SEP 15, 2022
For Johari, Wednesday could not have come any sooner. He savoured public events, especially the ones that involved public holidays where the President would be giving a speech. It would mean Johari could freely ingratiate himself, and let people know that he dealt with the ultimate power on a peer-to-peer basis, not through proxies. Nea would have to show off one of her sensational outfits. He needed her to, given the scandal people were shunning them for.
“Look successful, feel successful, be successful,” Johari calculated.
Nea, not fooling herself, understood her role in this. With Johari blemished from the scandal, she felt disrespected by the accusatory eyes and the hushed tones. Her invitations to events had waned. With the opportunity ripe, she knew she was going to run into everyone that had even dared cast a downward eye at her and her family. She channelled her inner Adea. Her outfit would set the record straight.
At the stadium, they were ushered through the VIP entrance, and up to the podium. Nea a step behind him, and subtly strutted her brand-new dress. They heard their names announced over the loudspeaker. “Johari!!! Nea!!!”
The crowd applauded, Nea did a half-wave, and they lavished her with more applause.
“One of the most successful women in business.”
Yes, they would clap. Nea expected it and got it. Her earthly judges fumed in silence, stunned by her veiled kemis, a refined conservative choice. They hated her for the thunderous applause she received. For Nea, this is how the balance became. perfectly restored.
As her applause died down, the speakers started belching out a popular national song, really the only national song that announced the presence of presidential power. The thunder of the song, the heat, the fever pitch, the man arriving… the crowd was all fired up.
His motorcade burst into the stadium. Security men dangling expertly on car doors. Armed combat-clad elite soldiers deployed around the stadium at lightning speed. Johari envied this particular trapping of power. The door of the presidential car swung open. General Abdi's dark sunglasses popped up before he appeared, a hulking man, full of vigour. The masses roared in unison. The lion had arrived.
To show the country and the world that he was still robust, he energetically inspected the guard of honour, and then walked up to the podium. The dignitaries had eagerly lined up to meet him. This part always agitated him. It never made sense. He was the president. Why did he have to do the walking around, shaking hands? He was the guy. They, the dignitaries, should be the ones walking to shake his hand.
The band was kicking up a storm. He stood before his Finance Minister. “Thief,” General Abdi thought as he greeted him.
The Education Minister. She was always jovial.
He knew her scandal very well. He was angry she had excluded him from the dirty money.
“How are you, Madam Abdallah?” he greeted her.
The Health Minister.
He should have fired him. Malaria was killing his people. What was he doing to save them?
“Good to see you again, Mr Musa, how is the good fight going?”
Mr Musa beamed from ear to ear, unsure of his response, having taken an earful for his failings in halting the malaria outbreak a few hours earlier.
He continued shaking hands, finally walking past the presidential chair. He strutted a bit for the crowd, posed and swaggered. The crowd could see the happenings. They went frantic. They were cheering, “Simba! Simba! Simba!” His favourite nickname.
“Yes,” he basked in his own glory, “you know who is in charge.”
“Osman, how are you?” he greeted. He considered him utterly useless. Did he know how often the terrorists were killing his people in the East? Major-General Osman was what he derogatorily referred to as a 'diversity hire', there to offer tribal equality in his military.
He saw Johari.
"Ah, Johari, is that you?”
Johari played the role cleverly, pretending to be a distant acquaintance of the president.
“Ah, Mr President, is that you? Do you remember me? Long time. I am happy to see you here.”
You would think this was a happenstance. Especially given that they had only just sat down for a meeting this very morning. The two laughed at their 'smart' insider joke, fooling no one.
He waved at everyone else at the podium. He considered them periphery. General Abdi did not walk towards periphery. They waved back. He did not come here to shake hands with everyone. If anyone was keen on kissing the ring, they knew where he would be seated. On the big brown presidential chair crafted in mahogany with a thick velvet cushion. It required four men to get the chair up the podium. He loved it.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, let us welcome our president, General Abdi,” the master of ceremony yelled into the microphone, clapping.
The crowd followed with heightened intensity. General Abdi strode slowly to the microphone. His country was here to see him and so, he would give them the fiery speech they came for, the ones filled with his hot air. Like all other dictators, he loved the sound of his own voice, loved the thunder of the applause from the crowds. He fed on it.
“My dear people,” his voice boomed, “today we celebrate…” and suddenly his voice trailed off.
He coughed. Hamisi, his Aide De Camp, caught it. The tickle. Hamisi swiftly poured water into the glass and handed it to his charge. General Abdi slowly sipped it, letting it wet his parched throat. He cleared his throat into the microphone comically. The crowd amusedly cheered. General Abdi had perfected his art of entertainment.
“You know, I am an old man,” he deviated from his original speech. “Maybe it is time to consider calling it a day.”
Empty words. He knew he was dying in power. The opposition knew he was dying in power. His own people knew he was dying in power. Critics, both local and foreign, knew he was dying in power. The military ensured that no claim arose so that he could die in power. He was leaving Government House in a coffin, so the opposition no longer bothered talking about stolen elections, it was a fruitless cause. General Abdi always won with a landslide.
It caught him by surprise. The dull pain in his chest. He was uncertain about what happened. He stumbled backwards. Then a second dull pain kicked off in his stomach. Hamisi grabbed him and shoved him to the ground. Gunfire rang out everywhere! His bodyguards piled on top of him, shielding him. Pandemonium! His blood drained, and he felt it start pooling underneath him. He felt a sharp pain in his groin. Had they shot him? Had they shot him in his groin?
He called out to Hamisi, “Get me out of here!”
Hamisi struggled to get to him. It was futile. The pain in his groin intensified. He could hear more firing. Finally, as the weight came off him, he realised his Escort Commander had accidentally rested his knee on his groin. He was furious. A chewing out would be necessary, later.
The crowds scampered as more soldiers rushed into the stadium, firing into the afternoon heat. The security officers, the paramilitary security, and combat-clad elite soldiers were all taken aback by the volume of soldiers streaming into the stadium. General Abdi felt his men haul him. He was barely conscious. The backup motorcade had already lined up at the emergency exit at the back. They hauled him down the stairs and into the car that sped off towards Government House. Inside the car, Hamisi was offering him first aid. The radio squawked noisily. Orders barked back and forth as a battle raged inside the stadium.
In his entire military career, General Abdi had never been shot. Realising he would never rise to the top in his lifetime, he had fomented and successfully executed a coup, followed by a short civil war in which he did away with his opponents. He had never fired a single shot in combat.
The sunlight permeated through the screen. He tried to shield his eyes with his hand, but none of them moved. Instinctively, he felt scared that his wounds were mortal. General Abdi tried to remember if he had prayed. To ask for forgiveness.
He wanted to say, “Jesus forgive me for...” but all he managed was, “Jesus.”
He could not understand what was happening, despite knowing the words, he could not bring them to his lips.
“Jesus,” he called out again, but nothing.
The blackness closed in on him. He was dead.