Mboso was running late that Monday morning. He pushed his old Mazda 626 to its limit. In a desperate movinge to catch up with the usual administration paperwork, he applied more pressure on the gas of the clunker completely ignoring that he was speeding downhill. He had been away over the weekend to spend some time with his family in Kinshasa.
That was his routine by closing of business every Friday. Whenever he was off, his associate, Zuka run the business affairs.
A decade ago, Zuka established himself in Mvuti, a village nearby Matadi, whist Mboso permanent residence remained Kinshasa, the Cosmopolitan capital of the Ex-Colonial Belgium- Congo now independent.
Even if, he managed to acquire a second home a few miles away from his friend’s, he mostly used the accommodation for work purpose only; Nothing else. So, he spent his weekdays there to avoid the hassle of covering the three hundred miles that separated Matadi from Kinshasa every day.
As, he approached the sharp bend on the way down to the embankment, he switched off his brain from the romantic views of green valleys scattered ahead of him so he could concentrate properly on the hazardous circuit that still claimed the lives of so many incautious drivers as well as their unfortunate passengers. He never noticed the unusual crowd and the police four by four pick-up parked across the street.
As soon as he shut the car door and stepped inside the company compound, he realized that something was wrong.
Instantly, he became surrounded by 4 policemen in their spotted uniforms; who looked like four hyenas avid to devour a pray before they even kill it.
Was his vision not hampered by the long wall of bricks erected around the compound, he would have noticed the armed guards in the first place.
One of them said in a Lingala jargon only used by service men: “Yeba ete okangemi”; Meaning: Consider yourself arrested.
Before Mboso could utter a word, he saw his associate head tilted downwards, handcuffed and escorted by two policemen outside the office. The four other soldiers jumped on him with no savoir-faire, leaving him with no chance to disagree.
Deprived from their dignity, both Zuka and Mboso were hobbled to the Police Jeep and almost thrown on the car floor without finesse.
From that time on, they knew that they were in a heck of a trouble.
After ten minutes of careless driving by hemp addict militia, dehumanised and haggard, the two friends reached the police station headquarters. Straight away, they were taken inside the commander in chief office and ordered to sit on the floor with the help of some Kalashnikov butts applied ingeniously and wickedly on their backsides that made them bend and moan with acute pain.
Commander Matabisi of Matadi Police force sat behind his chair in that intimidating and dictatorial posture to make your bowels move inside. He never bothered to look at the two arrested and carried on lazily with his scribbling on some old fashioned pad like a pupil on his first days of calligraphy.
What seemed as an eternal silent moment passed.
Finally the deadly quietness was broken by a cynical voice tainted with sarcasm and provocation; probably one of his tricks to find a catch and get rid of his captives straight away in a way that fitted well his sordid expectations. He threw his questions in the same way he would spit without any consideration for the vulnerable accused.
“I am sure you know who I am.”
“Yes Commander”; the two friends acquiesced modestly.
Pointing his finger negligently at Mboso and omitting the protocols of finding out about places and dates of births as well as the residential locations of the two convict, He fired at both of them:
“What do you say about your criminal activities?”
“…But commander” Mboso objected.
“Shut up” thundered the chief. “Do I look like a stupid man to you?”
He suddenly half rose from his chair and stroked his thumb and middle finger threateningly.
Then, he yelled at Mboso, letting some of the drool escape his mouth involuntarily: “Do you think I got in this position just like that?”
The two friends recoiled in fear and let the Police officer vent his anger.
Coming back to normal, he continued the interrogation or rather drew the conclusion calmly: “Now is the time to acknowledge that you knew about the entire operation from start to finish.”
“It is clear that weapons were found in one of the pouch that you dispatched to your client.
“This fact cannot be denied”.
“We know this because we found the tag of your company on the bag”.
He declared solemnly: “Due to the fact that the attempt to arrest of Mr Ngovo was in itself a complicated task since he tried to escape and my envoys did have no other choice than stop the man through lethal means as we believed he was a potential danger to the rest of the nation; He did not survive the wounds and died in hospital the next day. Otherwise, he would be facing the same fair treatment as you two.
“Fair treatment!”, Mboso exclaimed internally. “What a bastard!”
The truculent Policeman carried on: “Even if the extent of his implication and yours will never be known with regards to illegal trafficking of weapons, at least we can ascertain that we were able to stop the troublemakers we think were at heart of this criminal activity.
During the entire custody, Mboso and Zuka noticed that compassion never existed in the Police officer’s world. He never displayed any emotion at all in the light that a man was put down without trial and he never described the situation as regrettable.
Unexpectedly, the chief reached a verbal conclusion: You are both dangerous and therefore going to jail. He ended the interrogation on that dramatic tone and shouted some orders to the guards outside.
So, they were out of police station by closing day on Monday. It was a temporary transition because in the evening they were sitting in a prison cell in Kisanga.
The dirty skinny underfed grey mouse squeezed itself out of the tiny gap inside the wall of the filthy prison cell that was also infested with other crawlers, its tail dangling in the dust of the unclean building floor or what was left of it.
Unlike animate species, the pest had that vacant stare and did not seem to be annoyed by the presence of human beings, now reduced to expressionless, harmless and worn out prisoners, devoid of their basic inmates’ rights.
The principle of fairness did not apply to them anymore for the simple reason that Justice, Equality and human rights never existed in the agenda of the irresponsible State for whom twisted rules stood out against legal practices. The agonizing souls were nothing more than contemptible outlaws without any right of speech or defence.
Since the four-decade dictatorship regime had stepped down, the bone of contention was still on about what changed in theory but did not really in practice in a way to cause a volte-face.
The public long expectation of a dream come true in tandem with a strong conviction to live a period of total peace was null. They had waited for almost half a centenary in vain to experience this instability. Fallacious promises of the new political wing were a travesty that was unrealistically ambitious. The population’ eager anticipation proved to be a simple idiosyncratic belief.
Distortions of facts were still pervasive; oppression and brain-washing repositioned from old hands to new ones, reconstruction of contriving facts remained the same, gathering of false evidences was still some of the poisonous ingredients relied upon in the concoction of verdicts by bully judges who were once again the main executioners in the playact of the so called Justice.
In fact, the whole inept system not only created a propitious environment for corruptions and malpractices but also accounted for conditions of harsh treatment.
There was no difference between criminals and innocents. Once apprehended, you were dealt with as disagreeably as a captured prisoner during Nazi ruling. The Congo was still living the civil and political turmoil of the early sixties.
The vulnerable detainees had been in this living hell longer than Zuka and Mboso. These were living souls, but the only proof of this could be detected by the sound of weak moan and yawn they emitted.
Their vitreous and livid eyes denoted fear and uncertainty. The only way they were able to support their frail physiques was lie down or seat in a still position, with bare backs against walls, offering this way their malnourished skins and veins, a lavish sight and delight to the malefic bedbugs and other parasites within the entire ruined site. They hardly complained nor reacted to the horrible itchy side effect caused by the insects’ bites.
No wonder the bloody crawlers lasted longer in this pestilential place not to mention that their number increased by a frightening reproduction speed resembling that of bacterial binary fission.
After plunging its snout in a couple of empty tins thrown negligently at the corner of the lock-up and used as eating utensils for the ongoing unsalted and tasteless boiled beans pittance, nothing substantial was found for the haggard animal to feed its empty stomach.
Even crumbs were a luxury in this living cell. Helpless, the mouse disappeared in one of the cracks inside the wall.
Two cockroaches were now hanging in the middle of the collapsing and discoloured ceiling whose material was hard to define.
Mboso caught up the eye of his friend Zuka. This telepathic and silent communication between the two was good for mutual sympathy and reassurance.
Arrested out of flagrante delicto and without warrant, both were thrown in this lock-up three weeks ago. It was a terrifying experience to end up in what was a biblical reflection of hell. The misery was indescribable as well as was the moral and physical torture.
They were baffled with confusion and terrorized to predict and visualize their own transfiguration through other condemned in a long run if they were doomed to stay any longer in this damned jail.
It all started a year ago when Mboso became fed up with the civil servant life and finally decided to join his long-time friend Zuka, who had left Kimpunsu for Matadi to work on an informal but very earning Import/Export business.
The trade was flourishing, as there was constant local demand for general store stuff.
It was a very simple job: overseas orders, tracking of bills of sales and dates of shipments, collecting and delivering to the right customers and that sort of thing; It was far from a boring office routine!
First, Zuka tried over and over to drag Mboso out of the collapsing civil service to no avail.
In the end, Mboso had no other alternative than respond positively to his friend’s requests. Thus, he made an informed, yet risky decision to leave behind the unrewarding, boring and corrupted administration life. So, he resigned!
He should have been able to rely on his sixth sense so as to predict that the way to hell is sometimes paved with alluring temptations, the kind of appealing benefits hard to turn one’s eyes away from. Now that he thinks about it, he should not have gone for that commercial activity in the first place. Hellas! It was too late!
The apparent fascinating and fruitful investment was ephemeral; the mine full of pure gold squeezed dramatically.
The materialistic glittering became rare, faded away and gave birth to an abandoned excavation site, full of useless pebbles and thorns.
It was not droll at all having to live with a succession of disastrous events day after day. As if this was not enough, things shifted from bad to worse.
As much determined and resourcefulness as he was, Mboso lost ground in that instance.
Without warning, the ravaging civil war launched from some unspecified headquarters abroad stroke and precipitated unprecedented mayhem and desultory misery everywhere.
The controversial liberators were mostly illegitimate, illiterate, unorganised, inappropriately dressed, most of the times drunk without regard to the fact that they used motorized vehicles.
However, they were not ashamed to condescend themselves with low profile behaviour albeit their appearance during public meetings and conferences. Rebels in power! That’s what they were.
Prior to their arrival and under their authority not a great deal of distinction could be perceived about the “res publica”: hypocrisy and hidden intentions never stopped; a few jabs were permitted here and there when comfort zones of those in stronger position became exposed, provoking bursts of anger, which in turn generated undesirable physical or moral consequences in the lives of those in weak position.
No references whatsoever were made to specific laws to defend the good or condemn the wrong.
‘Guilty’ was the sentence before court proceedings. No cross- examination was necessary to assess innocence or culpability. Witness statements were non-applicable as nobody dared to give evidences that could prejudice, misidentify and implicate them against their own will.
‘Human rights’ was a far-fetched jargon. So, anyone caught deliberately or accidentally in the Congolese criminal justice system net was primarily imposed a charge of indictment.
And then, the undisciplined armed men of the deceitful Justice bizarrely gunned down his brother in the most unimaginable situation, making him angrier so as to question the real meaning of human rights in a Country freed recently.
A couple of years later, Mboso became seriously agitated mentally when repeatedly summoned to report to the local police and military authority – whose dressing code and borderline was hard to determine with regards to roles and attributions – in order to justify the origins of suspect bags of what seemed to be dismantled assault weapons strangely discovered on one of his client’s properties who, in turn, claimed for his own defence to have received the illicit delivery from the Company.
Right or wrong, there was no evidence to verify his statement. On the other side, neither Mboso nor Zuka had a strong defence to exculpate themselves without the support of any sophisticated system to scan items and bags of goods in the first place.
The two associates drained their energy to try to prove their innocence and any implication in arms trafficking but to no avail.
The numerous bribes to bring the case to a denouement were unsuccessful.
The National headlines framed the culprits. News about the plot they were involved in amplified like wildfire across the Congolese security departments who took advantage to ruin them financially knowing that the case was unwinnable for the two men.
Furthermore, the suspense and trepidation that followed the announcement of the President’s death, shoot by close-range, paralyzed the two friends with terror. The strange scenario depicted how the Leader of the country was allegedly murdered by one of his guard whilst the culprit identity remained the sole secrecy of the rulers.
A mystification that a Kadogo, teenager soldier who was the author of the plot could not be arrested and managed to flee the Country was fabricated.
The Country security once again was at stake. Anything became possible during this period of uncertainty.
Tribulation took its toll and the whole atmosphere suddenly became gloomier and bleak. Even the hot tropical sun could not be felt anymore. Before they knew it, the company was raided, both him and Zuka thrown in Kisanga Jail among other criminals.
“The mortuaries”, as they were nicknamed were far remote from modern re-educational institutions. It was practically impossible for inmates to purge their sentence within dignity.
They were not even addressed to as inmates. Rather, they were the ill-starred enraged dogs to put down.
One agonizing month of torture by beating and poor nourishment hit the two friends hard.
The accusation was irreversibly one but of the complex nature: “smuggled weaponry and high treason of the state security!” The predicted punishment was anything between life sentence and Capital death. All depended on the mood of the decision maker on the day. Until that day, judgement was adjourned.
Hence, extreme situations called for extreme measures. There was no other alternative left than evade.
So an extra pressure was added to a couple of minds already submerged with odious false accusations and an evil riddance plan fomented against them.
The bitterness of a strong revolt upset Mboso’s guts: he neither lived to deserve this, nor was he a shy personality who would comply with false modesty and accept for the sake of being pleasant to his torturers to provide them with answers to misleading and repetitive questions without firing back his dissenting views and recalcitrant reactions.
He was dealing with an obnoxious police force whose ways of going about things were not far from terrorist cruelty.
Overwhelmed by the thought of what the crazy men in arms might be able to do to his friend and him if things went out of control, he fumed with anger as they were not physically in a strong position to defend their selves.
Deep inside him, he knew he was a man trained through lifetime experiences to retaliate whenever he was in circumstances that required using his fists. But here, he felt useless and weak.
This frustration prompted his mind to remain Stoic and compensate on the lack of his physical strength. He retrieved from the shock of the previous moments, talked back from his inner soul and made his rhetorical answers fierce.
The vicious interrogators loathed his unshaken insolence and the way he spoke up his mind without twist and hesitation.
Behind Zuka’s mask of impassibility, He could see an unsteady man even if this was not expressed visibly. Matter of fact, Zuka was as sceptical as frightened as He.
No matter what, they were friends for life and doomed to undertake this inescapable audacity together.
It became imperative for Mboso to compile any bravery inspiration found here and there, through mental translocations within the most valiant historical scenes, either in the past or present time, endured by individuals or groups, real or unreal with the purpose to strengthen both his troubled mind and reinforce his weak body.
A week ago, Zuka made the lousy suggestion to Mboso after meeting the young prison guard. It was one of those strange surprises that Mboso has ever experienced; both the young police officer and his friend happened to belong to the Luvila clan.
Even better, the mothers of both contacts originated from the same natal village.
It was unimaginable that you could randomly bump into a relative and not any but a cousin, within your enemy walls, those foes who did not need to think twice to annihilate your existence from this earth, who owned the key to your life or death.
An eerie atmosphere came to hang over the unfriendly building as if an invisible, protective yet non-aggressive hand was suddenly in action despite the apparent pandemonium portrait faced by the prisoners.
The miracle happened: the meeting between the two cousins really took place.
On the night when the entire dungeon fell in silence with no light on, Zuka whispered to Mboso with a serious facial expression, making sure that nobody was eavesdropping:
“Listen, take it or leave it, no time for logic suppositions or concerns about what if... We do it, perish here in such degrading conditions or go die somewhere else, simple as that. It’s up to you to make up your mind; I am ready to risk everything”.
Having not thought of any relevant comment, Mboso looked at him, nodded and sighed for acknowledgement and approval.
Since then, Pozo became the secret liaison between the two convicts and their families. Step by step, they drew a plan that could not be made possible without cash.
The last penny of income made with the business was squandered. The bright side of the things was that both personal and business turnovers never ended into non-reliable bank accounts.
Otherwise they would never have any money left at all to pay for the policeman and agent services; which meant the avid spies of the corrupted government by then would trace and repossess such saving funds.
Mboso gathered his thoughts. He visualized his brother who died as a brave man; Zaka went down but stood up three times, held his last breath and spoke up his mind even if the blasts of the assault weapon fired by the drunken rebel tried to silence him.
Next, he imagined the martyrs who fell during the bloody Independence.
He even travelled back in time to empathize with his ancestors who shed blood to resist the brutal invasion of colonizers
Finally, he brought back the memories of his numerous heroic childhood characters.
Ergo, he accepted his fate in a survival instinct and consented to the planned strategy without a word.
They both waited with heart race hoping that the runes would be in their favour.
Mboso was dismayed that he never lived a euphoric lifetime. He grew up as a vulnerable unhealthy child and therefore the laughing stock of youths of his generation whereas as an adult, he continuously struggled between edgy family issues, social frictions and financial difficulties. On no account had he had a chance to pause once and pull his person together. He hardly remembered a single period of real respite.
Three years after his father’s unexpected sad death, Mboso still felt his presence and the intensity of his upbringing. He was his confident, his best friend and a terrific storyteller ever, into the bargain; his favourite tales had to be the historical Biblical captivating accounts.
As of today, he is persuaded that his father’s departure was too soon. The distressing image of his perturbed family never left his mind since the traumatizing episode. Throat cancer tamed the family man before snatching him away from his wife and children. The beloved child that Mboso was felt abandoned at the time when he needed him the most.
Even though the physical closeness and complicity were broken, the sharpness of their spiritual connection grew stronger over the time.
He repeated to himself: “The deceased are never dead but they roam among us indeed”.
Without him, he had no other choice than learn the hard way, through trials and errors, far from easy gains and luxury.
The rearing and training provided by his parents, especially his father’s, were inevitably the platform upon which his understanding of the ins and outs of life was based on.
This quick reference of his Dad brought back his confidence. Focusing his mind intuitively on his socialization as well as his lifetime curriculum, he gathered all the last credentials he needed to make a move.
Due to the nature of the adversity he had to confront, his mentality leaned bizarrely upon the fascination he had for the old civilized and powerful Roman Empire, known for its countless conquests and famous clashes against the fierce Carthaginians and other Barbarians.
With that broad image in mind, he searched for a place where he could play a momentous role, that of an imaginary heroic gladiator fighting for righteousness.
This perspective coupled with his personal edition and interpretation of the present facts. In his wandering he struggled to make up his mind whether living during the refined historical and barbaric times – now inserted in his fancy world - was by far better than his present rural life amid relatives, friends and enemies.
Wherever his essence was positioned, mental and physical aptitudes became a mandatory duality without which it was harder to think appropriately, use his initiatives or adjust to his surroundings.
In all his endeavours, oneness with virtue, rejection of depravation and injustice, customization of his mindset to act upon virtually and equally were the key elements of his lifetime creed. He was that kind of person by nature; His ethos never changed.
His reasoning expanded in such a way to induce his acceptance of the regrettable dichotomy that good and bad is just two separate scenes of the same act. Rome or not, this contrast is imbedded within human nature. We are all imperfect but it is the level of the deficiency that differs.
Mboso interiorised and treasured any positive vibe he spotted in that prestigious city.
How puzzling that your personality is actually a stockpile of anything during your existence on earth. There was not only Rome that came to his mind.
The mythical Greek Hercules, whom he constantly shared the world full of abnegation, challenges and heroic battles against Roman exactions was his secret chakra and adolescent infatuation. He foolishly believed that he was his reincarnation.
Yet, this kind of incongruous courage, adventurous cognition and absurdity was what he needed to get through this circumstantial hardship.
And then, they eventually escaped...