It was a lovely warm Wednesday evening in September, and Cycle Mata was due to be sworn in the following morning. So I decided to join in the celebrations at my favourite watering hole in Chainda, the Just One More.
‘Hi Kalaki!’ said a few voices as I stepped inside. ‘How did you vote?’
‘I voted for Donchi Kubeba,’ I laughed, ‘at three different polling stations.’
‘Ha ha!’ they all hooted, raising their glasses. ‘Come and join us!’
‘Hang on a minute,’ I said, ‘I’m looking for somebody.’ I had already spotted my young friend
Sishuwa sitting at the end of the bar. ‘Sishuwa Sishuwa Sishuwa!’ I exclaimed, as I gave him a high five, ‘You were right after all! How did he do it? What’s the opinion from Oxford ?’ Oxford
‘A double Lavelle for Kalaki,’ Sishuwa called to the barman, ‘and a dry sherry for me!’
‘Hah!’ I cackled, ‘you never find dry sherry here!’
‘He keeps a bottle for me under the counter,’ explained
, as the barman poured the drinks. Oxford
‘A little bit of
right in the middle of Chainda!’ I exclaimed. Oxford
‘That’s right,’ he chuckled. ‘Now that Nyamasoya is gone, the good times are back! Away with chibuku and tujilijili! We shall all be drinking Mosi Gold with whisky chasers!’
‘You never answered my question,’ I said. ‘How did he do it?’
‘Try to be more precise, Kalaki. How did who do what?’
‘How did Cycle Mata win?’
‘That’s the wrong question?’
‘What? He won, didn’t he?’
‘No,’ said Sishuwa calmly. ‘It was Nyamasoya who lost. Cycle Mata was just the accidental recipient. Cycle Mata didn’t do anything except go round the country making strange hiccupping noises into the microphone. Nobody understood what he was trying to say, so he didn’t annoy anybody.’
‘But when they cheered, he cheered!’
‘Exactly,’ he agreed. ‘And when they snarled, he snarled. He was very reflective of the mood of the people. People saw themselves in him. If he had said anything definite, he could easily have annoyed them.’
‘And Nyamasoya managed to annoy them?’
‘Shot himself in the foot,’ declared Sishuwa, as he took a delicate sip of his sherry.
‘By insulting Cycle Mata?’ I suggested
‘He gives as good as he gets,’ laughed Sishuwa.
‘By destroying the new constitution?’
‘A constitution can’t collect votes!’
‘He annoyed them by trying to bribe them to vote for him! All that sugar and mealie-meal, corrupting the youth with tujilijili, chitenges for everybody!’
‘What a puritan you are, Kalaki,’ laughed Sishuwa. ‘You can’t annoy people with bribes! They love them! Chitenge everywhere! In the end everybody had chitenge dresses, chitenge shirts and chitenge suits, chitenge curtains and chitenge bedding. Cycle Mata told them to enjoy it all, and even dressed his own dog in blue chitenge!’
‘So what was the problem? Why did Nyamasoya lose?’
Sishuwa pointed to a very thin old man, sitting by himself in a dark corner, sipping a glass of water. ‘Go and ask him. He knows. He’ll tell you.’
We both walked over to this fellow. ‘Tinkaleko pansi, mdala?’ I said.
‘Feel free,’ he replied graciously, raising his bony hand in the direction of two chairs.
‘We were just wondering, mdala,’ I began, as we sat down, ‘why, would you say, that Nyamasoya lost?’
‘He lost because of all the lies,’ he replied. ‘Twenty years of lies. We ask for higher wages, there was no money. We wanted medicines in hospital, there was no money. School books, no money. We were reduced to complete starvation, but still there was no money.’
I looked at the old man, wearing an old tattered trilby hat and threadbare suit. Terribly thin, just skin and bone. His eyes were sunken.
‘How they lied,’ his dry voice rattled. ‘They had the money all the time, the Movement for Multi Deception, fat and rich. When they want our vote, suddenly there is money everywhere. Billions of it! Trillions of it!’
‘What about you, mdala, how did you survive?’
‘Survive? Survive? How could I survive? Thirty years I paid in for a pension, but when I asked for it, there was nothing. My wife, she died in childbirth. My daughter, gone to prostitution. My son, went mad and long since gone. Grandchildren, dead from malnutrition. Me, I was once an Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture. Now I’m a dead man walking.’
‘You voted against them?’
‘We all rose up against them! We are the ghost voters! Two million of us! We kept our voters cards. We all came back to vote.’ I looked into his eyes, there was nothing there. As he rose to go, I saw the green mildew on his ragged suit. I saw the white bone of his ankle as he walked out through the door, out into the night, in the direction of Leopards Hill.
‘Christ Almighty!’ I said, as a shiver went down my spine. ‘I need another brandy!’
‘I was more right than I realized,’ said Sishuwa, as we reached the bar. ‘We were saved by our ancestors!’
‘I thought we’re supposed to be a Christian country!’
‘We are,’ he said, as the glass shook in his hand, ‘and yesterday was Judgment Day.’