For your reading entertainment. Another excerpt from one of my short stories entitled 'Bobo-Dioulasso' in my upcoming book 'An Egg Crowded with Humans and other stories'.
French journalist Jacque Defontaine felt the electric current passing through his entire body, and he knew his torturers would not stop any time soon. He stared in fear at the masked figure approaching him. “Please let me go!”
“Inform your wife the ransom is US$75,000,” the hoarse voice replied, placing the mouthpiece of a satellite phone closer to Defontaine’s mouth.
“But…she can’t affo…”
A torturer turned on the electric current again, adjusting the electrodes on Defontaine’s groin for maximum effect.
Defontaine groaned out in anguish. “She can’t afford the money!” He sensed himself straying toward oblivion as the feelings of tingling and numbness overwhelmed him.
The masked figure scowled. “You’re going to die.”
Defontaine struggled to clear his mind, but terror was taking control. He continued to beg for mercy, pleading that he was just a man in the street. Momentarily, however, the figure drew out a sword from a scabbard and laid it on Defontaine’s nape. The blade met flesh and blood oozed. Meticulously. Mercilessly.
“Please spare my life!” Defontaine squealed, afraid to jangle the masked figure’s nerves. But the end was near.
As a person who had executed half a dozen or so beheadings in the past, the masked figure was perpetually inspired by politics and religion but she hardly felt complete satisfaction. At this moment, nevertheless, laying a sword on Defontaine’s nape seeing blood oozing, the masked figure allowed herself the sensational delight of knowing she was about to drop a bombshell in the world of kidnapping.
In times like these, I invite you to read and enjoy another excerpt of my short stories that would be published in my upcoming book entitled 'An Egg Crowded with Humans and other stories':
Footsteps of a Migrant
Having a card up his sleeve, Mebrahtu hurried from a tiny old cellar, ascended the steps, crossed the Romanesque style compound, and fled through the heavy ironwork front gate of his home to the palm-lined footpath. Refuge comes first, the lanky 30-year-old Eritrean told himself, his heart beating rhythmically. I must get to the bus station at Edaga Hamus. His gloomy face seemed a contrast with his bright piercing eyes. He wore modest blue jeans and a red toque with the words ‘Pray for Eritrea’ meticulously calligraphed in black ink on the front of it. The Asmara-based bus station was home of the Thursday Market, a major stop for the Harat Transport Company, taxis, mini buses and the King Long-distance buses. Old Fiat Cinquecentos and other cars from the sixties and more recent Japanese and Korean-made vehicles could be seen with their drivers eking out a living. Edaga Hamus bus station featured restaurants like that of Naser Omer with its outer decorations on the façade, and the Golden Hotel. This early morning, for something so close to home, Mebrahtu felt thankful to have saved some money for a rainy day. The bus station was not far away from his rented cellar---a quiet lazy walk Mebrahtu took every Thursday---and yet this morning, as he started out along Menelik Street on a cold day in September 2018, he felt only fear. Lowering his head, Mebrahtu suspiciously checked the shadows before him as he began his travel. Almost instantly he saw an object that made him tense. A dark figure stood cowered against a wall across the street---a strongly built tall man wearing dark-coloured pants, a sikani shirt and a patrol hat---browsing carelessly at his cellphone, his mustached face lit up by the glow of the cellphone. He did not look like a local, Mebrahtu knew, doubling his pace. The man in the patrol hat raised his head, observed Mebrahtu for a little while, and then back to his cellphone. Mebrahtu kept going. After a couple of street intersections, he glanced in fright behind him. To his uneasiness, the man in the patrol hat was no longer against the wall. He had crossed the street and was walking along the footpath behind Mebrahtu. Another stool pigeon who’s hot on my heels! Mebrahtu’s feet moved faster, and his breath grew short. He pondered if leaving his cellar had been a serious blunder. Now, as he rushed along the footpath, Mebrahtu feared he might not reach the refuge of Edaga Hamus bus station after all. The man in the patrol hat was still behind him, hounding Mebrahtu very closely. An ear-splitting clang penetrated the dawn air, and Mebrahtu leaped. The noise, he noted with relief, was a mini bus making a stop just down the street. Although he knew these buses were run by ex-soldiers yet Mebrahtu sensed this one was Jehovah-sent as he rushed toward the transportation and jostled on board to a front seat. The bus was half-filled with early morning factory workers. Before the bus could depart, nevertheless, the man in the patrol hat ran to catch it and barely made it onboard. Mebrahtu went stiff, but the man stepped past him glimpse-less and sat at the back. On the windshield, Mebrahtu could see the image of the man browsing through his cellphone, probably engaged in text messages of some kind. Don’t be unrealistic, Mebrahtu, your name means Jehovah’s light, he admonished himself. He’s not concerned with you. As the mini bus reached Edaga Hamus bus station, Mebrahtu stared eagerly at the colourful vehicles and market stalls, but yet he could not gather the courage to leave the refuge of the bus. What if I alight and he pursues me… Mebrahtu stayed seated, making up his mind that he was likely free from harm in a group of passengers. Better to just ride around for some time and rest, he thought, even though he now yearned he had eased himself before deserting his home so unexpectedly. Only for a brief while thereafter as the bus rolled away from Edaga Hamus bus station, that it dawned on Mebrahtu the appalling weakness in his intention. Far from a steal.
Medical student Martha Lahai was seated on a dining chair inside her living room in Wuhan, the Chinese city that was slowly going quiet, and having a devil of a time. She was exhausted, having just been home from her anatomy classes and an internship that had taken her twelve hours to complete. She took a sip of her third lemonade and stared at a colourful African painting on mirror, done by Chéri Samba, the Congolese, who once said, “I paint reality even if it’s shocking, …”
The world, shaped like an egg crowded with humans, was going quiet, Martha mused, and the silence was frightening and shocking.
She, like her fellow humans, threatening their own species’ survival, was shocked to learn of an imminent lockdown at the heart of an outbreak of a strange virus, an invisible enemy, referred to asCovid-19. As she contemplated her semblance in the mirrored painting, she allowed herself an infrequent spell of complacency with the reflection gazing back at her.
Although as bright as a button, Martha was one of those unlucky African women for whom youthfulness appeared to be more of a burden than an advantage. At adolescence, her Afro hairstyle had almost gone gray, her small brown eyes had subdued to laid-back timidity, and her flabby dark skin was now dry and wrinkled, giving her the appearance of an old woman.
At thirty years old, her body was skinny, a weak frame made more depressed by her perennial conservative dress code. Presently, bare-footed, she was dressed in her timeworn blue Adidas pyjamas, gathering momentum to start her daily Yoga exercises which always made her feel refreshed, and forget about her past malady.
The malady that all but ruined Martha’s life six years ago would forever creep in the alcoves of her mind---a particular blinding moment in which the world of viruses had declared a curfew and isolated her from everyone else.
Freetown Connaught Hospital.
Christmas evening 2014.
The tropical sun was shining through blue tinted window pane, spreading coolness and tranquility across the hospital admitting ward number 5. The oxygen concentrator flow splitters hissed from strained gas pressure as a doctor and two nurses fought to save Martha’s life from the throes of the Ebola virus.
She laid down on the hospital bed with mixed feelings of sadness and thankfulness. After just five years as a nurse, she had been privileged to have her nursing colleagues around her at a time that she was in dire need of medical attention.
But no sooner had she released a sigh of relief when a deadly sensation of pain crept through her entire body, sending her to an unconsciousness state of mind, about as useful as a chocolate teapot. Then she felt a tremor of skepticism. When she recovered, she was breathless, and for a while she had no idea where she was or what had happened. Later, she learnt that she had been at death’s door. Since then she decided to pursue further studies in infectious disease control so that she could help the sick.
The dreadful recollection was gracefully snapped by a beep from her cellphone, reminding her to check her temperature. Martha snatched her lemonade and took a quick sip, freeing herself from the grief as she had been compelled to do so many moments before. She decided against performing her daily Yoga exercises. She cannot help but doubt if she had not contracted the Covid-19 virus but just had not started showing symptoms. Her temperature was within normal average.
She had never trusted the Chinese government officials who told the public in early January there was no evidence the Covid-19 virus could be transmitted from human to human. It was like dancing on a dead person’s grave who had no recourse to scream bloody murder, she thought.
Thursday 23 January 2020
But it was not a dead and buried case, but rather one of dollars to donuts. The real worry set in when Martha woke up and learnt about the lockdown at her medical college, and the city as a whole, as a result of a looming threat caused by the Covid-19 virus. And for many, the fight against the disease was like being dead in water. She knew what it meant and what type of preparedness was required but not how long it will last. She was among a significant number of African residents eking out a living in Wuhan, a millionaire city bursting at the seams. Many of them, African students in particular, were looking forward to their governments in view of an evacuation plan out of the now deadly city. The Lunar New Year could not have come at a worse time, either; turning up like a bad penny.
Sunday 26 January 2020
According to social media, the newspaper, the radio and television news, the number of infected cases and deaths were on the rise. At the drop of a hat, people were warned to stay at home, to maintain social distancing, to wash their hands frequently, and to avoid crowded places. A once mega-city became a ghost city, with deserted streets inhabited only by rodents, cockroaches, strayed cats, dogs, and essential services personnel. They had a blank cheque, even though the city’s scarlet women, who were a dime a dozen, plying the forbidden fruit, were nowhere to be seen coining it. Emergency units, admitting wards, and morgues at all the hospitals became overwhelmed with increasing number of infected and death cases. While some old wives’ tales about cure were welcomed, others were thrown out of the window. People continued to stay and die at home as the hospitals were unable to treat them. In certain instances, the cadavers of homeless people were bagged and buried in mass graves.
'An Egg Crowded with Humans and other stories' - is the title of my next book of short stories. This is the first few paragraphs of one of the stories entitled 'The Orthodox Resistance Army':
The Orthodox Resistance Army
Ahou Coulibaly, former Orthodox Resistance Army guerrilla 555 dodged into the Côte d'Ivoirechief legal advisor’s office lobby in Abidjan’s downtown Plateau. She stopped briefly to gaze up at the 19th century Baule kpele kpele wooden mask hanging on the wall. The mask symbolizes the younger male character in an array of four mask forms that appear as a couple in the Goli ceremony. The Goli dances are performed at the funerals of elders. The collar on the mask is a living tapestry of reconstructed raffia.
Funerals make me feel vulnerable, she thought. All is vanity.
Coulibaly puzzled over the mask a bit longer and then continued down a narrow set of stairs onto the basement and entered a spacious air-conditioned office, where one male and one female criminal investigation department detectives were waiting. She beamed, a tested beam, the beam of a familial crony who continued to evade the long arm of the law. Twisted jet-black dreadlocks were hanging down on all sides of her head, and pimples covered a broad expressionless face. She was muscular from years of using steroids and endless hours spent at the Techno Gym in Abidjan after the civil war in Songhai.
“Est-ce qu’on peut commencer?” the female detective asked in rapid French, as if she was reading the riot act.
“Oui,” Coulibaly acknowledged, sharp-witted and firm, and placed her left hand on her chest. “Je jure de dire la vérité.”
Still sticking to her guns, Coulibaly’s Songhai accent had tone downed over time, and the pledge resonated rhapsodic, a gay and soothing assurance. She was a willing collaborator who had responded to the detective’s request, driving a Citroën C3 froma bungalow in Yopougon, about 16 kilometres west of Abidjan, where the growing gap between the rich and the poor spanned both north and south sides of the Ébrié Lagoon. And with a benevolent name to go, ivorianized twenty years ago when she naturalized. Ballay Kamara, now an Ivorian, called Ahou Coulibaly.
On the other side of the office desk, as they were about to commence a battle of nerves, Ange Kwaku faked a friendly grin at a woman who was not whiter than white. At the Côte d'Ivoire Law Ministry, Ange had probed and arraigned a good number of Orthodox Resistance Army guerrillas, sympathizers and collaborators. All of them who were like chalk and cheese, who had sneaked into Côte d'Ivoirewith phony tales about the guerrilla war period. Folks who were perambulating as petty traders and hustlers, not involved in the atrocities perpetrated on the people of Songhai. A people they claimed they wanted to liberate from the shackles of a banana republic. But they could not catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Coulibaly, also, had told an untruth with calmness, cloaking openly in bourgeoisie Côte d'Ivoire, living above the salt, and trying to beat the rap. Today she had Ivorian children, an Ivorian husband, and ran the Marquis Lemp Lemp Restaurant in Yopougon. Life had been prosperous for Coulibaly, time making her to forget about her disgruntled days as a commandant guerrilla when she called the shots, and fought fire with fire.
However, Ange was no fool. In a basement below Abidjan’s Plateau, about 1,500 kilometres from Songhai and almost one and half decade after the end of the guerrilla war, the detective observed the 44-year-old business woman gazing at him — absolutely convinced that she had been a fighter in one of the most barbaric guerrilla wars in Africa.
Five years ago, on an early April morning, investigative journalist Pépé Ouedraogo was in his office at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission pinpointing, fact-finding and indicting the Orthodox Resistance Army war criminals found in Côte d'Ivoire. It was a hot and dry month in Yamoussoukro, with warm winds and longer days. Ouedraogo was deep in concentration when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigative journalist Laurent Kuyo tapped on the door, clinging onto a file. “Regardes ceci,” he said, passing the file onto Pépé. “Une nouvelle découverte.” For as long as Kuyo could remember, Ouedraogo had been an insatiable bibliophile — reading everything in sight about the Orthodox Resistance Army. His colleagues considered him as a fellow with mercurial brilliance.
Ouedraogo flipped through the pages of the file, taking his time to digest the information. Kuyo had found emails between the Côte d'Ivoire Ministère des Affaires Etrangères and the Nigerian Foreign Ministry. In January 2010, an investigative journalist at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had asked the Nigerians for documents pertaining to Abidjan businesswoman Coulibaly, whose name had appeared during the probe of infamous accused Hamidu Moiba. After residing in the Côte d'Ivoire for almost twenty years, Hamidu had been deprived of his Ivorian nationality and deported to Pepper Coast where he was arraigned for crimes against humanity. By then, it was believed he had taken part in the massacre at a rubber plantation in Kakata; thereafter, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission found out he had instead taken part in the Krefe Ol massacre, as well as the Alabar Town and Frohbay ones. Hamidu challenged the allegations until he became mentally deranged in 2017.
Documents in that lawsuit had linked both Coulibaly and Hamidu to the town of Bormeh in southern Songhai, where, on the premises of a deserted government building, the Orthodox Resistance Army in the later years of the guerrilla war had created a base for its guerrillas. Three Truth and Reconciliation Commission detectives endeavoured to interrogate Coulibaly about it, but the issue was not pursued further after Coulibaly contended that she had never known Hamidu and had only worked as a health care aide in Bormeh’s health center. Straightaway, Ouedraogo got more interested.
“Qu’a dit le dossier?” Kuyo asked.
Ouedraogo shook his head. “Qu’avons-nous fait avec le dossier?”
This is in response to students at Tampa University, USA, who are writing a comparative or thematic essay on some of the stories in my book entitled 'A Suitcase Full of Dried Fish and other stories'. They have been assigned one story from either my collection or that of Chimamanda Adichie's.
Being my first book publication, the collection took me a considerable amount of time to compile. With the encouragement of some family members and friends, I was able to complete a work that might have ended up in the dusty pile of life's unfinished tasks. This is especially true in the light of the fact that I was born and raised in an environment where the culture of reading and writing wasn't common. So trying to write stories that might never be read by people was in itself frustrating. It was like getting a training in a profession for which there was no employment. Nevertheless, the mere fact that I get mind-satisfaction from reading and writing kept me motivated to complete the writing of a book that has now been translated into Kiswahili, the lingua franca of East Africa, as 'Sanduku lililojaa samaki waliokaushwa na hadithi nyingine'.
I wrote the story entitled ‘Online Dating Comes to Accra’ for three main reasons. Firstly, I wanted to show my readers the extent to which desperation can lead one to become vulnerable to deceit and infidelity. Secondly, I wanted to remind my readers that the charming looks of someone isn’t a predictable sign of his or her true character. Thirdly, and most-importantly, I wrote the story in order to emphasize the power of forgiveness. The protagonist, Afua, was desperate to find love, and probably revenge, after her husband, Agymah, abandoned her for another woman. The charming looks of deceitful and treacherous characters like Kofi, Mensah, Ted and Simba led her to believe that she could find true love, escape and solace in online dating. Instead, after her new-found exploit led to disappointments, she finally decided to forgive her husband.
In the case of the story entitled ‘Virginia’s Triple Cocktail’, I wrote it in order to make four points. Firstly, I wanted to encourage my readers to be steadfast and to believe that in the midst of adversity, much could be achieved. Secondly, I wanted to highlight some of the consequences of prostitution and promiscuity. Thirdly, I tried to bring out the challenges being faced by those contending with the societal stigma associated with HIV and AIDS and the fact that the diseases can be cured. Lastly, I wanted to paint a picture of the poor environmental condition in a sprawling urban centre. The protagonist, Virginia, having being caught in the vicious circle of prostitution, and being HIV-positive, kept reminding herself and us all that in the midst of adversity, much could be achieved through righteousness and dedication. Even though she lived in an environment polluted by noise, filth, overcrowding, piracy, gambling, drug abuse, and insensitive characters like Mama Ehga and the pharmacist, yet Virginia emerged victorious.