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Imagine africa volume 3, p.8

Imagine Africa, Volume 3, page 8


Imagine Africa, Volume 3

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  “It will be difficult for us to stop our protests because…”

  “Listen, my child – I can call you my child because I am as old as your mother – you are their spokesperson; I’ve been told how well you speak, how at a meeting in the hospital courtyard you kept those women from marching on the police station. That’s what I appreciate about you, the intelligent way you have of seeing a situation in front of you and the courage to change opinions about it. That’s why, in spite of my very busy schedule at the moment, I took the time to meet with you and, better yet, I had you in before all those women you saw in the waiting room and who have been waiting for hours to be seen. That can only prove to you the high regard I have for you. I know those women will listen to you if you tell them to stop your protests while I address your matter and I give you my word that I will do that. Tito Rangi is a deputy now, and that’s thanks to me. Better yet, he is an advisor to the president thanks to my intervention.”

  The mention of Tito’s name irritates you.

  “Tito has nothing to do with this.”

  “It’s to make you understand that what I did for him, I can also do for you. You think I don’t know anything about you? Your sister for example. We never met, but I respected her because she was a woman who honored our nation. Be responsible like she was. Ask the women to stop their protests. If they do, I will personally see to it that the matter is settled – I’ve already made it my business anyway. How do you think your comrades got released so easily after committing aggravated assault against the police?”

  She stopped speaking and looked at you, which meant she was waiting for an answer.

  “Because of your intervention.”

  “Exactly! I’ll say it again, this meeting with the first ladies, this big celebration of our country, is too important to me.”

  She stopped again and looked at you. You said nothing, not because you didn’t know what to say, but because you were trying to figure out how to formulate a way you could articulate to the First Lady, the Mother of the Nation, your outright refusal to betray your friends, by renouncing what had already cost you so dearly. Remind her that one of you was in a coma? Seeing that you were not taking the bait in spite of all the compliments she had showered you with, she said sharply:

  “I know that you need a hundred twenty thousand francs.”

  With that, you panicked a little. How did she know that? What else did she know about you? She persisted:

  “A hundred twenty thousand francs is no problem. I am very sensitive to women’s suffering and it’s that sensitivity that can at times pass for maternalism. Helping women get by, gain their independence from men, helping them take their destinies into their own hands, it’s what I live for, otherwise what would be the use of being the First Lady? And of being a mother? You may not know it but I am also a mother.

  “I fight poverty by going onto the battleground, into villages where I distribute palm oil to women, medicine, powdered milk for their babies, mills to grind foufou and tables and benches for schools. Once I even took responsibility for the hospital bill of a woman who had given birth to quintuplets! Better yet, I insisted to my husband that the number of women in the next Parliament must double. We will thus move from fifteen percent of women today to thirty percent, a major step toward complete equality in a very near future. And then there’s my program to fight HIV/AIDS. Heeding the advice of the Churches, I’ve just added abstinence and reintegration of prostitutes because the fewer of those there are, the fewer people with and at risk of contracting AIDS there will be. Know that this fight I am leading against AIDS and for development is cited as an example throughout the whole world. The choice of our country to house this important meeting is not by chance, but rather a consecration, recognition of the work that I do. Do you see how important it is now? I am going to take care of your personal problem right away. For the rest of your demands, they will be dealt with immediately following the conference. I give you my word.”

  She turned to the woman you believed to be her secretary who took a thick manila envelope out of a drawer and handed it to Madam. The latter placed it down conspicuously on her desk.

  “There is well more than you need to get by in this envelope. For your studies, for your future. It’s yours.”

  You were absolutely stunned! You had heard about corruption, you knew it was rampant in the country, but you had never confronted it. Up to that moment there was absolutely no doubt in your mind that you were incorruptible. But right there in front of you was that envelope. All you would have to do was extend your hand, take it, put it in your purse, no questions asked and all your problems would be solved. By the following day, you’d be able to pay the fees for your computer courses and in six months you could maybe open your own school, your own business, and just like that realize the broken dream of your youth. And you would no longer deny your children the simple pleasures one is entitled to at that age. In any case, in life, one must know how to seize an opportunity and often that opportunity, unlike the mailman, rarely rings twice at your door. And after all, she had stolen that money from the state’s coffers, right? That meant it belonged to you a little as well. So, why not reap the benefits of it?

  With her experience in corrupting people, the lady had become adept at reading facial movements and could immediately detect who could be bought off right then and there and who would hesitate and need a little push to get over their wavering reluctance. She must have considered you in the second category since, after she’d observed you for a moment, she continued in a soft voice, intended to sound reassuring:

  “What happens in this office stays in this office. No one will ever know anything. Here, take it.”

  For the first time since you’d been in there, she stood up. Standing in front of you in her expensive outfit, her presence was even more intimidating. You looked up at her. She walked toward you, the envelope in her hand. She held it out to you. You looked at the object, a fat manila envelope. It was sealed. You did not move an inch. She watched you for a moment then tapped on your shoulder three or four times and said in a motherly tone: “Go ahead, take it, it’s nothing, it’s just to help you.” You contemplated the object again for a few seconds then suddenly you grabbed it and shoved it in your purse. The transaction was complete. You got up. Then, the great compassionate lady, modestly triumphant, wrapped an arm around your shoulders and said with a knowing smile:

  “Don’t make it more of an issue than is necessary, my child. And don’t worry, you are not the first person to be reasonable and choose where your priorities lie. In about two hours, a television crew will be advised about your meeting where you will release a press statement announcing that you have decided to cease your protests until the end of the First Ladies of Africa meeting. It will not be a betrayal. In fact, to the contrary, the President of the Republic will consider your decision a patriotic gesture toward the nation. Good luck. I’m counting on you.”

  She turned away from you and returned to her armchair. Her problem solved, she had already forgotten you. Her secretary escorted you out. If she had been a man, you would have considered her a “henchman” of the First Lady of the Republic. Can we also say “henchwoman”? Your mind did not register anything on your inverse path out of the presidential residence. Only when the humid warmth suddenly assaulted you did you realize that you’d already exited the air-conditioned buildings. At the security office, you were handed your cell phone but not your bag of madeleines. You asked for them. Threatening, the guard replied that all you had left was your cell phone, nothing else. My god, military personnel who swipe madeleines, you thought. You didn’t insist. You took the phone and you put it in your bag on top of that manila envelope that was worth its weight in thirty pieces of silver.

  Hassan Hajjaj, Wamuhu, 2015


  An outspoken human rights activist, BREYTEN BREYTENBACH is a poet, painter, memoirist, essayist, and novelist. His paintings and drawings have been exh
ibited around the world. Born in South Africa, he emigrated to Paris in the late ‘60s and became deeply involved in the anti-Apartheid movement. Author of Mouroir, A Season in Paradise, The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist, Dog Heart, The Memory of Birds in Times of Revolution, A Veil of Footsteps, among many others, Breytenbach received the Alan Paton Award for Return to Paradise in 1994 and the prestigious Hertzog Prize for Poetry for Papierblom in 1999 and for Die Windvanger (Windcatcher) in 2008.

  “that ship has flown”

  (a Nigerian remembering Pan-Africanism)

  in the small hours when moon

  already behind a veil of waxing absence

  lowers her dark body weightlessly

  into the pool of darkness,

  and I in quiet conversation

  with a poem

  about thisses and thats and death

  that has to be seen to,

  stillness which must be shared

  (so little time and so much still to do, tomorrow),

  someone or something thumps against the pane.

  a messenger? a night-wanderer

  who lost the way?

  a friend with the thwack of a soggy

  newspaper urgently bringing tidings

  of injured nightingales?

  or a blind drunk angel?

  I shush my finger to the poem’s lips,

  go to the window

  with its dim reflection,

  look down at the late night garden

  shrouded in silence

  where stones will smoulder tomorrow:


  and when I turn back the workroom is empty,

  no face in the dead glass,

  no poem.

  it was Plato who recalled

  that the pucker of gooseflesh on the nape

  and fore-arms

  is a shivered reminder

  where feathers used to grow

  (from “The Singing Hand,” unpublished)

  “that ship has flown”

  (a Nigerian remembering Pan-Africanism)

  laatnag toe die maan reeds

  agter ‘n sluier van toenemende afwesigheid

  haar donker lyf in die kuil

  van donkerte gewigloos laat sink,

  en ek in rustige gesprek

  met ‘n gedig

  oor ditte en datte en die dood

  waarna omgesien moet word,

  stilte wat gedeel moet word

  (so min tyd en so veel

  nog te doen, môre),

  bons iets of iemand teen die ruit.

  ‘n boodskapper? ‘n nagswerwer

  wat die pad byster geraak het?

  ‘n vriend wat met ‘n nat koerant

  se floerps dringend nuus wil bring

  van beseerde nagtegale?

  of ‘n blindedronk engel?

  ek lê my vinger op die gedig se lippe,

  loop na die venster

  met my dowwe weerkaatsing,

  kyk uit en af op die laatnag tuin

  gehul in stilte

  waar klippe môre sal smeul:


  en met die omdraai is die werkkamer leeg,

  geen gesig in die dooie glas, geen gedig.

  dis Plato wat onthou het

  die pluksels hoendervleisvel in die


  en op voorarms

  is waar vere vantevore gegroei het

  se rilling geheue


  you can’t let a drunken man hold a pen

  he will try to tack and sail against history

  you can’t let a drunken man leave the house before dawn

  when streetlights are still green

  he will go to the quay to bellow at the wind

  you can’t ask a drunken man to think straight

  he will tell you all about rodents in Siberia

  you can’t let a drunken man walk through town

  where sloe-eyed women have long and sly looks

  he will stumble over his words and his feet

  and go piss behind the laurel bush in the park with a shiver down his spine

  truly, you can’t ask a drunken man how about a poem

  he will pull faces by the window at passers-by

  and pretend he’s looking to rhyme with luck

  you can’t believe a drunken man when he says he has flown

  even if he’s covered in bumps and bruises

  and though a dirty pair of underpants

  be slapping the flagpole on city hall

  you cannot ask a drunken man after the whereabouts of God

  he will intimate that his underpants have been stolen

  you can’t allow a drunken man to work on the roof

  he will tell you he knows the ins and outs of the sound of singing

  while in his naked skin listening to the greediest secrets

  whispered in chimney flues

  you can’t question him at all about love

  for as a drunken suitor he will stumble

  when he offers you his heart in a bag of rotten tomatoes while his mouth is still red

  you can’t expect a drunken man to snitch on dead friends

  he has a knife with a white blade in his pocket

  you can’t inquire of a drunken man if he ever thinks of death

  he splutters too much when he curses and laughs

  verily, I say to you

  you can’t have a drunken man

  cry on paper

  it becomes a shitting of flies with tears and snot and old wine stains


  (from “The Singing Hand,” unpublished)


  jy kan nie ‘n dronk man ‘n pen vas laat hou

  hy sal aanhou probeer om teen geskiedenis te laveer

  jy kan nie ‘n dronk man voordag die huis uit laat gaan

  wanneer straatligte nog groen is nie

  hy sal op die kaai teen die wind staan en bulk

  jy kan nie ‘n dronk man vra om reguit te dink nie

  hy sal vir jou vertel van knaagdiere in Siberië

  jy kan nie ‘n dronk man in die dorp laat loop

  waar vrouens lang oë soos slange het nie

  hy sal struikel oor sy voete en sy woorde

  en agter die lourierbos in die park

  met ‘n rilling al langs sy rug af gaan pis

  jy kan mos nie ‘n dronk man vra wat is ‘n gedig nie

  hy sal by die venster gesigte trek vir verbygangers

  en vir jou sê hy soek ‘n rymwoord vir knak

  jy kan nie vir ‘n dronk man glo

  as hy sê hy het gevlieg nie

  al is hy vol knoppe en kneusplekke

  en al wapper daar ook ‘n vuil onderbroek

  aan die vlagpaal bo die stadsaal

  jy kan nie vir ‘n dronk man vra waar is God nie

  hy sal vir jou sê sy onderbroek is gesteel

  jy kan nie ’n dronk man op die dak laat werk nie

  hy sal vir jou sê hy weet alles van die katafoniek

  terwyl hy kaalgat die mees afgunstige geheime

  by die skoorsteen af luister en fluister

  jy kan hom nie uitvra oor die liefde nie

  want as dronk vryer sal hy steier

  en vir jou sy hart aanbied soos ’n kardoes vrot tamaties

  terwyl sy mond nog rooi is

  jy kan nie dat ‘n dronk man jou vertel

  van sy dooie vriende nie

  hy het ‘n langlem-mes in sy sak

  jy kan nie by ‘n dronk man wil weet

  wat hy dink van die dood nie

  hy proes te veel wanneer hy die brood probeer eet

  jy kan nie vir ‘n dronk man laat huil op papier

  dit word ‘n vlieëstrontery tussen trane en snot

  en ou vlekke wyn


  the dance of the stones

  my friend says: this world is so resonant

  nobody can complete it with understanding

  but in the beginning i
t was empty

  except for these stones

  like clotted thoughts where darkness rings

  my friend says this is what happens

  to the petrified shadowing of stars and this is what happens

  when you look down the well to reveal

  the one appearance in the shine of the other—

  does the heart not remember?

  for how will you bring presence in the poem?

  my friend says: death and poetry –

  are these not the same? and bird and wind –

  can the one fly without the other?

  and when light is born in that repetition

  between shredding of night-stars

  and day’s invisibility

  from the colour of movement?

  is this not but a description of hovering words?

  then my friend says: to pick up imagination like stones

  and hand them out as bread to the hungry

  is movement

  and to move is to reach out to rhythm

  for this is the dance



  this is the pas-de-deux of tolerance

  this the whispered wordhouse of generosity

  when you have but the I to give

  and forgive. look, freedom

  of weigh-and-deliver moves hither and forth

  between contract-relax-contract of attachment

  and the pendulum cringing of the bird-throbbing heart:

  look again – the naked madman who

  walked the streets of Luanda

  for three long years carrying his innards

  as carrion in the bowl of his hands

  was a dancing reporter of life

  here then the pattern: emptiness is form

  in the beginning, and to make it shiver

  you have to perfect birds as word-shadows,

  to sliver and flit words as the shadows of birds

  for on the one hand and then on the other –

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