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Novel: The Ostrich Dance - Chapter Three
Caephas McOpondo Esq. sat right-back in the black Mercedes Benz in the funeral convoy. Big men like him usually sat left-back in Aynek. This was the unwritten rule since all vehicles in the country drove on the left side of the road and so left-back was considered relatively safer, because the big shot was as far as possible from the oncoming vehicles. However, Caephas’ chosen position was deliberate since he did not wish to sit on his late father’s favorite spot in his late father’s official car.
He had only been twenty-one years old when he graduated with a Bachelors in Electronic Engineering at MIT in 1991. Like his father before him, everything had been provided by the government; fees, pocket money, allowances, accommodation costs, you name it. Unlike his father though, everything had been planned for him from day one of his earthly existence. Everything had gone according to plan. Averian Primary School in Rondo, Ancelot High in Iborian and eventually MIT in the US. The graduation ceremony attended by the top brass of the Aynek government and finally, a top job with Rebishon Electronics as a deputy EO in Manhattan. All this in the space of 16 years. Add another five years before that and you had his entire CV figured out.
He had only worked for one year when the first multi-party political elections were held in Aynek. It turned out to be a multi-tribal election since there were no real parties, just tribal groupings. His father, Hon. Absolom Jowi Mcopondo had stuck with the so-called ruling party, RUPA for short. This was actually an alliance of many numerically small tribes who had nowhere else to express their political opinion. That is, if they had any. This group included Njinis, Bambas, Mijos and a proliferation of other numerically disadvantaged Bantus, disadvantaged because politics is a game of numbers. The combination was formidable however, and they carried the day in that election, at least at presidential level, which, come to think of it, was the only level that mattered in Aynekan Politics.
But Hon. Absolom Jowi McOpondo, Member of Parliament for Greater Kanem constituency since the so called political independence from Britain, saw his thirty-year reign brought to an unceremonious full-stop. For the first time in a long time, the Ruling Party went right on without a major cog in its ancient political wheel. Hon. McOpondo was terribly shocked. The fact that scores of other “Old Bulls” had kissed the dust as well was no consolation to him. He took it very, very personally. On retrospect, Caephas now believed that the loss had been the actual moment of his father’s death. This particular funeral taking place three years later had just been put off by nature. No, Hon. McOpondo had not just died; his actual death was three years before.
“The first rule in politics, son, is: never take anything seriously. If your mother dies, or a plane crashes killing dear citizens, or a bus plunges into a river, or people die of hunger, disease or stagnation, et cetera, et cetera; never take it to heart. If you do, you will be too blinded by grief to see the obvious political advantage in it.”
These words of his old man now rang again and again in his head. He had never really understood them at that dinner table fifteen years before. He had been a class-three tot then. What had annoyed him most was the callous reference to the possible death of his beloved mother Samantha. He had stopped eating and gone to cry bitterly in the bedroom about that he had lapse between gloomy moods and serious illness for over a week He had thought that all politicians were beasts. Like all upsetting thoughts, those words had never really gone away. And now, here they were as fresh as a daisy.
“The worst irony of all is that dad took his loss at the election seriously. That is why he died. Nature had its uncanny way of getting back at anyone,” he thought as the Mercedes danced over some rough terrain, probably a cattle track.
But Hon. Absolom Drackens Jowi McOpondo had had every reason to be shocked.
It had all started at Ancelot High.
If you didn’t know Ancelot, then you could only be one of two things: a foreigner in Aynek; or an irredeemably illiterate Aynekan. All the top academic wranglers went to Ancelot, the very best. So, by simply being a student there, one was automatically classified as such. Being an Ancelot alumni easily saw one through a tight interview for a top job. Girlfriends fell like dominoes on being approached by such a boy. The privileges were innumerable if only one chose to go for them.
ADJ McOpondo had chosen to go for them, all of them. This was partially because of this and partially because of that. Partially because he had been born in the remote and underprivileged village of Kanem, and partially because he had tasted the privileges of the white DCs house; cakes, parties, gramophone music, telephone, watching the tube and later – which led to his being declared persona non grata for life in the big house – having a go at Goretti the DCs daughter. Partially because he had walked all that way to school at a tender age, and partially because he had been physically intimidated at that school. All in all, McOpondo hated Kanem and loved the DCs house. He, therefore, naturally, wanted to exorcise the ghosts of the former and savor the goodies of the latter. Since he had been banned from that, he realized that he had to create his own big house, and acquire his own Goretti. Oh, dear Goretti.
Life at DC Morton's
Caephas had not known Goretti personally; in fact he had never lived at the servants’ quarters in the DCs compound when the DC was there. He had not even begun existing yet. But through his father’s narrations of very fond memories, he knew about it all. He had even seen a photograph of his dad and Goretti, in their innocent young forms, each seated on a pony, side by side.
Much as he had despised his village, Absolom McOpondo was the village hero. The young and old saw him as the ultimate specimen of a total boy. Unfortunately, his dad saw him as such too. The elder Opondo never bothered his son. He neither gave him advice nor punished him. Conversation between them was scarce and sparse.
Opondo’s quarters had consisted of a large, four bed-roomed house to the left of a gigantic white gate of the two-hundred plus acre ranch. Around the whole ranch was a wire cum Cypress fence. Further to the left of the gate was Absolom’s single-roomed house whose doorway directly faced an illegal panya-route carefully cut into the wire and totally concealed by the cypress bush. Servants simply melted into the live fence and emerged out of it like some kind of magic. Opondo, as the chief of security, should have stopped this practice, of which he was well aware. However, since his son (and the village girls he dragged in) was the biggest culprit and probably the engineer, he didn’t do anything about it. No need to have the young gentleman bothered at all. The DC didn’t have to know either, what with all those administrative demands on him.
Absolom took full advantage of this indifference. On many a night, he would stand bare-chested at his doorway, stretching triumphantly as he looked at the row of twelve grass-thatched, mud walled huts lining the fence into the distance. They were all to the left of his house. He always felt satisfied at the latest catch waiting in his bed and the fact that no other servant, apart from his father and him, stayed in a stone house. That was status.
It was quite a pity that Absolom developed the belief that girls were some kind of ornaments for his personal satisfaction. Having no sister of his own, one of these mistakes of nature, he viewed them as others. So he did not understand why they sniveled and hurt whenever he got tired of some of them and dumped them. Why didn’t they just go away and appreciate the privileges he had accorded them. After all, who else could sneak them into the house of the most powerful man in the region, show them the tube, offer them biscuits and wine, then proceed to take them to his own soft bed, covered with a real mosquito net, for the hottest lovemaking of their simple lives? Who else could do that? Weren’t those the greatest things on planet earth that any lass could hope for?
Of course there was always the odd girl here and there, who toughly turned his advances down. Whenever that happened, he resorted to threats. He alluded to some tough things the dreaded government administration guards, led by his dad, would do to the girl, at his behest. The girls mainly called his bluff and challenged him to do his worst. When matters came to that, he realized to this dismay that his empty threat had been recognized for what it was. He thus simply backed off, consoling himself that the girls only needed time to overcome their shyness and come round. However, those tough ones never did.
The Big Mansion
The greatest challenge to Absolom, though, was the big, two-storey mansion that stood majestically at the end of the gravel driveway, right in the middle of the compound. This was of course the main house in a district of over 800,000 inhabitants. In it lived DC Morton, his wife Asha, their recently acquired butler, Janak Ajulo (yes the same Janak), Janak’s wife Akelo (who was now the cook after Rawera hd left to get married), Colleta the maidservant and, whenever she was around, the DCs only daughter, Goretti Morton. Oh dear, dreaded Goretti.
Apart from the servant quarters and the big house, there was little else in the compound. There were horse stables and cattle-sheds lining the fence on the right hand side of the fence, as if to counterbalance the servant quarters on the opposite side. At the back of the big house were the dog kennels in which twelve large Alsatians growled at all who passed by. Further back, were two ancient deciduous fig trees on adjacent sides of the house, which also appeared to be forever growling at each other for the right of being. From the gate to the two trees were some two hundred meters. This entire area was covered by soft, uniformly trimmed grass, save for the gravel drive, the gravel parking surrounding the house and the beautiful array of flowerbeds adorning them. Directly behind the house was a diamond shaped swimming pool. Then one came to the two trees and the symmetrical neatness ended. The rest was bush, only good enough for collecting firewood, hunting, picking mapera, illicit lovemaking or simply nature prowling. It went on and on for about a kilometer to the river, which marked the boundary of Government Ordinance Land no. 1616 of South Rondo. Next to the river was a well-fortified engine room that housed the water pump and the power generator. Both machines served their master faithfully for hours on end.
Caaephas remembered the story well. One afternoon when his dad was still a mere Form Two student at ancelot, Absolom happened to be swimming in the pool. It was during the schools summer holiday. Under normal circumstances, he should have been swimming in the river with the sons of the other servants. But since the DC, his wife and Opondo were not home, Absolom; being Janak’s protégé; was thus allowed this privilege, which none of the other children ever got.
Being an expert swimmer, he was doing the freestyle in long powerful strokes and cut through the water like a hot knife through fat. He swam across the pool and, on emerging at the other end, clung onto the side shaking water from his head in a rainbow spray of droplets. Then, as he caught his breadth, he happened to look up at the rear balcony of the big house.
Seated right there on a cozy garden chair, drink in hand, was the last person he expected to see, Goretti. That she had arrived from Trent School in London had been totally unknown to him. Leave alone the fact that she was sitting right there, petite with red hair and contrasting green eyes, in her graceful white lace dress with legs crossed. She was looking directly at him. That was a real shocker.
Since they had moved into the house in November the previous year, after Opondo’s unexpected appointment, he had seen her only once. That was in April and Goretti was leaving for school while Absolom had just arrived to begin his own holiday. So the meeting had been brief, awkward and insignificant.
“What are you doing in the pool?” she asked.
“Swimming I suppose.” He replied with his inherited smile. It infuriated her.
“Get out now! Who do you think you are to swim there?’
“Absolom I suppose. Nice to see you home. How is London?”
“Get out and go swim in the river like the other native boys!”
“Yes ma’am. Immediately.”
So he had left the pool. His trunks clang to him as water dripped from its edges down his body. He dried himself off with a towel, then tied it around his waist and slipped off the trunks from under it. He then obscenely rubbed the towel on the parts of the body left wet by the trunks. He pulled on his panties and trousers simultaneously and removed the towel as he zipped up and tied his belt. He tossed the towel and his shirt over one shoulder, put on his sandals, then, with an elegant bounce, melted off into the bush beyond. The smile never left his face.
Since then, the tall, red-haired, green eyed horror was always on Absolom’s case. She though him insolent and indifferent to her. The fact that he seemed to be everyone’s favorite kid around here with excessive privileges, even from her dad, did not help matters either. She took it upon herself to right matters by always ordering her around and insulting his “clumsiness.”
“Wash those clothes in the washroom!”
“Brush my shoes!”
“Carry that milk carefully you native goon!”
It went on and on.
But all these only added to her frustration. First, he was so nimble on his feet that no sooner was an order given than he quickly and effectively executed it. Secondly, the other kids in the compound seemed to envy him for always catching her eye. They tried their best to be around to be sent as well, but it was all futile. Thirdly, that warm smile never ever left his face, even when she snapped at him to wipe it off. It only became wider then.
It all ended up that Absolom did Jacob’s work of cleaning and saddling the mules, helping Goretti mount and dismount, feeding and milking the dairy cows, while she breathed down his neck, and Jacob was reduced to a bystander. Then he answered the door for Janak washed for Colleta, cooked for Akelo and even guarded the gate for Yussuf. It all depended on Goretti’s immediate whim. She never seemed to let him out of her sight for a moment. He had to seek permission from her to go and eat, shit or bathe. All the same, when it suited him, he always managed to slip away from her without her knowledge.
The Constant Debates
Every evening over supper she complained bitterly to her parents about Absolom. It was an exercise in futility. It went something like this.
“Why don’t you ask Absolom to leave the farm and go back home?”
“Oh! Absolom again. What is your accusation this time? Did he shine your boots too bright?”
“No Dad! And please don’t joke about it. I don’t like his attitude.”
“How’s that?” Her mother would inquire.
“He’s so spiteful, so despicably arrogant and indifferent. He’s stubborn as a mule. And I hate that foolish smile on his face. It is most mischievous.”
“Please pass me the salt. I don’t see why you are so agitated if you do not like him.” His dad would mutter with disinterest.
“Of course I don’t like him,” she would be rather hysterical now, “Just get him out of here.’
“And where do I take him?” The DC was obviously bored. “His parents are here Getty, he can’t go anywhere without them.”
“Yes, he can. The way everybody loves him, he would not miss someone to take care of him.”
“Everybody? I hope that does not include …”
“Of course not. Not me. Never!”
“You hate him then?”
“Not really. But I just….. I just…… I just can’t stand him.”
“Splendid! Then stay away from him.”
With that, he would wave away the topic with finality. Supper would then proceed in peace.
The subject of these constant debates would be in his own cubicle. The one room was well decorated with its blue walls, white wooden chairs, chandeliers, flowers and single bed under white bead-spread and net. There was also the glow of a blue electric bulb. He would either be singing his heart out accompanied by a violin he had picked from the main house and learned to play the hard way, or reading with the alternative white bedside bulb.
Everything in Black and White
To Absolom, there was a simple clear-cut distinction between people; the whites, the blacks and the aliens. The whites were born superior in every way. They thought differently and always succeeded in whatever they set out to do. Any service given to a white man by a black, was well deserved and quite in order. This was the league of DC Morton, his wife and his daughter Goretti. So whenever the latter appeared to behave childishly, or irrationally, it kind of bothered him. Nevertheless, he would only shrug his shoulders believing that she knew what she was doing.
Then there were the blacks. Clumsy, liars, confused, but also quite cunning and conning. Blacks claimed to be generous, but they were as mean as Zaccheus. On the contrary, there was nothing he could not manipulate out of them. Money, physical assistance, cows, sex, name it. He knew blacks far too well. He knew that they were the type who could steal you maize at night only to offer you a generous meal of the same in the morning. That was the relationship between their treachery and generosity.
At no one time did it ever occur to Absolom that whites were just the same. He saw the human race in black and white, literally.
Then there were the aliens. This category included Indians, Arabs like Yussuf the gateman and coastal tribesmen. They had a darker shade of white or a whiter tinge of black. To him, they either belonged to the white side, or black. It all depended on their nature and the side they connived with most against the other. Yussuf for instance, had a whiter tinge of black since he connived with the blacks against the whites. He was always backbiting the DC and his family.
By this black-white arrangement, Goretti was his boss and nothing else. Her race could only be made up of bosses, nothing less. She could not give him too many orders, it was just not possible. That is why he always carried them out without a flinch, always with a smile.
The one night it happened. Absolom and his newfound love, Eve, were just squeezing in through the panya-route when they came face to face with Goretti. Actually it was eve who came in first and was shocked into a statue. Absolom had to shove her slightly out of the way, before he also froze.
“Absolom! What are you doing?” Asked Goretti who was herself still recovering from the shock of the freak encounter.
“I am going to my den.” His confident smile had quickly replaced his stunned face.
“But this is an illegal route. Oh my God! Does dad know about it?”
Eve looked at him stoned. If the DC knew about this…..
“You and your despicable rudeness. Do you realize what would happen to you if I told dad about this?”
“Yes I do. But since you are my boss, there is nothing I can do to stop you.”
Poor Goretti thought he was being sarcastic. Poor Absolom knew he was in the thick of things. Poor Eve was too shocked to think.
“Do not talk to me like that Absolom! One of these days you will realize what I am made of! You break in through the fence, inviting all sorts of crooks and robbers to do the same, making us all insecure. And when I ask you, all you can do is smile and be rude to me. You will know my true colors one of these fine days!”
Absolom kept quiet waiting for a question to answer. It soon came.
“Who is this with you anyway?”
“She is Eve, my girlfriend. I went to for a village dance and plucked her out of it. A bed is too cold for one person you know.”
Eve giggled. Goretti was infuriated.
“What? Your what? And you bring her through the fence… and….and..you have no right you bastard. Get out both of you. Go away. Go back to your primitive dance. Go! Go!”
As Goretti shoved them out through the fence, a small crowd of servants and children, knowing their route had been discovered, watched in awe from a safe distance. The two were gone and Goretti remained there smarting.
Then a head popped through the fence and cool boyish voice came through.
“Wanna join us for the dance? It’s marvelous.”
Goretti simply picked up a pebble and hurled it towards the face, which however retreated in the nick of time into the blackness. The passive audience broke into a controlled giggle. Goretti turned round and snapped at them. They scurried and blended into the night. The half-moon in the sky gazed down in wonder. A clock in the mansion chimed ten.
When she finally lay in bed moments later, Goretti could did not sleep a wink. Two statements kept rolling around in her head.
“A bed is too cold for one person you know.”
“Wanna join us for the dance? It is wonderful.”
“It is all so unfair,” she thought, “I am the DCs daughter yet he, a nobody, is having all the fun. I must stop it.”
Conversely, she could not muster the courage to tell her dad about this. She knew she would only be dismissed once again.
Meanwhile, Absolom and Eve had not gone anywhere. They had bided their time in the darkness until the coast was clear and then they had sneaked right back in. They were now in the comfort of his bed sweating away the night. The blue bulb mingled with streaks of moonlight through the gaps left by the curtains, and played radiant shapes on their squirming bodies. They were joined in the bond of ages. They danced to the silent rhythm, kissing and hissing, moaning and stroking, panting and smiling. The world outside did not exist. Not even Goretti, who had given up trying to sleep and come to sit under the window, listening in envy and crying.
The moon gazed down in total wonder. The clock chimed midnight.