1000 Somali Shillings
By Shane Borrowman
its low value versus the US dollar, 1000 shillings in 1993 would have
bought the boy who possessed the bill enough rice for several days,
had rice been available in Mogadishu. It would have bought him a meal
in the small café not far from the US Embassy where the Marines
stood constant guard, a meal he could have eaten at a leisurely pace
while sitting in the shade and sipping cool water if the café
had still opened its doors for business. The café that would
have allowed the boy entrance was not open, and rice was not for sale
locally, not to a single boy buying for himself or his family.
The boy took the shillings with him to the US Embassy. He also took his revolver—unloaded, but only he could know this. He paced in the shade across the street from the main gate; he paced in the shade and held his revolver, occasionally gesturing with it as he carried on a heated argument in his head. The crowds parted around him, when there were crowds on the street, but he was ignored by everyone but the Marines. The Marines on guard, both twenty and veterans of the Gulf War, never took their eyes away from the boy. They watched him for an hour before they made the first call up the chain of command. They called again after another hour. The Marines, who would later serve together in Yugoslavia and Haiti before their discharge, sought advice and counsel and were given an absolute: “If he points the gun at you, if he threatens you with it, defend yourself.”
The 1000 shilling note was in the boy’s front-left pocket when the Marines outside the embassy shot him in the chest. One of them searched the small, emaciated body while the other stood sentry. The searcher kept his foot on the boy’s wrist, holding down the hand that still clutched the empty revolver. There was a crowd on the street when the Marines shot the boy; there was no crowd when they searched him moments later. The Marine who found the 1000 shillings, the same Marine who first examined the empty revolver, took the note home and laminated it. He keeps it on his desk and thinks about it when reporters on television talk about patriotism, when the President sends troops around the world, when the names of dead Americans but not dead enemies are read. He thinks about the 1000 shillings. He thinks about the boy who didn’t spend them.
Shane Borrowman, a native of Anaconda, Montana, lives in Spokane, Washington, with his wife Elizabeth and twins John and Samantha. His book Trauma and the Teaching of Writing was published by the State University of New York Press in January of 2005; currently, he is editing a textbook on social justice in America and a collection of professional essays on the career-perils of administrative work for untenured faculty.