Photo by Mauro Yange c/o nappy.co
About two years ago, I was just like every fourteen-year-old boy, looking forward to a good life in my town, learning new things and having fun, feverishly curious about girls, and their breasts, and the thing between their legs.
I was particularly amused by the ones who wore tight skirts that would mould their skirts to perfect roundness; the ones that would easily make my thing stand. In my secret private moments I would close my eyes, I would lick my lips and moan and groan and imagine my ideal partner.
The week before my fourteenth birthday, I reminded father – as he tied a gourd of palm wine to his bicycle, ready for his usual trip downtown – of the significance of the next Monday. He then told me with a wry smile to wait for the fifteenth. On my fifteenth birthday he would be able to afford a cake and a crate of Coca Cola, then I could invite my friends for a modest party.
If President Ebagum had not been a sit-tight idiot, if the old fool had been very much aware of his incompetence and the impact it was having on the economy of our nation, he would have left office and my father would not be climbing palm trees in the forests like a monkey and using his evenings for palm wine deliveries.
“The president himself was once a teacher,” my father would say. “Now see how the geriatric fool is treating teachers. This is the third month without pay! Only in Africa!”
I had been familiar with the talk of the crippled government of the ruling party for as far back as my earliest awareness of my citizenship.
My father’s house had wires and pipes but they might as well be that plastic flower in a vase covered with dust on the round table in our sitting room.
At night we depended on hurricane lanterns when we could afford kerosene; we stayed in the dark when we couldn’t.
Like most people in the neighbourhood, we had to go to the stream for water. I was the only child, so I had to bear the weight of the water pot all through the twenty-minute’ walk from the stream. Do I need to tell you how many times I had to do that in a day?
My mother died when I was six, after she had panted and groaned for hours to get her baby out. I later learned of the details of that memorable day: a bleeding woman in a poorly equipped state establishment and the impotent efforts of the trained hands on duty. My father had been angry at the perceived indifference of the medical personnel on duty, he did not hide his anger; the hospital staff had been angered by my father’s anger. It’s the government. We can only work with the resources available. Do you think you are the only one?
My mother died in a government-owned hospital with a giant sign board near the fence that read: STATE SPECIALIST HOSPITAL.
That is one thing you have to know about Gulungulun. President Ebagum would sometimes speak his lies with such confidence that would make one wonder if the deceiver was not being sincerely deceived by the numerous hypocrites around him.
He would tell us our universities are the best in Africa, despite the fact that most of the graduates are now in Europe and America, cleaning toilets for a living, sleeping with desperate old white women, sucking the dick of old white men, driving cabs, shining shoes; they are there, selling drugs in poorly-lit backstreets, playing cat and mouse with the police.
His excellency President Ebagum would tell us about the boost the health sector was getting even though most of the drugs in the pseudo-hospitals were fake. And when you see the ultramodern stadium that had been constructed with billions of dollars said to be a loan from the Chinese government, all you would see is a field with grasses that would have been eaten by a herd of cattle, and a dirt track round the field.
There was nothing international about the Gulungulun International Conference Centre. The ceiling fans would be covered with dust and cobwebs, the broken glass windows would remain broken. You would not want to be there during rainy seasons. Don’t let the signboards deceive you with grand declarations like ‘International’, ‘Specialist’, ‘Intercontinental’ and ‘Institute’. Even a barber – a mediocre one that would leave you looking like a squirrel – would name his shop KAY GLOBAL SERVICES.
Things were really messed up in Gulungulun. We got tired of President Ebagum shitty government but at that time you would have to look over your shoulder to let it all out to be sure your words were for an ally – one who is not among the sycophants that had been lucky to get crumbs from the president’s table – when talking about the loquacious old man.
It was said that guns would never work on him; you would be wasting your time if you try an arrow. He would even grow fatter on your poison portion.
We were not very sure about all this – I mean the part about getting fat with your poison. It was simply believable because the man had been in power from his early thirties and would soon be ninety. How else would anyone live for so long with so many desperate enemies on the Dark Continent?
The day I reminded my father of the coming Monday – a few days to my fourteenth birthday – was the last day I saw him alive. That evening, when I heard gunshots as I sat on a stone beside the road – I had been admiring the orange sun at the edge of the sky – and saw thick black smoke rising at a distance. I knew the sounds were from downtown. Some men had been planning an end to President Ebagum’s rule; and it wasn’t a shoddy plan like the dozen failed ones.
A few days later, when no one could be sure who was in power because three different people – including President Ebagum – had been on radio in an effort to tell the people what to do, I was captured when I tried to find my way to the stream for some water to drink. I had locked the door of my father’s house for two days, occasionally looking out through the window, scarred by the sounds of bombs and speeding vehicles and gunshots.
I was dragged to a man I must have seen on TV like a hundred times. He was the head of the presidential guard, the man who would talk about traitors and their conspirators. He would remind the nation of the days of the white men, when we were treated like pests. The wrinkles on his forehead would show as he tells the nation of the horrible consequences of belittling the sacrifices of his Excellency and the war veterans.
General Masango Masango had sometimes televised the shooting of a man who had been caught near the stadium while pencilling a curled-up moustache on the president’s poster.
I could not look at his face.
“What is your name, boy?”
“Bayo.” I said. My heart seemed somewhere near my ears.
“Bayo, we need boys like you to fight for this nation.”
“Will you fight for this nation?”
“Hey, you, give him a gun!” he barked.
The gun was quite heavy, yet I chose not to complain. I was eager to please the men who had been using their guns like an extension of their hands. I really wanted to have sex before I die.
I got a joint too. The man helped me with the lighter before kicking my behind to make me hurry along to join my fellow armed teens. I was soon with the stern-faced crowd in the compound of the school where my father had been a teacher.
You would have thought the gathering had been waiting for me. General Masango Masango climbed the raised platform where the school principal would usually speak like an emperor. I was one of the boys nearest to the platform.
The general was soon talking about the power needed to drive the cockroaches out. We needed to join hands to rid the city of the white man’s puppets who are determined to humiliate our great leader. Ingratitude is like cancer, more like gangrene; ingrates had to be cut off before they infect the whole nation with their satanic ideas. I nodded because I saw people nodding as if a command to nod has been given.
The general wanted us to know of our need for fortification. It is not just about having a gun, he told us. Our enemies have guns too. He wanted to make us like walls; more like rocks. The bullets would hit us and drop like dead flies. He had been fortified; he said this with his palm on his chest. He had seen this thing work. That is why he had gathered us here to fortify us for the fight of our life. The fight for our nation.
I could see the general with the corner of my eyes; I needed relief from the weight of the gun, it may not have been such a burden if I had some food in my stomach. I felt like an extra in a big budget film. My mind dwelled on my father and his bullet-riddled bleeding body and his final fall beside the mango tree near our house.
The general had been fortified. He wanted to fortify me to fight for the nation; the nation where President Ebagum had been living in his private universe as his people lived like pigs, a place where the sweet words of the president had not made anything work or made life easy.
The witchdoctor soon joined the general on the platform. He had a big pot like the one I use on my daily trips to the stream; the difference was the blackness.
I didn’t know what came over me. It could be the curiosity of my impending fortification. Maybe I wanted to test the general’s testimony. It was my first shot. It was the first time I used my new gun. I saw the army chief fall like a log; but I can't really say for sure that it was my gun that brought him down because I fell down immediately, as if swept by a wind.
I heard gunshots almost immediately after mine, even though I did not know who was shooting or why.
The crowd dispersed like sheep without shepherd, so I ran and ran and ran.
Somehow I got to the UN camp. The rest, as they say, is now history.
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