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The Veiled Secret of the Kama Sutra or the Way a Certain Poet interprets the Surrealist Manifesto at Night
goddess, as we sit at night on a carpet of clouds, as i unveil you, as i survey your curves, your grace, your sacredness as i map out the regions of your navel, as our lips seek and touch
i forget avant-garde, meta-fictional devices, hyper text & the half-opened e-books on the lost treasures of Timbuktu on my broken Ipad
i forget Borges & the half written Borgesian story titled: A Treatise on the Permissibility of Marriage Between Mankind & Djinn
i forget ‘golden mean’, the stoics , Nicomachean Ethics, Bentham and the felicific calculus; a philosophical method of calculating practical happiness and bliss
i forget closed-quadrants, poetic-cubism, theory of forms, wheel of dharma, circle of suffering, seven stations of the dervish, sea power & territorial extent of the sweetened margarine & moisture between thighs
i forget poetic policy, dead poets society, the ‘big poem’ or is it a short essay thinly disguised as a poem which in my delusional state of being i dream will make me immortal, or an inimitable idol like Hubal of the Arabs, Karl Max; prophet of matter or Adonis; idol and god to all those who place high premium on poetry and the metaphysical necessities of being
i forget Committee on Poetry and our silly policy: make every stupid citizen poem-literate before the next elections in the planet of Jut
i forget phones ( oh, how i hate smart phones), broken ATM cards, unpaid bills, unfulfilled promises, stagnated investments, the kettle of Sufi tea on my desk, hallucinations and all those strange visions that haunt gentle souls as they navigate through the landscapes of sand
i forget grand concepts like: ‘The Great Woman’, ‘Jewel of the Savannah’ and the tormenting images of the ‘Mermaid of Sand’
goddess, as i let go the strap of your bra & let my tongue examine the dark areola of your nipple, as you moan & cry: bite me! bite me hard!
i fade, everything in this goddamned crammed up, stupid poet-brain of mine fades, i think, i am, i am because i am, perhaps Descartes is right, (i abhor Cartesian dualism), i perceive from a distance of septillion-million miles, echoes from the fragrance of my all-time favourite philosopher; the Andalusian existentialist and prophet of unity:
“He says heartsickness causes the lover to melt, and is the most grievous sadness of the heart, He says torment is a fire that blazes up in the hearts of the lovers, burning everything it finds there except the lovers and love, He says that burning desire is the flame of desire and passion is the expansive stage of love because it is derived from air, He says intoxication is an abandonment of reason and the fourth stage of love, He says mad love is intoxication of reason, He says sadness is the most difficult manifestation of love and the hardest to bear
And he says that love blinds and deafens”
Quoted from al- Sufiyyah wal Surriyaliyya by Ali Ahmad Sa’id popularly known as Adonis
goddess, as you twirl & twist, as i grasp the ungraspable magic of your curves, as i feel the fullness of your buttocks and their grace, as you disrobe me, embrace me, anoint me ‘poet of the goddess’ & admit me into the Temple of Thighs, i transcend ink & pen, i perceive grace, i connect to the super highway of sub-consciousness, i submerge below the subliminal sublime subways of consciousness, i thirst, i lick, i suck, i inhale the effusing gasses of the Surrealist Manifesto in a dream, in the same dream i become a mad dream, i gather strength, i thrust, i permeate through the lost pages of the Kama Sutra, at the infinite revelation of the eagle pose, i explore the poetry of your navel & the metaphysics of your thighs, as you moan : do it slowly, do it gently, i vanish, i fade, i seek the hidden mystery of life, i choke, i gasp for breath and moisture, i see light, i gain knowledge, i explode, i scatter into bits of bliss and dream, in a state of non-being; i gather the salacious quills of my tongue and i scribble a verse on the inner lobe of your clitoris: Vagina is the Gateway of Being.
Note: The andalusian philosopher mentioned above is ibn Arabi the Sufi mystic and exponent of wahda’tul wujud, ‘Unity or Oneness of Being’.
Umar Sidi is a helicopter pilot with the Nigerian Navy. He is the author of ‘ Striking the Strings’ (Origami) and the chapbook ‘ The Poet of Sand’, (Saraba Magazine). He lives in Lagos, Nigeria.
I didn’t speak to Mom for a week after I got to Big Mama’s though she called every day. When we spoke the first time she sounded like her voice was as thin as a wire, she sounded tight. Big Mama said your Mom is going through a lot right now so you’re going to stay with me, and we are going to get you together. We are going to get you together, she keeps saying that, looking at me like I am barely hanging on, like Mom looked when I was in the hospital. Big Mama works too but only one job and she’s home much earlier than Mom ever was, and she cooks. She cooks and she cleans up and she makes me take my medicine and do my glucose test and she looks at my eyes like she can see something hidden in them. She looks at my eyes and my hands and asks me in the morning and the evening how do you feel? That’s what she asks me several times a day, how do you feel? How you feeling? Big Mama’s apartment is a little bigger than Mom’s, and I have my own room. It was Big Mama’s sewing room, she says, but because of her arthritis she doesn’t sew as much, so I got it and she cleared out most of her stuff by the time she brought me back from the airport. I unpacked my suitcase and backpack and my boxes arrived a week later and I unpacked them and now the room is mine. All my stuff is in the room which is smaller than my old bedroom was, but it’s mine, and Big Mama has her own bedroom on the other side of the wall. Sometimes before I go to bed she peeks her head into the bedroom and says, How you feeling? and I tell her I’m fine. I feel fine. I feel like I did before, I never felt bad, I just hated going to the old school just like I hate going to the new one, the kids don’t move as slowly but they’re still slow, but it’s smaller so they call Big Mama whenever I’m not there, and she calls the cell phone she bought me and is paying for to make sure I’m in school. I have to text her to say I’m in school, which is why I started gagging again sometimes, or throwing up. I would get out of bed and all of a sudden I had to throw up. I had to vomit and I would say Big Mama, I don’t feel that good today and she would say Are you sure, Baby? and I would ask to stay home so I could rest, and I’d tell her that this sometimes happened at home but I was okay. The first time she didn’t believe me and took me to a new doctor, who ran a bunch of tests, he had them test my blood and check my medicine. He had them check everything and he told Big Mama on the phone, he doesn’t seem to be any sicker, perhaps something didn’t agree with him, but keep an eye on him and don’t let him overexert himself. Don’t overexert yourself. I told Big Mama that if I had to be careful and had to miss a few days I should at least have a way to work on school projects, and asked her to buy me a computer. She said, Your mother said not to, no computer, absolutely not, and I begged her. She said, Your mother said that computer I got you got you into trouble but I begged her. I need it for school, I need to keep up. She said, Not now. After a while, after my throat got sore, my fingers and toes got sore, after I felt dizzy and had to miss school, to not overexert myself, they would be pushing me too hard in gym or on the playground, they would be pushing me and I would stumble and Big Mama was going to call an ambulance but I told her I would be fine, just let me take the day off, but I can always catch up, especially if I have a computer. Big Mama said I’ll get you a new computer but you have to promise me not to abuse it, okay? I promised her. You have to promise and I promised I wouldn’t abuse it, I wouldn’t misuse it, I promised her I wouldn’t do any of the things I’d done, I am going to school except when I’m sick, and she can always call my school to make sure I’m there when I’m supposed to be, because at this new school if I turned around in the vestibule like in Chicago as soon as I did someone would say, Excuse me, Shemar, what are you doing? and Shemar, aren’t you supposed to be in class? and Shemar, do you need us to call your grandmother, Mrs. Morris? The one security guard or the principal, who’s always in the hallways, or the assistant principal or one of the teachers who isn’t one of mine, or the hall monitors would say, Excuse me, Shemar, saying my name like they own it, and I’d get demerits and detention and they’d be on the phone in minutes with Big Mama, so I keep walking straight to my class and sit through the talking and the questions and reading aloud and sometimes stare at my notebook or scribble or write some code or things I’ve memorized online from one of the podcasts or free classes and before I know it the school day is over and I can walk to Big Mama’s house instead of taking a bus and I open the door and go to my room and there it is, waiting for me, the box with the new computer.
I’ve only managed to retrieve about half of all the stuff on the computer Mom threw away or hid, she won’t tell me what she did with it, and I talk to her every other day and she’s still tight but not about me, not with me, she’s lost her second job and she was behind in rent and helping Sherise pay for school, and Big Mama had to send her some rainy day money, she said she was feeling so desperate she might sign up for the army and go overseas, anything would be better than this, and I thought she was joking but Big Mama said, your mother doesn’t play, don’t you know that? Mom doesn’t play, I know that, and she won’t tell me what she did with my computer, and I want to tell her that all kinds of stuff was on there, stuff that probably shouldn’t get into other people’s hands, maybe even some bad stuff depending, but she won’t tell me what she did with it, and I can’t tell her what that bad stuff was, depending, I don’t even know what it all was, I had downloaded or torrented it and intended to get to it, until I got sent here. She says she’s coming to visit me when the summer comes, and maybe she’ll tell me then. She won’t tell me if I get to come live with her again, but Sherise’ll be back so the apartment will be full, like when I was smaller and Sherise was still in high school, and we shared a room, and she complained sometimes if I saw her in her bra and panties and I had to close my eyes. So maybe not. It’s okay, I like living with Big Mama. I like living with Big Mama, even though she checks up on me a lot, she asks me the same questions over and over, she makes me turn my music down and says over and over not to look at pictures of naked people online and to go to bed or at least turn out the light by 11 pm but I usually get up once I hear her snoring and play on the computer till 1 unless I’m tired. I like living with Big Mama, because a lot is just like at Mom’s except Big Mama never gets too angry and she never yells and she basically lets me do whatever I want so long as I take my medicine and do my tests and go to school and keep my music down, except when I tell her I’m not feeling well. I try to go to school most of the time and only plan on being sick every couple weeks. I planned out this schedule and I was worried she’d figure out what was going on but she hasn’t, she just says Don’t overexert yourself, and checks my results, and watches what I eat, lots of vegetables and no candy, and asks how I’m feeling, over and over again. Don’t overexert yourself.
On my new computer, which is better than the one Mom threw out or hid from me, I don’t know, I only have some of my music files, most new versions I downloaded since I got here, and some of my bookmarks that I remembered. I logged into all my old sites, my ICR channels, my SNS sites, the social media platforms, the forums and usergroups, 4Chan, my blog which I haven’t updated in a while, though I posted a few pictures of Howard University, which we’re not that far from, with captions in reverse Arabic, let’s see who on my follow lists figures that out first, everything had just been sitting silent for the entire time I didn’t have a computer. I don’t have any of my old text files, only new ones. On my new computer I don’t have any of my pictures, including the porno ones, I didn’t dare put any of that stuff on the cloud, and I haven’t downloaded any except a few I happened to come across surfing but mostly I haven’t thought about them that much. I don’t have any of the screens of code I practiced or wrote, any of the lists of passwords or secret directories, though I’ve found a few new ones. On the new computer, which Big Mama said cost less than the old one because she got a senior citizen’s discount but it’s more powerful, a lot more powerful, I’ve found a few new sites but I can’t remember all the old ones and some of the sites I used to go to are offline or maybe I didn’t memorize the URLs properly. I can access all the online games I used to so that’s not a problem. All the time I keep finding new ones, so I go between my old ones and my new ones. I can’t find some of the old ones, though, like the Austrian skinhead zombie one, maybe they took them offline. But I’m always finding new ones, and I try to play them either right when I get home, because when Big Mama gets home I have to do my homework while she watches TV or reads a book or talks on the telephone, she wants to watch me doing it, I have to show it to her. I show it to her and she tells Mom, Yes, Richelle, he’s doing it, and sometimes Mom asks, Are you doing your homework or just trying to fake your Big Mama out like you did me? Mom asks me that, and I tell her I’m doing it, I even read it aloud to her, and she doesn’t say anything, but I think she believes me. I’m coming to visit in June, she says, and I want to see all that homework in a pile. I’m not faking anybody, I say, I say it’ll be here, and it’ll be here, it’s all in one of the boxes she sent my stuff in, all in order so she could go through every single class, every single day, every single month. I also play the games once Big Mama’s gone to bed, but I have to stop around 1 am or I get too tired to wake up and then Big Mama says, I can tell you’ve been up all night and if that’s going to be the case then that computer will have to go in my room. This happened twice, I didn’t want to wake up and I didn’t act like I was sick, and Big Mama looked at my eyes and said You’ve been up till all hours, she could tell, and she threatened to move the computer to her bedroom, so I set my cutoff time at 1 am and even if I’m advancing to a new level, I make sure to stop and sign off, no matter what, so I can get enough sleep to wake up without a hitch when morning comes around.
By the time Big Mama comes into the room this morning to wake me, I’ve already opened my eyes. I’ve already opened my eyes and turned over several times, and slid back into the arms of sleep. A sleep so light, though, that all it takes is the touch of her finger on the edge of my comforter, and I sit up. She pulls the covers back, kisses me on the forehead, Big Mama doesn’t have her upper partials in yet, so she doesn’t say anything, no Good morning or Time to get up or Did you sleep well last night? Instead she’s humming an R&B song, something I heard Mom play when she used to have a CD player. Mom used to play this song and a lot of others like it, when she still had all her CDs and records and CD player and stereo set, she didn’t believe you could play music or listen to it on a computer, she still doesn’t, but this was before the flood waters took everything but our lives, this was a long time, the first time we lived in Chicago, where I was born, before New Orleans, she sold a bunch of those CDs and records when she lost her job at the store because my brother had gotten in trouble again and she had to take a lot of time off from work to go to court with him, and then they fired her. Without cause she would say, they fired me without cause, but the real cause is the trouble you kids bring me, you create all kinds of problems and you expect money to just fall from the clouds, do you think money falls from the clouds? I was still really little and at first I thought she’d said Money fell from the crowds, and would ask her why the crowds had so much money, and she’d laugh and said, Well, at least you’re not a problem, at least one of my children isn’t going to dig an early grave for me. That was before I had to go to kindergarten and sit there as the teacher tried to teach everyone their ABCs, which I already knew, and how to count to 20, which I already knew, and all kinds of other stuff that I already knew and didn’t feel like listening to again. Mom told Big Mama, I thought I was out of the pits with this one but I just don’t know. I just don’t know.
Big Mama’s humming that song and her face looks like she’s happy but also concerned, it’s always this mixture whenever she looks at me. She turns around and putters out of my room. She’s in her robe, which means she’s ahead of schedule, she’s showered, and now she’s heading back to her bedroom to do her hair and put on her makeup, which means the bathroom is mine. But I don’t feel like school today, and I’ve counted the calendar days and I’ve gone every day for over two weeks. I haven’t missed a single day for exactly 13 straight weekdays, it’s almost three weeks really, and I want to see if I can find and sign onto the game I saw sort of mentioned on one of the message boards last night before I went to bed. It was 1:22 am and I was starting to yawn and my eyes were closing like they were weighted with magnets, and I was 14 pages into one of the threads on the gaming message board I always check out. I used to only read a few pages in but then one day back when I was living with Mom I decided to read deeper into one of the threads and I started to find all these game URLs listed, and there were links to usernames and passwords, or I could find ways to access usernames and passwords, and there were also ways to get ahold of credit card accounts if the games required you to pay for them, all you had to do was figure out where to go. I never wrote down this stuff to use it at a store or to buy stuff like clothes or shoes, I could have bought Mom and myself and Sherise and Shannon, my older brother who’s in the penitentiary, all kinds of stuff, I could have bought shoes and suits and a house and a car and all kinds of stuff, some people did that. But I only used the credit card info to get into a game if it required it, that’s all I did. I copied some of those to a file I hid on my old computer’s server, I wish Mom would tell me what she did to it, I looked in her closet the day after it vanished. I looked outside, right below our window I looked, I looked in the Dumpsters behind the apartment building, I looked in the trash cans inside and out, I went to the basement of the building to see if she had put it down there thinking I would check. I didn’t find it anywhere, and I looked and looked. I looked at the garbage out back, I looked in the street in front of the building. Mom wouldn’t say anything, she didn’t speak to me till she was putting me on the plane, not in the morning, not when she got home from work, not a single word, not You have to go to school today or They said you can’t come back or Do you realize what you’ve done is worse than us losing everything in that flood or I don’t care if you run away now and I never see you again, it was total silence and I sat in the apartment for the entire time until she started packing my bags and boxes and got me ready to come live here with Big Mama.
It’s not that I don’t feel like going to school, the new school is better, but I much more want to hang out here at home today and do my computer stuff. I want to play on the computer today, all day, I want to see if I can find this game I saw, I want to try it out. I could do it when I get home from school but Big Mama will make me work on homework and then talk to her and then watch the news, you have to watch the news she says, like I don’t get it from online, like you can’t get everything online, and then we have dinner. Big Mama is always trying to prepare dinners that are part of my diet, You can’t be eating them chips, she says, You can’t have no more fast food, she says. You can’t be doing what these other kids are doing, she says, so she makes dinners that are really healthy, She’s a good cook, better than Mom, maybe not better than but as good as Mom, and she won’t let me cook. You shouldn’t have been cooking in the first place, she says, though that was better than sending you to pick up fast food every night, but who knows what could have happened on those streets or even in that kitchen, then she changes her voice and says, I’m not talking bad about your mother, I’m not talking my daughter down, don’t think that, she has gone through a lot, you all went through a lot, we all gone through a lot, but that’s a lot to ask of a child. After our dinners, if it’s my night to call Mom or her turn to call me, I’ll call her on the cell phone she gave me, that she’s paying for, today is the call day, yesterday wasn’t. When Mom asks I tell her the new school is better, I say that over and over. We’ll have to find you a school like this back here, she says, but she doesn’t say when or which one. Tonight I’ll talk to Mom and then I’ll watch shows with Big Mama till I say, I need to go practice my math or computer writing or essays on the computer, and Big Mama says, Okay, she’s wrapped up in her shows, she says, Now don’t be looking at nasty stuff on there, and I tell her I won’t. I usually don’t ever look at porno any more, I had some stuff on my old computer, but I hid it in case Mom figured out how to sign on. She wouldn’t have ever found the hidden folders, I don’t think, but someone else might. But they would have to know my tricks and I don’t think they will.
I go to the bathroom and wash my face, brush my teeth. I wash my face again after brushing my teeth, then I go to the kitchen where Big Mama has set out my breakfast, a bowl of granola cereal with soy milk, a glass of water, and an apple she cut up. I don’t tell her all I ate when I lived with Mom was a banana, or sometimes oatmeal with a banana in it in the winter, the kind you can put in the microwave, because it was cheap and Mom said you have to have something in your stomach, and she didn’t understand why I had got so sick because she wasn’t giving me doughnuts and Twinkies and potato chips and that much regular soda and fast food all the time, but Big Mama is very careful and she makes me eat salads and steamed vegetables. We have salads and lots of fruit and vegetables and even when she cooks greens or cornbread or turkey wings she says it’s the healthy kind, not the kind we would eat, she says, growing up. I sit down and don’t say anything about what I ate with Mom, I say, Big Mama, I’m not feeling great today, and she says, What do you mean, and I tell her that I just feel kind of tired and think I should get some rest today, and she stops eating her apple and sipping her coffee and says, Do you feel warm, do you have a headache, are your hands and feel sore or swollen? She asks me a whole train of questions, Do you have a sore throat, do you feel dizzy, you didn’t fall while you were going to the bathroom, and I say no, we had a real hard gym class yesterday, it was good, it made me feel good, but I’m just really feeling tired, and she looks at me. She looks at me really closely. I’m not feeling sick like hospital sick, I tell her, I don’t have a fever or anything, I tell her. I eat some more of my cereal, and then some of the apple, and say, Just tired, Big Mama, not sick, and she nods and comes and puts her arms around me. She’s got her partials in now and she kisses me on the cheek. Her cheek is on my cheek, I can smell the cocoa butter and makeup like peaches and coffee she was drinking. She says, Lord knows I worry so much about you, I can feel her words moving through my skin, I worry every single day about you, Lord knows, then she stops and says, You haven’t been out of school in a while, I think it’s been a month, and I nod, and she says, I’ll call the school in a minute and tell them, and I nod, and she says, You are going to have to stay inside and try not to spend all your time on the computer. I nod. I eat a little more of my cereal and try not to look too happy, I try not to smile or grin, I finish the apple, and say, I won’t, Big Mama, I have school work, and I won’t watch TV all day either, and she says, Watch CSPAN if you get bored, or read one of my books, read my Bible, and I nod. I get my kit which is in the bowl in the middle of the table, I do the test and she watches me, we wait, and she watches the indicator showing everything’s okay, then she hugs me again and gets up to get dressed, and I go take my shower and put on my house clothes, not the ones for school, so Big Mama doesn’t have to spend extra money washing them.
When she’s dressed and I’m dressed and I’ve taken my medicine, in front of her, and she’s about to leave, she says, You keep your phone on like always, okay, but turn the ringer on since you’re not in school. I’ll keep it on, I say, it’ll be on, and I turn the ringer on in front of her, she sees me flip it. It’s charged up, I say, and she pats her purse and says, Mine is on too, and you have my number at work, so if you start to feel sick or anything you call Big Mama right away. You call me right away, call my cell phone first, if you start to feel warm or dizzy or you start throwing up, and if you really feel sick you call an ambulance. I’ll be feeling better later, Big Mama, I say, I don’t want to be sick and miss school anymore. She looks at me. She runs her hand across my forehead and says, You be good today, okay, don’t let anybody in here, Big Mama ain’t expecting anybody, and I nod. Nobody, I nod. Don’t stay on that computer all day, she says again, and she looks at me. I nod. She looks at me and starts to shake her head but doesn’t, and I nod. I watch her close the door behind her, I turn the lock, and I go straight to my room and my computer, which I turned on as soon as I was out of the shower.
I don’t even surf or check my emails or Facebook or ICR channels or newsgroups or torrents. I don’t text my new friend Arinze who’s the only one at school who understands half of what I’m thinking or saying and doesn’t slap my cap off from behind and call me “ILL-inois.” I skip all that and flip on the Tor, go straight to one of my message groups, on the Zone-Z site, which is based in Japan and linked to new games. On this message board I’ve found links to many new games, or references to game sites that I had to search hard for, or references to game sites I’d never found. I’ve searched sometimes for hours and not found anything, from the time I walked in the door after busting out from my old school to the time I started to make dinner, before Mom came home, it was epic fail. Not a single new game. Nada. I’d bookmarked page 14 of this message board, I go right to the thread that I know includes a link that talked about a new game that’s up, it’s free, you didn’t even need to give a lot of info, but I have files full of dummy info anyways, and the posters hardly say anything about it, not what sort of game it is or what sort of levels it has, what it looks like or the music or the animation. They don’t say who wrote the code and what skill levels you needed, they didn’t say anything, which usually means that it’s the toughest, the less anybody says the better, because most people would just overlook it. Most people listen to the hype, they don’t think things through, they skate on the surface is how Mom would put it, they skate on the ice and don’t ever look down and see what’s beneath. I was skating on the ice when I was your age, Mom said, I was skating on the ice when I met your father, she said. When your brothers were born, when your sisters were born, I was skating on the ice. I was skating when we lived in New Orleans, Mom said, and then I had to look down, we all had to. I went through the page and couldn’t find the link at first. I combed through the thread, I couldn’t find it. I went back through again, I looked down hard, and then I saw it and clicked on it.
The only thing that comes up is: “Browser cannot find the server or server proxy at http://www.–.com,” telling me to check the address, a typical DNS error, so I click the back button, and instead, a new message comes up, saying “Browser cannot display the webpage,” meaning the original thread on the Zone-Z site, with a lot of warnings about how the computer was blocking spyware and my need to download an antispyware program. So I try to go back again, I click the back button and the screen says, “Browser is currently in offline mode and can’t find the site you are looking for,” and I notice that instead of my browser telling me that the page has totally loaded, instead of a complete, white error screen, the scrollbar is visible at the right. I’ve never seen this before, so I scroll down. I scroll and scroll, and finally at the very bottom I see a link, suspended just above the bottom of the page. I’ve never seen this before either. None of the games I’ve ever tried, nothing I’ve ever linked to looks like this. I click on the hyperlink and the entire screen goes white. It starts to pulsate, like a strobe light, like someone is turning a light behind it on and off, my entire screen, and I try to stop it but it won’t. I left click my mouse, I right-click it. I try several key combos and even hit the reboot button but the screen keeps pulsating, white white white white white whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiite. It’s like someone has put a thousand neon lights, a million, behind the screen, a zillion lights behind it. It’s so bright I can barely look at it, it’s like looking into the sun, directly into the sun. My eyes start to hurt so I close them for a minute and when I open them again the screen is quiet, it’s no longer white. It’s a deep purple, so dark bluish-purple it’s almost black. It’s a color I’ve never seen before, a color I think that’s sort of like if you combined html colors #461B7E and #151B54 and #000000 together, almost #150517 or #250517, but the other colors are still in there too. It isn’t just #000000, it isn’t just the dark grays that are almost black, but the other blue and the purple too. The screen is completely still, it isn’t making any noise, no more pulsing, just this dark bluish-purplish-black like the inside of my eyelids when I fall asleep, and at the very bottom I see a single little white dot, it’s smaller than my pinky nail, and when I look closer I can see it’s Chinese characters or something, or maybe Japanese, and they’re just floating there, , I have to squint to see them, I lean in real close, so close my nose is brushing the screen, I’ve glimpsed this symbol or one very close to it before on threads, no explanation, and once I saw it on a page with strange lines of code I forgot to copy and paste and couldn’t find again no matter how many times I searched, someone must have deleted and taken them down, what does it mean, and before I know it the characters shift to Russian, and then to Arabic script, and then to a hundred others, most I’ve never seen before, maybe imaginary scripts and languages, it’s like it’s an animated gif file or something. It’s moving so fast I can’t really make it out and the Chinese characters or Japanese ones don’t come back and then for a splitsplitsecond I see an English word in tiny white letters on that bluish-purplish-black, letters so small I can barely read them, though I think they say MONEY and start smiling, or maybe it says BLOOD, or maybe ABYSS, or maybe VOIDS, or maybe WOUND….
And then it’s gone and the icon keeps changing so quickly my eyes hurt and I try to run the cursor over it and fail and try again and try until finally it hyperlinks, and I click, and then I’m in what looks like a green tunnel, all colors of green, until I realize it’s red, a red tunnel, a red hole, a red kaleidoscope, a red abyss, I’ve never seen a game background like this, it’s racing in front of me, pulling in front of me, pulling me into it. The tunnel is disappearing into a red void in itself, a bloody vacuum pulling itself inside of itself, it’s suctioning my eyes into its viscousness, it’s suctioning the screen into it, it’s an optical illusion I know but it’s almost making me dizzy it’s moving so fast, the colors are changing inside it so fast, inside of each other so fast though it looks like it’s a thousand red or a million ones, a trillion ones or a zillion ones, every color inside of red turning into every other color, the swiftest animation I’ve ever seen, I’ve never seen a game like this before, it’s the best because I don’t even get what the point is, I don’t know how to get in or get out or stop it, and I decide I’m going shut it off, I’m going to unplug the computer because my head hurts and I feel like I’m going to puke and I don’t know what’s going on, I really do feel dizzy and on the verge of puking, I feel like I could fall right out of this chair right now, and think maybe I should eat something, maybe my sugar’s low, maybe I should just get up and eat something, drink some water or have a diet soda or throw up and call Big Mama, I am really starting to spin, and then I see a small white dot, I see a dozen of them, I seen hundreds, then it’s only ten or so, then just one, they are appearing all over the screen, in different places, very tiny but big enough that my cursor could touch them, and I move the mouse and the cursor’s moving again, it’s all over that red void that keeps zooming into itself, that keeps collapsing into itself like a red throat or cave or mouth or vein or void, a red black red-black hole opening into countless other ones, like a black hole made up of a trillion different reds, like a trillion red stars in this hole, a galaxy of red stars disappearing in into this red-black hole, and I wonder whether the point is to touch one of the white dots, to zap one with my cursor, to zip the cursor over to one and click but it disappears, and another, and another, and another and another and another, a white patch of them, an island or islands of them form, white clouds of them form, colonies of them form like fungi or corals, constellations, for a second the screen goes white again before returning to the red-black holing and the dots which keep slipping away, the dots I’m missing, I keep missing, I keep failing, I keep missing and missing them, a total fail, and I concentrate as hard as I can though I’m dizzy and want to throw up, my stomach surges but I focus, I go deeper, deeper into my head like I always do when I’m playing, my stomach is turning over but I go into the inside of the inside, the place beneath the place, my fingers on the trackpad are moving so quickly I can’t even feel them anymore, the cursor jets as it nears one dot disappearing and reappearing, glides away from my control near another and another, and then right before one appears somehow the cursor arrow is on it, the cursor is on it, my weapon is on it, my whole body is quaking and frozen at the same time on it, I’m on it and I click and fire and all of a sudden the screen goes white white white white white white white white whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiite: BOOM!
Colin had told Mr Achero on his first impromptu visit almost a month ago that he had no intention of moving into temporary accommodation with his girlfriend so that their flat could be upgraded. He had a still-valid contract. Besides, he had paid a whole two year’s rent in advance – as was the fashion in this bloody country; there were still 15 months to run on it. Still, the man was there again, dust motes spinning in the light above his receding hair.
Mr Achero’s hairline was reminiscent of Angola’s José Eduardo dos Santos, but he was much shorter than the life-president – a lot shabbier looking too. He favoured the custom-tailored outfits known locally as politico: matching trousers and shirt-style jackets under which one wore white vests. Even Colin, after less than three years living in the capital, could tell Mr Achero’s tailor had no panache. The pale blues and cream fabrics Mr Achero went for didn’t help either.
Colin exhaled hard and flexed his fingers, feeling the sinews in his forearm pulse. He didn’t tell Mr Achero that he hadn’t seen his girlfriend for months, that he had no idea where Nadima was. Instead, he offered to consider moving into temporary accommodation if Mr Achero would give him his deposit back during the period required for the upgrade.
Mr Achero’s head jerked suddenly to the left. “What do you mean?”
“You are insulting me, not so?” Mr Achero jabbed a finger in the warm air between them and launched into a rant about Colin’s white colonial attitude, how he had only arrived yesterday and wanted to act like he knew more than those who know what there is to know.
Colin frowned at the man’s choice of words. What was there to know? He shook his head at his own paranoia, making a mental note to lay off the local puff-puff. He knew Mr Achero’s persistence was because of the recent influx of foreign journalists into the capital to cover the political stand-off that had become international headline news. The man obviously hoped that if he upgraded the flat, as he put it, he would be able to double the rent to match what other landlords in the capital were making by renting their properties en masse to the likes of Reuters, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera, Seven Network and CNN. Colin refused to be swindled in that manner. He had been living in Lubyanka too long for that.
Colin had been covering one of his usual London stories for the BBC when he met the woman from the country where they named every city after a place or institution in the former USSR or USA.
There had been a stabbing on the bus route 25; luckily the victim had survived because the bus had been right in front of the Royal London Hospital. The woman was one of the ‘regular commuters’ he tried to interview.
“You won’t get a soundbite from me,” she said.
“Pardon?” Colin lowered his microphone and glanced at the mini-disc recorder.
She shook her head. “Look, I know the drill. You’re a journalist, the victim was a black kid, I’m the only black woman on this bus…”
Colin stared like a stunned puppy as she raised an eyebrow.
“You want me to say something you can use, but it’s not going to happen.”
He regained his composure and shrugged. “Well…”
“I’ll tell you what though,” she continued. “This wouldn’t have happened in my country. Not on a bus, not like this.”
You couldn’t say Colin planned what happened next, but two things helped steer the course of events: one, the woman was beautiful in the National Geographic African way, with buttocks that made him think of peaches; two, Colin was a lifelong Afrophile – he knew where to buy suya, green plantain, goat’s intestines, harissa, egusi and cassava in London. When he started with the BBC his dream was to anchor major new stories from the continent, but he had been at the corporation for years; Harare had come and gone, Mogadishu had come and gone, the interest in Darfur had fizzled to zero, and he was still doing London stories – albeit in what his favourite suya vendor called African London, South London.
So when Nadima said he should visit and he responded, Seriously? and she nodded with that smile, saying big things were about to happen there, it wasn’t long before he was on the phone, making plans.
Mianinho, head psychiatric nurse at the Federal Bureau Infirmary, sees Colin Saville reporting for the BBC on his small white desktop TV and rushes to the recreation room. As he expects, patient 141, Mesi, is gesturing at the big screen, exclaiming, “Yes, I’m a genius,” his greying dreadlocks whipping upwards each time he pumps his fist. Mesi has been like this since he first arrived 11 months ago and insisted on watching the local news.
He had sat, immobile as the pale cream plastic chair he had chosen to sit in, his eyes darting like tadpoles as news came in about the coup d’état.
Mianinho had watched too; images of the president’s car riddled with bullets, masses of soldiers assembled outside the presidential mansion, fires blazing in the centre of Pentagon, the poorest city in the country, and – the next morning – that iconic scene in parliament: James Alhassan, a former aide of the assassinated president, with his right hand raised, asking for calm, claiming he had taken control so that the people could curb the excesses of a series of irresponsible administrations.
Then – a day later – there were clips of heads of foreign missions making measured statements about the coup, asking their citizens to stay calm; the man from London, with his black-rimmed spectacles, sweat patches growing at the anchor points of his sailor-blue shirt, highlighting the two countries’ historically strong relationship; the portly career diplomat from Lisbon insisting through a flurry of hand gestures that his country’s commitment is for the long term; a slow and careful spokesperson for the French embassy stressing that there is no cause for alarm; and the woman from Washington DC, adjusting the belt of her green pencil skirt as she expressed the hope that, “we can build a solid, mutually-beneficial, relationship with this new administration.”
That’s when Mesi shouted, “Of course, you’ll work with us. We have oil, minerals… A lion doesn’t leave fresh meat for the hyena to chop.”
Mianinho went to him, but Mesi insisted he was fine, then, pulling at his long knotted beard at the point where a grey streak divides it unequally, he whispered. “Do you want to see something?”
Mianinho was used to being let into the secrets of the insane. It was part of his job. If they saw him as a willing listener, they trusted him more. He was a calm sort, his demeanour quite the opposite of the wild curls that adorned his head. He followed Mesi into his room, taking care to leave the door open, and sat within leaping distance of the exit. You could never be too careful.
The room was like all the others. Yellow walls, brown doors, a single high window with a brown frame on the side of the room opposite the bed. A single bed of welded metal – no nails or screws – also sprayed brown and bolted to the ground. The FBI had the lowest suicide rate for infirmaries in Africa, probably the world. The edge of the bed is where Mianinho sat as Mesi reached beneath it to retrieve a worn leather case.
He pulled out jaundiced news clippings chronicling a range of coups from South America, through Eastern Europe to Africa. He pointed out the diplomatic statements made after the coups, how measured they were, how quickly countries with significant commercial interests tried to justify the coups, protect their positions.
“Sometimes, they are involved in the coups.” Mesi’s smile, almost invisible beneath the hair that was gradually swallowing his face, peeked briefly as he continued. “The coup d’état itself is a very familiar thing for the West. Nobody panics. It is what happens after…”
Mesi stood up suddenly. He was not a small man.
Mianinho stood up too.
“I have a letter to deliver to the president.” Mesi shook Mianinho’s hand and, leaving the nurse in his room, headed to the courtyard. Within minutes he had left the grounds of the FBI.
Mesi himself did not understand why he fell into monologues. Loneliness, perhaps? He had tried to stop himself many times, yet here he was again, the sun setting on the city of Lubyanka, people staring at his unruly, shoulder-breaching dreadlocks, his torn shirt, the red string he uses for a belt, his tilted head, with orange light filtering through his mad, mad beard, talking to the clouds. Repeating himself.
“The coup itself is nothing new to them. Nothing new. Winston Churchill: ‘These are men who would feed a crocodile hoping that it will eat them last.’ Pinochet? Augusto? They loved him. You know why? Even his evil was predictable, measurable – you could make plans around it. The problem is always men like Mobuto Sese Seko and Manuel Noriega. Men who eat grilled goat one day and demand poached pheasant the next. They say ‘whiskey’ and, by the time they get a glass in their hands, they want brandy. Misfits.
Take this city; I know it like my tongue knows the inside of my teeth: that path to the left runs beside the big gutter where a thief was beaten to death in 1986, straight ahead leads to the chapel with the stained glass windows that filter the sun into rainbows, to my right, through a fork under six gnarled flamboyant trees, you will pass the main library, veer away from the trees and jump over a little stream that trickles over stones and plastic debris, and you’re headed towards the seat of government. We can know every corner, but what’s the use if we can’t control what happens in it? That’s why the West is wrong-footed when coup leaders who seemed like perfect allies, suddenly change their names, wear lion manes…”
Mesi laughed and clutched the letter in his back pocket. “Today I am jumping over the little stream.” He cut a curious figure, bouncing into the heart of the city, tunnelling into a cacophony of car horns, screeching police cars – the post-coup vortex – his sandalled feet heavy with dust, his silhouette darkening in the seeping light.
This time, Mianinho finds Mesi calmer in spite of the gesturing. He slaps the patient on the shoulder and sits beside him.
Mesi retrieves a tiny, folded rectangle of paper from his shirt pocket. “I’m a genius,” he says under his breath, his eyes fixed on the TV screen as he marks a deep dark bullet point on the paper with a blue biro.
Mianinho notes the bags under the eyes of the BBC World presenter that he didn’t see on his small white desktop TV. The man is troubled; he can tell. His tanned skin is blotchy with spots, there is tension at the corners of his mouth. Mianinho wonders if it is the local fame that’s getting to Colin. Everybody knows him, from Lubyanka to Pentagon to the Kremlin market district; he always has the most up-to-date information on the coup, the subsequent stand-off and international sanctions. How fortuitous that he was the only international journalist on hand when the coup happened. His career has been transformed. His twisted grimace, perfect for delivering shocking news, is a television news norm now. Apparently he has a fan club in America; they call him Almásy after the good-looking man in The English Patient, the film based on a book written by a Sri Lankan who lives in Canada that was filmed in Italy and Tunisia with money from America. Still, the man is troubled. Eleven months after the coup d’état he is delivering a special one-year report from the streets of Lubyanka, with charts, diagrams and studio-link discussions with a local expert who has been living and teaching in a place called York in Britain for twenty years, as only the BBC can.
The country is holding up well, Colin reports; there doesn’t appear to be any shortage of food or medicines imminent in spite of the sanctions. Actually, the sanctions – imposed after the new head-of-state, James Alhassan, refused to honour international debt repayments since the lenders were aware that they were lending to irresponsible governments – have led to more support for the new leadership, especially from the developing world. An unforeseen, but with hindsight, an unsurprising trend. Trading continues with their African neighbours and Venezuela has entered an oil development partnership with them. In the last month, Brazilian trade officials concluded a state visit by pledging to set up an automobile factory in the Northwestern Region. The local expert in the London studio, Roland Osikelo, says he’s not surprised by the support within the sub-region, but he is stunned that there isn’t more impact on the citizens. “For instance, we love rice,” he says, “where are they getting rice from? Who is buying our cash crops? They must be rotting on farms?” Colin nods into his camera via satellite, but he doesn’t really have the answers. He hasn’t thought about these small details. He points out that the assassinated president’s administration never took any international loans, but beyond that the world hadn’t taken interest in their local development policies. At present all that remains a mystery because the new government refuses to talk about the past and everyone from the previous government who isn’t part of the new government is missing.
And as the television switches from London studio to Lubyanka streets, Mesi continues to make deep dark bullet points and write, in a light, scratching scrawl that bleeds to the ends of his folded rectangle of cream paper. Mianinho sits beside him, eyes fixed on Colin’s report, occasionally glancing at the illegible rectangle to his left, a frown deepening on his forehead.
Colin had been following the woman for weeks. He first spotted her buying tomatoes at Kremlin Grocery Bazaar, weighing the red circles delicately in her hands as if each one held a story in its invisible red heart. It was mainly the way she stood, head leaning a little to the left as though listening to the argument of a smaller person, a mother, a pocket-sized uncle, a child even. He was certain he remembered her particular incline of neck from a dinner-dance his still-absent girlfriend had taken him to soon after his arrival in Lubyanka. He recalled the hum of air-conditioners fighting the rising heat generated by couples gyrating to Congolese lingala music, a dash of kwaito and sprinklings of hilife relieved occasionally by soothing strains of kora and the odd mournful fado.
It was a journalist’s award do and the president’s wife – whom he had only seen from a distance – was the guest of honour. What he had seen from a distance then, was what he saw at Kremlin Grocery Bazaar. But more than that, the deference the market traders showed to the woman, clad in orange and green tie-dye fabric that covered her feet, gliding from vendor to vendor with a woven cane basket hanging from her left arm, convinced Colin: it was the president’s wife. He had followed her since, hoping she would lead him towards answers for the questions that continued to haunt him. Maybe it would even help convince Nadima to return if she saw his in-depth report, touching on all the aspects of the coup she had accused him of obsessing about. How could she not understand? She was a journalist herself, so she had to know that sometimes you just had a hunch that you had to follow, no matter how many times people told you it was ridiculous.
“Even if it destroys your recently-revived career?” she’d asked, something like mockery firing her glance.
Colin still hadn’t come up with an answer to that question. Looking back, he can see how she must have lost her patience with him and left. He had travelled to all the known prisons, bribed guards, peeked into solitary confinement chambers. He’d visited alleged firing squad sites, scanning the earth for fresh blood – nothing. But if he could find a way to speak to the woman with the inclined head, the woman he was sure was the president’s wife…
She is alone again, a serene movement of blue and white batik, crossing the road near the university hospital, where the best surgeons in the country are trained. The light is in Colin’s eyes and he lifts an arm alive with goosebumps to shade his forehead. He doesn’t see the shadows merging with his in the late afternoon sun, doesn’t hear footsteps, doesn’t get the chance to note the ironic dark-trousers-pale-shirts uniformity of the plain clothes officers as they slip a sack of soft, brushed cotton over his head. The sunlight turns a beautiful, filtered green as he is led away.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
Colin stares at the man in front of him and likes him immediately. He is not in uniform, but his demeanour exudes the authority of formal office. He is smiling. Colin swings his legs down from the cot that dominates his cell and chuckles. In the three hours he’s been incarcerated he has played many scenarios over in his head. The most enduring ones have been to do with the landlord, Mr Achero. He can’t help but wonder at the timing of his arrest – just two days after his confrontation with the landlord, when the man had berated him for acting like he knew more than those who know what there is to know. However, given the kinds of arrests he has been told result from bribery and connections, the lack of aggression in the approach of the officer makes him reconsider. “Curiosity?” he ventures.
The officer laughs heartily. “Funny. Very funny. Try again.”
Colin debates the wisdom of enumerating his concerns about loose ends in the coup d’état and its aftermath.
The main thing that triggered his suspicions was the small, quiet funeral. In all the time he has spent with Africans – both in London and on African soil – he has never known a funeral with as little fanfare. With the ex-president’s life and achievements, he feels there should have been more. Nadima had explained to him that it was because there was no intact body to embalm after the automobile fire, but it was still hard to reconcile with his expectations. Colin shakes his head and addresses the officer. “I really don’t know.”
The officer waves an impatient hand. “It doesn’t matter what we call it; you can’t go around following any woman that you like, OK? You will be released tomorrow.” He nods swiftly and turns to leave.
“Was that the president’s wife?”
Another man walks past the now-open cell door.
The officer stops at the black metal door but doesn’t look back. “When you see the officers who arrested you, you can ask them. All I was told is that you have been following a woman without her consent.” He pauses. “You got a good look at the officers, didn’t you?”
Before Colin can respond, the man is gone, the metal door slotting into place with an authoritative clang. Colin laughs at the absurdity of it all. He wonders if the colour green will tell him what he needs to know of the woman he was following. Will the rice he ate at the chop chop two days ago explain its abundance in a time of trade isolation? What are the chances that Nadima will hear of his arrest and come here to comfort him? Can the softness of cotton against the skull make the mind rest easy? His empty stomach aches; his laughter echoes against the concrete walls. As he lies back it strikes him that the man who walked past the open cell door had the same stubborn set of jaw as the one who stabbed the black kid on the route 25 bus in London. He realises that he hasn’t used the word black in that way in a long time. It sounds like nonsense to him now, having spent so many months, years even, in a place where almost everyone is some shade of black… well, brown.
Mianinho is surprised at how fast Mesi moves, his feet whipping along the ground, his arms clasped behind him. Mianinho stoops to buckle the straps of his sandals, keeping an eye on the older man as he slips through a gap in the hedge in front of the cross-wire fence that surrounds the infirmary. When he reaches the gap himself, Mianinho discovers that the fence has been professionally cut to a height ideal for Mesi, who is walking along an open sewer towards the main road.
Mianinho hasn’t had time to think about why he is following the man outside the FBI. Understandably, he has been troubled by Mesi’s disappearances, but he’d always thought his stories of going out to deliver letters were fantasy; that he was hiding out on the FBI grounds somewhere. Mianinho feels it’s his duty to know where the patients hide, so when he saw Mesi slipping out during siesta, he just grabbed his sandals and tailed him. Luckily, he is on a break. The other staff are there for the patients.
Having seen the cut in the fence, Mianinho begins to reconsider the things Mesi has told him. Maybe the man was actually delivering letters to the president. He dismisses the thought before it can settle, swats it in the way he might swat one of those slow-falling balls of nomadic white ephemera that carry the seeds of silk cotton trees. The insane are very much like zealots; they will go to any lengths to make reality out of what they believe. Who is to say Mesi didn’t cut that fence himself when he discovered he was to be placed in the infirmary? The man is obviously well-read and quite lucid outside of his habitual outbursts.
Ahead of Mianinho, Mesi has crossed the road and is heading straight along the path that leads to the chapel with stained-glass windows and perpetually open doors. His dreadlocks almost touch the ground as he stoops to pick flowers from a patch flourishing in the hollow of a lone baobab tree. He stands and resumes his journey, his arms behind him, his left hand now clutching a palette of flowers. When he reaches the chapel, Mianinho notes how Mesi pauses and looks around before turning to walk through the black and gold gates towards the cross-adorned doors.
Inside, Mesi breaches successive meshes of filtered light at equidistant intervals, mirroring the spacing between the stained-glass windows on either side of the building. He stops at a pew bolted in the dark lull between two streams of sunlight, wipes a section with a splayed palm and sits down. Mianinho, who has never been inside the chapel before, is stunned by the intertwining threads of red, blue, green and gold light. He watches light-anointed dust floating in the air above Mesi’s head; it seems to dance, restless as mosquitoes above a barrel of water at night. He sees the older man place his bounty of flowers in the trough where a hymn book would usually sit and lower his head as if to sleep. That’s when Mianinho notices a woman in the pew in front of Mesi; she does not turn around, but Mianinho feels he can’t go any closer. Picking a seat at the rear of the chapel, he sidesteps to his left, out of the sunlight streaming in from the doorway, transforming from silhouette to shadow. He settles. From his position, it is hard for Mianinho to tell whether there is any communication between Mesi and the woman; she is still, her black-scarfed head steady as a comma in a printed story. Indeed they could both be praying.
Mianinho remembers a conversation he had with Mesi about love:
“Have you known love?” the older man had asked.
“Yes.” Mianinho prepared to be evasive, but Mesi didn’t push for details.
“Good.” He paused. “So, if someone you loved – like your mother – was sick, what would you do to heal them?”
“Anything,” Mianinho said, without thinking.
“Even if you had to lose something of yourself? Not like a kidney; real sacrifice.”
“Even if it were illegal?” Mesi caught and held his eyes.
“It took him a while to respond. “Yes… I think so… Yes.”
“Would you lock her in a dark room, if needed?”
“That’s how I feel. Shakespeare.” He nodded. “Remember, illegal is always more convenient for some than it is for others.”
Mianinho felt after that exchange that perhaps Mesi was trying to explain to him that, although no one had ever come to visit him, he was loved. Now he is uncertain again. Mesi isn’t an easy man to read and Mianinho is never quite sure what to believe; what is fact, what is fantasy, what is genius, what is madness? He notes that neither Mesi nor the woman have moved. Outside, a car horn blares, dragging his musings to the streets, his occupations after work.
For close to two years, starting four months before the coup, he has been going to meetings after work on Wednesdays. He received a leaflet for it while waiting for a bus home. National Rehabilitation Volunteers: be the force for change in our land. He read it and put it in his back pocket, forgot about it. But one of his friends mentioned it over a beer and he decided to go. They had to call a number to be given directions to the meeting and Mianinho was surprised to find that the gathering was in a Government building, had close to 300 attendees and was led by a well-known newsreader. After short introductions, the newsreader stressing the requirement for secrecy, they were told that the first task of the group was to think of local alternatives for all imported goods and report back the following week.
When they arrive the next week, they are split into groups of ten to debrief. One person in each group takes notes. A woman in Mianinho’s group comes with a ladder, made by her own hands. She says she doesn’t understand why the country imports ladders when they have forests and plastics from the oil. A man explains to them a simple method of preserving tomatoes and other vegetables, “so we don’t have to import those canned tomatoes and tomato purées we love so much,” he says, with obvious frustration. At the end of the meeting they are told that their subgroups are now Committees for the Alleviation of the Nation (CAN).
In the third week they are told that many changes will be coming in the country and they are not to panic, no matter how dire the news may sound. Coming from the newsreader it sounded like law. There are murmurs and a few people want to know what kind of changes.
“Big changes,” says the newsreader. “Just trust that they are for the better.” They are now to meet privately in their CAN groups as it will no longer be safe to meet in such large gatherings: phone numbers are exchanged, handshakes and hugs close spaces in the room.
There was a yellow note stuck to the green door of Colin’s flat. Because of his hurry and because he didn’t want to forget to follow through on his great moment of clarity (as he has done a few times under a cloud of puff-puff), he pushed the note into his breast pocket and rushed to the old computer he shared with Nadima. Although it was no longer his regular computer, it held most of the documentary evidence for his humble reports in London. As it hummed to life, hovering in BIOS operations for an eternity, Colin cursed both Intel and IBM and pondered the preponderance of the colour green in African flags – it couldn’t be a metaphor for forests, because Algeria and Libya weren’t exactly blankets of green.
The LCD of the laptop brightened with a whir of miniature cooling fans and Colin logged in. After another finger-tapping period of waiting he opened his main folder and typed in a search for Bus_25. It was the folder in which he had stored his notes for the follow-up report he did on the route 25 incident where he had first met Nadima.
The follow-up had been his last assignment in London before he had handed in his resignation to go freelance. In the end, the attacker had been given 40 hours community service for disruption of the bus service because his victim had chosen not to press charges. The attacker (both remained unnamed because of their ages) had, with his mother, visited the boy he’d stabbed in hospital to apologise. Colin had reported it as an extraordinary act of forgiveness in the interest of community reconciliation, making reference to similar situations in South Africa, in a special segment for BBC London. It had been his first TV report; he’d sweated like a feverish fish in rehab under the lights.
What Colin was looking for was a grainy still of the attacker that he had managed to acquire – through a contact – from the bus company’s CCTV footage. He hadn’t been able to drive the fleeting silhouette of the man who had walked past his Lubyanka cell door from his mind, and he’d suddenly remembered the image.
The folder wasn’t there. Colin banged on the table. He started a new search for *.jpg. After a few restless moments of waiting, he got a list of 412 files. He narrowed the search, by month, to a list of 13 files. Because he didn’t remember how the particular file was named, he flicked through all 13 images. It wasn’t there. He reached into his pocket to call Nadima and ask what had happened to all the images he had saved in those last four weeks in London. He heard rather than felt the yellow note and opened it hopefully. Possibly from Nadima. Perhaps the beginnings of a reconciliation. He spread it out on the keyboard.
It was from his local contact – officially, his research assistant. “Sir, I have been looking for you. There are rumours of two other countries refusing to pay irresponsible debts. Your phone is off.”
Colin pulled the phone from his pocket; it was, indeed, dead. “Shit!” he exclaimed as he grabbed his keys and bolted out of the door.
Mianinho paces up and down the main corridor of the infirmary, a tune on his lips, pausing every few seconds to glance at the door that leads outside. Mesi has been summoned by the centre’s director and Mianinho is concerned that his inability to stop Mesi’s escapes into the city will lead to disciplinary action against him. But there was nothing he could do – he had only found out about the hole in the perimeter fence because he had followed Mesi. He wonders what the director will think if he tells him that he is beginning to wonder if what Mesi says about delivering letters to the president is true. An eccentric man he may be, yes, but Mesi knew a lot about international politics – even if it was historical. He imagines what the president’s response would be if he received a letter from the dreadlocked, bearded patient 141, and laughs. The laughter echoes in the corridor, finds angles along the pale cream walls, separates, bounces and rediscovers bits of itself in the chaos of its own revolution.
It is into this passage of laughter that Mesi appears, startling Mianinho, who quickly recovers to question the patient.
Mesi pulls his beard. “All is well.”
“So why did he send for you?” Mianinho steps in line with the older man, who hasn’t stopped walking and is heading back to his room.
“Nothing. Nothing important.” Mesi waves his left arm as he leans to open his door with his shoulder.
At the door, Mianinho debates whether to leave or ask the question that’s been on his mind. In the end he leaves the door open and sits on the edge of Mesi’s bed.
“What’s your story, Mesi? What did you do before you came here?”
The older man freezes for an instant, then squats and reaches beneath his bed for the same worn leather case he produced the first time Mianinho visited his room. He rises into the last dregs of red-orange light slanting into the room from the high window, opens the case and passes a photograph to Mianinho.
It’s a 9” x 6” glossy print – black and white – but the image is grainy, like newspaper print – it looks like a scan. It’s of an elderly man sitting in a wooden chair with a tapered back. There are carved poles on either side of the tapered, ornate centre, akin to the silhouette of a Mughal temple. The man’s left hand is flat on the table before him, the black strap of his wristwatch shows just beyond the cuff line of his dark suit jacket, which has taken his hunched shape. He wears spectacles and a black hat – a brimless hat. There is a pen caught still in his right hand. Beside him stands another man; balding, bespectacled, in a dark jacket and tie (like secret agents in films, Mianinho thinks), looking down, his arms folded.
“That’s Camdessus.” Mesi points at the man standing over the first one. “IMF.”
Mianinho raises an eyebrow, none the wiser. “And…”
“The man signing is Suharto. Indonesia. It was January 1998.” Mesi chuckles. “To you it seems like an ordinary picture, even though it is clear who is calling the shots. But it’s worse; folding your arms like that in Indonesia is an insult – and there he was, doing it to the president.
Mesi takes the picture back from Mianinho and replaces it. “The IMF demanded severe measures – very severe – to continue funding Indonesia’s development. So severe it led to riots. It brought the country to its knees. They…” Mesi pauses and sits on the bed too, his elbows on his thighs, as if addressing the dust on the floor. His hanging locks form a curtain and his voice emerges from its cover. “Imagine being an economics student from the third world then. Sitting in university lectures in Europe, where macroeconomic theories are expounded, but no one can give sound working examples of. Imagine meeting a friend from home for coffee – South American coffee – and – as a joke – calculating what it would take to repay your country’s IMF and World Bank debt. But the joke is on you – it can’t be repaid without Indonesia happening again.”
Mesi begins to laugh, a disjointed, high-pitched sound – raspy, slapping his thigh, his hair swinging from side to side.
Mianinho glances out of the open door, but Mesi raises his hand. “I’m fine.” He coughs and carries on. “See, for example, since independence, we have been under undemocratic rule 70% of the time, yet 89% of our debt was secured during undemocratic rule. How? Who pays Mobuto’s debts?”
Mesi smiles. “So imagine the two friends I was telling you about realise this. Imagine how they felt. Now imagine that years later they become successful politicians at home. What do you think they would do if they had the opportunity? What would you do?”
Mianinho is unsure what to say. He shrugs.
“Don’t drop your shoulders. Say it. You can at least dream. What would you do?” Spittle gathers at the edges of Mesi’s mouth.
Mianinho stares at the white froth clinging to Mesi’s beard and moustache, then turns to the open door.
Mianinho is walking past the big TV in the recreation room when the de facto head of state, James Alhassan, appears on the screen. It’s another of Colin’s reports. The news ticker, white text in CAPS on BBC-red background, at the bottom of the screen informs the world that two weeks after twenty-eight countries around the world refused to pay ‘irresponsible debts’, the IMF and World Bank has met with heads-of-state to negotiate reasonable debt levels and repayment terms. Both organisations have promised to update their policies on lending conditions to avoid future abuses of presidential office for self-enrichment. James Alhassan is addressing the nation, thanking everyone for their austerity during the period of sanctions.
“We have come through a great battle, an intense period of struggle and we have emerged victorious.” His right hand is hyperactive, occasionally punching the air. The report cuts from his speech to scenes in Chile and Indonesia. Mianinho’s pager buzzes with a message. Patient 141 has visitors in the director’s office.
Mianinho is curious. He would like to follow Mesi when he goes to meet his visitors. He thinks about the conversation he had with the older man about love. He wonders if the visitors are people from his family coming to release him from ‘a dark room’. He remembers the woman in the church, he recalls the threads of red, blue, green and gold light, he can see the flowers in the trough where a hymn book would usually sit, he imagines the fragrance of wild flowers rising where musical notes would hover in the air during mass. When he knocks on Mesi’s door, he hears a mumbled come in.
It is midday, but it is when Mesi’s room is darkest as his high window is west-facing. Still, there is enough light to cast a feint glow in the man’s hair. When Mianinho’s eyes adjust to the dimness, he notices a set of new clothes on the bed. Beside it is a bowl of water. There is a mirror propped up next to the pillow. Looking up he observes the shaving blade Mesi is holding against his neck. Mianinho doesn’t ask where the clothes came from, he doesn’t question the water – or the mirror. He doesn’t move his eyes away from the blade.
Nii Ayikwei Parkes is a writer, editor, socio-cultural commentator and performance poet. He holds an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck (University of London) and is a 2007 recipient of Ghana’s national ACRAG award for poetry and literary advocacy. Nii’s début novel ‘Tail of the Blue Bird’ was shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Prize and his work has been translated into Italian, French, Chinese, Dutch, German and Arabic. His latest books of poetry are the Michael Marks Award-shortlisted pamphlet, ballast: a remix (2009) and The Makings of You (Peepal Tree Press).
Mwanaakiolojia Trom Thunbuld alibonyeza kitufu kwenye skrini na kusitisha faili lililokuwa likicheza. Huku akiwa katika hali ya mshangao, alijilaza kwenye kiti chake. Alielekeza macho yake nje ya dirisha, kwenye ufuko wenye changarawe uliokuwa mbali chini yake. Ufuko huo ulimulikwa kwa mwangaza mweupe uliotokana na mapovu ya mawimbi. Alitazama mawimbi haya, huku akishangaa kama huenda bamvua lingekuepo usiku huo. Kana kwamba kwa kufuata kidokezi chake, mwezi ulitua, huku mwangaza wake—mchanganyiko wa rangi za kijani na buluu— uking’aa baharini. Mandhari haya hayakumtuliza kama ilivyokuwa kawaida, kwani maneno aliyokuwa amesikia yalimsikitisha:
Jina langu ni Hamadziripi, nami ni binadamu wa mwisho. Pombooni wananisaka. Washazipata nyayo zangu, na muda si muda watanipata mimi mwenyewe. Siwezi kuepuka yatakayojiri, ila tu ninaposubiri, pengine ni heri kwangu kutoa taarifa hii kama kumbukumbu ya siku za mwisho za binadamu.
Msikilizaji, hongera! Umefaulu tulikofeli sisi. Huenda waelewa fika kuwa kidole kimoja hakivunji chawa, na kuwa azma za uhai ni za masafa marefu. Binadamu hawakuwa wepesi wa kuelewa haya. Kitambo tugundue changamano na udhaifu wa kanuni zilizohimili uhai wetu, muda ulikuwa ushatupa kisogo.
Trom aliwaza kuhusu vipokezi vilivyoegeshwa katika umbali wa takriban light year 47317. Kila moja ya vipokezi hivyo ilikuwa na vijiwaya vilivyotawanyika angani kama wavu wa kumkamata samaki aliye mkubwa mithili ya sayari. Ilieenezwa kwa umakinifu ili ipate kupokea mawimbi mazee, madhaifu na spesheli ya redio. Vipokezi hivi vyenye miundo tata vilihitaji miaka hamsini ili kuunda, na baada ya kuvieneza angani, vikanyamaza ji kwa muda wa miaka thelathini na mbili zaidi. Hatimaye viliweza kunasa mawimbi ya kwanza yaliyokuwa na nishati za kutosha ili kupenya angahewa ya dunia na kusafiri kwa kasi ya mwanga.
Taarifa zilipoanza kumiminika, wote walishangilia. Mwanzoni, taarifa hizi zilikuwa nadra, kisha zikabubujika kwa vishindo. Trom na kikoa chake basi wakaanza kuchekecha na kutenganisha habari hizo. Kazi hii ilichukua miaka mia mbili kukamilisha, na ilikuwa ndiyo sifa bainifu sana ya maisha ya Trom. Kazi hii sasa ilikuwa karibu kufikia kikomo. Trom alishusha pumzi, huku bado akiwa ameelekeza macho yake nje ya dirisha. Alibonyeza kitufu na kuchezesha nakala.
“Sisi binadamu tulikuwa wapumbavu na wenye majigambo. Tulikuwa wabadhirifu kwa matumizi ya rasilimali zetu. Ole wetu, tulizaliwa watoto wa ukahaba, mateka wa mfumo wa kiuchumi uliokuwa chini ya ukatili wa asilimia moja tu ya binadamu wote. Matokeo ya vitendo vyetu yalipoibuka, ilikuwa dhahiri shahiri kuwa tumekithiri taratibu za kiikolojia—”
Hapa, sauti nyororo ya automata ya Trom ilidokeza, “Taarifa katika mawimbi zitakoma kwenye ukadirio wa 10, 25, 08, 0951. Sehemu inayofuatia imedokezwa.”
Mbalamwezi ilitapakaa ofisini mwa Trom na kwenye uso wake pia, akaonekana kana kwamba yeye alikuwa sanamu ilioundwa kwa shaba. Huku akitazama mistarimistari iliyoashiria mawimbi ya sauti kwenye skrini yake, Trom alisogeza kiti chake nyuma, akaketi sasa akiwa ametazama dirisha. Aliangalia nje.
Chini ya pambapamba za mawingu, Trom aliona mashiti ya kijani na buluu yaliyozingia ardhi. Yalizingira vijilima vyenye vilele vya theluji. Trom aliwahi kuzuru eneo hilo lenye mbuga zilizositawi. Aliwahi kufumbata ardhi hiyo nyeusi na kuogelea kwenye maziwa hayo ya maji baridi.
Polepole, mwezi ulipinduka, ukazindua uso uliojaa kunyanzi. Trom sasa akaweza kuona vilele virefu vya mlima Artobus, mlima ambao asili yake ilikuwa mvua wa vimondo.
Trom alikuwa amechoka. Kwa muda wa miaka mia nne sasa, hakufanya chochote kingine isipokuwa kazi hii: tangu kipindi cha ubunifu hadi unasaji wa mawimbi ya kwanza yaliowastaajabisha na kuwasisimua wote. Yote aliyojua kuhusu enzi za binadamu yalimdhoofisha. Alishangaa kama kusudi la uhai wa binadamu lilikuwa tu kutoa nishati za haidrokaboni zilizokuwa zimenaswa ardhini, kwani muda mfupi baadaye, enzi yao ilikamilika. Alikumbwa na huzuni kwani binadamu walikuwa wametia bidii sana lakini hatimaye wakashindwa kulenga shabaha.
Trom aliingiwa na hamu kubwa ya kuona uso wa huyo binadamu wa mwisho, hivyo basi alitazama skrini na kudokeza, “Tafadhali anzisha kisio cha wajihi wa msemaji kutoka kwa ishara zote tulizowahi kupokea.”
“Makadirio yashaanza kutekelezwa. Wataka nikueleze pindi tu nakala itakapokamilika?”
“Ndio,” Trom alijibu. Hakuwa tayari kuendelea kusikiliza habari zile, hivyo basi akaamua kusubiri nakala hiyo.
Ilikuwa vigumu kwake kuamini kuwa kazi hii sasa ilikuwa ikielekea kimiani. Vipokezi vilikuwa vishanasa mawimbi yote, na sasa vilikuwa vimenyamaa kabisa. Yeye mwenyewe alikuwa karibu amalize kuchekecha mawimbi yote. Bila shaka, bado kulikuwa na kazi ya ziada, lakini ya msingi alikuwa ashakamilisha. Kwa kuwa kazi hii ilikuwa sifa bainifu ya Trom, jina lake halingewahi kusahaulika kwenye historia ya spishi yake.
Trom alijilaza kwenye kiti chake, akaelekeza macho yake nje ya dirisha na kutazama mawimbi, upepo na changarawe nyeusi.
Trom alitazama skrini tena. Alibonyeza kitufu cha nakala na kufumbua picha iliokuwa bila shaka wajihi wa binadamu.
Yu pale Hamadziripi! Macho yake yalikuwa makubwa na yenye rangi ya kahawia. Vigubiko vya macho yake vilikuwa vizito. Nyusi zake zilikuwa kama vichaka usoni mwake, huku pua lake likiwa lenye ncha kali. Kwenye kichwa chake, alifuga nywele timtimu. Uso wake ulikuwa pana na wa umbo wa mraba. Ulikuwa pia umenyauka, na wenye rangi ya kahawia.
“Picha hii ina uhakika gani?”
“Asilimia themanini na nne nukta tano.”
Trom aliutazama uso wa Hamadziripi. “Tafadhali patanisha picha na sauti,” akasema.
Uso wa Hamadziripi ukabadilika, ikawa sasa anatabasamu kidogo. Tabasamu yake ilikuwa dhaifu. Uso wake ulionyesha hisia za hadhari na busara. Trom alibonyeza kitufu kwenye skrini.
Hamadziripi alikuna kidevu chake. Ncha za vidole vyake zilikuwa zenye sagamba. Alitazama chini, huku macho yake yakiwa yamekunjikana kana kwamba alicheshwa na jambo fulani. Muda mfupi baadaye, akainua kichwa chake tena.
“Hapo kale, mja fulani alinieleza kuwa ni watu wanyenyekevu ambao watarithi dunia. Nilikubaliana naye: ndiyo, penye nasibu, wangerithi makaburi yao wenyewe. Mie nishasikia hadithi za masaibu yaliyowapata wanyenyekevu hao. Wao walikuwa kama kurumbiza walionaswa, ila tu tundu walimofungiwa ndani zilikuwa machimbo ya makaa. Mle ndani, idadi ya wafu ilifika mamilioni. Lakini huenda pia uharibifu wa mazingira ulichangia maafa haya yote.
Uso wa Hamadziripi ulibadilika, akaonekana kana kwamba amepoteza hisia. Muda mfupi baadaye, alitikisa kichwa na kuendelea kuzungumza. Alisema, “Si kweli kuwa viumbehai vyote vingine duniani ni hafifu. Kiukweli, viumbehai hivi vina ushindani mkali. Pia, vina uwezo wa kunyakua kwa ukatili nafasi zote ambazo hujitokeza mbele zao. Viumbehai hivi huota kote: si kwenye nyufa za mvuke ndani ya volkano zilizopo chini ya maji, si kwenye ncha za dunia katika vilele vyenye halijoto ya chini kabisa. Nimejifunza kuwa binadamu ndiye kiumbe hafifu wa viumbe na viumbehai vyote.”
Uso wa Hamadziripi ulionyesha uchungu, huku machozi yakijaa machoni mwake. Trom alisikia kishindo kwa umbali.
“Nakala yakoma katika ukadirio wa 20, 45, 15, 0951. Nimeelekeza sehemu ifuatayo. Niambatishe picha kwa sauti?”
Kwenye skrini, uso wa Hamadziripi ulikwama. Ulikuwa wenye huzuni mwingi.
“Ndio,” Trom alijibu. Uso wa Hamadziripi ulimsikitisha, na hakuwa na hamu tena ya kuutazama.
Ghafla, uso wa Hamadziripi ukabadilika tena, ukawa hauonyeshi hisia zozote. Muda mfupi baadaye, akatabasamu, japo macho yake yalionyesha hadhari. Trom alibonyeza kitufu, na faili ikaanza kucheza tena.
“Wacha nikueleze jinsi maafa yetu yalivyotokea. Katika majira ya joto mnamo mwaka wa 2015, hakukuwa na theluji yoyote kule Akitiki, na kiwango cha maji baharini kilikuwa kimepanda kwa sentimita thelathini tangu mwaka wa 2008. Miaka kumi tu baadaye, theluji yote kule Akitiki na Greenland pia ilikuwa ishayeyuka. Mnamo mwaka wa 2008, kabati la barafu la kontinenti kule Greenland lilikuwa na takriban kilomita 3,000,0003 ilhali miaka kumi tu baadaye, wingi wa barafu hiyo ilikuwa ishayeyuka. Kitambo majira ya joto ya mwaka wa 2018 yaishe, kiwango cha maji baharini kilikuwa kimepanda kwa mita ishirini zaidi na kusababisha dhoruba za nishati za ajabu. Dhoruba hizi hazikuwa rahisi kutabiri, na zilizua vurumai kuu mabarani.
Mnamo mwaka wa 2018, ilibainika kuwa ni nyuzi nne nukta moja tu zaidi ya kiwango cha halijoto iliokuwa duniani kabla ya nyakati za ujenzi wa vivanda iliohitajika kufanikisha janga la kimazingira duniani kote. Mnamo mwaka wa 2025, shiti la barafu la Antaktiki magharibi lilitumbukia ndani ya bahari za Ross na Amundsen na kuyeyuka. Mfumo wa kiikolojia basi ukaporomoka, na wengi wakaangamia. Walionusurika kifo nao walichomwa na miale mikali ya jua, kwani tabaka ozoni lilififia kutokana na kiwango kikubwa cha gesi ya methani.
Pombooni ni mojawapo ya viumbe na viumbehai vipya vilivyoibuka kutokana na hali hii mbaya. Au pengine ni sahihi zaidi kusema kuwa pombooni ni mojawapo ya viumbe na viumbehai vilivyojigeuza kutokana na hali hii mbaya. Vizazi saba tu baadaye, Pombooni hawakuwa na budi kukwepa maji mabababuzi ya bahari. Jeni zao ziligeuka, nao wakawa sasa mashujaa walioweza kuhimili ulimwengu huu mpya.
“Sitisha,” alimaka Trom, huku akiwaza kuhusu yale aliyokuwa amesikia. Huenda ikawa pombooni waliibuka kutoka kwa pomboonide ambao kwa upande wao waliibuka kutoka kwa pomboo?
Majibu ya maswali haya bila shaka yangezua utata katika jamii ya pomboo, au kwa jina ya kitaksonomia Tursiops truncatus. Trom alishangaa kama pombooni waliibuka kutoka kwa pomboo jinsi vile binadamu waliibuka kutoka kwa Kenyanthropus platyops. Alishangaa pia kama mababu zake ndio waliokuwa wametekeleza maafa ya binadamu wote walioweza kuponea uharibifu wa mazingira. Wakati huu wote, Trom alidhani kuwa jina la pombooni ambalo Hamadziripi alitaja mara kwa mara katika nakala yake lilikuwa tu ni lakabu mojawapo ya spishi zilizojigeuza ili kuhimili hali mpya ya dunia.
Huku fadhaa ikimpanda, Trom alijitazama kwenye kioo cha dirisha. Jadi yake ya pomboo ilikuwa bayana kwenye ukubwa wa fuvu la kichwa chake, kwenye macho yake mapana na meusi na kwenye mboni zake zilizokuwa na umbo la viatu vya farasi, na pia kwenye pua lake jembamba lililoyeyuka na kuwa tabasamu kwenye mfupa wake wa taya. Trom alipapasa kipulizo chake kwa kutumia vidole vyake vitatu na gumba. Kipulizo hiki chenye manyoyamanyoya kilikuwa nyuma ya kichwa chake. Kiukweli, Trom aliwaza, alifanana kidogo na binadamu. Mlandano huu ulibainika kwenye viungo vyake vinne vilivyokuwa na vidole vinne kila moja, na pia kwenye ngozi yake iliokuwa ngumu na yenye rangi ya kijivu.
Ghafla, Trom akapata wazo fulani. Huenda ikawa ilikuwa ni binadamu waliofanikisha kuponea kwa spishi yake? Binadamu walisababisha janga la kimazingira, na spishi yake Trom iliibuka kutokana na janga hili, kwani iliwabidi kuepa maji na kumiliki ardhi miaka milioni tano iliopita. Bila shaka, matendo ya binadamu yalisababisha kuibuka kwa mababu zake Trom, na hatimaye, mababu zake Trom waliwaangamiza binadamu.
Lakini, Trom aliendelea kuwaza, haya yote hayakumaanisha kuwa binadamu walikuwa waathiriwa hohehahe. Kilichojiri kilikuwa tu swala la mwenye nguvu mpishe, na kama wangepata nafasi, binadamu wangeonyesha ukatili ule ule pia. Hakukuwa na ishara zozote zilizoeleza kuwa binadamu wangeweza kustahimili kuwepo kwa spishi zingine zilizokuwa na busara na taaluma kama zao, kwani spishi hizi zingekuwa washindani wao. Trom hakuwa na shaka kuhusu jambo hili: ukatili wa binadamu haukuwa na kifani. Wakati mwingine, binadamu walipigana na kusababisha maafa wenyewe kwa wenyewe.
Trom aliwaza sasa kuhusu vita baina ya spishi yake na binadamu miaka milioni tano iliopita. Vita hizi ziliashiria mwisho wa binadamu na historia yao fupi, na wakati huo huo, mwanzo wa pomboonide na enzi zao zenye fanaka.
Trom alitazama nje ya dirisha. Angani, mwezi na nyota ziling’aa. Mlima Artobus, au Montes Cacasus kama binadamu walivyouita, uliweza kuonekana. Trom aliwaza kuhusu baadhi ya sifa za binadamu zilizomvutia yeye. Mojawapo ilikuwa kasi ambayo waliweza kustaarabika: kwa muda wa miaka elfu nane tu, binadamu walisonga kutoka kipindi chao cha kwanza cha kustaarabika mpaka kwa safari yao kwenye mwezi, jambo ambalo liliichukuwa spishi yake Trom miaka elfu arobaini kufanikisha. Hatimaye, binadamu waliangamia kwani hawakuwahi kung’amua kuwa mategemeano baina ya viumbehai yalikuwa sharti kwa uhai wote duniani.
“Chezesha,” Trom alisema, huku macho yake yakiwa bado yameelekezwa baharini.
“Siwezi kuamini kuwa makala haya huenda yakawa ishara ya mwisho kuwa binadamu waliwahi kuishi duniani. Mimi mwenyewe sikufikiri kuwa ningekuwa binadamu wa mwisho. Nimetembea pembe zote za dunia nikinuia kuwapata wengine lakini sijafanikiwa. Huenda natapatapa gizani tu, lakini nimeona ni bora kutuma makala haya kule nje kwani pengine siku moja kiumbe fulani kitapata kusikiliza maneno haya. Niwie radhi, usiku huu moyo wangu una uzito. Pia, nimekunywa chupa changu cha mwisho cha wiski ya kimea.
Pokeeni buriani zetu. Nishati zimepungua mno kwenye kituo cha pekee cha setilaiti. Ninasambaza makala haya kwa kwa redio dogo cha HAM kinachopata nguvu kutoka kwa miale ya jua. Kituo cha setilaiti nacho kinapata nguvu zake kutoka kwa tanuri nyuklia lililojengwa zama za kale. Sikudhani kuwa yangehimili yote yaliyofanyika.
“Nina uchovu mwingi. Tangu kuzaliwa kwangu, nimekuwa mpiganaji katika vita. Nimeshuhudia kifo cha wapendwa wangu wote, na hatimaye, kifo cha spishi yangu pia. Pengine wazazi wangu walitabiri haya yote waliponiita mimi Hamadziripi. Jina hii kwa Kishona, lugha yangu ya mama, yamaanisha, “Kila mtu amekwenda wapi?
“Pombooni wananisaka. Hapo awali, niliona nyayo zao. Wana shauku kubwa ya kunipata, na huwa hawasalimu amri mpaka watimize azma yao.
“Maneno ya mwisho ya binadamu yamo mdomoni mwangu. Sijui nikueleze nini. Pengine kuwa wapaswa kutafuta uzuri wa kila kitu? Pengine kuwa wapaswa kuishi kwa upatanifu na mazingira yako? La, naona kuwa cha muhimu kwako kukumbuka ni kuwa—”
“Nakala imekwisha. Naambatanisha faili ATT034, twalijenga tena upya baada ya kukecheka. Nifungue faili?”
“Ndiyo,” Trom alisema.
Mawimbi yalipotea kwenye kimbunga, nayo nakala ikajikwaruzakwaruza halafu ikakwama. Trom alipinduka na kusogeza kichwa chake karibu na skrini. Alisikia sauti ya kuhemahema. Kisha, alisikia sauti za milipuko, naye akagutuka. Ijapokuwa masikio yake yaliwangwa, Trom aliweza kusikia vyema Hamadziripi aliponena, “Basi njooni nyinyi machizi!”
“Faili ATT034 ishafika mwisho. Hakuna taarifa zaidi.”
Trom, ambaye alikuwa katika hali ya mshtuko, alijilaza nyuma kwenye kiti chake. Moyo wake ukigogota kifuani mwake. Mbele yake, picha ya Hamadziripi iliganda kwenye skrini, kana kwamba alikuwa kisukuku kilichohifadhiwa milele kwenye utomvu.
Okwiri Oduor was born in Nairobi, Kenya. Her short story, My Father’s Head, won both the 2013 Short Story Day Africa Feast, Famine and Potluck story contest and the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing. Her work has appeared in various journals and anthologies in Africa, the United Kingdom and America. She has taken up fellowships at the Macdowell Colony in New Hampshire and the OMI Ledig House in New York. She is currently at work on her debut novel.
Ivor W. Hartmann is a Zimbabwean writer, editor, publisher, visual artist, and author of Mr. Goop (Vivlia, 2010). He was nominated for the UMA Award (‘Earth Rise’, 2009), awarded The Golden Baobab Prize (‘Mr. Goop’, 2009), finalist for the Yvonne Vera Award (‘A Mouse Amongst Men’, 2011), and selected for The 20 in Twenty: The Best Short Stories of South Africa’s Democracy (A Mouse Amongst Men, July 2014). His writing has appeared in African Writing Magazine, Wordsetc, Munyori Literary Journal, Something Wicked, The Apex Book of World SF V2, Litro, and other publications. He runs the StoryTime micro-press, publisher of the African Roar annual anthologies and AfroSF, and is on the advisory board of Writers International Network Zimbabwe.
Dr. Douglas Hurst, a short and fully rounded middle-aged white man who wore an explorer’s metal hat that looked like a reversed aluminum cooking pot, brought out his Spartus Foldex V camera and set it on a tripod near his tent. Taking the tripod had been a last minute decision. His boss, back in America, had wondered if he couldn’t get good and interesting photographs that could be sold to National Geographic magazine. His real mission in this tropical hellhole was seeking out new plant and animal species. For most of the summer of 1930, he prowled the length and breadth of the Niger basin and had already filled two of his four notebooks. Thus he reached the shores of Ozigono village, which informers had told him contained people who wore nothing.
In no time, the villagers along the banks of Ozigono River stopped to peer at his strange device. This pleased Dr. Hurst immensely since he had something that interested the villagers. Letting him take pictures would be an easy bargain. In between swatting sand flies and akhunkhun insects, he clicked away at villagers in the nude, especially the young women that made him turgid. His native help, Ahwinahwi, shooed away the more heady youths who came too close to the camera. Ahwinahwi did not mind rough handling some of the giddy village kids.
It was not until a few weeks after he started camping out at the riverbank, having exhausted several rolls of film, that Dr. Hurst, while making notes in his almost exhausted notebooks, saw a strange procession of villagers. Their faces were painted in white chalk and ochre hues, symmetrical lines ran across their black faces and bodies. The parade progressed towards the farthest side of the riverbank where a sturdy man was beating a large drum. The drumming, to Dr. Hurst’s ear, quickly grew intense. He picked out some of the young girls he had previously photographed dancing. Slender black arms flailed here and there, wide waists wiggled unstoppably. Then, before his very eyes, they jumped and hovered in the air, like butterflies. Blinking and breathing furiously, Dr. Hurst toweled his face, grabbed his camera and ran. Almost tripping on a fallen tree branch, he yelled at Ahwinahwi to follow.
Within a few yards from the procession, he slowed down to watch the villagers some more. He scanned every movement of their ritual dance, and yes the girls were hovering in the air, like butterflies. He cocked his ears to take in every syllable of their chanting. Again he wiped his sweltering face with the back of his hand. As the villagers fanned out, he unfolded the ring-neck lens of his camera. He noticed the leader of the group by the river was a boy of about twelve. His head was shaven and he held a large green iguana on his shoulder. After a while, the boy with the iguana started throwing eggs into the river, and at the same time he started levitating off the ground up to an impossible seven feet, with his legs held together! Each egg thrown elicited a loud and thunderous chorus from the villagers. Seven times the boy with the green iguana threw eggs into the river. Dr. Hurst adjusted his viewfinder and while tampering with the aperture to capture the iguana boy’s face, his lens tilted and landed on the boy’s uncovered loins just as he was levitating yet again. Initially, Dr. Hurst did not believe what he saw. He nervously wiped his aging right eye and refocused. Fear crept into his mind, for he knew that one sign of impending malaria in the tropics was delirium. But his vision was quite clear. The Iguana boy leading the procession had three testicles.
Dr. Hurst did a sign of the cross, though he had not attended church in years. He took out a pill bottle from his khaki shorts and emptied two mustard-colored tablets on his pink tongue and swallowed them without water. He gestured Ahwinahwi to come look through the viewfinder. Ahwinahwi looked and saw it too.
– Oghene siomen!
Dr. Hurst shoved Ahwinahwi away from the camera and kept taking pictures until the villagers rested their drum and jumped into the river for a bath an hour later. He too retired back to his tent to send an immediate message.
“I have seen an iguana boy with three testicles, who also levitates effortlessly. Any interest?
He gave the note to Ahwinahwi and sent him off to Vwhari, the nearest port town, which was two days swift canoe rowing away. The message was to his boss at the American Anthropological Museum. Throughout the days his assistant was gone, he hardly slept. Many things ran through his head as he came out every day to seek the Iguana boy amongst the other playing children.
Dr. Hurst’s boss, as he expected, telegrammed back—ordered him to do everything humanly possible to bring the boy with three testicles to America.
Dr. Hurst knew there were many obstacles to accomplishing the order. Perhaps he should have kept his enthusiasm to himself and just shown photographs to his boss upon getting to America? He had not spoken to the villagers since he came to their area three and half months before. How would he now communicate to them that he wanted to take their son to America? Not even Ahwinahwi, who was from another village, spoke the language. Every quarter of a mile here was another culture and another language. Anyways, Dr. Hurst resolved to use sign language with the villagers and if that failed, he would use force.
Taking Ahwinahwi with him, the anthropologist left his tarpaulin tent and walked towards the homes of the villagers one late afternoon. As he approached the family of five, he stopped and laughed warmly but nervously. His neck burned with trepidation, insects mounted and dismounted his bare, hairy arms. He pointed to himself and the iguana boy and made a motion towards the mouth of the river. After several attempts, aided by Ahwinahwi’s broken interpretations, the villagers understood what the anthropologist was alluding to. But they could not communicate to Dr. Hurst that the boy must not leave the village, no matter the circumstance. They tried explaining to Ahwinahwi to interpret to Dr. Hurst that their son was the Ozigono River high priest, chosen by the river goddess, Olokun, through the oracle. Without the boy around to perform the annual ritual of feeding crocodile eggs to the river, the river would dry up. Or the river could refuse to give them fish. The river could even revolt and overflow its banks. All ways, they would perish. But Ahwinahwi kept forcing the anthropologist’s wish on them, ignoring their stories told in hand gestures and body language. All the villagers could do was shake their heads in refusal. After forever, when the sun started going, Dr. Hurst threw up his hands and left for his tent, swearing under his breath. If only these naked idiots had some form of Christianity, he could persuade them that there was no nonsense river goddess, he thought. Ahwinahwi trailed behind him.
As he scribbled in his notebooks, a certain anger overwhelmed him. How many times in my life time will I find a levitating boy with extra…, his thoughts trailed off. Thinking himself a failure, Dr. Hurst got up abruptly and left the tent to pace outside looking at the shimmering Ozigono River that seemed to his eyes like a silk scarf in a mild wind.
Ahwinahwi soon joined him and as usual just watched the white man without saying much.
“It’s time to leave this place, but not without the boy,” said Dr. Hurst almost to himself.
Ahwinahwi nodded and started dismantling the tent and things in the humid twilight.
The two men, shadows in the dark, blended with the night the better to do their deed. As planned with Dr. Hurst, Ahwinahwi eased open the bamboo door and found the boy lying on a straw mat with the large iguana by his side. Ahwinahwi, with his strong muscular arms, grabbed him, placed a heavy palm across his mouth and dragged the protesting boy out. Ahwinahwi clouted the boy over the head and he promptly stopped struggling. Dr. Hurst stumbled behind them.
The iguana walked out of the house too, but it did not follow the two kidnappers. Instead, it slowly made its way towards the dark river.
Dr. Hurst was seasick throughout the journey to America, he had many fainting spells. Whenever he slept, he dreamt about Ozigono village and the wild procession. Once, he dreamt he was making love to a lanky native girl. During orgasmic screams, the girl became a black mamba and he woke up screaming “Ahwinahwi! Ahwinahwi!” Other times, he found himself at the bottom of the Ozigono River, groping a faceless, slippery woman with a head covered in tiny silvery salamanders.
The sea was tumultuous for the anthropologist, but each time he thought of the iguana boy’s three testicles and the fame it will bring him once he got home, Dr. Hurst would nod his head in satisfaction. No pain, no gain. Sometimes he’d fall into deep thoughts of earlier traders of slaves and anthropologists who had found ancient masks in other parts of Africa. He had found a “living mask”, not a dead wooden or leathery one. His fame would have no end to it.
The three-month journey seemed like a day for the Iguana boy as he had become one with the sea. It had not been until they entered the big vessel that he realized the river goddess, Olokun, was traveling with him. So, having a companion, he chatted with her all through their journey. And it was this chatting with an invisible conversant that disturbed his kidnapper the most.
The ship eventually berthed in Baltimore Harbour and Dr. Hurst made his way to Washington, D.C.
Seasoned anthropologists, archeologists, curators and journalists were invited to view the latest discovery from the continent of Africa. Dr. Hurst’s boss had already calculated how much the museum would realize from the live exhibition, not counting the funding he would receive from the government. He had thought of killing the boy and putting him in a specially constructed jar full of formaldehyde, but Dr. Hurst, who still had some strands of humanity left in him, rejected the morbid proposal. Although Dr. Hurst had his own grand plans and screaming headlines running riot in his head, he kept them from his boss. He would definitely publish papers written from his spiral-bound notebooks in the American Anthropological Review. He dreamt of National Geographic magazine accepting the photographs he’d taken of the procession, then he could retire early. He might even go back to Africa and try his hands on coffee farming, like Dr. Wilberforce, his British friend in Kenya.
When everybody was settled in the brightly lit conference room of the museum, Dr. Hurst mounted the iguana boy on a rotating wooden pedestal.
Dr. Hurst started his narrative, of how he was the first to discover the iguana boy’s village of naked natives and how his keen anthropological eyes found the “strange things an ordinary eye couldn’t see.” He did not credit his camera’s viewfinder for his most important discovery. Nor did he mention the name of Ahwinahwi without whom he would have been unable to kidnap his discovery. Ahwinahwi, who, after receiving useless gifts of mirrors and beads, had failed to stop death claiming him, his canoe and his wealth within days of leaving Dr. Hurst at Vwhari, who had perished on his way home.
“These ancient eyes have seen many wonders in my journey through that dark continent. Trees, animals with multiple eyes, plant that can kill instantly – you name it, carnivorous carnivals of cannibals,” he boasted on and on.
Dr. Hurst ignored the impatient murmurs from the audience.
The iguana boy was absorbed by the pointer the mendacious anthropologist used in demonstrating his speech. The crowd started getting restless; the introduction was getting too long. At last, Dr. Hurst used the short end of his pointer to remove the towel from the boy’s waist. As the towel dropped soundlessly to the wooden base of the pedestal, all eyes converged on the boy’s loins. A collective gasp went round the room. The place where Dr. Hurst had seen the iguana boy’s three testicles was as smooth as the small mirror he had offered the iguana boy’s parents.
For the first time since he reached America, the iguana boy spoke—an unfamiliar argot known to neither Dr. Hurst nor his bemused audience. Dr. Hurst heard the sounds of large dirge drums, as if from the ceiling.
“Who steals from a god? Only a mad man steals from a god,” the iguana boy was now saying in English. Then he started gyrating, as if caught in a tornado on the wooden pedestal.
“Who eats a fish without removing the bones? Only a foolish man eats fish with the bones!”
The iguana boy levitated with his head soon touching the high museum ceiling.
“You can use water to rinse your mouth but can you use fire to scratch your itching anus?”
Dr. Hurst opened his mouth as he listened to the suddenly mature voice of the iguana boy and the English pouring out of his mouth. He watched as the boy’s eyes became piecing blinding lights and at that point, the anthropologist’s senses started departing his mind. Or was it vice versa? Had he ever seen three testicles or had it been an apparition? Was he here or was he not? He wiped a trail of sweat from his brows as he started to back away from the chanting discovery.
In a blur, he watched as his audience filed out from the conference room.
Dr. Hurst heard voices that he couldn’t distinguish. Many of the voices sounded like those of the iguana boy’s parents, the villagers of Ozigono, Ahwinahwi, his boss, or maybe of the invited specialists. Then the great anthropologist with the new discovery from the distant continent of Africa fell headlong to the hard concrete floor of the museum.
Victor Ehikhamenor is a writer and artist based in Lagos, Nigeria. He believes the power of history, memory and story is strong enough to build a bridge to the future.