Literary Zone

Short Story-Zambuga Zambedi

22 April 2011 at 03:04 | 1492 views

Zambuga Zambedi

A short story by Gibril Gbanabome Koroma
PV CEO/Publisher

Author’s note: This is a work of fiction, not an autobiography or memoir. It has nothing to do with the author, just a product of the imagination.

I was bored to death in Accra. The novel I was writing was not going anywhere and I was running out of fibs to feed my publisher. The novel was not getting anywhere. I drank the cheap local beer most of the time and enjoyed the constant attentions provided by my new lover, Efua, who expected me to marry her and take her to Vancouver. She did not know I was married, because I did not tell her. There was no ring on me. Efua desperately wanted to come to Canada. Maybe she was in love with me (I was not).

One day, I was "quaffing" with one of my many Ghanaian friends, Kofi, when he quietly asked whether I had met Zambuga, the writer. “Who is this Zambuga?” I queried, a little bit angry. I thought I had met all the Ghanaian writers worth meeting.

I was also curious, because Kofi is not the sort of person you would expect to meet and talk with writers. He is a very good hustler, a man living by his wits or from his wits. Kofi has never worked for anybody in his life, but he manages to wear expensive clothes, eat expensive food and have relations with expensive women, high maintenance women. I never asked him how he got his money. I only buy him beer and listen to his stories. We hit the Accra nightclubs together every night, seven days a week. I loved his company.

His cell phone cried out, startling him. He jumped to his feet and quickly wrenched the phone from his pocket and rushed into a corner to talk to the caller. He always rushes into corners to talk to his callers, with a finger stuck in his left ear. With his dark glasses and expensive clothes, he looked like an African Mafioso. He finished his conversation, shut the phone with a clack and returned to our table. “Who the hell is this Zambuga?” I asked again.

“Oh, he is a bloody good writer, one of our best, “ Kofi answered. “But he has never been published abroad. Nobody knows him abroad. Although his books are published and widely read here, very few people have met him. He is a recluse.” I looked at Kofi with amazement. “I did not know that you read books. You never talked to me about books and writers.” Kofi laughed, loudly and noisily, as usual.

“Come on, Senior Player”, he said raising his voice and sitting up straight. He always called me Senior Player. I never bothered to ask him why. I was too exhausted from the constant beer drinking and other forms of entertainment to worry about small things like that.

“What do you think? How? I have a degree, man,” Kofi said enjoying the opportunity to brag a bit. “You don’t know? University of Ghana. Economics. I just don’t want to talk about it sometimes. I have to make some money, you know. I have a real degree, man.”

“Well, that’s impressive” I said quickly. “Now where is this Zambuga? Can you take me to him?” I asked, immediately regretting it as I thought I had fallen into Kofi’s trap. Because nothing is free in Accra, I feared that he would squeeze some money out of me for this. I was wrong.

“Zambuga is my cousin”, he said quietly. I will take you to him if you like. He lives just outside the city, in a small village with his American wife.”

“American wife? His wife is American?

“Yes, they met in New York at the Columbia School of Journalism. He lived for ten years in America.”

The next day, a Saturday, we drove out in Kofi’s Toyota to the home of Zambuga Zambedi, the mysterious writer. His house, petit and well furnished, stood, all alone, at the edge of the beach in a tiny seaside village, away from the tourist tracks and noise. His wife, Marian, teaches Journalism at the university. Their home is very quiet, no children, and no pets. Books everywhere.

Zambuga is short and slim, very dark. Marian, of Jewish ancestry, is of medium height and is also slim. She is perhaps the only white woman for miles around. They welcomed us and Marian served lunch. Typical Ghanaian food on the menu: fufu(a whitish dough), palm nut soup, lots of fish and meat, goat meat.

After lunch Marian retired to have a look at some essays from her students and Kofi suddenly remembered that he had an appointment in Accra. “I will just rush to Accra to do something urgent and pick you up later,” he said.

I waved him off. I wanted to talk to Zambuga. Marian brought us some beer and went into the house again. The breeze from the sea gently wafted over us as we sat in the veranda of their beautiful house.

I told Zambuga that I wanted to write about him in the Toronto Star. “I am not asking for an interview. I just want us to chat; maybe I would find something to write about,” I said.
“Good idea. I hate interviews.” Zambuga said. “Coming from a former journalist, that’s a strange thing to say, right?” I nodded.

“It’s perhaps the local journalists I hate. Anyway, we’re going to have our conversation.” He took a sip from his glass of beer. “What do you want to know?” he asked.

“Anything,” I said. “Tell me anything about your life.”
Zambuga cleared his throat, gulped his beer and began:

“I really don’t know what to tell you, Senior Player. But I will try. I would like to talk about certain things in my life like my love of silence, my love of books, the horror of my prison experiences, my illicit love affair and what it led to, etc. I will add other things as I go along and you can stop me and ask questions any time.

“I love silence; really do. Marian also loves silence but not like me. I will sit for hours in a quiet place doing and saying nothing. Only staring into the middle distance, as you would say. Those are the most productive moments in my life. That’s when I get the inspiration for my novels. I would be writing and editing my novels in my mind while I sit there staring into space.

“It’s very strange for people who don’t know me. Fishermen would see me at a corner of the beach, just sitting there and staring into space and they think I’m crazy. They don’t understand. Only mad people do what I do in this part of the world. Only mad people sit for hours at the beach, staring at the crashing waves. I love nature and I hate the artificiality of the city, all that technology and nastiness. That’s why we left the city, where we had a house. I recently sold that house to create a small fishing company that’s being run by my sister. Some of the fishermen here are my employees but they don’t know it because I told my sister never to tell them. I want to be left alone. The company is doing well; we have six medium-size fishing boats now.

“ Yes, these fishermen don’t know that the strange man staring into space at the beach is the employer of some of them, or to put it nicely, their senior business associate.” Zambuga laughed, stood up and stretched his hands. He sat down again.

“I am a voracious reader, I read a lot. But I carefully select whom I read or what I read. The first few paragraphs of a book are often enough for me to assess a writer. In the same way I can correctly assess somebody after five minutes of conversation. That’s why I’m still here with you. I normally get rid of most people that come here after a few minutes of conversation. Maybe that’s why most of the local journalists hate me. I can’t stand stupidity; I hate ignorance. I hate incompetence; I hate stupidity.

“I love reading fiction, contemporary fiction. For non-fiction, I love philosophical essays. I once toyed with the idea of becoming a philosopher, but dropped it. I discovered that creative writing is what I must do. I love French writers and East European writers like Dostoevsky, Solzhenitzyn, Milosz, etc but I also read a lot of North American writers too. I like Canadian writers like David Bergen, Michael Ondaadtje, Monique Proulx and Margaret Atwood. American writers like Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, John Steinbeck, James Baldwin and many others. My favourite philosophers are Michel Foucault, John Ralston Saul, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beavoir, and so on. Of late, I have fallen behind in my philosophy reading. I have to catch up.

“As for my own books, they are all published locally and are very cheap and distributed all over the country. I write mainly for my people and the rest of Africa. But my books are only distributed here at the moment. I want my people to read and wake up. The people of Europe, North America and Australia are already awake; they don’t need me. My mission in life is to wake my people up from ignorance and stupidity through literature but I carefully avoid propaganda. I’m not a politician, a preacher or a polemicist. I think literature and politics don’t go together. You can either be a politician or a writer, not both. I recently went back to read Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H.Lawrence. Do you see how he discusses sex without preaching or pontificating? That’s what I try to do. Literature is the best messenger.
“My name is not really Zambuga Zambedi. Zambuga Zambedi is not a Ghanaian name, as you probably know. My real name is Kweku Sarpong. I use the Zambedi name for people to leave me alone. It works. Many Ghanaians think I’m some foreigner who knows their country so well. They enjoy my books but are never curious about me. To them I’m that crazy foreign guy with the American wife, the guy who speaks Twi so well and stares into space for hours at the beach. Few people know my secret and those few include your friend, Kofi, and my sister, Akosua. To most Ghanaians I’m just Zambedi the writer from who-knows-where. When they press me, I tell some of them that I am from America. An African-American.

“That has some disadvantages, the major one being that when government agents arrested me ten years ago, many Ghanaians were indifferent. They said to themselves: “Well, that’s a problem for the American ambassador, he’s not one of us”. Zambedi laughed, shrieking, with a closed fist over his mouth. “When I go to my village or when I run into one of my former school mates, I’m Kweku Sarpong, the businessman, not Zambedi the writer. My photo never appears on my books. Never.”

He rose and went in for more beer. When he returned with two sweating beer bottles, I asked him: “Why did they arrest you?” He slowly opened the beer bottles, filled my glass and then his. He raised his head and in a quiet voice said:
“ I wrote a nasty article in one of the papers that really upset the government. They don’t really like my books or me. I’m from the wrong ethnic group and they know my books are not the simple animal stories they look like. They also know my real name and where I came from and best of all, they knew the people would not react violently if they grab me, because, to the public, I’m a just goddamn foreigner, an alien. The government was therefore waiting for just the tiniest excuse to lock me up. The offending article was a really virulent attack on the thievery and moral bankruptcy of the government. I had rock solid facts and statistics but it did not help. I was fed up with the way they were killing the country and I really hit them hard. So off to prison I went, for six months. No trial, nothing. The government did not want a trial. Too scared of what might come up.

“People often ask me about prison and I tell them that the evil about prison, as far as I’m concerned, is not the bad food, the smell of shit (our toilet was a bucket in a corner of our cell) and other evil things, but the horror of being under the authority of someone else, the fact that someone else, usually a half-educated and brutish prison guard, is totally in control of your life. He, this brute, tells you when to eat, when to sleep, when to go for a bath, etc. The horror of that condition, the helplessness, the forced return to babyhood, the helplessness. One day I was so pissed off, I slapped one of the prison guards and they dumped me in solitary confinement for two weeks”. There was a far away look in Zambedi’s eyes when he said this. Then he collected himself and suddenly smiled.

“ The good thing about all that was that it was in that prison I met the mother of my only child, my son.”

“What? You met Marian in prison”? I asked, amazed.

“ Not Marian, a woman called Jacqueline,” he said. “She is a female prison officer. Still working there. She was in charge of the prison library. One day I went there to borrow a book and our eyes met. Love at first sight. We had a long chat and it was clear that we were going to have a relationship but could not do anything in that prison, except talk. When I was released I called her and we met in a motel. That was the day Richard, my son, was conceived. She knew about Marian, who was visiting the prison every week. They even became friends. Marian does not want children and I never told her about my affair with Jacqueline or about Richard. I was totally terrified, just could not tell her. When Jacqueline visited us one day, uninvited, with a five year old boy and told Marian: “I’m sorry, this boy is Zambedi’s son but Zambedi is scared to tell you. I’m here to tell you”, I just sat there like a statue, my heart racing. Marian shocked me when she took the boy in her lap and kissed him on the forehead, with a smile.

“Richard is still living with his mother but visits us every Sunday. He will be here tomorrow. To the two women, it’s as if nothing has happened. Jacqueline is now married to a military officer. That’s my life in a nutshell, man, that’s my life.”

I spent many other weekends with Zambedi and Marian, drinking their wonderful stories and experiences. I also met Jacqueline and little Richard. Jacqueline is a tall, stately woman who told me Zambedi was the first man she ever fell in love with. Richard is a carbon copy of his dad.

I did not write anything for the Toronto Star. My novel, on the other hand, suddenly picked itself up and ran with me. I finished it a week before the deadline, shocking my publisher.

Meanwhile I ran into Marian in Accra a few months later and we went to a local pub to have a drink and chat. She looked very sad and did not say much but towards the end of our conversation she suddenly told me she was leaving Zambuga. I was shocked. I thought nothing would divide those two but it seemed that I was completely wrong.
The long and short of it is that we became lovers and she left Zambuga. A few months later she got pregnant and gave me a beautiful daughter she named after her mother, Pamela.
Well, it seems my Accra sojourn was not bad at all. Yes, man.

Author’s note: This is a work of pure fiction and has nothing to to do with real people.