Home And Away: Lugala at Large.

"Hand Shake, Plastic Smiles, Music and Dance, Home Away From Home...If they get lost in the suburbs of their former days of grinding poverty they can easily find their way to the five-star hotel."

By Victor Lugala
The Big Man combed his beard, then carefully adjusted his sunglasses in front of a wall mirror. He swung his favourite cowboy hat on his head, quickly glanced at his Rolex wrist watch, and grabbed a wooden walking stick to complete an elder's look. 
When a veteran soldier is not carrying a gun, he must carry a stick, just in case he steps on a snake by mistake. 
With his feet warming in well-polished Italian leather shoes, he gracefully walked out and entered his sleek limousine, ready to fly to the east where things were cooking.
On the plane the Big Man declined to eat. He was fasting in preparation for the task ahead. After shutting his eyes in meditation for a while he opened them, looking bored. He reached for the breast pocket of his suit and whipped out an expensive Parker pen. He also fished out a small notebook from his trouser pocket and started scribbling his signature. “Hiii! How come my signature looks different today?” The Big Man wondered. He went on practising his signature on the leaves of the notebook as if it was a new hobby.
He shook his head and his hat swayed as if he was enjoying some favourite music. “I have taken too long without signing a decree, maybe that’s why my signature doesn’t look consistent. Practice makes perfect,” he assured himself with a smile and continued scribbling, the ring on his finger gleaming. He looked through the window and breathed deeply.
In another part of the world where there's rain, cold, and restrain, another big man is waking up to the news of the summit. He is emerging from an empty room, sweating and singing. He has been doing physical exercise because of late he has been gaining extra kilos due to confinement. With his left hand he rubbed his tummy with a smile of satisfaction.
He had no time to waste. His mobile phone suddenly started ringing incessantly. His WhatsApp was being inundated with messages from supporters, friends, family members, his wife. After dressing up in a suit, necktie and ring on the finger he stood before a wall mirror. He regarded his figure with a shy smile which revealed a conspicuous gap in his front row teeth. He looked at his open right paw and kissed it. Then he also looked at the left paw and kissed it as if his luck was smeared there.
On the plane bound for the East, he read a newspaper, concentrating on the World Cup sports stories. The man loves football. He also browsed through the horoscope column. He looked at the sealing of the plane thoughtfully, then shifted his gaze to the window, into space. He stifled a yawn. At the back of his mind he wondered how he was going to meet the Big Man he had not seen in two years except on the telly or newspapers. Then he looked at his right hand and kissed it softly. He also thought about his wife. He shifted a bit in his seat to make himself comfortable. Maybe he was nervous and excited at the same time?
The stage managers bid with their lips. And they could swear by the soil of the earth where their ancestors were buried long time ago that they were qualified to do the job.  The veterans bragged and thumped their distended chests that they had a rich track record. But surprisingly, a greenhorn who emerged from obscurity scooped the show, putting to test his youthful charm. The youthful master juggler himself, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, is a beneficiary of an ‘early exit policy’ of a considerate elder brother. He is proving to doubting Thomases that with the mantle firmly in his grip, yes, he can!
How he dealt with the gladiators who were pulling in different directions was a feat in itself.
It was like a fairy-tale poorly constructed. The story tellers were destroying the yarn as it went on and on, getting out of control. A bad story, an observer would conclude.
The concern was the characters in the story. The inferno at the centre of it. When the owners, not errant tenants mind you, who were consumed by corrosive anger, set their new house on fire. Neighbours who invested heavily in their expensive houses will get worried. They don't fold their hands but will each try to come to the rescue with a pale of water to put out the fire. But the fire was too big for a pale of water.
But when the inferno rages on, and infants and elderly people are burned to death, some survivors will run to the neighbours, and the orphaned children will have no milk because they are deprived of the lifesaving mammary glands, it turns out the chief characters in the fairy-tale escaped unhurt. Elephants being elephants, destructive in nature, could they have been the cause of the inferno in their own quarters?
To tackle the problem of orphaned children and survivors scattered in the houses of neighbours, it was inconsequential to ask silly questions about the who or the what or whose grass torch started the fire in the first place. All those details are laid bare in the fairy-tale retold over and over until neighbours’ ears are tired.
That is how other stage managers came in, in good faith? Inshallah.
Going by the adage that too many cooks spoil the soup, the new stage manager, the Young Turk referred to earlier, summoned the chief characters in the fairy-tale, the elephants who could not see eyeball to eyeball because both of them were wounded emotionally. It was therefore decided that they were to undergo some initial therapy in a healing garden.
The elephants ate humble pie apiece although in the background their angry supporters were puffing and huffing and casting doubts on the approach of the Young Turk.
“How can he succeed where others have failed?” Others said.
“What type of therapy is this?”
But before the so-called contagious handshake could happen, nerves were stilled, and the elephants cast aspersions on the motive of the Young Turk, the new kid on the block, probably a descendant of King Solomon with a streak of wisdom in his veins, age notwithstanding.
"Go! But beware of a booby-trap. Tread with care!"
"Don't go! Don’t trust that cunning guy. He could be hiding a short gun under his arm!"
"Go! But don't shake his hand!"
"Don't go! We can see the fire of revenge burning in his eyes.”
Diehard supporters on each side across the diving line, especially the hardliners, urged their patron.
“Should I? Should I not?”  Each one of the two chief characters pondered in their privacy. “And what is the consequence of not going, of not doing what is expected of me, of us?”
Finally, common sense, which is not common among hardliners, prevailed on the two chief characters. After all, it is more fun grazing together as a herd, they reasoned, as they offered each other the sign of peace on the prompting of the Young Turk stage manager. Hands were shaking and they still looked at each other with suspicion. They were actually shy to look at each other.
“You, you, don’t try it here.”
“Watch out! Don’t try anything untoward lest I call my boys”
To calm down nerves, there was a banquet. Glasses of champagne clicked. Time for small talk. Guided talk. Cautious talk. No smiles. No laughter yet.
Then it was time to part.
"But why did we come here in the first place? Why did we shake hands?"
"It is routine, comrade, if you don’t know. We are performing on a world stage, if you like."
"If it is about acting, I'm staying put to rehearse."
"Shauri yako. You can stay in the Jacuzzi or soak yourself in the swimming pool.  By the way, you can go to the disco to dance. Bye-bye comrade, I'm going back home. But don’t follow me, don’t say I didn’t warn you."
“Where did my wife place my English-Swahili dictionary?”
Fast forward. Another venue. Another day. Same setting. Same agenda. Different mood. More players, but with the same two chief characters. Something seems to have changed their attitude. They look a bit relaxed in the presence of another stage manager, the devil they both know. They feel at home here. The territory and people's faces are familiar. The environment is not new. They were here before. They also have extended relatives here. If they get lost in the suburbs of their former days of grinding poverty they can easily find their way to the five-star hotel.
There is small talk. Big talk. Plastic smiles for the cameras. And handshakes. And music. Arab music. Finger clicking in the air and thumping of feet on the carpet.
The stage manager here is an old hand. He has hook and bait. He is a go-getter. He knows what he wants from his two guests. It is not the handshake he wants to secure, but the interest of his house.
Signatures land on paper and there is more music and dance. Little people back home are cupping their chins in their hands, wondering if this was not another attempt at ‘making unity attractive’ again.
This agenda is going in circles like a funeral drum being moved from one corner to another to bust the jinx. Now it has moved three different venues. Where next?
This is a new venue. The same chief actors. The venue is familiar to the actors. They have interests here. They talk and talk and talk until their jaws get tired like people who have been forced to chew dry maize. The video camera lenses are focusing on them. The script is the same. The directors are the same, missing is the Young Turk. Handshake. Serious look. Suppressed smile. The acting is Wakandalike.
"We have been asked to work together again."                       
"Me and you? How? And where?"
"Don’t you know?"
"Don't raise your voice, the cameras are rolling."
"It wasn't me."
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