Wednesday, 24 November 2004

Dawn Raid On Congo

Soundtrack: Some eerie whistly tune from an old Western. The mists are just clearing from the treetops as the engine of a truck is gunned in to life. The posse is ready. In the driver’s seat – CHIWAMBA, 49½ , false leg, thick glasses. In the passenger seat – KASUNGA, 57, Operations Manager, still half-asleep. The middle seat – eerily empty. Saved for Chief of Police Sam ‘Flatcap’ BANDA, so-called since an unfortunate incident between his headgear and a Nissan Pajero. In the back of the truck, some pigs. Destination: Town, followed by The Border. The truck makes its way across the forest track. They are almost at the dirt road when CHIWAMBA realises he has forgotten the spare wheel and that the tax disc is missing. The truck spins round back to the project and in doing so a pig is flung out of the back. It races off into the forest to be forevermore known as the Wild Boar of Kakashuti. Back at the project the spare wheel is loaded on to the truck. The safe is unlocked and a tattered piece of A4 paper is withdrawn. In pencil is a scribbled note from some random police officer asking that the vehicle be allowed to pass any roadblocks, despite being untaxed and without headlights. CHIEF appears looking agitated. He is a short man with a large stomach, and leader of the project.

CHIEF: What is this nonsense? You were directed to leave for town as early as possible to ensure the safe return of our machinery, not run about looking at sausage shops. Get those pigs out at once.

KASUNGA gets out of the truck and starts to unload the pigs. They immediately make a beeline for the door of the open office. A small boy falls out of a mango tree on top of a pig. It is unclear who is more surprised, the boy or the pig. KASUNGA weighs up the situation and then climbs back in the truck. Soundtrack: Theme tune to Streets of San Francisco. The truck once more sets off in the direction of Town. It is now two hours since they first set out.

Soundtrack: Crashing noises as used in bad Nigerian films. The posse have picked up Sam ‘Flatcap’ BANDA. He is a tall man, and sits like a giraffe between the other two. The truck pulls in to a dusty yard. The men get out and amble towards what appears to be a run-down office. Parked outside is a flashy 4x4.

Inside is a fat man on a mobile phone - TAHEMBO. It is clear that TAHEMBO is running this business. He waves his hand at the visitors impatiently and motions for them to sit down. Everything in the office is brown. It looks as though nothing has been changed since the 1960s. It probably hasn't. By the time TAHEMBO finishes on the phone, it is four hours since the posse first set out.

TAHEMBO: Good day gentlemen, and how are we? TAHEMBO stretches his hands across his ample belly.
THE POSSE: Fine, fine, and how are you? The posse chorus a reply.
TAHEMBO: Fine, fine. So what brings you people to my office, I am a very very busy man. A businessman. Hahahahahahahahahahahaahha. I see you are looking particularly fit, sir, Mr Banda.
The Chief of Police narrows his eyes menacingly at TAHEMBO but declines to speak. KASUNGA clears his throat.
KASUNGA: Now Mr Tahembo. As you well know we had an agreement. An agreement involving a piece of machinery. A piece of machinery which has not been returned to us. A piece of machinery which we believe has now been taken over the border illegally into Zaire, or Congo as it is now known. We-want-that-machinery-back!
TAHEMBO shifts his bulk in his faux-leather chair.
TAHEMBO: Aiieeeeee! Ah ah ah ah ah! Nnnnnnnnn. You see, the problem, my friend, is that it is not me you should be dealing with. If such a machine is not here, it must be the responsibility of my business colleague, Mr Ngoma. And he is slippery that one, he is not from here. He is from the other side there. So you see it is not for me to be involved in this matter.
TAHEMBO shuffles some papers on his desk and picks up his mobile phone again. KASUNGA is visibly agitated and annoyed. He stands up and places his hands on TAHEMBO’s desk, but the effect is comical rather than threatening, as his trousers are sagging round his bum and his hat has slipped to one side of his head.
KASUNGA: Now look here man, we must get that machine back. Today. That is why we have brought our esteemed and gracious friend, Mr Sam Banda, whom you know is the Chief of Police, with us. He knows the law.
Tahembo looks lazily over at BANDA.
TAHEMBO: Aiieeee! Yes yes yes, I know that one, Mr Banda. He is married to my cousin’s sister. The one that sells mushrooms. Down in Southern Province. A long way from here. TAHEMBO picks at the dirt under his one long fingernail, the little one on the left hand. KASUNGA looks apoplectic.
KASUNGA: Yes, and it seems we are a long way from getting our machine back Mr Tahembo. We have already made a turn there at the border and the guards are laughing at us. They want US$500 to allow us to go and fetch the machine.
TAHEMBO: Ah! These people! They are nothing but crooks! They will try to rob you even if you are just trying to be friendly. You must not get involved with crooks Mr Kasunga, it will only lead to problems. Indeed, as I’m sure Mr Banda will confirm, this kind of thing is tantamount to bribery. Tsssssttt! I cannot believe you are involved in corruption. Tsssssttt.
CHIWAMBA stifles a yawn and adjusts his false leg. KASUNGA sits down, defeated. BANDA rises, his flattened cap perched firmly on his large round head.
BANDA: Tahembo, you have in fact in your possession, is it not true, a vehicle? Hmm, yes. So we are proposing to take this vehicle to the border which is between our beloved Zambia and that lawless place Democratic Republic of Congo, and offer it to the guards in exchange for the machinery which is being withheld. This I believe is a fairer situation than the one in which my friends here currently find themselves.
TAHEMBO stares unblinkingly at BANDA.
TAHEMBO: Unfortunately that one vehicle is no longer working Mr Banda. It is very troublesome to me. In fact I do not even know of its whereabouts, it is my business colleague who deals with such matters.
BANDA: Then you are in luck man, because I have seen it just now with my own eyes, out there in the yard. BANDA seizes a truncheon from his belt and jabs it in the direction of the yard.
BANDA: And what’s more, our esteemed colleague Mr Chiwamba is not only a driver but also a mechanic. He will fix whatever bees are buzzing in that vehicle’s bonnet as quick as anything, I can assure you. CHIWAMBA sits up, nodding. TAHEMBO leans back in his chair and begins to pick his teeth with a pencil.
TAHEMBO: Well now…perhaps we are being a bit hasty. Perhaps, who knows, I might just be able to telephone my business colleague and discuss the situation with him. Then there is the matter of lunch – ag, I cannot work on an empty stomach. Besides, they will not be working now that side of the border during lunch hour, they are lazy ones those Congolese.

To Be Continued…