Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Cabinet

The Cabinet

            I put my head round the Editor’s door. ‘Ha ha Richard,’ I said, ‘There’s no job for me today, so I’m off to the bar!’
          ‘Not so fast!’ he replied. ‘I want you to go and interview the Cabinet!’
          ‘What!’ I laughed. ‘You must be joking!’
          ‘I’m certainly not,’ he replied, pulling a serious face. ‘I’m fed up with you just sitting on your bum and making up stories, rather than going out there and digging up a real story. So you go and interview the Cabinet!’
          ‘Hah!’ I cackled, ‘I wouldn’t even know where to find them. Do they meet at the Secretariat or State House? Or at Crapsody's? Or do they ever meet? Where are they? They’re probably all abroad seeking medical treatment. I think I’ll write something about that.’
          ‘Look, Kalaki,’ he said seriously, ‘I’m fed up with reading stories from your brandy bottle. Go and interview the Cabinet. In case you didn’t know, they all stay at the Cabinet Old People’s Home at Chainama Hospital.’
          So I got on my bike and off I went. An hour later I was knocking on the door of the Chainama Superintendent, Dr Mankhwala. ‘Kalaki!’ he said, as he rose to greet me. ‘Have you had a relapse? Got the shakes again?’
          ‘It’s not that,’ I said. ‘I’ve just had the brilliant idea of interviewing the Cabinet.’
          ‘Oh dear,’ he said, ‘I try to keep them away from journalists. You know they’re all rather old and confused, and get very irritated if anybody asks them a question because they never know the answer.’
          ‘Don’t worry about that,’ I said. ‘My technique is just to let them babble, and write down everything they say.’
          So off we went to the Cabinet Old People’s Home, built in a wooded area of Chainama, away from prying eyes. The first room we came to said Vice President Dotty Scotty. Mankhwala knocked on the door, and in we went.
          There he sat in the October heat, an old man hunched on an ancient Dundee chair, wrapped in a thick blanket in front of a roaring wood fire. He looked terribly pale and the skin under his chin hung in folds like a pair of curtains. ‘Feel my skin, doctor,’ he said in a quavering voice. ‘Cold. I’ve gone all white. I can’t keep warm. I need a diagnosis. I may be dead.’
          ‘Don’t worry Dotty,’ said Mankhwala soothingly, ‘I’ll bring the pathologist to have a look at you.’
          ‘They were all clever chaps once,’ said Mankhwala sadly, as we walked down the corridor. ‘This is what happens if you linger on too long.’
          The next room contained nothing but boxes of pills, piled high to the ceiling. Except that in a far corner sat the remains of the Minister of Medicines, Dr Joseph Kasombwe, strangely dressed in a thick woolen English suit. ‘Don’t take my pills,’ he sobbed. ‘The donors won’t give me any more after I lost the last lot!’
          The next room was equally strange in an entirely different way. There, on an academic throne, up on a high platform, sat a little man fully dressed in a purple gown and golden mortarboard. On the wall around him were all his certificates, and on the shelves were many photos of himself wearing different gowns. He was the Minister of Certificates, Professor Pompous Piri-Piri. ‘These students just need to study!’ he suddenly screeched. ‘Why do they always talk about hostels, toilets, bathrooms and dining rooms! They must just shut up, stay in the library, and study their books!’
          I looked round the room puzzled. ‘But no books in here?’
          He tapped his forehead with his forefinger and squealed sarcastically ‘It’s all in here! I read all the books to collect all these certificates!’
          ‘Very sad,’ said Munkhwala as we pushed on down the corridor. ‘His certificates are still here, but his brains have gone.’
          The next experience was even more frightening. The inmate was a little fellow with splayed eyes, one looking at us and the other watching his back. ‘They’re after me!’ he shrieked, clutching at my sleeve. ‘All these ministers are out to get me. They’re jealous of me because I am the only one who’s sane! They are mad jealous tribalists, thieves and assassins, but I shall discipline them because I am the Minister of Discipline!’ He scurried to a corner and hid behind a bookcase full of law books, from whence came a heart-rending screech ‘I am not scared because I was appointed by the Great Leader!’
          And so we came to the door labeled The Great Leader. Mankhwala took out a key to unlock the door. ‘What?’ I said. ‘Do you have to lock him in?’
          ‘No,’ he replied, ‘I have to lock the others out!’
          He opened the door, and we went into a completely bare and empty room. ‘They must never know that their Great Leader has gone. One day he just disappeared, and took all his promises with him. His poor Cabinet is driven to distraction and madness, waiting for him to come out of this room and inspire them with his great vision, and remind them of his promises. But they waited in vain, driven further into madness and despair. Every day they bang their heads on this door, but no response. He was the one who appointed all of them, and without their leader they are lost souls.’
          We walked out of the Old People’s Home onto the wide lawn. ‘But how can we be governed,’ I wondered, ‘with the entire Cabinet locked up here, waiting for nothing?’
          ‘Don’t worry,’ he laughed. ‘We’re much better off without them.’


  1. The great leader of the sinking titanic.

  2. Are we truly much safe without them? The boat sinking in high waters may take thousands under.

    1. Ha ha, my simplified allegory chose to overlook that possibility.