Fiction

The Statue: A Short Story by Wanangwa Zondani Mtawali

Image: Pixabay.com

The statue of Dr Genge Kakhuta in the Capital City’s main park was exceptionally gigantic, attracting numerous foreign tourists and even the local people. The foreigners and the natives came to see in awe the imposing statue of a radical nationalist who was the founding leader of this once prosperous republic.

Children heard of Dr Kakhuta in the many stories told about this long departed statesman, stories told graciously and repeatedly by their ageing parents, or they read about him in history books. The children were inspired by Kakhuta’s selflessness and enviable achievements in various aspects of development. Many of them wished they could be like him when they grew up.

Elsewhere in the Capital City, a tired and hungry history teacher burst into a classroom. Khaki trousers and a faded sky blue shirt loosely clung to his thin body. He wore worn-out black shoes. The teacher faced the students, his bloodshot eyes darting from the left side of the classroom to the right.

“Who was Dr Genge Kakhuta?” he asked.

Mahara quickly stood up. He wore a small white shirt and the tight green trousers were pulled below his buttocks, exposing a red underwear. To the surprise of everyone, he stepped in the aisle, marched to the front and stood to attention, eyeing the teacher directly.

“He was a courageous highly educated selfless gentleman who is standing gigantically in the main park, just watching his people suffering in poverty, hunger and disease!” Mahara shouted.

The other students broke into loud stitches of laughter at Mahara’s sheer madness and then, suddenly, receded into deep silence upon realizing that the teacher was apparently not amused at all.

Mahara was not moved. He still stood erect, looking at the teacher. The teacher shook his head, expressing his dismay at what he thought was the untimely exit of intelligence and good morals from Mahara. He pitied the boy.

The teacher beat up students and gave them harsh punishments when they annoyed him. But, he suddenly thought he could not do anything to Mahara. Times were really hard. The teacher himself had not been paid for several months.

The teacher did not continue teaching. He furiously shut the classroom door behind him, leaving Mahara still standing and staring. He heard the students’ suppressed laughter rise to a thunderous uproar.

As he went, the teacher felt he could no longer pretend not to laugh at Mahara’s sudden stupidity. Much to the excitement of the students who were looking at him through the windows, he too laughed heartily as he approached the staff room.

***

“I guard and clean this place,” Rotani told the inquisitive British tourist.

Wearing an oversize black overall and squatted, Rotani dutifully wiped the feet of the huge statue towering some meters above him and the tourist. It was that time, early in the morning when people rush to work. Underneath a clear sky, the just risen full sun shone an orange glow.

The tourist looked around the spacious park of green short grass, well trimmed rolls of flowers of different colours and small trees. The place was beautiful.

A two-lane tarmac road went round the park. Across the road, elegant buildings and offices stretched out to various directions in the vastness of the Capital City. The tall buildings and the wide highways were the only pride of an impoverished nation in dire need and distress. Provision of essential services had collapsed. Unemployment was very high. Crime, hooliganism and prostitution were on the rise. That was not the case during the Kakhuta regime.

The dark grey statue of a proud Dr Genge Kakhuta in a suit, stood on a concrete podium, facing the west, the entrance to the park. The left arm of the statue hung while the right one stretched out in front with the palm of its hand open, seemingly beckoning people on the streets beyond. Its face was sculpted to a broad smile of a noble man satisfied with his good service to his people.

The nationalist had helped his people wrestle the country from the racist and oppressive colonialists. He became the founding President of the country, reigning over a period of peace and prosperity. He suffered a fatal heart attack while on duty and subsequently died, marking the sudden and tragic end of his fifteen year rule.

The eyes of the tourist fell on Rotani again. Rotani swung up his head to continue feeding his interrogator’s curiosity.

“I am the employee of the city council, taking care of this place single handedly.”

“Really?”

Rotani nodded, smiling.

The tourist felt sorry that the work must have been just too much for Rotani. Large birds perched on the head and shoulders of the statue to feel the full warmth of the morning sun while blankly gazing down upon the two men.

“Can’t you look for another job?” the tourist persisted.

“This is the only job I can manage,” Rotani answered.

“You love it?”

“I liked Kakhuta. I love being here, guarding and cleaning his statue and the surrounding.”

It was getting busier and the sun becoming hotter. More foreigners and natives were thronging into the park. The birds flew away and scattered in the distant sky, probably, threatened by dozens of people accumulating at the feet of the statue.

***

It was mid morning. Rotani set out on the long journey to his house. He strode through the street which headed west, immediately across the entrance to the main park. Traffic had cleared out somehow. Small groups of people walked along the road. Cars hooted, warning some pedestrians naughtily crossing the road.

Rotani was passing by a bank. A gentleman, holding a briefcase emerged from the swing glass door. Beggars sprang up, their palms stretched out hopefully. The disgusted man hurriedly reached into the safety of his posh car and quickly drove off.

Ahead of Rotani, along the road, people gathered. He rushed to see what was happening. A man lay down in front of the crowd, writhing in untold pain. A thug had driven a knife into his abdomen, snatched his money and disappeared.

Rotani walked on. Two vehicles in a wild chase materialized ahead of him. It was a police Land Cruiser and a taxi carrying armed robbers. The sudden careless turn by the two cars onto a road across the left side of the street scared the other motorists and pedestrians even more. Rotani’s heart-beat quickened. He shook his head as the blaring siren of the police cruiser faded out in the distant.

The school on his right was shut. Students were just playing. Teachers were on strike. They had not been paid for some months.

Across the road, the government hospital was also closed. Sick people just lay about in agony. Health workers were not paid as well and so they were demanding a salary increment.

Rotani shook his head. What had gone wrong with the country? A one-time prosperous republic had become a hopeless nation of beggars, killers and robbers. It was sad.

Where was the sanity that prevailed during Dr Kakhuta’s rule? Civil servants were paid on time. Prices of basic commodities were very low. Hospitals were full of medicine. There was no lawlessness.

He had been walking for over an hour. He turned North West into a narrow street leading into his area. There were more cars and people here. The street was lined up with shops, restaurants, bottle stores and pubs.

Along the busy makeshift market, a horde of street children were scrambling for leftover food with mad people, dogs and crows from a large bin. A huge dense crowd suddenly engulfed the sky and it began to rain. Rotani ran for shelter into a nearby pub.

His eyes fell on the almost naked night queens seated and standing provocatively in the pub. Even during day, sex workers were plying their trade so brazenly? What had happened to morality? Rotani thought almost aloud.

What pained him most was that there were little girls among the prostitutes. They must have come from homes. What were their parents and guardians doing about this? As he stepped out in shame, Rotani sadly concluded that poverty was indeed sin.

The rain stopped. The sky was clearing. The sun’s hot rays filtered through the dispersing clouds. Rotani’s feet shuffled on a muddy path through the squatter homes in a filthy slum. His house was a few hundred metres away.

Two muscular boys walked a few metres behind Rotani. He quickened his steps. In a land where daytime robbery and killing were common, one needed to be careful enough.

The boys suddenly branched to the left. Rotani heaved a sigh of relief. Who was he after all? What could thugs rob from him, a mere ageing guard and cleaner of a statue?

Twenty years before, he was a well-to-do young man full of life. He was a trained police officer working in the security detail for Kakhuta. After the nationalist died, successive governments abused Rotani and his colleagues. He was redeployed to a remote rural area without electricity and water. Life was hard there for him. He resigned.

Rotani finally entered his small mud house with a corrugated iron roof. He wearily slumped into a worn-out sofa and closed his eyes to meditate over what was happening in the country. He wished Dr Kakhuta would come back to life to see for himself the mess in the nation he patriotically founded.

After about half an hour, when Rotani woke up from a deep slumber, his wife invited him to lunch. As he ate, he thought life was meaningless under the prevailing circumstances. The future was utterly bleak.

His son, Mahara, had gone astray. He dressed, walked and talked shabbily. His performance in class had deteriorated. Teachers suspected he smoked weed.

Mahara’s little sister, Manone, had started coming home late at night. She was quarrelsome whenever questioned about her wayward behaviour. Was she already becoming a fully grown woman with libidinous, cash-dangling men and boys salivating for her blossoming breasts and behind – the daring money and carnal pleasure plunging her into a fantasy life of her own independence, hence her sudden change and rudeness? The seemingly honest suspicion that Manone had become one of those underage girls ‘twerking’ in the pubs made Rotani shudder with anger.

***

A man crossed the road surrounding the main park while running and yelling, looking back over his shoulder. He turned right into the street heading east. There were night patrol policemen ahead. He hardly saw the tall armed figures walking slowly under the glare of the street lights until he bumped against them. One cop pushed the man back so hard that he fell on the pavement, lying on his back.

“What’s the matter with you?”

The man sat up and raised his arms pleadingly while gesturing in the direction of the main park.

“Speak!”

“Th…th…the sta…ta…statue,” the man stammered amid heavy breathing.

“What about the statue?”

“It was walking towards me and talking.”

“Hahahahaha,” the policemen laughed mockingly.

“I tell yo…”

“Shut up, you can’t deceive us. You must be very drunk or you smoke weed!”

“Listen to me please.”

One policeman grabbed the collar of the man’s shirt and pulled him up swiftly as if he were a malnourished kid. He spoke while fixedly staring in the man’s face.

“Foolish man. A statue can’t walk nor talk.”

The policeman’s tight grip choked the man’s throat. He could not speak again as he stood, shaking like a leaf being blown by the wind.

“You are under arrest for being a rogue and vagabond,” another policeman said.

The man was hand-cuffed and hurled forward as batons hit him on his back.

Sometime after that, a night guard was discovered lying at the edge of the main park, fainted. When he regained consciousness on a hospital bed surrounded by relatives and friends, he narrated his ordeal.

“I heard someone calling me.”

He spoke feebly. The guardians and visitors inclined their ears closer to listen.

“I thought it was a colleague by the next building.”

The listeners nodded.

“Then, I realized that the voice was actually coming from the park.”

This time, the listeners drew even closer to the narrator.

“The voice was weirdly deep in the stillness of the night. It must not have come from a normal living human being.”

The nodding of the keen relatives and friends was now vigorous. Sitting wearily and looking frail, the guard felt encouraged to continue talking.

“My skin crawled. My hair stood on its ends. I was terrified.”

He paused, sighed and then drank from a plastic bottle which was placed on a stool by his bed side.

“I turned to run away, but some supernatural force instantly conquered me, pulling me towards the park. I felt numb and weak, unwillingly yielding to the pull of the force.”

There was murmuring of shock among the bewildered guardians and visitors.

“I wanted to shout, but no word came out of my mouth.”

He paused again.

“Then, I just found myself waking up amidst you people.”

The sympathetic listeners wore looks that expressed their shared deep feeling of the suffering the narrator had gone through.

Another guard, across the road, had a rude awakening one night. A thick string of white smoke was rising from the main park. The eyes of the statue glowed like lit up bulbs.

Great fear seized the watchman.

The two beams of light from the statue, shining upon the guard were so intense that they almost blinded him. He wanted to hide, but could not move. The light transfixed him on the spot.

The watchman slumped to the pavement. He covered his face with the front of his shirt, gasping for breath. By the time he recovered from the nightmare, he was staggering home in company of a gang of night drunkards.

Those horrors generated a lot of talk at the city centre and in some locations. Residents were urging the police to take necessary action before something extremely dangerous happened.

Some people, though apparently suspicious of Rotani being the sole occupant of the park at night, never acted against him for lacking evidence. In fact, Rotani adamantly claimed that he knew nothing and that he was innocent.

As if the encounters of the arrested man and those of the two guards were not enough, people were also aware of the many other bizarre stories associated with the statue and the main park. There was the story about gunshots and sounds of soldiers parading and saluting being heard there on some nights.

Another story was that of the statue seen seated on the podium where it had always been known to stand, puffing a big cigarette. It left people shivering in fear.

The police dismissed all those stories as mere tales of poverty-stricken people deprived of activity and entertainment.

Then, one night, some policemen grappled with their own share of the scary encounters near the main park.

The alert law enforcers saw on time the fast flying stone coming from the park. They quickly lowered their heads, letting the stone whiz above their capped heads by a few millimeters.

The policemen lay flat on their bellies on the road. They lay there for a while, waiting for more stones to fly over. They suspected some people had hidden in the flowers and small trees at the park to hurl stones at them.

No more stones came.

Then, slowly, they began to crawl into the park. But some invisible strong force could not let them continue. As much as they attempted edging forward, the force increasingly pushed them back.

One policeman threw a teargas canister ahead. They all waited expectantly for any reaction. There was none.

Frustrated, the cops withdrew and stood at the edge of the road, staring at the park. Just when they decided to leave, another stone loomed not far away from their faces. They ducked. The stone fell on the other side of the road.

When they raised their heads again, the next stone that was flying towards them was very big. It would surely break the bones of whoever it was meant to hit. None of the policemen would take such a risk. They had wives, children and so many dependants. They dashed off and dispersed.

For the first time, the police establishment acknowledged that, danger really lurked in the main park. The humiliating encounter of some of its staff prompted the establishment to act. That needed to be stopped immediately.

But the police thought it could not carry out credible investigations into the mindboggling incidents at the park without involving the person who looked after the place. Rotani was picked up for questioning.

The officer interrogating Rotani from the other side of the shiny wooden desk was furious. They were in a medium size white room. Portraits of the Inspector General of Police and the Head of State hung at the top of the eastern wall. File trays lay on the right and left side of the desk. In front of the officer were two tiny flags. The yellow one with a white star at each of the four corners and a full sun at the middle was the national flag. The red one with a glaring black lion at the middle was the flag of the police service.

The officer was high ranking. There was a golden badge with the head of a lion on the shoulders of his black short sleeve uniform and on the front of his black cap.

He was a huge man, light in complexion, and seated in an armchair. Under the desk, his glimmering black shoes stepped on the green carpet which covered the entire floor of the room.

“Don’t waste my time!”

“I know nothing,” Rotani pleaded.

The officer clenched his right fist and banged on the desk. He shouted angrily.

“You stay in the park at night, don’t you?”

Rotani nodded.

“Why haven’t you ever complained or reported any strange occurrences around the park?”

“Please, officer, I know no…”

“Stop lying. People are complaining all over!”

“I just hear, but…”

“Why are the same things not happening to you?”

Rotani shook his head.

The officer rose from the armchair. He slowly and meditatively walked to where Rotani sat.

Rotani fidgeted.

“Ever heard about the ice-cold cell?” the officer now spoke in a low voice, looking fiercely at Rotani.

Silence.

“You can save yourself from torture if you cooperate with me.”

Rotani raised his hands, looking up at the officer apologetically.

“I ask for the last time. You’re the one causing trouble in the main park, aren’t you?”

“No, sir!” screamed Rotani.

The officer turned back. He banged the desk once again. Two young constables immediately came in, stood to attention and saluted their boss.

He pointed at Rotani.

“Lock up this baboon for conduct likely to cause breach of peace!” the officer shouted.

The constables seized a dazed Rotani and dragged him out.

***

Months passed by. Rotani was not released from the police.

The statue, a representation of a selfless nationalist and a great statesman, was becoming dilapidated because no one looked after it. Rain scraped off some of the paint, leaving the statue with disgusting brown patches. Moss was accumulating on its surface.

The grass, flowers and trees in the park overgrew, making the place bushy and inaccessible. There was no doubt that the park had become home to stray dogs and a breeding ground for venomous snakes.

But the statue, in its deteriorating state, still stood proudly, towering above the mini forest. The broad smile had never left the statue’s face and the right arm was ever outstretched.

Nobody was willing to clear the bush. People suspected the park was more dangerous than before.

It was, therefore, suggested that the park be burnt and the statue moved elsewhere in order to bring back sanity at the city center. After all, even the tourists were no longer interested in visiting it.

But none dared to come even near the park. People were afraid. Cars stopped moving around the park at night. Across the road, offices and shops were closed and evacuated.

Eventually, Rotani was released. And within weeks of his return, bush had been cleared out of the park. The trees were pruned. The flowers and grass were trimmed.

The park reclaimed its beauty. The statue had been cleaned and repainted. The foreigners and the natives were flooding the park again to admire the statue and caress its feet. Others lay on the green grass. Children played under the trees and flowers.

One afternoon, people in the park heard someone talking. They thought it was some loud speaker across the road.

The talking, which was initially incoherent, actually emanated from within the park. Some people began groping around the place, checking where exactly the voice was coming from.

Rotani was nowhere to be seen.

The talking became louder and clearer for anyone to begin to discern what was being said. It was discovered that the voice was coming from the statue. People wondered how possible that was. A few of them gathered courage and drew closer to the statue.

“Men and women of this republic!” the voice boomed.

They listened. From across the road, more people flocked to the park.

“For how long will you sit back, just watching gluttons destroy your country?”

People were shocked. To those who were old enough, this deep militant voice of a great nationalist Dr Genge Kakhuta, was unmistakable.

“Cowardice is the root cause of all oppression. Emancipate yourselves from fear. Denounce the embezzlement and plunder of your taxes by thieves masquerading as your rulers!”

The park was now full. People jostled, pushed each other and stampeded. The statue with its broad smile and outstretched arm, towered above them.

“This country is endowed with a lot of precious natural resources that can transform your lives!”

The voice paused.

“What have you benefited from all these God-given resources over the last twenty years? Why should you suffer amid plenty?”

Another pause.

“Open your eyes and guard what is genuinely yours from being looted by the greedy master thief and his wicked cronies!”

Anger was building up in the people. It was pathetic. Did the statue of a long dead person really have to tell them what to do?

The voice continued.

“Reject impunity. Demand change and allow only those responsible enough to lead you!”

People nodded. They had been motivated. Their hearts were burning with the desire to do something, there and then.

“The choice is yours.”

The voice paused again.

“It’s your country. You can make it a paradise or hell!”

For a moment, deep silence engulfed the park. People looked at each other guiltily, contemplating. Why had they been so docile?

“You, the youth, must take this message seriously for it’s your future which is at stake.”

There was wild murmuring and gesturing among the people.

“It’s never too late to change things. Rise up on your feet and take charge of your destiny!”

With that statement, the irate people ran from the park and scattered like disturbed bees. Shops and offices were broken into. Looting began.

There was chaos.

Rotani showed up. With his mouth wide open and his hands clasped on his head, he watched in fear great buildings being ransacked like shacks. He saw his son Mahara among a horde of machete-wielding youths, running. The chanting crowd headed south and then, turned south east towards the State House, still running.

Security forces braced for a tough and protracted showdown with the unrelenting citizens. Then bloodshed… Dead bodies.

——————–

Image: Pixabay.com

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