Authors: Bernardine Evaristo
Tags: #Fiction, #Literary
All things are subject to interpretation: whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.
o while my boss, Bwana, and his family are out clinking rum-and-Coke glasses and shaking their wobbly backsides at fancy parties down the road, I’ve been assigned duties in his office to sort through his ledgers. I used to hope that the celebration of Voodoomass would be the one day off in the year for us slaves—but oh no, it’s business as usual.
Outside the window the palm trees that line the avenues are decorated with gold and silver streamers. They are tall, sleek, snooty with the deportment of those who grow up balancing the precious milk of coconuts on their heads; dangling from their glossy green fronds are flickering oil lamps sitting in red-painted cassava gourds.
The cobblestone pavement has been swept smooth of yesterday’s sandstorm, and the hawkers selling takeaways have been sent packing.
Frogs and crickets provide a drunken nighttime chorus while camel-drawn carriages deliver stoosh party guests to our neighboring compounds. The men wear flamboyant kaftans and their glamorously fat women try to outdo one another with peacock-print headscarves tied up into the most extravagant girlie bows.
All the houses are freshly whitewashed, with stained-glass windows depicting the gods: Oshan, Shangira, Yemonja. Stone sphinxes guard porches, and stationed by doorways are torch lamps on tall marble plinths—their flames are slippery blue fingers grasping out at the sticky nighttime air.
From the upper rooms of the houses blast the hectic electronic beats of the young, and from downstairs comes the mellow music of the marimba, amid the laughter and bantering of people who have every reason to celebrate this season of goodwill, because they are free men and free women in the heart of the most expensive piece of real estate in the known world: Mayfah.
CHIEF KAGA KONATA KATAMBA
I is the Bwana in question. He made his fortune in the import-export game, the notorious transatlantic slave run, before settling down to life in polite society as an absentee sugar baron, part-time husband, freelance father, retired decent human being and, it goes without saying, sacked soul.
My boss is also a full-time anti-abolitionist, publishing his pro-slavery rants in his mouthpiece,
a pamphlet distributed far and wide—as a freebie.
In spite of myself, I’d just begun to flick through the latest god-awful issue, feeling my stomach constrict and my throat tighten, when a hand shoved a folded note through the open office window and vanished before I could see who it was attached to.
I opened the note, read the magic words and felt my head suddenly drowning.
Waves crashed and thundered inside my skull.
I let out the most almighty, silent howl.
Then I passed out.
How long for, I’ve no idea, maybe a few minutes, but when I came to I was slumped in my seat, my head dropped forward,the note still in my hand.
I read it again through a film of water.
It was real and it was true—I was being given the chance to escape.
After so many years on the waiting list, the thing I most desired was in the palm of my hand. Yet it was all too quick. I sat there frozen. A thousand
ran through my mind. In returning my life to its rightful owner—me—I would also be putting my life at stake. If I wasn’t careful or lucky, I’d end up at the local whipping post or chopping block.
Then my survival instincts kicked in.
My head cleared.
I was back again.
I ripped the note to shreds.
I stood up and looked at the wooden mask of Bwana’ s face on the wall.
And I gave it the right, royal one-finger salute.
THE NOTE TOLD ME THAT
the Underground Railroad was operating again after service had been suspended owing to derailment. It was often the case when energy couldn’ t be filched from the city’ power station or the train broke down due to the overload of escaping slaves wanting to cadge a safe ride out of the city, to begin the long journey back to the Motherland.
I hoped I could trust the message because the Resistance was often infiltrated by sleepers who eventually went operational to betray whole rebel cells.
Deep down I knew that the slave traders were never going to give up their cash cow. It was, after all, one of the most lucrative international businesses
involving the large-scale transport of whytes, shipped in our millions from the continent of Europa to the West Japanese Islands, so called because when the “great” explorer and adventurer Chinua Chikwuemeka was trying to find a new route to Asia, he mistook those islands for the legendary isles of Japan, and the name stuck.
So here I am in the United Kingdom of Great Ambossa (UK or GA for short), which is part of the continent of Aphrika. The mainland lies just over the Ambossan Channel. It’s also known as the Sunny Continent, of course, on account of it being so flaming hot here.