the forthcoming anthology for the Toyin Falola prize.

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Hassan Kassim is a Kenyan-based Creative non-fiction writer, blogger and translator of Kiswahili works with over 2 years of experience. A beneficiary of the Penpen program by African Writers Development Trust(AWDT) commissioned by Culture at Work Africa, and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Management.


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