Apparently, Babs had been doing a masterful publicity job with His Excellency’s reelection bid.
“We’ve been keeping tabs with the electoral commission,” he told the meeting. “We are expecting about two million first time voters in this election.”
“How many of those belong to us?” the campaign director asked.
“Say 80%. We are the ones generating the awareness. We are inundating the airwaves with our message.”
The campaign director cleared his throat.
“Great job, Babs. You are doing what you do best. Friends, we can quickly wrap up this election if we engage the right people, directly, on time, and in a robust manner.” As he spoke, he kept pressing his index finger to the table surface for emphasis. “Can somebody tell us what we are doing with people.”
Koro got his clue. He projected his slides onto the screen, and started discussing his team’s efforts with community leaders, labour unions, youths…
“We have secured endorsements from traditional rulers in twenty of the thirty-one local government areas. We secured endorsements from the state chapter of the teachers and lawyers unions. To date, we’ve run a total of twenty town hall meetings.”
“I think we need to get closer and talk to market women associations, barbers, even churches,” someone volunteered.
Koro took notes, and pressed on. “In the city centers and metropolitan areas, we are planning a series of concerts and entertainment events targeted at the urban youth. We’ve been working with Babs’ team to promote these events. We launched a Facebook page just last week, and we’ve been pushing our messages.”
“How many friends thus far?” someone asked.
Koro fumbled a bit with his smartphone. “Eighteen thousand.”
“Not bad at all.” The campaign director said, and turned to Jerry. “Jerry, please tell us how we are going to get all these things to the ground.”
“In one word,” Jerry said. “Money.”
By this time in an election year, normal administrative functions at Government House have come to a crawl, overtaken by an avalanche of campaign concerns: His Excellency wanting to minimize time spent with all sorts of interest groups who come to peddle endorsements; some scoundrel embezzling campaign funds kept in his custody; campaign posters rendered useless because candidates have been replaced after the posters have left the press; corruption related indictments still hanging over several party-anointed candidates; national party leaders attempting to foist a candidate on state party delegates.
Jerry stepped into Rufus’s office and closed the door. Rufus was on the phone, haranguing someone.
“This is unacceptable. The new posters must be ready this week. You hear me!” He slammed down the receiver. Jerry imagined the fellow on the other end jumping in fright.
“You are a magician,” Rufus said to Jerry, in a swift change of countenance. “Here, give me a hand.” He grabbed Jerry’s right hand and pumped it vigorously.
“I have confirmed the report,” he said. He picked up the newspaper and waved it at Jerry. “But His Excellency wants to thank you personally.” He left his seat, put an arm around Jerry, and led him out of the room.
When Jerry saw the newspaper report, earlier in the morning, of Senator Lukeman’s press conference, where he had announced that he was stepping out of the race, he had smiled, poured himself a drink in celebration, and waited for the reactions. He had made sure to do a clinical job with the Senator. For a man who seemed to value his reputation a little too much, those video clips could have given the senator a heart attack. For a while he feared that that would be the case. But he had been gentle with the man. His wife did not even get to see the lurid videos. The demand was simple: don’t contest. Senator Lukeman could always return to his multi-million-naira court cases, and maybe try his hand again at politics in another dispensation.
His Excellency said to Jerry, “You’ve just saved us a ton of trouble in the house of assembly. Tell me, how did you accomplish such a feat?”
Jerry chose his words with care. “Sir, we found that Senator Lukeman was no saint, after all. We simply pointed out his misdeeds to him, and he did the honourable thing.”
“Ah..he lived in a glass house, and kept throwing stones.”
“That would be a good way to put it, sir.”
“I would say he was a political moron,” Rufus said.
His Excellency chuckled. “Gentlemen,” he said, “This calls for celebration.”
He went to a wine cellar built into the wall and retrieved a plump bottle of champagne, and three glasses. He poured the wine and proposed a toast.
“To a successful campaign.”
By the time His Excellency’s campaign officially kicked off, campaign planning meetings had expanded to an excruciating thrice-a-week. There were always more issues to address than time would permit, and the meetings almost always dragged late into the night. The opposition could have gone beyond peddling rumors to staging character attacks via TV ads, and the campaign needed to respond. Somebody had to baby-sit poll results and put out the word before they got out of hand. With so many details to track, everyone knew that some things would fall through the cracks. The campaign director was particularly conscious of it.
“We don’t want too much falling through the cracks,” he always said. “We don’t want anything important falling through the cracks.”
His Excellency’s campaign schedule was split mainly between campaign rallies and the commissioning of public projects, projects whose completion have been delayed until they could be used as campaign totems. To guarantee His Excellency’s huge crowds at campaign rallies, Jerry and his team went to work in the area at least three days before, recruiting impromptu volunteers, distributing t-shirts, bags of rice, spaghetti, stock-fish, umbrellas with campaign branding, hand fans, caps… He had to ensure that the goods got to everyday people rather than cornered by community leaders; his team often organized quasi town-hall meetings, and distributed stuff to townspeople who showed up.
Jerry spent most of the campaign organizing logistics for campaign events all over the state. He moved about in a station wagon that the campaign issued to him. Once again, he was convinced, by practical experience, that political ideologies, and modernistic media blitzes, the kind that people like Babs have so perfected, usually go over the heads of ordinary people. Sometimes, especially in the villages and low-income neighbourhoods, he felt he was on a humanitarian mission, distributing relief materials. When he watched a poor, elderly woman dancing around, cradling a new piece of wrapper, not minding the party branding on it, he had the distinct feeling that he was solving a real need, in a way that no political education could.
As he moved from town to town, and drank in local bars, and spoke to townsfolk, he felt the pulse of the suburban majority. In one town, after his team had distributed campaign goodies and organized a colourful rally in which His Excellency stomped, a gristly old farmer, sixty maybe, walked up to him while he whined down at a local bar, and asked if he would deliver a message to his leaders.
“Sure,” Jerry said. “Shoot.”
“We’d like for government house to be closer to us.”
Jerry looked hard at the man and said, “When I get back to government house, I will give them your message.”
He finished his beer, said farewell, and walked to his station wagon parked outside the bar.
Simple does it, he thought. He cranked up the vehicle, and headed for the next stop in his itinerary.
On election days, Jerry and Debra always went early to the polling station to cast their votes. They lived in the same senatorial district as Jerry’s buddy, Samson. On the day of the senatorial election, Jerry wished Sammy good luck as his inked thumb pressed down in front of the man’s un-photogenic face.
After voting, Jerry took the station wagon and patrolled polling booths. A lover of American country music, he kept a few Kenny Rogers CDs in the car, and played them as he cruised along. Towards evening, the results started coming in, as text messages on his cell phone, as verbal briefings from his team of monitors. When he learned that the main opposition party had seized and stuffed a total of five ballot boxes across the state, he gave directions for his people to seize and stuff ten. It was a game of numbers.
After all the results had come in, and His Excellency had been re-elected, Jerry decided to take his family out of town, for a pick-me-up holiday. When he announced his plans, Debra hugged him tight and said she did not know he was so thoughtful.
“Should I take that as a compliment?” he asked.
“Yes, my dear. When are we leaving?”
The morning they were to leave for the airport, Tunde, their four-year old younger son asked, “Daddy, are we travelling to America?” Debra laughed. She had taken pains to prepare everyone for the trip. She had washed, and ironed, and cooked, and fretted over tiny details.
Jerry could not bear to switch off his phones, so he settled for a compromise that combined ignoring calls and pleading for indulgence from his callers whenever he answered. In that manner, he managed to spend almost a hundred percent of his time with his family the first three days of the holiday. By the fourth day, however, he could stall no more. He was still in bed when Rufus’s call came.
“Just fax me the document, and I won’t bother you anymore until you return,” Rufus said.
But the document in question lay beneath a drawer in his study at home, two thousand miles away.
“Okay,” he said. He turned to a frowning Debra and kissed her on the cheek, and told her he would be back before any of them noticed his absence.
On touchdown, Jerry retrieved his car and drove home. He already felt rested and pumped up. When he walked into the flat, it felt strange, and a bit haunted. He suddenly realized how used he was to the presence of his wife and kids in this house. He went to his study and dispatched the fax. Then he walked back to the sitting room and sat down. For a brief moment he wondered if he shouldn’t attend the dinner party His Excellency was throwing for campaign officers tonight. He stood up and walked to the kitchen.
He found sliced bread in the refrigerator, and a cold piece of fried turkey lap. He had hurried out of the hotel without breakfast, and now felt hungry. He warmed the turkey lap on the stove and made himself a mug of tea. He retrieved the bread and a stray tin of milk, and took the meal in a tray to the sitting room. As he placed the tray on the center table, his phone buzzed and played a message tone. It was Rufus, acknowledging the fax. He switched on the TV, turned down the volume, and ate breakfast. After the meal, he threw his elbow over the armrest, propped his feet on a side stool, and watched TV. In minutes, he had dozed off.
When he woke up, it was almost noon. He had to get to Debra and the boys. He went to the visitors’ toilet and washed his face. The pink linen shirt Debra selected for him this morning was rumpled in places but still looked okay. He returned to the sitting room and his eyes fell on the used dishes. The image of one of his boys asking an embarrassing question about the used plates and mug and breadcrumbs on their return flashed through his mind, so he took the tray to the kitchen and dumped its contents in the sink.
Being home alone was beginning to feel exclusively special, and alluring. He resisted the urge to enter any of the bedrooms. He took his wallet and car keys from the center table, turned off the TV, and left the house.
Jerry hit the steering wheel again, giddy with excitement – excitement of which he was doing a bad job containing. He had done a better job earlier in the day, back in the office, when Rufus called him to his office and showed him His Excellency’s final nominee list, which had been sent to the state assembly for ratification. He made the list. He would be Commissioner for Special Duties.
“You are moving up, my man,” Rufus had said.
“Thank you for talking me up,” he replied.
“Oh come on! It’s nothing,” Rufus said, with a wave of the hand. “You deserved it already.”
He pulled over at a supermarket and bought gifts for his family. He got comic books and ice cream and chocolate for the boys. For Debra, he got a pricy perfume, and lingerie he thought was sexy.
When he got home, Debra did not come and hug him and smile indulgently into his eyes as she normally would. Whilst he unveiled the gifts, she stared at him with an expression he could not quite place. When the boys had collected their gifts and chattered away, he went and held Debra and asked what the problem was.
“Stop it!” she said. It was softly spoken, but came forth with such intensity that Jerry promptly took his hands off her.
“I have something to show you,” she said, and led the way to their bedroom.
Debra walked to her laptop, which sat on the base of the dressing mirror, and touched the touch-pad. A crisp color photograph filled the screen. Jerry drew closer. It was a picture of him in a compromising position with a scantily-dressed woman. Debra flipped the slide. In the second picture, he was kissing the woman. Jerry remembered the woman, a broad he met at a campaign event two years ago.
“Shit!” he muttered.
“Someone, an anonymous person, sent those pictures to my email box,” Debra said. Her voice had an uneasy calm, as though she were trying to hold back a tidal wave.
Jerry pressed his palm to his forehead and paced the room.
“Shit!” he muttered again.
“Is that an explanation?” Debra asked.