He opened the doors of his wardrobe and musty air wafts to his nostrils. A dozen or so pairs of identical navy-blue shirt hanging atop white-washed green khaki trousers in plastic hangers, stood there in the musty darkness like zombies waiting to be repossessed by someone. But in his mind Osaki saw them as sentinels who went to work with him everyday. A sort of medal or trophy to the perpetuity of his existence – and influence he must add – influence in the town. Now as he stood there admiring his collection and breathing in the old air of thirty years work in service to the town’s Labour Union, he imagined himself in each pair of clothing but all at the same time. His eyes did a quick count running over the clothes in shutter-like speed – eighteen he counted. Eighteen Osaki Ibibas all going to the office at the same time. The people will be awed and what more there would be no need for unbearably lazy secretaries and receptionists and an insufferable deputy chairman. His duplicates – no doubles sounded better – his doubles would help him with the job of managing the town’s business. Away with secretaries and assistants! Oh what a relief!
But he was soon palled by the cognizance that his fantasy was not even remotely to be. There were no cell biologists and doctors here like the ones they had in Sekondi-Takoradi and Lisbon and Frankfurt who could perform the cloning process – that’s what it was called – cloning and with it one could replicate mind-controlled doubles of themselves. Talk about a cat with nine lives or a mouse like the one scurrying along the wooden pole set in the two round holes on the opposites sides of his small wardrobe. He looked at his dresses again and thought that people must think he had only one pair of clothing because he wore the same style of clothing to work everyday. Such foolish thoughts of simple-minded townsfolk.
Well they could think the same today – but wait a moment… He could really go to Lisbon or Takoradi and have himself cloned. Ah, but the local papers and television stations will not let him hear the last of it. And soon the governor would be summoning him to the capital to explain the news; and how could he successfully convince the man that the funds used for his cloning was from his own pocket and not the council’s funds? He might even send one of his cloned doubles to the governor instead; he caught himself in a chuckle and composed himself.
“Did you say something?” Ebino called from the anteroom where she was tending the morning paper and a cup of green tea.
“No darling, I’m fine.” He answered. She was the only person who knew him so well she wasn’t nonplussed by him like the rest of the town or even his once close friends who now considered him an egoist and a betrayer. Well, that was just a small price one has to pay for the privilege to serve.
“Sure you didn’t say something?” Ebino asked again. Ah she knew everything!
“Eh, I just asked whether Tonye has written the letter yet.” He lied.
“Well I don’t know, but he hasn’t sent any yet. When he does you’ll know.” She answered without taking her eyes off the paper. He didn’t read the news. He didn’t listen to it either even though he made the headlines. He got all his news from her and she told him only the specifics he needed to know.
“Why hasn’t Tonye written us yet? Do you think he’s angry with us?” he was growing concerned.
He heard her drop the teacup in its saucer with a thump.
“‘With us’ you say? It is you he’s annoyed with Saki, not me.”
But I thought we’re in this together, he thought.
“When you’ve chosen not to listen to anything I say, don’t think we’re in anything together.” Another knocking of the teacup against its saucer. “Come on Saki, what is so hard in telling the people how much revenue came from the oil, what is so hard?”
He picked out his outfit for the day and decided to add a little bit of colour and variety with a tie. He rarely wore those, they were only suitable for the white man who had invented them for his cold weather. But he would wear one today, Ebino would help with the knotting as he didn’t knot ties very well.
“Er, darling, could you come in here and help me with a tie?”
“Tell me why you’re not saying how much we got from the oil?” She asked while tightening the noose around his neck. She went round to his back and adjusted the shirt collar. “Why can’t you say it?” She asked again.
“I can get you new clothes, you see.” She suddenly changed the discussion when he didn’t answer. She never pressed him nor nagged over any issue. She knew he was mulling over the matter already and would give an answer when he thought he’d found one appropriate.
“The figures don’t add up,” he said suddenly.
“The oil revenue. The figures don’t match.”
“But how?” She asked when he offered no further explanation.
“These things have always been complicated, you should know.”
She gave him a puzzled look.
“OK. The oil companies come in to drill and before they’re allowed to start they settle the chiefs and the Youth Union, and the Widows’ Association, the League of Market Women, with some amount of money of course…but I don’t know exactly how much because we in the Labour Union…we don’t get involved in backslappings…of course we know it is some form of bribery…selling one’s future for a morsel of bread…and it would eventually boomerang.” He paused to catch his breath then continued, “So when the oil is drilled and lifted from the ground, if it is sold back to the Federal Executive Government as refined oil, it is sold at such a ridiculously high price because the oil company claims it has invested so much money in the drilling but of course we know it is just trying to recover the money it has given out to the townspeople…and we do nothing about it…because…well, because our mouths are still
stained with oily gifts we took from them.”
He watched Ebino look guilty now – her father was in the town’s council of chiefs so Osaki understood why – yet she managed to ask brazenly, “So what then, is it why you’ve refused to talk about the money since? Have you been bribed to tell the story you just told me now, Saki has anyone paid you?” “No.” “Then name names, tell the people how crafty the oil companies are and that they should stop demanding or accepting unsolicited kickbacks.”
“I wasn’t done my dear. Sometimes the government sells the oil instead to the companies, depending on the contractual agreements. Luckily there’s a standard international price for crude oil at which the Federal Government sells, but then it comes back to say that one-tenth of the money accrued from oil is what is just profit – that is after expenditures.” He was fully dressed now and moved to sit beside her on the bed. “Now how can I tell the people that we sold a million barrels of oil and yet what we can show for it is just a few hundred thousands…?”
“But they are asking,” she interrupted.
“Will I also tell them that the Federal Government after taking whatever it wishes to out of the money and gives the State Government its share who also does like her superior, that there is almost nothing left for the local councils budgets, even the councils from which the oil was drawn? The people will revolt; and I will not tell them the truth without telling the whole of it.”
For the first time in thirty years, she didn’t know what to say to him.
“I read your cousin in the news today,” was all she said.
Mase Belema sat in his solemn cell, knees drawn up to his chin. He wasn’t here now for battering the waitress, that was two years ago. He had come back here recently after been caught while driving drunk. He remembered the incident that night and chuckled to himself. He’d been singing loudly and driving his Renault too fast when he was stopped by two policemen and asked to step out of the car with his hands behind his head. He had stepped out of the car with his hands up but then suddenly unzipped his trousers, and urinated all over the legs of the policemen. He chuckled again at the thought. But he had been drinking because he was depressed, depressed since the day he had hit the waitress and lost the chance to become chairman – no thanks to Osaki.
His nephew Tonye had come to see him three times this week. Alongside that, his lawyer too had come and told him news about town – how the People’s Union Party – his new political party were clamouring for the eviction of the oil companies presently drilling in the creeks, and for the resignation of Osaki Ibiba as Chairman. “But everyone will think I’m doing it out of spite for Saki and I’m not even wishing him ill at all. I mean even though I still feel hurt I know that snuffing out Saki’s candle won’t make mine shine brighter.” He complained. She fixed her eyes on him in that poised bearing which was so characteristic of her. He
stood and went to the bars. “I don’t want that.” He said and closed his palms around two bars. She put her hands around then and closed it in. They stood like that for a few moments not saying a word to each other – just breathing… Until the warden had coughed and looked at his watch. “Mase it will all be fine in the end. That is what we want isn’t it?” she said calmly and even though she didn’t say it Mase knew she also implied even if it meant Osaki vacating his chairmanship. The prison warden had coughed again and when she flapped her fingers off his, he suddenly felt weak.
“Someone is here to see you,” the warden’s deep baritone brought him back to the present. He looked up to see Tonye smiling at him – the fourth time this week.