It was a Thursday night. I was here in the bungalow draped loincloth style in one of the white linen wrappers Mama had sewn for me to use as cover-clothes, blankets, which still smelled sweetly of Mika from our love dance of the previous night and of early that morning. Miles Davis was in the background passionately toning his Sketches of Spain. A cup of Kenyan coffee warming my palms, steaming my face, I stood observing the world through a window in my living room. A light breeze cooled the night. Trees whistled softly. Silhouettes of people danced on flapping window curtains of some of the houses on my street. The pregnant moon sat serenely gazing at the world.
I stood observing the night, softly whistling along with Miles, intermittently sipping coffee and thinking about the article I was working on before I came to indulge in reverie by the window. I had taken leave of the article to mull an idea.
As I stood there watching the night an idea suddenly banged at the door of my consciousness. Ah, the divine nature of Thought, I said, and walked back to my study. I sat at my desk, hunched over the article halfway down a page of my notepad, filling the rest of the page, turning it over to the next blank page, writing, fast.
Not long after I had begun writing knocks on my front door interrupted my thought-flow. Mika had left here that afternoon and was back in Freedom House, our home in Boyo Village, for the weekend. I was to join her and Mama there the next afternoon. I expected no one, so the knocking was an annoying distraction. I remained hunched over my desk thinking who it could be, my right hand motionless in space, my pen looking back at me expectantly, the Lambs—a collage of Socrates, Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. I bought in New York City while I was a graduate student there—on the wall in front of me gazing at me, my desktop lamp glowing, the only lighting alive in my study . . . More knocks on the door. I got up and walked to the window where I had earlier stood and spied on the night. Standing outside was a man unfamiliar to me. He was tall and muscular. There was a bulge in the left breast pocket of his tailored suit. On the street behind him waited a sleek black Mercedes-Benz. Two brawny men in suits sat inside the car: one at the steering wheel, the other on the front passenger seat. Their demeanor hinted at their identity. I tiptoed back to my study, switched on my micro-tape recorder, hid it behind some literature on the shelf and turned on the overhead light in my study and in the living room.
I slightly opened the door grabbing its knob and peered outside.
“May I help you?”
The man dug his hand into his breast pocket, and held a government security card in front of my face. “The General sent me to get you, sir,” he said.
“The General sent for me?”
My first thought was to call Mika to let her know.
“I need to make a call.”
“Sorry sir, but I am under order not to let you use the telephone, sir.”
“Is that so?”
Perhaps it was my turn; perhaps another son of Africa was about to be slain; another Lamb sacrificed on the Altar of History that Africa is, I thought.
“I need to dress,” I said, pointing to my wrapper.
“I have to wait with you inside, sir.”
“Okay,” I said, relaxing my grip on the knob, opening the door wider.
“Have a seat.”
“I am okay, sir.”
He stood in the middle of the living room, his head almost touching the ceiling. I went into the bedroom, and left the door slightly opened so I could spy on him as I dressed. He paced about the living room, intermittently slyly observing me as I changed into khaki trousers, wrinkled cotton shirt and Bierkenstock sandals.
“I have to search you, sir . . . just a security measure, sir,” he said when I joined him in the living room. He ran his palms over me—from my shoulders to my wrists, my chest down to my ankles. He found only my bunch of keys and wallet, poked his fingers about in its compartment and handed it to me.
I wondered what to make of the whole affair as we walked toward my front door. The respect with which the man treated me was baffling. Besides his addressing me with the venerable “sir,” he treated me kindly; his companions had remained in the car the whole time; the bungalow was not sacked; the article I was writing was not scrutinized and confiscated; I was allowed to gather the manuscript and my writing materials and put them in my desk drawer. Given that cordial handling, this is nothing to be alarmed about, I assured myself as I locked my door. Besides, “You must conquer fear. Nothing will happen to you that is not fated,” is what Africa had told me in New York City, I reminded myself as we walked to the Mercedes-Benz.
The man opened and held the car door, and ushered me inside with a wave of his hand. “Mind your head, sir,” he cautioned me as I got into the car. He followed, bending low, and sat to the right of me. “Another security measure, sir,” he said and blindfolded me. “Move!” he said to the driver, his voice stern. The sleek car purred, eased into gear and glided into the night, hugging the smooth asphalt. “My apology for the blindfold, sir. I have my orders,” he said. “I understand,” I said. Silence. Then, I heard a ruffling sound, as if he were searching in his pocket, and the press of a button. “We are on our way, sir,” he said. He did not say anything more. I felt him shift in his seat as he made himself comfortable beside me. Silence; except the droning of the air conditioner of the car.
With me securely in its arms, the car hurried into the night. Where to?
I tried to mentally map the direction we were traveling. My effort was frustrated as the car made numerous abrupt stops and turns. I thought of Mika and Mama. What would become of them if my abduction was indeed a master plan of the General’s and I was never seen alive again? I sat still, the car hurrying into the night. Just then, the image of Abdul, my dear friend and publisher, flashed in my mind’s eye, his hand raised, fingers balled into a fist in the unmistakable black power salute like Mandela, like Felá . . . Then, the image of Africa, regal in her flowing, thin shoulder strap white linen dress, as she had appeared to me in New York, smiling, gazing into my eyes, saying “I am here for you, my child. No need to fear.” What more reassurance could I wish for? I straightened my upper body, and sat erect against the car’s plush seat.
After about an hour of driving, the car slowed, and stopped. I heard a buzz, followed by what sounded like a gate opening. The car slowly continued. I realized the car was riding on a graveled path given the grinding noise the tire made, and deduced we had entered through a gate into the compound of a house. The car stopped. “Mind your head, sir,” the man said to me as he held my wrist and led me out of the car, the blindfold still tight on my eyes. A gentle breeze caressed my face. We were walking on the graveled path, trees were chattering. His pace slowed. “Just a moment, sir,” he said. I heard a buzz, and the sound of a door opening. “Mind your head, sir,” he again said as we walked through the door, my wrist in his hand. We kept walking, our footsteps reverberating, the sounds hollow. His steps slowed, his grip on my wrist loosened. He stopped. “Sir, I am going to remove the blindfold,” he said.
I found myself inside a brightly lit winding corridor with cameras built into the wall at short intervals. Walking side by side we navigated the corridor and eventually came to a dead end, and had to make a right turn. We came to a floor-to-ceiling glass-door. “After you, sir,” bowing, he ushered me in with a wave of his hand.
The door automatically slid apart as I approached it. I walked into a spacious windowless air-conditioned room, its thickly padded walls painted white. An incredibly long L shaped beige leather sofa in a section of the room backing a wall. On the wall the sofa backed three big black masks staring at the onlooker. A map of the world atop which sat an eagle dominated the length of the wall on the right side of the sofa. In front of the stately sofa an enormous marble-based reflective dark-glass top rectangular coffee table. On it a gold-colored tin box, a marble ashtray and a black remote control device. Imposing on the floor directly across from the sofa a sleek flat-screen black monitor with a red light at its base, blinking. At a corner of the room a semicircular marble bar, on its counter-top bottles of assorted foreign drinks, nearby a tall stainless steel refrigerator, lustrous.
Seated on the sofa, cigar smoke undulating in front of his intent eyes, hugging his face, was General Jéjélayé, our so called leader, who had dominated our people for such a long time now. The man famous for being a recluse, whose image only few of our people knew, and only through the broadcast of his “weekly communiqués to the Nation” on television, and the photographs of him published in newspapers. He rarely appeared in public and rarely spoke to journalists except during his erratic news conferences, which I had started attending in my capacity as an international affairs journalist covering his office for the Ecumenical Society in New York. His elusiveness and secrecy earned him a nickname: the Sphinx. He had haunted my dreams and my thoughts since I was a youngster. He continued to haunt my dreams and my thoughts when I was in New York doing graduate work in Development Studies, especially during my black hole days there. He continued to haunt me even when I had stopped worrying over the issue of Development, having become disillusioned with academic social sciences, those miserable days of my black hole of an existence, and changed my focus from Development Studies to International Affairs Journalism. I had repeatedly called him a leech, the cunning perpetrator of the miserable existence afflicting the majority of our people. There I was in front of him, meeting him alone for the first time.
The General looked regal in a black agbádá made of silk with intricate gold embroidery at the neck, wrists and ankles.
The man who had brought me to the General stood rigid at my side. The General looked at him and nodded. He turned to face me, searched me as he had in the bungalow. He again found only my keys and wallet, poked his fingers about in its compartments. He looked at the General. The General nodded. He handed me my keys and wallet. “That would be all, Ibrahim,” the General said to him, and pressed some numbers on the remote. I got the numbers except one. The door slid apart. Ibrahim exited the room. The General again pressed some numbers on the remote control, the two halves of the door slid shut. I got all the numbers this time and memorized them. The same combination opens and closes the door. Not terribly smart, I thought.
“Good evening, your Excellency,” I said, bowing.
He surprised me when, smiling, he stood and held out his right hand. I shook it. It was surprisingly soft like that of a toddler.
“Welcome to my refuge. Please, sit down.” He pointed to the sofa as he sat back in its middle. I sat on the tail of the sofa’s L shape, so that we sat facing each other at an angle. Facing us was the sleek monitor, the red light at its base still blinking.
“My apology for the blindfold, the searches . . . the precautions one must make. I am sure you understand.”
I was surprised he apologized to me.
“Of course I understand, your Excellency. One cannot be too careful, especially a man as yourself.”
He gazed at me.
“Do you always speak your mind fearlessly?”
I nodded. “And I know when to be tactful.”
He continued to gaze at me.
“You are a very intelligent man, and observant. I know you have already memorized the combination to my door. But I change it daily.” He smiled, and picked up the tin box from atop the coffee table, the diamond-ring on his finger sparkling. “Cigar?”
“I thank you for offering, but I do not smoke.”
“I smoked cigarettes briefly in New York.”
“How about some cognac and nuts? Nuts are good for you and the cognac will relax you. In fact I can use a drink myself.”
“I prefer red wine, but I will have some cognac with you.”
“So, drink wine. There is plenty.”
“So kind of you, but the cognac is okay.”
“As you wish,” he said, smiling.
Why is he being jovial with me? What is he up to? I thought.
The General pressed some numbers on the remote and turned his gaze at the monitor, the red light at its base now no longer blinking. A man walking toward the door appeared on the monitor. He was dressed in a white shirt and trousers and wore white gloves. He held his right arm bent at the elbow, a white napkin balanced on it. He now waited in front of the door. The General pressed the combination, the door slid open. The man entered, the door slid shut behind him. The General again pressed numbers on the remote, the monitor went blank and its red light resumed blinking. The man stood facing the General his head bent downward. “Bring us some cognac and nuts,” the General said to him. The servant walked to the bar, the napkin still balanced on his arm. He brought back to us a golden tray. On it were three goblets, an unopened bottle of cognac, a crystal bowl and a nylon packet on which was written “Mixed Nuts.” He put the tray down gingerly on the coffee table, his gentle face looking back at him from atop the table’s glass. The General was intently watching him as he rubbed the goblets with the napkin, opened the cognac and poured some into one of the goblets. He emptied the packet of “Mixed Nuts”—a combination of groundnut, cashew and almond—into the crystal bowl, scooped a handful of the nuts and dumped it into his mouth. He chewed gracefully. The General continued watching him. He swallowed the nuts, picked up the goblet with the cognac in it, raised it to his lips and drank elegantly. He gently returned the goblet onto the tray, and stood facing the General. The General stared at him. I watched them both. The General’s fixed look at his servant, the latter’s graceful expression as he stood waiting. The room was completely silent. The silence was deafening, intimidating; all sorts of possibilities lurked in it. After staring at his servant awhile, the General shifted in his seat, a gentle smile softening his face. He nodded to the servant. With a goblet balanced on the palm of his gloved hand, the servant poured and bowing handed the General a drink. He poured another drink and bowing handed it to me. Then, his head somewhat bent he stood facing the General. The General nodded. The servant again bowed and headed for the door. The General pressed the combination, the door opened. The servant disappeared into the corridor. The General again pressed the combination closing the door.
“To one of our foremost thinkers,” the General said, his goblet raised.
“To critical thinking,” I said, raising my goblet.
The cognac—biting the walls of my mouth, my tongue—tasted good. I let it linger in my mouth awhile before swallowing.
“I am glad you could come,” he said.
“Not that I had any choice,” I said.
“I see you are a man of humor.”
“With the miserable condition of the majority of our people, that is very important to a man these days.”
“I will drink to that.” As he touched the goblet to his lips, he stared into my eyes. I felt him responding to me psychically, telling me my remark was not lost on him.
“Your Excellency, with all due respect, may I ask why you had me brought here?”
“Oh, for no reason in particular. Just to chat with you . . . I like you. I appreciate your insistence on asking challenging questions at my news conferences even though you know I will mostly ignore them. It shows your genuine interest in getting at the heart of issues, your genuine interest in the progress of our people . . . You do not flinch in my presence like the others do. It shows you are not afraid of me. I like that. It draws me to you . . . Maybe you can teach me the secret of how you get to be so brave.” He smiled.
“There is no secret. I just do not dwell on my physical safety . . . My friend, Ségun, a writer in New York, my other self, in fact, says that one is going to die anyway, so why fear? He is right, of course. So, I just do what I must do.”
Silent, he puffed on his cigar and stared into space, smoke thinly veiling his face.
“Your Excellency, I am flattered . . .”
“What do you mean?” He interrupted me.
“I suppose not too many people get to sit with your Excellency in this your cozy sanctuary, definitely not a journalist.”
“That is true. But, Òdodo, you are not just any person. You are special, very special.” He squinted as he said that, his bushy, graying eyebrows grazing his eyelashes. “The wonderful work you are doing for our people through your Center . . . selling foodstuff cheaply in needy neighborhoods, offering after-school tutorials to youngsters, feeding them . . . that is very admirable of you, godly work you are doing . . . And your ideas, your personality, your aura draw me to you . . . as if you were a Spirit in human form.”
“Maybe I am.”
He gazed at me.
“Your Excellency, you said the work I am doing with the Center is wonderful.” He nodded. “So, why have you not done likewise? You could have set up your own Center doing humanitarian work, easing the burden of the hard life the majority of our people face daily.”
Silent, he puffed on his cigar and stared into space.
I sat thinking about his comment on my ideas. Nothing about his public life suggested he was intellectually inclined. So, I was surprised he alluded to my ideas. More so because of this: my work outside of journalism is not published here in Gidaland, but in the United States and in Europe. The only work I publish here are articles in the weekly Voice of Hope, in which I muse on the state of the country, share my ideas on “pathways” to the progress of the country, a better life for the majority of our people who continued to be plagued by utter poverty.
“Yes, Òdodo, you definitely are special,” he now said.
“I thank you for your kind comment, your Excellency. And, you mentioned my ideas, what about them?”
“Your essays clearly show your intellect, your heart, your love for our people, your love for Africa . . . And although your articles in that column your write in the Voice of Hope engage issues on a universal level, they are often critical of my government. I should be enraged, but the truth is I am not. In fact, the whole of your work fascinates me . . . I am not going to completely bare my soul to you in one night of conversation, but I will tell you this: I particularly like your essay, The Two Kinds of Persons. There is another one . . .” He squinted as he tried to remember. “Ah, yes, The March of History amid Us.” He raised his goblet to his lips, gulped the cognac remaining in it.
I was surprised he knew of those essays. How did he come upon them? Why did he seek them? What about them interest him? Was he a closet intellectual?
“What is most interesting to me about those essays is that for once an intellectual is truly aiming to surpass the inclination most of you have for blaming, for naming names, for pointing fingers . . . propaganda disguised as serious thought engaging life. But you, you rise above all that. You write on the human condition from a universal perspective. That is the kind of work I would labor to write if I were a man of letters.”
It dawned on me just then that of course the General could secure my writings any time he wanted.
What to make of the General’s familiarity with my work. If he had recently garnered my work to inspect, it must be intentional, perhaps to investigate me to determine if I am a potential threat. Africa’s voice echoed in my head: “You must conquer fear. Nothing will happen to you that is not fated.”
“Let us discuss The Two Kinds of Persons. I like your implicit idea in it on the need for personal transformation. Although it is not easy to achieve in this day and age . . .”
“I really do not like to discuss my work. The essay speaks for itself. I prefer to let my work continue to do that.”
“You are being cautious, eh? I assure you, we are merely having an informal conversation.”
“Can you blame me? We live under a certain atmosphere, a cloud of fear,” I said, staring at him.
“That troubles you, eh? Your questions during my press sessions, and your articles clearly show that you are not pleased with the situation of things here.”
“The majority of our people are fearful to speak of their frustration. They continue to languish in poverty, while you and your comrades are living the good life.” I looked round his posh villa-den, the well-stocked bar. “Of course, it saddens me . . . It should sadden anyone who truly loves our people, who truly wants our progress. I love our people. I want us to do well . . . I want our people to have a say in what affects their lives, their wellbeing . . .”
The General shifted his weight on the sofa, and crossed his legs, a grin on his face.
“That kind of comment is what I like so much about you. Deep, truthful, straightforward . . . I want you to share your opinion with me on what you think is wrong with our country?” He took the tin box from atop the coffee table, took a cigar from it, bit off its tip and lit it, puffing on it repeatedly.
Silent, I smiled, looking him straight in the eye, thinking: you damn well know what is wrong with the country, so stop playing with me.
“This cognac is really good,” I said, lifting the goblet to my lips.
“You are ignoring my question . . . you are being careful,” he said, gazing at me.
Silent, I maintained his gaze.
“Well, I am glad you came. We will do this again some time,” he finally said.
We both stood. He held out his hand; I shook it, firmly.
“Thank you for the drink. Good cognac. And the nuts too.”
He ignored my comment.
“I want this meeting to remain a private matter. Not a word to anyone,” he said, staring into my eyes, tightening his grip of my hand. I imagined him telling me: You know the consequence of going against what I just said. But I did not let him win the psychological battle. As he had tightened his grip of my hand, I also had tightened my grip of his hand, maintaining his gaze, intent on gaining the psychological edge, reminding him that, yes, I am not fearful of him at all. “I like you. But certain things must not be transgressed. I want this meeting to remain a private affair. Not a word to anyone,” he said, confirming my deduction of what he was thinking.
“I am a private man, your Excellency. If it becomes public knowledge, I would not be the guilty man,” I said, maintaining his intent gaze.
“Good. I will send for you again. Maybe soon.”
“If I am in the country, I will be glad to join you, your Excellency.”
“Fair enough.” He released my hand and sat back on the sofa.
The General pressed some numbers on the remote control. Ibrahim, who had picked me up at my bungalow, appeared on the monitor and was soon standing in front of the door. The General pressed the combination. The door slid open. Ibrahim entered. The door slid shut behind him. “Your Excellency,” he said bowing. The General nodded at him.
I left the room with Ibrahim leading the way. The General remained seated on the sofa clutching the remote, puffing on his cigar. The door slid open as we neared it. We walked into the winding corridor. Ibrahim faced me. “Sir, I am going to . . .” I held up my hand palm up, interrupting him. “Do your duty,” I said. He blindfolded me, held my wrist and led me through the corridor. I knew we had gotten to the car when he said, “Mind your head, sir.”
The car hurried into the night.
. . .
“I will remove the blindfold now, sir,” Ibrahim said. I deduced we must be nearing my neighborhood.
Ibrahim got out of the car, walked round its back to my right side passenger door, opened and held the door for me. “Mind your head, sir,” he said as I exited the car.
Windows of the houses on my street were already shut, their curtains drawn. A lone radio from one of the houses was talking to the night.
The ride back took about half hour, half the time it had taken to drive to the General’s villa-den. Ibrahim and his men must have driven a circuitous route when they drove me to the General so as to confuse me. That would explain the abrupt stops and turns the driver made, which had undermined my attempt to mentally map the direction we were traveling.
“Thank you for the kind treatment,” I said to Ibrahim in front of my door, looking him in the eyes.
“That was my order, sir. Good night, sir,” he said and bowed.
I stood watching him walk back to the car, thinking about his response. ‘That was my order, sir’, he had said. Meaning if his order had been to brutalize me, that is exactly what he would have done. Military mentality: follow orders, ask no questions. Meaning one must suspend one’s moral judgment.
Mika had called, each time leaving a message. Her last message betrayed her panic at my “unusual” disappearance: “Angel, where are you? It’s my fifth call. You didn’t mention that you’ll be going out . . . I’m sure you’re fine though . . . Please call me as soon as you get in . . . Bye love.”
I retrieved the voice recorder I had hidden behind some literature on the shelf. It had eavesdropped on my conversation with Ibrahim when he had come to take me to the General. If anything had happened to me Mika would have known to check it.
“Hello,” Mika said answering her cellular phone on its first ring.
“How are . . .”
“Angel! Where were you?” She interrupted me.
“I went out. Work related.”
“Is everything okay?”
“I am an African journalist in Africa. I am sure you understand.”
“Yes, dear, I understand.”
“All is well. Nothing to worry about,” I said not wanting to talk about my meeting with the General. Who knows, perhaps my phone conversations are just then vulnerable.
“I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Yes, tomorrow afternoon.”
“Try not to come too late.”
“You have a surprise for me?”
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
. . .
Unable to readily fall asleep I sprawled on the bed gazing at the ceiling, my mind heavy with thoughts on the meaning of my meeting with the General. What is to come of it? Is he genuinely seeking friendship with me? And why? If he is genuinely seeking my friendship, it may be a divine opportunity for me to affect his thoughts and deeds . . . Could I really effect a transformation in a cunning dictator? . . . I held the bed sheet to my nose. Mika’s sweet smell: succor for my tensed nerves. I imagined her coiled up next to me, her head resting on my heart.
I woke early the next morning, finished the article I was writing when Ibrahim and his men had picked me up and later that afternoon drove home to Freedom House, eager to see Mika, and Mama.
. . .
Mika met me at the front gate. We kissed and held each other tightly. I felt her heart throbbing. She looked inquiringly into my eyes. I smiled. “All is well,” I said, and kissed her. She reached over my shoulder and took my knapsack. Our hands entwined, she led me along the graveled footpath in the middle of our front garden, leading to our front door. Alive, the garden: flowers, flowers and more flowers, colorful, wide eyed, smiling blissfully at the world. Mika kissed me when we got to the front door, held my wrist and led me inside the house, through the hallway, straight to our bedroom.
We have a small collapsible wooden bistro styled table and chairs we use for picnics. Mika had set them in our bedroom. She had adorned the top of the charming table with a white linen tablecloth. In the middle of the table sat a bouquet of flowers, looking lovely in a bronze vase, and a bottle of wine, the wine opener beside it. On the table in front of each of the chairs were an empty glass-jar, an empty plate, a pair of chopsticks, a glass of water and a folded white linen napkin. Nina Simone was in the background singing “Here Comes the Sun.”
I stood admiring everything, smiling.
“This is lovely. Thank you,” I said and kissed her.
She pulled one of the chairs from under the table. “Sit here,” she said patting the cushioned seat. I sat. “Open the wine. I’ll be right back,” she said and rushed out of the room. I brought my nose close to the flowers, savored their sweet smell. Metallic noises now reverberated from the kitchen. I opened the wine and gently sat it back on the table to breathe awhile.
Seated at the table waiting for her to return, I thanked Heaven for sending me to New York City via Amsterdam where I met this woman and now have her as my beloved partner in life.
Mika now re-entered the room carrying one of our glazed ceramic serving pots, gifts from her mother, spaghetti steaming in it. She had cooked the spaghetti directly in homemade spicy tomato sauce, with chunks of fresh tomato, fresh shrimp and cutlets of smoked salmon. This is my favorite of the dishes she makes. She calls it “Spaghetti Africaine.” And likes to say it is her “Africanization of spaghetti.” As she dished the food, the spaghetti squirmed, fighting against her deft swirling motion to move some of it from the pot to the plates. She served it with a side dish of assorted steamed vegetables.
“Where is Mama?”
“She’s visiting Auntie Jùmòké.” Auntie Jùmòké is a widow and Mama’s friend here in the village. “She said she would be back late if she decides to braid her hair. She told me to come get her when you arrive. She was worried when I couldn’t get you on the phone yesterday.”
“No need to disturb them. I will spend time with her when she gets back.”
I poured some wine into our glass-jars.
“To us,” I said raising my jar.
“I celebrate your courage. To your safety, always,” she said raising her jar.
“Thank you, dear.”
We kissed, sipped our wine.
“Let’s eat. I’m starving,” she said. Her expression became serious as she concentrated on the steaming plate of spaghetti in front of her, as if it was all that mattered just then.
“Dear, you did not give me a fork.”
“Try the chopsticks.”
“The stuff is hard to use.”
“Angel, just try. Hold it like this.”
I tried to hold the chopsticks like she just showed me. One of them fell to the floor.
“It’s hopeless. I’ve been teaching you to use chopsticks since New York. You just refuse to try.”
“My ancestors used their fingers, not chopsticks.” I stuck out my tongue at her.
Smiling, she gently slapped me on my head, and left the room.
She returned with and handed me a fork.
“This is very good. This meal is a winner always,” I said between mouthfuls.
“Made just for you, my dear,” she said, slick spaghetti with chunks of tomato clinging to it wound round her chopsticks.
I smiled at her, grateful for her comment.
“The shrimp is so juicy,” I said.
“Mama bought it at the river this morning,” she said.
“You ought to run a café in the city. This your spaghetti Africaine is really delicious. I owe you a good meal too,” I said reaching for my jar of wine.
“You owe me more than a good meal,” she said, smiling.
“Oh, you read my mind. I was just about to add a more interesting suggestion.”
“And what might that be?”
I smiled, filled our jars with the rest of the wine.
We continued eating.
“That is it for me. I’m full . . . not sure I can get up now,” Mika said, rubbing her belly.
“Me too. I have an idea.”
“I clear the table, leave the dishwashing for later, open another bottle of wine and we lie down for a while.”
“That’s a great idea.”
. . .
In bed, Mika’s warm, silken body titillating me, her hands round my neck, mine round her waist . . . Kissing . . . White cotton V neck tee shirt, blue ankle length linen skirt, white cotton-brassiere and underwear . . . White cotton long-sleeved shirt, khaki trousers, white cotton boxer shorts, all yanked off heated bodies, dumped in a heap on the floor. Lips quivering. Deep kisses. Dracula bite on her neck . . . Eager tongue, mine, slithering down her stomach, circuitously caressing her deep seated navel, tracing her velvety pelvic triangle, slithering toward the entrance of her glistening aromatic house of pleasure hidden behind soft, knotty hair . . . Sweet salty taste . . . She murmuring: “Yes, Angel” . . . Tongue slithering upward, nibbling her navel; slithering upward, encountering her nipples . . . She moaning, crawling her fingertips on my chest, my lower back, gently pushing me down on her . . . She gasping, moaning, grunting, babbling, her face contorted with pleasure . . . She now jerking underneath me . . . Me murmuring: “My flower, my flower”; “Yes, Angel. Come Angel,” she saying, kissing my face, my neck, her soft palms caressing my behind . . . Me again murmuring: “My flower . . . my flower . . .” Me grunting . . . now jerking atop her.
. . .
“Angel, make love to me like that again. I want to experience that feeling again,” Mika now said, eyes shining.
I smiled at her, kissed her, tongued her neck.
“Oh God, no. Not now. I’m still giddy from that one,” she said, smiling, snuggled me tighter.
. . .
“Angel, I want to talk about last night,” Mika now said.
I had forgotten about the General. Whenever I am with Mika, wrapped in her warm embrace, her soft palm caressing my neck, arousing in me emotion beyond description, my worries dissipate.
We both sat up in bed. I sat with my legs apart, my back against the wall, my head grazing our windowsill overlooking out garden, Mika’s pet garden really, at the back of the house. Mika sat between my legs, her legs crossed under her, her cheek resting on my chest, her breath warming my heart.
“Sorry I did not tell you where I was when I called,” I said stroking her neck.
“It was clear that you didn’t want to discuss it. I knew you were being cautious.”
“You would not believe what happened.”
“I’ve thought about some possibilities . . . unexpected meeting with your colleagues . . . the General called another impromptu news conference . . . that’s it, isn’t it?” She raised her cheek off my chest, gazed at me.
She replaced her cheek on my chest.
I told her about how Ibrahim and his men showed up at the bungalow, and recounted my conversation with the General, mentioning that before I parted company with him, he warned me not to tell anyone about the meeting.
Silent, she sat curled-up between my legs, caressing my chest.
“So you don’t know the location of the place,” she now said.
“No. But I suspect it is not far from the bungalow given the time it took them to drive me back.”
“It’s a hideout.”
“Oh, definitely. That explains the blindfold.”
“What do you think he’s up to?”
“I am not sure. He did say he would like to see me again, so I think it will become clear eventually.”
“Could it be that he’s trying to see where you are? . . . trying to determine whether you are a threat . . . or maybe . . . no, that can’t be it . . .”
“Be what? What were you going to say?”
“It’s far-fetched, but I was thinking it could be that his intention is good . . . that he truthfully wants to know your thoughts on the situation here . . . although that’s really stretching it.”
“I do not think you are stretching it at all. In fact, my intuition tells me he is undergoing a transformation . . . the guy might be experiencing a change of heart. So, you could be right about his intention being genuine. And I do not mean to be romantic about this, but his name is Jéjélayé. As you know, according to our worldview a name signifies the bearer’s predetermined earthly demeanor. So, for example, my lot in life is to be truth loving, knowledge seeking, and inspire them in others. To do otherwise would mean that I have abandoned my destiny . . . In the case of the General, his name, Jéjélayé, means benign living, signifying that the bearer will be humble and will have an easy-going disposition . . . That is quite contrary to the demeanor of a dictator . . . I do not know what happened to the General, but it is clear that he has been alienated from his destiny.”
“He obviously has strayed from his destiny given his iron-fisted rule all these years. But one should never give up on people like him. Perhaps you’re right about his experiencing a transformation. That’s why I think his intention for wanting to see you privately is probably sincere.”
We both sat lost in thought, Mika’s head resting on my heart, me massaging her scalp, caressing her neck.
We now heard Mama’s light footsteps in the hallway. (The two women closest to me are graceful walkers. They glide over the ground rather than assault it with the soles of their feet. Sharing a house with them, a writer could not be more fortunate.)
“Tòkunbò! Òdodo!” Mama’s sharp voice pierced the air.
“We are in the bedroom,” I hollered.
“I will be in the living room.”
“Okay. We will join you in a minute.”
. . .
Mama was seated on one of the Adirondack styled rattan chairs, her back erect, her thighs hugging each other, her glasses resting on the bridge of her nose. Her newly braided hair complemented her beautiful face. She was eating a guava. I walked to her, touched her feet and kissed her on her forehead. Mika kissed her on her cheeks. I took the guava from her and bit a mouthful. Mika looked at me. I touched the guava to her lips, rubbed it playfully over them. Smiling, she slapped my wrist and bit a chunk of the guava. I handed the rest to Mama. Mika remained standing beside Mama. I sat on the bench chair facing them, my feet resting on the edge of the trunk-coffee table.
“Mama, this is such lovely braiding,” Mika said, kneeling beside Mama, fingering strands of her braided hair. “Very relaxed, not stiff at all . . .” lifting a handful, running it between her fingers, “nicely weaved . . . really lovely, compliments your fine features . . .”
“Thank you, dear. Such kind words,” Mama said, smiling.
The two great loves of my life, cordial; supportive . . . perhaps I should leave them alone awhile.
“I will be in my study,” I said, getting up.
“Stay. I must speak with you about last night. We were worried after Tòkunbò telephoned you several times with no answer. What happened, eh?”
“Mama, you wouldn’t believe it,” Mika said.
“What happened?” Mama faced Mika who was still on her knees beside her.
“Angel . . .” Mika said looking at me.
Mama turned facing me. “Are you okay? Armed robbers attacked you?”
“No. One of these days, maybe,” I said.
“Stop talking like that. Do not call evil on yourself. The wind has ears. Evil spirits are all over the place. I warn you not to speak like that but you do not listen to me,” Mama said.
“Sorry,” I said.
“So what happened? You had an emergency assignment to cover?”
Mika got up from her kneeling position beside Mama, walked over to me and sat next to me as I recounted my meeting and conversation with the General.
“That is very strange,” Mama said.
“Maybe he is experiencing a change of heart,” I said.
Mama stared into space.
“It is possible,” she now said.
“Well, we just have to pray about it, leave it in God’s hands . . . Maybe I should go to the village prophet to do consultation for you.”
“He wants to see me again, so let’s wait to see how it goes.”
“I will pray for you. No danger will befall you.”
“Thank you,” I said, walked to her, touched her feet and kissed her on her forehead. She held my hand, gazed into my eyes.
“I will be okay,” I said.
She smiled, feebly.
. . .
We lived joyfully the rest of the weekend. Mika and me spent time love dancing. (It is utter pleasure, a fulfilling hard work having for a partner an intelligent and beautiful woman blessed with a robust appetite for sex.) Mika worked on her garden, weeding it here and there, watering the flowers and plants. We both read and wrote, and listened to music, particularly some of the “folk” music I started collecting in New York and continued to collect during my travels. At some point in our listening session Mika declared she would like to hear the sacred choral music of Bach. “Which one?” I said. She stared into space awhile. “Choose,” she said. I decided on “Komm heiliger Geist”—Come Holy Spirit, which Mika had introduced me to in New York, in addition to the music of Stravinsky and Manuel de Falla. “Thank you, Angel,” she said, resting her cheek on my heart as we both, in the dead of night, journeyed on the wings of Music into Bach’s musical-religious universe, our bedroom in darkness but for the flickering yellowish light of the palm oil lamp.
. . .
I spent some time with Mama in her room. She told me she was convinced there were things going on in the world human beings were not aware of; that there was an underlying logic to Existence, which is why it was important that people remained with hope; that there was a purpose for each human being to fulfill in this life. She spoke about her father, as she often did. She told me she sometimes felt his presence about her, especially late at night; that he had appeared to her many times after his death, always smiling each time he did so; that she would wake up each time feeling all will be well with us. I told her, as I had done many times, I missed him so much, and regretted I was unable to come home from New York for his funeral, and, recalling his comment to me years ago regarding a certain prophecy about me coming to pass, asked her if he ever said anything to her about me before he died. “Apart from what I told you that just before he passed he told me to tell you goodbye, that your path is clear, that he is proud of you?” I nodded. “No,” she said. “Is there something in particular you think he should have said?” Recalling his request that I should not tell Mama he said that to me, “No. Nothing in particular,” I said. “Well, it is late, my dear. I am feeling sleepy now,” she said. I kissed her on her forehead and touched her feet, and left her to join Mika in bed.
At dawn the next day, a Monday, I returned to the city.