Strongman in exile on his bed of pains

John Otim

*Excerpts from John Otim's forthcoming novel StrongMan. Otim is the Executive Editor of Nile Journal

Al Harun’s coup d’état had not been in vain. The coup dismantled the fragile basis of the postcolonial State. Nobody was shading tears. Al Harun kicked asses that probably had to be kicked. But it all came at a price. The coup opened a Pandora’s box and out came the diabolical figure of the Life President.

But, look at him now, a pitiful wretch in exile, abandoned by friends and foe. Look at him now, a dying man alone on his bed of pains miles away from home. His battalion of wives and children dependent on alms from the mean Saudis, who suffer him no ends of insults. Look at him now! You could never imagine that Al Harun had humor and was a man of style. Who would have thought it would come to this! When all the city’s rich and powerful were at his beck and call!

In the same week in which he took power, while blood still flowed on the city’s streets, while in torture chambers across the country his friends and comrades in arms, lay bludgeoned and traumatized; he held a banquet at State House. And there in pomp and ceremony, he dedicated a tune to former comrades in arms, the men he had vanquished. Trust Al Harun, everything was live on television and on radio. 

Mahmud Al Harun stood on stage in full uniform, all six foot-five of him. He provided the lead vocal, his chorus of specially selected young women sang with him. In accordance with his taste for all things beautiful, the girls were selected as much for their looks as for their musical talents. It was a sight to behold. Statecraft and stagecraft in perfect synchrony.

Are you, lonesome tonight? Do you miss me tonight? Are you sorry we drifted apart?

Does your memory stray to a bright summer day? 7

In the distance shellfire boomed. Wreckage litter streets. Smoke billowed from burnt out office blocks. The blare of modern pop rose above the City’s agony. The City’s rich and powerful applauded. Diplomats, prelates, great money men of business and commerce, society women, lawyers, judges and academics. Professor Al Mani, the well-known Africanist, was there.

It pleased the General. He took to the floor. He danced with partners many and varied. Art imitating life. He reached for his customary guitar, a gift from Major Graham, his mentor from the old colonial army. He pulled off tune after tune. He was an accomplished guitarist and vocalist to boot.

“Can a man guilty of crimes against humanity be an artist?” What a silly question! Lenin was a writer, Hitler was a painter, Mao Se Tung was a poet, Winston Churchill was the proud winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The General pulled off tune after tune. Finally, he returns to the old Elvis hymnal. He addressed himself now, to the comrades-in-arms he had just outwitted. A whole lot of them, who at this moment, lay bleeding and dying in dungeons across the city. It was a measure of the evil genius of the man, that he could transform this old classic of modern pop, into a bitter and vengeful song.

Are you. lonesome tonight?

Is your heart filled with pains?

Shall I come back again? 7