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Imaginary Head of State: Fiction by Kabu Okai-Davies

Image: remixed
Image: remixed

Once upon a time in the history of Ayalolo country, the changing of rulers happened as though the right to rule could be purchased at the market. I thought about it and the idea came to me that; maybe I could become a Head of State. I woke one morning from a dream within the atrophy of a continent, sleepwalking into the future from the past. Later that day I gathered the courage to announce to all the members of my extended family, my new revelation. It was as though I was making a New Year’s resolution. Every first day of the year all my extended family members and relatives traditionally come together. The clan assembles at the family house to celebrate grandfather’s birthday. That year, Grandpa turned eighty-eight and in front of my mother, uncles, aunties and cousins, I made my announcement and my grandfather who couldn’t hear properly, thought I was yelling out appellations to acknowledge his status as the head of the family. But I was making a proclamation of what I wanted to become.

“I will to be the next Head of State of Ayalolo country,” I said, screaming out loud. My family members were too busy with their meals that afternoon. A few of them took quick glances at me and continued eating. No one paid attention to my announcement. At the same time I was thinking that if the path to power may be difficult to execute within Ayalolo country, then probably somewhere within the missing link of the many smaller countries on the continent, I could sneak my way into power without anyone noticing. They will only wake up one morning and realize that I was the new ruler. Most of my family members heard me, but ignored what I said, concluding that I was up to one of my jokes as the unacknowledged clown of the clan. A few weeks later, in mid February, my older brother, Buadu approached me with his interrogative look, in response to my proclamation.

“How did you come up with that kind of thought,” Buadu asked.

“What kind of thought are you talking about?”

“About your dream to become a Head of State,” he said.

“Who told you thinking is part of the job description? You don’t have to be a thinker to be a Head of State in Africa,” I said, laughing.

“Well, you cannot be like the rest of them, you have to think different,” he said.

“Yes, I am thinking differently, but for a different reason,” I said.

I tried to explain to him that, mine was an intuitive urge, a deep longing to change the fortunes of our family and eventually the fate of Ayalolo country. My path to power, I thought, would be to create new illusions and sell it like a religion. A continent addicted to religion will follow anyone who claims to be a redeemer. People are looking for a leader who can cast a spell of deception over their minds, to chase mirages and remain mesmerized by the fantastic and imaginary superhuman nature of the ruler. Give them images wrapped within the smoking clouds of deceptive beliefs, reflected against mirrors before the sun and they would be mesmerized by it.

Every nation deserves the leaders and the rulers they breed. Some are susceptible to the whims of tyrants; others succumb to the wicked ways of senile dictators who are grumpy and dysfunctional, yet by the power of sorcery, are able to hold sway over the psyche of the state. Other rulers are disdainful of those who question their authority, while they survive in power till they die. I do not want to be one of those who use plain murder to hold on to power and surround themselves with crooks and inept sycophants. I figured that I could manage to elbow my way into power by selling stories of hope and bliss to any of the famished countries yearning for imaginary forms of prosperity. At first I toyed with the idea of joining the army and then work my way to become a Colonel, before staging a coup. Most of the successful coup plotters are Colonels, in charge of a whole brigade or a battalion. Then it occurred to me, that when civilian rule is restored, it would be better to enter politics and corrupt everyone on my path to the top. Hopefully, I would be able to cast a spell on the population with my oratory about freedom and justices for the dispossessed and the wretched.

“What about those who are already rich, what will you tell them?” My brother asked.

“When I become the ruler, I will corrupt the country, seduce them into believing that I am some kind of Messiah,” I said. He laughed. But I was serious. Maybe this is my simple vision to unravel the mystery behind the shame I felt for being part of a country that has lost its sense of definition and a direction. To be a Head of State in Africa is to be the embodiment of all power and authority.

“How will you use your power?” My brother asked.

“At first I will find the most attractive women in the country and use my power to seduce all of them,” I said and then we laughed.

“You are such a clown,” he said. I wanted to use my power for my own selfish ends. Who cares? This is Ayalolo country, I thought. But then he was quiet for a while and looked at me with a stern gaze.

“What makes you think you will not be betrayed, stripped of all your dignity and honor? Remember how father died? Many politicians have died mysteriously in this country. Indeed all the Presidents of this country were betrayed before they died. The ones who came to power by a coup ended up in the firing squad. Only the albino has survived. But then he is the reincarnation of the devil, a fearless man who has swallowed snakes, eaten the heart of lions, hyenas, crocodiles and bathed in the blood of his slaughtered enemies. Can you do that? Can you swallow a snake?” My brother asked. “Think about it, can you defy the gods and stand at the crossroads of fire and blood and still come out alive, unscathed by bullets, the slings and arrows of spiritual assassin? No one knows how the albino did it. All we know is that the path to power is the road through the dark corridors of sorcery and magic.”

It was a time of coups and counter-coups, insurrections and rebellions, uprisings and revolutions; leaders, despots and dictators came and went as though the State House had an invisible rotating door that led people in and spat them out, bruised and bloodied by the vicissitudes of ruling a country like Ayalolo. My brother saw the fear in my eyes and he tapped me on the shoulder and said.

“You cannot walk on water if you are afraid of drowning. The quest for power in Africa is a journey into the inner heart of darkness itself. If you are not willing to cross the river of blood, then you are not ready to become a Head of State,” he said.

Something shifted in my mind. I felt as if I had fallen into a cauldron of annoyance. I thought my dream would lead me to my own utopia; little did I realize such dreams could lead to realms of unparallel nightmares, blackness and death. I stood there wondering, consumed by the omen of memory and the haunted stories of Ayalolo’s history. Many have died. Others lost their senses seeking the ultimate power of the throne of this nation. Aspirants to power in this country have lost families, their moral compass, spinning into spheres of debauchery and decadence, only to wake up one day to realize that they were chasing an illusion. They were not walking on water but on a mirage.

The road to power is a path through a desert of famished souls, scattered skeletons and invisible cemeteries. I started thinking, if the path to power is by means of black magic and sorcery, then I might as well rethink my dream of whether to become a Head of State or live in anonymity and silence. Too many things have escaped my grasp. My life had been a metamorphosis into nothingness, dead end jobs, weighed down by the condescension of less knowledgeable employers, watching time spin away into something amorphous; something other than what I had imagined when I was young. The dream of becoming the Head of State unveiled within me a better representation of myself, but my brother’s words caused me to realize that it was just a dream.

“Dreaming is one thing; striving to bring it into being it is another story,” he said. Originally I thought that besides using my power to seduce the virgin maidens of the country, I had other intentions to embark on a quest with my followers, to find the secret that made some nations better, blessed with the elixir of higher technologies of thought. I wanted power to conjure into existence the benediction of human advancement for my race by delving into mystical sources of knowledge; not by means of ritual animal sacrifices, fetish incantations, midnight prayers to gods of the dead and libations to ancestors, but by pure erudition and rigorous reading. If knowledge is power, I wanted a pen as my wand and a magic scroll on which to write a new preamble of a better destiny for my country and continent. Powers to unravel the mysteries of power itself, enthroned with the means to accomplish impossible things, simplify the complex, strengthen the weak, empower the powerless, change the course of a nation’s destiny and lift up the mendicant populace from the cesspit of the ghettoes into mansions of greater fortunes.

Power is an alchemical elixir, compass, map, privilege, the ultimate of all things conceivable. I wanted power to commune with the past, ask our ancestors a thousand questions about why they bequeathed us with an unwritten history, fragmented and fated to fail; without any of the privileges of race, devoid of the acumen of cohesive thoughts, not knowing that we do not know, stuck at the bottom of the totem pole of human efficacy, invisible black shadows of our African being, silhouette of our own humanity, worshippers of inherited fetish idols, seeking meaning within the superstitious realm of the past, fractured psyche of tribal cultures to guarantee Africa’s servitude into perpetuity. There are too many malevolent rulers in Africa, I thought. I wanted to be the benevolent one, and my name will be on the lips of the world, that I made a difference to the wounded history of Africa, to be remembered as President Bauhene, the Benevolent.

I thought about how my father died and concluded that this country was not born of a scared vow meant to hold certain truths as self evident. It was born of the mandate of the gods who demanded blood sacrifices to appease the rage of our ancestors; the same people who sold us into slavery and wrote our history on the illiterate scroll of human memory. Why should I sacrifice my life for such a country? I thought. I would rather go into exile and seek to unravel the metaphysical meaning of my dreams. I concluded that if I want to rule my country, I must first learn to rule myself.

As I looked at my grandfather that day at the family gathering, he appeared frail, overwhelmed by the affection showered on him by his children and grandchildren.  At that moment, I knew that though I was yet to fulfill my dreams, I wanted to be more than be the man who had twenty-two children with eight wives and forty-three grandchildren and more great grand children than he could count. I wanted more things than I could even explain to myself. There were many ideas searing in my brain, like sirens wailing loudly for universal attention. I wanted gifts of the mind and aptitudes of thought to make me the best of my generation; to achieve beyond what was expected of me. Indeed to be exceptional and outstanding in my disposition as an African; including the possibility of becoming the President.

But I realized too soon that the road to power in these parts of the world is the road to perdition. This was the road my father took and perished in the process. Mother said he was bewitched by his enemies, leaving in his trail bastard children with his many mistresses, breaking my mother’s heart and telling me in the end that, it was mother’s fault I was born. “Many of my children were born by mistake,” he once said. Some claimed he died from poisoning by a jealous mistress; others concluded he was a victim of a sorcerer’s assassination, by means of metaphysical murder.

“Black magic, used for juju; the sorcerers stabbed him in the heart,” my mother said after I asked her what she thought about father’s sudden death. “Your father was too indebted to many witch doctors, sorcerers, medicine men and was involved with women who were known to dabble in the dark ancestral rituals, women known for their maleficent ways, all of them. That is why I left him, because sooner or later the gods were destined to come for his blood and I wanted nothing to do with his debts,” she said.

My father was found foaming at the mouth, spitting blood and mumbling things about how he regretted not taking care of his children and loving mother the way he should have. I couldn’t say what my father wanted in life. He was involved with successive governments, military or civilian alike. He wanted money, power, influence and claimed he would outlive all his enemies. He was obsessed with women, something I think I have inherited. But looking back on how he died, I think he suffered a fatal heart attack. For a man who eats the dishes of all his mistresses and put on so much weight, who knows? Politicians in this country die by all kinds of mysterious means and I knew that I shouldn’t live like my father.

I never mourned his passage or took my memories of him to heart. At his funeral, I spent the time silently sipping beer, ruminating on the disagreeable encounters I had with him, while he was alive. I wanted something different. To be better, to be more and learn what I had to know and to defy the enigma of living in the shadow of my father’s tragic life. Even though I held fantasies of emulating my grandfather and father in their desire to birth dozens of children with scores of women, I knew that being born a bastard negates the existential premise of a child’s being. In rethinking my dream, I became more aware than ever, the sacred responsibility associated with being placed in a position of power and the moral duties of fatherhood.

“Buahene, you were named after a great chief, Buahene the Great, of the ancient world of great African kings, ruler of many kingdoms and seer of a thousand dreams. You are an Ohene in your own right,” my brother called.

Who wants to be a chief in this day and age, the thought streamed across my mind. Even though I was listening to him, I was still absent minded. I was drifting within the sphere of my own imaginings about where I stood between dream and reality, the past and future, ambivalence and the evidence that I had began to think about leaving the country. I must exit these parts in search of a better way to fulfill the promise of becoming myself. I must hurry, I thought; because in Ayalolo time is always late and people appear to be oblivious of time.

“Knowing you for who you are, I doubt you’ll want to swallow a snake, bath in animal blood and drink the tears of an elephant to gain power as Head of State of this country,” he said.

That evening, I remained silent. I sat there in the living room, listening to my older brother ramble on. He kept reminding me of many dire things that had happened in the past; the murders, unexplained disappearances, and sudden deaths.

“If word gets around that you want to be President one day, you will be plucked dead before you are ripe to live a full life of your own. Do not follow the black path to power. This is Ayalolo country. Many have died before the appointed time of their death and the best amongst us are all in self-imposed exile.”

I thought about what he said. The conversation about my dream came to an end. We sat in silence, contemplating the emptiness of the moment, the void left behind by our mutual disappointments and the unfulfilled expectations of our generation. Times are changing, and the myth of Ayalolo as a journey appeared to have transformed into a static experience of things staying the same. We were going backward, dreaming we were moving forward.

Ayalolo must awake, I thought, otherwise I will leave before it awakes. I will change my dream and take a better road into the future, if it means going into exile and finding a place to live far beyond anyone’s reach. How far? I thought.  As far as Australia, South of everywhere; or the last town in New Zealand to call home, where I can become the imaginary Head of State in my invented country, far away from Ayalolo, my home.


Image: remixed

Kabu Okai-Davies
Kabu Okai-Davies
Kabu Okai-Davies is an African-Australian playwright, novelist and poet from Ghana. He is the author of Long Road to Africa, Curfew’s Children and Evidence of Nostalgia and Other Stories. He holds a PhD in Creative Writing - UC. He is currently a Visiting Fellow in Writing - School of Arts and Humanities at ANU and the 2015 Alumni Award Winner for Excellence, Faculty of Arts and Design, University of Canberra. (Editor: Dr. Okai-Davies passed away on February 17, 2017, after a battle with cancer. He was a good friend of

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