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Authors: Ngugi wa'Thiong'o

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BOOK: Wizard of the Crow
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4

The fourth theory asserted that his illness had its origins in all the tears, unshed, that Rachael, his legal wife, had locked up inside her soul after her fall from his grace.

The Ruler and his wife had fallen out one day when Rachael asked questions about the schoolgirls who, rumors claimed, were often invited to the State House to make his bed, where he, like the aging white man of the popular saying, fed on spring chicken. Of course, the Ruler would never admit to aging, but he had no problems with the “white man” comparison, and so he amended the proverb to say that a white man renews his youth with spring chicken. Imagine how he must have felt about Rachael’s attempt to deny him his fountains of youth! How indiscreet and indecorous of her to ask the unaskable! Since when could a male, let alone a Ruler, be denied the right to feel his way around women’s thighs, whether other men’s wives or schoolgirls? What figure of a Ruler would he cut were he to renounce his right to husband all women in the land in the manner of the lords of Old Europe, whose
droits de seigneur
gave them the right to every bride-to-be?

Rachael thought she was being reasonable. I know you take the title Father of the Nation seriously, she told him. You know that I have not complained about all those women who make beds for you, no matter how many children you sire with them. But why schoolgirls? Are they not as young as the children you have fathered? Are they not really our children? You father them today and tomorrow you turn them into wives? Have you no tears of concern for our tomorrow?

They were dining in the State House, and to Rachael the evening was very special because it was the first time in a long while that they were alone together: the burdens of presiding over the nation hardly ever gave them time to share meals and engage in husband-and-wife talk. Rachael believed in the saying that clothes maketh a woman, and that night she had taken particular care with her appearance: a white cotton dress with a V-shaped collar, short sleeves pleated at the edges, a necklace highlighting her slender neck, rings on her fingers, and dangling from her elegant ears, diamonds sparkling all about her.

We can very well imagine the scene. Guiding his fork unerringly toward his lips, the Ruler was about to place a morsel of chicken into his mouth, when suddenly, at Rachael’s words, the fork froze in midair; slowly, he lowered the fork to the plate, the piece of chicken still on it, took the napkin and wiped his lips with deliberation. Before replacing the napkin on the table, he turned to his wife and asked: Rachael, did I really hear you say that I have been forcing myself on schoolchildren? That I don’t cry over our tomorrow? Have you ever heard of a Ruler who cries, except maybe, well, never mind him, and where did those daily tears of a grown man lead him? He lost his throne. Do you want me to end up as he did?

There is always a difference between a thought and its description: what the Ruler had been dwelling on when lowering the fork to the table and wiping his lips with a corner of the napkin was not the fate of a Ruler who wept and so lost his throne but rather what he would have to do to make Rachael understand that he, the Ruler, had power, real power over everything including … yes … Time. He shuddered at the thought. Even before the shuddering completed its course, he had made up his mind.

Speaking with studied calm, a faint smile on his face, he told Rachael that the unfinished meal would be their last supper together, that he would go away to give her time to think about the implications of her allegations, and since she would need space to think, he would bring to pass what had been written in the scriptures: In My Father’s House Are Many Mansions. Even for sinners.

He built her a house on a seven-acre plot that he surrounded with a stone wall and an electric fence, and it was while contemplating the unbreachable walls that the idea of a building that reached … but we shall talk about that later, because the idea was given expression
by one of his most faithful and adoring ministers. What was undis-putedly the product of his own genius, in its conception and execution, was the construction of Rachael’s mansion.

All the clocks in the house were frozen at the second, the minute, and the hour that she had raised the question of schoolgirls; the calendars pointed to the day and the year. The clocks tick-tocked but their hands did not move. The mechanical calendar always flipped to the same date. The food provided was the same as at the last supper, the clothes the same as she had worn that night. The bedding and curtains were identical to those where she had once lived. The television and radio kept repeating programs that were on during the last supper. Everything in the new mansion reproduced the exact same moment.

A record player was programmed to play only one hymn:

Our Lord will come back one day
He will take us to his home above
I will then know how much he loves me
Whenever he comes back

And when he comes back
You the wicked will be left behind
Moaning your wicked deeds
Whenever our Lord comes back

The idea of the endless repetition of this hymn pleased him so much that he had amplifiers placed at the four corners of the seven-acre plantation so that passersby and even others would benefit from the tune and the words.

Rachael would remain thus, awaiting his second coming, and on that day when he found that she had shed all the tears for all the tomorrows of all the children she had accused him of abusing, he would take her back to restart life exactly from where it had stopped, or rather Rachael would resume her life, which had been marking time, like a cinematic frame on pause. I am your beginning and your end.

What were you before I made you my wife? he asked, and answered himself, A primary school teacher. I am the past and the present
you have been and
I am your tomorrow take it or leave it,
he added in English as he turned his back on her.

There was only one entrance to the seven-acre prison. An armed guard was stationed at the stone gate to make sure that she neither left or received visitors except officials who replenished supplies and doubled as spies, or else her children.

Her children? Apart from the numberless others he begot upon his bed-makers, the Ruler had four boys with Rachael. They were not the brightest in their class, and he had taken them out of school before they had obtained their high school diplomas. He enlisted them in the army—to learn on the job—where they quickly rose to the highest ranks. At the beginning of their mother’s frozen present, the firstborn, Rueben Kucera, was a three-star general in the army; the second, Samwel Moya, a two-star general in the air force; the third, Dickens Soi, a one-star general in the navy; and the fourth, Richard Runyenje, an army captain. But apart from their military duties they were all on the board of directors of several parastatals closely linked to foreign companies, particularly those involved in the exploration of oil and the mining of precious metals. They were also on several licensing boards. Their main task was to sniff out any anti-government plots in the three branches of the armed forces, as well as to receive bribes. The only problem was that the four were so partial to alcohol and drugs that it was difficult for them to keep up with whatever was happening in the armed forces or on the boards over which they sat. The Ruler was rather disappointed, for he had hoped that at least one of his sons with Rachael might inherit the throne, establishing a mighty family dynasty, and so he often scolded them for their lack of ambition and appetite for power. Yet on the days when they brought him their collections, there was the celebratory atmosphere of a family reunion.

They did not view their mother’s life in a seven-acre cage as a dangerous confinement, and when they were not too drunk they would call her—Rachael could receive calls but she could not call out—to say how are you, and when they heard her say that she was fine, they took it that all was well with her and they would quickly return to what they knew best: alcohol, drugs, and bribes.

In calling her, albeit only now and then, the sons actually showed more humanity toward her than did their father, who never once visited
the cage to say another word, good or bad. Despite this, Rachael was always in the Ruler’s mind, for he received daily reports of her moods and activities; how she spent her day, how she slept, the words she muttered to herself, everything.

What he yearned to hear was any news of her tears, the one sign that would unerringly point to her breakdown and desire for redemption. But he didn’t. It is said by those who hold the fourth theory that Rachael, aware of this insatiable desire for humiliating the already fallen, had sworn that she would never let him see her tears or hear about them, not even from her children or the numerous spies. And the more she held out, the more he needed her self-abnegation. Her tears had become the battlefield of their wills.

This obsession with her tears, claimed the creators of the fourth theory, led to the Ruler’s strange illness.

The trouble with this theory was that it relied either on rumors or whatever could be deduced from the behavior of the Ruler’s children.

It was also the least known of the five theories because it was whispered only among people who trusted one another: for who would be so foolish as to talk about this openly unless he courted death?

5

There were others who, to this day, are ready to swear that the illness had nothing to do with burning anger, the anguished cry of a wronged he-goat, the aging reign, or Rachael’s tears, and theirs was the fifth theory: that the illness was the sole work of the daemons that the Ruler had housed in a special chamber in the State House, who had now turned their backs on him and withdrew their protective services.

It is said that the walls and ceiling of the chamber were made from the skeletons of the students, teachers, workers, and small farmers he had killed in all the regions of the country, for it was well known that he came into power with flaming swords, the bodies of his victims falling down to his left and right like banana trunks. The
skulls of his most hated enemies hung on the walls and others from the ceiling, bone sculptures, white memories of victory and defeat.

The chamber was a cross between a museum and a temple, and every morning the Ruler, after first bathing in the preserved blood of his enemies, would enter, carrying a staff and a fly whisk, and then walk about quietly, looking at the various exhibits one by one; then, about to leave, he would suddenly stop at the door and glance one more time at the chamber and, with mocking gestures of triumphant contempt, at the dark holes and grinning teeth where once eyes and mouths had been.

What were you after? he would ask the skulls as if they could hear him. This fly whisk, this scepter, this crown? He would pause as if expecting an answer, and when the skulls failed to respond he would burst out in guffaws as if daring them to contradict what he was about to say: I plucked out your tongues and tore your lips to show you that a politician without a mouth is no politician at all. But there were times when it looked as if the skulls were grinning back in coun-termockery and the laughter would stop abruptly. You fucking bastards, it is your own greed and boundless ambitions that led you here. Did you seriously think that you had a chance to overthrow me? Let me tell you. The person who would even dare has not been born, and if he has, he still will have to change himself into a spirit and grow a beard and human hair on his feet. You did not know that, did you? he would add, pointing at them with his staff menacingly, his mouth foaming with fury.

Let me say as the narrator that I cannot confirm the truth or falsity of the existence of the chamber; it may turn into a mere rumor or tale from the mouth of Askari Arigaigai Gathere: but if it exists, simple logic proves that it was the Ruler’s morning rites in this chamber of skulls that long ago, before the Ruler’s fatal visit to America and any talk of his illness, had given rise to a rumor that quickly spread throughout the country. Whenever two or three gathered together, the very first question was about the rumor: Can you believe it? Did you know that the Ruler is a devil worshipper, and that he worships his lord and master, Satan, in the name of a serpent?

The rumor about devil and snake worship took root in all Aburiria following one of the most ambitious programs for birthday celebrations in honor of a Ruler ever undertaken in the country.

6

Now everybody in the country knew something or other about the Ruler’s birthday because, before it was firmly set in the national calendar, the date of his birth and the manner of its celebration had been the subject of a heated debate in Parliament that went on for seven months, seven days, seven hours, and seven minutes, and even then the honorable members could not arrive at a consensus mainly because nobody knew for sure the actual date of the Ruler’s birth, and when they failed to break the impasse, the honorable members sent a formal delegation to the very seat of power to seek wise guidance, after which they passed a motion of gratitude to the Ruler for helping the chamber find a solution to a problem that had completely defeated their combined knowledge and experience. The birthday celebrations would always start at the seventh hour of the seventh day of the seventh month, seven being the Ruler’s sacred number, and precisely because in Aburlria the Ruler controlled how the months followed each other—January for instance trading places with July—he therefore had the power to declare any month in the year the seventh month, and any day within that seventh month the seventh day and therefore the Ruler’s Rirthday The same applied to time, and any hour, depending on the wishes of the Ruler, could be the seventh hour.

The attendance at these annual assemblies always varied, but that particular year the stadium was almost full because the curiosity of the citizens had been aroused by a special announcement, repeated over and over in the media, that there would be a special birthday cake, which the entire country had made for the Ruler and which he might make multiply and feed the multitude the way Jesus Christ once did with just five loaves and two fishes. The prospect of cakes for the multitude may explain the more than usual presence of victims of kwashiorkor.

BOOK: Wizard of the Crow
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