By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
The moment stood still, in a kind of lingering motion. His Excellency smiled blessedly, beaming with the vigorous confidence that had deserted him for the past so many weeks. I did not need to think too much to understand what had happened. I had turned into a dog, his dog.
“We can now sleep,” His Excellency said and patted me softly on the back. “I will address the nation at dawn.”
I wagged my tail briefly and came to rest at his feet as he turned off the television.I could not sleep. Memory swamped me. I just about remembered every event, no matter how trivial,
that had marked my forty-odd years on earth. Of course my affairs with His Excellency dominated this night of memory.
Much has been made of the fiction published by the press that His Excellency was my childhood pal. The truth however is that I only had my first personal contact with him late last year. I had just published an article entitled “MULTI-PARTY DEMOCRACY OR RIGHT-WING DICTATORSHIP” in some newspapers. His Excellency took a liking to the article and arranged for a meeting with me through the Minister of Information who used to be my colleague on the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Agama.
Going to meet His Excellency that memorable Tuesday morning, I felt faint as the gates of all the security posts literally flew open at the approach of the posh Peugeot car specially conveying me to the seat of power. His Excellency’s aide-de-camp, a dapper lieutenant-colonel, met me at the lawn in front of the presidential office. He was polite, even genial, as he led me past a handful of receptionists and security agents, and into a large waiting room festooned with variegated garlands and ribbons. I sank into an ultramarine sofa as the ADC went into His Excellency’s office. I felt prickly hot and I was too uptight to take in any significant impression of the room. I was failing in the protracted struggle to control the weird quaking of my heart when His Excellency came out with the ADC. I promptly stood up without being asked to and I nearly swooned. His Excellency smiled broadly and pumped my hands in a spirited handshake.
“Welcome, Professor Nchara!” he said, shooting his large and luminous eyes into mine. “But I
expected to see a heavily bearded Marxist.”
We all laughed and I found out to my unbounded joy that I had relaxed markedly. The acute
palpitation of my heart had given place to a welcome calm and composure.
“His Excellency,” I said, scratching at my naked jaw, “it costs a fortune to maintain a beard.”
His Excellency roared in laughter and, gesturing, asked me into his office. I followed him, towering over him, feeling surprised at his diminutive stature that differed markedly from the almost overwhelming image that tended to exceed the television screen anytime he addressed the nation.
The well-studded bookcases tracing the edges of the office walls boasted of the complete works of Marx, Lenin, Mao, Kim Il Sung and the memoirs of world leaders such as Churchill, Nixon, Golda Meier, and Nkrumah.
“I know what you are thinking,” His Excellency was saying, forcing me to shift my gaze from the bookshelves. “You are surprised at a soldier having these books.”
“Not that,” I said ineffectually and my eyes fell on his table. The Sunday Times newspaper lay open at the opinion page. My controversial article on multi-party democracy which filled the page bore the biro-marks of thorough reading, if not painstaking study. I suddenly felt convinced, without knowing why, that His Excellency had made the marks himself.
“Why do you intellectuals believe that all soldiers are fools?” he asked, sitting down on his padded swivel-chair.
I made to say something but he smiled and asked me to sit down first. I smiled too and sat down. I told him that not all intellectuals looked down on the military. In any case, I added, several professors and academics were serving on his cabinet.
He hissed and said: “Sharing the trappings of a dictator’s power and respecting the dictator’s
person are worlds apart.”
A helpless vulnerability appeared to have come over him as he cast a quivering eye on his uniform and epaulette. I was torn between sympathy and indifference. You deserved no sympathy, I told myself, if at thirty-eight years of age you can boast of all life has to offer: an army general and a Head of State to boot.
“He machine-gunned himself into history by making a coup d’etat and claiming he is a socialist,” His Excellency said and sighed. “Those were the words one of your exiled colleagues used to describe me in a recent interview with the BBC.”
I sought for words to answer him but failed to find them. My awkward silence gained a respite when the ADC walked in to tell His Excellency of a certain scheduled meeting. While they talked I stared at the vague orange patterns formed on the sky-blue wall as the ascending sun sieved in through the window-gauze.
Showing some urgency when the ADC left, His Excellency held up the Sunday Times and said: “I greatly enjoyed what you wrote here. If I understand the write-up at all you appear to be saying that the recent demonstrations for a multi-party democracy in this country are a subtle ploy for the sponsorship of the right-wing dictatorship currently sweeping through the world.”
This was a simplistic, if confusing reading, of my thesis. I nodded, not in agreement with His
Excellency, but as a mark of my understanding of his need for such a self-serving interpretation.”
I got back to the university at noon and ran into a rude shock. I was hoping to regale my colleagues with the story of my meeting with His Excellency. Instead it was my colleagues who had news for me. They fell over each other congratulating me on my new appointment. Which new appointment? I did not know. It was only when one of the lecturers turned on a radio the news hit home: “Professor Amechi Nchara has been appointed a Special Assistant to the Head of State. The appointment is with immediate effect.”
“No, but why did His Excellency not tell me of this when I was with him?” I asked no one in particular. I was answered by a loud roar of laughter and a spontaneous and boisterous rendition of “For he is a jolly good fellow…”
I found in His Excellency a maverick. A formidable master of brinkmanship blessed with the touch of a poet, he equally enjoyed the business of running our complex country and being a humane friend to his pet, the dog called Bingo. His wife often complained to me that His Excellency preferred sleeping with Bingo in the sitting room than with her in the bedroom. I did not make much of this complaint until the wife fled the presidential palace, leaving behind the message: “I can come back to this house only as a dog.”
One evening, as I prepared to undertake the daily regime of walking Bingo through the streets, I confronted His Excellency with a question that haunted me: “What does Bingo mean to you, sir?”
“Everything,” he replied, passing his hand through the dark furs of the dog. “Bingo is order and loyalty and service, the embodiment of the qualities of any society that hopes to live. Bingo represents the finest principles of socialism.” He grinned and I could not help grinning too.
Bingo was killed a couple of weeks after. I was walking the dog as usual when a boy of about
eighteen confronted us. He muttered something about bourgeois dogs eating up the menu of an entire human family. He brought out a hideous pistol from one of the many pockets of his jeans overalls and to my utter horror shot the dog to smithereens. I ran away when he threatened to shoot me too.
His Excellency was broken by the news of Bingo’s death. “God,” he cried, “they have assassinated my dog.”
He fell into deep mourning and his confidence deserted him and the country teetered on the edge of chaos. It was as though the death of Bingo had destabilized the cosmos. A hostile press wrote of wanton arrests and interrogations over the murder of His Excellency’s dog. Demonstrators calling for a multi-party democracy took over the streets. His Excellency could neither summon the will to address the nation nor the gumption to quell the demonstrations. I endured as best I could, spending all of my time attending to him in the presidential palace.
This night, as the demonstrators got to within a stone throw of the presidential palace, I knew and His Excellency knew we had reached the make-or-break point. As the night wore on, the babel of voices kept rising, filling up our void with a howling menace. His Excellency’s security forces had done their utmost for the past so many hours but the doggedly protesting voices would not be stilled. It looked like nothing on earth could be done to contain these voices giving vent to the new rage across the globe: PEOPLE’S POWER.
A loud report of a gun thundered through the night and His Excellency looked at me with
bewildered, imploring eyes. He made to say something, thought better of it and turned his gaze on the huge television screen. He looked at me some more and a heartening fire mysteriously came into his eyes. He could no longer take his eyes away from me. Did he see in me the devotion and the spirit he cherished in Bingo? Has my nature changed? I could not be sure and His Excellency continued to stare at me with this new vision, this new beam, and the moment stood still…