The Death of MMD
‘How nice it is to see you again after all these years,’ said Sara, as we all sat down on the veranda. ‘I’m told you’ve already been here for a couple of weeks. What have you been doing?’
‘We’ve just come back from a couple of weeks in Mfuwe,’ said Birigit.
‘Staring at animals!’ I scoffed. ‘I thought your field was sociology! Now you’re more interested in animals!’
‘Exactly,’ laughed Petrus. ‘After forty years of staring at people, we both have to admit that we can’t understand them at all. Forty years of asking thousands of questions, but still we’ve got no answers! So we’ve given up!’
‘What d’you mean?’ scoffed Sara. ‘Those thousands of questions must have produced thousands of answers!’
‘They did,’ Petrus admitted. ‘What I meant was that the answers seemed to cancel each other out, instead of adding up to something. We were looking for the Grand Theory of Human Behaviour, but we never found it. After forty years of academic toil, we can’t even predict what’s going to happen tomorrow.’
‘So Mfuwe was more amenable to your newly revised intellectual ambitions?’ I suggested cautiously.
‘Very much so,’ said Birigit enthusiastically. ‘With the help of the game ranger, our new friend Dingiswayo, we could understand exactly what was going on. The first morning we got there, before we’d even finished breakfast, Dingiswayo came rushing in, saying Come quick and see the fall of the MMD!’
‘The Movement for Multi-Party Democracy?’
‘No!’ she said irritably, ‘the Mad Mfuwe Dictator! That was the name they had given to the rogue elephant that had been terrorizing Mfuwe for the past twenty years. But now he had been spotted in the middle of the forest, standing motionless, unable to steal a mango, let alone trample a village.
‘Hamba manji manji Herr Petrus and Frau Birigit! urged Dingiswayo as we tried to urge our ancient limbs into the back of the arthritic landrover. We were driven into the forest and shown the dying MMD, standing there swaying, surrounded by a crowd of laughing baboons and hyenas.
‘MMD had promised, explained Dingiswayo, to protect the forest and provide free fertilizer so that everybody could grow maize. But instead MMD sold the forest to Ching Chang, and invaded the maize fields at night to eat all the maize himself, leaving his droppings all over the field. That was the free fertilizer he had promised!’
‘Watching an elephant die!’ said Sara. ‘Rather a morbid pastime!’
‘Animals’ death is different,’ said Petrus. ‘They don’t demand privacy. The whole of Mfuwe was watching. And celebrating.’
‘When exactly did MMD die?’ I asked.
‘It happened the next morning, when we came back to watch. MMD was swaying dangerously, then he made one long trumpeting noise, which Dingiswayo said meant I shall rule for ever! Then he fell over sideways. Dead.’
‘How did you know he was dead?’
‘When an animal dies,’ explained Birigit, ‘all the parasites leave the body. The moment MMD died, a cloud of fleas immediately rose from the body. An army of ticks released their grip and dispersed quickly into the forest, looking for other victims. Several bats flew out of his ears. Then we saw a long snake beginning to wind out of the anus.’
‘It must have been a tapeworm,’ I suggested.
‘No.’ said Birigit. ‘Dingiswayo said it was the notorious Red-Lipped Snake that had crept up the elephant’s arse three years earlier. Now it was abandoning the corpse.’
‘Next was even worse,’ said Petrus. ‘Suddenly the huge distended belly split open, and out stepped a little hippo, whose name, Dingiswayo told us, was Bokosi. Apparently MMD had once had a great taste for Bokosi, and had entirely swallowed her.’
‘Really?’ I asked. ‘How?’
‘In an act of love,’ explained Birigit. ‘An act of monstrous coition between two monsters. MMD opened his mouth wide to give her a big voluptuous kiss and accidentally swallowed her whole. He became pregnant with her, instead of the other way round.’
‘A rare example of gender equality,’ declared Sara.
‘I’m not sure I can believe all this,’ I said, looking at the bottle. ‘How many gin and tonics have you had?’
‘How many brandies have you had?’ retorted Birigit.
‘I’m not the one who’s telling the story!’
‘I know it may sound strange,’ said Petrus, ‘But what happened next was even more peculiar. Out of the forest trotted a large buffalo bull, but with little horns and not much in the way of, ah, reproductive equipment.’
‘Dingswayo said it was the Tonga Bull,’ explained Birigit, ‘known for appearing at funerals in order to steal the assets of the deceased. With two big kicks he knocked off both the elephant’s tusks. With another mighty kick between the elephant’s rear legs he cleanly cut off the elephant’s famously large equipment, which was then sewn onto the Tonga Bull by a clever chimpanzee. Then, with the long tusks over his little horns, and his new scrotum dangling in the dust, he trotted off into the forest, as the baboons all laughed and squealed Another Great Leader!’
‘So what happens next in Mfuwe?’ Sara wondered. ‘Can MMD resurrect after all the parasites have left? Or will the Tonga Bull take over? Or will the animals of Mfuwe finally discover democracy?’
‘What do you think?’ I also asked. ‘After your new zoological experiences, are you now in a position to predict what’s going to happen tomorrow?’
‘Yes,’ said Petrus confidently, ‘I think I can now confidently predict what’s going to happen tomorrow.’
‘What’s that?’ I asked.
‘Tomorrow,’ he said slowly, ‘We’re both going back to