The New Gong
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He came hurtling down, hitting the ground with a deafening thud. No doubt he was impelled by a greater
power. The sheer force of the propulsion was indescribable. Next he was tossed high up, careering in a
zigzag trajectory that defied tracking. This time he landed with an exaggerated bounce and rolled through the
remaining distance like a log off a lorry.
He stood up groggily, limping. Looking around he found there was nowhere else to go. Then a stern voice
called out.
“Who sent you hither?”
The question came from nowhere. The questioner being invisible, the questioned couldn’t have given his
answer to the wind. Keeping mum, he pretended he hadn’t heard.
Thinking himself earthbound hitherto – his two feet, at least – he now discovered he was tumbling still. He let
the waves take him this time, neither aiding nor resisting.     
“Who sent you?” the questioner persisted.
With heart solid as an iroko, the questioned resolved not to utter a word lest he lose his voice. Like once
upon a man in his neighbourhood who answered an early morning hail over his fence.
Appalled by the temerity of the silence, perhaps, the questioner materialised – for want of how else to put it.
Its face was a blur of mist. His entire frame cascaded billows of clouds to present the most unearthly creature
ever beheld. To make matters worse, one could not entirely delineate the silhouette from the camouflage the
backdrop presented. Which would not have been a problem had the reverse been the case.
“Wayfarer,” the figure emitted with palpable gusto. “Who sent you on this errand?”
It was as if all its strength had been expended in the effort to become visible. Slowly it dissolved into the
clouds it had emanated from.
No doubt he was that lord upon a time who once ruled over the wayfarer’s land in proxy for the kings and
queens of his distant empire at the height of the colonial era. No one from the country – or territory, as it was
then termed – could miss him. Not even the wayfarer born long after the man had lived and died in a foreign
land for his king – long did he reign!
The wayfarer’s eyes began to adjust to the light around him and he suddenly realised where he was. Both
feet this time were firmly on the ground. He was approaching a kind of garden, barefoot. The grassed path
he was walking along – led on by the appearing and disappearing spectre he had seen – was lined with
shrubs. It had an obscure plaque, Garden of Our Zeroes Past, fixed to the stem of an old tree where the
pathway arched sharply to the right.
The thickly moustachioed ghoul he had beheld sat on a stool fashioned from the stump of a tree. Festooned
in sweet-smelling petals, he was busy tending an aromatic blossom of sepals and metatarsals. All around him
adamantine boughs forged from eternity branched off coeval trees. Young shoots – like the one presently
taking more than his attention – sprouted around his either feet, trellised on the wind.
“My forefathers sent me,” our voyager managed.
“Your four fathers… You had four?”
“Yes. My forefathers sent me.”
“Did you chose to be sent or were you forced?”
“I could not have been forced. I opted. Had to…things got out of sync…”
“You have to be strong, then.”
“I was already strong,” he said, expecting a reprimand.
“You need to be stronger, then.”
“Stronger than I already am?”
“Even many times more than you already think you are.”
“I’m already as strong as I should be.”
“What are you armed with?”
“This, as you can see – the strongest weapon on the planet.”
“A mere quill pen? Not even a ballpoint.”
“What else should one have had?”
“What do you think those you are up against have?”
“They can have whatever they please. All I care about is mine.”
“Don’t be impudent about it.”
“I can see where you belong.”
“Yes, and I’m not ashamed about it.”
“You ought to be.”
“Well, I’m not.”
“The story of your country is not a fairytale like you imagine.”
“Until when, if I get you right?”
“From its beginning…to its eternity.”
“Not even the rigmarole like one had expected?”
“Well, you can call it that if you choose.”
The conversation left him reeling. Perhaps he had not been well detailed. The control of the government had
again changed hands within the military high command. A bizarre tradition in the country’s history saw power
only exchanging hands between the top brass. Young Turks who thought otherwise were invariably foiled.
“Anyway,” the grand old man said with finality, “I will send you to your proper master, your own person as the
case is… You must realise that indirect rule is still very much alive.”
He pointed the wayfarer to a different enclave in the garden.
The man he was sent to met him as he approached another arbour carved out of the surrounding foliage. He
was black, like predicted; and moustachioed, too. But the crop of hair on top of his upper lip was not of the
walrus kind favoured by the other. His was pencil lined and altogether dapper.
“What about our brothers in the Cameroons?” he asked, taking the wayfarer back to the time when half of
that French territory had been British.
“They are fine, master,” the wayfarer answered.
“Tell them I send my greetings.”
“I’ll do as much, master.”
He asked some other anachronistic questions before zeroing in on the present. “It is a pity what the
motherland has turned into,” he began. “To imagine the latest turn of events baffles me to the marrow.”   
“So what became of the interim president?” the wayfarer asked, beside himself with rage. The hen does not
forget who culled her tail feathers during the rains.
“Ah, he read the coup speech. What did you expect?”
“The onus automatically fell on him when his defence minister made the approach.”
The wayfarer could not have imagined this turn of events from Mr Walrus’s British half-suggestion earlier.
“I can’t believe this,” he replied, and added: “You want to tell me he left the warmth of the presidential palace
to creep to a radio station before the advent of dawn to topple his own government?”
“You make me want to laugh. This is not the first of its kind, if you don’t know. Well, it had all the trappings of
a presidential broadcast. Only that, seated behind the coat of arms, flags flapping full mast, he progressed to
lecture his fellow countrymen on the necessity of change.”
“And you say it has a precedent?”
“Oh yes, it does. Is it because the man who ended up doing it then was the most unlikely in the
“And when was this, if you’ll permit my asking?”
“The first coup and its aftermath, of course, when the civilian surrender to the military hierarchy fell on the
shoulders of the hapless senate president, the prime minister having been killed. As for the ceremonial
president, you will also recall that he had earlier fled abroad for medical check-up. Things did not start
happening today, my dear.”
Still a juvenile in those heady times, the education proved instructive. He took it all in, wondering what his
take would be on it when he had time to digest it.
Meanwhile, the marathon lecture was yet to abate.
“You who know so much from the fall of the second republic to the eve of the fourth, and yet you don’t know
about the demise of the first?”
“About as much as the history books tell us.”
“History books? Written by whom?”
“Participants and observers.”
“Both are alike. While the former will add more salt than is necessary, the latter – too far away from the action
– will overdo the pepper. Spice is only tolerable in half measures, my brother.”
“Leaving me where?”
“Where you shouldn’t have ever been.”
“And where should I have been?”
“In the murky crypt where all your predecessors ended up. You and your ilk often want to do too much and
end up failing even to leave this side of the journey.”
“And who are these my…?”
“Your Christian brothers, who else? You’ll find them in the Martyrs to a Lost Cause cove.”
“It is not my portion.”
“They, in turn, never imagined it was theirs, either. But that is where they are as we talk…”
“I must make progress.”
This escaped him involuntarily and got him wondering: was he now in charge or what? And did this represent
a form of progress? As he pondered these, another puzzle popped up: Where could he progress to without
the counsel of those who had gone before?
While he battled with these ruminations, a wind slowly spiralled him high up – like inflation in his motherland –
out of the Zeroes Past…  

The transmutation this time was both sublime and swift. The wayfarer noticed a switch of place at the very
instant he felt the soles of his feet touch the earth again. The chain of blocks that entered his purview was
actually made of steel. The repulsive structure ran in a line that extended as far as the horizon. On closer
observation, it appeared to be a military barracks. He hissed at the remembrances it conjured up.
Still reeling from the speed of the transmutation, he had stumbled on the stump of a member of his country’s
colonial constabulary. The uniform of the long calcified bombardier said it all. Before the astounded wayfarer
could say Everard – the surname of its last commandant – he was flat on his back, starring at the heavens.
Then a face came into view.
Slowly he sat upright, his eyes glued to the latest vision.
“You are alone?” the wayfarer was asked before he could even think. “I thought the two of you would have
come together.”
“With whom should I have come?” the wayfarer replied, amazed at the prophetic inclination of the question.
“Don’t you people come in pairs? Comrades, colleagues, accomplices and spouses.”
“How do you mean?”
“I’m not your man. Here he comes.”
Off he zoomed as the new man neared.
It was the Unknown Soldier. Always disappearing before he could account for his misdeeds. The list was
endless. Conquered cities have to be pillaged. And banks in fallen towns must have their vaults investigated
for weapons. It was no laughing matter yet for the women must also be accounted for – by the men and
officers as well. Rank plays no part in such systematic engagements, you know. And then there was child
Ordinarily, he and his antics ought to have been laid to rest – in an empty grave in the remembrance arcade
somewhere in the nation’s capital. But these supposed wartime heroics of his only ended up fazing out
before the superior firepower of the more nefarious acts heaped on his tombstone by successive colleagues
in power. Like when a band of servicemen attacked the house of an unarmed civilian, setting it on fire
etcetera. Old habits dying hard and stuff like that, you see.
To douse the popular outrage the military government of the day set up a panel of enquiry. They looked into
the matter for days, weeks and months only to discover that the unholy act was perpetrated by no other
cadre but him. Unknown Soldier, na ‘im do am…
“Yes, that was how we struck,” the new entrant uttered off the cuff, truncating the reverie. “We took them
This time around there was no disguise. He stood there as plain as day, grinning from lobe to lobe. He was
so lucent the wayfarer couldn’t have failed to identify him. Not even if all he had to do so was the artist’s
impression of him on the cover of his primary school exercise books clearing the high jump bar at the
Commonwealth Games that netted his country its first international gold medal. It mattered not that in the
lucid illustration he had only a spike shoe on.
As if he did not turn out more controversial in death than he had been in life, Emmanuel stood there
unperturbed by the elements – then as well as now.
Then did the wayfarer realise that the questions he had harboured for the Unknown Soldier had actually
been meant for his present companion. But it was too late now. In that pithy interval, things had changed
from a priori to a posteriori.
“Didn’t you also shock your very selves?” the wayfarer asked in return.
“Not as far as the revolution was concerned.”
“Revo-what? For removing an elected government by force of arms and installing Everard’s successor like
he decreed: that military intervention in politics must respect espirit de corps?”
“His successor?”
“Who else did you install?”
“Forget the revisionists. Ours was a well thought out revolution.”
“Only turned out not well fought out, eh?”
“Other factors came into play.”
“That you hadn’t projected in your plan?”
“All the same we struck when we had to.”
“Must be why in Biafra you chose not to strike till you were rounded up and executed like dogs?”
This one hit him below the belt. He rued it openly, his face contorted by deeply felt grief.
“If only they had not killed him,” he blurted.
“Who killed whom?”
“My companion in life... If he had lived to that time in question, all that would not have come to pass.”
“And where does he happen to be now, if I still have the permission to ask?”
Much as he wanted to answer in fulfilment of the divine plan afoot, the spirit was no longer there. That
question gone by had taken care of it. It reminded him of long forgotten woes.
In a voice laden with the weight of his sadness he explained that his friend was where those that fell in proper
action during the civil war were stacked. That they, being of a different breed, were here with their fallen
colleagues, too, and that he would rather the wayfarer continue with them.
“If my guess is correct, housed there will be the likes of your old pal, Adaka Boro and Okigbo…”
If their earthly strike contained no element of surprise for them, as he claimed, this statement in the clouds
did. His reaction was an admixture of consternation and disbelief.
“Tarry a while, compatriot of mine.” The voice this time came from behind. The wayfarer swivelled round and
beheld the owner sulking in a corner.