February 18, 1979
Sahara Desert, Africa
My hands are deep in sand, and there is blood on the snow.
He did not know why there was snow.
He tried to rise, but it was not time. His breath came in ragged gasps, a death rattle? His ribs grated on each other when he inspired. His jaw felt heavy and swollen. More drops of blood on the snow, from his face. He tried to move his tongue, but it had grown snug inside his mouth and did not budge.
He was on all fours. He could tell that now, but his right arm was crooked maybe broken. The left arm held all the weight. Another warm dribble down his face. He pulled the left arm out of the snow and wiped it across his face. It came back smeared red.
He tried again to stand, but it hurt, a pervasive pain that he had never experienced, his nerves screaming for respite. It seemed like he could feel the individual vertebrae in his backbone.
What happened? What did I do? What did we do? Why is it snowing?
He managed to stand. The horizon wobbled and turned, or he may have been turning. It was difficult to tell. Blood still streamed out of him, dripping on his chest and landing on the snow. He felt neither heat nor cold, but the crisp air helped to clear his head and stabilise his vision.
There were depressions in the snow, footsteps, ending in a lump of a man about fifty yards away. Head bowed, arms by the side, kneeling. His enemy.
Snowflakes gently dropping to earth.
Oh, mother. What have we done this time?
He could not find any hatred inside himself, not anymore. He was done. This was over.
He tried to fly away, but his feet stayed linked to the earth. He could not jump because each movement was agony, especially for his right arm.
Maybe he was dying.
He focused on the weather. It should not be snowing. He closed his eyes, coaxed the clouds, and asked the water to disperse. You didn’t force weather; you just eased it into doing what it wanted. You said, please don’t form precipitation. Sometimes, it listened.
The snowfall stopped but the clouds would not move. Not yet.
Breathing heavy now. The next part would hurt, but had to be done. He held his right forearm and twisted counter-clockwise sharply.
He screamed, and almost passed out again.
His enemy did not stir.
Maybe there was some hatred left after all.
He took strips of his enemy’s cape and made a crude sling; then he walked away.
After an hour he came to a gaggle of Algerian troops. By then the sun had returned and the snow had turned to slush. They recognised him and eased safeties off their weapons. He took their fear, absorbed it and fed it to his body for healing.
He spoke Arabic by drawing it out of their minds. “I surrender,” he said. “Take me to prison.”
2015 (thought we may as well bring it up to this year )
Kokoro had aged well, he thought, but then he missed the question she asked. “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” he said.
“I said the blogsphere wonders why you chose crime with your abilities, rather than more noble actions like that of Black-Power.”
“Ah…I see. Well, I don’t think anyone wakes up and decides to be a criminal, Miss Kokoro. A number of things happen, inconsequential nudges, impressions, and time passes. One day you wake up to find out that you are not the hero of your own story. When the newspapers describe you as ‘the international criminal known only as the Pan-African’ you realise you’ve been cast and typecast even. There is a power in naming things. You become the name and you convince yourself that it fits like an old coat.”
Behind the lights technicians in the studio moved, dark shadows keeping the television machine going. He saw his own image on one of the monitors. He sat opposite Elizabeth Kokoro and to his left the network had erected a massive black-and-white poster of him taken from 1975 in his Pan-African war paint. He sported an Afro back then and his expression was feral, possessed. He had a fury that time and prison leached out of him.
No, it wasn’t prison that took the rage away. It was that last time in the Sahara.
“Thunderclap344 from Zimbabwe asks why you didn’t break out of prison,” said Kokoro. He wondered why she had no tablet or clip board. She had told him this segment of the interview would be a live Q & A from the web. Where was she reading the questions from? Probably the producer was feeding her by a plug in her ear.
“I had no reason to. From the moment I retired I was determined to rejoin society. That meant taking responsibility for what I had done. I surrendered to the Algerian authorities, but it turned out that I had never really committed any crimes in Algeria besides illegally crossing their borders and violating their airspace. They were quite nice to me, considering. Extradition was a nightmare. South Africa tried to claim me, but the whole Apartheid thing meant nobody listened to their noise. Nigeria began extradition proceedings but gave up in 1983 because there was a coup. Ghana, Morocco, Gambia…so many prisons, so little time.”
Kokoro adjusted her skirt. She knew all this, but managed to maintain an expression of curious interest. Good interviewers had that quality of not representing themselves, but the listener.
“I ended up incarcerated for thirty years in Edo City.”
“When did you leave jail?”
“I’ve been free since 2003.”
“What have you been doing since then?”
The clerk was old, way past retirement, and officious. He had one of those Mugabe moustaches that reminded you of Hitler. id13399928 If he knew who the Pan-African was he did not indicate. He passed forms through the gap in the window with large blue ‘X’s marked at the points requiring signature or thumb print.
“What’s this?” asked the Pan-African.
“This confirms that your personal effects were returned to you in the same condition as the day you entered, with the exclusion of any perishable goods and age-related changes.”
“I didn’t enter with any personal effects.”
“So nothing was returned to you. Is the nothing in the same condition?”
The Pan-African stared.
“That was a joke,” the clerk said, in a flat voice.
“You still have to sign.”
The clerk gave him sixty-five American dollars.
“Something the government gives to rehabilitated offenders to help them start off in their new life. Congratulations. Your debt to society is paid. Go forth and live a virtuous life.”
The clerk stamped a final form and handed it to him.
Outside. The gates lurched shut with an electronic whine.
Nobody waiting. No friends, no family.
Edo City Prison was technically outside city limits, but nobody cared as long as the degenerates were out of sight. All around him was bush, bisected by a single black-top road which led to civilisation.
I am Tope Adedoyin. I used to be called the Pan-African. I was in prison, but now I am free. I have a piece of paper that says I am free. It has an official stamp on it. I’m free.
He looked at his feet. Black Hush Puppies from aeons ago, fashionable if he were someone’s grandfather. He tested something, focused, and left the ground behind. Two, three feet in the air, hovering, testing. Then he fell back down. It was like swimming; you had to relearn how to hold your breath.
He started walking north along the side of the road. Cars and lorries swept past, dusting him. He considered trying to hitch a ride, but thought better of it. He wanted to be alone and charity brought with it the necessity to reciprocate with conversation.
He stopped to relieve himself and noticed a footpath, partly obscured by weed growth, but definitely a walkway. He zipped up and followed it, not knowing why. A whim, a notion of delight or despair. The sound of traffic faded. He passed a yellowed wooden sign, a placard rendered blank by acid rain. He soon came to a settlement. It was a rag-tag collection of shacks, shanties and lean-tos.
It was probably illegal. The shanty town could not be seen from the road, which meant no taxes or police. There were no estates close by, no legitimate citizens for them to contaminate, and there was no impending property development. These were the criminals, the drunks, the dangerous psychotics, the detritus of society, both victims and perpetuators. The poor were the greatest sinners in a free enterprise society.
Would it be a violation of his parole if he lived here?
He encountered the insensate form of a drunk, which he stepped over. The first dwelling was a beer parlour with ‘No Cridit’ stencilled in red paint. A lone male customer drank kai kai, local gin, which was more wood alcohol than ethanol.
“Good evening, uncle,” said Tope. “May I join you?”
“Good evening, my son,” said the old man. He pulled a seat out by way of invitation. “Sadia! Bring another glass.”
Tope sat down, accepted one glass and drank in silence. He called to Sadia and asked for a Stout and another half-litre of gin for the old man. If they noticed his distorted arm they did not draw attention to it.
“I’m looking for a place to stay,” said Tope.
“That’s what I said when I arrived here,” said the old man. “I was twenty and I had just killed a man. Have you killed anyone?”
Tope had a flashback. He…he…
He bunched the ridiculous cape in his left hand and pulled Black-Power towards himself and punched his head into the desert sand. Black-Power’s arms twitched in an epileptic fit. The Pan-African stamped on that head. The sand became red with blood.
“No,” said Tope. “I haven’t killed anyone.”
Over the next few days he built a house out of wood from trees he chopped down himself and nails he scavenged and corrugated iron he found. He didn’t mind. It kept him busy and was not taxing at all. At first they did not know who he was, but a boy saw him levitating in order to reach a difficult part of his roof.
Once they knew the Pan-African was among them, his power grew and he fixed their weak and wobbly dwellings. He helped till the land on their untaxed farms. The sheer number of the diseased among them complicated matters and added a dark shade to his power. The hepatitis and AIDS dementia, the heart failures and septic abortions. The power from the sufferers was tainted, sick power that could turn him to mischief again if he let it.
“I just kept busy with this and that,” said Tope.
Elizabeth nodded. “Another question from the forums: what did you learn from your days as the Pan-African?”
“Crime does not pay, stay in school, and never, ever, get into a fight with a man who wears a rainbow coloured cape because such a man is insane.”
“Now you’re just being flippant.”
“Only half flippant. Seriously, have you looked at the costume that idiot used to wear? I almost killed him with the damn thing.”
“Then why didn’t you? You fought many times and both walked away to tell the tale.”
“I wasn’t trying to kill,” said Tope. “I was trying to teach.”
“To teach what?”
“That Black-Power, with all his good intentions, was part of the problem, not the solution.”
“We’ll come back to that, but I have another question, this from Powerfan565. She asks why you were called the Pan-African Coward in 1975.”
Tope sighed. He knew this would come up.
“I don’t remember.”
“Powerfan565 says, was it not because the first time you bumped into Black-Power you ran away?”
“Did you run away from him?”
“No comment.” Tope took a sip of water from the glass beside him. He maintained eye-contact with Elizabeth.
“This is supposed to be frank interview,” she said.
“I can explain,” said Tope, “but I’m not going to. No comment.”
“We have a caller on the line. Caller you’re live on Flashback. Go ahead.”
The voice came through on the studio speakers and chilled Tope to his core. He could actually feel pain in his chest where he had received the hardest hit in the desert.
“Pan-African, is there something you think you’re qualified to say about me?” asked Black-Power.
Cape Town, South Africa.
Pain, there was always the pain.
Detective Sipho Cele grunted as he stood up from his desk, holding his arm tightly over the right side of his body. Such an action muted the sharp reminder of shattered ribs from decades ago, the pain at least dulling with the spread of his stomach and the slow creep of age.
He stepped around his broad desk with its bronze name plate, littered with photos and files of low lives, murderers, rapists, and tsotsis. The scum of the Earth, so many of them, a never ending wave that he had spent his life fighting against. But, like the hydra, you take one down and two more step into their place.
Making his way to the window, he smiled at his clever classical allusion; he was no wet-eared plaasjapie, as the boere used to say, no, he was urban smart—and old.
Much older than he looked, even though his hair was starting to pepper with grey.
As he stared down seven stories onto the milling street below, he felt yet older still. Offices stretched high into the sky, glassed front, left and right, inscrutable—but the street itself below was teeming with people; trade and spill-off from the nearby tourist trap of Greenmarket Square.
Of Table Mountain itself, there was no sign, hidden behind tiers of stone and glass.
He watched the people move and bustle, a dance troupe setting up in the paved boulevard, Adderley street flower sellers spilling across for more business as an impromptu crowd gathered.
And, with vision an eagle would have been proud of, he noticed a thin young man spiralling around the crowd’s edge, deftly picking back-pockets and coats.
Tcchhaaa, small fry!
There was a time when he would have shown no mercy, when his tolerance was ever set at zero.
Those were old times, gone times.
Sipho turned away with a growl of fury, making his way back to his desk, accidentally brushing past a lurid black, green and yellow cape hanging on the coat stand. He felt a faint frisson of excitement.
Now, at least the pain was dull, hovering in the background, in places he could ignore.
The smaller desk in the corner of the room, with its tiny black swivel chair, was empty.
Where the hell was she? Thembeka took off too much time to go shopping; he would chide her when she got back. He could see the lights on her phone console glowing hot with waiting calls or people depositing urgent messages.
The door opened just as he reached his desk and was about to sit down. He hesitated, flexing his biceps involuntarily as she stepped into the room.
Sure, she was short and on the plain side, but old habits die hard. Still, he’d had to be careful; this new generation of women seemed increasingly less impressed with his towering physique and charm—it could even cause trouble.
And, of course, she was a Xhosa, so not a real Zulu woman.
“Where have you been?” He growled, suddenly and irrationally bored with this dull city.
“Getting information off the street,” she hovered in the door, watching him with hooded eyes.
“So,” he sat, feeling the chair creak underneath his solid bulk, “What information do you have?”
“There’s a new Super-Tik factory being setup just two streets down,” Thembeka said. She looked down, as if hoping for praise, but afraid to look him in the eyes.
“Just do your job and answer the phone,” he said, turning to his desktop, which was scrolling in news from all across Africa.
She sat for a moment in what felt like crushed silence and then, with an angry sigh, she picked up the phone and started speaking.
But Sipho wasn’t listening. A staccato burst of noise had sprung up from the street below and he knew the sound of that noise.
In a bound he was at the window again, gaze raking the street, missing nothing. The crowd was disintegrating rapidly, people screaming. No cops of course, a few security guards, but they were running too.
There, the central drama piece, six men standing with automatic weapons, two holding the thin young man as one large man pistol whipped him, snarling.
The boy had not been careful enough in choosing his victims.
Too bad—Detective Cele was about to turn his back too, when he noticed an old woman sidling up the street with her guide dog.
Dumb fucking dog, he was leading her into Trouble Central.
Without thinking, Sipho reached for the cape.
One of the armed men turned and shoved the woman, who fell, crying. The dumb dog sat down.
Sipho reached for the crumpled mask in his pocket, an old relic he’d never quite managed to let go, a talisman to touch, but not to wear.
The man was lifting his right boot; readying himself to kick the old woman.
Mask and cape on, Sipho Cele threw himself through the window and fell face first in a shower of glass.
“Shit,” he thought, “I can’t fly.”
He panicked as the ground screamed in close to his head.
So it was that his powers finally kicked in again.
Or, rather, he sped up; spinning his body deftly to land feet first, legs braced.
Fuck, those shoes had been Italian leather. They blew apart on impact, his toes splaying on buckling concrete.
One, two, three steps, and he was there, catching a swinging boot before it landed against the old woman’s head. He reversed the force, feeling the man’s hip shatter as he was flung over backwards.
Sipho had been gentle. The man landed only ten metres away, but unfortunately on his head—and on bricked pavement.
He did not get up again, nor did he make a sound, lying there like a discarded heap of expensive clothes waiting for a wash that would never come.
Sipho straightened and turned to the other men, who stood stunned, guns dangling at various angles of shock.
No… Black-Power straightened and eyed the miscreants with a stony-faced lack of both mercy and fear.
“Run,” he growled.
So they did.
Well, four of them ran, one screaming.
The fifth man stood, a large man tattooed with prison-gang numbers, his one giant hand still holding onto the pickpocket’s collar. The young man himself hung limply, spirit leaking with the blood from his broken nose. Then, abruptly, the tattooed man flung the youngster away like a crumpled piece of paper.
He slowly levelled his machine gun, a reworked AK-47 by the look of it.
His eyes were glowing red, with maddened power. Not just tik, must be the new Super-Tik, thought Black-Power.
“Die, motherfucker…” the man opened fire.
Black-Power covered his eyes with his left hand, bracing his body. Owwwwww, he kept the groans inside his head—he was going to end up with a hell of a bruising on his body.
Abruptly, the firing stopped.
Black-Power removed his hand and grinned at the man’s furrowed frown, his gaping mouth.
He gently turned around and picked up the old woman, a little so-called coloured woman, folded in fear.
“You’ve been a bad boy,” he said, “Say sorry to mamma—It’s time we all learned to respect our elders again.”
The man snarled in frightened rage and rushed forward to launch a punch with his right hand.
Black-Power covered the woman softly with his arms and thrust his face forward to meet the blow, feeling knuckles crumble against his right cheekbone.
The man screamed and stepped backwards, nursing his right hand under his left armpit; his shaved head bobbing as he bounced up and down in pain.
Black-Power straightened even more. “Run.”
Within seconds, the man had disappeared.
Black-Power put the woman down, and slipped the dogs lead into her hand.
“You’re safe now, mamma!” he said.
The woman smiled and nodded gratefully. Black-Power gave the dog a nudge with his toe and they wandered off quietly down the street again.
Sirens started to screech in the distance. Time to go; there was no need to compromise his identity, hidden for so long now.
But a quick and small crowd had already gathered around him.
“Who are you, mister?” an awed youngster asked.
Black-Power noticed the young pickpocket crawling away out of the corner of his eye. He’d more than learned his lesson, by the look of him.
Someone was standing behind him, looking at his cape, which had been relatively undamaged.
“BP,” read the man aloud. “British Petroleum probably, with those colours? All done as an advertisement maybe?”
The crowd glanced around, looking for cameras.
“Black-Power!” he snarled, bending his legs, readying himself, scanning for his broken office window above.
Then, with a massive launch of his calves and thighs he was airborne, rocketing upward with explosive power.
“Shit,” he thought again, crashing through the remnants of his office window, rolling to a halt against the far wall.
Slowly, he untangled himself from his cape and stood up, glass crunching underneath his shredded socks.
Thembeka was standing on her desk, palms across her mouth, looking frightened.
“Who are you?” she whispered, “Who are you really?”
He offered her his hand.
“Power,” he said, “Black-Power.”
He took her shaking hand, his slightly sweaty palm brushing her skin, and gently lowered her to the floor. “And I think you and I have some Super-Tik factories to visit.”
She smiled softly, gaze dropping shyly.
He saw her startle.
He looked down. Sure, his skin was just about invulnerable, but his clothes obviously weren’t. There’d been no time to dig his durable bodysuit out. There was very little left of his shirt and trousers.
“Oops,” he said, turning around to her embarrassed giggle.
It was then that he heard… him.
He’d know that smooth, honey-tongued voice anywhere. His PC had locked onto a broadcast, somewhere further up the African continent.
He stepped across to his desk, it was an interview from the sound of it, and a sweet feminine voice was chiming in.
Old and very bad pains starting to leach back into his body at the sound of the man’s voice. His ribs shrieked and his head ached, so much so, it was hard to focus on the picture of the man and woman, seated across from each other, in what looked like intimate conversation.
Thembeka stood unnoticed at his shoulder, watching too.
That woman, the interviewer, he thought, she’s, she’s … Beautiful… He struggled to focus on the words being exchanged between them.
Then he heard his name mentioned.
Without thinking, he reached across for the phone, dialling the number scrolling across the screen.
“….you’re live on Flashback,” he heard the interviewer’s soft words, “go ahead.”
38862 “Pan-African,” he breathed.
Pain, there’s always pain—this time, though, he would rise to greet it.
Breathe. Breathe. In, out, in. Not difficult, you’ve been doing it all your life.
Tope hated this, the nerves. Others might call it fear, but he had already proved himself against Black Power. Besides, this was verbal conflict, not physical.
Elizabeth Kokoro snorted, a brief, feminine gesture, almost missed but certainly dismissive. She had always favoured Black-Power over the Pan-African and indeed there were rumours. Black-Power had been a pussy hound back then.
“Hello, brother,” said Tope, voice calm.
“I am not your brother,” said Black-Power, voice vibrating through the studio. Did he sound out of breath? Like he’d been running? “I am Zulu, you are Yoruba.”
“And yet I still call you ‘brother’,” said Tope.
You know why, he thought.
What would later become Southern Africa
“They are barely conscious,” said the elder. “I can hear their left and right cerebral hemispheres arguing with each other. They think it’s a god, or what they will come to think of as such when they have that concept.”
“I don’t know if it qualifies as consciousness,” said the younger. “At least they have tools.”
The primates had taken a ruminant and were gutting it. One male primate held its side where the ruminant had gored him with its horns. The elder knew he would be dead within a week from infection. They did not have an idea of religion or even the afterlife yet.
“I think we can help them,” said the elder. “I want you to-”
“I do not wish to take instructions from you anymore. I’ve done that long enough. This settlement is yours,” said the younger. “I’m going further north.”
“You do not wish to stay together?” asked the elder. He sounded surprised and perhaps hurt.
“We’ll be on the same continent. I will not leave the landmass or planet without letting you know, brother.”
“Do not let them begin to worship you,” said the elder. “We are not gods.”
“I won’t,” said the younger.
But he did.
“Uncle Tope, why is your arm twisted?” asked the boy.
“I broke it one time. It didn’t heal well,” said Tope. He hammered a nail while he spoke. On a whim he switched the hammer to the right and continued. “Works fine, though, right?”
“Pass me the box of nails.”
He stepped back and gauged the horizontality of the cross bar. He looked at the boy who nodded.
“Why do you help people?” asked the boy.
“Why do you ask so many questions?”
“My mother says I’m a question bank.”
“Indeed you are,” said Tope. “I shall call you ‘Bank’ from now on.”
“My mother has tribal marks,” he said.
Tope looked across the way where Bank’s mother tried to dredge the sluggish stream for something of value. She was twenty-four going on forty and had three horizontal scarification marks and three vertical on each cheek. It was unusual. Nobody had those any more.
“Do you want to hear a secret?” Tope asked.
Bank nodded. He was seven and had already realised that the world of adults was full of secrets. Secrets were the portal between being a child and growing up.
“You see the bar codes on the goods you buy? The black lines?”
“You know how the creation story of Yoruba people is Olodumare lowered Oduduwa down to the earth with sand and a chicken. The sand became the landmass and the chicken rooted around in it, scattering it all over the earth.”
“I’ve heard this story in school, Uncle Tope.”
“Well…it was a space ship. Oduduwa had something that looked like a barcode on his cheeks. There were already humans here. They saw the code and tried to copy it with their crude instruments. The barcode became the tribal marks.”
Bank looked sceptical. “How do you know this?”
“I was in the space ship. I was crew.”
Bank squinted, not at all filled with credulity, but still child enough to wonder.
“I’m kidding!” said Tope, though he was not.
He heard someone call his name. It was a verbal call, not a thought, and he looked up. A man was running towards the house he was repairing.
“Tope! There are tractors and police!”
“Calm down,” said Tope. “Show me.”
There were indeed tractors and police, but in addition there were armed Area Boys, who were local toughs usually employed by politicians to beat up the opposition. At the head of the procession was a guy in a black suit sweating in the sun, waving a sheet of paper and speaking through a megaphone.
The feedback was such that Tope could not make out what he was saying.
“What the fuck is he saying?” Tope asked the man.
“He says we should all pack up and leave within the hour otherwise the people behind him will forcibly eject us and destroy our dwellings.”
“Hmm.” Tope pondered a moment, then said, “Don’t worry about it. Tell everyone to return to their homes and go about their daily business.”
“We have nowhere to go,” said the man.
“You do not need anywhere to go,” said Tope. “This is your home.”
He walked to the side of the road, under the shade of a palm tree, and he sat down, staring at the column invading the settlement. He began to breathe regularly, timing each inspiration and expiration. He allowed his mind to reach out.
All gods are telepathic. This is how prayer works.
Sadia brought him a tall gourd of ogogoro without knowing why. He drank it in one long swallow, enjoying the burn, feeling the relaxation and disinhibition. Better than Jonnie Walker and Southern Comfort combined.
Father of three, professional bureaucrat, one mistress currently pregnant, mortally afraid of his boss. A great love for his job, although he did not enjoy inflicting suffering on the less fortunate. Use that. The official stopped shouting into the public address system and shouted Marxist slogans, ordering the police to arrest the Area Boys.
Tope spread his mind further.
The Area Boys became confused. They could all see a swarm of flying ants in the air, and they scattered.
Tope nudged the police, and they ran after the Area Boys.
The machine operators screamed as the tippers and tractors became dinosaurs of the carnivorous variety.
The alcohol warmed Tope’s belly. He called Bank to him and returned to his carpentry.
“I am Zulu,” repeated Black-Power. “I am not kin to you.”
“You’re a fucking idiot is what you are,” said Tope. “You weren’t helpful in the seventies and you’re not helpful now.”
“Hang on,” said Elizabeth Kokoro. “Black-Power was a hero in his time. He was recognised all over the world. He addressed the United Nations. He saved millions from natural disasters, accidents and criminals such as yourself. How can you justify your statement?”
“Misdirection,” said Tope.
“What are you talking about?” asked Black-Power.
“We’ve had this discussion already,” said Tope. “You were too thick then and you’re too thick now. You prance about in your cape and mask, a copy of your colonial master’s masks by the way, not drawing inspiration from the African tradition of masking. You fly around in bright colours, puffing up your chest, chasing what, drug dealers, bank robbers, cannabis cultivators? A volcano goes off and Black-Power is there to save the day. Whoopie. What did you do that was of any long-standing significance? Not one thing. What did you do for social justice? Did you change the injustices that create the petty crime that you policed? No. Do you remember our discussions about Idi Amin? The Congo? Black-Power do you remember me telling you that Murtala Mohammed would probably be assassinated in 1976? What about Kapuuo in 1978?”
“What are you trying to say?” asked Black-Power. He did not sound so certain.
“I’m saying that you’re not a hero. You were a tool of the status quo government systems. You kept the poor people in line and turned a blind eye to the real offenders. You allowed the CIA to operate with impunity throughout the continent.”
“You could have stopped those same things.” Black-Power sounded defensive now.
“I was not and am not a hero. I never claimed to be.”
“I didn’t know if-”
“Motherfucker, don’t you dare. You knew. You knew because I told you.”
“Do not make me come over there, Pan-African.” The edge in his voice made Tope’s momentum dry up and he could not think of anything to say. Elizabeth recovered.
“Black-Power, these are serious accusations. Do you have any comment? Any mitigating factors?”
“I have a question for the Pan-African.”
“I don’t go by that name anymore.”
“Nevertheless, I have a question.”
“Proceed,” said Elizabeth.
“How much are you being paid to appear on television?”
“That information is confidential, Black-Power. He signed a contract of non-disclosure.” Elizabeth uncrossed and crossed her legs.
“I understand. But he is getting paid, no? Is this an instance of crime finally paying off? You criticise my record, but you spent your entire career trying to accumulate money. Without success, I should add. I was always there to beat you down.”
“Except one time,” said Tope.
“How’s the arm?”
“How’s your fucking chest?”
“Language, gentlemen. There are children listening,” said Elizabeth. “I have a question for both of you. Biohazard344 wants to know which of you is more powerful.”
“It depends,” said Tope.
“It depends,” said Black-Power.
“What does that mean?” asked Elizabeth.
“It means if we fly to the moon and fight we could crack it in two and still not know who is more powerful,” said Black-Power.
“Speak for yourself. On the moon I would kill you,” said Tope.
“Fool, you don’t even have my permission to dream or fantasise about such a fight.”
Elizabeth clapped her hands. “Wow! Exciting stuff. Black-Power and the Pan-African, at each other’s throats again. Stay tuned: we’ll be back after these commercials. If you can’t wait log on to our website for behind-the-scenes streaming content.”
The producer said something and they were all given five minutes off air. Elizabeth came straight for him.
“That stuff you said, was any of it true?” she asked. She wore Chanel, but he didn’t think it suited her.
“All of it was true.”
“Can you prove it?”
“No. Maybe. I think he was employed by the South African government at some point. I have some information that he draws a pension, but it’s buried deep.”
“You’re quite the dark horse, aren’t you? I feel we may never really know everything about the Pan-African or his motives.” She flicked a hair strand and turned away.
Was she flirting with him?
Detective Sipho Cele was breathing heavily. No, he must remember, Black-Power was breathing heavily, even though his small fracas with the drug gang was receding into the history of the day.
His PC had moved on, circulating others news from Africa in a torrent of chaotic themes; crime, pleasure, sport, business—and money, always money, as the African economic giant awoke slowly, starting to face off the Chinese and the fading Yanks.
But she hadn’t moved.
Gradually, he became aware of her small but focused presence. Thembeka, his assistant, breathing heavily at his side too—he turned to look at her.
“Was any of that true?”
“No,” he said, “They’re just lies from a master criminal of the past. Pan-African’s super-powers, formidable though they are, don’t even come close to the devious sharpness of his deluded brain.”
She smiled, but he could see she didn’t quite believe him.
The history of the day was just a flicker of moth wings to him.
But deeper history—well, Pan-African had reminded him of what he was ever avoiding.
Time and accountability.
KwaMashu, near Durban, South Africa
Now that was a bad year.
Actually, that was an esabeka year, a year so bad it gave him nightmares still.
The year opened gently, with no hint of the tremors and traumas to come. But there were rumblings up North and—although he was growing comfortable in his Native Affairs job as a clerk in kwaMashu, near Durban—he finally decided that with great power, comes at least some small accountability.
There was a good man—an important man—in trouble, and he needed help.
A new black president, democratically elected as the Continent had started to sweep its way free from former colonial masters. There had not been enough sweeping in this country though, up north, where the Belgians and the Yanks remained in place conniving to keep their source of uranium and precious minerals intact for their Frigid Global War.
The Congo Crisis, they called it, capturing the first democratic president of that country.
The president’s words rolled across the subsequent decades: “…what we wanted for our country—its right to an honourable life, to perfect dignity, to independence with no restrictions—was never wanted by Belgian colonialism and its Western allies…”
So it was with that Gatsha Mchunu—as he called himself then—took leave and headed North. He moved rapidly, partly hanging on the backs of trains, other parts leaping across borders at night with great strides that took him hundreds of feet into the air.
His face was masked; his body encased in a plain black body-suit for night time camouflage.
Black-Power, he thought, I shall call myself Black-Power.
He looked down at his body and thought again, Black-Power.
And so, at last, Black-Power arrived in Katanga province of the newly independent Congolese Republic.
Elizabethville, generally a quiet and sleepy copper town he’d heard, was humming with activity and military convoys moving in and out. He saw some white faces, overheard some South African accents and knew there were mercenaries and probably South African military, as well as Katangese secessionist forces about.
By this time he was dressed in a poor, ill-fitting jacket and trousers, scuffed shoes and hat crammed down on his broad head. Masks would only attract unnecessary attention.
He was given wary directions to the airport by a few locals, who appeared to mistrust both his accent and his size.
The airport was cordoned off, so he waited for night, in nearby bushes. Wet from a sudden furious burst of late afternoon warm rain, he changed out of his sodden suit.
Masked, suited and booted, he waited.
A few distant flashes of lightning lit up the dull runway.
The gods must be about.
It was then that he saw a plane had already landed.
There was no more time to wait.
He hurtled over the fence, bounded once on the tarmac and smashed through the back door of the plane.
It was a small plane, but he could smell blood on board.
Only one man stood facing him, looking startled and bemused. A white man, dressed in pilot overalls, who spoke in French.
“What do you want?” The man looked wan and tired, as if he had been ill recently.
“Where is he?”
The pilot shrugged, “They have taken him somewhere, I don’t know…”
Black-Power looked outside, his gaze scanning the horizon for movement. There was a flicker in the distance, a jeep heading off road.
Night fell fast in this area of the world.
He stepped outside, crouched and leapt. In one furious bound, he was soaring over the perimeter fence.
A few troops below opened fire on him, bullets whistling past in the deepening gloom.
As he soared through the air, he watched.
The jeep was parked by a ramshackle house, roof crumbling in disrepair.
He was coming back to Earth.
Within the house.
He crashed through the roof and landed, boots buckling wooden floorboards beneath him.
He could smell death.
Warm and recent death.
Patrice Lumumba lay, broken by boots and bullets, crumpled on his back and bayoneted too, just for good measure.
The other men in the room recoiled as dust and roof debris continued to cascade down.
Black-Power took the scene in, with a cool and gathering rage.
The group were Belgians and Katangese, although they also had the background stench of the CIA hovering about them. Two other men lay dead nearby. The man holding the bloodied bayonet was a Katangese government official he vaguely knew.
“…They have corrupted some of our countrymen; they have bought others; they have done their part to distort the truth and defile our independence. What else can I say? That whether dead or alive, free or in prison by orders of the colonialists, it is not my person that is important…”
With one step forward, Black-Power had snapped the man’s neck with a flick of the fingers on his right hand.
He caught the dropped rifle and with one smooth motion had slung the bayonet in and through the torso of a Belgian official, one who had looked the most senior, perhaps even in charge.
The man coughed bright and bubbling blood.
No one moved, stunned and frozen in disbelief.
Without a word, Black-Power stooped and cradled the dead President Patrice Lumumba in his arms.
“…Neither brutal assaults, nor cruel mistreatment, nor torture have ever led me to beg for mercy, for I prefer to die with my head held high, unshakeable faith and the greatest confidence in the destiny of my country, rather than live in slavery and contempt for sacred principles.”
With a scream of fury, Black-Power crashed through the roof again, hurtling skywards, wishing he could fly away, far away, from this chaotic, damaged Earth.
Instead, though, he finally found and secretly gave the President’s body to his widow, who was grief-faced and quiet, dry of tears, having already received his last words:
“My beloved companion: I write you these words not knowing whether you will receive them, when you will receive them; and whether I will still be alive when you read them…
Do not weep for me, my companion; I know that my country, now suffering so much, will be able to defend its independence and its freedom. Long live the Congo! Long live Africa!
Nineteen Sixty One, yes, now that was indeed a terrible year. The Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa had followed in March; the white apartheid State of South Africa withdrew from the Commonwealth and called itself a Republic at the end of May; the UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold—he secretly knew—had indeed been shot down in skies that were to become Zambian in September of that year, but no, he would not let the litany of that dreadful year to go on and on and on. Back to now.
“…History will one day have its say; it will not be the history that is taught in the United Nations, Washington, Paris or Brussels, however, but the history taught in the countries that have rid themselves of colonialism and its puppets. Africa will write its own history and both North and South of the Sahara it will be a history full of glory and dignity…” (Lumumba, Patrice, 1961)
How he hated history and Pan-African’s reminders to him of how little he had changed the course of political events within Africa.
What had he done, himself, apart from grow fat on his crime?
But Black-Power knew his was an old justification, his fear that taking sides so sharply would end up making the political bloodshed even greater. He had dreaded the sense that he might end up carrying so much more directly the vast weight of a multitude of dead souls, who might have followed him into an ensuing and even greater conflagration.
So, instead he had straddled ideological fences through the following decades, concentrating on protecting the innocent from the smaller struggles of crime and the moral simplicities of natural disasters.
But, in the process, he had increasingly grown more doubtful of his own mission and sense of self.
The Saharan Battle in the late seventies had been the final straw—broken in body more than he would have liked to admit, he had disappeared into retirement.
“Black-Power?” Thembeka’s touch on his arm was gentle, querying.
He realised with a start he had been slumped in his chair, brooding, lost in a year that had stripped his hopes and dreams away.
He smiled at her.
“We have a drug-factory to break up, don’t we?”
She grinned back at him and his heart lifted.
He stood up, old aches reminding him of history yet again. “Pan-African,” he swore to himself. “Next time I will finish you once and for all!”
The show was over. It fizzled out after the telephone fireworks with Black-Power, but Elizabeth seemed pleased. She kept taking phone calls and was unable to keep a smile off her face. Tope presumed her friends and co-workers were congratulating her. He sat in the same chair as technicians dismantled the set. They looked bored, as if they had done it a million times. A few people brought him items to autograph; a Wanted poster, an old newspaper article, a 1977 Black-Power comic showing him and Tope locked in combat with a caption that read “THIS TIME… TO THE DEATH!” He smiled when he signed that.
“Nostalgia?” asked Elizabeth. She was at his elbow and he hadn’t noticed her walk up.
“No, not really. Just amusement. These comics were propaganda tools.”
“Haba! Now you’re being completely paranoid. The comics were harmless fun aimed at children. At most they can be said to be evil for perpetuating bad art and repetitive, clichéd storylines with simplistic moral lessons.” She took the comic, with its yellowed paper and handed it to the engineer, then looked up into Tope’s eyes.
“You’re a journalist, Miss Kokoro-”
“Call me Elizabeth.”
“Elizabeth. You’re a journalist. I expect better. Examine the facts. I did.” He halted the engineer and took the comic back. He flipped open the first page and showed Elizabeth the copyright strip at the bottom. “See this? MKD Press. Do you know what that is?”
“I checked.” Tope dismissed the engineer. “MKD Press had no local offices. The copies of Black-Power comic were shipped in regularly in large quantities on Thursday every week from England. MKD Press did have a London office, but no association with Fleet Street or United Kingdom press establishment. I followed the money. It led to Langley, to the CIA. MKD Press was generated out of Project MKDelta. Do you know what that is?”
“No, I’ve never heard of it.”
“Have you heard of MKUltra?”
“Yes, mind control experiments that the CIA ran in the sixties and early seventies? Trying to create Manchurian Candidates, perfect assassins, human automata.”
“Exactly. Only MKUltra was domestic, within the United States. MKDelta was the same program, but for foreign countries. They didn’t even try to hide the association much because they didn’t think anybody would look into their under-priced children’s comics.”
“What made you suspicious?”
“The details of the storylines were similar to encounters that Black-Power and I had. Watered down, simplified, but with facts that only he or I could know. Black-Power got his abilities from aliens and I got mine when I was struck by lightning as a child. Bullshit. Then I found what I suspected to be subliminal messages in the dialogue. I analysed the paper, the print, the ink, even the poses and body language of the characters. Many of the issues were impregnated with chemicals that might be classified as mind-altering. The comics were not harmless fun, Elizabeth.”
“I think I need to know more,” said Elizabeth. “Do you have time for a drink?”
“Give me some minutes. I’ll meet you at reception when I’ve taken off this.”
“You look quite attractive in that outfit.”
She waved this away. “Stage craft. I’m better in my own clothes.”
While he waited Bank came up to him. The young man had developed a habit of walking with his face glued to his tablet, assuming he knew where he was going.
“Bank, put that thing away,” said Tope.
“The money is in your account,” said Bank. “These people keep their promises at least.”
“Shall we go home?”
“There’s no hurry. Find us a hotel and you can take the rest of the night off.”
“What are you going to do?”
“See the sights.”
“Yes, sir.” With a mock salute Bank spun and left. He had not made eye-contact once during the conversation. The boy was in love with his computer.
“And call your mother to say you’re not coming back tonight. I do not want her wrath.”
They had excellent seats in a bar that projected out on to the lagoon. The floor-to-ceiling windows showed the water glittering with the reflection of the city lights. Elizabeth wore a sleeveless jumper and khakis. He appreciated the tautness of her muscles and the smoothness of her skin.
She drank a gin and tonic; he drank mineral water with a twist.
“No alcohol?” she asked.
“It’s a school night,” he said. “Mind if I ask you a question?”
“I’m not going to be so uncouth as to ask your age, but you were a reporter back in the seventies. You must be pushing sixty, but you look about thirty. What is your voodoo and how can I get some of it?”
She laughed like a girl. “Fiendish exercise, a personal dietician, workaholism and a very expensive team of plastic surgeons.”
“I forgot to add two ex-husbands.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Don’t be. One was a cheat and the other was gay.”
“I’d have thought they’d have been more discreet.”
“There’s no such thing, Tope. If it’s in the airwaves, if it’s digitised, if it’s been typed, I can get to it. There are no secrets from me.”
“Except in people’s heads.”
“Except in people’s heads,” she said. “But you can access that data.”
“Have you read my mind?”
“Read it now.”
Tope got an image of a parrot with an enormous human penis growing on its back. “Oh, you are so juvenile,” he said.
She laughed. “I had to see if you were for real.”
“You couldn’t imagine pretty flowers and chocolate?”
“Tope, why did you do the interview?” she asked, serious.
“For the money. You came to me, remember?”
Tope was drinking at the beer parlour with Bank who was just old enough for liquor and a few men whose names he could not remember. They argued about the Olympics and Usain Bolt’s merits when compared with Carl Lewis.
This townie girl came up, followed by a cloud of catcalls and whistles. She wore shorts and burdened under a backpack, but there was steel in her eyes. On closer look she wasn’t a girl, but her beauty was uncontested.
“Which one of you is Tope Adedoyin?”
“I’m Tope,” said Bank.
“No, I’m Tope,” said a man drunk from oguro.
A few others identified themselves as Tope and the woman sucked her teeth and turned away, generating a roar of laughter. Tope got up and went after her.
“Miss? Miss, don’t mind them. I’m the one you’re after. Can I help you?”
She stopped, stared him down, and squinted. “Do you remember me?”
“No, sorry,” Tope said, dragging the syllables out in his uncertainty.
“Ahh, from…you used to do those reports on Black-Power.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Why are you here?”
“I want to do a biopic on the Pan-African. It’ll be-”
“Fuck off.” Tope turned away and went back to his drink.
“You are so stubborn! I’ve never seen a person so unwilling to be handed buckets of cash,” said Elizabeth.
“I didn’t need any money,” said Tope. “I only decided to do it so that Bank and a few of the other kids from the settlement can go to university.”
“How is it that the government hasn’t bulldozed that settlement to the ground anyway?”
“They’ve tried. Strange maladies come upon the men who carry out the orders. Sooner or later, squatters’ rights will kick in. Some of this money is going to a good lawyer too.”
“What happened to all the money you stole when you were the Pan-African?”
“I didn’t actually steal a lot of money.”
When the dust settled in the vault, Tope inclined his head and the men loped inside to fill their bags.
“Ignore the Rands and concentrate on the gold,” said Tope. “Be quick. We should be out of here within ten minutes.”
The bank officials and security guards seemed oddly calm, and he would have suspected that they had set off an alarm, except, he scanned their thoughts and no such thing had been done. There were no approaching police.
Tope was confused and tired. He had been fighting alongside Cubans and Chinese specialists against the South African Defence Force over Angola. He had spent the last year observing the Angolan independence from the Portuguese. When the whole quagmire descended into civil war it was impossible to decide what side to fight on. MPLA, FNLA, UNITA, what the fuck? Jonas Savimbi was a canny operator, taking support from Communist China and the United States as it suited him.
In the middle of all of this there were starving, diseased and displaced women and children. Tope had decided to help them, but he would need money, hence the excursion south to a Cape Town bank.
He heard gunfire and shattering glass.
He left the vault, went into the main banking hall and saw Alamu on the floor, skull caved in and trailing a long smear of blood that led to broken glass doors. His assault rifle was still in his hands, twisted in on itself like a strip of barbed wire.
“What’s happening?” said Paulo.
“Your job is to load the gold,” said Tope. “I’ll deal with this.”
Outside on the street the van they had planned for the getaway was flattened, like a car in a junk yard compactor. There was a man standing on it. He wore a mask and black cape and a skin-tight body suit. And he was familiar.
“If you surrender now, you won’t taste the might of Black-Power!” said the man.
It was all Tope could do not to laugh. “Brother, is that you?”
The masked man approached and recognised Tope. “What the hell is wrong with your hair?” he said.
“It’s called an Afro. You know, like the Jackson Five.”
“It looks ridiculous.” He looked beyond Tope and saw the rest of the men. “Are you robbing this bank?”
“Brother, will you not greet me with a kiss? I haven’t seen you in-”
“You were supposed to stay up north.”
“I know. Things happened. I have been travelling around the world. I have much to tell you.”
“You can tell me from jail. There can be only one penalty for breaking the law.”
Black-Power stamped his foot and the shock wave cracked the floor and disabled the robbers, except Tope.
“Brother, there is no need for violence. This money is going to feed women and children in Angola.”
Black-Power’s eyes crackled with energy and dark intent. Tope scarcely recognised him. He was heart-broken that his brother would even contemplate aggression.
“You’ve been with the humans too long,” said Tope. He levitated, flew out and up, away from Cape Town.
The waiter refilled his glass.
“When they reported it I was some kind of super-criminal coward. The men felt left behind, so perhaps there was some truth to it, but there were tears in my eyes,” said Tope.
“Because you were brothers,” said Elizabeth.
“Yes.” He paused. “He looked so ridiculous in that fucking cape.”
“It was kind of stupid, wasn’t it?”
They both burst into laughter, loud brays of it which startled the other patrons and drew frowns from the genteel waiters.
“So what did you do?”
“Do? You know what I did. I made a costume of my own and fought back.”