A Short Story
By Ridwan Tijani
The state house is like Olympus, the abode of the gods, a palace in the sky. Thousands of peasants and beggars flock there like a vulture in search of a corpse. They do not care about the rain or that lightning is flashing its white teeth. They flock in search of their rightful national cake. But it’s like a farce isn’t it? A highly incomprehensible lack of love for the citizens which in turn, turns the citizens into fools.
They say: Okay, we know you are suffering but the economy is simply going through a meltdown now.
But who is charge of the economy, the people or you. Who is charge of the treasury, the key to the nation’s wealth, you or us?
Then they say: We’ve been treating you well-we’re not like other military rulers, if you want to grow wings, we shall clip them.
At least, the people of the clipped wings in Libya have food to eat. An angel that is satisfied in hell.
Then they implement these laws, draft a constitution every two weeks.
A constitution or a movie script? What are you really doing? The bold crowd ask.
Are you fascists, communists? What is really your plan for us? At least a plan would be better than this immense state of limbo induced inertia.
Then they scrap the freedom of speech, you must not protest in the village square, a thousand soldiers will be stationed there-you must not protest in the schools either.
Oh, some people say, why did the British go, it’s like we’ve reverted back to the dark ages. Then they remove the Union jack from the museum. They distribute new government books. A new security arm is formed. This group are ruthless individuals who seem to have earmuffs in their ears. The very next week, a Journalist is killed by a letter bomb, then a writer is found at the bottom of his pool, his Nobel Prize medal hanging around his neck. Suicide the NIA rules.
Suicide? The writer who wrote of joy and forever living young? Something is going on and it’s not good. Perhaps we’ve become like the Jews of old, praying for a messiah, says the beggar.
The NIA disbands all news stations, there is only one left, it is controlled by them. Children don’t get to see their superman cartoons anymore. But still the beggar says: What do we do? These people come and go, but we’re like Lazarus doomed to forever lick the breadcrumbs of their table. Only there’s no bosom of Abraham for us.
Me? I will go to the door, look at it gleaming, they must paint it every day surely. I will go to the door, I will be Lazarus and a goat. If I get beat, I will still return, at least then I have something to do. An endgame-survival.
Survival you say?
The prostitute whispers, yours is different from mine, I’m a warped version of Aphrodite, this is what I know how to do, but then business is not booming, these men with their big purses have upgraded. They fly in dancers who can move their waists like rubber, from the Middle East or Asia, I don’t know. I’m no match for these girls, I look like a crown of thorns next to their faces, and I’ve kept away. Sometimes I dream of dancing-moving my waist to the rhythmic beats but then it is only a dream and I wake up in a dark place, sweaty and hungry. If you’re not patriotic in the real sense, at least be for the flesh, but no! They eat foreign foods and drink foreign wine yet they complain about the economy. Oh, I just want to plunge myself into the lagoon but even it has gotten shallow-it is the water that sustains us and now it is running away from us.
I really don’t know about you people, the teacher buts in. I am a teacher, teaching is life. I better the life of children and what do I get? Peanuts. Okay, I accept! Give me my peanuts but no it takes six months to arrive…did you hear about the playwright that has just returned from France, he had written a scathing play against the government, the fool! Returning, attempting to show his braveness, he’s now in prison. They say even China is lobbying for his release. What about the filmmaker? Is he dead? No, in that state though, all his bones were broken. His son has secured his release, they got out of the country fast on a boat. Yeah good right? I think that’s my goal now. I shall buy a boat and escape on it too. Work my way to Paris and sleep with beautiful girls and drink Champagne.
The beggar laughs: Don’t you know that you have to know someone who knows another someone to be able to do that. I can’t sleep at night, it is that time that they choose to pass new laws on the radio, oh what dreadful opening music, what is it, some illiterate reworked version of Bach? This is what happens when even brave and learned men get duped.
No, it’s Nietzsche, the teacher says. The rest nod, even though they don’t know who Nietzsche is. It’s Nietzsche, the teacher begins again. He gets it correctly, he said, not necessity, not desire, no the love of power is the demon of man, let them have everything, health, food, a place to live, entertainment, they are and will remain unhappy and low-spirited for the demon waits and waits and will be satisfied. You see, he gets it right, in the beginning, all we wanted was our independence, they said okay, we will fight for you and we will move over to democracy, then we said, we don’t even want democracy, we just want to be independent, after all, other countries already are, but now they’ve become lustful after power, we can’t even ask for democracy. The prostitute asks him a question. The outside world? Yes they see us, the USA, with its spies and satellites, of course they do, but what else can they do for the African nation? Yes they see Somalia, Gambia and Zaire-all the same. I think they are tired of it too. Insanity is rare, but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.
Nietzsche again? The prostitute says.
Yes, Nietzsche again.
He must be a very smart man.
Yes he was, the teacher says, he has been dead seventy years now.
Yeah? And he’s still remembered, perhaps I want to be like him then, yeah, I want people to remember me like that, the prostitute says.
The beggar smiles stiffly, yes they will, in your line of work, you will be but only for a year, poor men who have no wife will remember you for you had been theirs even if only for a minute and men who have wives will remember you because their wives will thank God and curse you every day.
Even that is better than an anonymous life, the teacher says, and perhaps you might not go to heaven, what do I mean? Nietzsche himself says ‘in heaven, all the interesting people are missing.
The prostitute laughs, really? Jesus himself might be missing then, Muhammad, Satan-all the most interesting people in the world are almost always bad. Anyways I’m bored by all this serious talk. I’m hungry, I want to get into the celebratory feast.
The beggar says, perhaps if you were five years younger and had a shapely booty, you could but I can, I’ve got nothing to lose, my skin has become numb by their beatings, I know people might not like me saying this but I wonder what could have happened if the rebels had won the war, democracy would have been much better, even a weak one at that. But still they’re cowards all of them…
The teacher cuts in: The ringleaders of the failed revolution eh? Is that what you meant? They’re all in exile-some in London and most in France-drinking champagne but seriously why do they all end up in France? Is it a bevy of failed provocateurs? Or really just a nice place to relax after a bad break, I don’t like seeing the news about them, it’s like I know I will never buy the boat, you say why? My salary is six months late already, I might be dead before I have enough money to even eat.
A man has joined the group now, he is a metal-sculptor. Why are you all looking morose like one of my creations, he says, I have certainly turned on the wrong way with my career. I haven’t sold a single thing in two years. At least when the British were here, even though they didn’t buy every time, they taught me about James Richmond Barthe and Joseph Cornell, they even showed me an article on the now dead Barnett Newman-oh, I was alive then, even though deep down in my heart, I know that I’m just a welder, I welded pieces of metal together, I’ve even done a little gate for a gravestone once! They made me feel like I was making art, art yeah? How foreign that word sounds-perhaps the African man doesn’t know how to appreciate art. Them? Oh, they’ve got art for sure, bought at exorbitant prices in Paris.
Paris is in France, the teacher says, I like France.
What does it matter, the sculptor continues, you will probably never reach there.
The teacher nods solemnly: I think I’ve come to that realization too. I want a space in front of the parade, I have designed a cardboard with the quotes of Nietzsche on it. Perhaps I can become like Martin Luther, the second one.
I have got a space, the welder says, I’m displaying my best work, it is a chair, yes a chair but also a rocking chair with a seat of gold, no, not real gold but these people will never know, if i didn’t tell you, you probably wouldn’t know too.
You’re very lucky, at least you have something, the beggar says as he looks at the prostitute. The welder says: But Oselumen is there, she is a prostitute too….
Alas no, the prostitute cuts in, I am a prostitute, she is not, why? She’s a business woman these days, she’s got a shop that sells foodstuffs, and she has really come up since our days sucking off white teenagers at Carter Bridge. The men, purse full request to see her, she accepts who carries the most money…I stay at crossroads and look for men. She uses these beauty creams that are like fifty thousand or something, it’s called Mary Kay. Me? The men can’t see past my garish face, don’t look at my face I say, go down there and give me your money.
More people are arriving now. All for show. There is a blind man and another blind man and yet another blind man. One wonders how they got there. Is it the inner eye that people talk about? They look alike. One is saying: If you actually know what to do, perhaps you will have gotten us a good space, now I’m at a loss, I want to hear what the general has to say. New laws, perhaps? I cannot see but I’m not blind to the state of the nation, it’s like a baby on wheels.