Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

A Short Story

Murder in the Shere Forest

by Mohammed Alhassan

The five mile journey to the Shere shrine did not begin until after mid- night. Going by car was a remote possibility. The fault was not in the people of Shere. But in those who had not found it viable to construct a road to Shere. As for the possibility of an executive jet, Shere had been discarded even as an idea.

The two men who set off from the main road were not sure of the route. But their contact man had not been ambiguous in his directions, "From the main road, cross the bush path, walk a few steps towards the river. Cross it, and continue walking till you reach there. You can't miss it" he had assured them.

They said little to each other as they prodded along, apparently unmindful of their route. But deep in the mind of Gbagbladza he feared the unknown. The first of such journeys had yielded no result, but upon the insistence of General King Cole, they had set off again.

A few weeks back, Agya Nimo had sent the two on a journey to the Northern part of the land to see "the old man" as he was called. The journey to the shrine of the old man had been less tiresome. They had gone in helicopter, landed a hundred metres or so away in the deep of the night and walked to the shrine. Reminiscences of that confrontation brought them nothing but unhappy memories.

First, they had to undress while they were a mile off. The skin given them to cover their private parts was old, stinky and unbearable. But they had to bear it. Walking barefooted was the most difficult thing. The gods detest the white man and his goods. And only skin sandals were tolerated in that vicinity.

Before they could reach the gate, a voice sounded. It was a mixture of command and request. And they halted instantly. Much to the annoyance of General Cole. Deep in the darkness, the same calm voice rang out again. "This is the shrine of the God of Thunder and Lightning, of rain and water. This is the shrine on whose soil the evil-hearted shall not step. No man who has taken the life of another shall come near. No man who has whispered into the ear of a friend's wife shall come near. No man who has stabbed a friend in the back shall step near. No man who has caused a misery to another man shall step near. And now listen, Kapoek, the God of Thunder rules the inner world with love and affection, with truth, with principles.

And only those who can distinguish a lie from the truth shall have audience. Those who dabble in falsehood are not the friends of Kapoek. If the two of you think you meet the requirements of Kapoek, step on the skin that comes before you."

The skin before them was big enough for a dozen people. General Cole took a tentative step and withdrew. Looked at Gbagbladza. They traded glances for some time. Uncertain about what to do, they stood there. "Any man who has... caused misery... stabbed a friend in the back dabbled in falsehood caused misery ... the evil hearted" the voice had said. "Come near my friends" the voice pleaded. But still no movement.

"Yes, I knew you would come. I also knew you would fail the test. I knew you would scream at me. Search your hearts. Ask yourselves if you deserve to breathe, to trample on the souls of people. How much blood do you have to shed to remain at the top of everybody? I lie to nobody. The power in me is divine. Evil shall find no abode in our land. And you are the embodiment of evil. You shed blood as if it were water. You crack human skulls as if they were nuts. You lie as if truth was your property to be used anyhow...

The silence that reigned was no mere silence. The two stood there like Egyptian mummies. For how long they could not tell. It was the voice that gave them strength. "Leave. Leave at once. And do not come near me any- more. But remember, the power that you are misusing is temporary. The blood you shed is human. The skulls you smash are human skulls. You and all those who follow you will pay for every drop of blood, every piece of skull. Leave now..."

Even then they hesitated. "How much do we pay?" Gbagbladza asked.

"Nothing, my friend. Nothing. I take no evil coins from you. From the wealth you have stolen from the people. The milk you removed from the mouths of babies, the medicine you removed from the sick and dying, the opportunities you removed from our sons. That is what you call your money. Shameful. I take no evil coins. But still remember, the day is coming when you will regret for all that you did with your eyes open."

For a long time, no one said a word as they started their journey back..

"Nyebroo, what are we going to do to that fucking man? Time and energy wasted, and he did not seem to realise that he was talking to the two most powerful men in the land. I will arrest him myself..."

There was no response from the second man. After a while he added, "yes, he looks like someone who will collaborate with dissidents."

"How do you know? You did not even see the face of that primitive fetish priest."

"Ah, Nyebroo, why do you talk as if the press is not mine. A dissident is a dissident if I say so. The masses do not question, they just believe. Especially if it comes from me.

"Look, let us forget about that man. Strategically, it will do us no good to pursue this matter. After all we took ourselves there. He did not invite us..."

"Strategy. As for you and your talk; look, if all you learnt during your fighting days is strategy, then to hell with you. Are you saying that man should insult us and get away with it? Coward. This matter shall not rest here. He will pay for it," General Cole screamed and railed. "Look Nyebroo. All I am saying is that..."

"What are you saying?" General Cole cut in again violently. "I have not sold my military knowledge to any group. I have never killed for money like you, fighting in the jungle of another sister country for dollars. So, I know of no strategy except what my intuition tells me is right..."

If there is anything Gbagbladza hated, it is reference to his past. It is a sore point for him and any reference to it puts him on guard. No-one except Gbagbladza himself knows the details of his military escapades. But he does not mind being cast in the role of the Che-Guevara of Africa.

But General Cole was the only one who could make reference to big G's (as Gbagbladza was sometimes called) past without the threat of death hanging over his head, for General Cole knew one secret about big G.

Big G disappeared from the scene a day before the D-Day for the fighting which brought them to power. Only to resurface two days after everything had cooled down wearing an army top with the rank of General. He looked haggard and feigned exhaustion, all adding to his myth as a fighter. General Cole, then a lowly captain, had confronted his friend. The two agreed never to open this skeleton. Not when Big G also knew so much about the General's past which the General would wish to forget.

The rest of the journey back was made in silence. Each screening the recent ordeal in his mind. Half way, the General stopped to make a joint for himself. It was the only thing that brought him consolation. The mind of a ruler is bogged down with the affairs of millions of people. But the head of political frauds and imposters are far heavier. Bogged down by not only the affairs of state, but also by the intrigues, schemings and Goebelstic propaganda against those he dubbed "enemies of state."

And to bring equilibrium to an unbalanced mind, a cup of black coffee after a joint does the trick. It was widely rumoured that if the General missed this formula, his mind gets carried away into the spiritual realm. A period in which he chants continuously for five hours. A period during which he believes that spiritually, the nation was at a standstill. Hearts ceased throbbing. Factory machines, church bells, lorries, cars stopped. Even the animals in the forest and zoo, the birds of the air and all living beings obeyed the Supreme Ruler. At the end of it all, the General will ask "Who is more important? Your wife or your Girlfriend?"

Of course his guards were confused at first. But later they were to realise the importance of the question.

Four weeks ago, the two had gone on a trip which was to remain a nightmarish experience to the General. But now, on the insistence of big G, they were en route to another. The shrine of the Headless-God. This priest did not insist that the two men undress. He welcomed them at the gate and invited them to get seated in front of the Shrine. He returned with a blood stained calabash full of water and insisted that they each take a sip. Ushering them further into the shrine, the rites started. Big G was asked to state their mission. The two were seated in the middle of appeared to be a big yard but whose overall size they could not tell because of the darkness. At the far end was seated the priest.

The supplication was done by Big G while General Cole remained silent. "...My Lord, we have travelled far... to seek your wisdom. Ruling four million people is a task which we find impossible without your wise guidance, our Lord. Grant us the wisdom to deal with our enemies. Grant us the wisdom to crush all those who think evil of us. Grant us the courage to kill, maim, inflict wounds without blinking. For these are the marks of a successful ruler... Give us the wisdom to rule forever. Make the soldiers impotent! Make the principled unprincipled. Make those who don't fear us now, shiver at the sight of us friend lord, make the two of us solid friends. solid enough to love each other. Solid enough to take the marital vow of till death do us part... this is all I ask..."

Silence. Complete silence. It was only the voice of the priest that broke the silence. "Even in the dark of night we can see! We see through the hearts of men. The evil and the good. Come on General. Say the rest. Tell the lord all you want. Say it. Don't be shy, Shyness is not for men of your type."

"Yes my lord.. the General hasn't got much to add." What came was more more of a command than a request; "grant me the power to remain supreme overlord of this land, to be worshipped and loved by all... to resist the bullets of my enemies to know what they think about me. to see through their inner thoughts.. to strike a blow at friends and enemies without looking back..."

"Grant.. me the power to remain supreme overlord of this land, to be worshipped and loved by all... to resist the bullets of my enemies.. to know what they think about me to see through their inner thoughts... to strike a blow at friends and enemies without looking back..."

The priest went into consultation with his masters for almost ten minutes. A time during which the two friends remained glued to their seats like obedient school boys. " the land of the headless god, everything is possible. We are headless but we can see. We are headless but we can reason. We are headless but we can smell. What web we agree to, we do without looking back.. But woe to the one who does not follow the instructions of the headless one. Woe to the man who disobeys the laws of the headless one... Generations yet unborn will come to know the wisdom that resides in this hut and regret the folly of those who ignored us. The headless one stopped running long ago. For how long will a man keep on running? From his enemies, from his pursuers, from poverty, from the blows of a society that knows no pity. A time comes when a man must stop and fight. Fight because it makes no difference whether a man is dead or alive. The headless one fought long ago.

Today, the two most powerful men in our land are about to benefit from the fight of yesterday. But if I may ask, why come here today? Why are you sitting so meekly before us? Others have come to seek your destruction. Now, you seek the destruction of others. The highest bidder wins the powers of the headless one..."

This called for no debate. So, he continued. "The headless one drinks blood. Not the blood of machine made chicken. But of human beings. Listen to me carefully. Any mistake and you will lose your own heads to the headless one. Two markets from today, the headless one wants the following at the gate of the shrine. A Peugeot pick-up. A tractor. Two bales of calico, coffee, sugar, milk, three pieces of gold. A hoe, a cutlass, a knife, three pieces of kola and a small gift for his priest. That is not all; four markets from today, you will assemble five people of high rank before the baobab tree three miles down the road. You will find their names scribbled on the tree by the primary school near the football field...

Bring them here. Their hands tied behind their backs. We shall need them for the fortification that the headless one is about to make. But, before you leave, the three of us shall swear an oath of friendship, of secrecy, of faith..." Producing a knife, a small cut was made on the forearms of the three men and as blood oozed out, it was collected in a small earthenware bowl. It was mixed with herbs and the three drank.

After that the oath followed. Repeat after me the priest told them: "...we, the three sons of the land, bent on creating a lasting friendship with the spiritual guidance of the headless one, do swear to remain committed to this oath, to live and die as friends, to be as each his brothers keeper and to dedicate ourselves to the headless one. We renegate this promise at our own peril..."

When the two parted, the priest remained seated for a long time. Then he burst out laughing, "Ha ha ha. Fools! Fools! Politicians and soldiers. All the same! Fools! They always come. Change or no change. They will always come," he thought. At long last, his dream of becoming a big-time commercial farmer was about to be fulfilled. He would get all he wanted and more.

Next: Part 2

talking drums 1984-08-13 Commodities on the streets - Happy days in Ghana