It was the first week in December, and primary schools were on Christmas break.
Children from the homes in the neighbourhood gathered in the playground. They divided themselves, unintentionally, into groups, based mainly on their age brackets.
“Let’s have a drama,” said a bespectacled boy about ten years of age.
“Okay. I want to be a soldier,” said another boy whose name was Yaro.
“I am the president’s wife,” said Maria, a pretty girl whom Yaro liked.
“Okay, Maria, then, I’ll be the president,” Yaro said.
“But you’re a soldier already,” Dele said, squinting through the thickness of his glasses. He continued,
“Remember, Mrs. Mafimisebi said that a soldier’s duty is to protect his country, not to rule it.”
Yaro’s young rage registered on his knitted brows. He feared that Dele would make Maria not want him to be the president anymore; he feared he couldn’t impress her with just a soldier’s camouflage. Yet she smiled when he looked at her, his heart started thumping in his chest, obstructing his airways. He had always wanted to be a soldier, like his father was, and wouldn’t give that up without a fight. He turned to Dele and asked,
“What do I have to do to be president?”
“You have to be voted in, I guess,” Dele replied, blinking repeatedly.
“Election processes are too long; we don’t have all day.” Maria said, becoming restless.
“Typically feminine,” Yaro said, and he and Dele giggled.
“Dele, what will you be in the drama?” Yaro asked.
“Why?” Maria asked, surprise filling her hazel eyes.
“To write in the newspapers and report what’s happening in the country.”
“Well, said Yaro, “in this country, there are just three of us now.”
“We could make a baby,” Maria chipped in excitedly.
Yaro ignored her and continued,
“You mean, anything the president and his wife do, you’ll write it in the papers?”
“Even when the president wets his bed?”
“Yes – ”
“If you write that about me, I’ll shoot you with my gun.”
And to Maria, Yaro said,
“I don’t wet my bed.”
“Yes, you do.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you -”
“Okay! Okay!” Dele stepped in between the military president and his first lady, who kept glaring fire and brimstone into each other’s eyes; Maria had her hands on her hips, flapping her nonchalant lids in defiance. Dele spoke,
“Maybe you don’t pee in your bed, but a journalist has to be allowed to exercise his press freedom.”
Yaro moved so close that Dele could smell his digested breakfast as he spoke,
“If you write anything to disgrace the office of the president, the only freedom you’ll be allowed is the length and breadth of a knee-high prison cell in my backyard.”
“And a cup of tea,” Maria added, her hands rocking her hips.
“Then, I guess I’ll seek political asylum abroad, maybe in America or England.” Dele said, as he stepped back, not being one given to physical violence.
After a few moments of silence, which was no silence at all since the playground was teeming with children running around and shouting, Yaro said,
“We’ve been friends since kindergarten. Why can’t we all just enjoy my ruling this country? There could be contracts coming your way, you know.”
Maria waved at another girl walking a few feet away. Dele put his hand in his pockets and said,
“If you’re thinking of buying my conscience, perish the thought; a good name is better than -”
“Shut up with the preaching! If I’m ever in need of any sermon, I’ll come to your church, buy your pastor’s conscience, and get him to say what I want him to say. And you will write what I want you to write.”
Yaro was wagging his fist in front of Dele who, squinting, as if to see the fist clearly before he brushed it aside, a change of expression having invaded his face and dug a trench between his brows, replied,
“I’d rather read a letter taken from a bomb envelop than conceal the truth.”
Maria, who’d been looking from the president to the journalist, said,
“I think an e-mail would more convenient than a letter. Who agrees?”
Yaro shook his head and turned his back to the rest of his country, and spoke, scanning the playground, for effect,
“I will close down your newspaper house. I will block your website. No member of your family will be able to find a job in this country -”
“But,” Maria cut in, “I thought there were just three of us in this country; he has a family?”
“Yes. And you can send your mindless minions to go burn my house and rape my mother, sisters, wife and daughters. You greedy beast! This county belongs to all three of us. And to be a democratic president, you have to be voted in – and can be voted out.”
Yaro, flashing a wicked, gap-toothed grin, said,
“Not if I have the conscience of the voters in my pocket.”
“Our pocket,” Mary said.
“What?” asked Yaro and Dele in unison.
“What belongs to the president belongs to the first lady also. Who agrees?”
“Well, that’s if you’ll be my first lady.”
Yaro seized Maria’s wrist and pulled her closer.
“Your first and only lady,” Maria cooed in the absence of pigeons.
“Well, that’s if we make you president.” Dele had stopped squinting, his eyes filling the frames of his glasses.
“Who’s going to stop me? You? Ha-ha.”
“Yaro! Yaro! Ka zo nan!”
Yaro let go of Maria’s hand, and ran to the jeep waiting in the street, got in and slammed the door shut. The driver, his mother, drove off.
Maria looked at Dele and asked,
“I didn’t know journalist got married.”
“Yes, they do, but not to the wives of military dictators.”
Dele squinted at a plane flying by. Maria sighed and said,
“Come, let’s go do the swing.”
“You sit, I’ll push.”
So was that afternoon in December spent, and a country of three was now a ten-year-old boy and a pretty, little girl.