The Lion Loses His Mane

Part One

Obadia was older than he could really remember, or was willing to admit. His birth certificate, brown and frail bore the coat of arms belonging to a colonial government from a time as extinct as most of his peers and yet still fresh in his mind. The modern birth certificates bore a ‘bolder’ and more ‘evocative’ coat of arms which replaced the two lions with a falcon whose wings stretched wide to encompass a crest and a native man and woman standing either side of the crest. The man carried a spear and the woman a multi-colored shield. The designers proclaimed that it reflected ‘a national pride in the self-sufficiency of an enlightened African people as diverse as the different colors of the country’s soil. Obadia’s birth certificate however still bore the marks from a different time and even had the words, “British Colony and Protectorate of Mbogoti” emboldened across the top. It indicated that he was born in 1947, even though he insisted the document to be inaccurate as it was issued to him long after he stopped relying on his mother to wipe the stool off his bottom. To his credit, he did look younger than the certificate implied. He always walked with his back straight and his eyes had that wide look people have when they have just faced a life-haunting horror, or when they’re hungry.

He woke up that morning feeling a fresh sense of optimism. Something about the way the morning breeze blew, soft and unhurried, made his bones feel pleasant. His youngest son Badi was already dressed for school and sat at the dining room table reading a book that was almost a quarter his height and very likely equal his weight. Whatever it contained seemed to hold his attention acutely as he did not seem to notice when his father walked into the room. He muttered softly to himself as he thumbed through the pages of the book.

“Di,” Obadia finally called, “How did you sleep?”

The boy’s face immediately jerked towards his father, surprise and delight dominating his expression equally.

“I slept well Pa, how are you feeling today.” The boy asked as he rose to kiss his father’s palm and lead him to one of the chairs at the table.

“I feel twenty again my boy.” He replied with particularly exaggerated emphasis. “I could probably pass off as your older brother.”

His son chuckled, “Nice try papa. Doctor Hamud was very insistent that we pay him a visit today and that’s exactly what we are doing.”

The old man grumbled and said in a less cheery tone, “As far as am concerned, you and the doctor are in cahoots in a scheme to steal my money.”

His son’s face lit up with mischief as he replied, “Of course we want your money, but we’re also deeply worried about your health. Considering you keep challenging that hardy porter boy down the street to a boxing match, maybe you should be too.” He went about setting the table for breakfast and serving his father tea and bread before settling into a chair to chow down.

They ate in silence for a moment before the father finally asked, “What’s that book you’re reading?”

“It’s an autobiography by Salilou Jackson.” The son answered, “I think he was a president of someplace or maybe worked for the UN. It doesn’t say on the book but he must be important, everyone at school is reading his book.”

He could have been president of the world and Obadia wouldn’t have known better. Having spent most of his youth in the dark damp forests of Kilangwe with the Langi Langi Rebels, causing the colonial government all kinds of problems, he felt he had contributed enough to the power games politicians loved to play and therefore stopped trying to keep up. Back then it had seemed so simple: free my countrymen from the noose of tyranny and let the people govern themselves. Now, in retrospect, he wondered if that had been the wrong time to do so. Maybe we weren’t ready yet.

“Read some of it to me.” His interest was piqued.

Badi leafed through the earlier pages with his thumb pinned on the current page, like a bookmark. He stopped somewhere closer to the center before he began reciting, “Look, here he says: ‘African politics, like most things about our continent, have taken on an ugly and painfully unassailable face that seems to veer further and further from the vision that spurred on the freedom fighters of the African nations…’”

The old man considered that point for a moment, his son’s narrating voice a backdrop against the conversation inside his mind. When the colonial government officials had tucked their tails between their legs and hightailed it, they had left the locals a problem as novel as it was daunting. A real headache. A nation that had never been a nation before but a smattering of independent city states governed by the highest authority within each tribe, before the royalty of Europe had chopped up the entire continent into pieces like cake to be shared among them and introduced borders that were never there before, a nation with over thirty different tribes, each with their own varying values and moral perceptions, that nation had been asked to produce a leader to represent them all, an ‘archetypal of the entire nation’s traditional leadership values’, a leader typifying the identity of an entire nation. A nation that had never been a nation before.

Under the immense pressure of it all, a leader had emerged and tentatively taken up the mantle of responsibility and everybody had rallied behind him. Until that leader had decided to make his reign a bit more permanent than had been originally planned. Now, forty years later, that nation that had never been a nation before, had reverted to being a smattering of tiny nations each one eager to see its own leader have a turn at the “big seat.” No, Obadia concluded, this was not what they had been fighting for. His interest in Salilou Whoever’s book grew further.

“…all that, however, may be about to change.” His son continued gushing out the wisdom of Salilou. “Should the predictions of sociologists hold true, African politicians should brace themselves for the biggest shakeup since the fight for independence that raged continent-wide a lifetime ago.

“As the world prepares to bid goodbye to the era of Millennials, their successors, the so-called Generation Z, may be the last (or simply the latest) hope for the common citizen. Born into an age of technology, where everyone is connected to everyone and everything has become easier to access and obtain, these individuals have been predicted to be the kind of leaders who want nothing to stand in their way of getting what they want. They are the type of individuals we can expect to see build their own companies, to make them successful, tenacious in their fight for equal rights for everyone and who will soon be the new face  of altruism. Such individuals will stand no authority, government or otherwise, needlessly hampering their mission.

“Politicians will find it hard to sway them with their words. Tribal lines along which politicians and most citizens identify themselves may soon dissolve away, even as it remains controversial whether or not they should, in the wake of this generation bursting onto the scene.

“In as much as sociologists can be blamed for their tendencies to group people and label them collectively, and let it not be said that Salilou is an advocate for such behavior, and in as much as predictions made by beings with limited perceptions like humans rarely come true (else we wouldn’t have half as many weatherman jokes), the thought of a bee-hive-mind generation focused on making a positive impact on society thrills me to the very bones. Change is coming and it’s an ideological change, the kind that can’t be suppressed by force or swayed by fruitless politics.”

The boy looked up from the book as if to measure his father’s reaction. His father just nodded back and smiled , seemingly in approval. Obadia made a mental note to himself to read the book himself later. The morning session then lapsed into silence as the two finished their breakfast, mulling over the words from Salilou’s book. It was the kind of silence that had come to define the two-bedroom bungalow father and son called home. A deep reflective silence that echoed off the poorly-decorated crumbling concrete wall and pocked-tile floor far more than any loud and meaningless conversation ever could.

——————————————————————–

Outside, the breeze persisted, soft and unhurried. The small clay-laced compound housed a Toyota car so massive it almost dwarfed the bungalow. It had been a gift, for lack of a better word, from his other son, the eldest. An offering, would be a more fitting word. Unused from the day it was delivered there. Obadia had decreed it would remain so for as long as the prodigal son continued to snub his father’s attempts at resolution after they fell out more than ten years ago.

Badi eyed it longingly as they left for the hospital. He tried to imagine, for the hundred thousandth time how the girls would have reacted had he rolled into school with that beauty. The first ever student to drive to Kalimoni High. No, the only member of the school besides the principal to drive their own car to school, ever. It would have been a moment worthy of inclusion in the history books.

——————————————————————–

“Simba wa Kilangwe!” The porter boy down the street called, waving furiously at them. Lion of Kilangwe!

Father and son turned to face him and waved back.

“Kunazizima leo!” The young man shouted again. It’s freezing today!

“Kunazizima kweli,” Obadia called back. It truly is.

“Dikteta atatusikia tukinguruma leo!” The boy added and barked an awkward war cry. The tyrant will hear us roar today!

Tyrants have a terrible knack of not listening to criticism, unless their hands wrapped around the throat of whoever was doing the talking, Obadia thought grimly as the porter waved goodbye and dissapeared around the corner. For all your sakes, I hope he’s not in that kind of mood today.

——————————————————————–

They arrived at Doctor Hamud’s a quarter of an hour before he did. The day was still in its youthful stage, the sun barely having imposed itself. Even that early, a crowd thronged the main waiting area of the hospital, all of them having risen early to beat the queue, only to end up bolstering it.

The doctor was a lively light-skinned Muslim man in his middle ages, who always seemed to be in the mood to smile. He had a couch in his office for his patients. Having worked at the hospital for twenty years, he was the only doctor there with enough pull to convince the administration into giving him one, and letting him keep it. He always wanted his patients to feel comfortable, in a manner you would expect a shrink to. He even offered father and son a cup of tea. They politely refused but secretly wished they hadn’t stuffed themselves earlier that morning. The sweet scent of vanilla and cloves rose from the doctor’s cup and floated around the room like a mute ghost. Moments later, the father yielded and poured himself a cup. The son eagerly followed suit.

“Pa says you and I are scheming to steal his money.” Badi said to the doctor, then added with a wink, “All these suspicious visits to the hospital in the past few weeks and so on. I think he’s on to us.”

The doctor looked puzzled for a moment as he tried to decipher the gesture, and then a childish smile played on his face. He pulled on his best improv face as he replied, “Well, you didn’t tell him how much we’ve siphoned from his offshore accounts did you? The last thing this country needs is another multi-million shillings scandal, endless court prosecutions and…”

Badi clapped his hands on his mouth when the doctor said multi-million and feigned shock and disappointment, carrying along the doctor’s playact, a telepathic link synchronizing the two’s performances.

“Oh dear. Now he knows.” The doctor enacted with a fake panic-stricken face.

The father almost choked on his tea as he laughed at the two Hollywood graduates’ enactment. “Alright, alright. You’ve made your point you two.” He waved dismissively. They shared a hearty laugh.

“Ideally, I too would have preferred if we had finished your checkup the first time you came in.” The doctor said, his face back to normal, “Maybe that would have been possible if medical equipment and drugs always arrived in time, and maybe if we weren’t so criminally understaffed too but…”  He shrugged his shoulders.

Then the doctor’s face turned serious as he looked at the results of the tests he had had the nurses perform on Obadia. On to the business then.

“Mr Obadia,” he said, “Before I begin, I need to plead with you to remain as calm as you possibly can.”

The world might have responded better had the doctor pleaded with it to stop spinning.

                         ——————————————————————–

Thank you all as always for reading. I welcome all opinions, corrections and additions.

Click here to read part two!

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