The village was in a frenzy. For Kita, the ambitious village in the heart of Alaigbo, this was her date with history, the day one of her sons would fulfill his promise: to turn the rustic village into a modern city that would make Hollywood look like ancient Ndiorumbe!
The maker of the promise was no ordinary son. He had travelled the world and had seen and made money. It was in the course of his travels that he took his Chinese-sounding name: Chan Dum. Many preferred to call him the Deity of Money. He was myth made real. All he needed to do to make mountains of money was write a simple letter to a white man. He had written several letters and he now had more money than the famous banks of Switzerland. Not even the most famous Professor of Arithmetic flown in from Akata could count his money. One rugged mathematician from Umuchu counted the money from sunup to sundown every day until his jaw scattered to pieces with the vain effort. The counted money was so infinitesimal to Chan Dum that he tossed the lot into the Atlantic Ocean. In a word, Chan Dum was too much!
One certain thing Chan Dum’s wealth did was brew hot and passionate jealousy in the hearts of white men. What with their women abandoning their husbands and whiteness for the dark polygamous lair of Chan Dum! This way, Chan Dum was no longer safe in the land of the whites. He was therefore compelled to beat a retreat to his homeland of Kita. Even so, the news flew wild and fast that the white men were desirous of coming down to Kita to snuff out Chan Dum and airbrush him from history. Chan Dum instantly brokered a deal with his people: they had to build for him an impenetrable fortress while he would use his wealth to turn Kita into a modern city never seen before in all history.
Half of the land of Kita was given over to the building of Chan Dum’s fortress. Never had the village of Kita been so united in pursuing a common cause. Girls and boys, women and men, all fetched water and molded bricks; they cast iron and forged metal. Stones were glued together as a fortification. Broken bottles and barbed wire were ranged at the top of the fence. In the end, everybody was satisfied that the fortress would not only be impenetrable to the feared white invaders but also to the people of Kita who had built it. There was no way any Kita quisling could thus betray the chosen son. It was at high noon that Chan Dum made one last appearance among his people before withdrawing for good into the fortress.
“I would have loved to spend my entire life among you, my beloved people,” Chan Dum said, acknowledging the rapturous cheers of the Kita people. “But the white colonizers won’t let us be…”
“Why can’t the white slave-masters leave us alone?” asked the solicitous village headmaster, gnashing his brownish teeth with fury.
“They have been struck raving mad by the fact that I beat them in their own game.” Chan Dum stroked his goatee and adjusted the folds of his voluminous green-and-white agbada. He stood taller than the villagers and shone in all his darkness like the white man himself.
A buxom young lady looked in rapt admiration at Chan Dum and asked: “How did you do it, Deity of Money?”
“Simple,” Chan Dum answered. “I wrote them letters and I made their money.”
“Letter-writing?” The girl was in a tizzy.
“African genius is the white man’s madness,” Chan Dum quoted, throwing wads of dollars, euro, and pound sterling into the air. “White men can’t write.”
The village headmaster was shaking his head and nodding at the same time, asking: “How do you mean the owners of the English language cannot write?”
“It’s one thing to speak English and another matter entirely to write it.” Chan Dum laughed, flashing milk-white teeth.
“Chan Dum! Deity of Money! Dollar Kingpin!” The praise songs reached the sky.
“I just write letters in the English language and money comes,” Chan Dum lectured. “White men write as a form of masturbation while Africans write for cash.”
“Tell them!” screamed the village headmaster, jumping about in ecstasy.
“I am African,” Chan Dum intoned, his measured voice carrying over the tumult. “Of course, I am the son of my father. I write for the pay.”
“And the pay is cool!” shouted a voice that drowned out all the others.
“Otimkpu!” the crowd roared in unison.
The man who commanded the attention of all in the square was a sight to behold. He was like two very fat soccer balls, one on top of the other. His shiny pate shone with the blazing noonday sun. His stomach was fatter than pregnancy. He was shortness and ugliness writ large. Any further description of him can only detract from Kita’s day of joy and glory; so let’s make progress.
“The only tree that makes forests!” Otimkpu hailed Chan Dum, genuflecting in reverence. “You have the entire world in the palm of your right hand!”
Chan Dum showered Otimkpu with dollar notes, saying, “Otimkpu, nwere share!”
“Yes-o!” replied Otimkpu heartily, raising his very thick right hand. “I have my share here on earth.”
Twelve hefty men joined up with Otimkpu, singing:
If anybody talks too much
We cut off his penis
And use it to make juju
It is not an abomination
It is our tradition
“The apostles!” Otimkpu hailed the twelve singers and dancers, waving his short, fat hands frenziedly.
In a trice, the twelve hefty men lay prone. Otimkpu stood on the back of the first apostle and said: “It is time for testimonies.”
“Chan Dum is the greatest of the greats!” said the first apostle even as Otimkpu still stood on his back. “I was there when the owner of the World Bank came to borrow money from Chan Dum!”
The roar from the Kita crowd reached the heavens. Otimkpu climbed on the back of the second apostle.
“There was this dying man who was about to go to hell,” the second apostle was saying. “Chan Dum interceded with hard currency and the man went straight to heaven!”
“Money talks,” shouted Otimkpu, climbing on the back of the third apostle. “The angels can hear Chan Dum’s money talk!”
“Chan Dum has just paid for America’s White House,” announced the third apostle. “The White House will be airlifted to Kita today!”
“Nonsense!” cried a baritone voice that seized the square with its magic spell.
Everybody turned to look at the owner of the voice. It was the voice of Pita the Pressman. The dapper man strode into the square in a dark three-piece suit, walking straight to where Chan Dum stood.
“Chan Dum, I put it to you,” Pita the Pressman said, pointing at Chan Dum, “that you have just been paid handsomely by some dubious Europeans to transport toxic waste to Africa!”
“Take that madman away!” cried Chan Dum, almost jumping on puny Pita the Pressman.
“The truth is constant!” screamed Pita the Pressman as the twelve apostles lifted him bodily up and tossed him outside the square.
The hubbub raised by the furious passage of Pita the Pressman took quite some time to settle.
“How ungrateful can some louts be?” queried Chan Dum when a measure of order emanated. “That moron you call Pita the Pressman is heavily indebted to me. He calls himself a journalist but he lives under Ojuelegba Bridge in Lagos with his fellow layabouts. I took pity on him and gave him the money with which to set up his own newspaper house. He swallowed my money and went back to living under the bridge!”
Shouts of reprobation rent the air.
“I even gave him money to get a wife,” Chan Dum announced, sighing. “He buried my money inside all the prostitutes in Lagos!”
“And the fool at fifty is yet to be married,” quipped Otimkpu.
“Well, he is the husband of all Lagos prostitutes,” said one of the apostles, returning from where they had cast aside Pita the Pressman.
“Pita is a total disappointment to Kita,” said the village headmaster. “He was such a bright boy in his schooldays in this village. It was going to Lagos that finished him off.”
“He goes about in Lagos with some loafers who call themselves veteran journalists,” said Chan Dum. “Association of veteran failures, more like!”
“Let’s go on with good news,” said Otimkpu. “Pita the Pressman is bad news.”
“We must not forget that today is the day Chan Dum shall turn our Kita into a modern city that will make Hollywood look older than prehistoric Ndiorumbe!” It was the village headmaster, all right, but he spoke with a charming youthfulness that belied his age.
“My watchword is surprise,” said Chan Dum.
“Surprise us bountifully,” cooed the village headmaster, opening up the buttons of his brown shirt to let in air.
“The only white man to compare with me is William Shakespeare!” intoned Chan Dum, working the crowd up. “Shakespeare was a writer like me, and his writings are making plenty of money today. But he made no money in his lifetime. He died a pauper. The fact that I am making great money while I’m still alive proves conclusively that I am greater than Shakespeare!”
“You are indeed much larger than three hundred Shakespeares!” Otimkpu boomed, beating a rhythmic sound on his protruding stomach.
“From today, trees of gold shall grow in our land,” Chan Dum hollered, and the apostles prostrated in turns before him. “All the roofs of our houses shall henceforth shine with diamond. Once my cargo arrives here, you shall all instantly become billionaires!”
The rejoicing was total. Some rolled on the ground while others went completely naked. One of the apostles, a hairy Goliath, whispered into the ear of Otimkpu, and then both of them gestured for the attention of Chan Dum. The troika held a talk for some moments.
“But why do these white destroyers want me killed by all means?” Chan Dum blurted out after the lull. “I have just been informed that the white killers have crossed the River Niger in their deadly pursuit of me.”
“We shall kill all of them!” screamed the village headmaster.
“I can’t thank you enough, my good people, for building me a place of escape from the invaders,” said Chan Dum, casting a furtive look at the fortress. “How I would have cherished to be with you all my people to the end of time! It is a great pity that I have to withdraw now because we are dealing here with life and death. You have fulfilled your own part of the bargain. Now it is my own turn to give you the goodies. Today is Kita’s day of destiny. Enjoy!”
With the words dancing in the air, Chan Dum withdrew into the fortress accompanied by his family, Otimkpu, and the apostles. The villagers of Kita wallowed in merriment until a sharp horn blast and vehicular roar stopped them dead. The trailer that appeared in Kita was longer and wider than a cathedral. Oh, how the people danced around the trailer that contained the gadgets to make Hollywood look very ancient indeed! Like the famed cargo cult, they sang and ululated. It was with a flourish that the Igwe of Kita ordered that the contents of the trailer be exposed to the cheering public. The village headmaster beat everybody to the momentous task of removing the sprawling navy-blue tarpaulin covering the trailer. A gargantuan container lay exposed on the board of the trailer. After some five furious minutes, the rear of the container was knocked off. The sons and daughters of Kita watched with mouths agape as the dark substance that issued from the container formed a very intimidating mountain capped by one bottle of beer and a stamped but open envelope containing no letter.
Shit or toxic waste or manure, the people of Kita could not tell. But the stench emitting from it all was another matter entirely: unbearable. And the people fled, thus ending the giddy existence and short story of Kita.
Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
was educated at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) where he took a first degree in Dramatic Arts with Prof Wole Soyinka as Head of Department. He has a Master’s degree in Literature from the University of Lagos. He started out in community theatre through which he directed his first play, Doctor of Football, in 1979. His other play is A Play of Ghosts. He ventured into journalism, and his article “The Match That Broke the Myth” was re-published in Intensive English reader, a recommended reading for all secondary schools in Nigeria. He was the 1989 Distinguished Visitor at the Graduate School of Journalism, University of Western Ontario, Canada. He was nominated for the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing in 2008 for his short story, “Cemetery of Life” published in Wasafiri magazine, London. He is the author of the poetry collection, God of Poetry, and the novel, The Missing Link. He wrote the narrative for Scottish photographer Owen Logan’s picture book, Masquerade: Michael Jackson Alive in Nigeria, exhibited at STILLS, Scotland’s Centre For Photography, Edinburgh from August 1 to October 26, 2014. He has just completed work on his latest novel, Bomb of My Blood. Uzoatu lives in Nigeria with his wife Chidinma and their four children.