We all waited. A sudden stillness had gripped us as if someone had waived a magic wand over the wide expanse of sandy ground, upon which we stood, to cast a spell of immobility on the subjects of a tyrannical king. For fleeting moments, only the wind seemed to be alive. The invigorating smell of freshly cut grass revitalized my sensitivity to the involuntary task at hand, and awakened my realization that we were still masters of our own destiny.
Very often, when one is caught under the spell of a tyrannical dictator, one tends to forget one's individuality and creativity. This is exactly what had happened to me in 1981 as I stood in front of the farm offices of the Charity Estates which was located on the Atlantic Coast of the South America continent, in a land still unspoiled by the technological age. I was taken there against my will to give voluntary farm services as a laborer. Several others and I had finished the day's work in the fields, and we were told to assemble so that we could observe the departure of the Kabaka, the master of the Estates.
We still waited for the master. I looked over my shoulder, and was extremely cautious not to display any body movement that could be interpreted as some form of disrespect. The Kabaka had many eyes, and disrespect could not at any time be misconstrued for disloyalty, because the results of such behavior were swift and devastating. One's entire future was at stake. Such was the all pervasiveness of the wrath of the 'old man', as he was referred to by those who wanted to show allegiance and familiarity.
I saw Kublall. He was standing about six paces behind me. His usual disposition of authority and discipline was conspicuously absent. He looked very tired, and was moving into a body position of someone who did not care. He suddenly became tense, and jerked his tired overweight body into the posture of a soldier who was being inspected.
The Kabaka was making his appearance. This was routine. At the end of the day, after toiling on the Kabaka's farm, we reluctantly gathered in front of the farm office to linger until he departed. During these final moments before he left, 'Fat Boy' was always at his side. He was 'Fat Boy' to all of us because of his big belly as well as his big head and protruding backside. He also was our boss at our regular job. He loved being close to the Kabaka, basking in personal glory, which brought to him a peculiar and wicked glow of egotistic satisfaction. It was even rumored that he actually experienced orgasmic relief in such situations. Even if he did not, it definitely showed the tremendous amount of pleasure he got from this closeness with the Kabaka. Actually, it was his idea to have us involved in this superficial show of loyalty to the master.
The Kabaka was lord of the farm that we worked on, and was also lord and ruler of the land that we lived on. He got his name from good heritage and ancestry and, on occasions, wore the long, flowing robe similar to that worn by African kings. In his continuing effort to remove the shackles of white supremacy he had cast off the tie and jacket, and proclaimed that in this north-eastern corner of the South American continent it was sacrilege to serve him dressed in apparel that came from the British colonial masters. With him we discarded the clothes which he felt were a symbol of colonialism, but he ensured that the shackles of colonial bondage were left with us. He assumed the role of slave master which he so scorned in the white man.
He came upon the square, where we stood, with long assertive strides. He was tall, somewhat slender, and seemed emaciated. It was very apparent that he had lost a lot of weight in a very short time; he had a cancerous condition which was eating away at his body. His gray, wooly hair, even though adding to his dignified and stately appearance, compounded his age, giving him an older look. His black eyes were lit up and full of life and fire; and there was a strong feeling of authority and total control emanating from the way he walked. The comrade leader always rode on horseback to and from these state farms in his riding attire, and his shoes and hat brought back vivid memories of British colonial days. The whip which he held in his right hand and the way he dug his feet into the ground as he came towards us indicated a high degree of confidence in the power that he held.
As he passed me on his way to the waiting horse, I caught a whiff of the imported whiskey that he had been drinking with Fat Boy. The fire in his eyes must have come from the Chivas Regal that flowed in his veins. Within recent months he had been drinking more and more. It must have been because of the debilitating effects of the cancer treatment that he had been taking. Earlier in the day, Fat Boy, who normally procured this special intoxicant for the Kabaka, disclosed that he did not get his regular supplier to provide this particular drink that the comrade leader loved so much. Instead, he presented a bottle of Johnny Walker black to him. The Old Man became extremely agitated. In his unexpected disappointment he stormed out of the farm office. His sight instantly fell on an unsuspecting, regular farm hand who was working in the flower garden in front of the office. The laborer was a man in his late sixties, who was pulling weeds. He had missed many weeds in his haste to finish the job. The Kabaka charged towards him and shouted a series of expletives. "F
you, bastard," he said, and condemned the sloppy work that he was doing. He told the old man that he was an ungrateful wretch, and would have done a better job if his 'Massa' had been a white man. Caught by surprise and seeing his leader in such a rage, the farm hand bolted in fear and jumped into the nearby irrigation canal to escape being caught by the Kabaka.
Beads of perspiration broke out on Fat Boy's shiny forehead. He knew that he was negligent, and would feel the wrath of the Kabaka, sooner or later. The sweat quickly became little streams that ran down his fat face. He screamed at his driver who was nearby, to divert his anger, and told him that he must proceed without delay and with great speed to the airport to pick up a bottle of the illegal brew from the customs officer with whom he had just spoken by phone, and who had a quantity of the banned item on hand. The driver hastily departed. He was fast. The airport was about sixty-five minutes away, but he got back in good time; and when the land rover pulled up in front of the farm office, there was a noticeable sigh of relief that came from Fat Boy.
By mid afternoon the tropical sun was very hot, only abated by the gentle trade winds that blew through the tall coconut branches with an eerie whisper. From somewhere within the neat rows of pigeon peas plants came the smell of freshly placed cow manure.
I looked at the comrade leader's hands as he walked gingerly in cordial conversation with Fat Boy. They were so thin and without muscles that they could have been those of a child. The cancer was taking a heavy toll on his body. The gesticulations that he was making with them indicated how active his mind was. Charles (who is Fat Boy) kept nodding his head as he listened with scholarly attention. I faintly heard a few yes chief, yes chief.
It was moments like these that decisions were made and instructions given, that seemed so incongruous and illogically unsound, that the socio-economic fabric of the country was dented and was casually eroded. It was after this trip to the farm that Charles gave swift orders to disassemble a functional rice bond that was used by farmers for storage during harvests which were so abundant that the state's facilities could not handle the timely processing of rice. Charles was told by the Kabaka that he wanted to build a bond to store his rice paddy that was harvested from his rice fields. His rice paddy! With frightening haste and a total disregard for the nation's legitimate farmers, the disassembled materials were shipped and reassembled for the comrade leader's private use. This was symptomatic of the country's downward spiral into decadence and disillusionment. It was as though the political leader of this South American nation had in some diabolical way projected his cancer through extrapolation of the most uncanny kind to eat away and devastate the structure and building blocks of the country.
We were now standing on his farm, surreptitiously camouflaged as 'State farm', and were waiting for his routine departure to his residence in the city. One of the men following closely behind him placed a low stool on the ground upon which the comrade leader placed his foot. The man took a white cloth, and with short, brisk strokes gave a well-done shine to his leader's boots. The comrade's horse seemed restless and eager to get on with the day's business. With a brotherly hug and pat on the back and a quick exchange of parting words, Charles bade goodbye to the Kabaka. Four or five security men had already mounted their horses, and were waiting. His two daughters were also mounted and were ready to leave. These two rode with the comrade leader while the security men rode at the back. They crossed the bridge that spanned the canal into which the gardener had jumped, and rode off.
During this interval the sun still shone with an intensity that zapped the energy from one's body. It was time for us to leave. People started to talk. Kublall came towards me and belched, moving his tongue over the outer side of his top row of teeth. He always did this when he was relieved of any form of tension, and belching seemed to come to him naturally under such circumstances. My reaction to this disgusting and repulsive habit had always been the same. It made me nauseous.
The Charity Estates was a misnomer. It had been acquired from a private entrepreneur under questionable legal circumstances. It was not a state farm. The estate was the property of the ruler of the land and it was operated in such a way as to give him an opportunity to manifest his desire to be a modern day slave master. It was a desire he had kept imprisoned in himself, and he desperately sought fulfillment. Charity Estates was the physical manifestation of this sick craving.
Like the Estates we were in several ways slaves of the modern age, which gave the ruler a chance to realize his sick dream. As workers of the government we were in reality the property of the ruler. Service on the estate was 'voluntary', but if you opted not to go, your name was placed on a black list. Promotional mobility suddenly became downward. Dismissal from your job was an eventuality. Favors were taken away from you, and you became an industrial outcast. In fact, you lost all property values. To keep those values you had to blindly do the bidding of the government which was the same and one as the President. Our ruler, through constitutional changes and authoritarian declarations, had invested himself with absolute power. He was his political party, the government and the president-ruler. He was lord and master of those who lived and died on his land. His power touched everyone. We had found ourselves in the midst of this all-pervading power as we labored on the estate that he took pleasure in overseeing while we toiled under the hot sun.
"Massa is coming," shouted someone. This was the prearranged signal we had agreed upon when working in the fields. The morning was still calm, and was caught in the tropical limbo of a wind pattern that was regulated by the moon, the tidal movements of the Atlantic, and, some believed, the changing moods of massa. Our task had been assigned by one of the several 'task masters', who was on the Kabaka's regular farm staff. A team of ten of us was given an opportunity to share in the glory and privilege of serving the 'new nation' that would become the land of the small man. The task was to clean and drain a trench that was clogged with bush and shrubs. The trench, it seemed, was not used for years.
Some three hundred yards away from the trench on one of the access dams that ran through the farm, I saw the expanding cloud of dust that rose and slowly swirled just above the bobbing heads of the horse riders. Immediately behind the riders, at a jogging pace, came men on foot. Our team moved into action. The swift nimble movement of cutlasses filled the air with the sound of the blades as they slashed and cut, making light work of the overgrown bush. The Kabaka was making his usual daily inspection of work that was in progress in the fields, and any show of idleness unleashed the most severe of reprimands from him.
Anyone who worked on this farm was far removed from the realms of motivation and commitment. It was something we never wanted to do. It was thrust upon us, and we were forced to comply, or suffer the consequences. So we spent most of our time on the farm idling, and ate whatever fruit we found. Of course, we also stole from the farm! Charity Estates was basically a coconut plantation which was interspersed with areas of vegetables for cash crops, such as ochroes, string beans, and eggplant. No one really cared about the state of the farm. We just wanted to record our presence, and keep our names out of the black book. We found various ways and means to waste away the time when we were not under the watchful eyes of the Kabaka and his regular foremen. Telling jokes and humorous stories about friends and enemies was one of our favorite pastimes. We also slept under shady mango trees. We always had a person who kept watch for the Kabaka as we wasted valuable time that could have been put to better and more productive use.
We realized that the farm meant a lot to this autocratic leader. It gave him the perfect opportunity to be what he always secretly admired in the colonial system, and that was to exercise absolute control and power over his subjects. His neo-colonial style of managing left no doubt in the minds of many of us that the Kabaka was nostalgic about this accursed relic from the days of plantation slavery under the British Empire. He loved power.
As we worked, in a concerted effort to win praises from the master, a sudden wind came from the Atlantic, and made the coconut trees come alive. The coconut branches made a soothing mid morning song, as the trade winds delicately brushed and plucked at their pliable tenderness. A pair of kiskadees swooped low over our heads in a bird fight that only they understood. The wind took hold of the dust that rose in the wake of the horse riders, and in a rising spiral made by unseen hands, blew it far above into the cloudless sky. The wind, as if to add to the supremacy of the approaching riders, lifted more dust into the air, and created a halo around them. They came at a trot, and the sound of hooves came faintly to our ears.
As the riders came closer to where we were working, Kublall became more vigorous, and swung his cutlass in quick repetitions in a sustained effort to clear as much of the bushes as possible to make a good impression on the Kabaka. Kublall and I worked in the same government office, and were managerial colleagues. The sudden burst of energy was too much for him since he was not accustomed to such strenuous labor that he was now forced to perform. He was very cautious and careful not to step into the soggy undergrowth that had clogged the once very effective drainage waterway, fearful that he might fall into the trench. Rumors of snakes in the thick undergrowth drove fear into those of us who were put to work on the estate. Kublall was panting. With short, rasping breaths, his huge, grossly overweight body was put under terrible strain as he grabbed the tall grass, and pulled and slashed at it. Like the rest of us, he was standing at the edge of the trench, and was definitely having a lot of problems maintaining his balance. At the same time he was desperately trying to hold a good posture. Posture was of extreme importance to Kublall. He was known to be one of the Kabaka's favorites. This gave him a misconstrued sense of superiority which he felt was a special honor bestowed upon him.
Kublall was also constantly living in fear of the far-reaching effects of the machinations of the 'Old Man'. He was fearful that he might do the wrong thing at the right time, and that he might say things that should not be said. He was fearful that if he did not do the right thing he would lose his job since his performance on this job had a direct relationship to job security and promotion. Indeed, if performance were to be used as any kind of measure, he would have been demoted or fired a long time ago since his managerial skills were very questionable. His job security and advancement depended on what he did for the Kabaka.
This mixture of authority and fear presented an incongruous picture of grotesque proportions as Kublall struggled to put on a show to impress his comrade leader. His bulging belly protruded over the belt around his wide waist, and heaved as his breathing got harder and harder. "It will only be a matter of a few minutes, and the Kabaka will pass by and be on his way to view another group of volunteers. Then I can take a long rest." This is what Kublall must have thought as he perspired profusely and swung the cutlass in defiance of his short and rotund body. However, he was not winning the battle to hold his precarious balance.
The riders were upon us. I heard the voice of the Kabaka as he spoke to the estate manager who was riding beside him. "What is this gang doing?" "Chief, they are cleaning the trench that separates these two beds." The light complexioned manager pointed to the trench that stood between us and the adjacent bed on our left. The Kabaka indicated to the others in his riding party that they would be stopping for a moment. The four security men who were following on foot showed signs of relief. "But Dhanraj, if they are cleaning, they should be inside the trench," he said. "Well, yes," Dhanraj hesitatingly replied. "So, what the hell are they doing on the bed?" The chiefs voice had suddenly become very stern and agitated. "This is Charles' group, chief. I will have a word with them," replied the farm manager. "Charles' group, eh. Yes, you are right. I see Kubi over there."
Kublall must have heard the exchange of words because he had stopped momentarily in his exhibition of being an industrious comrade of the revolution. He was partly bent over with his left hand outstretched, poised to grab the bush, and right hand ready to strike with a cutlass that needed a better blade. At the sound of his name he stood upright, and turned in the direction of the group of riders. Only close friends, or those who wanted to use him in some sinister plot, called him Kubi.
The voice came again. "Kubi should know better. He is supposed to be in the forefront of the revolution." Kublall heard the Kabaka. There was a sudden urgency in his efforts and renewed vigor in his use of the machete. But the extreme caution that he had been exercising that afternoon was forgotten, and in his haste to press on with the revolution, he lost his balance, and fell into the trench. The fall was almost noiseless as if the tall grass wanted to conceal it. I had seen the sudden urgency, and had been expecting it to happen all afternoon. The Kabaka's presence precipitated the eventuality.
Kublall was struggling to get on his feet, but the soft, soggy and gooey mud of the trench did not allow him to stand. His weight added to his misery. The cutlass was still in his hand. I shouted to the rest of the gang that Kubi had fallen. They had all been so engrossed in the task at hand that they did not see anything of what had happened. We all rushed to Kubis assistance. I grabbed a short pole that was lying nearby, and told him to take hold of the opposite end so that we can pull him out of the trench. None of us made any effort to get into the trench. "Leave him alone!" The deep, guttural voice came like a clap of tropical thunder, and I was almost certain that I heard a resounding echo that reverberated off the thick wall of tall bushes that lined the outer edge of the farm. "This revolution needs strength, determination, and courage. Get up Kubi. Show the comrades that you have what the revolution needs!" I dropped the pole and watched as Kublall struggled to get on his feet, which he did on the very first attempt, still holding to the cutlass. It was as though some unseen force had wafted its way into the limbs of this fat child of the Kabaka's revolution, and brought him to his feet. Or was it the thunderous voice of the Kabaka himself? When he came out of the trench, his ankles were covered with the sticky mud. Mud was all over him. His face became unrecognizable, and his eyes seemed to be caught behind some kind of unbreakable barrier. He wiped the mud off his face as he lifted his cutlass over his head, and turned to face the Kabaka. A smile invaded his now recognizable face. His teeth were like ivory. Kublall belched, ran his tongue under his upper lip, and shouted, "I am the revolution." "That's my boy. Show them how it is done. Show them what the revolution needs." The comrade leader seemed very pleased as he rode off with his security men jogging behind him.
We did very little work after the short and spirited talk on the revolution. As a matter of fact, whenever we were put to work on the Estates, we never produced as we should have. We should not have been there in the first place to till and toil for the president of our nation. We were office workers and were paid to administer in that capacity. However, subtle coercion was used in various ways by the Kabaka's despotic administration to force us to labor on his estate. This type of coercion infested the entire economic and socio-political fabric of the land, and life was woven into a treacherous design of fear of the master weaver. This endemic national malaise was crippling the economic and socio-political development of the country. The feeling of political disenchantment and disillusion arose out of the established fact of political fraud and illegal control of the nation, and produced a deliberate display of lethargy and economic stagnation. The people, who had the ability and wherewithal to produce, operated only at subsistence levels of survival. Job security, availability of basic food rations, supplies of farm materials and tools, and most of the other necessities of life and living, came with the understanding that you owed favors to the government and its lackeys. So to keep our jobs and have a chance to move up the promotional ladder, we had to be enlisted in the service of the Big Chief.
During the Kabakas short stay with us at the drainage trench, a rainstorm had suddenly developed in the sky to the east of where we worked. The sky had become overcast with a dull, gray cloud mass that covered the clear blue of the mid afternoon tropical sky. This was a very common phenomenon in the hot equatorial conditions, especially during the hot and humid months of August and September. In one fleeting moment it would seem as if the gray rain-laden clouds would eagerly devour the blue sky, and cover the great overhead canopy with its gloomy grayness. The sun would then seek shelter somewhere beyond the dark clouds and, as always, the rains would escape the clutches of the gray clouds, and fall in torrential downpours.
"We have to go," I shouted to Kubi who was still smiling, and had finally laid the cutlass on the ground. He had washed all of the mud off with rainwater that had formed a little pool under a coconut tree. He came lumbering towards me, looking at the dark sky. A cool wind had suddenly brought a peculiar chill that normally preceded these tropical thunderstorms. I was standing under the shade of a big jamoon tree. Kubi casually suggested that we stay there to see if the rains would pass since it was too early to report back to the farm office. "We have to go now, Kubi," I insisted. "Once it starts to rain, the mud and water will make it very hard to get across that coconut trunk which will take us to the main dam. I don't like the idea of wading across the irrigation canal. The water stinks." He looked at me and then at the sky. He looked in the direction of the coconut trunk, and fear slowly crept into his eyes. "I can't swim," he blurted.
"So, let's go now."
"You are right, let's go now."
"Shit, I can't swim," he repeated.
"The water stinks, Kubi. You wouldn't want it to get into your mouth. I know that you already had enough mud." Both of us laughed and we started to run towards the canal, and had just crossed over when the rains started. The nearest shelter was about four hundred yards away. The rains came with a vengeance, with drops that hit us with great force as if being hurled by someone from behind the dark clouds. We were soaked to the skin in seconds. Kublall started to run.
"Stop!" I screamed. "Why run? We are already wet, and the shelter will be full by now. This is your revolution, so just soak it up."
"It is our revolution." He had stopped, waiting for me, as water streamed down his balding head.
"It is your revolution. You have been reporting to Fat Boy, telling him bad things about us. This whole system is a fraud."
"You better watch what you are saying."
"Exactly! I have been doing that for too long. It must stop now! This is not your revolution. It is not mine. There is no revolution."
"What do you mean?"
"We are just being used to fatten a state machinery."
"So what about this farm? Fat Boy says that this will become a model co-operative farm that will benefit the whole nation."
"This farm benefits and fattens the Kabaka."
The shed was full. The rains kept coming in sheets of water. We kept on walking, and headed towards the farm office. I was getting hungry.
The brisk walk in the rain had become very quiet. As a matter of fact, there was no further conversation. The only sound was in my head; it was the sound of the rain drumming against my skull. Kubi was very contemplative. His eyes were fixed on the redbrick dam that we trudged on, and his hands were tucked away in his pockets. His shoulders drooped, as if the weight of his thoughts were too heavy for him. I watched this man through the heavy rainfall, and saw the confused contradictions that were now clearly written on his fat chubby face. What manner of man was this? Didn't he know that we were only pawns in a political game that reeked of racism, nepotism, and the inner workings of a demented demagogue? Didn't he know that this man had a sick vengeance high up on a priority list that was misguided, and resulted in the economic strangulation of the country? As we approached the farm office, Kubi looked at me and smiled. "We have to continue this conversation," he said.
The rain had stopped as suddenly as it had started. We headed for the washrooms to wring out our clothes and dry them, and put them on again. We depended on the wind and sun to complete the job. This was not new to us. This was a common experience of farm work, and we had a lot of practice from our own private farm life. We headed for the tent under which Chiney was preparing hot meals which included beef cook-up rice and curry mutton. This was really the only productive exercise on these trips that we made to the Charity Estates.
Conversation at mealtime was very informative. Oftentimes, shocking details of seemingly insignificant and routine events produced hysteria, regrets and contemplative anger, as well as downright disgust, depending on who was the storyteller, and what manner of tale was woven. Of course, the special bonding that hunger and good food brought was also very conducive to uninhibited straight talk. We had just started eating when Chiney hurriedly returned from the farm office. He was livid. I was seated on a tree stump with ten or twelve other colleagues scattered loosely under a tent. Kubi was sitting on the grass with his back against the trunk of a guava tree which was at the northeastern corner of the tent, and on which that side of the tent was secured. Chiney was our chief cook on these trips that we made to the Charity Estates, and had gone to the farm office to serve lunch to the Kabaka, Fat Boy, and others. He rushed towards Kubi, and grabbed him by his shirt collar, and then lifted him into a standing position. He was much bigger than Kubi, and what he had done seemed effortless.
"What did you tell Fat Boy?" He shook Kubi with such force that Kubis teeth chattered. Kublall was caught off guard and surprised into a state of sheer shock.
"What did you tell Fat Boy?' Chiney repeated.
"Nothing about you," Kubi feebly replied.
The cook loosened his grip on the 'news carrier', and turned to the rest of us. His voice was still full of anger.
"The Chief was in a crazy mood, and behaved in a funny manner when I took his food to him as I always did. He asked me to eat some of the food before I gave it to him, as if I was attempting to poison him."
I liked this conversation. "Did you eat?" I asked.
"I had to eat. He pulled a chair, and put me to sit, and then told me to eat some of the food. He then asked me how the food tasted. I cooked the food and I knew how it tasted, but I had to eat. I even had to belch to show him that I was enjoying it." There were chuckles coming from several of us. "Did he eat?" I managed to question him through a mouthful of mutton curry and cook-up rice.
"Yes. He even said that the mutton curry would have been better with some roti. When I left, they were all laughing. Fat Boy looked at me as if he had heard something about me and the food." Chiney had become more relaxed and was now smiling. He turned to look at Kubi who had not touched his food as yet, and broke out in laughter as he faced us again.
"They were also laughing at something else," he said.
"What? Kubi's adventures in the mud," I inquired.
"No. The Chief had almost finished his tour of the Estates this afternoon when he saw the rains coming, so he turned his stallion around, and with the other riders he galloped off to the safety of the farm offices."
"What is funny about that?" I asked.
"The security men," he replied.
"You mean the security joggers,"
"Yes. The poor chaps were already tired, since they had jogged around almost half of the estate. When the Chief turned and galloped off, they were left far behind. By the time they got to the office they were soaking wet and out of breath as they apologized to the Chief."
"Why did they apologize," I questioned.
Chiney started to laugh again, and I had to wait for him to regain his composure before getting an answer. He looked at me and then said, Because he told them that he had to look for men with more horse power."
It was after this luncheon entertainment which was provided by Chiney that we assembled in front of the farm office to observe the Kabakas departure. It was time to leave. Another day had come to a close at the Kabaka's plantations. As he rode off into the afternoon's hazy distance I felt a heavy emptiness gnawing at the walls of my bloated stomach. Even though I had my fill of Chiney's cook-up rice, this emptiness of despair and disappointment filled me with a sense of another wasted day of forced labor.
The old man who had jumped into the canal was very exuberant, and he now had a permanent smile painted on his wrinkled face. After the Chief had left, he gingerly climbed out of the blackish-brown waters, quickly dried his head with the dingy tee-shirt he had left on a pigeon peas plant, and excitedly proceeded to make animated conversations with various persons on the square. He was tall and lanky, still showing definite traces of sinewy muscles that must have served him well in his younger years. He came towards me, still drying his head, bare chest, and giving scant attention to his soaked dungaree trousers that was cut just below the knees. He smiled and stopped directly in front of me, looked into my eyes, and then turned to walk away. However, he stopped and slowly turned to face me again. It seemed as if he wanted to talk.
"Yu don't look happy comrade," he blurted.
"Do I look unhappy?"
"Yu eyes betraying yu. But listen, yu damn right to be mad. This is eyepass. Massa-day done a lang time ago. Ah really sarry to see alyu come hay every weekend and wuk in the farm. The Chief going mad. Ah lot a 'big men' saying de whisky and de cancer mess up his brain." I wanted to say that he should be cautious about what he was saying but I allowed him to hay every weekend and wuk in the farm. The Chief going mad. Ah lot a 'big men' saying de whisky and de cancer mess up his brain."
I wanted to say that he should be cautious about what he was saying but I allowed him to continue.
"I ain't scared. Yu tink I concern about wha gon happen to me. All me family outside, and I too old. They can't do me any ting. As a matta a fact, they can't touch me. I bin with de Party too lang. But ah really sarry fu alyu."
He paused to ask a fellow farm hand who was passing to join the people in the cigarette line, and brusquely regained my attention by grabbing my arm as I was turning to look for Kublall. He erupted into a hearty laugh.
"People gat to even line up to get cigarette. Ah glad de Kabaka gone, because when he selling, he does always say how cigarette scarce, and we can't get more than one pack. A really sarry fu alyu. Look, the Chief wasn't bad all the time. He started out good. Even when de white man helped him, ah think he was still good. But when he started to steal the votes from the people, and winning all dem elections, we know someting was wrong. An look na, now he a play massa. Ah see yu laugh when me jump in de trench. Me watch yu. But yu time a come, unless alyu can change tings. Me jump in trench, and yu come hay against yu will. We gat to do someting, comrade."
The man who had joined the cigarette line was calling as he beckoned with his hands.
"George, yu have to buy yu own cigarettes, man."
George reached out and grabbed my right hand, and gave me a firm, confident handshake. He then turned and trotted off to get his cigarettes. "See yu next week," he shouted.
I did not get a chance to respond to the old man. I did not even get his full name. As a matter of fact, he did not even give me time to say much. He talked quickly and forcefully.
The afternoon had become very still. Another thunderstorm was threatening. Two dogs that looked alike, well fed and lazy, had become rather restless and irritable, and were running in all directions, looking, as it seemed, for some place of shelter and refuge. I remembered that my father once told me that dogs could hear a thunderstorm even before we could see or hear anything about the impending event. These two bitches had a look of fright which was written all over their faces. They eventually found shelter under a zinc shed that housed dried coconuts that were waiting to go to the mill where oil was produced.
I turned around to look for Kublall and found him walking towards me. He had apparently seen me in conversation with the farm hand and, as usual, always wanting to be a good reporter, was eager to know what secrets were exposed to me. He gingerly approached me with a look of curiosity that gleamed in his eyes.
"We have to leave right now before the rain comes again," he said, blowing as if he was out of breath. "By the way, what was he telling you?"
"Nothing," I retorted and started towards the waiting land rover.
There was a heavy smell of mud and freshly tilled soil which lingered in the air. The clean, fresh, tropical air always acted as an effective conduit of scent, and it was very easy to pick up the many and varied scent of farm life. On wet, rainy days, the smell of mud seemed ever present, especially when the cleaning of drainage and irrigation trenches was done, which was an ongoing exercise at Charity Estates. Tilling of the soil to seed new plants produced a more pleasant aroma that was nuttier, with a tinge of cut grass.
As I climbed into the land rover my sense of smell was bombarded with an entirely different aroma. It was the stifling, acrid smell of sweat. "Let's go," I shouted to the driver. I knew that the moving vehicle would create a rush of wind through the windows, and would provide enough ventilation to offer some amount of relief from the pungent perspiration.
"I have to wait on Fat Boy to give me the okay to move, or else I'll get hell from him in the office tomorrow," the driver screamed. "He asked me to wait because he may be riding with us," said the driver in a more restrained manner.
We had to wait for Fat Boy. He was our immediate Massa. He was a miniature replica of the supreme Massa, the Kabaka. He found ecstatic pleasure in having people wait on him. He enjoyed getting other people to idle while he forged ahead with tasks of importance to himself. Even at our regular job he wanted us to wait after the normal hours of work, as if to make us suffer, as he suffered, the agony of being away from our families. As a matter of fact, he had very little family life. His work for the Kabaka had become his life.
I couldn't take the smell any longer, so I came out of the land rover, and told the driver to call me when the Fat Boy was ready. "I will be under that tamarind tree," I said to him. I pointed to an old tamarind tree that was a haven to a multitude of kiskadees.
"Why don't you take Kublall?" he said.
"Why? He is the one stinking."
"That is why he should go and wash himself in the canal," said the driver.
"I am not smelling," retorted Kublall.
"Everyone knows that you stink." I shouted. The driver erupted into laughter as he bent his neck forward, so that his head rested on the steering wheel. Kublall swung the door open, and jumped out of the vehicle, almost losing his balance. He ran towards the canal which was nearby, and jumped into the shallow end where three children were having a bath in the cool, clear, black water. He hastily proceeded to wash under his arm and other parts of his smelly body. While running he had removed his shirt and stopped briefly to take his pants off, flinging both pieces of garment on the ground. He kept his briefs on.
He was barely two minutes in the water when I saw Fat Boy emerging from the farm office and sauntered towards the waiting land rover.
"Kubi, we are ready to move," I hollered.
"I will be there in a minute," he responded.
The black water had done a good job. As Kubi and I got into the back of the vehicle, there was a noticeable absence of the odor that was present just minutes ago. But something else drifted over from the front seat, where Fat Boy was now sitting. It was the smell of whiskey. He must have had a few more drinks with the farm manager after the Kabaka had left.
As we drove off, he said to me, "Narine, when we come back next weekend I want to introduce you to the Kabaka. He saw you in the fields, and said that he noticed when you were trying to help Kubi out of the trench. You know, he sees and hears everything."
"I will be greatly honored," I replied.
I did not attempt to find out why I was given this special privilege and attention. It had to be something good because the Kabaka did not punish. He got other people to do it for him.
I looked at Kublall who was sitting opposite me with his mouth hanging open. He had a silly look of sudden surprise on his face. A thought flashed through the inner recesses of my mind; maybe, I will be getting a promotion. I closed my eyes and tried to paint a picture of what will happen, but my journey into the future was abruptly terminated. We came to a dead stop as we exited Charity Estates. The old man who had spoken to me had stopped us. He came to the side where I sat, and said quietly through the open window,"Do not foget comrade, do someting."
Fate must have taken me to the Charity Estates to have this close encounter with oppression, but destiny can be created and molded through the conscious and deliberate efforts of any sane human being.
As we traveled back to our homes on that day in 1981 the words of the old man kept ringing in my ears; he had pleaded with me to do something to change the state of affairs as they existed under the iron rule of the Kabaka.
I went on two more occasions to labor at the Charity Estates and I did meet the Kabaka, and had several discourses with him. I even got the promotion that I dreamt about. However, I realized that the iron rule which he held over us had to be broken. I also realized that the massa of the colonial system was still with us. The bondage, subjugation, coercion and tyranny that existed under the Kabaka's rule were not conducive to productivity, and nobody, except his cronies, was motivated to serve and produce under such conditions. I never met the old man again on my subsequent trips. I made many attempts to find him, but was not successful. I was told that he had gone overseas. I wanted to tell him that I did do something. I have been working with progressive forces to whittle away at the bondage imposed by the Kabaka and his kind, in an effort to create more freedom for all.
Note: Although the story may have real meaning to individuals, the names of the characters are fictitious.