International Writers Magazine:
had been restless for weeks. Reporters from Europe and the U.S.
thronged the international airport at Alu, just a few miles from
the notorious Catch-Fire prison yard where the renowned environmentalist
and fiction writer, Mene, languished in detention. He
had been arrested, charged for treason, and locked up for exposing
the military boys unreported acts of genocide committed in his village.
Despite his wealth
of ideas and fame worldwide, Mene had barely escaped the last genocide
that drew an unforgettable bedlam across the West African country
and a litany of criticisms from Washington DC and London.
his nights in detention. But for the roach that kept him awake occasionally,
the resounding silence was mind shattering. He often pretended he smoked
pipe and imagined himself holding his woman while they both rocked to
the sultry voice of Cardinal Rex Jim Lawsons highlife music at
a bar. But such moments of nostalgia were cut short by the wardens
spikes that echoed down the hall during late night rounds. Then Mene
had nothing but lonely teardrops for consolation while his back remained
glued to the cold floor. At other nights when the heat got to him, he
changed position quickly to ensure he had a good sleep. Such was the
daily routine he rigorously underwent to keep mind and body together.
As for nights when it rained, he stayed up late, scrolled the ceiling
with his stares, and imagined the innumerable letters he wrote and the
things he said to augment the distressed voices he had deposited in
the psyche of the khaki boys who roamed the streets and guzzled their
ambitions in bars where they prided themselves in expensive imports
of name brand cars, ghosts bank accounts in Switzerland and the US,
while they ran the affairs of a country so blest whilst many of its
bright minds, university graduates included, milled about jobless.
Mene felt reassured each time he successfully smuggled a letter to his
good friend and writing pal, Sipho, a radical and in-your-face journalist
twice nominated for the renowned Pulitzer prize for journalism, who
lived in faraway Houston, Texas. Both writers had struck a friendship
while in attendance at a PEN International Conference in Los Angeles,
several years ago. Back then the only thing Mene had in mind was his
open rejection of all Apartheid stood for in Siphos homeland,
South Africa. But Menes outright opposition to such a disturbing
system of government was boosted by the swift transition that occurred
years later. Siphos country changed from its old ways overnight
and embraced promising times, despite the residues of apartheid that
still floated about in major cities and in the affairs of its government.
But the liberated spirit also suffered the persecution of detention.
The life of a prisoner was the last thing Mene had envisaged for himself
in a country he had always bragged to the world in print about the limitless
potentials of the natural resources of its Niger Delta region. Daily
he stared the prison wall in the face and took within his forest of
pain what wars he could endure. Wars that broke men, left them in tears,
denied them freedom in cuffs, and left them to choke with emotional
outbursts at night when they sought consolation in the stars and held
back tears to hide shame. Oh yes, Mene smelt every bit of those wars
like the rest of the prisoners. Yet he relished the breaks he got during
the day, when sunrays whisked through doors opened by the wardens at
the end of the hallway. Then he strutted about briskly and wondered,
or sat in bed and comforted himself with the torn and dusty copies of
Ngugis Detained: A Prison Diary and Dostoyevskys
Notes from the Underground. Such reads kept his sanity intact.
When solitude set in, he rubbed his face against the prison doors and
held the cold iron dividers firmly. At such times he also enjoyed the
solidarity of detention as fellow prisoners sang from their cells, "Since
e-morning e-yo. We never eat o, e-yo." Their guttural voices gave
him hope, the kind he imagined possible even as he remained separated
from the society and family he cherished unconditionally. Occasionally
when a prisoner delivered a salvo of farts, Mene joined in the congratulatory
chorus, "Well done o! Well done o!"
But times cycle of betrayal cornered him five weeks into his detention.
Behind closed doors and amid the specter of a heated debate, Menes
execution by hanging was mandated by the president, a pot-bellied army
General whose distaste for writers had never been in doubt. "Smoke
the bastard! I dont care if America breathes down my neck or if
the British instigate our expulsion from the Commonwealth," he
lashed. "Theyll always come back to trade on oil with us.
Enough for the writing bastard! Lets see how hes going to
conjure more provocative words to fuel his delight when the rope is
around his neck," he added.
The aftermath of the presidential mandate sent jitters down the spine
of reporters and educators. Fears of a mass riot in Port Harcourt, birthplace
and homeland of the detained activist and writer, twirled about. Schools
were closed. Students abandoned their rooms in university campuses and
dashed for their homes. All calls to the president from Washington DC
and London were not returned. Menes fate had been decided, and
the night of his execution assaulted him with a series of foreshadowing
occurrences. He returned from manual labor that evening to discover
his books had been stolen. His attempt to make a formal complaint was
rejected. The roach that kept him hopeful like a burning lamp was a
no show. The warden who took bribes from him to deliver his written
notes to his journalist pal was conspicuously missing in action. Distressed,
Mene sat on the cement floor of his cell, drew both knees close to his
chest, paper on his knees, stump of pencil between his wet fingers,
and laboriously printed his last written words:
Even in the hours
When the call for verse
Cheated the singer,
The cry for the homeland
Remained his song.
© Dike Okoro
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