Warm Quartet of Vignettes: What Happens After Things Fall Apart?
by Linda Dounia Rebeiz
May 15, 2013
To bring a mansion down
“One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised. ”
The mother waited on the front porch. She was barely seated on one of the wooden benches placed against the wall, darkened by the filthy slum air – tires burnt as acts of protest against hopelessness; prostitutes’ morning rituals as they tried to wash off the saliva, semen and cologne of the night before; rotting fish set to tan on plastic mats in preparation of the one-time-a-day millet stew; pig-trotter and washed-out-rat-flavored drinking water travelling through cracked pipes coming out of taps almost mud. She wondered how she had found her way back to this slaughter house where everything is barely fed to be decapitated – dreams included. Her indigo kaftan spread all over the concrete. How soon would the Fula woman who washed her dresses be coming? A shirtless man seated on the bench facing hers scrutinized her shamelessly. He was wearing kaki shorts that must have been pants before they were chewed off by moths and years of running for his life. She hugged her faux leather and fake Gucci purse, judging from the lopsided letter C, tighter. She could afford a real one if she didn’t have so many debts – Brazilian hair pieces, Persian incense sticks, Chinese porcelain dish sets, bank loans on a Jeep Liberty and the driver that goes with it. She wished she could walk in and see how the woman, who only asked for fifteen thousands of her francs, would get rid of the child her daughter was bearing. Her daughter, a sixteen-year-old boarding school girl had fallen onto the bed of a married man.
He could have been forced to take the girl as a second wife but he was neither rich, nor from a good family. He had no name and no assets. One evening, her daughter had walked in the living room in tears. She had to stop her France2 daily news ritual to hear her hint at being pregnant. ‘Are you pregnant?’ she had asked once and for all. When the answer did not come from the girl, head down, almost trying to bury herself on the Moroccan carpet, she stared back at the television and asked who was the responsible. She did not tell her husband about the incident, and bought her daughter five large shirts that she was to wear until ‘they got rid of it’. She could not risk having the entire family treat her daughter like trash. Only trash raises trash – it’s unsaid but still is. She and her husband had worked too hard to build their old lace colonial style house, with three maids, a washing lady, a driver and two German shepherds. It had taken them too long to extract that ‘what a nice garden!’ from their French neighbor. They fought too fiercely to turn looks of envy their way, and a single child was not going to change that. Her daughter screamed. Then there was nothing for a five seconds and she could notice the bench threatening to break under her weight. Had she jumped when she heard her scream?
The girl screamed again, and immediately started begging for the woman to stop. ‘Don’t listen to her. Just get rid of it!’ she had to say to encourage the woman. She remembered the campaign against abortion she had run as chair of the Collective of Men in Justice’s wives. They all wore white t-shirts over expensive waist wrappers and marched in a village far enough from the capital to ‘give back’. They talked about abstinence while fanning their premium-Thai rice-bloated faces in order for their make up not to leak in the drenching heat. They made the girls swear virginity until marriage, waving gold and silver foreign-carved bracelets cliquing against each other as they showed pictures of victims of illegal abortions and maternal death. They proudly drooled all over the air-conditioned bus on their way back to the city. They were applauded. And the daylong project was awarded ‘best social initiative’ by the board of trustees. She had gotten home with the glass trophy, and her husband and daughter, both dressed up in golden embroidery on white gañila to accentuate her emerald silk dress stamped with oversized fuchsia lilies. She had placed it above the television, between her wedding picture and her daughter’s baby picture, and had ordered the maid to set up the table for dinner. ‘We are having grilled chicken today! The imported one. It soaks in the bouillon better.’
To reach street lamp stars
“Do not despair. I know you will not despair. You have a manly and a proud heart. A proud heart can survive a general failure because such a failure does not prick its pride. It is more difficult and more bitter when a man fails alone.”
Hunched student backs, taxi honks, married women’s wedges snapping on pavements in unison, tote bags beating at corporate folks’ hips, prostitutes’ metal acrylic nails, beggars’ coin invoking songs, and peanut shells cracking under shoed or shoe less feet: Dakar is where we had to belong. No one is ever from here, but we all converge here to dream. We believed that Dakar was what stood between our life of millet farming and one of air-conditioned fresh ink on paper scented office life. That is what we, my brother Balla and I, Ngor, believed when we boarded on the Ndiaga Ndiaye bus to the city. The bus was white, covered in prayers and drawings of happy black-as-coal men wearing red-yellow-indigo pants. When all the millet was loaded at the top, along with the cage full of chickens and the sheep, the bus made reverence to the passengers boarding from the left side. Balla and I, carrying a few clothes wrapped in a piece of our mother’s batik wrapper, chose to sit on the right side to balance the weight out. We inherited our height and bulky size from a long lineage of fine wrestlers and fishermen from the time our ancestry lived on the coast. I sat by one of the ever-open window crack. I wanted to see the city as we approached it. I woke Balla up from his four hour-long sleep and smiled at the glow on his face as he pointed at the street lamps. The shone like millions of fireflies bursting their light out to become stars under the stars. Stars we could both climb and reach. Small stars burning so bright without a twinkle of uncertainty. They were going to be there under furious clouds and moonless nights.
Yes, brother. We have arrived.”
To watch the winter night burn
“Charity… is the opium of the privileged.”
Fidgety fingers – my hands can barely take the wait of my thoughts.
As I try to write my story, some memories, anything down,
all that come are the loud echoes of a talking drum, and machetes against each other.
I was taught by someone other the drummer than those echoes were loud.
Somebody that never held machetes told me they hit each other in hatred.
Yet, they still linger in my spirit – making my hands shake,
And the winter night colder than it should ever be.
Yesterday I sat on one of the benches of the evergreen park. I was sipping my unsweetened coffee when a man sat beside me. He was tall and had a brown coat. His beard was gray and well combed. His life story interrupted our relevant conversation about the weather. He had three children that all lived with their mother. He had lost custody from the time he was a drug addict. He was clean now. 1784 days clean. He even only drank occasionally now. A sin should not be replaced by another sin of similar intensity. He had also been saved. By Jesus I believe that’s what he meant. His dream was to one day be respectable enough to be able to see his children again. From the impression he gave me, I saw no objection in that. And I doubt a reasonable jury would. I thought: here is a responsible man that has learnt from his past actions and, of all things, he should be rewarded. As the man got up to leave he asked me for some spare change. As I quickly realized, he was not asking for change for a bill he had in order to use a vending machine. He also was not asking that because he had lost his wallet. He was homeless. A homeless man with dreams…and pride. A man with a finely combed beard and a brown coat against the cold, and hope his country allowed him to nurture.
Blank mind that refuses to be used as a canvas.
I can only watch the few bursts of images starting to force themselves onto it.
How could hope spring from such uncertainty, and helplessness?
How could someone with no home dream so proudly, and loudly?
The winter night wants to bite my fingers off,
And for once I wish I could warm it up with dry days where the sun shines down on the shaved heads of small children. Born to be given to beg. Begging their entire life as they walked alongside other children making their way to school. Dancing in joy for stomach full and sleep on top of each other on cold nights.
For the first time I wondered if they too, had dreams. If the land of those children and I allowed every of its citizen to nurture hope.
To wish for independence
“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”
Dreaming: Generation high-waisted pants and afro-chic combed out nappy hair remembers a peaceful time when governments had the people’s blind trust. They pity the generation trying to claim fictive powers back and pray they grow some sense to dream less loud. Generation ripped jeans and foreign rap lyrics swear by the wind and follow it until the smell of fried rice is lost in memory. They sometimes dream to follow the memories back, but never loud enough to hear by immigration. Generation profile-picture-likes are busy composing a tapestry of dreams set in familiar places where limits transcends the norm, dreams that took over five decades to dream.
Unchanging: The air is fresh, a little fish scented. The wind blows red and white dust from a moving Sahara over a quiet land. Street vendors are still singing. Traffic is still hell on the 1960’s French avenues. History teachers are still forcing past facts into minds that’d rather be learning the future. The small fibrous mangoes are still the sweetest. Women still carry on their pulse the knowledge of the newest, most enticing incense. The pagan sacrifices at dawn are still disguised under Muslim or Christian imported chants. Imported rice is still the tastiest. Old colonies still celebrate Independence Day with speeches starting off by reminding of oppression and ending in promises of brighter days.
Destroying: Pillars of post-colonial passivity and those of neo-colonial acerbity are slowly making space for those of innovation that brings liberty in the mind. They will shut the complaints under the mahogany tree at teatime. They will shut the fake revolutions around tires in flame. A sweet liberty is crawling in the post-colonies streets. Its looking for its voice, but word of mouth says its first word was ‘homeland’ and its next would surprise many.
Happy long awaited Independence Day!
by Linda Dounia Rebeiz
April 02, 2013
“Believe when I tell you that wishing is like rubbing sand paper on your skin. Rubbing it so hard for so long that your bleeding is cold and relieves your sore flesh. Believe when I tell you that shame bursts like grapefruit pulp in your mouth when you try to swallow it. And bitterness lingers on your teeth, digging through the dirt to find peace on your nerves. Believe when I tell you don’t trust, and don’t move your eyelids at the sight of happiness. You don’t know it yet but it has the power of a cloud of yellow locusts travelling on the Harmattan. And it will rain on you like loud fire drops. And you won’t hear a thing. And you will burn.”
When you live with a sand storm, you cannot move when he roars. You cannot drop the metal plate you just washed. You cannot act as if you understand what he means to say. You cannot turn around to get more soap from the cupboard, because turning around would mean you are not listening. And you have to listen. You have to listen like a prey, for you are a prey. You have to hear every footstep that brings the storm closer to you. You have to control your breathing so that you can hear, and for that you need to make sure your heart is not beating at your chest. It makes a lot of noise when your heart beats at your chest. Think about a song. Not a happy song for that might make you smile, and smiling would be disrespecting the angry sand storm. Think about a slow song. Something your deaf mother would whisper just a little too loud so that it woke you up everyday at dawn as she pounded the millet. Warm dawns when the sun is high up way too early.
When the soft dune sand on the yard has been cleaned of dried mango leaves, goat excrement, orange peels and peanut shells. Warm dawns when the chicken is busy digging out worms, the turkey parades and the dog does not want to leave the cool concrete bench just yet. Think about a slow song and keep washing the dishes. Wash every plate twice, and every utensil three times. Wash the dishes as long as you can, and when you are asked if you get it, nod. Do not try to make sense of anything you nod at, because you might be lost thinking instead of listening. You are just a prey and the sand storm is always over you ready to swallow you. Believe that his anger can bruise you deep – thousands of capillaries waiting to burst like grapefruit pulp, red and ready. Believe that his hands have the power to crush your bones. Believe that you are alone. That only the sand storm knows your fate: if it swallows you and you die, or if it gets in your eyes and you are hurt.
Remember, sand storms don’t last forever. They may rise and grow and threaten, but sometimes they don’t destroy. Sometimes they become calm and lay on the couch. They switch on the TV and start snoring. At that point you may stop washing the dishes. You may go to the bathroom and brush your teeth, wear your faded olive green nightgown in hope that it would keep the sand storm away at night. You may walk up to your room and tuck your head under the heavy knitted rabaal cloth that your mother gave you as wedding present. She had chosen red, yellow and orange cotton strands– colors that remind you how much you loved to make mud houses. Always remember to keep listening. You will feel a hand reaching to the belt of the gown. Or touching your waist to find the belt. The hand will put you on your back and open the nightgown. The sand storm will once again be over you. This time it will drop on you rhythmically, as it breathes in life and breathes out a fog made of dust that will blind you for a moment. You may close your fists then so tight it should hurt more than the sand storm between your thighs. It helps if you have nails. Then think of a happy and busy place – something loud enough to cover the laments of the sand storm.
Think about the fish market where you tied your skirt high above your knees, and tied your slippers together with a nylon cord that you then tied to your basket. You ran in the fern green sea and placed yourself between two fishermen. You put your basket over your head, grabbed onto the net and pulled with them. When it was the season for white groupers, in early march, the net would be very heavy, and everyone spent almost an hour pulling it out. When the moving fish hit the shore, sparkling grey and blue and agony, flicking head-up-head-down as if asking for the sun’s mercy, all the children rushed with their baskets and filled them – one more week to go before the next fleet arrives. And the songs! How can you forget the songs of the children on the way back to town:
“Believe that when the old man sees the fleet, he forgets his cane and runs alongside the children. Because life is like the sea – sometimes generous, sometimes angry. It can be full and give up its white groupers. It can curse you and let you starve. So run, child, run! Before the old man gets there first.”
Sand storms don’t last forever. They bring with them all the sand the Sahara wants to get rid off. You are that house on top of the hill. The house on the way of the storm catching the burden of sand with your hands open, palms faced up, and fingers curled. The house that saves the peace of the village further down the hill. When the storm is done, don’t bother closing the nightgown. Keep listening. Hear the storm settling and spreading on the bed quietly. Feel the mass of sand drop in a thud. Feel it breathe. In… Out… In… Out… You have once loved it. You have once laid on it and made sand angels – spreading your legs and arms carelessly and laughing. Back then, the songs your grandfather sang to your grandmother played in your head every time he walked by you.
The first time, he only turned his eyes your direction when he was right by your shoulder line. You didn’t want to smile but your raised cheeks won over your stubborn pride. He was supposed to greet you first, and when he did, you hummed those songs. At night, he sat on your front yard to sip tea with your brothers. When they were too sleepy to care, he grabbed your hand and you’d both run to the highest point on the coast line – the one with the thinnest sand; the one that sucked you in and made a shelter around you. He walked the tip of his fingers between your braids: warm skin on cold scalp as the wind from the ocean blamed you for being out so late. The night was always blue like the bruises the songs talked about. When your grandfather sang to your grandmother, he sang about warmth and bruises, waiting and time-travelling, breathing yet suffocating, growing with someone else. You understood the warmth part, and hummed it along until he wished to hear the song. So you sang to him, and sang it all, with the bruises and the suffocating.
“Songs are prophecies, yes, they tell the future my love. Yet if you have heard it, someone else has felt it and sang it years ago. What I am telling you isn’t new to you, you have heard it. What it does to you, I hope, makes the difference. I am told to let you grow roots in my past to find what I wish you never found. Whatever it is, you are meant to accept. Tell me you will. Tell me you will so we can find and hide in earth cracks when a sand storm rises.”
You didn’t understand the songs so you chose to cut his roots. You chose to hide from him the man with the sunspots on his forehead. You were just a child then, singing and making sand angels in the air on your way to school. When the man asked you if you wanted some of the okra soup he had in his house, you open your hands, palms faced up and fingers curled. You chose to hide from him that when you ran to your mother, all she did was cry and scrape the crusted blood off your thighs with her nails and cold water. When you were clean she told you to never talk about it again. She wrapped your hands in hers and said a prayer to bring fertility upon you some day. Later, you realized mothers’ prayers can remain unattended. So when the truth hit you both, more blood swamped your hope: you could not give him a child. Bloodstain after bloodstain on the carpet, on the bed sheets, on the seat of the car, your storm had dried up. Blood stain after blood stain you had long started to fade. Think about any song now. Like the one playing on the radio that day when after seven weeks, the blood gushed out on the car seat. It was sunny and the windows were down. There was not enough wind to blow the flies out of the car. So they gathered around the little puddles of life under your skirt. Sticky ponds of what you stopped naming after the fifth one. He smelled it. He smelled it and stopped the car. The silence made a buzzing noise.
The buzzing noise just before the sand storm. The buzzing noise when birds start flying south; shopkeepers pack their displays in; fish smokers put out the fire and cover the fish. The storm was coming at you, you could hear it in the way he breathed. In… Out… In…. Out. He turned to look at the car seat and the pale blue skirt, dark blue at parts now. In a second he had both his hands around your neck. Dust filled your lungs and you choked on the mud in your mouth. He held tighter and all became blurry – like when the sun shines so bright, everything seems to tremble. He kept on holding and you could not hear what he said about trying again, not giving up. You tried to tell him about the man with sun spots, that it might not be your fault that you can’t give him children. He let go of your neck and told you again about trying, never giving up. When you got home, he threw you on the floor and tried again, not giving up. He kept on trying everyday since. He did not mind the pools of blood around the house, iron-scenting your lives.
Get up and walk to the kitchen now. It’s pointless trying to wonder once more if you should have noticed he often held your hand so tight your bones cracked when he was nervous. It’s pointless trying to figure out whether he really meant ‘playing’ when his hand fell too hard on your shoulder as laughed at a joke. Find the knife you have washed three times twice this evening. While you make your way to the room, let your heart beat at your chest and let the storm hear you come towards him. He sees that you shake so he slaps the knife out of your hand. He reaches for your neck, and you fit it in his hands comfortably. When he squeezes, you can feel the dust in your lungs again. Finally, the smell of rotten iron is replaced with that of dry earth. You let the mud fill your mouth and even open it to let more in. The roars are replaced by a soothing song. Something that your grandfather would sing while putting shea leaves on a sore wound.
“Believe that pain is wiser and wise giving up to. It teaches patience so be ready to learn when it hurts. Believe that no one can push for its destiny. If it is said you shall perish today, you will. But if it is said you shall rise and jump on fertile plains, get up and run to it.”
Your feet are not touching the ground anymore. You can now open your arms and legs to make sand angels again, finally. Maybe where you are going, the little ponds of life still have names, and sun-spotted men don’t swallow them away. Maybe they will make sand angels with you too.
My name is Linda Dounia Rebeiz. I was born in Senegal from a Lebanese father and a Senegalese mother. I spent most of my childhood in a small fishing town, Mbour, and most of my adolescence in a girls’ boarding school on the island Gorée. I finished high school at the African Leadership Academy in South Africa and am now a first year student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I cannot really recall when or why I started writing, but over the years, my stories became a tribute to all the places I miss.
by A.A. Addo
September 17, 2009
The sun is just rising when the last stone strikes open his temple. He stops begging and gulps down his final plea with a mouthful of bloody saliva. He is coiled foetally beneath the countless feet of his attackers—drenched in a mixture of gasoline and his own blood. A hand stretches through the crowd and rips his wet t-shirt and denim from his body. More gasoline pours over his battered flesh, and then some more. Several people, among them a plump young mother carrying her sleeping infant, tip-toes to the front of the encircled mob to spit on him in disgust.
Nothing can save him now. Not the police who never patrol these parts, not the municipal officials who refuse to work here, not the medics who are on strike, not the rosary he clutches in his hand. No one can verify his identity or testify to his innocence. The men continue to kick him in the stomach and torso, but unlike before, he no longer shrieks or verbally protests. He lies perfectly still. He takes a shallow, wheezing breath, unclenches his fist, and turns his face from the uproar.
“Bring tyre! Bring fire!” a middle-aged man booms.
When a plain-clothed constable arrives on the scene at 7:15 am, his body is in black- smoking flames. It takes a while before the crowd of mostly young men finally disperse and allow the constable to walk up to the burning mass of corpse and worn car tyres. Since there is no water to put out the fire, the constable watches it die a slow death before he proceeds.
He is in no hurry to stop the eager flames from doing what he is underpaid to do. Although clearing corpses from the streets is not the worst of his roles, it is not his favourite either. And so for now, he buries his head in casual conversation with some of the young men in the crowd and pretends it is a field investigation into the events of the past hour. In truth, the police never investigate this type of incident and everyone in Kogli knows too well. When the flames finally die down, there isn’t much to salvage except a soot-covered rosary and a set of crooked keys.
Five hours earlier, with the help of two male passersby, the now charred man had pushed his dusty truck onto a patch of grass near the main road. The front tyres of his vehicle had exploded when he swerved a gaping pothole and ran over concealed barbed wire, which had previously marked a cattle trail. But for his punctual luck, he would have veered of the adjacent cliff and gone the same way as the bone and steel skeletons that littered the valley below. He attempted to replace the ripped tyres but remembered that there was only one operable spare, not two, as needed.
Regardless, he felt lucky and he had no complaints about making the long descent to the nearest town where he could find a mechanic after dawn. Compared to the ruinous fate he had just escaped, anything else seemed like an island vacation.
As he bantered with the men who helped him move his car, he quickly noticed their drawled speech and the scent of marijuana from their clothes. With similar swiftness, they also picked up on his foreign accent and jokingly praised him for his valiant attempt at their native language. They were not being merely charitable with their compliment: for a seventh language which he had taught himself only six months ago, he spoke rather well.
Were it not for his accent, they wouldn’t have picked up on his foreignness since his skin, face and hair gave little away. He was a handsome, dark-skinned man with lush black moustache and a bald-shaven head that gave him a somewhat severe look. His heavy arms and iron-pumped shoulders further congealed his rugged appearance. Belying his austere image, however, was a jolly yet restrained temperament which made him extremely likeable even when he was out of his element.
“Oh! Where you come from?” one of the men inquired.
“All over” he responded, hesitant to identify his place of origin.
He knew that while kidnapping of foreigners was unheard of in this part of the country, prejudice and xenophobia were universal. In all the countries he had travelled to, his ideal was blend in with the locals rather than stick out like a bonobo’s rear.
“Where I go get nearest te-le-phone?” he mimicked in the best possible local accent he could muster. He gestured his thumb and little finger between his ear and mouth and again stressed, “te-le-phone”, “te-le-phone.”
“No, sah. No, phone” came the reply.
He anticipated the answer. There were no telephone lines for at least 200 kilometres, but he changed the subject to evade further questioning from these curious strangers. He heaved a deep sigh, kicked his foot into a mound of gravels and looked at his Rolex: 2:11am.
Seeing his frustration, the less talkative of the men, the one who carried the humming boom box, spoke:
“Mechanic no far…walk small…you don arrive.”
The chirpy fellow, the seemingly more dominant of the two, interjected:
“We walk there now…We show you…We show mechanic house…Make we go…Very very good mechanic. Fix car proper.”
No sooner had they spoken than he glued onto their offer to guide him to a mechanic. His premonition cautioned him that sleeping in the car until morning was no option; anxiety would keep him up. And if it didn’t, the noises of prying animals in the bushes would. Besides, he had heard stories of pedestrians and motorists waylaid and robbed, sometimes even shot, in this region.
He feared the danger of walking the dark road alone and was in no mood to push his luck. He grabbed his travelling bag from the back of the car, locked up the doors and set of with these men who had been giggling for much of their interaction. He was more quiet than usual and deeply upset that he would be late for his meeting, even if he got a mechanic first thing in the morning.
Sensing reluctance in his reticence and tardy steps, the strangers reassured him that guiding him to the nearest town, Kogli would be no trouble.
He was not naïve by any measure but through his many travels he had come to deeply trust human kindness—even from strangers, and even if he accepted it reluctantly. Besides, at two meters and nearly a hundred kilograms, he felt assured that he could hold his own in any physical confrontation. Certainly against these men, both of whom were short, skinny to the bone and all but sober. He walked with the proud gait of one who had never been bullied nor ever could be.
And so, they went along.
It had been an hour since he unplugged barbed wire from his tyres and no vehicle, not even the night-faring commercial trucks, passed in the intervening time. He kept looking over his shoulder as if waiting for a tow truck to show up, haul his car to a garage and give him a lift to some hotel. It didn’t matter that it was almost three in the morning on a lonely, untarred road, or that for the eight months he had spent in this country he had never seen a tow truck. He badly needed a massage; a warm shower, at the very least.
There was no end to his uneasiness. How he missed home.
He remembered his last phone conversation a week or so ago with his wife. She had told him about the broken heater that needed fixing and about the shattered kitchen window that the neighbours’ son had smashed with a basket ball. She also mentioned the recurring nightmares she had been having. In one of these dreams she had seen him running through an open field with a flood of water raging onward and burning arrows falling from the sky. She told Father Campbell, their family priest, who instructed her to recite specific passages from a prayer book he handed her.
He thought about the sweet words from his eleven year old daughter:
“What present should daddy get you?” He had asked her.
“Nothing. I want you, daddy. Just you,”
Like her mother, the little girl never failed to amaze him. In two weeks, his work would be done and he would be home to his two favourite girls.
But before the thought ended, he was shoved into the moment by a rude command from the lead guide,
“Here! Turn here!”
The three men took the first descending road west, toward Kogli. It was hard to believe that this was a heavily travelled path. Not only was there no human in sight, but the serpentine trail was overgrown with bushes and ferns of every type. His foot was occasionally caught in some twine or creeping plant, but they kept going.
Pretending to struggle with the weight of his bag, he tried to lag as much behind the men as he possibly could. Even with the steep incline of the terrain, he could walk faster and carry his load effortlessly if he wanted to. Yet, his worries did not allow him much ease around these men. There was just something about them and their interaction with each other, quite perceptible yet simultaneously elusive.
“Make we carry bag,” one of the men offered.
“No, thanks.” He softly replied.
He gripped the bag’s handle even tighter. They looked at his firmly clenched fist and exchanged glances with each other.
After almost 10km, he saw a few flickering lights in the distance and could smell the musty air from the direction. The dusty sign at the previous intersection that read ‘Kogli City: 5km’ had been a misnomer. Kogli was neither a city nor 5km from the main road. But somehow, he breathed easier and started to feel at ease. The thought of walking toward a human settlement filled him with comfort.
‘There is safety in numbers,’ he recalled his mother often saying. As a child, he had always angered her whenever she found him playing by himself in the woods or behind their house. She nailed into his head to resist isolation and to make his place in groups; in the good company of others. He wondered what she would say if she knew where he was now—alone with two strangers on the fringes of nowhere. She was always the worrier, Mama. He suspected he inherited at least some of her fretfulness.
When he first announced to his parents that he wanted to go work in Africa, it was his father who thought it wise and opportune. All the encouragement he ever got, he got from Papa. As a younger man when he had written home, halfway through medical school, to announce his desire to quit the program, it was Papaa who wrote back saying:
“Now that you are breathless and can’t keep on, you’ve just begun. While there may be joy in knowing your strengths and pursuing them easily, there is no growth. And without growth, one is as a plastic flower that neither scents, withers nor fades. To live is to grow.”
He remembered those words, like the Lord’s Prayer, until today. Papa was not one to mince words or turn his back on a fight. There was no way he could quit and ever look his old man in the eye, and so he stayed in school and graduated with distinction.
But Mama would have none of Papa’s vernal optimism. She told a dozen stories of people who had met this or that misfortune in this or that country for this and that reason. When he persisted in explaining his decision to leave his stable job at the University Hospital, she quit her meal and took her glass of wine to the kitchen so she could be by herself. The only other time he had seen her that upset was when he had wanted to join the army several years ago. She took it upon herself to call Sergeant Tyler, the army recruiter, to warn him not to pursue her little baby.
The tough-talking sarge never called the house again.
She was right on that occasion. He now knew his passion in life and it did not involve the army. Thank goodness he listened to her then. Was she right this time also? He never stopped pondering the question.
A warm breeze blew over his face and snapped him out of his thoughts.
With only the awkward silence between them, they could hear their irregular footsteps, the chirps of crickets from the bushes and the buzzing of mosquitoes around their heads. It was a gloomy night even with the pale, crescent moon hanging over the corrugated metal roofs of Kogli. In the distance, they could hear the howls of feral canines and the squawks of owls coming from the dumps around the settlement.
Then a few meters from the outskirts of Kogli, one of the men began staggering uncontrollably as if passing out from acute physical pain. His movement was less restrained than the zigzagging he and his friend had made thus far. With his arms braced across his stomach he began to throw up and then collapsed into the bushes with a loud “thud!”
“Help! Help! I dey die!”
The traveller instinctively dropped his bag, surged forward and took to his knees to attend to the distressed man. He swept him in his arms, supported his head and torso, and tried to listen for breathing.
The second man stood behind at some distance and looked on with a blank face. When the traveller’s head was bowed toward the dying man, he dashed of and fled toward the densely packed shacks leaving behind a trail of dust and sand print where the bag had stood.
Quickly realizing what had happened, the traveller dropped the man in his arms and pursued the escaping thief. No sooner had his arms unfurled than the ‘dying’ man stood up and run toward his friend.
The three-man chase continued through the narrow paths between the shacks, over open drains, stench filled gutters and smelly puddles. As the traveller closed in on the tiring thief, the dead silence of night was quickly dissolving. Dogs barked incessantly with excitement and the chickens flew about, flapping their wings and cackling loudly in alarm. A low hanging iron roof caught the whooshing wind from the men’s sprint, and clanged the street awake.
Suddenly, it all came to an end. It was as though the universe was responding to a secret cue to hush. Even the flustered animals, the swirling dust and the gliding clouds stood still. The escaping robber u-turned, pulled a hefty stick from what looked like a chicken- wire fence and strode toward the traveller. He dealt more than a few deft blows to his head while his accomplice subdued his massive frame.
Before the traveller could wrench himself free to defend against his attackers, they began shouting,
“We catch thief!”
Within minutes, out of cardboard boxes, makeshift kiosks, plywood enclosures and asbestos-filled sheds, a noxious mob of armed, half-awake young men swarmed the startled traveller. They had machetes, clubs, shovels, iron bars, stones, sticks, gasoline and a rage that only poor and oppressed people could carry. Their speed and practiced coordination, ritualistic in its timing, made it impossible to believe that they were without a captain or marching instructions, though this was the case.
Even harder to believe was that minutes before, sleep was all these shoe-shiners, pushcart drivers, street peddlers, bricklayers, beggars and unemployed men wanted. But no one in Kogli ever slept long or well since doing so could make you a victim of robbery or even worse, a casualty of the frequent flames that torched the settlement. Inhabitants of Kogli understood victimhood well.
In Kogli there was no court, no church, and no law. There was no drinking water, no proper sewage, no electricity, no clinics, no schools, no happy stories and no tolerance for criminals who got caught. It was famously said of Kogli that shouting; ‘thief!’ drew a quicker response than shouting; ‘fire!’ and thieves were put out even more quickly than fire. In the decades since Kogli sprawled, fire had razed the settlement down several times but not one thief arrested, guilty or suspected, was left standing. Like the fire that routinely cleansed Kogli of its hideous makeshift shacks, an indignant mob frequently gathered to purge the community of hideous crimes and criminals. And much like fire, the mob never discriminated in its action.
When Jingo, a well-known carpenter’s apprentice, accidentally stabbed his master with a chisel during an altercation, he was lynched by the mob before he could escape. A few weeks ago, a pregnant woman stole eggs from her neighbour’s free-range chicken. Upon her arrest by her neighbour, she was beaten by a raging mob and later died through a miscarriage. Several times, when uniformed policemen showed up to evict the squatters in this slum, they were chased and beaten and their weapons seized. When the dwellers nicknamed Kogli ‘Sodom and Gomorrah,’ they were only half joking.
During these ritual acts of mob justice, the suspected offender—sacrificial lamb or ill-fated scapegoat—was expunge from the community, along with the frustrations, bitterness and rage of every man, woman and child. When the lynched suspects were set on fire in the end, it was perhaps so that the rising smoke could carry the crowd’s vent to high heaven. There was no remorse with the angry mob, but neither was there triumph. There was only relief, however false. What more could catharsis be?
He struggled to speak as someone slapped him on the face and snatched the Rolex on his wrist.
“Thief!” “Thief!” “Beast!” “Thief!”
Hundreds of voices yelled out at him.
He kept on.
“Thief!” “Snake!” “Animal!”
The shouting grew even louder.
His words drowned in the cacophony. In later investigations, none of the eye-witnesses questioned could report his words. Hell had swallowed up our hero. No questions were asked or answers given. Before he could wipe the insistent stream of blood from his brow, he was already mauled. It didn’t help that in his haste to follow his two benefactors, he had forgotten to collect his ID and papers from the glove compartment of his car.
In the chaos that had broken out, the conniving robbers who had lured him to Kogli slipped through the rabble and disappeared toward the risen sun.
Days after this incident, on April 9, 1995, the national daily newspaper, The New Day, carried a bulletin for a missing volunteer doctor who had been on a medical mission to the north-eastern part of the country. Dr. Jason E. Kitro, 38, world renowned expert in tropical medicine, epidemiology and infectious disease had gone missing on his way to a pro bono medical relief program for Buruli Ulcer patients. The notice was paid for by a prominent French based international aid organization which had employed him.
When a ten thousand dollar reward failed to turn up any useful leads, the case quickly went cold and the local police closed the file, citing lack of evidence. The only clue they had was a vandalized 1991 Ford F-150 that had been abandoned on a desolate road in the interior of the country. Nothing of use was found in the car. For fifteen years no one really knew what happened to the missing man. Not until July, 2008 when a newly married, twenty-four year old investigative journalist, Jessica Solomon (née Kitro) travelled on a personal mission to solve the mystery of the missing expat. Many of the details in this story were the result of her diligent sleuthing through police files, conflicting witness accounts and the key testimony of a mentally ill jail bird who claimed to have walked with the expat on his journey of no return.
Lyrics of Lions
By Benjamin Kwakye
October 01, 2009
The midwives called him Kobi the Magician, having earned this title from them on account of his three births. They would later tell it as if the circumstances of his birth deserved mythical reverence worthy of universal reputation. If they were to be believed, these circumstances occurred on that day when the moon and sun appeared at the same time and light turned to darkness, which then turned to light, and opposites merged and diverged at once.
As for Kobi’s birth itself, the story the midwives propagated was that the first time he arrived, he looked at them, cried three times and declared to their nervous astonishment that he wasn’t ready because his twin brother hadn’t been born yet. While the stunned audience observed, he reentered his mother’s womb, waited three minutes and made another journey through the strained birth canal of his yelling mother. On second arrival, he giggled and farted and again claimed he was going back to await his brother’s birth. While his mother lost consciousness from the pain and bizarreness, Kobi pushed his body back from where it had just been ejected. Three minutes later, after frantic efforts revived the mother, the child embarked on his last journey through his mother’s body and declared on final arrival that his twin brother had also just been born. He then seized the scissors from the nervous hands of a midwife and severed his own umbilical cord.
The two midwives, clothed in the wetness of their sweat from the shock of the happenings, would each lose their power to speak for three days and three nights, during which Mama Kobi (as she would call herself and be called by others from the day her son was born) took care of the baby in a solo effort, for the fisherman-father had traveled. He, also to be known as Papa Kobi, had left the homestead three days before the birth of his only child, under the guise that he needed to find food for the family. True, the family was poor, but he had never departed to far lands in search of food. Years later he would reveal to friends that he’d been seized by a fathomless fear when he saw the humongous size of his wife’s belly, which seemed to have over-protruded the few days before delivery. He would say that he had felt compelled by forces he couldn’t name to set out on his journey to the hinterlands, contrary to his wife’s strong protests. When he returned from his meaningless journey, covered with grass and shrub and asking to be fed, Papa Kobi had no story to tell; nor was he carrying any food, claming to have forgotten what happened during his three-day absence. On his return home, Papa Kobi collapsed three times, before he could face his talking child. And he held the child with awe and, like the midwives, declared him to be a magician indeed.
The midwives, when they were able to resume talking, returned to the Kobi homestead (that boasted nothing of material glamour) to honor the child and pledge their allegiance to his greatness. Whether his greatness foretold goodness or badness, the midwives couldn’t say, except they believed that the child was destined to accomplish greatness if left unhampered. They then walked about in the Osu neighborhoods in daylight and nighttime hours alike singing the praises of the newborn. Through traffic jams, past sweat-drenched bodies of pedestrians straining under the sun’s oppression, over the high-pitched voices of street vendors of pastries and other goodies, the midwives persevered.
Almost all who heard their praise songs dismissed their effusiveness as madness and mocked as gibberish their tales of a talking baby born thrice. Still, despite this veil of disbelief, the midwives told and sang their story with such conviction and devotion steeped in ritualistic gestures (head raised, eyes staring at the sky, arms swaying briskly as soldiers, hips sashaying), that the public, at least a small portion of it, took note. But they would be prevented from rushing the Kobi homestead for fear that their compatriots would label them equally mad for giving credence to such outrageous tales. Nor did the Kobis ease doubts as they kept their child indoors and refused to perform an outdooring ceremony, as was the custom.
A year passed in such uneasy stalemate. Then Nii Quartey announced a first birthday party for his son Paa Quartey. He’d sent a town crier, although this was no longer the practice, to beat a gong in as many Osu neighborhoods as practicable and invite all to the party. All men and women, children and adults alike, were invited. Nii Quartey would consider it an affront if anyone so invited failed to attend. Many dismissed this invitation, wondering how he expected his house to contain all who had been invited.
Although it was a capacious mansion with many rooms, the entire compound was no larger than a football field. Despite the promise of free food and drinks, it turned out that only twenty showed up, not counting family and friends. But most notable among the twenty were the two midwives who had become inseparable since the birth of Kobi, conjoined as it were by their undying zeal to propagate the greatness of the child they’d delivered.
If the sparse crowd affronted Nii Quartey, he veiled it under a display of drunken joy and pride in parading his son in front of all attendees. This was not the first time. The day after Paa Quartey was born, the father organized a party of forty men and forty women to parade the Osu streets in the afternoon, sporting preprinted tee shirts with pictures of the child taken minutes after he was born. Riding behind this parade of bodies was a chauffeured Rolls Royce containing Nii Quartey and Naa Quartey, the mother, and a bawling Paa Quartey.
When policemen intervened on the basis that the event was disturbing public peace, being tantamount in size and effect to a public demonstration, Nii Quartey stepped out of the car and asked, “Are you afflicted by money-hunger?” Without waiting for a response, he proceeded to dole out cash to the policemen. After this, the policemen moved to the front of the praise-singers and threatened to arrest anyone who challenged the parade’s legitimacy.
In the days and months following this ostentatious introduction, the Quarteys were wont to parade their only child around and tout his many talents. But truth be told, no one except the Quarteys could identify the child’s talents.
Still, given Nii Quartey’s wealth, derived from a wide range of businesses, and his connections, many agreed in very vocal ways that the child was extremely gifted, inventing talents that had escaped the doting parents’ fecund imagination. Despite the surfeit of accolades heaped on the child, however, the parents had not been able to match the scope of recognition they’d brought upon him immediately after his birth, and they were itching to get closer with the first birthday party.
At the party, the two midwives who’d delivered Kobi the Magician were looking for an opportunity to trumpet again the brilliance of their child. Their voices were stifled, however, by louder praise singers waxing saccharinely lyrical over the Quartey child. The midwives were on the edge of surrendering hope when a middle-aged woman, identifying herself as the nurse of Paa or Nurse for short, approached to engage them in conversation. They found her annoying at first but softened their disapproval when Nurse asked about Kobi, having heard of their praise songs on the streets. After the midwives orally recreated Kobi’s birth, Nurse in turn told them of the circumstances of Paa Quartey’s birth.
In the eleventh month of her pregnancy, Naa Quartey had announced she was ready to deliver the child, at which time Nurse, who’d been hired solely for this purpose, was summoned from the room she occupied on the premises. But when she arrived to help Naa Quartey through the delivery, the mother-to-be lost interest and decided she needed to sleep, although she asked Nurse to stay by her side. Minutes into her deep sleep, the naked Naa Quartey yawned, positioned her body, spread her legs, and without opening her eyes, delivered her baby boy in less than a minute. She then put her thumb into her mouth and began to suck on it noisily. Nurse received the boy from the sleeping, thumb-sucking mother’s body, prepared the baby and asked for the father to be informed of the delivery. Nii Quartey rushed into the room to see Nurse holding the child while his wife slept and sucked on her thumb. He went to his wife and shook her in hopes of waking her. He failed. “What is the meaning of this?” Nii Quartey asked.
Nurse responded, “If I were you, sir, I’d let her be.”
So be it, he seemed to say as he turned his attention to the child, and beamed his pleasure with a grin.
Naa Quartey would wake several hours later, when the night had deepened, asking for her child, as if in her sleep she’d been conscious enough to know she’d delivered successfully. When Nii Quartey asked her how she could sleep at such a time, she shrugged and said it was all clouded in a mystery she did not understand herself. If Nii Quartey was displeased with such insouciance, he did not show it; instead, he ordered for champagne to be brought to the room for celebration. As the child lay in his mother’s arm, the parents drank in celebration.
After the midwives heard this story, they were immediately moved to ask for their Kobi to meet Paa Quartey. Nurse did not doubt the need for this meeting, declaring instead that, “Greatness will perfect ordinariness.” But she did not elaborate on what or who was great and what or who was ordinary. Now in accord, the midwives and Nurse constituted themselves as the Triumvirate and self-commissioned the group to bring together the children they had delivered. Nurse produced cola nuts, which they chewed and spat on one another’s feet as if to bind them together.
“We have a shared destiny now,” they declared one after another.
So they plotted day and night, whether in the brightness of noon or the ebbing light of twilight. Meeting under shades and canopies in abandoned buildings and sometimes at the seashore, they formulated the architectural design for the meeting of the children. It comprised of the midwives stealing Kobi from his bed and bringing him under cover of night to lie alongside Paa Quartey and returning him before dawn. “This will create the requisite spiritual bond that can never be broken,” Nurse said. But Mama Kobi and Papa Kobi guarded their child, as if they knew there were plans afoot to steal him, taking turns to keep vigil over him day and night.
When the members of the Triumvirate recognized how impossible it would be to steal Kobi, they considered the reverse: bringing Paa Quartey to Kobi. That too was unavailing, however, as it would have been even harder to sneak the Quartey child past the guards who watched the front of the walled house at all hours. So back to the brainstorming sessions the Triumvirate went in search of new solutions. After hours of both friendly and acrimonious debates, the Triumvirate reached a consensus to convince the parents of the children that it was in their children’s best interests to meet.
Reinvigorated by this new mission, the members of the Triumvirate went to work.
First, under Nurse’s leadership, they managed to arrange a meeting with the Quartey parents to present their case. “This is ridiculous,” opined Nii Quartey after he hears the Triumvirate. “It’s absurd, just insultingly absurd. You want my son, only a year old, to meet this other child for a spiritual bonding that will ensure a future of cooperation? My goodness. What have you been drinking? Even if I were to indulge you in this absurdity, what makes you so confident of this outrageous proposition?”
“Sir,” said Nurse. “We delivered the children. We know what’s best for them.”
Nii Quartey rose to dismiss the meeting when Naa Quartey stopped him, saying, “I have heard your yammering in the street about the circumstances of that child’s birth. But no one has verified this. Now I ask you, who else was in the room when the child was born?”
“Just us, madam,” said the midwives. “And his mother, of course.”
“And who else heard him speak at birth?”
“Just us, madam. And his mother, of course.
“You truly are mad!” Naa Quartey declared.
Nii Quartey dismissed the meeting at that moment, warning the Triumvirate never again to insult him so frontally.
Off the three deflated but not defeated members of the Triumvirate went, seeking audience with the Kobi parents. This granted, Nurse proceeded to describe the circumstances of Paa Quartey’s birth to the parents, urging them to try and convince their counterparts in the Quartey family that the children had to meet.
“If I didn’t have such respect for you,” said Papa Kobi, “I would slap your faces right now. You want me to walk up to the parents of this little child and ask them to have their son meet mine because you think they have some form of shared destiny that must be cemented now or stand in jeopardy? What do you take me for? You think because I am poor I have no sense?”
“Sir,” said one of the midwives, “We know this is right for the children. They are twins. This is when they need each other the most. Don’t wait until it’s too late.”
“They are twins? Now you are insulting me? We had Kobi and they had their child by separate mothers and yet they are twins?”
“Kobi himself said this when he was born,” said one midwife.
“You have lost your minds,” said Papa Kobi. “I don’t want to hear another word from you on this matter.”
“Madam?” Nurse appealed.
“You have heard him,” said Mama Kobi. “I have nothing to add.”
After this meeting, the crestfallen Triumvirate was reduced to propagating their message in the streets: two children of unusual birth, born at the same time, who complemented each other as fire and water, needed to be brought together immediately for refinement. Although most continued to dismiss such talk, a small group of people who could no longer contain its hidden curiosity decided to find out. No less than thirty of them marched to the Kobi homestead, demanding to see the child. They carried no physical weapons but they were no less threatening as their voices revealed their intentions—either they were allowed to see the child or blood would flow.
The shaken parents were compelled to bring their son outside for all to see. Many in the crowd asked the child to state his name. “Kobi,” the child said. “Kobi the Magician.” This drew prolonged laughter from the crowd, many dismissing this as a child’s silly response. His monosyllabic responses about his health (good) and hobby (sleep) convinced the crowd that this child had no special gifts. The crowd didn’t bother to ask the parents about the three births, heaping curses instead on the Triumvirate for its deception.
And as if this was a curse on the Triumvirate, its members began to meet with fatal fortunes. The younger of the two midwives died three days after the crowd marched on the Kobi homestead, her body found at the seashore, close to the Osu Castle, without any evidence of violence or other foul play. The second midwife died exactly a year later, her body found in identical location and circumstances. After this death, Nurse fell into severe panic, complaining that she might be next to die. She consulted with priests of all faiths and those dedicated to fetishes, poured libation to deities of dubious reputation, and invoked the spirits of her ancestors and made countless sacrifices to them. She avoided the seashore and stopped eating sea salt, fish and any creature of the sea. But the third year following the crowd’s march, she was found dead at the seashore, exactly as the others.
With the proponents of a union between Paa Quartey and Kobi dead, a long period passed when no one broached the matter, even forgetting that such advocacy had existed in the first place. In the meantime, the children were coming of age.
Despite all his parents had said about his talents concerning superior intelligence, athleticism, artistry, eloquence and charm, the growing child could barely put sentences together, was near the bottom of his class academically, and almost invariably came in last at athletic events. He was tutored at home, provided with coaches to improve his physical agility, and offered various computerized gadgets to spur his reflexes.
But no; Paa Quartey, preordained by his parents to shine brilliantly, barely demonstrated promise. Still, on account of his parents’ wealth and influence, he mingled with the children of the most influential and famous of Accra. By the time he turned sixteen, he had at his disposal the finest of all material things that any boy would desire, including, but not limited to, food, clothes, money, and chauffeured cars. This life of plenty seemed to convince him that such things belonged to him as a matter of right. The world was his for the taking, he would say to family and friends.
Kobi the Magician.
After his parents shielded him from the world, except the exposure to the crowd, Kobi would be unleashed after his third birthday. Immediately, he showed unprecedented ability, besting in academics and athletics those many years his senior, even correcting his teachers’ errors in the classroom. He was destined for success, all his teachers prophesied. But it was not the kind of success they would have imagined.
Three years after Kobi started school, his father fell ill and permanently lost so much strength that he could no longer go fishing. As he was the family’s only source of income, the housewife/mother resolved to look for work to take care of her husband and keep her son in school.
But Kobi told his mother, “Stay at home and take care of your husband.”
“How shall we eat?” Mama Kobi asked.
“Leave that to me.”
Mama Kobi had seen enough of her son’s prowess not to question him, despite her misgivings about letting him at such a tender age fend for the family. Kobi pulled out of school, and walked to the seashore for the first time. He knelt on its white sands and invoked the spirits of the members of the Triumvirate in a lengthy chant, and the waves seemed to rise and fall in gyrating response.
“Who are you?” the fishermen asked.
“I am Kobi, son of Papa Kobi.”
“And where is your father?”
“I am my father now.”
One of the fishermen offered to take Kobi home to his parents, whispering to his colleagues, “It’s so irresponsible for his parents to let such a young child walk about like this.”
“Are you blind?” asked another fisherman. “Don’t you see many truants like him walking all over the place without parental supervision?”
But Kobi refused to be taken home, easily evading the grasp and chase of those who tried to seize him, shocking them with his speed and agility for a boy his age. After he had tired them out, he promised, “You won’t catch any fish unless you allow me to join you.”
“Who are you, child, to speak so stupidly?” someone asked.
“I am Kobi the Magician.”
“This boy will provide comic relief,” said another fisherman. “Let him stay around. We won’t want for amusement.”
“I am not here to amuse but to fish,” Kobi said.
The amused fisherman went fishing without Kobi. As he had promised them, they caught no fish. After this happened three consecutive times, the fisherman, despite the opposition of some, asked that the child be brought along. “If for nothing at all, he will amuse us.” This argument won out and the fishermen allowed Kobi to follow them as they cast their nets. Immediately, they had a bumper haul. To assure themselves that the child was the cause of this catch, they fished with and without him a few more times. Invariably, they caught no fish when he was not with them and hauled in bounteous amounts when he was. After they had satisfied themselves of his importance, Kobi asked for a share of the proceeds from the sale of the fish. None objected; all confirmed that he deserved the title Kobi the Magician.
After his father had recovered sufficiently, Kobi helped him set up a basket weaving business. This sufficed to sustain the family, but not enough to make it wealthy. When his mother wondered aloud if he had the power to make the family wealthy, Kobi said he did, but that wasn’t his purpose. What was his purpose? Time would show, Kobi said to his mother.
By this time, Kobi was ten and could have returned to school, but he refused. Instead, when he wasn’t fishing, he was in the library reading large books or charming his way into professors’ offices at the University of Ghana and shocking them with the scope of his knowledge. Many offered to pay for him to return to school, but Kobi declined. “All I need to know I already know,” he said. “What I don’t know I will know when needed.”
Perhaps the work and cries of the defunct Triumvirate had laid sufficient groundwork on which the relationship of the children they delivered would flourish. The children, born on the same day, developing in different ways and under different circumstances, were about to turn eighteen. Neither had fulfilled his expected promise. Paa Quartey, expected to show brilliance because he had all the resources he needed available to him, was reduced to partying, drinking, and indolence.
Kobi the Magician, reputed to have uncommon powers, had merely ensured bountiful harvests for fishermen and done nothing of meaningful consequence. But on the day before he was to turn eighteen, Paa Quartey and his parents had taken a ride, stopped at the seashore, in Kobi’s absence, and ordered delivery of large quantities of fish that would require a van to deliver. When he returned to the seashore, Kobi was asked to make the delivery, along with a hired driver and van.
After he had made the delivery, Kobi was standing on the compound of the Quartey mansion waiting for payment when Paa Quartey stepped outside. On seeing Kobi, Paa Quartey shuddered, as it seemed to him that he had seen a lost twin, although they were not identical in any manner. Kobi was short and pudgy (despite a sparse diet), with broad features; Paa Quartey was tall and slim (despite an insatiable appetite for food).
“Don’t I know you?” Paa Quartey asked.
“I was going to ask you the same,” Kobi replied.
After they’d introduced themselves by name, Paa Quartey invited Kobi to his birthday party the next day. Kobi hesitated, concerned he would be stepping into an opulent world that did not belong to him.
“I’ll be expecting you!” Paa Quartey said, leaving Kobi with no choice.
Paa Quartey was quiet the remainder of the day and on the day of his birthday (until Kobi arrived). No cheers from his parents or music or dancing carefully choreographed for his benefit or gifts would sway Paa Quartey. But the moment Kobi arrived at the party, Paa Quartey’s mood revived as he asked Kobi to sit next to him. Even when he danced, he made sure Kobi was dancing next to him. And long after the party was over, the two lingered in a long conversation that lasted past midnight. The next morning, both young men declared to their parents simultaneously, “I have found the brother I didn’t know.”
The parents dismissed this declaration as nonsense. But the young men got so close to each other over the next few months that the parents were compelled to ask questions and come to realize that this was a fulfillment in years long gone of the vision stated by the now expired Triumvirate, even if the day of the union of the boys had been long delayed.
The Quarteys worried that their son was associating with riffraff; the Kobi parents worried that such wealth would dull and even destroy their son. Despite the parents’ concerns, the children vowed to each other that nothing would render them disunited and asked the parents not to intervene. “We are twins of common destiny,” Kobi and Paa Quartey told their parents. “We will live and die together.” This sufficed to keep the parents at bay, each set of parents afraid though that an only child was lost to something new being created by the children themselves, something powerful and even dangerous.
When Paa Quartey wooed his first girlfriend, it was Kobi who told him exactly what to say to her and when. When Paa Quartey learned to drive, it was Kobi, although he’d never driven himself, who taught him. And a little later when, with his father’s influence, Paa Quartey entered the university (despite his poor grades), it was Kobi who tutored him. Kobi would even show Paa Quartey exam questions before they were taken and the answers for each question. Still, although he had such an advantage, Paa Quartey only managed to lift himself to the top of the middle third of his class.
During this time, Kobi refused to accept any cash gifts from Paa Quartey, who offered plenty. Kobi would only accept an occasional shirt or shoe. Nor did Kobi intrude into Paa Quartey’s social circles, content to play his role from the fringes. Whenever Paa Quartey insisted that he needed Kobi close, Kobi would respond, “It is better for both of us that I remain out of your limelight.”
Whenever Paa Quartey asked Kobi, “Why are you doing all this without any reward for yourself?” Kobi would answer, “It is enough that I have my brother.”
In Paa Quartey’s final year, Kobi advised him to run for president of the students’ union. “I have no political skills,” Paa Quartey said, even though he believed the world was his for the taking.
“You have me,” Kobi replied.
In a carefully orchestrated campaign, Kobi taught Paa Quartey what to say and when to say what and to whom. Considered a long shot at the beginning of the campaign, Paa Quartey won the election with ninety percent of the vote. In his presidency, every action he took was under Kobi’s guidance, and at the end of his reign Paa Quartey was hailed as the best student leader yet.
After graduation, Paa Quartey worked a few years as his father’s assistant. He would consistently consult with Kobi after each day to discuss business strategy. On Kobi’s advice, Paa Quartey’s decisions became the hallmark of business wisdom, and all, his colleagues and competitors alike, began to tout the young man’s outstanding competence, effectiveness, and acumen. But Kobi soon suggested it was time for Paa Quartey to run for parliament. “We are grooming you for the presidency,” Kobi said. Beaming with the expectation of beckoning power, Paa Quartey accepted the challenge.
Again, under Kobi’s guidance, provided from the shadows, Paa Quartey won the parliamentary seat with a record multi-partisan ninety-five percent of the vote. In his early days in parliament, by delivering speeches prepared for him by Kobi, Paa Quartey began to gain national recognition, and was already marked as a sure future leader of the country.
Alongside his business and political stardom, Paa Quartey, now living by himself, had begun organizing extravagant parties with activities bordering on debauchery. It would take Kobi to clean the detritus of such activities, whether by consoling a jilted lover, bribing the media not to publish the scandalous stories they had about Paa Quartey, or even reviving Paa Quartey for an important event after a drinking spree. The guarded few who knew of these activities and of Kobi’s role in Paa Quartey’s success, advised Kobi to leave Paa Quartey before it was too late. “He will destroy the both of you if you let this continue,” they warned Kobi. “I have no choice,” Kobi would say to a bemused audience. “He’s my twin brother.”
And then one day, about five years after he was elected to parliament, Paa Quartey was invited to speak to the most elite of his party. He was told that he was being considered for his party’s chairmanship, and this speech could determine his future in the party. “No worries,” Kobi said, handing Paa Quartey the speech to be delivered. Together, the two rehearsed the speech, the places to pause, the right intonation for various parts, and the portions that needed emphasis. “You are the next chairman of the party,” Kobi said on the night before the speech.”
“We will do it,” said Paa Quartey. “You will be there, won’t you?”
“No,” said Kobi. “You know I don’t attend your events. It’s part of what makes us work.”
“That’s what you say, but I don’t understand it. Please come with me.”
“I can’t, Paa.”
“I will feel much better, more assured if I know you are there.”
“There’s an enclosed room right behind the podium where I will be speaking. Just stay in that building. No one will know you’re there but me. I just need to have you close as I give the most important speech of my political career so far.”
It was so agreed between the twins.
Paa Quartey delivered the speech as rehearsed. The stunned crowd stood up to ovate as many proclaimed openly that they had found their party’s next great leader. As the crowd cheered so, Paa Quartey proceeded to say, “While I thank you for all your support, the man who has stood with me all the way, my brother who prefers obscurity to the limelight, sits with no acknowledgment in the room behind me. He is so modest he will hate that I am saying this, but I think you all ought to know of the brilliant man behind the screen. I know he can hear me and I now call on my brother Kobi to come out and share this applause with me.”
Kobi, who had been in the enclosed room all this while, cringed when he heard Paa Quartey’s invitation as it was carried over the loudspeakers. He did not answer the summons, but Paa Quartey had some men enter the room to escort Kobi outside. Kobi, the man who had been shrouded during infancy, who had moved all along in the margins, the dark spaces where shadows allowed him to do his work, now walked outside to receive applause. For minutes, with Paa Quartey’s arm over his shoulders, Kobi endured this acknowledgment.
Kobi was gone the next day.
Paa Quartey put all his resources to bear on the search for his twin brother, but the search was fruitless, even after the police was involved. Still, although Kobi could not be found, rumors trickled in from time to time that he’d been seen somewhere, healing the sick, or as an empath providing comfort to the poor. Had Kobi the Magician been now fully released to reach his potential and serve the masses rather than one man?
Unable to locate Kobi, Paa Quartey became depressed and plunged with even more vigor than before into the scandalous activities Kobi had sealed from public knowledge. He missed important meetings or attended many of them intoxicated, gave disjointed speeches that contradicted his reputation for eloquence, showed extreme belligerence in parliament and even involved some of his colleagues in fistfights, one over Paa Quartey’s insistence on eating a meal of kenkey and fish during parliamentary deliberations. Soon, the young politician earlier singled out as a future president, became somewhat of a joke, a source of amusement for friend and foe alike.
Months after Kobi disappeared, Paa Quartey went out and imbibed large quantities of liquor. He mourned the absence of his brother and kept drinking beyond normal capacity. Driving his car home later that night, he ran into many things and dented his car in several places. Despite his erratic driving, however, he arrived home unharmed and went to bed. When he next opened his eyes, Kobi was sitting close to him, shaking him and repeatedly saying, “Wake up.”
“You have come back to me,” Paa Quartey said, reaching out to hug Kobi.
“They are coming to get you,” Kobi replied when he broke the hug.
“Who is coming to get me?”
“There’s a mob coming to this house. You ran into a young girl on your way here, but you didn’t stop. She died at the hospital. It was too late when they got her there.”
“I ran into someone?” Paa Quartey asked, suddenly looking fully sober. “I didn’t realize that.”
“And they are coming here to get me because of that?”
“Some onlookers noticed your car. You are famous in this town, you know.”
“What do they want?”
“I’m calling the police.”
“Can’t you hear them? They are almost here. It will be too late by the time the police arrive.”
“What should I do?”
“Let’s go outside.”
“To face them?”
“Yes. It is time.”
Paa Quartey followed the man whose advice he trusted completely. If Kobi the Magician wanted them outside, then outside they would go.
Paa Quartey and Kobi stepped outside into the early dawn’s dim light. Paa Quartey called to the men who guarded his house. There was no reply. “Don’t bother,” said Kobi. “I sent them home.”
“You sent them home, why?”
“They can’t be a party to this.”
“And the house help?”
“I sent them home as well. We are alone.”
“I don’t understand this.”
The war songs of the approaching mob got louder and it was clear that the mob would be inside the house in seconds. When Paa Quartey looked at Kobi, the latter had put his arms behind him and raised his head to face the sky. For the first time, as he interpreted Kobi’s pose as a sign of surrender, it appeared Paa Quartey realized the reality of the situation. “Why are you doing this?” Paa Quartey asked.
“You did it to us, brother,” Kobi replied.
“Save me. You have the power”
“It’s too late.”
“You will allow me to die at their hands, brother?”
“We are in this together, remember?”
“You won’t save yourself?”
“If I save myself I will have to save you as well.”
At the time that Kobi the Magician said this, the front gate was pushed open and the mob began to make its way into the compound: men and women, many bare-chested, some carrying machetes, began their march toward Paa Quartey and Kobi. In the dimness, their silhouettes appeared as lifeless blood-seeking agents, themselves devoid of flesh and blood. Kobi reached for Paa Quartey’s trembling hand and held it, and the two men turned their heads in opposite directions to face uplifted machetes, and it was as if blood merged as well as diverged.
One Good Man
By Sali Leigh
“Cinq million en liquide. C’est la somme entier”
“Prenez l’argent, M. le President” he said through his translator as his fingers flipped the briefcase locks shut.
The translator leaned over to whisper into the president’s ear:
“Five million cash. It’s all there”
“Take the money, Mr. President”
The President roared a spurt of laughter. He shoved the glass of fruit punch on his desk and jumped to his feet.
“How cheap do you think I am?” he boomed, staring the Frenchman in the eye, “Mr. …erm…what’s your name again?”
“Michelle” the Frenchman responded, “Guillaume Michelle”
“Well, Mr, What-ever-your-name is…listen carefully. I don’t know who set you up to this but I will not be treated like a monkey in my own office. Now, get out before I have you thrown out of my country!”
Mr. Michelle’s grin slowly gave way to a pensive frown. His face showed a mixture of confusion and shock. At first, he thought it was a joke by the president or an attempt to test his resolve.
“Is it the amount? You know it can be increased” he said in a heavy French accent.
“Get out!” the president yelled.
The proud Frenchman stood up, bowed and took the briefcase from the president’s desk.
“We will hear from each other, your Excellency” he said with a smile.
Before he walked up to his Mercedes, his cell phone rang. His partners needed to know if they had gotten the contract. Too bad he had no good news to report. His boss on the phone reminded him that if he didn’t work magic to land the deal, his promotion to partner will be an illusion. He knew a joke when he heard one; this was real.
Upon the partners’ insistence, he had cancelled his wedding two days prior so he could fly to Africa for this meeting. But that inconvenience was the last thing on his mind. After all, the firm always came first; at this point in his career, he understood too well.
There was too much at stake for the firm and himself. The firm stood to gain more than ten billion dollars in revenues if they got exclusive rights to recently discovered oil in this country. If the firm didn’t act quickly, they could soon lose out to swarms of prospectors and traders queuing for contracts and concessions. If they hadn’t done so already, the firm’s Russian, American and Chinese competitors would soon send their bag men to do the same thing he was doing now. If they could buy the President, they could buy the deal. What mattered was a gentleman’s agreement with the President. The open bids that would later be conducted will be mere window dressing.
This was big. This was his golden ticket. He could be promoted in as early as two weeks if the deal went through. At thirty, he could become the youngest ever partner at the firm. ‘No’ was not an option. He vowed to get to the bottom of the President’s refusal and leave for Paris with a signed agreement or not leave at all.
Was five million too small? Was it the timing? Was it an issue of trust? Was he naive? Or was the president simply incorruptible? He ploughed through his thoughts to find a reason for the unexpected reaction from the president. Nothing made sense.
Surely, like most African leaders the firm did business with, President Yobo must be corruptible. Over the last decade alone, the firm had paid over two hundred million dollars from its hidden escrow accounts as bribes, enticements or ‘royalties’ to African leaders. It was the most effective weapon in the arsenal. It never failed, provided the amount was right and the transaction conducted in solid trust. The firm’s secret ledger of recipients was a near-complete roll call of African heads of state.
Mr. Michelle had tried to contact colleagues who knew the President or had done business with him in the past but since he was newly elected, no contact on his Rolodex could tell him what he needed to know. President Yobo remained a black box even to the intelligence personnel at the embassy. He seemed to have few friends and even fewer enemies. Regardless, the Frenchman was convinced of one thing, he wasn’t leaving until the firm had gotten what it wanted.
The next morning, Mr. Michelle awoke to a large continental breakfast, local newspapers and a large folder with information on the president and his cabinet. The translator, who tripled as his linguist, chauffeur and personal assistant, had dropped of the folder upon his request. It contained general information like bios and political manifestos as well as secret information, some of which only the president knew.
From asking around, Mr. Michelle realized that President Yobo differed from many other African heads of state he dealt with. To be successful in business with him, he needed different tactics. Dr.Yobo had earned three degrees from prestigious universities in Europe and America and was a prominent development economist before running for president on the ticket of a major political party his grandfather founded decades ago. He had not usurped power through violence, but rather, was a self-proclaimed democrat and believer in constitutional rule. His independence and political commitment were solid since he came from a prominent political family that had been in public service for generations.
He had run his campaign on a promise of positive change and from all indications he was not into business as usual. In his first hundred days in office, he had fired several high profile officials of his administration, the Police Chief as well as numerous senior civil servants for corruption. On paper at least, he had unimpeachable character. Judging from his record, he was highly cerebral and conscientious and did not appear corrupt.
It was the financial documents in the folder that caught Mr. Michelle’s eye. Dr. Yobo owed more than five million dollars to creditors; money he had borrowed to bankroll his presidential campaign. Furthermore, his personal and political expenses exceeded his official entitlements by almost a million dollars each year. His pension funds were no match for his current status and lifestyle and his known assets were far from impressive. In addition, his re-election bid in three years was expected to cost thirty percent more than his last campaign and as with every politician, keeping incumbency was imperative.
To get President Yobo to take the firm’s gift and consent to the deal, Mr. Michelle knew that this information alone was not enough. He also needed to know the president’s cash flows, both current and expected and whether or not he had any shadow income streams. He called his contacts in Geneva and the Cayman Islands to check for any accounts that could be traced to the president, his family or his close associates. Next, he needed to find someone the president trusted to mediate the transaction. If those didn’t work, he could pay the president’s political enemies to turn up the heat on him or simply undermine him. And if all else failed, well, the firm would have to ask their contacts in the military high command to help fix their little problem with the president.
From his investigations he discovered that almost all the ministers in President Yobo’s cabinet routinely received large sums from multinational companies and local businessmen. The finance minister, who was married to the president’s sister, had secret accounts in Zurich and Geneva. He also learnt that the finance minister, who had been close friends with the president since university, oversaw the country’s anti-corruption and financial frauds bureau and had unrivalled influence with the president.
Surprisingly, neither the president nor his immediate family had any known overseas accounts or sleazy financial dealings. In other parts of the world, this observation would be hardly significant but in this country, it seemed as rare as snow in the tropics. It was considered naive—even foolish—for public servants and private businessmen to refuse ‘gifts’ and ‘royalties’ from those who offered. Even worse was a failure to offer such gifts and royalties in business transactions. Traffic police, teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers and workers of every service and trade expected, solicited or simply accepted bribes. Why then would the president refuse five million dollars of free money?
Mr. Michelle was more perplexed now than he was before. Surely, the president must realize—despite his high-browed education and idealism—the cultural acceptability in this country of the firm’s gift. Surely, he must also know that without such under-the-counter money, he had near zero chances of getting re-elected or meeting his patrimonial obligations to his political supporters, many of whom lived on less than a dollar a day. As far as risk of getting caught, the system was so broken that even if journalists found out and publicised the scandal, a well-executed PR campaign could restore the president’s reputation in days. This was Africa; morality was bought and sold.
On the third day, Mr. Michelle called his bosses in Paris to request seven million dollars more, to which they grudgingly obliged. Even though they indicated apprehension about the large extra sum requested, the eventual gains were not lost on the partners since they never missed the big picture.
He then set up appointments with the minister of finance and the minister of energy during which he offered them a million dollars each in exchange for help with bagging the president. Both ministers accepted without negotiating since they often did more for less. He also asked the energy minister to draft an obscure contract whose terms of reference amounted to outright monopoly for the firm. The finance minister, for his part, would act as the chief mediator in getting Dr. Yobo to accept his gift and sign the contract as per the firm’s stipulations. The ministers promised him a done deal in less than a week. The three men gulped down two large decanters of vintage Bordeaux and toasted to good fortune.
That night, back at the hotel, Mr. Michelle slept better than he had in days. He called his fiancée in the morning to brag about how close he was to landing the firm their biggest deal in nearly a decade. He also called the office to confirm the details of the wire transfers and to update the partners on his progress.
While he was driving from the firm’s local office later that afternoon, he heard the worst news of his career over the car radio. He started hyperventilating and almost veered into oncoming traffic.
“Non!Non!” he yelled out while thumping the steering wheel with his clenched fist.
The ministers of finance and energy were no longer part of President Yobo’s government. The announcement simply stated that the president had just accepted their resignations with immediate effect. It was obvious, they had been fired.
Now his neck was really on the block. Not only had he lost two million dollars of the firm’s money but he was on the verge of unleashing a massive public scandal involving the firm. How would he break the news to the partners? How would it reflect on him if the firm recalled him and got someone else on the assignment? Equally frightening, if things remained this bad it might take him half a decade to be elected partner, if he wasn’t fired and ever came up for it again. Worse of all, if he were openly implicated for offering bribes, the firm could suffer irreparable damage to its reputation at home and abroad and he could become the poster child of multinational corporate malfeasance.
With his two inside agents suddenly in bad standing with the president, he had no idea what was in stall for him or what the president had in mind. The two former ministers were under house arrest and could not take any of his frantic phone calls. Unless he acted quickly he would soon be powerless against the morally righteous president. It was not Dr. Yobo’s immense presidential power that unsettled Mr. Michelle; it was the unusual—almost disarming—moral authority that now confronted him.
Mr. Michelle had been hit from his blind spot; he was unprepared for the problem he now faced. In six years of making deals in Africa, nothing as jarring had ever happened to him. None of the partners at the firm had ever experienced rejection of such a large sum. Even more troubling was the president’s indignation at the bribery attempt which provoked him to declare war on corruption.
Certainly, the Frenchman’s elite business school education did not mention an alternative conception to homo economicus—the rational, self-interested human whose decisions furthered his subjectively chosen ends. Could it really be that President Yobo did not respond to financial incentives as other people do? If he was not driven by money then what was causing him to reject the firm’s proposition and to throw two of his closest political aides under the bus? Was it some innate sense of good? Was it religion? Was it for the sanctity of his family reputation and his political career?
None of those possibilities seemed plausible. To be a successful politician in any country required a healthy appreciation of pragmatism—an acceptance of the reality that good was not always attainable. Was Dr. Yobo naive enough to believe that by rejecting bribes, all corruption would suddenly disappear from his administration and his country? Did he believe the average voter really cared whether or not he grew five million dollars richer? Or was he so inexperienced he feared betrayal by the firm and exposure by the media?
Mr. Michelle knew from information he had gathered on the president that he was not a man of faith; therefore religion could not explain his righteous indignation at the bribery attempt. Neither was he a gushing idealist or a political dodo. He was a savvy man who knew the ropes well. To win his presidential campaign he spent three dollars for each dollar spent by his closest rival and he saw no shame in cultivating support by raining cash on his followers. Why in the name of God was he now being hypocritical?
That night, the Frenchman could neither sleep nor sit still. He helped himself to half a bottle of cognac and rehearsed the events of the past few days. He drunk dialled his American wife-to-be and blurted out his angst. While she sympathized with her fiancé, she was quite admiring of President Yobo’s moral fortitude, the candid woman she always was.
“That’s one good man. Africa needs more like that” she quipped.
At the Executive Mansion, President Yobo was still exasperated by the flagrant corruption pulling at him and his administration from all directions. More than the indiscretion displayed by Mr. Michelle, it was the perception that he was corruptible that disgusted him. “In politics”, he remembered his late father often saying, “Perception is everything. Once people saw you a certain way, it became real.” He knew that his ministers were not honest, but that was beside the point. He felt his authority undermined when his closest ministers connived with the Frenchman to buy his signature. He was not going to watch on as powerful business interests slowly tainted his image. Now, more than ever, he was determined to give meaning to his campaign slogan ‘Zero Tolerance for Corruption.’
The next day at the local office, the firm sent him a fax asking him to leave for Paris on the next available flight. One of the senior partners, Mr. Papin, was flying over to do what he should have done four days ago. He knew what this meant. He tore up the fax, and along with it, all his prospects for promotion.
Mr. Papin was a tall middle-aged man with greying hair and a clean shaven face. He had an unremarkable appearance except for a long crooked nose that somehow made him unforgettable. He was an extremely professional man who still managed to have no airs about him, mainly because he laughed heartily and often. He spoke five African languages and knew more about the continent than most native Africans or scholars of Africa did.
His fascination and thorough involvement with Africa had earned him the nickname ‘Monsieur Afrique’. He had resigned from the firm after making a large personal fortune in a diamond deal but the firm still kept him on call for operations like this, which needed a master’s touch. He was not among the best, he was the best. If Mr. Papin failed to get a job done, then the job could never be done.
Two days after his arrival, he was sitting comfortably in President Yobo’s office lounge, awaiting audience with him. He looked more like a veteran tourist than a businessman in his white Cuban shirt, khaki slacks and brown loafers. He joked with the receptionist and endeared himself to the president’s staff by showering praises on them for their impressive work; this, despite the fact that they had wrongly scheduled his appointment and had almost sent him away as a result. While he waited, he took the opportunity to inquire from the president’s personal assistant about the president’s hobbies and interests as well as his schedule for the weekends.
When President Yobo walked in, half his office staff had crowded around the Frenchman, being entertained by him. Or, perhaps, it was the reverse. Upon seeing him, they scurried to their desks and left Mr. Papin alone in the door way.
“Your Excellency!” he said with a jolly face as he extended his large hairy hand to greet the president.
“What can I do for you, Mr…?” the president asked
“Papin. Henri Papin. Can we speak in private, please?”
“Yes, of course. Step in,” the president ushered him into the executive office, “I would offer you some alcohol, but I don’t drink. You’ll have to drink fruit punch with me if you’re thirsty”
“I don’t drink either, your Excellency. You’re in good company. Let’s have that punch.”
They made small talk and drank a large jug of tropical fruit punch before the president remembered he hadn’t yet heard Mr. Papin’s reason for calling at his office.
“So, Henri, what brings you here?” the president asked in a friendly tone, as though he had known Henri Papin since childhood.
“Oh, yes, yes, Mr. President”
“I uh, I came to apologize. I was informed that one of our executives, who visited some days ago, showed you great disrespect.”
“Oh, you mean the other arrogant Frenchman? What was his name again?”
“Yes, yes, that was it. Some cheeky fool he was”
“Yes. He does things a bit differently but I hope you will allow me to express my sincere apologies for the embarrassment. I was hoping you could join me for a game of golf this weekend and hopefully we could talk some more about the ambitious business plans my firm has for this wonderful country.”
“Sure. I will have my secretary get in touch with you”
“You’re very kind, your Excellency”
“No problem. You know, we love good investors in our country. People who are honest and pleasant”
They continued their small talk, this time with uproarious laughter, as the president walked him back to the firm’s chauffeured Mercedes limo.
That Saturday, the two men had barely completed two holes when the game was washed out by the monsoon rains. They ran back to the club house and played a game of chess instead while they enjoyed the cold, freshly-squeezed fruit punch the president’s wife had made. Guillaume Michelle’s name did not come up again. They both knew too well how the ambitious junior executive had faltered and the lesser said the better. Smart as he was, Guillaume Michelle had much to learn, starting with a thorough lesson on the local culture.
Early on Tuesday morning, barely a week after Guillaume Michelle had been shamefully recalled to Paris, Mr. Papin, the veritable Mr. Africa, was on his way to Paris with a signed ten billion dollar, exclusive oil contract in his briefcase. He was leaving behind twenty million sick, famished, poor but hardworking people and a president who had become ten million dollars richer for signing away the future of his country.