Grilled croaker fish tasted good with beer—the sweetness, the charcoal, the carbonation in his throat. Barry broke a flake of meat off with his fingertips and put it in his mouth. He chewed. He swallowed. He broke off another piece, licking the pepper off his lips. He zoned, staring at the soccer game on the TV in the corner, occasionally focusing enough to catch the score, then going blank again. Mosquitoes buzzed around his ankles.

The electricity went off for a moment.

Oka sat down next to Barry in the dark. “Oyibo,” she said.

“When will you stop calling me that?” Barry said, even though he knew she didn’t mean it that way.

She put her hand on his arm. “How bodi?” she said. He didn’t answer her. “How you dey?” she pressed.

“Fine,” he said. “I’m fine.” He scratched his bearded cheek with his index finger.

Barry had been a missionary. Then he worked as a contractor for a mining company. Then he worked for a small NGO. But now he didn’t do any of those things. When his mother died of leukemia, back in Illinois, she left him $72,000.89. After the funeral, he took that money and flew to West Africa with six pairs of pants, ten boxer shorts, three t-shirts, hired a small boat and moved out to the creeks. Upon arriving in Ismara, he laid a concrete foundation, put up four walls, a corrugated aluminum roof, and settled in. Eventually the money would probably run out. But as long as he didn’t go into town too much or get real sick, it would last a good, long while.

Abruptly, the power came back. Soukous music resumed on the radio. The TV flickered on and off. Then when it came on all the way, Barry saw a still-shot of himself on the television screen. “…the hell?” he said.

He remembered that picture, vaguely. It was taken at a fundraiser in Washington years before, sponsored by some multinational, where everybody got dolled up and mingled with politicians and celebrities under high ceilings and chandeliers. Barry was in the background of the picture, visibly tipsy with a glass of wine in his hand, eyeing a tray of canapés. In the foreground, Senator Rivkin shook hands with the famous West African rapper, Big Wahala. Big Wahala’s real name was Godfrey, and he was from the same local government area where Barry lived now. Godfrey had been a child soldier during the height of the insecurity, but escaped from the grips of the sociopathic warlord who terrorized the region, and made his way through the bush to a refugee camp across the border. There, he started writing down lyrics and performing for whoever would listen. After he was discovered by Shakira he instantly became an international sensation, hitting all the major cities—Cape Town, Milan, Buenos Aires.

The song that made him famous was about his escape from the bush: This boat won’t float and I’m trying to breathe air/just shiverin’ in the river and I have blood in my hair/the guy with the eye in the sky just won’t leave me alone/he knows what what’s in my mind and I’m thinking about home. Then Shakira came in on the chorus and the two of them strode across the stage harmonizing to a backdrop of marimba and bass guitar. When they sang about home, she rocked her pelvis slowly, one hand on her belly, the other behind her head.

Big Wahala was at this event in Washington to receive some humanitarian award.

The still-shot was only up for half a second. It was part of a montage of a whole bunch of pictures and short clips of white people talking earnestly about the plight of child soldiers in the region and the necessity of the global community to focus like a laser on bringing Sam Katinde, the warlord, to justice once and for all. There was a bunch of merchandise you could buy that would spread the message, bracelets, headbands, and yard signs. There was a YouTube video you could send to all your friends at once with a single click of a mouse. Already, over 100 million people had watched the video. It was on the front page of every newspaper. School children from Hartford, Connecticut to Santa Fe, New Mexico were all talking about it in their social studies classes. Apparently the whole world knew all about the town of Ismara now.

The soccer game came back on. “That was strange,” said Oka.

“Strange all right,” said Barry.

“Try not to think about it,” Oka said. “Look, Arsenal is leading.”

A roar went up among the villagers as Robey heel-kicked the ball to Nasser who chipped it across the center and Plymoth headed it clean into the top right corner for the goal. Chelsea’s defense didn’t have a chance.

Walking back to the house, Barry kicked at a small rock with the bottom of his flip-flop. Oka made a tisk noise in her cheek and reached for his hand. She held his fingers lightly. They walked past the water pump and Taylor George’s plantation. A goat bleated sickly in the darkness. The smells of woodsmoke and vegetation were familiar and comforting. Clusters and constellations of stars dusted the sky between the dark silhouettes of canopy.

“Don’t worry, my love,” she said in a husky voice. “There’s nothing to worry about.”

Truth was, he wasn’t that worried yet. It was weird, to be sure. But he wasn’t that worried, really.

Barry was almost asleep, lying naked with Oka under the mosquito net, when his Otis Redding ringtone sang out. He grabbed his phone and punched the green button.

“Barry Lazarus? This is Marty Shepherd from the Post. Can I talk to you about Sam Katinde?”

“Do you have any idea what time it is?” Barry asked. When you’re in a video that 100 million people watch, even for a half a second, people like Marty were bound to come calling from different time zones.

“Just a few questions,” said Marty Shepherd from the Post.

“Katinde? He’s an asshole with a gun,” said Barry and hung up the phone and turned it all the way off.

A couple assholes with a gun can cause a lot of grief. Back when he worked for the mining company, he was sitting under a tree with an Australian engineer named Kiwi and a Nigerian geologist named Fonyo. Sitting there—that’s all they were doing. Just having a drink. It was very much against company protocol for them to be out there, drinking in the village, but they didn’t like being cooped up behind the razor wire and the fifteen-foot walls. They didn’t like tennis. They didn’t want to go for another dip in the pool.

“One more calabash!” Kiwi yelled to the girl with one leg. She was pretty good on her crutches, balancing the calabash on her head as she brought it out. She put her crutches to the side, leaned against the table for support and lowered the calabash to the rickety table under the tree where Barry, Kiwi, and Fonyo sat, grinning ear to ear. Barry peered into the white viscous liquid. “Yep,” he said. “It’s ready to drink.” He picked out a dead bee and showed it to Fonyo.

“That is how you know,” Fonyo said, “Just as I said.” Barry put the bee back in the palm wine and dipped the metal cup and drank it down.

“You’re a palm wine gourmet, Fonyo,” Kiwi said.

“Yes I am. In fact I have my own plantation. Did you know? My wife, she says to me, cut those trees and put plantains, yams, or cassava. But I say, no, I am a palm wine gourmet. How can I deny my passion? When I explained like that, she agreed very heartily. She is very supportive of my passions.”

Barry crushed a bee between his teeth. It added a little bitterness to the flavor.

Kiwi pointed his handgun at a knobby looking soursop fruit the size of a football, hanging from a tree across the compound. “Do you cut down the tree and drain it completely or do you tap it while it is still living?” he said.

“If there is a marriage or a death celebration, I chop down many trees. Otherwise I let them drip and collect the palm wine in calabashes,” Fonyo replied.

It may have been an accident. But Kiwi squeezed the trigger and missed the soursop. The bullet crashed through the branches.

The girl’s mother came running out of the hut and yelled a lot of angry words in the local language, which they didn’t understand.

“I think she is enraged that you missed the soursop,” Fonyo said.

“Well for God’s sake, I had better try again,” said Kiwi.

“But that soursop is so far away,” said Fonyo. “If you miss one more time, she may come and smack our heads with a calabash. I’m already developing a headache as it is. Better not to try and shoot it again, I think.”

Kiwi apologized to the woman. “Sorry, ma’am. It was a bloomin’ accident, it was. Putting it away now, Sheila. Snapping the holster shut now, see?”

The lady spat her disgust and went back inside.

At another table, several men were laughing and giving them the thumbs-up: Sam Katinde’s boys. You could tell because of their age range and how they acted. Those guys were members of a local group with the intentionally scary name of Mokele Mbembe. They thought Barry, Kiwi, and Fonyo were great yuksters.

Guys like that were the reason Kiwi brought his gun in the first place. And he wanted them to know he had one—to establish a little parity, mutually assured destruction and all that, so everyone could drink their palm wine in peace.

In solidarity with Kiwi, one of the M&M boys pointed his weapon in the direction of the soursop fruit and let loose a volley of gunfire. Then they laughed very hard and gave more thumbs-ups.

Fonyo, Barry, and Kiwi looked at each other deadpanned. “Those guys have no discipline,” said Fonyo.

The elderly woman ran out again, waving her hands and this time berating the M&M guys.

“This is about to turn ugly,” Kiwi said.

Having as they did such a scary name, as well as money and guns, the Mokele Mbembe were granted certain perks and entitlements in this community, generally eating, drinking, and fucking for free. Sometimes they’d pay generously and everyone would be most thankful and relieved. But on occasion someone would be less than deferential and regret it a lot.

These guys did not actually conceive of themselves as predators. Rather, they resented the traditional leadership, which they believed had been co-opted by the mining company to sell out the interests of the community. So they were pushing for the installation of a different paramount chief that they thought was more representative. In the meantime, the chieftaincy struggle led to a breakdown in governance. And now these Mokele Mbembe took it upon themselves to enforce law and order and collect taxes for doing so. The Mokele Mbembe resented the mining company for corrupting their traditional leadership. That tension between the youth militia and the mining company was the main reason they weren’t allowed to mingle in town for fear that they’d stir up trouble by doing so.

“That’s Captain Butt Naked,” Fonyo said, nodding at the man with the gun. He had army boots on his feet and cornrows in his hair.

“Goddamnit,” Barry said. He’d heard stories about Captain Butt Naked.

“That old woman is fed up,” said Kiwi. “She doesn’t give a fuck.”

The old woman was yelling at the Mokele Mbembe. The one-legged girl shuffled out on her crutches as fast as she could, calling to her mother, her voice shrill.

Fonyo heaved a big sigh, stood up, and walked over to where things were about to turn ugly. The M&M crew had each one of them turned to face the old lady, leering. Captain Butt Naked had his hand on his gun, waiting to see what Fonyo would do. The girl was pulling on her mother’s skirt, trying to get her to come back inside the house.

Before anybody could do anything, though, Fonyo strode up to the woman and slapped her hard and hauled her back to the house by her elbow. On the way, she kicked him in the shin. Out of sight, the sound of a scuffle reached Barry and Kiwi. The M&M boys laughed so hard they wiped tears from their eyes.

Fonyo came back out front. He gave the goons a big-assed thumbs up and went back to his table and sat down.

Kiwi said, “Told you it was gonna turn ugly.”

“Could have been uglier,” Barry said.

“Almost was,” said Fonyo. “Her husband came at me with a machete. I had to clear the air very fast. Hey, let’s go to the palm wine plantation and see how it compares with mine.” The M&M guys felt that they had bonded over the abuse of the woman so they accompanied them to the edge of the village, everybody walking along swinging their arms and acting tough.

“See those trees?” said Fonyo. “See how they cut a groove in the trunk so that the sap can drip? You can drink palm wine all day. In the morning it is sweet. Then by afternoon it has begun to ferment. Finally, at night it is very strong. Palm wine is the perfect beverage.”

The M&M crew was scouring the trees for calabashes full of wine cinched tight against the trunks. Whenever one of them found one he shouted a great shout of jubilation and the others came running. For lack of anything better to do, Fonyo, Kiwi, and Barry joined in the hunt for booze. As the hours passed, Fonyo kept saying, “See how the wine gets stronger? This one was very strong.” Pretty soon they were firing their weapons into the trees.

“It’s a good skill to develop,” Kiwi said. “Shooting while drunk.”

“I can see how that would be,” Barry said. “Eighty-six percent of all gun battles occur while intoxicated. Best be prepared.”

“Safety first, that’s my motto,” Kiwi said and shot over Barry’s head into the trees. “Remember what I told you,” Kiwi said. “Left hand supports the weapon.” He was sitting flat on the ground with his legs outstretched, his head sort of lolling to one side.

“Did I ever tell you what a great mentor you are?” Barry asked him. “When we get back to the capital I’m going to have to tell everyone how truly wonderful you are. Really spot on, as you people say.”

“Thanks,” Kiwi said. “That means a lot.”

This was years ago, when the conflict was still winding up. Everybody acted crazy in those days. Even so, that behavior was beyond the pale as far as headquarters was concerned. When they got back, Barry blew the whistle on himself and his two friends and they all lost their jobs. Barry went to work for a small NGO.

Eventually the Mokele Mbembe got their choice of Paramount Chief, who, as it turned out, lived just down the road from Barry. So when the NGO he worked for was contracted to do “key informant interviews” of all the major stakeholders in the community, he went over to the palace to meet with him. These interviews were required as data for an assessment of the main conflict drivers in the region. The research was to inform the program design of a large peace building intervention, funded by USAID. Barry walked over to his compound early in the afternoon. He waited his turn in the front room. The front door was flanked with elephant tusks. Animal skins hung on the wall, next to the chief’s university diploma. There was a photograph of the chief shaking the president’s hand. People wandered in and out with their various concerns: land conflicts, chieftaincy tussles, domestic disputes. Others came in to pay their respects. Others came to ask for various blessings and endorsements. Barry had to wait a long time because there was an ambassador from across the river. The chief and the ambassador were huddled in the office for over an hour. Barry waited. He had nothing better to do than wait. He stood up and went outside to smoke a cigarette. Fruit bats boomeranged in the palm trees. The sun was going down.

As he ground his cigarette butt in the dirt with the heel of his flip-flop, the ambassador walked down the front steps, and rode off on his motorcycle, fishtailing in the dirt. The chief’s assistant called out and Barry went into the chief’s office where he stood, apparently seething.

“You want to interview key stakeholders?” the chief said, finally. “You should interview my cousin, Sam Katinde. I’ll arrange it.”

About a week later, Otis Redding sang out on Barry’s phone. And a week after that, Barry was sitting in a canoe with an outboard motor, escorted by a teenager with a distended belly and an AK-47. Monkeys chattered in the mangrove roots. Long-tailed birds darted in the green.

Barry tried to learn what he could about Sam Katinde. He yelled over the sound of the outboard motor: “Hey! How long have you worked for Sam Katinde?” The man busied himself navigating to the edge of the river to avoid a small whirlpool.

“Watch your head,” the man said, pointing to a branch hanging low over the river. Barry ducked as the leaves scraped over them.

Still Barry pressed. “Tell me about Sam Katinde,” he said.

Low thunder rumbled, lingering. The air felt suddenly cool.

“Eyes in the sky,” the man said, and refused to acknowledge another word that came out of Barry’s mouth, whether comic, directive, affirmative, or inquisitive. After a while, Barry gave up and settled into an anxious, brooding silence.

They took a branch in the river, then another, and another. No way Barry could find his way back by himself. At last they ran aground. The man jumped out and tied off to a tree, cinching the slipknot tight. There was a whistle dangling from his neck. He put it in his mouth and blew two short bursts and one long.

Two youths appeared, one with a handgun and the other with a bow and arrow. They smiled big, welcoming smiles. Barry clung to those smiles, pitifully, as they all walked up the trail together, just four people walking on a trail. They passed by mounds of rock where artisanal miners dug with pickaxes and shovels. The miners looked up as they passed. “Oyibo,” a little boy shouted out and followed them down the trail. When they arrived at the camp, there was a whole parade of children and men and women laughing and waving and talking to one another. The man from the boat knocked on the door of a hut, and everyone hushed.

The door opened. The man from the boat ushered Barry inside and shut the door behind him. He blinked as his eyes adjusted to the dark. A citronella candle burned in the corner. After the spots in his eyes cleared, he could make out the form of a slender man standing there with his hand outstretched. Barry shook it.

“Thank you for coming,” said Sam Katinde. “I’m sure you must be apprehensive.”

Katinde had delicate features, fine cheekbones, almond-shaped eyes.

Katinde smiled sadly. “I know,” he said. “It’s strange to see the face of a monster, isn’t it?” He talked quietly, hardly moving his lips when he spoke.

“I’ve heard the stories,” said Barry.

“So many terrible things,” said Katinde. “Have a seat.” He gestured towards a low, wooden stool. Barry sat. Katinde himself sat on his haunches, adjusting his holster so he could squat comfortably. “We don’t often receive guests here,” he said by way of explanation or apology.

The door opened, sending a wedge of sun shooting across the floor. It closed again. A young woman came in with a tray. She knelt, setting down the tray. She poured palm wine from a calabash into a metal cup. She handed the cup to Barry. Her hands were steady, sure. She had small, ivory earrings, cowry shells braided into her hair. Smelled faintly of flowers.

“Thank you, Oka,” said Katinde.

“Yes, sir,” she said, looking into Barry’s face for a second. Then she stood and walked towards the door, opened it, and left.

“You’re not drinking?” Barry said.

“I don’t take alcohol,” said Katinde. “The toxins make me feel lightheaded.”

Barry felt a little lightheaded, himself, from the citronella, from the situation. He was starting to feel paranoid about Katinde’s eyes in the sky.

Katinde fell quiet while Barry drank. After Barry put down his empty cup, Katinde said, “So you want to build peace. To do that you want to know why we are fighting.”

Barry nodded. This interview was not going according to plan. He had a feeling it would continue not going according to plan. Katinde talked quietly, hardly moving his lips, his hand cradling his face as he sat on his haunches on the floor. There were long pauses between sentences, in the middle of sentences. The pitch of his voice went up and down, but always soft, almost gentle. Now that Barry’s eyes were fully adjusted, he could see details. There were intricate patterns scarred into Katinde’s face. Tribal markings were common in this country. But Barry had never seen such complex patterns of deep and shallow scars in a man’s face before. Fractal, concentric swirls and angles, almost symmetrical, but not quite.

“We have mutilated. We have raped. We have forced children to do terrible things to their own mothers, their own siblings.”

“I have heard the stories,” said Barry. His mouth was dry.

“My God, the world is a terrible place. You want to understand all of this so that you can stop it from happening.”

Barry wondered how badly he wanted to stop it from happening. It seemed kind of presumptuous, when Katinde put it that way. He wanted it to stop happening, no doubt about that. But to be personally responsible for stopping it? He wondered if Katinde was making fun of him.

Katinde closed his eyes and fell into a long silence, the longest yet. Barry stared at the dust particles hanging in a shaft of light by the shuttered window.

Finally, Katinde looked up. He opened his palm and said, “Barry, you already know all the reasons. We both know very well the contents of your report. You will write about the exploitation and cooptation of the people by foreigners and companies and governments. About how the federal, state, and local governments are unknown to us except as foreign entities that occasionally act upon the people, sometimes for good, sometimes for evil. About the crisis of leadership up and down the hierarchy of traditional systems of governance. About how the youth have been betrayed by the traditional system and neglected by the modern one. About how all this all takes place in a context of group-based fear and hatred between ethnic groups. Surely you will also write about the drive for survival in a place where livelihoods have been destroyed by foreign companies who pull our soul out of the ground and sell it abroad so that people can communicate with one another on their mobile phones, sending SMS, twitter messages, YouTube videos, Facebook status updates. They pull our soul from the ground and then it is mixed with the soul of the world. These are all things that you already know. And you have come here for some good quotations so as to lend your report some heft and credibility.”

Katinde shifted his weight and reached for the calabash. He poured another cup for Barry. Then he took a small reddish cola nut from a saucer and broke it. He handed one segment to Barry. “Don’t worry. I’ll give you your quotations,” Katinde said. He put the other segment in his own mouth. Barry chewed. It was very bitter. As he chewed and swallowed, the edges and contours of things were sharpened.

“To be clear,” Katinde said, “in the same way that people treat culture as if it is a thing with a boundary and an essence, most people also reify the so-called individual. They believe that consciousness emanates from a central point in a man’s mind. So they are horrified that I, Sam Katinde, raped and mutilated and killed so many innocent people. What they do not choose to understand is that when I cut the lips off a child, they too are also cutting off those lips. And it horrifies me perhaps even more than it horrifies you.

“Let me explain. Isn’t it obvious, for example, that there is no single point at which a fetus becomes a person, distinct from his mother’s body? Not at conception. Not at the second trimester. Not at birth. Not on his eighth birthday. Not even at the point when his mother dies. There are vigorous debates on this subject, but in our hearts we all know the answer. It is obvious. The fetus, the child, the man is always a part of his mother’s body, a part of her soul. We are a single organism in constant flux. The distance between what I call me and what you call you is merely a question of degree and vector. Taking it from another angle: even within what I call myself there is a system of impulses and drives, both intersecting and parallel. If you separate my left brain hemisphere from my right brain hemisphere and both are functioning independent of each other, which one of them is me? Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I am the vine and you are the branches.’ This was not an imperative. This was a statement of fact. God is not a person, just as I am not a person. When I rape and kill, you rape and kill. God also rapes and kills. And it horrifies us all.” A bead of sweat rolled down Katinde’s scarred face. He looked at Barry. His eyes were bloodshot, thin, red veins spider-webbed across the whites of his eyes.

Abruptly, he stood up. He walked to the window and threw open the shutters. “Oka,” he said. “Come.” He shut the window. Then he paced back and forth. Barry did not move.

The door opened. Oka stood in the doorway surrounded by a halo of light.

“You have been a good wife to me,” said Katinde. “Now you will go with this man.”

They rode in the canoe together. The young man with the distended stomach steered the canoe through the mangrove jungle, turning this way and that, one river branched into another branch into another, like the pattern scarred into Katinde’s face. Barry didn’t know what to say. He sure didn’t know what to write down in his report. They wanted it verbatim. But Heavens to Murgatroid, did they really want to read that shit? The man was fucking crazy. He leaned over and trailed his fingers in the water. He stared at his refracted fingers splitting the water the entire rest of the way home to Ismara.

The canoe rocked from side to side as he stepped out into the knee-deep water. He held the canoe steady while Oka stepped out, too.

“Where do you want to go?” he asked her.

She didn’t say anything.

“Where’s your family?”

She still didn’t say anything.

“I guess I should take you to the chief’s compound,” he said.

“I’ll go with you.”

“To the chief’s compound then.”

“No. With you.”

“Okay.”

Years passed. Eventually the rebellion died down. All but a few core fighters and conscripts came out of the bush. People who had been displaced returned to their ancestral lands. There was still the occasional skirmish or abduction, but life began to return to a kind of normalcy. Roads were built. Houses sprung up. When people began to believe that the security might hold, businesses began to return. Barry watched all this from his small hut on the outskirts of town. He sat in his wicker chair, smoking cigarettes, watching other people moving forward with their lives. Oka stayed with him.

That old hackneyed White Man’s Burden narrative sure had a sick appeal. That was how Barry started out. But after failing as a missionary, failing in the private sector, and then failing as a development worker, that protagonist role didn’t pan out. So he tried out another trope: Africa as backdrop for a white guy’s self-discovery. Well, shit. What’s wrong with discovery? Except for that it didn’t amount to much at the end of the day. Sitting on his wicker chair under the mango tree. Chewing on palm nuts. Chewing on cola nuts. Chewing on ground nuts. He sat there wondering about God. If consciousness as linked to identity was illusion, then God must not know Barry. Maybe God was not a person, and maybe Barry was not known by God. Maybe Barry was not a person to be known. Big orange-headed lizards with black bodies and orange tails bobbed their heads up and down in the sun. It was nice, though, watching other people moving forward with their lives. It was nice that Oka chose not to move on with hers.

Then he saw himself on TV and the whole miserable applecart was upset, just like that.

Reporters started calling. Katinde’s face was splashed on every channel. Geraldo Rivera and Rush Limbaugh talked and talked about Katinde, expressing loud opinions with all due righteous bombast. The CNN effect had its effect. Christiane Amanpour reported that a team of U.S. Special Forces was deployed in support of an African Union mission to smoke him out dead or alive.

The Paramount Chief came to visit Barry one afternoon. Barry was sitting, as usual, under the mango tree.

“You’re looking agitated, chief,” said Barry. Barry opened a small plastic cooler next to him and reached in the ice water for a bottle of beer. “Here, have a beer,” he said, and tossed it to the chief. The chief sat down on a chair and took a long drink from his beer. Then he took a deep breath.

“I am the Paramount Chief in this region, correct?”

“That is correct, sir,” said Barry. “You have the hat and the stick.”

“I do have the hat. Look, it is on my own head.”

“And the stick. It sits across your lap, even now.”

“Ah, so it does.”

“Yep.”

“So I must be the Paramount Chief.”

“You must and you are.”

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.

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