Kabu Okai-Davies is an Australian-based Ghanaian poet, playwright and novelist. He studied at University of Ghana, Rutgers-Newark, and NYU School of Continuing Education. Founder and producer, African Globe TheatreWorks, Newark, NJ: 1992 -2005. He moved to Australia in 2006 as a Playwright-In-Residence, Street Theatre and Producer National Multicultural Festival. He studied at Oxford University’s Creative Writing Summer Program and graduated with a Master of Studies at Australian National University; MA Creative Writing and PhD in Communications; University of Canberra. He has two collected works of poetry and completed a memoir, Curfew’s Children and a novel, In Another Man’s Name.
Mistress of the State
Monitoring the last remnants of the brains’ hardware before passing into the oblivion of time, I remembered crying. I was at the threshold of death, the final blips, milliseconds of thought in motion, moments before and after death. Everything else became part of my imaginative fiction that lingered on within the realm of ancestral memory, after death uttered its final words: Fire, fire, fire…
The first time the Head of State saw my twin sister, she was on her way to the market. It was a hot day and the sweltering Easter heat scorched the earth. The thin layer of melting tar on the roads felt like we were walking on a floating black river on fire. In the hazy distance, it was easy to see a mirage as if the future was a dream. The streets were over crowed with shoppers, eager to buy whatever they could from the city shops and stalls. The streets were choking with the converging traffic of imported cars at that time of the year. People were clamoring for the remains of the season, bargaining for overseas items and food stuffs, preparing to head out over the weekend to their various villages; to celebrate Easter holidays with their families.
That day, my sister was wearing blue jeans, white lace blouse, red lipstick and the topography of her body became the cause of the traffic that afternoon. Men in the city stopped what they were doing and stared in awe of her form and the curves that defined the geography of her shape. Ever since we were young, my sister’s beauty has always been a topic of discussion amongst the men in the vicinity. Many men came to see my mother to ask for her hand in marriage. Married men, prominent officials, businessmen, chiefs and doctors came calling, promising to leave their wives to marry Effi; hoping to breed with her the beautiful ones who were not yet born. She held on, resisting the temptation of the bride price of infinite riches. But when the ruler of the country came into the picture, there was nothing in the way of hesitation on her part, whether to make up her mind on what to do or not what to do.
That day the ruler of the country was on his way to the Castle, where he was scheduled to meet with foreign dignities and new Ambassadors; but stopped his motorcade to ask my sister her name.
Effi she said, bending closer towards the black Mercedes Benz to take a closer look at the one who was whistling at her, calling for her attention that hot and humid Easter afternoon. She immediately realized who it was.
Oh, it is you? Effi said, recognizing the face of the Head of State.
Yes, it is me, he said.
I am on my way to the market, Effi informed him.
I can see that. I like the way you balance the basket on your head, hee said.
And what has that got to do with the busy work of running a country? she asked.
Everything, Effi, our country needs women like you, he said.
How? Effi asked.
I could take you to the market and the rest will be history, he said.
If it doesn’t interfere with your duties as the ruler of the country, Effi answered.
Not at all, matters of the heart are equally important. I hope that you and I can put our heads together and do something great for the country, he added.
Effi happily got into the ruler’s car and went to the market in a motorcade. I must confess that my sister had the special endowment of a woman who walked like she had diamonds lodged between her tights. The ruler’s caravan of cars drove through the city and brought my sister back home with a super market full of all the food items imaginable.
The chauffeur and the men accompanying the motorcade helped her to unload the harvest into the house.
The weeks that followed her enchanted encounter with the Head of State, our house became alight with joy and we feasted to the envy of the neighbors who could smell the aroma of our cooking throughout the months that followed. Finally we were happy, I thought, to have a sister who could be considered one of the many mistresses of the State. The women, who rendered private consulting services to the ruler, received in exchange all the lavish lifestyle of excessive opulence. Weeks later, soon after my sister began rendering private consulting services to the ruler, we started receiving invitations to attend state functions. We met with foreign dignitaries and wined and dined with celebrities, state officials, regional commissioners and diplomats of the time. I had a front row seat during the observances and national parade for Independence Day and once, even found myself and my sister alone in the ruler’s office. She went to see him and we were waiting for him to bring her money out of his private safe in the backroom at the Castle. One arresting fact about the ruler’s office was that, his leather padded desk was cleared, except that there was one white piece of paper in the middle, with names scribbled on it, in red ink. I sneaked and glanced at the list and when my sister saw me.
She said, Oh, that list…It has the names of all the subversives. Soon they will all be arrested. They are the people who hate my relationship with the leader.
Months later, I became friends with many of the leading army officers of the time and ingratiated myself into their favor. I became a butterfly, a political dandy, social chameleon, pollinating any flower of power that was open to share its secret nectar of authority with me. These men, who run the country, were once poor soldiers; who by virtue of their claim to power were now living lavish lifestyles equal to their new status and station in life. I understood their need to feel acknowledged and admired. I knew how to tell them what they wanted to hear and they listened. While others saw me as a social whore, prostituting my way through the corridors of power; I seriously considered myself as a businessman on a mission. Through my public and private association with the leading members of government, I got access to lucrative licenses and started my own import and export businesses, called African Twins Procurement Agency.
Little did I know that I was exporting the nation’s wealth and importing poverty by exchanging our country’s mineral resources for the industrial leftovers of other countries, I hardly wondered about such things. Anyhow, within a year my sister became the favorite mistress of the Head of State and whatever she wanted, the ruler gave it to her. And like most things in Africa, if it was not manufactured in the country, the ruler would gladly instruct me to import it for her. I made my profit by importing things for the government. I imported European cars, trucks, buses, ship loads of rice, government stationary, canned foods, amenities and domestic essentials, building materials, including textiles and used clothes from the cheapest suppliers around the world.
This life of lavish excess continued for about five years; we travelled, attended parties and shopped for our personal clothing from America, Italy, England and France. I indulged in the profanity of my desires, fathered many children and basked in the glamour and glory of having my sister as the mistress of the State. We wallowed in wealth and imported everything we wanted. Soon rumors spread around the capital city that my family had been placed on private salaries as part of the ghost staff of the civil service, as imaginary staff members at the State Castle.
It was believed that my sister’s dimples cast a dazzling magic spell, mesmerizing the imagination of the ruler. Many people who were starving and wretched felt slighted by the hand of fate and concluded that it was due to women like my sister who were the cause of the curse of starvation and famine that was robbing the land of its resources. They blamed all the problems of the country on corruption by witches and the mistresses of the State. Despite the threat of violence and the possibility of rebellion against people like us, we reveled in the moment of glory and thrived in the face of national despair and the disgruntled feelings amongst the masses.
Then one morning the revolution erupted, the lower ranks of the army seized power and arrested all the senior officers and took command of the affairs of the State. The insurrection was violent and someday I will tell you that story too. But for now, remember what happened to me. Days later the soldiers came to our house looking for my sister. She was accused of participating in immoral and perverted acts with the former ruler and must suffer punitive consequences for her decadent conduct, now forbidden because of the declaration of a Holy War. Rumours of harsh reprisals and retaliatory punishment lingered in the air. People mentioned our names in whispers at night, following the curfew that was imposed on the country after the revolution.
I was the first in our family to be arrested because I was too attached to the oldest daughter of the ruler who had become my secret lover. I did not even tell my sister my secret liaison with the ruler’s daughter. We were found hiding under the bed in the Castle, betrayed by the whimpering sound of our breaths. One of the soldiers heard the heaving rhythms of spasms of fear in the room and looked under the bed.
There we were, two lovers clutching each other, in a petrified embrace, gripped by utter fright; gasping for our dear lives, the terror of death written on our faces. My lover was already in tears, retching for breath; while I was driveling at the mouth. The choking yokes of phlegm had lodged itself in my throat. We could not speak but surrender, with our hands over my heads.
The new revolutionary government accused me of profiteering, hoarding and fathering the illegitimate children of many women. Even though I could have escaped the way many people who were in league with the government did, I stayed. I was too intoxicated by the fulsome life and reverie of the moment, daydreaming of a future as the possible heir to the throne. The ruler had plans to form a Union Government with the chiefs and install himself as King and Supreme Chief of State. We were all isolated from the delusion of our own sense of absolution power, except my sister; who knew she was in it for the money. I, on the other hand had imagined that I would marry the ruler’s daughter one day and become his son-in-law. But as you know by now, the uprising destroyed everything. It was entirely my fault; I ignored rumours of the coup and counter coups that spread across the country. The ruler had assured us that he would “meet force with force,” if anyone engaged in subversive activities. But his threats to crush any attempt at a coup were futile in the face of the overwhelming support for the uprising by the soldiers. The day the rebellion took place all the ruler’s Generals scattered into hiding.
Luckily my sister had an instinctive foresight to escape. She had warned me, as the wiser of the two of us, but I ignored her. Word got to her that the soldiers were plotting an uprising and women who rendered private services to the ruler would face the judgment of history. She immediately left for London with part of the loot she had accumulated from her work as a consort to the deposed ruler. Besides, she was the only signatory to the special private bank accounts of the Head of State, and knew the secret pass codes to the safe deposits of the ruler, hidden in invisible investment accounts scattered all over Europe and America.
Weeks before the new leader of the insurrection called their rebellion a “revolution,” she had returned from London and Paris after a shopping spree, where she also told me she went on a secret business trip on behalf of the Head of State. So she already had a multiple entry visas to England. Many of the deposed ruler’s mistresses and their extended families escaped into neighboring countries. We who were left behind, got ourselves arrested, quarantined; bewildered, guilty, blamed for haven enjoyed the undeserved favors of the former ruler and shortlisted for other imaginary crimes: corruption, forgery, graft, embezzlement, sexual indulgencies, fornication, treason, collaboration with foreign exploiters, imperialist saboteurs, smuggling, bribery and extortion. Our names were listed on the front page of The Daily Graphic, the national newspaper.
After a month of imprisonment, a decree was issued by the new leader authorizing the soldiers to set an example of us. The soldiers lined us up, including other members of the deposed government, Generals and Commissioners. One rainy morning in July, just before dawn when the gods were still asleep, we the guilty were brought to the firing range near the sea, where the soldiers had their target practice. The rain was intermittently lashing against the earth as we filed our way towards our deaths. There were sandbags piled behind, and we were pushed against the bags made soggy by the drenching rain. The earth felt muddy, soft and slippery beneath our feet. Then without warning the soldiers pulled rags over our heads, draping our faces in full view of the mass of people assembled in the distance. They were there to witness at dawn the execution of the men and women responsible for the downfall of the second republic and the corruption of the nation. The soldiers had marched us into the open fields near the beach, and I could see through my imagination, by putting together the noises and sounds the soldiers made and what the crowds were saying from the distance; that our executioners had marched in step and formed a uniform line in front of us.
Our hands were tied behind our backs to a single pole against the soggy pile of sandbags and I felt like a bird, trapped, its wings tied to its back; strangulating just before it would be decapitated. Then I heard a command, calling on the soldiers to stand at attention, then another voice called on them to take their positions and a high pitched voice, screamed, fire….Within spits of seconds, I heard rattling sounds crackling, the mad eloquence of wailing voices in different languages filled the air, the sharp whiffs of fear dashed through me, I lost control of my body, I felt the warmth of my urine draining down my legs, still aware of the harsh spatter of the lashing rain. My groins loosened up, giving way to its abdominal contents and then an insane rush of panic and dread possessed me as the bullets pierced through my chest, like an evil grudge. It was the soldiers, it was the firing of guns and it dawned on me that indeed, a firing squad was in progress. The soldiers shot us like diseased cattle destined for eternal sleep. It was a firing squad in the open view of the public. I stood next to my secret lover as she wept uncontrollably, speaking in tongues, praying for heaven’s divine pardon.
Just between the gaps of the ticking seconds, my thoughts raced as my body wobbled downward, like a cascading river of tears into an ocean of despair. I kept wondering what the others were feeling, what thoughts were running through their minds, the Generals, the former Head of State and all of us lined up against the sandbags as the bullets shattered your fragile bodies into shards of flesh. Were we the tragic heroes or victims of a political experiment, a bloody abortion gone terribly and awfully bad? I thought.
Stop crying, God will understand, I heard myself saying. I didn’t know if I was saying it to myself or to the others standing in line next to me. I just felt the hot metal penetrate my flesh, somewhere below my neck, then towards my shoulders and it was like a barrage of splinting pain all over my body: dislodging my abdomen, my loins, my heart, my masculine and feminine self all in its primordial and primeval pain; the dismembering of a fetus. My whole body felt like a twinge of soreness busting out into flames of agony; enveloped in severe feelings of hurt, regret and lust; returning into my mother’s womb. As though I was having an orgasmic moment with the goddess of death; then I vanished and there was no more pain. I became extinct, a void, a vacuum of human emptiness; Dead.
After a while it felt like a resurrection after a crucifixion, an ancestral reawaking within the realm of my own memories, looking at the scene from a birds eye view. In my rebirth as a floating ghost, I saw a wounded landscape of blood and the tragic evidence of our executed bodies, stringed against the pole; readied for the vultures circling the scene like kites of prey, attracted by the scent of blood, accompanied by the buzzing of big black flies. After our deaths, we were born again in the imagination of the nation, the sadness of the crowds, the hushed silence that followed, the terror of being witnesses to the execution of their deposed ruler and his cohorts. There we were mangled by the bullets and the messy mixture of blood, urine, watery excrement and mud; making our wretchedness in death, the wasted history of a nation.
My mother was spared because she had an angelic face, her innocence was contagious. Besides she was not implicated in any of the claims that accused my sister and I of corrupting the Head of State. No one could have known that she was the one who encouraged and taught my sister everything she knew about how to seduce and control the mind of a Head of State. Though she managed to escape the firing squad, her angelic looks couldn’t spare my life even though she pleaded for my freedom. Spare my son, give him life imprisonment rather than the firing squad, she pleaded. But my face had become too corrupted with the gluttony of my ways and I knew that I deserved my fate. The story about how we the guilty died lingered in the air like an invisible shadow, over the conscience of the nation. Because our deaths did not deter the next generation of rulers and their cohorts from repeating in a grander style the lavish ways of corruption which we inherited from the generation that preceded us. The pioneers of embezzlement came before us and more continue to follow our path with impunity.
For the next ten years the story about how we were killed became part of the collective narrative and folklore of our country’s memory. Every year, we who died are secretly remembered by our families and friends. My sister mourned my death feeling guilty that it was her fault to have drawn me into the world of political debauchery. Yet she also consoled herself that without being the mistress of the State she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be in London to live in luxury as an exile. The British government knew that she would suffer the same fate as her twin brother, if she ever returned to the country of her birth.
She was granted political asylum and consoles herself for my loss by setting up a Foundation, dedicated to sending remittances to all the families who lost loved ones to the firing squad, still bereaved from our deaths. Because my sister was entrusted with the private bank account of the late ruler, following his death, she transferred the account into her name. She became rich, living her life as the former mistress of the late Head of State of Ayallolo, in West Africa.