With Mustapha K Darboe
It has been his routine. Each day Suntu comes to people but he stays alone. Perhaps he has become accustomed to being alone.Most times, he would sit at a quiet corner at the Press House, murmuring to himself. There, I have come to know him. I greeted and passed, most times. We do not speak about his past. His present, I knew little about.
He was of a generation before me. Most journalists of his generation set their scripts on their laptop. He types on his phone. He may be suffering from cyberphobia. Each day in his eyes, I see unease – more like someone running away from himself.
His eyes say so much. His ears must have heard so much too. His head is a library, I supposed. Good witness he must have been, of the past and the present. Even the future is before him. Words are out that he equally sees right through to the heavens, the citadel of The Mighty Throne.
Like me, he is a journalist, one who will be journalist to the grave. He loves it. The Word is God! Suntu swore to defend the Word. He would die for it. Swords won’t sway him nor will atomic weapons!
Last week, like all other weeks, we met at the Press House. As usual, he walked to his quiet corner. There is where peace is for him. The rest of mankind does not see what Suntu sees.
He knew and read The Prophet. He understood the benefit of silence. An unshakable believer, he knew as the man behind The Prophet that “in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered. For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly. There are those among you who seek the talkative through fear of being alone.”
To most people, Suntu acts weird most times. Many have told me he suffers from “excessive paranoia”, whatever that means. Is this a mental disorder? I have no idea. But what is certain is that he is suspicious of people, to a point he found it necessary to be alone.
“People,” he once told me, “are dangerous.” I could not agree. No man is fulfilled without people, I thought.
But I experienced not what he experienced. I can only wish to be him. I could not see what he saw and continues to see. He knew of the species of men whose inner self cannot reconcile with their outer self. Such people say what they admire, not what they do or will do. They ask good of others and nothing of themselves. They are infidels! Non-believers in the word.
As he spoke, he got agitated with bloodshot eyes. It almost seemed as if his anger was directed at me. But no, it wasn’t. He loves me. Every space he occupies, he thinks of me. He is and will always be my needs answered.
Suntu’s duty is to defend the republic. Every morning, he visits Malibanta, the home of the gods of Lambai to pour his blood as a libation. Long may the gods remember him, I would always pray. May he never run short of blood to offer. I confess I am of the Abrahamic. I make no friends to the gods in Lambai.
Doubt, I may, the gods but not Suntu. In handy, always he is. His path is honesty. This was never easy. A man once feared came to rule over him. He was named Yahya Jammeh. I can’t say if he was deserving of that name. The man with that name in the Qur’an was a righteous one. Little good can be said about this Yahya.
This Yahya swore to own the truth. A man who claims god over men.
Suntu would not be part of that betrayal. To all, the republic belongs. And to every man his god that solves his problems. There is no small or big man. So, the word must not be owned by anyone. Equally so, must everyone own the treasure. For our fathers died so we could live free.
This was Suntu’s position. That was not a wish to be fulfilled in that generation. He took an ambition that kills men, even the strongest of them, under Yahya. This was an ungodly Yahya. Suntu became a perceived enemy. Yahya liked him not.
But Suntu does not bow to any earthly might. He recognises a god nevertheless. His god is not the acclaimedgod nevertheless. And for Yahya, he is an infidel. He believes not in man, nor to any god shall he bow. Their might though he beseeched. And for their power of indoctrination he fell.
He usurped the collective power of people to betray humanity. He enslaved people. Some, he killed. After a decade into his rule, Suntu would be arrested for having a god. “The god here is Yahya,” they told him.
“You offended the gods and rightly so, you must be punished.” Agents of the infidel took him to places unknown. In the last dark hole they lunged him was a tormenting silence. It was torture by fear and intimidation. He lived everyday of 500 days with not even a little hope he would see the following day.
From gods he asked of help. They listened not. For the first time he questioned his faith. Gods must never be silent as their believers perish, he thought. On his 100th day, they came for him. The mortal angels of the infidel gave him the beating of his life.
But for life, he despaired not. He kept the faith, though he was not sure of salvation anymore. For an hour, he looked into the abyss of darkness. He hoped with nothing to hope. He cried, there were no tears left. He groaned in solitude.
Minutes after the torturers left, he picked himself up. Towards the wall, he walked. So dark it was that he could barely see his hand. But Suntu knew there is always a witness. This time, his witness is the dark and the silent walls of his confinement.
He put his mouth to the walls, with a tender touch, and whispered: “Bring to souls the sanity that once in our land dwelled”. He hoped the walls transmitted his desires to the gods. Heard him not, he knew the people.
On the 500th day, they came for the 500thtime. This time, they were not to beat him; they were to free him. The angels that served the infidel knew he was broken. Suntu came out a different man.
His hardware was intact but his software was erased. He remembered not his name. He recalled not his way to the Press House. He feared for life that he does not have. He was dead. He took a walk to the neighbouring country.
It did not take long before he realised he was running from himself. He was afraid of his shadows. Long after he walked, his alleged crimes were being told. They said he committed sedition against Yahya.
Yahya was not human and must not be insulted, they say. The angels claimed inciting affection or ill will against Yahya was a crime. But Yahya was a criminal. Since the country got its own space, they only have one criminal: the government.
Meanwhile, in exile, Suntu tried to have a life. That remained a desire. He lived in restlessness. He started doubting the world. He doubted if he was alive. He pinched his wife to see if she was there. He closed his door and asked colleagues to place a barricade at the door. He feared the infidel’s men would come after him again in exile. He kept custody of the keys as if though his wife was his enemy. He was terrified! Sometimes, he hoped he died.
All of this, Suntu endured so that the republic lives. He longed for home, yet he could not come. He longed to come to the Press House yet he could not come. As days passed, he counted every minute with pain. He looked back on life with nostalgia.
All this time, I have forgotten about him. I sent not, nor received any mail from him. But came an hour, there emerged several Suntus. The republic was restored and freedom lost was regained.
As I walked the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in January 2016, I laid my eyes on him. He was coming home from Senegal. I recognised him not and I played no fake. We passed without any pleasantry.
Like most of those coming home to freedom, their eyes glittered with so much yet they said nothing. They talked in their silence within themselves. Some, like before, feared no one would believe them.
The major benefactor of this freedom was one Hadama. Man thought of as “ah mang nasi” by his people. For Suntu, his comfort is in the giving. He was contented that the republic lived through the horrors he encountered.
Suntu does not talk now. They said he is not well. The new guardian of the republic swore. But it would not take long before he abandoned the cause of freedom. He is not a believer!
He is an infidel. They worship not the word but themselves. They insist the new powers must be honoured as if though honour equates to worship.
Now, Suntu only watches. Last week he saw a benefactor of the freedom he fought trying to kill it. Hadama told Ba and Khalil, both infidels, to create a law that will destroy the republic.
Ba was once an apologist to this cause of freedom. It appears he now turned his back on the gods. Khalil never believed in the gods. He was and is still an outright infidel.
Suntu looked on with anger. He wished he could speak. He wished he could walk. How soon will man forget?
As he ponders, his kind – true believers of the word – are up in arms. “Never again!” they chanted. Ba and Khalil are despots. Like Hadama, power has awakened the devil in them. They must and they will be stopped. Even if it means war.
In Suntu’s mind, as he followed the national discussion, he read Khalil Gibran. “And if it is a despot you would dethrone, see first that his throne erected within you is destroyed,” he recalled.
But in these three enemies of freedom, in them the tyranny still lives. This paradox! Meanwhile, in Suntu’s mind, Gibran continues to speak.
“For how can a tyrant rule the free and the proud, but for a tyranny in their own freedom and a shame in their own pride?
“And if it is a care you would cast off, that care has been chosen by you rather than imposed upon you.
And if it is a fear you would dispel, the seat of that fear is in your heart and not in the hand of the feared.”
Mustapha Darboe works principally for Kerr Fatou online portal and Anadolu News Agency.