This story was written almost 25 years ago, when the writer was living in a remote corner of Ethiopia. Its highly edited and abridged version has been published a few years ago. This is the first time when it sees the light of the day in its original form without fear of repercussions.
I remember everything as if it was yesterday.
At that time, the turbulence that followed the violent change of government had not yet subsided, even in the cities. The new, rather fashionable word that was being reiterated by the radio was DEMOCRACY.
I myself then was at a remote lowland district’s small town called….sorry I forget its name. Anyways, it was a town where the men prefer the stimulant Khat leaves to their women, and the women prefer their coffee-pots to their men. The land was fertile, the hills suitable bunker for the rebels against the new government.
Forget about those damn officials, for a moment and look at me! The people of that district had been considering me like a highly qualified doctor, while I was only a simple medical Assistant. But who was the only modern medical trouble-shooter of those people in the whole district? Was it not me? Why not then they address me as “Mr. Medcine”? Why not they revered me? Of course they did! Officials of the district had been envying on me, because they were only feared but not loved as I was.
Unlike my counter parts in the big towns and cities who were wallowing in mediocrity, I was like the doctor, the druggist and the director of that small government clinic. I even had the privilege and freedom of practicing minor surgeries. Heaven be praised! A few survived! Unbelievable ? But it was true!
That Spring day late afternoon, as I was taking my white gown off, ending my ever busy work for another day, I heard increasingly approaching clamors. “Here we go!” I said to myself. “It is emergency.” Whenever I was in a hurry to do something else that was what always happens. My authoritative wife had promised me to make my favourite meal she hated to cook, Seljo, if I could make it home before 6 O’clock.- the condition I usually failed to achieve.
Just as I feared, soon the clinic compound’s gate was inundated with lots of men rampaging toward the building, towards me. It was not emergency! Where is the Victim? Never had I seen such a large gang of armed men invading the clinic except on the day of the riot of last year, when the rebels looted the clinic holding me at gun point. Could these men possibly be the rebels again, sneaking in from the hills? Oh God!
After a while, when I came to my senses, I recognized some of the men where the town’s militiamen .But everything then, was unpredictable. Would it be the case that the militias were turned into rebels? God Forbid!
“Mr. Medicine! Mr. Medicine! ‘Hakim’!” the men shouted, with trembling breath. I waited for what they were going to say next.
Among them a long muscular bearded man with a white turban in a torn red T-shirt bearing a printed word that reads “Freedom& Democracy” said “Mr. Medcine! Please be quick! Let us go please, sir!”
“What is it?” the men did not listen to my deep sigh of relief. I stood at my office door a few meters away from them.
“You are summoned to be at the Governor’s house, Sir! There is a big problem. A very big – – – -”
Another shock shivered me again, before the man finished his words, I got back into my office.
What could happen to that gigantic man, the Governor? Stroke perhaps? Or the rebels had wounded him? Or ambushed him?
With a second thought, I left my emergency kit, and took only the stethoscope, in to my coat’s pocket.
We started marching on the gravel road along which all government offices are located, toward the administration office compound, where the district Governor’s residence also situated.
As I marshaled my internal chaos, I began to listen attentively to what the militia men were saying to me. “The whole town people are disturbed,” said the militia man. “It is the third day since the Governor left the town for a conference in the city, having his cat locked in his house. The cat is now crying inside. I am sure it is going to die if the governor might stay longer.”
Inside, I got angry. Am I a magician that summons a cat out of a locked room?
“To whom did the governor used to give his cat when he was away from town before this time?”
“It was to the generator technician, Abubakar. He himself was in the city to buy spare parts on the day the governor left the town.” Said a militia man “We first assumed the governor has taken the cat with him, which he sometimes do. The governor loves his cat very much, you know, Mr. Medicine. The car that took him came so
early, we didn’t see him leaving.”
“Let the governor go to hell with his god, damn cat! I do not know!” I thought to myself.
I looked at my watch. 10 minutes to 6. My wife would be looking at the door, waiting to hear my knock, any minute.
At the old huge gate of the administration office, a militia was standing, holding a long stick, spreading away the immense crowd of people waiting anxiously the latest news about the governor’s cat.
There! The red locked door of the governor’s house, a single brick room standing alone. I guess he chose it as his house for security reasons.
On the wooden locked door a poster carrying the emblem of the new government was posted. Above the emblem, a slogan reads “ Enemies of Peace and Democracy shall Perish!” . Just outside the locked room stood the well known men of the town deliberating solutions. Their loud voices, however, could not cover the shrieking cry of the cat inside.
The two richest men of the town the owner of the two pick-up thruks, the owner of the three grain mills, the director of the only school, the tax collector, and also a police man and of course the generator technician were there. Oh! I forgot! What about the Sheik? Sheik Osman in his ever white dress from head to toe was also there.
“We better sit together, chew khat and make ‘dua’!” said the sheik, looking at us turn by turn with a warm smile on his face much younger for his age “Our God would inspire one of us with the wisdom to save the cat! I am sure he would!” He chew it every day. I thought he believed that magic leaf reveals the secret for solutions of all the life’s problems, and also the only possible bond that would make Muslims and Christians to sit together and talk frankly.
All the men murmured, but no one spoke out with approval or disapproval of the sheik’s idea.
The sheik remained silent, waiting one of us to react. Silence could be yes. But Sheik knows that we are all wise gentlemen. He knew that our silence was a gentle “No.”
Then he said “I have to go now gentlemen. Guests from other land are waiting for me at home. Allan be with you.” and he took his leave. The Disordered Conversation Continued.
“How could you dare to break open the governor’s house door without his knowledge, for what ever reason it may be?”
“Burrowing the back wall.”
“Passing a slice of meat through the door slit.”
“What would it drink?”
“He would return immediately, or send the door’s key when he remembers his cat.”
“Three days passed, didn’t he think of it until now?”
“Cats are resilient! Let us just wait for the Governor.”
“Let us reconsider Shieky’s Idea.”
“Call a general meeting of the town people and organize a committee.”
Abubakar Suddenly raised his short arms in the air with begging eyes “Gentlemen! Please! Lend me your ears once!” he said “The best way I can Imagine is” he pointed to the top of the house “to pick up one of the iron sheets of the roof and snare the cat and pick him out. Simple as that.”
Except the policeman all of us nodded “What is its difference from breaking the locker open?”
“Sergeant! Please! I thought we are implicitly agreed on one Idea. It is a sec – – – if you gentlemen hate my Idea, so be it!” he waved his hand, coughed heavily and spat turning his head away, and before he resumed, the stout school director intervened.
“Gentlemen! We all know and it is true that Mr. Governor has left his home in a hurry. So we could assume the possibility that he left the padlock on the door, forgetting to fasten it properly, to be the case.”
“This is nothing but a calculated lie!”
“We lie, sergeant, to save his cat, and while doing so, to save all of us from the possible incrimination of negligence. The governor would be very angry on us, if he found his cat dead.”
The blinding sun that had been heating the ground to the point of glowing was now sinking in to the hills. The wind was now cooler but still carrying dust from the dry ground.
The people of the town outside the gate of the administration office were chased away by the guards.
Circling the Governor’s home, we the known men of the town, were silently looking up at the roof, where Abubakar was busy.
Minutes Passed. “I got it!” Abubakar exclaimed. He polled a String at end of which there was a snare. In the snare that was conjured up from the opened roof, we saw the huge blindingly white cat, absorbed at eating the slice of the meat by which it was trapped.
We all smiled and looked at one another with big sighs.
Suddenly we could hear the guards at the gate exchanging words of Questions pointing their hands towards the swirling ball of wind at the far end of the road.
“It is a Car! A Car is coming! A car is coming!” Shouted one of the guards to us.
Stupefied, all of us were unable to move, our eyes moved only from the governor room’s roof towards the gate.
Soon, the gate was again swarmed with people, the guards were too surprised to do their job. The car interred the gate. The conductor of the pick-up Toyota flung open the right sides of the two cabin doors. The sheriff, the prosecutor, the udge and finally the governor came out respectively.
The small eyes of the governor were red, showing mixed emotion of surprise and anger. They were gazing at the roof. I never saw his thick moustache hairs straightened up like that. His chinless small face is redder than the usual, especially his trembling cheeks as he walked pounding the ground with his heavy boots, to wards his ‘invaded’ home.
I was sure that during the car’s brief pause (stop) at the gate at which he had a brief conversation with one of the guards, the governor had been told exactly what we were doing. If so why he became so angry? We only saved his cat?
Now the governor escorted by his entourage was standing in front of us, all holding guns and pistols. All of us, the Gentlemen of the town bowed to the governor without speaking a word for greeting.
With his shaking hands, Abubakar at last opened the snare. The cat, which we feared to die soon, jumped from the roof, heading towards the governor. He lift him up with his left hand and rest him on his broad left hand and rest him on his broad left shoulder, the cat began to rub his face with his hand.
Then the governor turned toward us. “Could any one of you explain this shameful act of yours, or rebel’s work shall I say?” his checks bulged more with malicious smile.
Of course we were really wise men of the town. There was no man among us who is mislead by the definations of democracy, would talk back to the governor, whom we witnessed conducting summary justice on captured rebels.
All of us were taken to the prison room in the compound. Now I began to expect my wife to come bringing me dinner and blanket.
All of us thanked God for sparing our life rather than being angry for the mishap.
Exercising their democratic rights, as it is allowed in the governors speechs on the week end town dwellers general meeting, the people appealed for my release on bail, since the clinic was closed and sick peoples were suffering and dying. As a friend told me later, the governor got angry.
“Does democracy allow criminal professionals to be free from facing justice? Did I or the cadres ever taught you this? Answer me!” the people were speechless.
On the ninth day in prison, we were taken to the court. The prosecutor read the list of charges against us and asked the judge a tough justice. Plotting to plant bomb inside the governor’s house, an organized vandalism on public property, prompting riot, destabilizing the town’s peace, looting attempt, and unauthorized meeting, mistreatment of animals were at the top of the list of charges.
“ Guilty or not guilty, how would you plead?” asked the Judge
“Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!….” it was unanimous.
We were group of wise men. We do not want the grip of our hand cuffs to be tighter and stay longer.
That was exactly what sheik Osman advised us. “Gentlemen! Ever body even the governor himself knows that the charges on you are absolutely nonsense. If that was not the case, you could have been dead men by now.” Said Shieky the other day he visited us in prison. “But what you were too naive to see , brothers, was that Mr. Governor gives priority to what he called his privacy and security than to his cat’s love.”
The judge, with a surprised look on his sad face, announced the date for the sentence, and we were driven back to the jail.
The Ethiopian Herald Sunday edition October 20/2019
BY SOLOMON WASSIHUN