I’m no orator,” the man on the platform grinned. “Even my appearance hardly qualifies me as a politician.”
“I am surprised that you know!” A shrill voice jeered from somewhere causing a mild wave of laughter to sweep through the crowd.
Like every other person around this community, I had already made up my mind on whom to vote for. Sir Malachi who campaigned last week had given out clothes to widows and bags of rice to every household. Chief Brown had been more generous, handing out wads of notes to everyone that came out to the campaign ground. This dreamer had not distributed anything yet, and nothing showed that he would do so immediately after this campaign. It was the unbearably hot weather that had driven most of us out to this community football field; to this rally. Besides, I craved some pastime. If not for the power cut since yesterday, I would have been indoors watching TV.
“I haven’t come here to promise that I will build for you streets of gold and hanging gardens,” the man creaked after the rumbling died out. He didn’t seem like someone used to loud talks. He didn’t seem like a man used to exposing himself to harsh weather. Many people in the crowd hissed, disappointed that he had not said something funny to earn their laughter. “I haven’t come here to promise to install taps running with milk and honey. I would be insulting your intelligence, just as those politicians have always insulted us every campaign year. HONESTY has been my weakness. I find it hard to lie, even when it is for my advantage. For instance, I could have gotten a psychologist to compose a speech that would hypnotize you as other politicians do. I could have chosen words that would play on emotions; work you into frenzy; make you go crazy. Is that not what the others do? But I didn’t do so because I would choke with guilt. If I can’t look you in the eyes and tell you what I think, then I must be more dangerous than a witch. I wouldn’t deserve your audience…”
The whole place had turned so quiet that a dropped pin would have echoed. We just stared at him, like people hypnotized. The sun had moved some way towards the horizon enveloping the speaker’s head in a gold halo just like in the pictures of Jesus and the saints of the church, such that those of us who didn’t put on caps had to shield our eyes with our hands from the glory of his face. Now the breeze blew southerly, making his voice soar above our heads and then drop on us like a fisher’s net, reverberating in our ears like when God talked to His prophets in movies. Somehow, I began to imagine that the man’s beard was thicker, that the platform on which he was standing was a mountain, that his jumper was a flowing gown, that the megaphone in his right hand was a staff or a stone tablet. Although I could have sworn that I had maintained my original position, I couldn’t explain how I now seemed to be standing close enough to touch the turn-up of his trousers with an outstretched hand.
Some people whispered that his middle name was Angelo. Some even called him Angel Gabriel, who had brought messages of comfort for fainting hearts. Some others said he was the Angel Michael that had come to slay the Dragon of poverty that was ravaging homes. Now, most of us just nodded like agama lizards at whatever he said. Although I did not like this man yet, it would be unjust to deny that he seemed to be a nice person.
“CHANGE!” he barked. “TRANSFORMATION! That is what we need. And we can have it! We must have it! They’ve not lied to us and looted our treasures all this time because they are cleverer than us. NO! They succeed because we let them. But I say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”
I felt hatred stir within me like a waking snake. Slowly, it rose from my abdomen to surge my heart for all public office holders, both elected and appointed. I thought of our Councillor, who had relocated to his newly built duplex in a different Local Government Council a few months after winning elections, and I wished I had punched him in the face the last time I ran into him at some shopping mall downtown. I looked down at my left toe, which I had almost knocked off when I dashed it on a rock some three nights ago as a result of the citywide blackout. I thought of the sorry state of my street which got flooded during the rainy season, hampering movement of both humans and machines. I hissed as I started to recount how many times those politicians had insulted my intelligence during each campaign year.
“Enough is enough!” the speaker barked again raising a clenched fist.
“Enough is enough!” I sensed my voice rising above those around me.
“From the beginning of time,” the man went on in the voice of a burdened prophet, “the heavens have always sought for a man to send; a man that will stand in the gap; a man that will serve. And very few, as you can attest, have ever yielded themselves for real service. I am standing before you all this afternoon to say, ‘Here am I, send me! Anytime! Any day! Anywhere! I will go!’ All I want to do is to serve. What you need is a servant. One that knows what you want. I’m one of you. I’m on your side. WE ARE TOGETHER! WE ARE ONE!”
“Go for us!” I joined the others to roar. “Go for us!” I screamed, wiping his crocodile-skin shoe with my handkerchief.
Uchenna Ekweremadu (@) writes from Kaduna, Nigeria. Apart from fiction and other forms of prose, he also experiments on poetry. He was Longlisted for the Erbacce Prize For Poetry 2015; he made the First Runner-up for PEN Nigeria/Saraba Magazine Poetry Prize 2011, and made it to the Book of Winners, Castello di Duino International Poetry Competition 2010. His works have appeared in Coe Review, The Write Room, Saraba Magazine, Wilderness House Literary, A&U American AIDS Magazine, Kalahari Review and elsewhere. He shares some of his thoughts at http://www.uchennamadu.wordpress.com.
Related country: Nigeria