Nicholas was a peculiar and unusual idiot, one who managed to be singular, even in a city as stupid as this one. Nicholas stood for MP in his constituency. He won because this is the way parliaments get populated: idiots avail themselves and are voted in. Nicholas’ particular talent was gibberish. While the typical MP spoke clear and distinct nonsense, Nicholas could craft tangles of wolokoso so profound that they often left the listeners slightly impressed, and a bit dizzy.
One day in the plenary Nicholas’ colleague Frank was having a nap. All of the signs were there -the contented smile on Fred’s face, the occasional twitch on that smile, the hands crossed over Frank’s belly, the eyes hidden behind heavily reflective spectacles and, of course, the fact that Frank was in plenary. Suddenly, without warning, well, without warning to those who don’t check the Parliament notice boards, a troop of school children appeared in the gallery. There were about fifty of them, all crew cut and high-pitched and restless, led by a thin dark woman with lipstick that looked even redder against skin so dark.
Frank awoke to see the little horde screeching and squealing as the woman waved her hands up and down. It took him a moment to realise that she was not trying to make them stop. She was conducting them and they were singing the national anthem. Frank arrived at his wakeful senses as the little school choir crested the last verse and began the final slide home. A school’s tour had decided to give the honourable MPs a treat. They were failing because no one was treated by such an awful sound as they produced, but something was coming out of this, which was that the Frank Gitta, MP, was slowly discovering that he liked them skinny and dark.
The speaker applauded and the teacher chaperone bowed and let the children curtsey as they ended the song.
“Wew dan, chudren, wew dan!” smiled Speaker Kiconco. “Very good singing the national ansem. Good to see patrotic chudren.”
The children looked pleased with themselves and shuffled bashfully.
“Weya you from?” asked Speaker Kiconco.
Much to Frank’s surprise, the answer was not the Planet Squealion in the galaxy Screechiax where everything sounds like an avalanche of saucepans. The teacher raised her lithe arm and, as she had conducted the cacophony before, conducted the answer.
“Shining Star Primary Secondary Day And Boring School Nazzeena, thank you please!” they chorused.
“Yowa from Nazzeena?” smiled Speaker Kiconco, evidently so pleased to, for once, have a group of people who answered his questions simply and directly. “Do you wan to meet yowa memba of payament, chudren of Nazzeena?”
There was a small honest pause before the teacher’s glare, sweeping over the huddled crowd of kids, assured them that they had better want to meet him. “Yeeees, thank you please!” they chorused.
“Will the Honourable memba from Nazzeena please rise!” commanded Speaker Kiconco proudly.
Frank was awake enough by now to remember that he was the Honourable member from Nazzeena. A microphone that worked was passed to Frank and he launched into a typical MP speech. Many words spoken, none of them meant. Many gestures, stern and grand, none of them sincere.
“We commend the youth of Nazzeena for flying the flag of Nazzeena high and for using their talents to blah blah showing great patriotism yadda yadda we could all learn from these leaders of the future tomorrow blah blah we should do our part to promote patriotism, blah blah…” and by the time he sat down to wait for the children to leave so that he could continue his nap, he was satisfied that he had nailed it.
He spent the rest of the morning dreaming about the thin teacher and wondering whether she would be impressed by a parliamentary visit to her school. Too bad he had already forgotten its name.
Frank woke up to a rude shock, the next day, not from his nap that afternoon. The next day the newspaper, on page three, where they print the parliament news, said this, “Nazzeena MP Gitta Proposes Patriotism bill.”
“The member proposed a bill to encourage patriotism…” it said. He didn’t read any further because no one does. All you need is the headline. And the headline said he had promised to make unpatriotic behaviour illegal. Frank looked at the cup of tea next to his newspaper and sighed. It was the weary sigh of a man who knew that he would be spending the rest of the next few weeks swearing to people who didn’t want to listen that, “No, that’s not what I meant.”
The city loved their Parliament for one thing, the fact that Parliament was one of the easiest ways to get that sweet dopamine rush that comes from being righteously outraged. By providing citizens with things to complain and rant and rave about, Parliament served as a convenient alternative to alcohol during the daytime hours.
When Mrs Gitta walked past the breakfast table, Frank wondered whether this would be a good day to finally murder her. Get rid of the bitch and make the newspapers forget the patriotism story both at the same time.
Fortunately for Mrs Gitta, Nicholas, her husband’s colleague, didn’t read newspapers and so she got to live. Nicholas spent his mornings picking out nice suits, shiny shoes and blingy watches because the best part of being an MP to him was being able to afford posh clothes. He dressed himself well, with his healthy parliamentary allowances, not just because he liked the look, but because he liked the attention. The best thing about the democratic process for him had been that he could court attention professionally now.
As he got out of his government- provided Toyota Harrier to enter the House of Parliament courtyard that day, he saw a pair of young men fumbling with black bags at the door to the chambers. It was, he discovered, a TV camera and microphone in the bag. Those rookie TV reporters, he thought, who haven’t yet learned that there is precious little news this early in the day. But there they were, and there no other MP was. They had their equipment and their eagerness to get a story, and when there is a camera, especially a camera this early in the morning, when ones suit still looks fresh and ones face is resplendent in recently applied lotions, one feels compelled to make the most of it. So when they asked their question, Nicholas would not just say “What patriotism bill?” He had to sound parliamentary and, more to the point, honourable, and so he launched into it with verve.
“Patriotism is a vital component of any society. It is crucial. In fact, and I am not afraid to say this, it is the glue that holds a society together!”
He was well practiced in this particular form of rhetoric. It was something of a personal art to him and he often practiced at home before his mirror. Repeat the point in three ways. Two synonyms and one metaphor, garnished with something that makes the words sound heavy and hard, like “I am not afraid to say” or “I must add” or “and you may quote me on this”. It made him feel that he sounded just like Malcolm X.
“What exactly is in the Patriotism Bill, Honourable?” asked the cub reporter.
“The Patriotism Bill, basically, in a nutshell,” began Nicholas, “Is about encouraging an atmosphere of patriotism, about encouraging a state of brotherhood among our countrymen, in fact, I would go so far as to say it is about reminding one another that love for your nation is the greatest love of all!”
The cub reporter scribbled it all down. Nicholas was pleased. He grinned at the camera with extra beams and the sheen from his European toothpaste reflected back from the lens. The reporter, being inexperienced, still nevertheless thought it would be necessary to get an actual straight answer from the MP about what on earth the patriotism bill was, so he tried one more time. “So, what does the bill entail, Honourable?”
“It is about courage. It is about valour. It is about, and I am sure you will agree that it is time for this, about standing up and saying to all the world that we are proud of our nation.”
The reporter was one of those saddled with one of the great obstacles to progress in his trade: integrity. He was clearly frustrated by now. He had stopped writing. Nicholas noticed this but interpreted it differently. He took this to mean that he was not being impressive enough. He would have to go harder.
“Yes. We need to make a stand. We need to rise up. We need to send a clear message to the world that we are not joking around. We are proud of who we are and whoever doesn’t like it, that is too bad!”
The reporter sensed that something, if not informative, then at least inflammatory, was coming. He positioned his pen again. This was a turning point in his career, even though he didn’t realise it. By surrendering the search for information and instead crouching to pounce on some sleaze, he crossed over from a cub to a real journalist.
“Too bad for those who don’t like it? What will happen to them?” asked the reporter.
“That is why we have a Patriotism Bill. To take care of elements like this. Noxious elements in our society. Poisonous people in our midst. We must have the strength and conviction to take action against those who stand among us but are not together with us.” he ranted. He even raised his finger now. It was, he felt, finger-raising time.
“Do you mean punish unpatriotic people?” the former cub pounced.
“We will pursue them where they hide, we will hunt them down where they congregate, and we shall bring them, yes, I say we shall bring them to justice!” Nicholas found himself dragging a nugget from a different speech out of his drawer of sound bites and hurling it into the air.
“Thank you very much, Honourable,” said the reporter, whose instincts were kicking in very fast. He already knew that when something so incendiary was on record he had to get out of there and turn off his phone and be very far away before the MP realised what he had just said.
The next day the news headlines were strident and strong all across the papers, which had picked up the story from the TV news the night before. While Nicholas watched telenovelas with his girlfriend and Frank deepened his Johnnie Walker debt at his local bar, the editors of the city’s newspapers were stopping the presses. “Did he just say that?” was echoed throughout newsrooms all across the town as the TV stations crackled out the Honourable Nicholas Mwanje’s words.
The Unpatriotic Will Be Punished
Be Patriotic or Be Arrested
Parliament to Clamp Down Hard on Unpatriotic
Be Patriot or Pay The Price!
…and, because there is always that one newspaper that believes that scandalous news is never scandalous enough when all it contains is mere truth, there was also the spicy, Love Uganda or Be Hanged!
Frank could not have been happier that morning. He even made physical contact with his wife- he brushed past her on his way out of the house- and did not cringe in disgust. He marched into the house of parliament beaming with the confidence that comes from knowing that nobody cares about him and nobody was going to bother him. All his sins had been lifted and placed on the shoulders of another.
Nicholas meanwhile, was feeling much happier. You would think he would be unnerved by the fact that the whole nation was wondering how he expected to carry out his plan to find and execute people who didn’t show as much love for the nation as he wanted to see, but that was not bothering him at all. Instead, all Nicholas saw was attention. Attention from all sides. The press gallery was baying for him and he couldn’t be happier. He imagined this is what Jay-Z must feel like. If Jay-Z performed in suits.
The great thing about democracy is that it involves all varieties of people. Even though the majority may get all the attention, the minority also have a chance to get their influence in. Sometimes this works in a skewed way, where it isn’t the majority versus the minority of numbers, but rather the majority of noise versus the minority of whispers discreetly hissing under the clamour.
Nicholas railed and ranted to the reporters, who gleefully wrote down, recorded and filmed every explosive sound bite, especially when he really caught flight and began to hypothesise about tribunals to assess the degrees of suspects’ patriotism and determine the severity of their punishment. It was while he described camps in which to inter those deemed unpatriotic for special lessons in the right ideology that Frank, instead of sleeping away the day, decided that for once he could actually do some work while in parliament. He typed some notes down on his parliament iPad and sent them off to his assistant, who set to work, zipping the paperwork around.
The next day’s headlines read, in a variety of poses, Parliament to Debate Patriotism Bill and the journalists, human rights advocates, diplomats, talking heads, Twitter and Facebook users, radio presenters, TV commentators all wrung their knickers into gordian twists trying to decide how evil it was to suggest that a person might perhaps be allowed the right to not be patriotic. The riddle was made so thorny by the fact that no one wanted to say what they really thought, except for Nicholas Mwanje, who wasn’t even thinking at all.
Meanwhile, the one thing that was not in the headlines was that parliament also voted to extend a fresh allowance credit to all members. They quickly and quietly voted some extra bucks into their pay and while Nicholas was beaming off the screen on the news that evening, the special guest on a popular talk show, Frank cleared his Johnnie Walker debt at the bar, and ordered another drink.
Democracy is made of all sorts of people. Men and women. Rich and poor. Good and evil. But mostly, the stupid and the cunning- and is won by those cunning enough to take advantage of the stupid.
His new book Chandler and Frasier: Kampala’s Most Wanted is available on Amazon. Buy it. For his The Neverman Project: Short Fiction Experiments, go here. For a free download of his The Ballad of Black Bosco, go here.