Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Gone to the Dogs

Gone to the Dogs
I was sitting on the veranda when round the corner staggered Aunty Cathy, flopping into a canvas chair in a cloud of dust. ‘Another funeral?’ I asked.
‘It’ll be my funeral next,’ she gasped.
‘Don’t say that,’ I laughed. ‘I shall need you to arrange mine. I’ll go and make a pot of tea, and you can tell me all about it.’
‘So what’s been happening?’ I asked, as I came back with a pot of tea and a glass of brandy for myself. ‘You look as if you’ve just escaped from the ruins of Benghazi.’
‘The ruins of Chilenje,’ she corrected me. ‘The place is now more like a war zone.’
‘What’s happening?’ I asked. ‘I thought you said everything would be alright with the takeover by the new Godfather, what’s his name?’
‘Round Belly,’ sighed Cathy. ‘Yes, we thought we’d be alright with him. Such a jolly fellow, always laughing and cracking jokes and inviting people for free beer, we really thought he’d look after us.’
‘Ha!’ I laughed. ‘A Godfather is always a Godfather. They just run protection rackets and collect the proceeds! You got what you asked for!’
‘It’s alright for you, living in Kalakiland. But in the Land of Zed we have to live in the world of reality, not the world of wishful thinking. Things were really bad when Round Belly offered us his protection.’
‘How bad?’
‘Every morning after waking up, the first thing you’d do would be to go to the sitting room and check if the TV was still there, then to the kitchen to see if the pots and pans were still there.’
‘Don’t your yards have walls and gates?’
‘One morning I woke up to find the gates had been stolen.’
‘So what was Round Belly’s solution to the problem?’
‘He said he’d employ patrol dogs to frighten the thieves away. Each household would pay him ten pins a month and all would be well.’
‘But it didn’t work?’
‘Before long, with all those ten pins, he’d built himself a double story house and bought a Merc.’
‘But did you get protection?’
‘We were terrorized by his dogs! They would come into the house and eat all the food. Soon the people were starving.’
‘But you still had your TV!’
‘Yes, but that was a mixed blessing. Every night on TV we had to watch stories of how Godfather Round Belly had saved the people of Chilenje, and how happy we were with the Godfather of the Nation.’
‘So why didn’t you protest?’
‘Some people tried to hold a meeting at Libala Football Field, but the dogs attacked them. Some lost legs, others had their bellies ripped open, and several died. The survivors were arrested for assault.’
‘They tried to hit back at the dogs.’
‘And did Round Belly know about all this?’
‘That was the thing. Nobody believed that such a nice jovial fellow as Round Belly could be behind it. Even me, I thought the problem was just that he had employed wrong people. For instance, a known criminal called William Bandit had been put in charge of the dogs.’
‘Perhaps Round Belly was also surrounded by wrong advisors?’
‘Exactly. That was just what people were saying. They didn’t tell him what was really going on, but what he wanted to hear. And he had a notorious crooked lawyer, called Red Lips, who used to whisper poison into his ear.’
‘Why didn’t you go and see him? Talk to him? Advise him?’
‘We did. We went to his big mansion, and he was absolutely charming. A real nice fellow. He showed us some of his dogs. Poodles and Labradors, which were playing with this children. He said his dogs were harmless, and these vicious dogs which were terrorizing us must have come from Chibolya. He had always been an activist for peace, and couldn’t stand violence in any form. He promised us that he would deal with the people that were trying to tarnish his name. Then gave us a nice braii of T-bone steak and beer, after which we all shook hands and left in high spirits.’
‘You were convinced?’
‘Oh yes. He seemed a very nice man.’
‘And did things get better?’
‘Things got worse. The next thing was that he gave away land to foreigners to set up factories. One factory for making coffins and headstones and another for making tea cups out of human skulls, which are very popular in Ching Chang.’
‘So more employment! That was good!’
‘That was worse. The workers were paid only four hundred pins a month. Their wives and daughters had to go on the street to support them.’
‘Then why didn’t the workers protest?’
‘They did. Most of them were killed by the dogs. The survivors were arrested for protesting without a permit.’
‘So did you still believe that Round Belly was really a very nice man?’
‘Yesterday morning I confided to my neighbour that I was beginning to think that Round Belly actually knew about all these things. That perhaps he was the one behind everything.’
‘And did she agree?’
‘She didn’t say anything. But last night a bulldozer came and flattened my house. That’s why I’ve come to take refuge in Kalakiland.’
‘What!’ I gasped. ‘You must report all this to the Human Rights Commission!’
‘Don’t be silly,’ she sneered, ‘They went to the dogs years ago!’

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