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from the April 2006 issue

Broken Glass

I need to start by describing the row that accompanied the birth of the bar, to tell you a bit about the calvary the Captain had to face, because some people wanted to drive him into his grave, to draw up his last will and testament, it all began with people from the Church who, when they saw their congregations were diminishing on Sundays, began a real Holy War against him, they all threw their Jerusalem bibles at Credit Gone Away, they said that if this went on there would be no more masses in the neighbourhood, there would be no more singing and trances, no more Holy Spirit descending on Trois-Cents, no more black, crusty holy wafers, no more sugary wine, the blood of Christ, no more choir boys, no more pious sisters, no more candles, no more alms, there would be no more first communion, or second communion, no more catechism, no more baptism, no more anything, and so everybody would go straight to hell, and following that there was the protest by the guild of weekend and holiday cuckolds, who claimed that if their wives no longer made them any decent meals, if their wives no longer respected them like ladies of time gone by, Credit Gone Away was largely to blame, and they said respect was important, who was going to respect them if not their wives because that was the way it had been since Adam and Eve, and these good heads of families did not see why things should change so drastically, their wives should be on their knees, they should do what their men-folk told them, that's what they said, but that had no effect either, and then there were the threats from an old association of former boozers who had become drinkers of water, of Fanta, of Pulp'Orange, of grenadine, of Senegalese bissap, of grapefruit juice or diet Coke smuggled in from Nigeria for leaves of Indian hemp, these fanatics besieged the bar for forty days and nights, but that failed too, after that there was a mystical intervention by the guardians of traditional morality, tribal leaders with their gris-gris which they flung at the entrance to the bar, with the curses they heaped on the owner of Credit Gone Away, with dead souls that they made speak, and they prophesied that the bar owner was going to die a slow death, that they themselves were going to nudge him along the path to the scaffold, but that didn't work either, and finally there was direct action from a group of thugs paid by a few old farts in the neighbourhood nostalgic for the Case de Gaulle, for the life of boy servants, the life of Black Sambo and his medals, a life from the days of the 1930s Colonial Exhibition and Josephine Baker's black dancers flinging themselves about with bunches of bananas round their waists, so these upright citizens were forever ambushing the Captain with their hooded thugs who came in the middle of the night, in the heart of darkness, who came with iron bars from Zanzibar, with clubs and maces from the Christian Middle Ages, with poisoned spears from the time of Chaka Zulu, with Communist hammers and sickles, with catapults from the Hundred Years War, Gallic billhooks, pygmy hoes, Molotov cocktails left over from May '68, machetes inherited from a killing season in Rwanda, slings from the famous battle between David and Goliath, they brought all this impressive arsenal with them, but that failed too, although they did destroy part of the establishment, and it was in all the press, La rue meurt, La Semaine Africaine, Mwinda, Mouyondzi Tribune, tourists even came from neighbouring countries to see the place from as close as possible, like pilgrims visiting the Wailing Wall, and these tourists took tons of photos for who knows what reason, but at least they were photos, there were even some inhabitants of this city who had never set foot in the Trois-Cents neighborhood who to their amazement now discovered it, and wondered how on earth the people there lived so contentedly among all the piles of rubbish, the puddles, the carcasses of dead pets, the burnt-out vehicles, the mud, the cow dung, the gaping potholes in the avenues, the tumbledown shacks, so the barman gave interviews to all and sundry, and overnight our barman became a martyr, and overnight our barman was suddenly on all the TV programs, he spoke in the lingala of the people of the north of the country, in munukutuba like those from the forest of Mayombe, in bembe like the inhabitants of the bridge of Moukoukoulou, who always resolve their arguments with a knife, so that everyone came to know him, he became famous, he inspired pity, people wanted to help him, there were even campaigns of support, petitions on behalf of this brave guy who soon became known as *Šñthe Stubborn Snail', but above all it was thanks to the drunks who show solidarity to the last drop of wine and who decided to fight back, they rolled up their shirtsleeves to repair the damage caused by those who longed for the days of the Colonial Exhibition, the Case de Gaulle, Josephine Baker's black balls, with the result that for some this trivial incident became a national scandal, it became the "Credit Gone Away Affair," the government discussed it in their Cabinet meetings, some of the country's leaders demanded the bar be closed immediately and for ever, others were against it, for scarcely more convincing reasons, all of the sudden the country was split in two over this tiny spat, at which point with all the wisdom and authority he was renowned for from this moment on, the minister for Agriculture, Trade and Small and Medium Enterprises, Albert Zou Loukia raised his voice, he made a memorable speech, a speech still regarded here as one of the finest speeches ever made, Minister Zou Loukia repeated several times "I Accuse," which fascinated everyone so much that in the street, over the slightest little argument or some minor act of injustice, they would say "I Accuse," and even the head of government told his spokesman that this Minister of Agriculture was a good speaker, that his popular slogan "I Accuse" would go down in history, and the prime minister even promised that during the next Cabinet reshuffle they would put the Minister of Agriculture in charge of Culture, all that was needed was to get rid of the first four letters of his title, and to this day people agree that the minister's speech was brilliant, he recited whole pages from books by those great authors often quoted over the dinner table, he sweated the way he always did when he was proud of having seduced his audience by his knowledge, and that is how he came to defend Credit Gone Away, starting with praise for The Stubborn Snail's initiative, he knew him well because they had been at primary school together, and ending with these words, which I quote from memory: "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Cabinet, I accuse, I am not willing to be part of a social climate as moribund as ours, I am not willing to sanction this manhunt by being part of this government, I accuse these vicious attacks on someone who has merely given a sense of direction to his existence, I accuse the cowardice of the retrograde actions that have taken place recently, I accuse the lack of civility of the barbaric acts orchestrated by people of bad faith, I accuse the outrages and the threats that have become so commonplace in our country, I accuse the treacherous complicity of all those who arm the thugs, the trouble-makers, I accuse the disdain of man for man, the lack of tolerance, the abandonment of our values, the rising tide of hatred, the inertia of our consciences, the slimy toads from here and elsewhere, yes, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Cabinet, just look at how the Trois-Cent neighborhood has become a sleepless fortress with a stony face, while the man now known as the Stubborn Snail, disregarding the fact that he was a former classmate of mine, and very intelligent too, that man now being hunted down is nothing more than the victim of a cabal, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Cabinet, we should be concentrating our efforts on tracking down real bandits, therefore I accuse all those who with such impunity paralyse the proper functioning of our institutions, those who so brazenly break the chain of solidarity we inherited from our ancestors the Bantu, I say that the Stubborn Snail's only fault was to have shown his fellow countrymen that each of us in our own way can contribute to that transformation of human nature taught to us by the great Saint-Exupéry in Wind, Sand and Stars, which is why I accuse, and will go on accusing forever."

The day after minister Zou Loukia's speech Adrien Lokouta Eleki Mingi, the President himself, flew into a rage and squashed the grapes he liked to eat for dessert every day, and we have learnt from Radio-Trottoir FM that President Adrien Lokouta Eleki Mingi, who was on top of everything else commander-in-chief, showed how jealous he was of his agriculture minister's "j'accuse," in fact the commander-in-chief wished more than anything else that he had said it, he could not understand why his advisers had failed to come up with such a pithy but effective slogan whilst they made him say such overblown phrases as, "Just as the Sun rises over the horizon and sinks at night into the majestic River Congo," so then, angry, mortified, diminished, thwarted, frustrated, president Adrien Lokouta Eleki Mingi summoned the niggahs in his cabinet who were all so faithful to him, and demanded that they work as they had never worked before, he wanted no more overblown slogans born of a fake poetic lyricism, and the niggahs in his Cabinet stood to attention in line, from the shortest to the tallest, like the Dalton brothers who Lucky Luke chases through the cactus fields of the Far West, and these niggahs said in chorus, "Yes, captain," even though our president Adrien Lokouta Eleki Mingi was the commander-in-chief, who in fact was waiting for a civil war between north and south so that he could write his war diaries, which he intended in all modesty to call Memoirs of Adrien, and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces ordered them all to find him a slogan that would go down in history like the "I accuse" that the minister Zou Loukia had come up with, and the Cabinet niggahs worked all through the night shut up together, for the first time they opened and pored over the encyclopedias gathering dust on the shelves of the presidential library, they searched in the huge books written in tiny print, they went back to the dawn of creation, to the times of a guy called Gutemberg and of Egyptian hieroglyphs, even to the writings of a Chinaman who had apparently written on the art of warfare and who had lived at a time when no-one even knew Jesus Christ was to be born thanks to the intervention of the Holy Spirit, or that he would die for our sins, but Adrien's niggahs could not find anything as strong as the minister Zou Loukia's "I accuse," so the commander-in-chief of the armed forces threatened to sack the whole Cabinet if they could not come up with his password into history, he said "Why should I go on paying a bunch of idiots who can't even find me a striking, memorable, telling slogan? I warn you that if I don't have my slogan before the cocks have announced the dawning of a new day, heads will roll like rotten mangoes falling from a tree. Yes to me you're nothing more than rotten mangoes, you mark my words. Start packing your bags and looking for a Catholic country to exile yourselves in, because it will be either exile or a tomb, I promise you. From now on nobody leaves this palace, from my office I don't want to smell so much as coffee being made, still less Cohiba or Montecristo cigars, there'll be no drinking water, no sandwiches either, nothing, nothing, nothing, you're all on diets until you find me my slogan, can you tell me why don't you how that little minister Zou Loukia found his *ŠñI accuse' that everyone in the country has on the tip of their tonuges, the presidential security services have told me there are even babies being nicknamed *ŠñI accuse' and what about all those hot young women who have had the words tattooed on their buttocks, eh? And of course irony of ironies clients visiting prostitutes are demanding they are tattooed the same, you see what deep shit you've landed me in, eh? It didn't take any magic to come up with a slogan like that, did it? Are those niggahs in the Agriculture Ministry so much sharper than you, eh? Do you realize that his niggahs don't even have an official car each, they take the ministry bus, they have pitiful salaries while you enjoy an easy life here in the palace, you swim in my pool, you drink my champagne, you're happy to watch those foreign cable channels that say whatever they like about me, you eat my petits-fours, my salmon, my caviar, you use my garden and my artificial snow to go skiing with your mistresses, you only just stop short of sleeping with my twenty wives, so tell me, what good are you all to me in this Cabinet, eh? Am I paying you just so that you can come and sit on your fat asses here, eh? I might as well appoint my stupid dog as head of Cabinet, you load of good-for-nothings,' with which President Adrien Lokouta Eleki Mingi slammed the door, shouting as he went, "Load of Niggahs, everything is going to change in this palace, I'm fed up with fattening slugs like you who only come out with slimy nonsense, I want to see results, and to think that some of you went to the top universities, my ass, you'll see."

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