Aki’s attempt to commit suicide failed, to his great fortune, though to him it was neither fortune nor great. For him, accepting living after the failure meant living miserably, as it was not what he bargained for.
In fact, he had been seething with anger since his unsuccessful attempt and was now highly determined not to fail again.
The lethal dose of Valium pills he swallowed (over 1000mg), after gulping down a good quantity of alcohol – an indisputable catalyst – was unable to lead him from comatose sleep to death proper.
When he opened his eyes from his coma in hospital and saw relations wild with emotion, he was pissed off. He expected to find himself, his transfigured self, in the underworld. In fact, he had asked, though feebly and in a whisper due to his debilitated state, “What the hell are you doing here?”
They looked at one another, not knowing what to answer.
“Are you not supposed to be on Earth?” he continued.
“Yes we are, like you too,” they answered in unison.
“Like me!” he lipped, visibly bewildered. He looked around in panic, hoping to see things unfamiliar and otherworldly.
It was when his visitors started refreshing his memory with stories of what had happened – a recount punctuated with Christian praise phrases – that he realised he was in hospital, and not in the abode of the dead.
He hated himself and all the people clustering around his hospital bed. Seeing their faces broadened by happiness, his hatred and anger increased. The fact that they were happy for the failure made him feel like killing them.
“Quanto mi divertirei ammazzarvi! (How I would enjoy killing all of you!),” he said by moving his lips, accompanied by the marked expression of his angered face.
Believing the exclamation was an expression of gratitude, his visitors increased their caring. One dressed his hair by raking through it with her fingers; some hailed him for returning from coma. A woman, obviously a relation, took his hand to her chest, caressing it and saying repeatedly, “Thank you for living.”
All this irritated Aki. Not knowing what to do, he turned his head on the pillow, silently breathing fire.
What he wanted was to end his life without being aware of it. He knew he could stab himself, throw himself into a river, or leap from a height, but all this would mean experiencing death throes. He detested dying painfully.
With the failure of the suicide, he knew he would be facing any of the alternatives he loathed. He had also added drinking muriatic acid, despite the chilling sensation the mere idea of it gave him.
While wrestling with the bizarre options, he also thought of the things he had forgotten to do before the failed suicide. A suicide note was one of them. There was also the problem of venue. Instead of dying in the faraway capital, he had chosen to kill himself in his hometown.
If it were possible to die without anybody knowing the whereabouts of his corpse, he would opt for it so that the burial would be skipped. He did not want people to have the chance to talk about his death.
When Aki was deported from Italy to his West African country, he was not happy to return home, in spite of his scathing criticisms against the place and the people. In fact, it was his unrestrained criticisms that put him in trouble.
He was travelling on a bus from Rome to Velletri, one of the Seven Hills of Rome. Halfway, exactly at Albano Laziale, the bus broke down. The driver called Rome for another bus, which was supposed to take about half an hour. When almost two hours had passed, Aki lost his nerves.
“This is not Europe but a banana republic, where travelling on foot is faster. Who will assure us that the next bus would reach our destination? Driver! Tell Rome to send us asses…”
“What are you waiting for?” started the driver, enraged. “Go for the asses and mount them. Our country has deteriorated because of assholes. You are right when you said that this is not Europe; a look around confirms it.”
As the driver headed towards Aki, an Italian woman in her late fifties came in: “Ask him if he even stamped his ticket, assuming he has one. I can swear he did not stamp any ticket.”
The driver turned towards the woman, “Madam, you may be right but I couldn’t care less. It is not my job; it is rather that of the dickheads of our checkers who do very little.”
Now standing beside the woman, he continued, “They climb on the buses to control tickets once in a blue moon, thereby letting most of the passengers use public transport for free. The incredible thing is that they enter the buses only at the bus stops, thereby making it possible for those without a ticket to get out undisturbed.”
The woman’s interest seemed to be limited to Aki and others like him: “We Italians respect our rules and regulations, but foreigners like this boy flaunt them.”
Aki wondered why he should be referred to as a boy when it was evident he was well into his forties. He wanted to point it out but realising it was unwise to engage in a war on two fronts he ignored it.
“Madam,” called the driver, “there are also Italians among those that enter buses without ticket. To be precise, 70% of passengers in all, though more than half are foreigners.”
“Those Italians should be ashamed of themselves for letting foreigners mislead them. Seventy percent without a ticket! My God, how can things get better here?” The woman allowed her facial expression to say the rest.
The driver avoided her eyes; he knew she was expecting his retort. He was more interested in Aki who he was now facing.
“Now, when are you leaving us and our banana republic? There is no sense wallowing in a medieval country when your country is the America of Africa…”
Aki did not say a word; he rather changed position. The driver took offence and so followed him, this time poking his chest with his fingers while saying, “You can answer your mother and sister with silence, not me.”
The mention of his mother and sister had the same effect it had on Zidane when Marco Materazzi, the Italian defender during the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final, cursed the mother and sister of the French attacking midfielder. Instead of giving a head butt in the chest like Zidane, Aki punched the face of the driver thrice in quick succession. A fight erupted. Before the police came, both of them had injured each other badly, leaving stains of blood here and there.
They ended up in hospital.
Meantime, twelve charges were raised against Aki: from travelling without a ticket to fighting a driver on duty to desecrating the Italian State. When he was discharged from hospital, he was accompanied by the police to ‘Ponte Galeria Identification and Expulsion Centre.’ After a few days there, he was expelled.
At his country’s airport, three policemen who were waiting for him and other deportees took him to their station for interrogation.
“Why did you go to a white man’s country to misbehave?” asked the first policeman. Without waiting for an answer, he slapped Aki across the face.
Though he was dazed, another policeman came with his own question, “So you are one of the people that tarnish our image in Europe?” He gave Aki two kicks on the buttocks.
The third, a giant, slapped him down while asking, “Where is the money you came back with?”
After this, they bundled him off to detention where he stayed till his relations had paid for his release. His face bore the shock for weeks.
This experience was the first of a series he went through. When the news of his presence in town spread, his friends trouped in to welcome him and booze it up, but found him in a sorry state. The unexpected deportation coupled with the detention had taken its toll.
He came back with nothing, and so could not offer them anything. Moreover, he looked emaciated. All this made his friends peddle the rumour that he had AIDS, and therefore sent back to die at home. When the rumour reached his ears, he understood why his so-called friends had deserted him. Thinking of the closest ones amongst them, his mind went to Caesar’s words after Brutus’ stab – “the most unkindest cut of all.”
His travail reached Rome and all who heard it felt sorry for him. The people running his cargo business were shocked by his ordeal. They encouraged each other to run the business as if it was theirs.
According to the Italian deportation law, Aki would be free to come back after five years. This was too long to run someone else’s business in the person’s absence. For now, Aki’s boys seemed well disposed towards him.
They had taken it upon themselves to turn the tide of things. The first thing they did was to send him his cheque book, which he signed and sent back. They cashed all his money in the bank and sent it to him, thereby revitalising him. The next bold step they took was to use the proceeds from the freight business to buy and ship to him old buses stuffed with second-hand clothes and household things.
Money came in, and in good quantity, replenishing his pocket and health. His friends one after another returned. The drinks started flowing like in the good old times. This time Aki made drinking from his own glass a precondition for any of them who wanted to drink. They were all happy to do so, without thinking of AIDS.
At this time, Aki’s brush with the system had started as in Italy. He had begun taking note of things that went amiss. The fact of people jumping queues irritated him. The notables did not bother to queue up. They bypassed the queues without anybody raising their voice.
One day, he was mobbed by the people queuing up when he asked a young man with a clerical collar who ignored the queue to go back and stand in line. A woman was the first to assail him: “Can’t you see he is a man of God? Is his clerical collar not visible enough?”
Aki wondered what made the queue jumper a man of God. He thought of telling the woman that the habit does not make a monk, but felt it would be a sheer waste of time.
Before he could settle for a reply, other people, mostly men, had surrounded him, railing at him. Someone who called him Mr ITK (I-too-know) asked him, “What does the Scripture say about giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s?”
Aki had seen the mangling of the Scripture several times but never to this extent. He had also met maudlin Christians, but not from one person to another in so short a time.
The pastor, who had been watching the scene since the whole thing started, went to him and said, “May God give you wisdom.”
“And what about you?” countered Aki. “Sorry, I have forgotten you are second to Jesus.”
The unheard-of guts before a pastor surprised almost everyone. Many concluded that the evil spirit that possessed him needed to be knocked out. Seeing them bracing themselves for action, a young man called the attention of the pastor, who had continued on his way, leaving Aki to his fate.
As he turned back, the young man began, “I am not a pastor but I know that in Matthew 23 it is written that those who exalt themselves will be humbled. I am sure you preach the parable of the Good Samaritan to your flock, yet you were going your way while this brother here was facing danger…”
As the crowd that had turned irate left Aki to deal with the young man, the pastor shouted, “Praise the Lord!”
“Hallelujah!” responded the people.
He started Amazing Grace; his eyes welled up with tears, which dropped each time he blinked. Everybody sang along with him. It hypnotised them and so created the atmosphere he needed for his discourse.
“My dear brothers and sisters,” his pastoral voice roared, “Today is a joyous day in Heaven, because the Devil did not hold sway – thanks to our two saints who have proved to be divine instruments.”
After the last word, the pastor beckoned Aki and the young man to near him, but they refused. When the crowd joined in appealing to them, the young man asked the pastor to first apologise.
The pastor beamed with happiness as he said, “My brothers and sisters, I am deeply sorry for failing you, myself, and above all, the God Almighty. I am not worthy of what I represent…”
Seeing Aki and the young man leaving their places to flank him, the pastor paused. He was moved. He proceeded with greater zeal, “Permit me to use this occasion to impart a lesson. I want you to note that an act is not necessarily right because everybody does it, so borrow a leaf from the book of our two brothers here by correcting any clergy who erred. May God bless you.”
To put the pastor’s words into action, Aki looked for a pastor erring in some way. When he did not find any, he turned to people that passed urine in public. His attempt to correct a lady that urinated at a street corner nearly cost him his life. When this lady was through, Aki approached her and said, “My sister, next time try to urinate where nobody, or at least no man, will see you. It is not a good sight and it may create problems for you.”
“How did your eyes end up where I was urinating?” the lady cried out to attract attention. “Out of all the things around to stare at, just me – a woman bent, pulling the thong of her underwear one side and urinating – you focused your eyes on. You must be a maniac. By the way, what do you mean by ‘it is a good sight?’”
People who heard the hue and cry rushed to the scene. The men did not waste time in starting to beat Aki. As they were beating him, an elegantly-dressed man passing by stopped and asked what the matter was. When someone mentioned that it was a case of attempted rape, the man ordered for a used car tyre. Aki, knowing that it would end up on his neck, took to his heels.
After this nightmare, he kept cool for some time, going about his business without prying into people’s affairs. Unfortunately, it did not last. It was not long before he returned to his role of self-appointed crusader.
Aduro was highly impressed; he flung himself into exclamations in German. Aki felt great joy. He saw his life as having a meaning, and, for the first time, believed he was living. He apologised for the stupid idea of taking his life. Now he wished to live forever.
His friend felt like one of the prophets of old who had just resuscitated a corpse.
Overly convinced it was a realisable project, Aduro went to power sharing, “Aki, apart from the presidency that is naturally yours, what other position would you like to occupy in our republic? I will content myself with the ministries of finance and works. After all, it is our thing.”
Aki quickly turned to Aduro, “You are still misconceiving the whole thing. The word ‘republic’ which you used comes from the Latin ‘res publica’, that is, public thing. It means that the nascent State is not our thing; none of us is going to be anything in it.”
“Then how are we going to live?” Aduro asked, showing that it was not yet for him a public thing.
“We have to go back to our occupations when we are through with it,” Aki was now categorical.
Aduro was about to protest but Aki ignored him and continued, “Even those who are going to serve must be ready to earn a civil servant’s salary and go back to their respective professions after one term. Anyone found guilty of embezzlement would face the same charge as murder.”
“What an exaggeration! Is punishment not supposed to be commensurable with the crime?”
“In murder only one person dies, while embezzlement kills many.”
“That is true but don’t forget we are in democracy.”
“Our own democracy will be tailored to suit our exigencies, and so must be overhauled. It will not pass for the will of the people, for example, when it is the will of the representatives, or the rule of the majority when it is not. It also will not be wholly determined by votes in as much as people vote for candidates that have the same ethnicity or religion as themselves.”
“In that case, it has to assume another name.”
“Yes, Servocracy is the name,” Aki said, filled with pride. “It is all about serving the citizens, not leading them, which places the leader high above the led. Unlike in democracy where a president whose term has expired remains in office while elections are conducted, here a transition council, whose members will be selected from the academia, will take over for three months. After this, the council will become a watchdog, though after it has conducted tests for the elected candidates from the majority party who want to become the Chief Servant of the nation, big cities, or towns.”
“Wow, a novelty indeed! It means that to serve one has to excel in the tests?” asked Aduro, perplexed.
“Exactly that,” retorted Aki. It is in line with man’s nature as a rational animal. Of course, we are not numerical entities as democracy has made us out. The voting imperative, through rigging and other ills, has made a caricature of democracy.”
“What becomes of those who have no access to education in general and to good education in particular?” Aduro chose to insist.
“In the new place, education shall be free for all at all levels, and there will be no private schools to create class distinctions.”
“How amazing it would be to apply all these ideals to our present nation!”
“What does wishful thinking serve? Where have you seen people – and here we are talking of oligarchs – who would allow you to effect changes that would affect their fortune or the status quo?”
“Agreeing with you is now my second nature.”
Believing it was time to get down to work, Aki told his friend to give him ten days to come up with the website. On this note, they called it a day.
When they met again, they could not believe that in the first twenty-four hours of making the site accessible to the public more than a thousand Prospective Citizen Forms had been filled. This made them drunk with happiness.
Without wasting time, they fixed their target at a hundred thousand for taking off. It did not take even a week to reach, so they wrote to the secretary-general of the African Union requesting for a meeting. To their greatest surprise, he replied, agreeing to meet them.
“What shall we call this republic?” Aduro asked, still intoxicated by the response.
“I have an idea,” his friend snapped.
He then asked Aduro how many letters there are in Africa.
“Six, exactly six,” came the answer in a voice pregnant with emotion and expectation.
“If you agree,” thus began the unravelling, “let us choose any six African capitals and form a name with their first letters.”
“I absolutely agree,” was Aduro’s sharp reply.
Aki then asked him to choose the capitals.
“I choose Accra (Ghana) and Kigali (Rwanda). And you? Choose any two like me.”
Aki, who had division of labour in mind, replied, “It is good you do this as your part.”
Aduro, on the other hand, wanted collaboration and so insisted. His friend then mentioned Island.
“There is no capital by this name,” Aduro looked confused.
“That is true but it was what came to my mind. Let it stay.”
“Let it stay then, it could be serendipitous.”
Aki asked Aduro to do the rest. He therefore named Rabat (Morocco), Freetown (Liberia) and Antananarivo (Madagascar).
When Aki wrote down the first letter of each of the six cities the word AKIRFA emerged. He then exulted: “Akirfa is the name, and we will become Akirfans, because we are Africans.”
Initially, Aduro did not like the name. In fact, he asked Aki to mix up the letters to see if a catchy name would emerge. The latter rebutted, telling him that everything happens by supernatural design.
At this point, Aduro looked studiously at ‘Akirfa’ and noticed that it was ‘Afrika’ the other way round. He was speechless, and later relapsed into exclamations.
“One final thing,” he threw in, still exultant, “what will be Akirfa’s motto?”
“Here anticorruption and the rule of law reigneth: Be warned,” responded Aki.
“Spot on!” concurred Aduro with all the emotion in him. “It would have been more colourful in Latin, the language of mottos.”
“No, it would have been more original in Kiswahili. In fact, that is going to be Akirfa’s language, so prepare for school.”
Aduro was enchanted. He turned to Aki, “Let us go and buy our tickets, so that we will celebrate the birth of Akirfa when we are back from Addis Ababa, the AU’s headquarters. That is when Akirfa’s story will begin.”
“Akirfa’s story,” corrected Aki, “began a long time ago in Italy, on the first road of all Italy called Appian Way, which leads from Rome to Velletri and hundreds of kilometres beyond.”
By Kaius Ikejezie (Ph.D)