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They sat for a time, drinking their beer. When the chief had finished his, he reached into the cooler for another.
People all over the world were talking about Ismara. The President of the United States and the United Nations Secretary General had mentioned this little town by name. Journalists and celebrities, even the Pope had expressed his thoughts on what should be done about this community. But had anyone contacted the chief to ask his opinion? No, the chief had not appeared in the YouTube video. Nobody thought to ask him what he thought about the military operation, apparently now imminent. Had anyone thought about the fact that the Mokele Mbembe would almost certainly rouse themselves and take every possible measure to diligently kill, rape, mutilate, and abduct women and children in reprisal attacks, once the operation began? Sure, Katinde might be dead at the end of it, but for God’s sake, Ismara was finally getting back on her feet. For God’s sake. The least they could do was talk to the chief himself, so he could express his concerns. And after listening, if they did not hear his concerns, then he could take whatever miserable precautions he could to prepare the community—send out the town crier to announce village meetings, tell everyone to stockpile water, cultivate land closer to the villages, set up an early warning system using SMS messaging. Maybe the African Union would provide support in these precautions. Maybe they would provide supplies and water so that the women would not have to walk down the trail to the river, so that the men would not have to go out to their farms. But nobody talked to him, probably because he was Katinde’s cousin and had been installed as chief in no small part because of the actions of the Mokele Mbembe.
“Chief, do you have a passport?” Barry asked and handed him another beer.
One day the town of Ismara awoke to the sound of trucks and helicopters. Large, muscle-bound men in sunglasses and camouflage were walking around talking into their radios, pounding and twisting and pushing on lots of heavy things. They set up an array of tents with antennae and satellite dishes. The villagers peeked at all the activity from behind their closed doors. The children were the first to come out. Soon everybody was standing and staring at the strange men and all the strange vehicles and all the strange activity.
The chief’s office was full of people: Barry, Oka, the chief, the AU commanding officer, and his deputy were all there.
“Tell me again what you just said,” the general said to Oka.
“He’s dead, sir,” she repeated. She told about how, when she had been his wife, she had come into his room one night and found him lying dead, bleeding on his sheets from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. His lieutenants had burned his body to ashes and scattered those ashes into the river so that they would spread across the branches of the delta and trickle into the sea.
The general chewed on his lip. He paced around the small office, staring closely at Oka, Barry, and the chief in turn. He clinked and rustled when he moved. His deputy said something about a polygraph. The general stared at Oka, appraising her affect. Then he shook his head.
That evening, Barry called up Marty Shepherd from the Post. “You want a scoop?” he said. He told him. “Yep, eye witnesses confirmed it,” he said.
By now Sam Katinde would be in Saudi Arabia, probably standing in his backyard, philosophizing with his neighbor across the fence. Probably swatting a sandfly on his neck and talking about how none of us are individual people with minds and consciousness, that we are all part of a terrible and beautiful system of electromagnetic waves and pulsing energy. That’s probably what Sam Katinde was doing now. If he was ever ID’d, Oka was going to jail for sure. For that matter, Barry and the chief would likely be going to jail, too. Pissing in a bucket in the corner of a concrete cell. This was more likely than not, now that he thought about it.
That night, Barry lay with Oka naked under the mosquito net. He told her about how he wasn’t a person and how God wasn’t a person, that consciousness was illusion because it never emanated from a single mind, that collective consciousness was just as unitary as so-called individual consciousness. He went on and on for a long time, ending up with the conclusion that God did not know him, which was the thing that bothered him the most.
She lay flat on top of him and clasped his head between her hands. “Oh, my dear,” she said. “Sam done get inside your head.” She flicked his forehead with her fingernail. “Feel me.” She flicked him again. “Feel me.” Her ivory earrings glowed faintly in the moonlight. “I don’t deny that we overlap. How can I deny that? But there is something that makes me me, and I am conscious. I dey. You dey. We dey, no? And if this complex system of chemicals, impulses, and conflicting drives, comes together to produce my consciousness, why should that be reason to despair? If I am conscious in this way, surelythe Creative Force that we call God must be even more so. And I know you, stupid Oyibo.” She leaned down and bit his ear, hard.