From the Past



By Uthman Shodipe

IT’s the road again and its fam­ished people. The faces are still detained in the scarifying largeness of misfortune. There is still that som­nolent acquiescence in the wracking impositions of power. There is still that enfeebled wandering which ac­commodates all the buffetings of life as fatidical necessities.


Thus the imprisonment is still un­seen. The general misery is unperceived in punitive censure. There is yet that consuming engagement in futile gestures. Nothing is probed in questing challenge. No questions are asked about the savaging illustrations of disrepair and forfeiture. There is yet a muted refuge which does not dare a new course, which is incapa­ble of withdrawing from the terrible fixity of the moment.


Therefore, in that endless stretch of infamy where existence is feigned in the pervasive murkiness of ill-use and poverty, where a total degenera­tive permanence is the emblem of life – you can still observe the hapless visages in the variegated survivalist absorptions. The carpenter still ham­mers at the wind, masking his docil­ity in an illusory relevance. But this does not strip him of the badge of penury, now much pronounced in the pale, scrawny emptiness of his de­spairing frame.


The tailor yet paces in mechanical vacancy, darting about in the pretence of productive occupation. And here again you could see the lugubrous bearing, the mournful animation, the faded, decaying sack-cloth hanging upon the professed maker of new clothes.


Everywhere you look there is yet that latchment of general ruin, of men and women in hopeless grapple, blind to the unrelieved saddle of the unyielding confrontations; of the young, the innocence of the cradle wrapped in the fragile ramparts of the bruising road.


Everything was in this miserable repose of need and capitulation when the famished concourse was roused by a deconscientised susceptibility to the paltry, liberating interim gains. Emissaries came from the affluent corridors in mercantile crudity, recruiting voices, purchasing hungry men and women to swell up a rally, to manufacture a crowd, to conjure a mindless parade that will pronounce that the scarred road does not exist, that the leaning, wretched structures are chimerical imaginings, that there is a wonderous testimony of happy grandeur and liberty, that there is a paradisal uniformity being witnessed everywhere !


Hypnotized by lucre, dragged along by their own chains, the starving, bedraggled visages now deserted the road for a moment, merely to glow in a temporary swindle. The abused, the trampled, had been brought out from the eternal darkness to vouch that they had all along been thriving in illuminatory contentment.


Think of it: the neighbourhood urchin, once souring in sulking, embattled mien, wandering in hungry, dubious gaze; without money, without a job, forever scavenging on the forgotten road. No more. At least he ‘escapes’ for another brief moment. Here, even in the apparent ephemerality of his purchased conversion, even in the tenuous delineation of his new course, he still screams about the supremo and the messianic entwining. He hollers in that fraudulent gallery about the perfections of power, illustrating in wild exaggerations the reigning pacific chord, the progressive, democratic momentum now encouraging debate, now divesting the tools of autocracy, now diffusing riches and contentment in uniform array !


Again, think of it: the idle housewife, the tailor, the barber, the herbal dispenser, all in a sudden uniting energy, celebrating the moment, urging a continuity of the universal bliss! They counsel: Without the supremo all is nought! Without the supremo the nation rivens in Armageddon ! Not true.


It is all a fraud, a survivalist desperation; the tragic grasping for sustenance, the droning twaddle of the hungry. But there is no refuge here. It’s all diminishing, vulgar theatre. There is no believability in that riotous circus of voices shouting in vacuous laudatory embrace of the grand despoiler. There is no audience to be deceived. Everyone comprehends the manipulative insanity.


After the crowding in buffoonery, after the purchased presence in the rehearsed theatricality, the hungry visages crawl back to the ill-fated road with a half smile which soon dissipates into the sombrous harshness of a stern reality. With the intoxicating lucre immediately expended on transient sustenance, the survivalist throng returns to the grimy, suffocating orbit, locked in unrelieved vicissitudes, unseen, unmourned, frozen in the contemptuous stare of power. The road is still signposted in nightmarish imageries. The hovels are still smitten in ghoulish adumbrations. The cooking pots are still empty. There are no redeeming expectations anywhere.


It is true; there is a certain depravity in the slave who grovels before the taskmaster, proudly exuding in the confining servitude of his chains, spouting in celebrative guffaw the redeeming legitimacy of tyranny, dallying in a happy mask, prostrating for a meal. There is nothing virtuous in the survivalist channel. Escapism does not ennoble. It betrays an inner weakness, revealing a mercenary enlargement. He who yields to evil in craven, immediate acceptability deserves to be devoured by the reverberative conjurations.


This may appear harsh. But it is often the wisdom of the gods. Nemesis invariably stalks those who would profit in the fulminations of the unkind. Observe this witness in the unity of the poetic justice that imposed punishment on the hungry crowd cavorting on the mercenary road.


First published Tuesday, 11 November, 1997.

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