Ebou was asked to bring all his suitcases with him by a stern officer in a Customs & Excise uniform reeking of cigarette smoke. A police officer followed and two other individuals in plainclothes also followed. Ebou did not know but they were secret agents posted at the airport to observe and collect information on Gambians. Bewildered, Ebou asked if everything was okay. One of the officers told him “My friend, just follow our instructions.” A bit taken aback, the demeanour of the officers punched a hole in Ebou’s euphoria of being home. But his high was too high to be brought down by a little misunderstanding. It’s a new dispensation he murmured to himself! I will sort it out.
He was asked to open all his suitcases so they can search them. He complied and they saw some phones and other items he bought for his friends and family. He was asked if he’s going to sell those and he informed them these are all gifts. They asked how could they be sure that he’s telling them the truth. After some back and forth, he was asked to close his suitcases and go. He didn’t realise but some of his items were taken.
He should never have opened all his suitcases at once. The little encounter put a damp on his spirits but the excitement roared back as soon as he stepped out in the main hall where only a privileged few are allowed to stand and receive their arriving guests. The ordinary people are kept outside the airport building to allow for renovations. The renovations are not apparent to the naked eye! He stepped out and saw an ugly painting of the dictator peering from above on the ceiling. It’s as if Yahya was smiling down saying: I may have been physically forced out but I’m still here in every other way. My legacy, though terrible, still dictates your livelihood. If he said so, he would have been right. Look around you and see the prominence of those who propped the dictatorship in your circles.
Ebou steps out of the airport building with his luggage in tow and his uncle, cousins and his younger brother all came at him grinning from ear to ear! They all burst out laughing and hugging. His cousins teased him about his weight and wondered aloud if hunger won’t drive him back to the West! Ebou looked at them and to him, they have all aged unbelievably and seemed to have lost weight.
Their teeth yellowed a lot more and his uncle had more grey hair. After the man carrying the suitcases loaded them in the pickup, he stood around scratching his head until Ebou’s uncle took out some money and told the guy “let me pay you.” Ebou wanted to say I already paid him but he kept quiet. The porter guiltily looked at Ebou and accepted the money from Ebou’s uncle. Greed has a chokehold on his Gambia and is slowly killing the nation but no one seems to notice . Ebou was too excited to be home and so he too didn’t mind a little greed.
When he got home, his frail mother Mehta would be standing at the compound gate smiling. Her son is home. Neither of them ever thought they would see each other again. She had a pot of water in her hand and when Ebou embraced her crying uncontrollably, his mother put his hands in the pot, washed them and took a sip of the water. Then the mother broke down.
Hey Allah, she cried! If you were to take my life today, my life would have been fulfilled. I thank you Ya Allah for bringing my son home. For keeping him alive. For taking care of my baby in the wilderness. I praise you my lord and I’m a grateful servant today.
Ebou was kneeling at the foot of his mother crying. He never thought he would get to see his mother again. All mothers are special but he has a lot to be grateful for in his mother. He remembered the day he left Gambia! He had to be smuggled out of the country. With nothing but a few newspaper clips, a bangle his mother asked him to keep on him at all times.
A picture of the woman he thought he would marry and the clothes on his back. He was in pain from the tortures he received at the National Intelligence Agency! Ebou cried even harder the more he thought about that day. His mother had told
him, if a son’s lunch depends on the work of his mother, then go
well my son and you will never go hungry or have any need for dinner for I worked hard in my marriage.
Ebou’s cousins, all still crying, came to get Ebou from his kneeling position before his mother. They all know the story. They all know what happened to Ebou. They were there when other family members abandoned them. They were there when Ebou’s mother was also picked up by the NIA. They heard the whispers of neighbours as they walked around in the neighbourhood. They were there when Ebou was demonised. And made a bad citizen. They read the statements of government officials claiming “We will not compromise the security of this nation.” Ebou posed no security risk.
As Ebou was led to the main house, one of the tenants came to say hello and instantly Ebou froze! He stared at the man. Age has caught up with the man but Ebou was sure it was him. It’s him, he was one of them… in fact he was always present. How can he forget that face. He’s growing his beard and has a zebiba. He must have found Islam. Oh Islam… It’s him for sure. He was the one that….
Alagie Saidy-Barrow was the former lead investigator at the TRRC