Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Night Fever

A Short Story

By Tehtey

My name is Tehtey. I come from West Africa. I am a writer. In the middle of this night, I sit here at my typewriter. I am sick. That may be the more reason why I should be in bed. Yet, it is exactly why I am not in bed even as the whole world is in dreams and nightmares.

I am very sick really. This strange illness is a fever which grips from the toes and scales upwards to the dome of my skull. I feel like a smelter. I am drenched in sweat. I feel faint. I feel weary.

Now I groan. I put my hands on the machine, palms down on the keys. They shoot up all at once, none striking the paper though. I put my head on the back of my hands. I feel wetness - wetness of my fever on my forehead and hands. I hear the timeless ticking of my time- piece. It is harsher than a knell. I turn my head, staying my ear away from the damn- able time-piece. The ticking is better to my senses.

But I am still suffering. The heat. God! I get up. I undress. Absolutely. I slip my feet into charlewote (slippers). I throw my sleeping cloth on me like an elder - more like an ancestory really. Out I go, suffering, into the night.

… I walk in a dream world apparently. The darkness is a shroud that wraps this slumbering torso of the city. I am coming from the outskirts. In the distance, I see the streetlights in the city's heart as jewels displayed for the eyes of a customer. I, like a burglar, march to where the jewels lie.

It is no march really. I walk in a daze regularly hallucinating. Even in the illumination that welcomes me in the heart of the city, I honestly confess that I cannot tell reality from unreality. For instance, as I come to this street

light, I see this man in the penumbra of the brightness of the light. There, this man weeds with a hoe and a cutlass. He bends the grass with the back of the hoe and cuts the grass to earth with the cut- lass. Surprise should make me stand and watch him all night. But I find, my fever worsens with every slack in steps, gets better with every haste through the city streets. I only wish his bent back is away from me and that, the broad hat he wears will drop to reveal the face behind the night mask.

Again I come upon this man. He stands right in the brightness of the streetlight and I can read every detail about him, even the mole on the left side of the left eyebrow, which his shock of grey hair has invaded. Stout he is, and strong. He is bare-chested, therefore I can say this much of him. He really is powerful. It is rather bemusing to find him thus wielding a fishing line with only a miserable tilapia fish on the line. I greet him. The chill which plagues me even to my ear-drums makes it impossible for me to hear the depth of his response. So it is as if I do not see him at all.

Yet again...Carmel is a lad I know very well. He is a messenger in the civil service. He has been so for five years, qualified for the post with an M.S.L. certificate. Starting from that messenger position, he will remain thirty years in his ministry without climbing onto the senior officers' ramp. Here in the heart of the city I see him coming on a bike. His cycling is urgent. It is perhaps the urgency about him that makes his Lebanese wavy hair and fair skin passable for a European.

Many metres from me, I hear the bellow blast of his breathing. Humped as he is on the bike, he looks like a defence- less puppy. But he is a lad who can take care of himself in many a fight, even though he is lanky and well below the male average height. He shouts something at me. Shouts it loud with the same urgency he pedals his bike. But the chill has reached my ear-drum and (God!) I am deaf. He shouts at me as he pedals away past me. I am urged to run after him. I cannot help crying out, "Carmel, I am deaf."

He screams a word and vanishes round a bend. I am not sure whether the chill has melted off my ear-drums so I cannot hear "baa" but, I am quite sure I hear this last word Carmel screams at me.


It bowls me over. Why can't he stop and discuss it with me. I do not mean the act. God, no! I will not discuss this lethal thing with anybody here in the streets or anywhere. But I have a right to know why he dares throw such a javelin at me.

I like to think I walk into the chapel this night subconsciously. Most chapels, foot- stools of God, are barred against the entry of worshippers and desecrators this hour of the night. This chapel is opened however. Predictably, the minister is in there. He is a ghostly thin man yet saintly looking. I do not like what I feel as I see him dressed in priestly regalia, standing there before the altar in the exact position he takes when awaiting collection from his flock. It is the same position he takes when he welcomes the corpse of a devotee which the church's hearse brings to the chapel now and then.

I walk the holy aisle and choose the front pew. I expect my fever to upthrust as I sit. It doesn't. The priest stands there watching me, his face set in a sanctimon- ious frown. Then he begins a sermon. At least this is what I think as I see his lips moving in word formation, his hands and body lost in gestures. The chill still suf- fuses my body and all those priestly words are lost on me. Presently, his mood turns into the kind of desperation I see in Carmel. Not exactly. There is some des- peration all the same.

"Osofo, what is it? Is it that thing about subversion?"

He gapes at me, stupefied. I realise I have said the wrong thing. "Then what is it? I am deaf. I can't hear you."

He squints at me as if I am the sun, trying to take a decision. He suddenly points to the entrance of his church and says "look".

I like the delusion of hearing this perspiciously and reacting. I look to the chapel's door as indicated by the pastor's bony hands. I do not see the two immedi- ately. They appear soon enough. Two superb men. Superb only in the sense of their manly physiques and smartness in the impeccable military attire. Seeing them march up the aisle, you may think they are on parade grounds. As they come up to me, I see the grand smiles on their faces. Why in heaven's name are they not in mufti? This steely khaki dress only abrades whatever humanness I see in them.

Where is the priest? Goodness, he's vanished. Vanished like my chill. I mean my deafness. I hear every syllablic sound these gentlemen in army uniform make from now on.

"You are Tehtey, aren't you mister?", a semblance of Oxford phonetics.

"Yes sir, I am." My voice is hoarse with the fever (and to be honest, with fear).

"Would you mind accompanying us to Gondar Barracks?"

"Well, as a matter of fact, I am very sick and I do not know what you should want of me at Gondar."

You are wanted for questioning, sir."

"What about, sir?"

"I'm not in the position to tell."

The one on the right is the one doing the talking. The one on my left does not talk at all. He doesn't even put up the slightest pretence to civility as his col- league is doing. They are all facing me. I look at them and decide on compliance - can I do otherwise?

"Let's go." As I get up, I endure a wave of my night fever the chill and heat stroke if that is the terminology for it at all. On the half-moon-shaped stairs of the chapel, I turn to them and explain that I have to go home and lock up. They wordlessly and somewhat impatiently agreed.. Then they marched me off as if the way to my house is the same to their barracks.

We have walked out of the heart of the city into the shroud of darkness onto my doorsteps. The one with some pretence to civility knocks on my door. If I am sur- prised at the knocking, I am more sur- prised at the response from within. Who the hell is there? A girlfriend. It is a man's voice. The door opens for me to see the broad back of the soldier at my table, right behind the typewriter.

Once inside the room, they turn their eyes on me - eyes at attention. The two companions stand at ease. The intruder sits at ease. Together, they wield the silence of the night like an executioner's sword. It is no wonder that I am disoriented in my own room. My fever worsens. What do I want to do here by the way? I can't remember. Goodness, if my ears are blocked, should my mind be blocked as well? I glance at the soldiers. Their eyes are still at attention. What do I want to do?

Well, let me change into proper clothing. I throw the ancestral cloth off me, before I know I am as naked as one newly-arrived from the womb. Shame makes me glance again at my soldier guards. Their eyes are still at attention. I shiver. I clumsily find some clothing pants, trousers, shirt, jacket.

I remember what I really mean to do. There are some pamphlets I have to take care of. Pamphlets on Amos Sawyerr, John Kugblenu, and a few others from West Africa. Where have I put them now? I was reading them...I lift the pillows. Nothing. My eyes stray to the face of the intruder. He smiles almost kindly and holds up the pamphlets. I shiver, almost collapsing on the bed. I manage to pull myself together and stand on my two feet.

I remember the other things I want to do before leaving for the barracks. I have to leave a note. I hesitate only a moment, avoid looking at their faces, then feeling as bold as Nana Osei Tutu, I step to the table. My body touches the one sitting. I feel like the North pole of a magnet against a North pole of a magnet. I have to shift the typewriter to make way for my note-writing. I pull the sheet from the typewriter. It is blank and clean but for this single uncompleted line on it, "at the end of the day when the cubs.." I spread the sheet out and pick a pen. My hand shakes convulsively. I am to write something to the effect that I am being taken to the barracks.

Two of them - the one sitting and the one who talked - read the note as I write. I do not look up at them. I almost finish when they pull it out of my shaking hands and rip it into pieces, the pieces going into their pockets. That is the single act which confirms my night fever. That is the single act which makes me give up all living hope, give up my world of dreams.

"Out!" I see the word on the lips, see the finger pointing to the doorway and into the darkness, but I do not hear the

word. I obey. When I fall at the doorstep, they think I am pretending. So they pick me up and kick me all the way to the waiting car.

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