He came hurtling down, hitting the ground with a deafening thud. No doubt he was impelled by a greater
power. The sheer force of the propulsion was indescribable. Next he was tossed high up, careering in a
zigzag trajectory that defied tracking. This time he landed with an exaggerated bounce and rolled through the
remaining distance like a log off a lorry.
He stood up groggily, limping. Looking around he found there was nowhere else to go. Then a stern voice
“Who sent you hither?”
The question came from nowhere. The questioner being invisible, the questioned couldn’t have given his
answer to the wind. Keeping mum, he pretended he hadn’t heard.
Thinking himself earthbound hitherto – his two feet, at least – he now discovered he was tumbling still. He let
the waves take him this time, neither aiding nor resisting.
“Who sent you?” the questioner persisted.
With heart solid as an iroko, the questioned resolved not to utter a word lest he lose his voice. Like once
upon a man in his neighbourhood who answered an early morning hail over his fence.
Appalled by the temerity of the silence, perhaps, the questioner materialised – for want of how else to put it.
Its face was a blur of mist. His entire frame cascaded billows of clouds to present the most unearthly creature
ever beheld. To make matters worse, one could not entirely delineate the silhouette from the camouflage the
backdrop presented. Which would not have been a problem had the reverse been the case.
“Wayfarer,” the figure emitted with palpable gusto. “Who sent you on this errand?”
It was as if all its strength had been expended in the effort to become visible. Slowly it dissolved into the
clouds it had emanated from.
No doubt he was that lord upon a time who once ruled over the wayfarer’s land in proxy for the kings and
queens of his distant empire at the height of the colonial era. No one from the country – or territory, as it was
then termed – could miss him. Not even the wayfarer born long after the man had lived and died in a foreign
land for his king – long did he reign!
The wayfarer’s eyes began to adjust to the light around him and he suddenly realised where he was. Both
feet this time were firmly on the ground. He was approaching a kind of garden, barefoot. The grassed path
he was walking along – led on by the appearing and disappearing spectre he had seen – was lined with
shrubs. It had an obscure plaque, Garden of Our Zeroes Past, fixed to the stem of an old tree where the
pathway arched sharply to the right.
The thickly moustachioed ghoul he had beheld sat on a stool fashioned from the stump of a tree. Festooned
in sweet-smelling petals, he was busy tending an aromatic blossom of sepals and metatarsals. All around him
adamantine boughs forged from eternity branched off coeval trees. Young shoots – like the one presently
taking more than his attention – sprouted around his either feet, trellised on the wind.
“My forefathers sent me,” our voyager managed.
“Your four fathers… You had four?”
“Yes. My forefathers sent me.”
“Did you chose to be sent or were you forced?”
“I could not have been forced. I opted. Had to…things got out of sync…”
“You have to be strong, then.”
“I was already strong,” he said, expecting a reprimand.
“You need to be stronger, then.”
“Stronger than I already am?”
“Even many times more than you already think you are.”
“I’m already as strong as I should be.”
“What are you armed with?”
“This, as you can see – the strongest weapon on the planet.”
“A mere quill pen? Not even a ballpoint.”
“What else should one have had?”
“What do you think those you are up against have?”
“They can have whatever they please. All I care about is mine.”
“Don’t be impudent about it.”
“I can see where you belong.”
“Yes, and I’m not ashamed about it.”
“You ought to be.”
“Well, I’m not.”
“The story of your country is not a fairytale like you imagine.”
“Until when, if I get you right?”
“From its beginning…to its eternity.”
“Not even the rigmarole like one had expected?”
“Well, you can call it that if you choose.”
The conversation left him reeling. Perhaps he had not been well detailed. The control of the government had again changed hands within the military high command. A bizarre tradition in the country’s history saw power
only exchanging hands between the top brass. Young Turks who thought otherwise were invariably foiled.
“Anyway,” the grand old man said with finality, “I will send you to your proper master, your own person as the
case is… You must realise that indirect rule is still very much alive.”
He pointed the wayfarer to a different enclave in the garden.
The man he was sent to met him as he approached another arbour carved out of the surrounding foliage. He
was black, like predicted; and moustachioed, too. But the crop of hair on top of his upper lip was not of the
walrus kind favoured by the other. His was pencil lined and altogether dapper.
“What about our brothers in the Cameroons?” he asked, taking the wayfarer back to the time when half of
that French territory had been British.
“They are fine, master,” the wayfarer answered.
“Tell them I send my greetings.”
“I’ll do as much, master.”
He asked some other anachronistic questions before zeroing in on the present. “It is a pity what the
motherland has turned into,” he began. “To imagine the latest turn of events baffles me to the marrow.”
“So what became of the interim president?” the wayfarer asked, beside himself with rage. The hen does not
forget who culled her tail feathers during the rains.
“Ah, he read the coup speech. What did you expect?”
“The onus automatically fell on him when his defence minister made the approach.”
The wayfarer could not have imagined this turn of events from Mr Walrus’s British half-suggestion earlier.
“I can’t believe this,” he replied, and added: “You want to tell me he left the warmth of the presidential palace
to creep to a radio station before the advent of dawn to topple his own government?”
“You make me want to laugh. This is not the first of its kind, if you don’t know. Well, it had all the trappings of
a presidential broadcast. Only that, seated behind the coat of arms, flags flapping full mast, he progressed to
lecture his fellow countrymen on the necessity of change.”
“And you say it has a precedent?”
“Oh yes, it does. Is it because the man who ended up doing it then was the most unlikely in the
“And when was this, if you’ll permit my asking?”
“The first coup and its aftermath, of course, when the civilian surrender to the military hierarchy fell on the
shoulders of the hapless senate president, the prime minister having been killed. As for the ceremonial
president, you will also recall that he had earlier fled abroad for medical check-up. Things did not start
happening today, my dear.”
Still a juvenile in those heady times, the education proved instructive. He took it all in, wondering what his
take would be on it when he had time to digest it.
Meanwhile, the marathon lecture was yet to abate.
“You who know so much from the fall of the second republic to the eve of the fourth, and yet you don’t know
about the demise of the first?”
“About as much as the history books tell us.”
“History books? Written by whom?”
“Participants and observers.”
“Both are alike. While the former will add more salt than is necessary, the latter – too far away from the action
– will overdo the pepper. Spice is only tolerable in half measures, my brother.”
“Leaving me where?”
“Where you shouldn’t have ever been.”
“And where should I have been?”
“In the murky crypt where all your predecessors ended up. You and your ilk often want to do too much and
end up failing even to leave this side of the journey.”
“And who are these my…?”
“Your Christian brothers, who else? You’ll find them in the Martyrs to a Lost Cause cove.”
“It is not my portion.”
“They, in turn, never imagined it was theirs, either. But that is where they are as we talk…”
“I must make progress.”
This escaped him involuntarily and got him wondering: was he now in charge or what? And did this represent
a form of progress? As he pondered these, another puzzle popped up: Where could he progress to without
the counsel of those who had gone before?
While he battled with these ruminations, a wind slowly spiralled him high up – like inflation in his motherland –
out of the Zeroes Past…