Throughout that week the General was on my mind often. Was he in fact undergoing a transformation? Should I trust and encourage his friendliness with me? So cautious I was, so excited. I found myself wondering how the whole thing was going to unfold. If he was indeed on the verge of a moral transformation, what should my role be in helping him successfully achieve his moral re-birth? And what would this mean for the wellbeing of our people?…
On the night of the Thursday of that week, exactly a week after our first meeting, the General again sent Ibrahim and his men to fetch me.
Ibrahim again blindfolded me, used “sir” to address me, treated me courteously telling me “Mind your head, sir” as I got into the Mercedes-Benz. The driver made numerous abrupt stops and turns as he had done the last time, again frustrating my attempt to mentally map the route we were traveling. They took me to the same location. The General again let us in through the glass-door, which he opened by punching numbers on the remote control. He was seated on the imposing sofa puffing on a cigar, his fleshy arm resting on a shoulder of the sofa. He looked noble in a blue silk agbádá with brown embroidery at the neck, wrists and ankles. Ibrahim searched me in front of him. The only articles he found on me were my wallet and keys. The General promptly dismissed Ibrahim, and let in his white-uniformed servant, the same man as the last time. The servant performed his routine of eating and drinking just like the last time; the General intently watched him the whole time he did so. He then poured the General a drink, bowing as he handed it to him. He poured another drink and bowing handed it to me. Then, he stood in front of the General, his head bent. The General gently waved his hand thereby dismissing him, and pressed some numbers on the remote control. The door slid open. He exited the room. The General again pressed some numbers, the door slid shut behind him. True to his word the General had changed the combination for opening and closing the door.My conversation with the General began with him thanking me for coming. I nodded. And for my
“good” work with the Center. I again nodded. He asked me about the welfare of my family. I told him all is well with them. He asked me if I had kept my word to him regarding not telling anyone about our last meeting and conversation. I nodded, and immediately changed my mind deciding to tell him the truth.
“Actually, I told Mama, and my woman, Mika. I can assure you they will absolutely keep it to themselves,” I said. His middlefinger poking his temple, he gazed at me, smoke swirling above his head.
“I thank you for telling me the truth,” he said. I nodded. He puffed on his cigar.
“You did not want to talk about it the last time, but I am still interested in your opinion on what you think is wrong with our country,” he said.Silent, I looked him in the eyes, drank some cognac.
“I see you do not want to say anything to me . . . You do not trust my intentions . . .” He gazed at me.
“Can you blame me?” I maintained his gaze.
“I understand that you are being cautious. But how can you fail to see that I like you, eh? . . . I bring you here to my hideout . . .”
“Why? Tell me why? Convince me that your intentions are genuine,” I interrupted him.
“You are like a young star. You carry such intense energy inside you.”
“It is a good thing I am not inclined to violence.”He smiled, puffed on his cigar.
“As I was saying before you flared, you yourself know my reputation. You know that I am not usually accessible to people. I cannot trust anyone fully. Not even my friends. They all have daggers, waiting for an opportunity to plunge it in. Even the Brutus among them will be persuaded to go along when the time comes to stab me. And the intellectuals, journalists, all men of letters, you know how I am with them . . .”
“Oh, I know.” I again interrupted him.He ignored my comment.
“But you . . . I am drawn to you . . . your aura, your spirit . . . I appreciate your love for our people, your effort in helping them through the wonderful work you are doing for their wellbeing through the Center . . .”
“But your Excellency, you could have done the same.”
“Yes. But would that really solve our problem?”
“At the very least it would help our people a bit.”He gazed at me awhile, and then puffed on his cigar.
“As I was saying, I appreciate your effort. And your mind . . . your mind fascinates me. Although in your writings you make references to aspects of the life of our people, and the shortcomings of my government, I truly respect that you do not point fingers at anyone. I appreciate that your thought is mostly abstract, fundamental. You seek to get at the heart of the matter, unlike the others who call themselves intellectuals, but who merely babble, point fingers, name names . . .”
“Your Excellency, I am flattered . . .”
“No need to be flattered. I am telling the truth. God is my witness . . . you make me want to do something . . . I know that I have been bad all these years. It has not been easy on my conscience, believe me. And lately, my conscience bothers me for the bad things I have done . . . In my private moments, there is not a time that I do not feel guilt for my conduct all these years . . . so I smoke, puffing non-stop like a chimney . . . I drink . . . I indulge in narcotics, in sex. I am oversexed . . . not good for a man’s inner spirit. I do all these to placate my guilty conscience . . . to forget myself . . . to forget my immoral actions . . . Nowadays, I am tormented with the need to atone, and a voice deep inside me tells me that you are important to my repentance. Since I first set my eyes on you when you were introduced to me at the State House, about to start covering my government, I have had this feeling, a strong feeling of an opportunity, a once in a lifetime opportunity, to make amends for my evil deeds, for my sins. That is why I am so irresistibly drawn to you . . .” He puffed on his cigar, the smoke veiling the remorse dulling his usually bright, bulging eyes.
“You should know what talking to you like this means to me . . .” he continued,
“I am a proud man. But you, you humble me, you make me want to do something . . .” He stared at me.
“I have said enough. If you do not want to talk, that is all right. I have extended my hand in friendship. Take it if you want. But know this,” he waggled his chubby middlefinger at me,
“I will show you that I mean well.”When he commented about his being ‘oversexed’, saying it is not good for a man’s inner spirit, I wanted to interrupt him, to say I disagree, that, perhaps, the opposite is true of sex. I had not done so because I was so enchanted by his earnest revelation of himself. Everything about his demeanor just then impressed me as genuine, and I was becoming convinced of his good intentions. I was touched by what he said about himself, and decided not to question him on what he meant by
“I will show you that I mean well.”Since Africa visited me in New York I had banished my reason to a cage deep inside me and only consulted it from time to time. I never allowed it to fully influence my decisions. Seated there in front of the General, I opened the door to the cage and consulted my reason. Its advice, of course, was:
“Be cautious. You are dealing with a dictator with a long history of brutality, especially to your kind.” My intuition:
“Nothing to fear. Listen to your heart.” At that moment I recalled what Africa had told me:
“You must conquer fear. Nothing will happen to you that is not fated.”
“I thank you for sharing your private thoughts with me, your Excellency. And I believe you mean well with me. I hope you appreciate my being cautious,” I said.He sat gazing at me. I drank some cognac. A smile now began crawling on his face, causing the corners of his mouth to twitch. Still gazing at me he puffed repeatedly on his cigar, smoke swirling round his face, waltzing above his head. I again drank some cognac. As I replaced the goblet onto the coffee table I noticed he was staring into space, his eyes squinted.
“Your Excellency, I am curious . . . do you like Literature?” He shifted on the sofa, uncrossed his legs, folded his exquisite agbádá onto his lap and re-crossed his legs.
“I ask only because of your earlier reference to Julius Caesar.”
“Yes I did mention Brutus . . .” He puffed on his cigar.
“Òdodo, I hope you are not one of those people who think dictators, so called, are ignorant bastards . . . maybe some are, but not this one,” he tapped his chest,
“I am an educated man, relatively anyway . . . not well read like you . . . far from it. We military men, we spend the majority of our training in military academies, but I do read books even though not as much as I should . . . And I am able to remember a great deal. A dictator cannot survive without a good memory. He must spend all his mental energy on remembering. I have what they call a photographic memory. I am able to remember entire conversations, books . . . Yes, I do read books. I have read Julius Caesar . . . The Prince . . . I have The Prince entirely in my head.” He tapped his temple with his fingertip.
“I have learned a great deal from books. Machiavelli speaks directly to me when he says . . .” He squinted as he tried to recollect what it was he wanted to say.
“Ah, yes . . . when he says: ‘He who establishes a dictatorship and does not kill Brutus, or he who founds a republic and does not kill the sons of Brutus, will only reign a short time.’”
“You are familiar with Machiavelli’s other works,” I said, surprised by his reference to The Discourses.
“That is interesting, your Excellency.”
“I know The Discourses very well. I have a copy of it.”
“You do?”Smiling, he nodded.
“Your Excellency, I must admit that I am impressed. One would never have guessed that you read Literature, and keenly,” I, smiling, said, betraying my pleasure. If you seek a passage to my heart, talk about Literature, talk about ideas. The General had my attention.
“I know what you mean . . . a dictator is supposed to be an ignorant fool. That is one of the biggest lies in the world . . . A dictator is a cunning character with an acute insight into human motivation. He understands that the best way to maintain his power is to create an atmosphere of fear that perpetuates his domination because the majority will be afraid to challenge him. The fearless intellectuals and the university students, he must necessarily suppress by brutalizing them. As for himself, the dictator must meticulously cultivate an enigmatic personality . . . people must be kept guessing, perpetually unsure. The dictator also necessarily realizes the need to create a web of patronage to support himself . . . He craves and in fact needs total control because he is constantly tormented by a feeling of insecurity and only his ability to exercise absolute power gives him the feeling of control . . . Besides, the dictator craves absolute power because he is compelled to do so in order to maintain his position. And because he constantly feels that his security is threatened, he resorts to cruelty even against his own morals and better judgment . . . brutality becomes for him a matter of absolute necessity to stay alive, he surrounds himself with an army of security agents . . .” He puffed on his cigar.I was impressed with his insightful analysis of the psyche of a dictator.
“That was quite eloquent, your Excellency . . . of course I do not mean to suggest that you are incapable of such knowledge . . . I do not mean to suggest that you are incapable of such a brilliant analysis of the inner world of a dictator.”
“Ah,” he waved his hand in the air,
“do not worry. I like you. I am sure you know that by now . . . you know, eh?” He smiled.I nodded, smiled also.
“Good. I want to assure you that you are not in danger at all. So, speak with me freely.”
“Thank you, your Excellency.”
“No need to say that, Òdodo . . . no need at all,” he, again smiling, said his laugh-lines boldly stretched round his mouth.
“Well, as I am sure you know, your Excellency, I am in a lifelong devotion to Knowledge. I read a lot. I like to say that I am a career student . . . And there is my profession, which, of course, requires that I read.” He nodded.
“Your Excellency, I am sure you know that Literature can impart knowledge about Existence.”
“That is true, very true indeed, but what if the person does not know exactly which books to read . . .”His comment excited me. And I had an idea then of how things might unfold between us.
“That is not a problem if one has a friend who is relatively well read.”
“True,” he said nodding, and stared into space, intermittently puffing on his cigar.
“I was just now thinking about names, your Excellency.”
“What about them?”
“Given that my name means Truth . . .”
“It also means flower.” He smiled.
“True. But with different accents on the vowels.”
“I should have known you are too bright to let me win that.”We both smiled.
“As I was saying, given that my name means Truth I believe my interest in Literature, my pursuit of Knowledge are inevitable . . . I feel that it is my destiny to lust for Knowledge. I am sure you know the belief of our people that names are suggestive of the destiny of the bearer.”
“I see what you mean.”
“You assured me I could speak freely . . .”
“Yes, please. Speak your mind.” He smiled
“I am sure you have noticed that this is a soundproofed room. That monitor,” he pointed to it on the floor across the room,
“watches the entire building, certain parts of it in particular.”
“I see the blinking light at its base, but it is not on . . .”
“You say that because you do not know its mechanism.” He smiled.
“I see,” I said.
“As I was saying, our conversation is private, completely private.” He gazed at me.
“Òdodo, believe me, this is the most relaxed I have been in a long time. I am used to playing roles but now, this moment,” he jabbed his forefinger downward,
“I am me.” He tapped his chest with his forefinger.
“I am happy to hear that, your Excellency. And as I was saying, I have often thought about the fact that your behavior contradicts your name.”
“I sensed this would be your comment when you mentioned names and destiny . . . I have often thought about the contradiction myself . . . I think about it a lot lately.”
“Your Excellency, you have been doing some soul searching lately?”
“Don’t psychoanalyze me. Not yet, anyway. Why rush, eh?” He smiled.
“We are going to spend a lot more time together. This is just the beginning.”
“I would love that very much, your Excellency. I look forward to it.”
“As I was saying before I turned a psychoanalyst . . .” His soft laughter interrupted me.He puffed on his cigar, tilted his head backwards, exhaled smoke toward the ceiling and rearranged himself on the sofa.
“That was good. I like your sense of humor. I will tell you a secret: I enjoy humor a lot. But in my position, one cannot afford to joke around. It will be interpreted as a sign of being soft. So a man like me must be serious at all times.”
“That line about my psychoanalyzing you too soon clearly shows your sense of humor, your Excellency.”
“It is a rare occasion. I must take full advantage of it.”He puffed some more on his cigar, and stared into space. I drank the rest of my cognac.
“More drink, your Excellency?”
“Yes, thank you.”I poured some more drink into both our goblets.
“You were talking about books,” he said.
“Oh, yes . . . I read on many subjects. I actually read International Relations for my Bachelors. And I am very much interested in political philosophies . . .”
“I know,” he said, smiling.
“I had you investigated.”
“Do not worry. It is a standard thing for me to do.”
“Your Excellency, you should tell me about me. Maybe you know me better than I know myself.” I smiled.
“Well what do you want to know?” He smiled.
“Everything you know about me, your Excellency.”
“Let me put it this way, I knew about you since you started writing in New York. And I know enough about you now to know that you are the right person to reach out to . . . I know that you will be my salvation . . . Please do not ask me for an explanation . . .”
“I am a patient person, your Excellency. I promise not to pester you on anything. Whatever you wish me to know, you will tell me whenever you choose.”
“The intellect you displayed with your response just now, your grace . . . and the help you are giving our people are why I admire you so much.”
“Thank you, your Excellency. You are so kind with your words.”
“I should be thanking you.”I was not sure what to make of his comment that he should be thanking me.
“As I was saying about books, these days I read mostly fiction . . . novels, poems, plays . . . and I read essays, biographies, philosophy . . .”
“I do not read novels or poems at all, never have . . . but I have read Julius Caesar . . . it was given to me by an acquaintance because of what it teaches rulers. She also gave me The Prince. You cannot imagine how important that book has been to me all these years . . . Until recently, I slept with it on my nightstand and I often read passages from it. In fact, I re-read the entire book periodically.”I thought about his comment, thinking fascinating, to say the least, the ironic duality that often characterizes Literature. Machiavelli wrote The Prince as a contribution to knowledge about, you might say, social psychology; here was a dictator using it (rightly?) as a manual for dominating his people.
“Your Excellency, you will enjoy novels, trust me. For one thing, I think it would be good for you to read the works of African novelists. You wanted to know my opinion on the country’s situation . . . I would suggest that you read the work of African novelists which deal with the social reality here in Africa . . . Regarding the miserable existence of the majority of our people, you cannot imagine how progressive are many of the ideas we have right here in Africa . . . ideas that if utilized would transform Africa from Cape Town to Cairo . . . many Africans both here on the continent and overseas have been thinking deeply about the wellbeing of Africa . . .”Silent, he sat gazing at me.
“And beyond issues specific to Africa, our novelists also explore issues concerning human beings generally. As I am sure you know we have some widely recognized writers.”He nodded.
“And there are great European, Asian, North and South American novelists, novelists worthy of the designation, insightful writers, devoted thinkers . . . their work is pregnant with profound ideas.”Silent, he kept gazing at me.
“And there are works of political philosophy I think you should read.”
“Do you always get this excited when you talk about books? You are gesticulating like an impassioned preacher.” He smiled.He was right. I had all along been waving my arm about, jabbing the air with my fingers.
“I am my mother’s child. I got it from her. You should see her discuss with me.”He laughed, puffed on his cigar and stared into space.
“I am thinking . . . I would like to give you an assignment. I want you to prepare for me a list of important books you think I ought to read . . . At this point in my life I am most interested in books on metaphysics, philosophy, political theory, economic theory, sociology, history . . . I hope your list would include books on these. And you just mentioned novels . . . give me some African novels you like . . . I want to know what they are saying about life, about Africa . . . you are right, their words may be good . . . one may find wisdom in it,” he now said.
“I believe you will, your Excellency. That is why I have long thought that our leaders should read the work of our writers and learn from it instead of throwing them in jail or chasing them away to foreign lands. I assure you there is vision in their work, vivid visions of the possibilities for our progress.”
“I want to read them . . . know firsthand what you are saying about them.”
“Your Excellency, I am very happy you want me to do this . . . Literature makes us conscious of the world, and that is very important because an unconscious person might as well be dead.”He nodded, repeatedly.
“As I said earlier, we military men are not well read. We are trained to defend the status quo. To deal with people who are deemed dangerous to it.” He puffed on his cigar, drank and stared into space holding the goblet. He now gazed at me.
“That is hardly the kind of education to impart the consciousness you have in mind . . . I take it you mean awareness of why things are the way they are in the world?”
“I am happy you recognized my use of the word. Thank you.”
“My pleasure, Òdodo, my pleasure.”
“The good thing about a book is that one can pick it up anytime.”
“You are right about that . . . and we could not have been having this conversation at a better time because the time has really come for me to spread Knowledge in a way that men would understand.”I smiled.
“You like what I just said, eh?”
“Yes, very much. And I am curious to know why you want to do this, and why now, your Excellency.”
“In due time, Òdodo . . . in due time you will know.”He sat puffing on his cigar, staring into space. I drank some cognac.
“We have hardly touched the peas. They are from Japan, soy-roasted, very good, goes nicely with the cognac, I must say,” he now said, scooping a handful.
“The mouth has been busy, your Excellency. Such good conversation we are having. And I agree, the peas are tasty,” I scooped a handful, tossed them in my cupped palms,
“although I should point out that we have peanuts right here in Africa.”
“I recognize that idea in some of your articles. You would like to see more commerce among African countries.”
“Not that we should neglect trade with the rest of the world. But, yes, more commerce is needed amongst ourselves,” I said, clarifying my thoughts in the pieces he referred to.
“I understand,” he said.
“More economic intercourse amongst ourselves is one sure way to ensure a better economic future for Africa . . . I hope the day will come when one can take a train from Tangier directly to Lagos, and all the way down to Cape Town . . . Felá said it well in his song, ‘Buy Africa’.”
“You like him, eh?”
“Yes. I appreciate him for his fearless spirit, for his love for Africa, for dedicating his life to the struggle for the progress of our people.”
“God knows that those of us in high places in government all over Africa like him too. But we cannot show that publicly . . . Yes, Felá was a fearless soldier for Freedom . . . there will never be another like him.”
“I second that opinion, your Excellency . . . And speaking of Japanese nuts, maybe we should keep buying them.” I smiled.
“My woman, Mika, she is partly Japanese, partly Ghanaian and Zimbabwean.”He started to smile.
“You probably know that too.”
“Actually, I do.”
“I am not surprised at all.”
“I had to do my homework on you. She is a beautiful woman, I must say. You are a lucky man.”
“Thank you, your Excellency. She is special, really . . . intelligent, has a communal heart . . . a man cannot wish for a better woman.”
“I would like to meet her. And your mother too.”
“It would be my pleasure to introduce you to them, your Excellency.”
“Good, good. So when do you think you will have the books ready?”
“Oh, not long at all. A week . . .”
“Your Excellency, I do not know how to get them to you.”
“I will send my men to get them. My men, they have not been rude to you, they have not disrespected you in any way, eh?”
“Oh, not at all. In fact, Ibrahim has been so courteous.”
“Good, good. Next Thursday, I will send Ibrahim. That will give you a week. I hope that is enough time.”
“That is plenty of time. I will begin assembling them tonight.” I downed the rest of my drink in one gulp.
“Your Excellency, thank you for a very good evening.”
“Thank you for coming,” he said shaking my hand, silky his palm. He held on to my hand, looked into my eyes.
“Thank you for warming up to me,” he said.
“My pleasure, your Excellency. I am glad I did.”The General pressed some numbers on the remote; Ibrahim’s face instantly appeared on the monitor. The General watched him walk toward the door and pressed the combination when he neared it. The door slid open. Ibrahim entered the room.
“Your Excellency,” he said, bowed. The General looked at him. He again bowed. The General smiled at me as I followed Ibrahim into the corridor.. . . I lay on my bed recalling my meeting with the General, excited at the possibility to affect his thoughts, his actions. My excitement was soon lessened by the devilish voice of Reason in my head:
“Be cautious, you are dealing with a cunning dictator.” Intuition counseled:
“Follow your heart. There is nothing to fear.” . . . I lay on the bed recalling my meeting with the General, drowsy.. . . I now notice the pregnant moon gazing at my bedroom through the open window. As I now feel an eerie atmosphere about me, I turn my gaze from the moon. She is seated on the edge of my bed. Tall and long limbed; her jet black skin lustrous. She is wearing the same white linen dress she wore when she appeared to me in New York, bejeweled in gold and diamond. She smells sweet, but for a whiff of oil. She sits gazing at me. I sit up in bed; rest my back against the wall. Smiling, gazing at me, her ethereal looking eyes luminous, she moves closer to me.
“My dear child,” she says in her odd nasal voice, stroking my cheek, her touch feathery, cold,
“I told you I would appear to you when you need me and when I need you. I am here to talk to you about Jéjélayé.”Silent, I sit wondering what it was she wanted to say about the General.
“He is undergoing a change of heart. You, my dear child, have a purpose to fulfill in his life. Open your heart to him. There is nothing to fear, you hear?”I nod.
“You must always remember that nothing will happen to you that is not fated. You understand?”I again nod.
“Good, my dear child, good.”
“When you came to me in New York, I had . . .”
“You had questions you wanted to ask me but you were too awed by me to ask them then.” She interrupts me.
“So you would like to ask them now.”
“Yes. I would like to ask you some questions.”
“I will hear them.”
“In New York, you spoke of your abuse at the hands of both your children and foreigners. I had wanted very much to ask you to explain that to me . . . of course I know generally what you mean, but I want you to tell me precisely . . . I want you to fully explain to me how and why they do it . . . I want to comprehend your agonizing existence, your bondage so that I will know for sure how best to work for your liberation . . .”Silent, she sits gazing at me.
“My dear child, I will answer your question by showing you something. Bring me some cool water in a white bowl,” she now says.
“And a white linen.”
“Water in a white bowl, and white linen,” I mutter to myself getting up from the bed. She remains seated on the edge of the bed.Now back in the room I see Her standing in front of the window smiling at the moon.
“Is this okay?” I say showing her one of my white linen wrappers.
“Yes. It will do,” she says without looking at it.She now turns round, takes the wrapper from me and spreads it on the floor. She sits on one side of it, crosses Her lean long legs under Her and straightens Her back. She takes the bowl of water from me and places it before Her.
“Sit down there.” She points to the spot directly opposite Her. I sit, cross my legs under me; grateful Mika had taught and encouraged me to sit so. She smiles at me. Silent, we remain seated cross legged on the wrapper, the bowl of water between us, a distant look in Her eyes. She now begins to trace the rim of the bowl with the tip of Her left middlefinger, repeatedly. Now presses both Her palms on the sides of the bowl, closes Her eyes, leans forward and hunches over the bowl covering it with Her torso. She remains in the position, mumbling unintelligibly. Her eyes still closed, she now slowly leans back from the bowl, sits erect, opens Her eyes and gazes into mine. Again mumbling unintelligibly, she simultaneously places Her middlefinger on the center of my skull and Her thumb on the center of my forehead, pressing hard on them. Still mumbling, gazing into my eyes, she starts to close and open her eyes repeatedly. I realize she is motioning me to close my eyes. I feel Her feathery hand on my face, on my closed eyes. With the tip of Her thumb and middlefinger she begins to rub both my closed eyes in a circular motion, slowly, repeatedly.
“Look into the bowl,” she now says.
“My dear child, behold the Drama, my earthly reality.” She gently pushes the bowl of water toward me.In the water I see Africa dressed in Her immaculate linen dress and bejeweled as usual. She stands looking at some of Her children tending a herd of muscled cattle whose wide and long horns point to the heavens. Her hands on Her sculptured hip, Her star eyes thinned by a wide smile, Her teeth like sun-bleached elephant tusk, she holds a gold and ivory pipe at the corner of Her mouth, smoke from it curling in front of Her face. . . . In the distance I see a camel, a cloud of dust whirling behind it. The face of its rider is framed by a voluminous beige turban, wearing an ankle length beige caftan, a scimitar hanging from his waist, his blazing eyes focused ahead of him in the direction of Africa. More camels appear behind him. Their riders are dressed as their leader. . . . It is now impossible to see anything because the scene is unfolding at a dizzying, blinding speed. I raise my head from the bowl and stare at Africa seated motionless in front of me, Her legs crossed under Her like the Buddha.
“Look in the bowl,” she says.
“I can no longer see anything. The speed . . .”
“The divine speed. Look now.” She interrupts me.I look in the bowl. The scene has changed. Africa is now seated on a mat woven of bamboo leaves under an ìrókò tree whose protruding veins snaked the ground about it. A dark-skinned and wooly haired boy is fanning Her with a deep-green banana leaf, big like the ear of an adult bull-elephant. Not far from where she sits, the ocean is wailing, roaring, hurling herself at the shore, lashing at the mounds of sand sprawled at her feet restraining her from rushing inland, folding and unfolding her waves of liquid-cloth, frothy in the mouth like a grieving woman whose baby has been yanked from her by an invading army and is left angered and distressed, tying and untying her wrapper, tearing at her hair, lashing at those restraining her from flinging herself on the ground as she grieves for the certain fate she knows is about to befall her child. . . . A ship now appears on the ocean slowly approaching the shore . . . It is again impossible to see anything because the scene is once more unfolding at a blinding speed . . .
“Keep looking,” Africa says before I could raise my head from the bowl; she obviously knows when the scene fast-forwards.The scene has again changed. I see a stage. In the center of it is a huge four-post wooden bed. On the headrest of the bed is engraved:
“There Is No God But Allah, And Mohammed Is His Messenger.”
“Christ is the Light and the Way”
“Modernity: The Age of Reason.”The bed is covered with white linen. On the bed lay naked Africa, voluptuous. Embarrassed to see Her naked I raise my head from the bowl and look at Her.
“Go on. Behold my earthly reality,” she, smiling, says.I look in the bowl. On the bed lay Africa, naked, Her arms and legs tied to the long posts of the bed, Her white linen dress in a heap on the floor. Seated majestically on the floor by the posts of the bed are four lions, glowing sunset their eyes. Atop Africa is an incredibly tall, gorilla-looking being; his deep-seated eyes are intensely dark and luminous; his skin is somewhat scaly. Below Africa is another tall, leopard skinned being; he also has dark and luminous eyes; his head is small relative to his huge body and towering height. Some of the other huge beings on and around the bed look like felines, their slant eyes dark and luminous. Others have wings for hands, their noses shaped like the beak of a bird of prey. Still others look like men and women, some of them half human, half animal. One of them is partly hidden from my view. From the little I see of him, he looks familiar. Red and brown colors, bright and clear, are radiating from the bodies of all the beings. Africa lay on the bed sandwiched between the gorilla being and the leopard being. They both are vigorously penetrating Her, the one Her front, the other Her behind, gyrating recklessly, grunting loudly, specks dotting their foreheads, rivulets of sweat snaking down their spines. Africa is writhing, whimpering. Some of the other beings are stroking Her, finger-penetrating Her in Her ears, Her armpits. Others are stroking Her arm, kissing Her toes, simultaneously finger-penetrating themselves, their eyes molten with pleasure. One of the feline-looking beings stands by a bedpost stroking his humongous, inhuman penis, another is finger-penetrating herself . . . Two beings dressed in white robes sit on the edge of the bed. The face of one of them is cleanly shaved, his straight silvery hair covered with a cap. The head of the other is totally shaved, but wearing a bushy gray sideburn, moustache and long beard. Red and brown colors, bright and clear, are radiating from their bodies. Each of them is holding a Book. They are passionately reading passages from their Book to Africa as she lays on the bed writhing and whimpering between the gorilla being and the leopard being, both of whom continue to vigorously penetrate Her, gyrating recklessly, grunting loudly, more specks dotting their foreheads, coalescing and snaking down their spines. Thick and shiny blackish blood is now seeping from between Africa’s thighs; with the blood is coming out glittering yellow clots and sparkling spectrum-color clots. The beings scramble for the clots. Some persons now appear. Some of them are clutching pens and notepads. Others are carrying guitar, banjo, woodwinds, trumpet, doussn’gouni, maraca, calabash, bells, kora, conga, talking drum, drum, accordion, mbira, zanza, marimba, organ, microphones and many other instruments for making music. Still others are carrying cameras. I am among them; Abdul is beside me. Some more persons appear. One of them, his eyebrows and mustache bushy, is holding a book titled “KING LEOPOLD’S SOLILOQUY.” Another, a book, his photograph on its front cover, titled “WHY WE CAN’T WAIT.” Still others are holding books:
THE SHADOW OF THE SUN
SOMETHING OUT THERE
THINGS FALL APART
TWO THOUSAND SEASONS
AN AFRICAN ELEGY
ASTONISHING THE GODS
THE OPEN SORE OF A CONTINENT
THE BLACK MAN’S BURDEN
LET FREEDOM COME: AFRICA IN MODERN HISTORY
Among them, a charming woman, smiling blissfully, is holding a book titled “THE POISONWOOD BIBLE,” her photograph on its back cover.
“Others are holding LPs, compact discs and videocassettes, their photographs on the covers of some of them:
IMMIGRANT SLAVE SONG
AFRICA TEARS AND LAUGHTER
NORTH AND SOUTH
GODS AND MEN
WHY CAN’T WE LIVE TOGETHER
DOG EAT DOG
SORROW TEARS AND BLOOD
BUSTIN’ OUT OF TRENCHTOWN
THE TRANCE OF SEVEN COLORS
FILLES DE KILIMANJARO
NEW MOON DAUGHTER
BLACK, BROWN AND BEIGE
GET UP STAND UP
LET IT ALL OUT
THULASIZWE/I SHALL BE RELEASED
LIVELY UP YOURSELF
MESSAGE FROM HOME
OUR ROOTS BEGAN IN AFRICA
HEAVEN’S HERE ON EARTH
KIND OF BLUE
IN A SILENT WAY
THE JUNGLE LINE
THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS
YOU’RE UNDER ARREST
ONE LOVE / PEOPLE GET READ
IT’S ABOUT THAT TIME
Many more Africans, and friends of Africa, friends of Man, appear and join us. Heads of shimmering blond hair, heads of flaming red hair and glossy brunette hair stand shoulder to shoulder with heads of lustrous and thick kinky and wooly hair. Radiating from our bodies are blue, yellow, green and white colors, some cloud like, others bright and clear. Here we all are, Jews and Gentiles; sons and daughters of the sky and of the earth; sons and daughters of the gods and of men; sons and daughters of the North and of the South, of the West and of the East. All of us march together toward the bed; many hands raised, fingers balled into fists; hands scribbling into notepads; eyes peering into viewfinders of cameras focused on the bed recording the domination of Africa; mouths open wide over microphones; drums thundering, woodwinds shrieking, mbiras and zanza vibrating, marimba and organs clanking. We are all wailing: THE HUMAN RACE IS NOT YET FREE. THE HUMAN RACE MUST BE FREED! WE WILL NEVER GIVE UP THE STRUGGLE. AND WE WILL OVERCOME. DESTINY IS OUR FRIEND. The lions are snarling at us. The beings now pause from their scrambling for Africa’s gem-clots, covering their humongous ears with the flat of their equally humongous hands. A man now appears. He is hurriedly setting up his camera, now peering into its viewfinder, recording the rape of Africa. On the forehead area of his blue bucket-hat is inscribed NY in yellow letters. On the chest area of his blue tee shirt is inscribed in yellow bold letters: THE END OF THE GAME. The gorilla being and the leopard being resume their position atop and below Africa and continue to penetrate Her. Some of the others also climb into bed and resume their fondling and poking of Her. The others crowd around the bed watching, some of them simultaneously fondling themselves, others finger-penetrating themselves. Felá now puts down his trumpet, someone hands him a saxophone. He moves closer to the bed, stands rigid by the side of the bed, begins to blow, the sound jarring, the nearby lion snarling at him. He begins blowing into an ear of the gorilla being, who, grunting, continues to penetrate Africa, his eyes closed. The gorilla being stops, turns to face Felá, his dark eyes luminous, growls at Felá, kicks him in the groin. Felá staggers, falls, hitting his head on the floor, his saxophone clattering against the floor. Felá grabs his groin, his face contorts with pain. He hoists himself up pressing his palm flat on the floor, picks up his saxophone, walks back to the side of the bed sucking on his lower lip. He resumes blowing into the ear of the gorilla being who is back at his position atop Africa, vigorously humping Her. Felá is blowing louder. All the other music makers are also singing and playing louder, the lions snarling at them, their incisors like miniature elephant tusks. The music makers continue playing, the sound gloriously loud. The rest of us continue wailing: THE HUMAN RACE MUST BE FREED! The person holding the book titled ASTONISHING THE GODS continues to serenely scribble in his notepad as he wails. The beings, again covering their ears with their palms, begin growling, hissing, yapping, red and brown colors radiating from their bodies. . . .I now clearly see the being I saw earlier, who had been partly hidden from my view. Naked, he is walking backwards from the bed, gazing at me as I wail, remorse seated heavily in his big eyes. He continues to back away from the bed, tears snaking down his fleshy cheeks. There is a door behind him, on the ledge of which is seated an eagle. He continues to back away toward the door. . . . I raise my head from the bowl and wipe the tears wriggling down my cheeks with the back of my hand. I again look into the bowl. My reflection in the water stares back at me. I raise my head and stare at Africa seated in front of me.
“That is enough,” she says.
“What do you mean enough? Why did you stop it?”
“Do not raise your voice at me. You hear?”
“Why did you stop it?” I say louder.
“You have seen enough of the Drama. That is all you need to know of my earthly reality.”
“I saw General Jéjélayé. He was walking away from the stage. Let me see the rest . . . please.”
“No. That is all I will show you. The rest of it will be too painful. You are already crying from the little you saw.”
“I want to see.”
“No. That is enough. The rest of it will be too weighty for you. You already have a Cross to bear as it is.”
“Right now, I do not care about that. I want to see the rest of what is happening on the stage. I want to see what Jéjélayé does. I want to see the rest of the Drama. I want to know its conclusion.”
“Believe me, my dear son. What you have seen is enough.Silence. We stare at each other, hard.
“This is crazy. Why are some of your own children among those abusing you?” I now say.
“And Jéjélayé. He is . . .”
“Remember what I told you about his ongoing change of heart?” She interrupts me.I nod.
“There is a purpose for you to fulfill in his life. Both your destinies are linked. He needs you now. And I need you both.”
“But how come our destinies are linked? I am a journalist devoted to Truth. Jéjélayé is a dictator, the most powerful man in the land. He thrives on lies, fear. His wish is law. How can my destiny be linked with that of a man like him?”
“Òdodo, you are thinking with only your head, like a man . . .”
“How else am I supposed to think? Like a god?”She smiles.
“Òdodo, you should not think as mortals do. Mortals have taken to thinking about everything by mostly using their ability to reason. They have become slaves of Reason, crowned It their King, institutionalized It as the Guide of their life, made It their God. Reason now sits on their breasts, informing and influencing their thoughts and deeds . . . You are thinking like a mortal. That is why you made that comment about the difference between you and Jéjélayé. As I told you in New York, Reason is both the Light and Darkness of mortals. You must be wary of Reason. If you must listen to Reason, do so with Heart.”She is contradicting Herself. How could one listen to one’s head through one’s heart?
“You are thinking again. Stop thinking about what I am saying to you. Listen to me with your heart, you hear?”I nod.
“My dear child, what you must know is that everything happens on a psychic level. You must think of things in a spiritual sense. And you can do that. You hear?” she says loudly, her voice nasal.
“You have more power than you realize. As I said earlier, you are a messenger.”
“You must fully explain that.”
“No explanation is needed. In due time, you will come to comprehend all I am saying to you. What you need to know now is that you must stay with Jéjélayé. Your destinies are linked. You need each other. I need you both. That is all I will say on the matter.”Silence.
“What is your secret, anyway?” I now say.
“You just showed me yourself being molested, whimpering in agony. And here you are in front of me seated serenely . . . And why do you physically resemble Mika? Why are you in her body? I have noticed your resemblance to her since New York. Tell me why you are in my woman’s body. You are long limbed just like her . . . your graceful long neck, your narrow eyes, your high cheek bones, your alluring lips, your erect breasts crowned with proud nipples.” She smiled.
“I wish you were not so beautiful, not so rich, not so radiant . . . your sensuousness, your gold earrings, your huge diamond pendant, your sunny existence . . . maybe you should not so gallantly display your wealth . . . maybe then they will leave you alone, have no need to be falling over themselves scrambling for your riches . . . I wish your reality were different . . . that you were some poor, ugly, cold woman . . . that way you would be left alone.”She again smiles. Why does she keep smiling? How baffling.
“How precious you are, Òdodo.” She gazes into my eyes.
“I appreciate your concern about my abuse. But you must not think of me as you do mortals. I am Immortal. A Spirit. I can manifest in mortal form as I am appearing to you now, as I am in that scene, tied to the bed of History in the Drama of Life. In that scene, on that bed, it is my body they are assaulting. It is my flesh they are feasting on. What is most important is my spirit, my essence. It is alive and must remain so . . . Òdodo, my dear child.” She strokes my cheeks.
“Everything happens on a psychic level. You must always remember that. As long as my spirit remains alive, there is hope of my emancipation. If and when they annihilate my spirit, my true essence, that will be the end of me. But fear not, it will never happen. From the beginning, besides their assault of my flesh, they have endeavored to capture my spirit, but they have failed. And they will continue to fail. Although my spirit is not as wholesome as it used to be, it will never die. I will never capitulate. And in time my body will be freed. With loyal children like yourself joining the struggle for my freedom alongside your brothers and sisters, brave on the stage of History, Felá wailing with his saxophone, my wise son of letters recording everything diligently, in coded language for my living and yet unborn visionary children scattered all over the world, who will one day comprehend and come to know what to do to fully liberate me. With a new generation of loyal children like you, and my sympathizers, agents of Freedom all over the world, my spirit will never be annihilated, and in time my body too will be freed. Whatever I have lost will be regained fully. Whatever blemishes are left on my body will be cleansed. My glory will be restored. As I desire it so shall it be! It is with my liberation, with the full restoration of my glory and with the attainment of freedom for all my children all over the world that the Drama of Life will end, and then begin again.” She gazes into my eyes.
“You understand?”I nod.
“What I have just told you goes beyond my own earthly reality. It is everything you need to know about Existence. You understand?”I again nod.
“You must think cosmically.”
“I know. But I must remind you.” She smiles.
“And, as for your woman, you should know that I can take any shape I desire.”
“But why that of Mika?”
“I do not exactly resemble Mika. I am dark. Her hue is that of amber.”
“I appreciate your knack for poetic language, but you know that I am right. Physically you look like Mika. You have the same bone structure and features, so the slight difference in your skin color does not matter.”She smiles.
“I will tell you only this: Mika’s destiny is linked with mine. And my destiny, Mika’s destiny, your destiny and Jéjélayé’s destiny are all interconnected.”
“Please explain that.”
“No explanation is needed. As I have told you, you cannot escape your destiny. Your earthly reality, from the moment you were born, your friends, and all the people you have met, you have met them all for a purpose. You, Mika, Abdul, Jéjélayé, and all those you saw on the stage of History struggling to liberate me, all of you are messengers of Love, Spirits in Flesh. That is why all of you are strong-willed, introspective and hate domination. That is why your innermost desire is to fight for my liberation, for the liberation and wellbeing of all my children all over the world, for the liberation and wellbeing of all dominated people because the struggle is not for only my liberation but for the liberation of all dominated people. Universal Love, Universal Freedom is the goal. It is hard to realize. It is with its realization that the world will end, and then begin again . . . Stay with Jéjélayé, open your heart to him. Your destinies are linked. My destiny is linked to both of yours. I need you both. You hear?”I nod.
“Good, my child, good.” She strokes my cheek.
“Bring me a glass of water. My throat is dry from talking so much.”I go into the kitchen. Now back in the bedroom balancing a jug of cold water in my right palm and a small bowl of fruit-salad I had brought for her in my left. I stand looking at the empty spot where she had sat. I smile, thinking how clever of Her to have sent me to fetch Her some water. She probably knew I would go on bombarding her with questions. . . . The intense gaze of the Sun through my open bedroom window roused me early the next morning. A cup of Kenyan coffee fully woke me. I finished an article I had been working on. Then with Miles in the background playing
“In A Silent Way/It’s About That Time”, I mused on my meetings with the General and wrote some notes in my journal. Later that afternoon I left the bungalow and drove to Freedom House.
I found Mama hunched over her sewing machine, her feet pressing on its pedal, her glasses perched on the bridge of her nose, her eyes focused on the long needle speedily perforating the edge of a linen fabric she was sewing into a dress for one of the villagers, a tape-measure loosely wrapped round her neck, her radio droning in the background.
“Mama.”She moved her chair from the sewing machine and turned to face me.
“Hello, dear. How was your week?” She pushed up her glasses.
“Very good,” I said, kissed her on her forehead and touched her feet.She held my cheeks in her palms, stroked my near cheek. I now stood facing her.
“Did you meet with the General again?”I nodded.
“How did it go?” She gazed at me.I recounted to her the essentials of my second meeting with the General: he wants to be friends with me; we discussed books; I was surprised to learn he liked to read; he wants me to give him books to read. . . .
“Thank God! See, I told you there is nothing to worry about. I have not stopped praying the whole week.” She stared into space.
“Come to think of it, it is strange . . .”
“Him wanting to be your friend, and his fancy for books . . . it is as if we are talking about a different General.”
“Indeed. But, I can assure you that his intentions are true. He is going through a change of heart . . . a spiritual awakening . . . I sense that he is eager to reform his reputation . . .”
“God may have sent you to him . . . to help him save himself . . . all the evil things he has done . . . the corruption, jailing people on false charges . . . killing many of our brave people who dared to speak out against his evil deeds . . . maybe God is giving him a chance through you . . . a chance for him to repent.”
“Maybe. And I assure you that I am not in danger with him.”
“Oh, I know you are not. My milk sustained you. I would feel it in my heart if you were in danger . . .”
“I believe you.”
“I would feel it in my bones . . . my spirit will be disturbed . . .” She stared into space.
“I know you are brave, but I was thinking . . . the General must have really impressed you for you to now be so sure of your safety with him,” she now said.
“He impressed me, yes.”
“What did he say, eh? What did he do?”
“The comments he made, his behavior, he is often deep in thought . . . Besides, I feel it that something is happening to him deep inside . . . And I am glad to discover that he is interested in books . . . I think I may be able to influence his thoughts.”
“I will pray for him. God will enter his heart and give him the strength to change his ways.”
“It is about time he mended his way.”
“Indeed.”I stood lost in thought; Mama stared into space. I now looked at Mama.
“Where is Mika?”
“She is in the garden.”
“I will come spend time with you before I sleep.” I kissed her on her forehead.
“Okay, dear.” She gazed into my eyes.
“You did not tell me everything.” I disengaged from her gaze.
“I wish . . . I just hope . . .”
“I will be okay, Mama. Do not worry.”
“Why is my son the Savior?”
“Maybe I am not.” I smiled.Silent, she continued to gaze at me. She now sighed, pushed up her glasses, turned to face her sewing machine, hunched over it, her feet poised to press on its pedal. I went to my study, tossed my bag on the bench chair and went into the kitchen, poured some cold pineapple juice into a big tumbler and headed for the backyard.
“Angel! When did you arrive?” Mika, smiling. She was kneeling on the ground tilling the soil, a wide-rimmed straw hat shielding her head from the fiery Sun.
“Not long.” I kissed her.
“Here.” I handed her the juice. She drank it in rapid gulps.
“Thank you, dear. I needed that.” She took off her hat and wiped the sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand.
“You had a good week?”
“Yes, great, in fact. How long have you been out here?”
“Two hours. A bit longer, perhaps.”
“That is enough. It is too hot.”
“Just a little bit more cleaning of the bed. I need to get rid of the thorns. They are choking the vegetables.”
“Let me help you some.” I started to roll my shirtsleeve.
“No, no. I’m almost done. I don’t trust you with my vegetables.” She smiled.I had once helped her and had left thorns that would have mushroomed and choked some vegetables if Mika had not timely noticed them.
“I did not study agriculture, you know.”
“I didn’t either.” She stuck out her tongue at me.I mimicked her.
“Well hurry up. I want to spend time with my woman. Besides, I want to tell you about my second meeting with the General.”
“What second meeting? You met him again?”
“Last night. He sent his men to get me.”She gazed at me. I feigned ignorance.
“Don’t play with me. How did it go?”
“Fantastic. You would not believe it.” I smiled.
“Give me a few minutes. I’m almost done.”
“Okay.”. . . Later, stretched out face up on the bench chair in my study, my head resting on a pillow propped on the arm-rest of the chair, the back of Mika’s head resting on my heart, my arms wrapped round her ribcage, lightly touching her breasts, I recounted to her what had transpired on my second visit with the General.
“So, dear, I have a huge responsibility . . . which literature do you think I should give him? . . . In fact, he has made it easy to decide because he said that at this point in his life he is most interested in literature on metaphysics, philosophy, political theory and economic theory . . . and he wants to read African novels.”
“Yes. I convinced him to read them.”She stared into space, her heart beating a steady rhythm on my arm.
“You can’t believe how excited I am. The General is a dormant intellectual! Wonders never cease to happen . . . humans, what a phenomenon, what a curious creature we are . . . Angel, do you know what this means? The heart of Gidaland is clutching at your feet to help him revive his intellectual pulse,” she now said.
“Incredible, I know,” I said.The prime task in my family that weekend was deciding which literature to give the General. Mama volunteered to cook all the meals for the entire weekend.
“My contribution to the General’s salvation,” she said, smiling. That gave Mika and me uninterrupted time to focus on discussing and listing the literature, and assembling the ones available at her library, and mine there in Freedom House. What a heady weekend it was. Seated on the floor in Mika’s study, and later in mine, literature strewn about us as if we were graduate students at work on their dissertations, we debated, sometimes heatedly, the entries we made on the list. The only times we took leave of the task were when we went to the dining room to eat, or when physiology compelled it. Too excited to sleep properly we mostly napped. We did not love dance that weekend. That had never happened before.By late Sunday night, we had agreed on a final list and had assembled the literature available at our libraries there in Freedom House. Early Monday morning I left Freedom House and the tranquility of Boyo village for the bungalow and the hustle and bustle of the city. On the night of the Thursday of that week, exactly a week after my second meeting with the General, Ibrahim and his men visited me. As usual, Ibrahim was cordial.
“Good evening, sir. His Excellency sent me. His Excellency said you would understand, sir.” I nodded at him.
“Just a minute,” I said. Mika had neatly packed in a carton the literature we had taken from our libraries in Freedom House, and I had taken the rest on the list from our libraries here in the bungalow and added them to those in the carton and taped it. There the carton was on the floor of my study waiting patiently to go fulfill its destiny. I dragged it to the living room, my back agonizing. Ibrahim looked at it, and then at me.
“I will be back, sir,” he said. He soon returned with one of his men, the one who usually sat beside the driver when they come to chauffeur me to the General’s secret villa-den. And there they were, two tall and burly men. They bent down, grabbed the carton at its sides and, groaning, hoisted it.
“Good night, sir.”
“Good night, Ibrahim.”