Kuntu felt his halo turn steadily into a set of devil’s horns. His clerical garbs of neatly pressed Kaspar shirts and pairs of gentlemanly trousers – with lines so sharp they could cut with the slightest brush of one’s finger – were slowly changing into devilish robes.
Butre was alive that morning…it had always been bursting since Crudolle plc, an oil exploration and mining company from Europe started extracting offshore black gold some few months back. At first the bubbliness was with much excitement and hope, as locals would wake up before the first golden ray broke the dawn, to cheer a truck-load of miners bumping along the dusty roads to the mining site. As Kuntu would later narrate , ‘wives danced to herald an era of better jobs for husbands, babies cackled in blind optimism…even the cocks clucked in anticipation of yellow corn.’
He turned left. His eyes caught Asabea’s, the beans and fried plantain seller. She smiled coyly, lowering her gaze unto her bosomy frame standing and serving behind the wooden kiosk. Kuntu thought he should have engaged her traditionally instead of Afrakuma, his present lover who was leisurely dicing his heart valves with a bread knife. Sheer wickedness! Yet a wide-ranging grin lit up Kuntu’s face when he reminisced some of the good times he shared with Asabea. He leaned against the kiosk and covertly rested his hand on her hump.
“You see these storytellers, eh…after the vague promises, they are now blowing dust into my concrete”, one old man broke Kuntu’s erotic thoughts. He covered his edible ‘concrete’ as Crudolle’s truck sped by. His food was miles away from rich, Truth; just small beans, lots of oil and gari with two slim slices of fried plantain, yet no one was getting dust into his bowl.
Kuntu agreed with the old chap. A year on, after the sea had been milked of its first crude in thousands of barrels, the roads were still bumpy – even a bicycle speeding off emitted much plume of dust -, the adults largely unemployed, and sites for the proposed health facility and public school still overgrown with nim shrubs, stubs and assorted weeds.
“I am gradually losing my patience old man…one day eh…Just one day”, Kuntu was boiling.
“Cool your temper, young blood!” the old chap cut in sharply as Asabea tapped his back to calm his nerves. “Blame your chiefs and the government. The dialogue was all about wades of fresh cedi notes in individual pockets. They never thought about you. Tweaa!”
Kuntu suddenly felt the weight of sorrow threatening to break him down. Asabea noticed it too, for her eyes could read his mind and soul, and it was a dark, forlorn soul. As he trod down the sandy path to Crudolle with head hanging low in deep thoughts, the old man whispered to Asabea; “Err. Forgive me o…I’m no gossip, but is he not the young lad whose mother died from rotten legs last five years?”
“Hmm…He is!” Asabea recounted. “After his father disappeared soon after his birth, it has been one tragedy trailing another for that family. His mother was the sole bread winner until she was diagnosed with that sugar disease…”
Asabea story was truncated by an angry toddler tugging at the hem of her cloth.
“You want fried plantain eh…look at your head! Kuntu come and fight your rival oo”, she shouted after him. Kuntu turned to give Asabea’s son a quick wave and a broad grin. That boy could have been his had he not been swayed by Afrakuma’s wild seductive devices. He walked leisurely towards work, inspired by the laxity within his own soul. It was a hopeless situation, he sighed. He took left. It was a longer but tarred road, with no dust to brown his shoes or puddles of sewage to plod in. It was the plush community where managers and senior workers of Crudolle lived, mostly Europeans and a few locals Kuntu described as ‘pawns’. The small river, Obrἐ, snaked through the neighbourhood. It had lost much of its crystal clarity to small scale mining, yet it failed to steal the pomp the neighbourhood was engulfed in. Kuntu thought why the special bank and clinic northwards, with European doctors and city bankers, was only open to workers of Crudolle. The answer hit him without much brainwork. No one in mainland Butre could afford to operate an account at the bank, or pay those European doctors. His mother had been probably the first wretched victim. He raised his head and sniffed to fight back the tears! It was no time for sorrow. He had to be spirited and forward looking. He came across his boss’s apartment. Mr. Cooke!
“He should have been named Crook. Mr. Crook!” Kuntu was talking to himself. Kuntu felt he was always overworked, paid less and maltreated. Moreover, since his fiancée commenced work as his office cleaner, Mr. Cooke had been unusually nice to Afrakuma and less kind to him. Kuntu shrugged off thoughts of any amorous encounters between his two headaches.
“Mr. Cooke…Mr. Cooke”, Kuntu banged on the heavy gate. The security guard signalled to indicate Mr. Cooke had left for the office. That was remarkably early of him, Kuntu wondered. He had to race, and when he got to the office he was soaked in his own sweat and gasping for breath. He asked the secretary whether Mr. Cooke was in his office.
“No…I have not seen him this morning. His door is locked”
It was true. Mr. Cooke’s office door was locked. Before Kuntu decided to hold the knob to confirm, he thought he heard a thump on the office desk, and a little whimper, so he pinned his ear to the door. Yes! He could hear subtle noises from the office. He motioned the secretary; He had caught a thief. His eye scanned the corridor for Mr. Cooke’s abandoned golf club and with weapon in his right hand, office keys in the left; he quietly inserted the key into its hole, before turning it with such swiftness the door flung open in a flash.
His teeth and knees rattled at the sight of his bare girlfriend, Afrakuma, sprawled on the office desk under Mr. Cooke, who was wearing nothing but a confused face which later transmuted into a red one with knitted brows. He could neither cry nor growl. His jaws were on the marbled floor, assuming the same awe-struck countenance as the Israelites when Moses’s rod smote the red sea to divide it.
“Get out” was the order. He obeyed like a dog on leash.