By Mustapha K Darboe
It has been his routine. Each day Suntu comes to people but he stays alone. He has become accustomed to being alone perhaps.
Most times, he would sit at a quiet corner at the Press House, murmuring to himself. There, I have come to know him. I greeted and passed, most times. We never have spoken about his past. His present, I knew little about.
He was of a generation before me. Most journalists of his generation type on their laptop. He types on his phone. He may have developed phobia for the laptop too. Each day in his eyes, I see unease—more like someone running away from himself.
His eyes say so much. His ears must have heard so much too. His head is a library, I supposed. Good witness he must have been—of the past and the present. Even the future is before him. Words are out that he equally sees right through to the heavens, the citadel of the mighty throne.
Like me, he is a journalist, one who will be journalist to the grave. He loves it. Word is God! Suntu swore to defend the WORD. He would die for it. Sword won’t sway him nor will atomic energy!
Last week, like all other weeks, we met at the Press House. As usual, he walked to his quiet corner. There is where peace is. The rest of mankind sees not what Suntu sees.
He knew and read The Prophet. He understood the benefit of silence. An unshakable believer, he knew as the man behind The Prophet that “in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered”.
“For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly. There are those among you who seek the talkative through fear of being alone.”
For most of men, Suntu acts weird most times. Many have told me he suffers ‘excessive paranoia’, whatever that means. Is this a mental disorder? I have no idea. But what is certain is that he is suspicious of people, to a point he found it necessary to be alone.
“People,” he once told me, “are dangerous”. I could not agree. No man is fulfilled without people, I thought.
But I experienced not what he experienced. I can only wish to be him. I could not see what he saw and continues to see. He knew of the species of men whose inner self cannot reconcile with their outer self. Such people say what they admire, not what they do or will do. They ask good of others and nothing of themselves. They are infidels! None believers in the word.
As he spoke, he got agitated with bloodshot in his eyes. It almost seems as if his anger was directed at me. But no, it wasn’t. He loves me. Every space he occupies, he thinks of me. He is and will always be my needs answered.
Suntu’s duty is to defend the republic. Every morning, he visits Malibanta, the home of the gods of Lambai to pour his blood as a libation. Long may the gods remember him, I would always pray. May he never run short of blood to offer. I confess I am of Abrahamic. I make no friends to the gods in Lambai.
Doubt, I may, the gods but not Suntu. In handy, always he is. His path is honesty. This was never easy. A man once feared came to rule over him. He was named Yahya Jammeh. I can’t say if he was deserving of that name. The man with that name in the Qur’an is a righteous one. Little good can be said about this Yahya.
This Yahya swore to own the truth. A man who claims god over man.
Suntu would not be part of that betrayal. To all, the republic belongs. And to every man his god that solves his problems. There is no small or big man. So, the word must not be owned by anyone. Equally so, must everyone own the treasure. For our fathers died so we could live free.
This was Suntu’s position. That was not a wish to be fulfilled in that generation. He took an ambition that kills men, even the strongest of them, under Yahya. This was an ungodly Yahya. Suntu became a perceived enemy. Yahya liked him not.
But Suntu bows not to any might. He recognizes a god nevertheless. His god is not the acclaimed—god nevertheless. And for Yahya, he is an infidel. He believes not in man, nor to any god shall he bow. Their might though he beseeched. And for their power of indoctrination he fell.
He usurped the collective power of people to betray humanity. He enslaved people. Some, he killed. After a decade into his rule, Suntu would be arrested for having a god. “The god here is Yahya,” they told him.
“You offended the gods and rightly so, you must be punished.” Agents of the Infidel took him to places unknown. In the last dark hole they lunge him was a tormenting silence. It was torture by fear and intimidation. He lived everyday of 500 days with not even a little hope he would see the following day.
From gods he asked of help. They listened not. For the first time he questioned his faith. Gods must never be silent as their believers perish, he thought. On his 100th day, they came for him. The mortal angels of the Infidel gave him a beating of his life.
But for life, he despaired not. He kept the faith, though he was not sure of salvation anymore. For an hour, he looked into the abyss of darkness. He hoped with nothing to hope. He cried, there were not tears left. He groaned in solitary.
Minutes after the torturers left, he picked himself up. Towards the wall, he walked. So dark it was that he could barely see his hand. But Suntu knew there is always a witness. This time, his witness is the dark and the silent walls of his confinement.
He put his mouth to the walls, with a tender touch, and whisper “bring to souls the sanity that once in our land dwells”. He hoped the walls transmitted his desires to the gods. Heard him not, he knew the people.
On the 500th day, they came for the 500th time. This time, they were not to beat him; they were to free him. The angels that serve the Infidel knew he was broken. Suntu came out a different man.
His hardware was intact but his software was erased. He remembers not his name. He recalled not his way to the Press House. He feared for life that he does not have. He was dead. He took a walk to the neighboring country.
It did not take long before he realized he was running from himself. He was afraid of his shadows. Long after he walked, his alleged crimes were being told. They say he committed sedition against Yahya.
Yahya was not human and must not be insulted, they say. The Angels claim inciting affection or ill will against Yahya was a crime. But Yahya was a criminal. Since that country gets its own space, they only have one criminal: their government.
Meanwhile, in exile, Suntu tries to have a life. That remains a desire. He lived in restlessness. He started doubting the world. He doubted if he was alive. He pinched his wife to see if she was there. He closed his door and asked colleagues to place a barricade at the door. He feared they will come after him again in exile. He kept custody of the keys as if though his wife was his enemy. He was terrified! Sometimes, he hoped he died.
All of this, Suntu endured so that the republic lives. He longed for home, yet he could not come. He longed to come to the Press House yet he could not come. As days passed, he counted every minute with pain. He looked back on life with nostalgia.
All this time, I have forgotten about him. I sent not, nor received any mail from him. But came an hour, there emerged several Suntus. The republic was restored and freedom lost was regained.
As I walked the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, in January 2016, I laid my eyes on him. He was coming home from Senegal. I recognized him not and I played no fake. We passed without any pleasantry.
Like most of those coming home to freedom, their eyes glitter with so much yet they said nothing. They talked in their silence within themselves. Some, like before, feared no one will believe them.
The major benefactor of this freedom was one Hadama. Man thought of as “ah mang nasi” by his people. For Suntu, his comfort is in the giving. He was contented that the republic lived through the horrors he encountered.
Suntu does not talk now. They say he is not well. The new guardian of the republic swore. But it would not take long before he abandoned the cause of freedom. He is not a believer!
He is an infidel. They worship not the word but themselves. They insist the new powers must be honoured as if though honour equates to worship.
Now, Suntu only watches. Last week he saw a benefactor of the freedom he fought trying to kill it. Hadama told Ba and Khalil, both infidels, to create a law that will destroy the republic.
Ba was once an apologist to this cause of freedom. It appears he now turned his back on the gods. Khalil never believed in the gods. He was and is still an outright infidel.
Suntu looked on with anger. He wished he could speak. He wished he could walk. How soon will man forget?
As he ponders, his kind, true believers of the word, are up in arms. “Never again,” they chanted. Ba and Khalil are despots. Like Hadama, power has awakened the devil in them. They must and they will be stopped. Even if it means war.
In Suntu’s mind, as he followed the national discussion, he read Khalil Gibran. “And if it is a despot you would dethrone, see first that his throne erected within you is destroyed,” he recalled.
But in these three enemies of freedom, in them the tyranny still lives. This paradox! Meanwhile, in Suntu’s mind, Gibran continues to speak.
“For how can a tyrant rule the free and the proud, but for a tyranny in their own freedom and a shame in their own pride?
“And if it is a care you would cast off, that care has been chosen by you rather than imposed upon you.
And if it is a fear you would dispel, the seat of that fear is in your heart and not in the hand of the feared.”