Malnourished Mind

"Flies buzz over the fallen neem fruits, while mosquitoes attack me in broad daylight. Malaria and typhoid have been bumped off the medical register by the rib-roaring Coronavirus."

By Victor Lugala

The book fell when I tried to slap a mosquito. Where was my mind? The benches are empty, the wood is rotting from over-exposure to tropical rains. I could move from one bench to another if I chose. I could try a cozy one, if I wanted. But I have already warmed this one.

Yellow neem fruits fall on the concrete. They are in season. They are freshly scattered like eyes of a cat at night. A watchman or security guard, or self-styled informer in khaki apparel is monitoring me from a distance, pretending to be doing his rounds, carrying a chair, and shortly, he saunters on pillars of legs. Now he is peeing on the green grass near the basketball pitch. His stomach protrudes like capital letter B. Well fed. But he could even be sick, laboriously carrying around that big bag of grain. He is far but within range. He looks through dark sunglasses. An informer at work. Men at Work!

Why is he hiding his eyes? His shirt is tucked in his baggy pants, accentuating the luxury of his hard-won belly. Elsewhere they call it Patriotic Front. The days of African liberation movements are long gone with Nyerere, Samora, Nujoma, Mugabe – poor old Bob (RIP).

Nothing sinister protrudes from the man's hip. Maybe he has hidden it in his socks. People no longer hide money in socks - old-fashioned trick known to thieves, even the Toronto boys of Juba know.

I'm sitting on a wooden bench under a neem tree and reading a fat book. My mind is malnourished. I'm an island among old buildings given a new coat of painting. The buildings breathe a bygone culture when made in Great Britain Austin trucks were the mode of public transport. This could be a primary school somewhere in Francis Kere's rural Burkina Faso. There is there, and here is here. The blazing sun, our comfort. Our free vitamin from God. The harsh sun makes us sweat and excrete toxins lodged in our innards.

Neem trees don't seem to have any fragrance. Then why do flies love the fruits? If a heap of shit cannot repel green flies, nothing else can. Neem is a bitter tree from roots, to stem, to the leaves, to flowers. Good toothpaste. A herbal miracle. I want to chew those yellow fruits like bananas. They are also a source of the much sought-after vitamin c.

When I finish reading the book, I'll then go home to digest how my day went under a cool neem tree. On a bare bench. When the book fell. Students are in recess from Coronavirus. They are locked down like dissident politicians under house arrest. They are conditioned to rotate around their compounds with facemasks on to protect against Coronavirus. Or not to spread the virus which is a wanton killer.

They used to crowd at the canteen and photocopier. They could be sued for copyright violation. Copying chunks of pages. How will authors of academic books get royalties? Arrest them, students and their teachers!

"What are you doing here, sir?"


"But you are killing mosquitoes in broad day light."

" I'm reading, buddy!"

I don't turn. I don't see the owner of the voice. A man's voice. Maybe an imposter. Agenda. World Order Re-Ordered. Ideology. The fragmented voices are coming out of the book. Which just fell on the concrete, crunching the ripe neem fruits.

Flies buzz over the fallen neem fruits, while mosquitoes attack me in broad daylight. Malaria and typhoid have been bumped off the medical register by the rib-roaring Coronavirus.

While I’m fighting infamous local wars with menacing mosquitoes, I can’t hear the hum of traffic outside the fence. In the main road. Last Christmas a bodaboda operator was knocked down by a drunk motorist. I don't know how to ride a motorcycle. I love the elegance of scooters though.

This book is like a human being. The cover is smooth, but the inner pages are coarse like a mean, evil heart. Maybe because of this intruding thought, the book fell. If the concrete were to be clean enough, I would have crouched on my knees, pick the book and lie on the concrete like a mechanic and dissect it.

The book is heavy, the content erudite. It has taken hold of me. Hostage of sorts. I'm an intellectual hostage. Books take me prisoner. Like a sex pet.

I use them and jump to bed with another one tomorrow, to absorb and be absorbed. Knowledge soaks. Until the book fell. This book is illegal. It must be banned! Punch holes in some of the subversive sentences. But who is reading fat books written in the archaic English of Shakespeare when the world was still an adolescent? Who is reading in lockdown? Adults are playing games on their handsets or shouting at girlfriends who are demanding for more airtime to speak to their real boyfriends. Social media friendships are a liability.

.... Until the book fell on the concrete floor at sunset.

I stand in the sun to punish the mosquitoes. If the students were around to occupy the empty benches the mosquitoes would have distributed themselves evenly. But for now, I'm the only victim around. In broad daylight. Parasites!

When I finish reading this book I'll have completed a journey through a jungle of synthesis. I'll take a break in lockdown. This new virus has dusted old words for current use. New wine in old bottles. After this the old world will wait for a century for another epidemic to germinate. Could be worse. Anyway, who will be there to witness another suffering, anxiety, and double lockdown?

I say to myself, pick up that book before the wind blows it away and set the pages loose like B S Johnson's The Unfortunates.

And what is wrong with that? Let us all read a page or two of the seditious literature.

The fellow over there is pulling up his pants from the waist. He is suffering from loneliness. He is bored. Why can’t he call a friend on phone to give him virtual company? The fellow has no chin. Had the students been around they would have given him company. He would have told them about his adolescent life. Maybe he was a pickpocket or an alter boy. The students would have bought him coffee. Maybe he is a pimp.

I'm enjoying the golden rays of the sunset. Dusk is approaching. I must gather myself and head home before curfew. I didn't finish reading the book when it fell. Is the fellow looking at me? Does he know the content of the book? Is the fellow one of the guys from the bureau of censorship? At the exit will he ask to see the book title? If I don't hide the book he will not bother. He will think it is a chemistry textbook. Or history text.

He is yawning, his uncovered mouth is wide open. How much does his system release into space? I don't want to know. He has no chin. He has not laughed since morning. He is bored.

I look at the book. The book stares back at me. Its seditious title dares me.

"Hi buddy?" The fellow waves at me. He is grinning. The wrinkles at the corner of his eyes make him look older.

" Hi, " I respond timidly, as I walk by.

"Have you read enough for the day, eh? Reading is healthy food for the head. Intellectual man." He laughs loudly. The word intellectual tickles him. Intellectual.

I nod. He adjusts his glasses. He pulls up his pants by the cowboy belt. He loves his style. He pretends to know the book.

"Hi pal, can I see that book?"

What? I murmur to myself.

I hold up the book. Like a mirror. His lips move inaudibly.

He smiles deceptively.

"I like the book cover. I used to have a shirt like that. Good. Go well and be safe from Corona. " He pronounces the word Corona as if it was an illegal love affair. I can’t say much because I’m wearing a face mask, the fellow is not.

Rain clouds are gathering. Memory grows cold. The book cover creases as I step into the world of the new normal.

“Panke!” Who is that calling my name? Nobody. It must be the wind. “Panke…” Wind is not wind. It is a passing spirit of the dead, known and unknown. It must be a friendly spirit of a dead poet.

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