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from the September 2013 issue

from “Za”

A man selling sweet dumplings comes up wiz his basket full and asks ze internashonal lady if se would be so kind as to buy one. No? Half of one, zen? — Ma’am iss not espensive, have pity on a poor Madagashi wiz zree shillen. Zis a bleshing ma’am. Internashonal lady rolls out her anger: “Can’t you see I have a situation on my hands?”

Rakoto says: “We must go, Mudum.”

Se replies: “I cannot go with a sick man in my arms who is chained to his bed!”

Rakoto says: “We must go, Mudum.”

Internashonal lady speaks louder and louder and pulls at ze handcuffs. Za know is not like zat se do it—se need ze keys. Besides, Za will never say it enough: Za am staying put, right here.

Rakoto says again: “We must go, Mudum.”

Crowds begin to gazer. Idiots! Za hear zem say ze internashonal lady is a trafficker of organs and se will cut me up in pieces so se can ekstort my heart and lungs, my kidneys, my zenitals and my corneas! Za hear zem mutter zis is too much—we cannot permit zem simply to help zemshelves to our priziners like zis. Za hear zem more and more enrazed—This man is still alive! Our leaders no longer baulk even at selling our brothers and abandoning them to the savagery of these Westerners, all of them sick from too much food and fucking. They take our hearts, they take our lungs, yet still they give us their AIDS, their pollution and their mad cows. That we are poor does not mean they can do whatever they like with us. We are not herds to be farmed for our organs! Colonization is over! We have donated enough of our soldiers for canon-flesh! Now, they want to chop us up alive! Let them find their spare parts elsewhere!

One says:

“Only one minute before, I saw the Minister for Justice come out of here; he has surely just sold that man.”

Two say:

“No, it was the Minister for Population.”

Three say: “There is no Minister for Population, not since the elections; what would he do from his prison cell anyway? Visit the population? No! We aren’t all in prison, not yet.”

Others say: “The Minister for Culture then? No!”

Other fusskickers . . .

“Yes! I swear it was: going to see the intellectuals in prison!”

“No! There isn’t a Minister for Culture any more; now they say Minister for Tourism, for the Tsingy and for Lemurs.”

One says again: “In any case, I remember his face. I saw him before, in the paper, standing beside the President.”

Two say: “The President is not guilty, it isn’t possible.”

Someone proposes: “It’s his associates, of course; his associates lead him astray.”

Someone adds: “But it’s also these foreigners who say they’re international experts, experts in this, experts in that . . .”

Rakoto pulls at ze internashonal lady’s sleeve: “We really ought to go, Mudum.”

The crowd comes closer and closer. Already zey have stones in zeir hands. Internashonal lady panics—they aren’t really going to stone this poor sick man just out of prison? We must do something, Rakoto.

“Ay don’ no, Mudum, ay don’ no! We have to go.”

“Take out your gun. Do something.”

“Ay don’ no, Mudum, ay never soot it!”

Internashonal lady rummazes in Rakoto’s pockets and pulls out ze gun. Ze crowd retreats.

“Rakoto! Hook the bed up to the vehicle!”

“Exkewze me, Mudum? Ay don’ understend!”

“Attach the bed to the car!”

“Attassing ze bed to ze cah, Mudum?”

“Yes, you confounded idiot! Like a trailer! Hurry!”

Rakoto does not understand but he obeys ze internashonal lady. Ze crowd creep forward to see if ze gun is going to speak. Ze gun does not speak. Ze crowd step forward one, two more step to see if ze gun is going to cough. Ze gun does not cough. Ze lady srieks. Ze crowd puss back like before. Rakoto sakes and russes—is ready, Mudum!

“Get in.”


“Don’t argue.”

Rakoto gets behind the wheel. Se gets in too.


It is an American-style ekzit. Za feel a zolt. Ze car hurtles down ze slope. My bed too. It sig-sags. It hardly stay upright on its wheels. Za prefer when ze bed was in ze infirmary, no rattles or rocks. But Za do not fall. Za am well tied down. Ze crowd srow zeir stones. Zey hit ze car. Zey hit my head. Za need not tremble. Za have had worse, rifle blows, canon blasts; Za did not confess zen, Za have not given up my liberty. Ze internashonal lady put her head out zrough ze car window. What se see in ze dust? Se wave to Rakoto, who slow down. Ze people up zere are all running and srieking. On ze side of ze road, more people start to move. Ze rumor rumble down ze slope faster zan ze mitsu-bitsu motor. People stop zere right in ze street. Rakoto does not stop. Ze people zump away at ze last second, zey try to cash my arms, my seets, my body and ze rope zat holds me zere. One gets my pillow, it rolls onto ze verze. A kid manazes to climb on my bed—hold tight, Uncle, I’m untying you. He kneeling on ze wound in my leg, Za puss him off—don’t move Uncle! He snash a corner of sheet in his teess and pulls at ze rope like a loony but Za know it’s not like zat you do it, you need ze keys. Besides, Za don’t want! Zey don’t understand nout about nout! A twist ezects ze kid and wiz him a wheel from my bed. Ze rattle becomes a ride. Ze rizm is total. Za have lost my seets in ze kid’s teess

Ze bed lurshes and Rakoto notices. He slows down more, risking ze people cashing up. Ze car makes onto tarmac road and heads back into town, trailing far behind its cortèze of ze scandalised, ze anti-colonialists and ze protectors of all organ-traffick people. Zat leg of my bed screeshes on ze asphalt and draws an infinite line behind us. Ze people stop on ze sidewalks and wass ze sight of my bare body strapped to ze bed, towed wizout a back left wheel. Ze car turns off before ze tunnel and climbs back toward ze residenshal districks. It hoots in front of a great gateway guarded by two washmen. It goes in. A garden and right at ze end a little two-story house—like ze one which Za used to dream of for my wife and son.

“Shut them, now!”

Ze washmen obey ze internashonal lady but ze rumor tracks its prey and closes in inecksorably.

“My God, my God . . . Quickly, call the police quickly! Quickly, call the Embassy!”

Se hands her phone to Rakoto who calls ze police.

“Hello, police?”

Internashonal lady look me and say: “Oh, my god, my god, he’s lost his sheets!” Se closes her eyes, look again and close again. Za have an ereckshon because of the too-tight rope and ze wind blowing ze hair on my crosh. Za hurt from getting hard so long.

“Hello, police here.”

“Cud yu plis come to Lot 487 bis IVK Antsahabe?”

“Lot 487 bis IVK Antsahabe?”

“Yes, Messiay.”

“We’re coming straight away except you must come and pick us up because we have no more available vehicles. We are always waiting for parts on order.”

“Right, Messiay Police. OK!”

Rakoto to Internashonal lady: “Dey coming Mudum but I must go an’ fetch dem.”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying, Rakoto.”

“Dey coming Mudum but I must go an’ fetch dem.”

“They’re coming but you have to fetch them . . .”

“Yes, Mudum.”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying, Rakoto.”

“Dey coming but dey have no more parts.”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying, Rakoto.”

“I must go an get dem.”

“You must go and get them . . .”

“Yes, Mudum.”

“Yes, Madame.”

“Dey have no more parts. It means Mudum dat dere car is broken-down.”

“But they’re coming . . .”

“I must get dem Mudum.”

“Call the Embassy.”

“It’s not possible, Mudum, it is Monnday.”


“It is closed on Monnday.”

“Then go, Rakoto, go and fetch the police . . .”

“I return in wun ah and ahf, mudum.”

“You’ll return in an hour and a half? But the police station is barely fifteen minutes away!”

“It is rush ah, Mudum.”

“It’s rush hour . . .”

“Yes, Mudum.”

“My God . . .”

Rakoto gets back in ze car and ze washmen open ze gates. Zey close again and await ze rumor. Za see only zeir legs standing wide zrough ze bars under ze gates. Ze internashonal lady look me again and call her god: “My God, my God!” Se look her house. A stair goes up to ze door.

“I can’t carry you up there!”

Se sets off to ze garaze. She curses.

“Shit! Rakoto has taken the keys!”

Se calls ze washmen. Zey come in, after a last glance round outside. Zey listen to Internashonal lady. Zey look me. Zey untie me. Zey look at my handcuffs. Zey want to puss my wrists out ze rings. It does not work.

“He will have to be carried with the bed, Madame.”

Zey look ze house. Zey look ze stair. Zey look ze door.

“But the door is too small, Madame. The bed will not go through it.”

“It isn’t! It will go through.”

Se turns and goes to look at ze door. One of ze washmen whisper to me—Cut the hard-on, you idiot! Se comes back:

“My God! What shall we do?”

“We’ll have to saw the handcuffs off, Madame.”

Zey go to look for ze saw. Internashonal lady look me. She look away. She sees a rag on ze ground. Se put it over my penis. Ze rumor is closing in. Za can hear souts. Za hear whistles, cars hooting.

“My God! It’s a nightmare!”

Se calls ze washmen. A great noise sakes ze gates. Ze sud of a stone. Ze washmen run over. Zey go out. Zey negoshate wiz ze people—you are mistaken, there is no one here. More souts. We have seen everyzing—so call your mistress, and then we’ll see if it isn’t she who stole a prisoner from the prison.

“She is away on business.”

A second stone sakes ze gates. Sots in ze air. Za realise ze washmen have zeir guns out. Yells. People running away. Silence. Ze washmen come straight back inside.

“Madame, we can’t hold them off for long.”

“I will not give up this man, do you understand?”

“They will come in, Madame, and we won’t have time to hide your friend.”

“Fire a few more rounds in the air. I am going to saw off these handcuffs!”

Zey go out again. Stones rain down. Internashonal lady jumps; she has sawn into my skin—Oh my God! Sorry, sorry . . . More sots in the air. Ze saw tremble in her hand. Za know it’s not like zat you do it, you need ze keys. Internashonal lady sees ze teess of ze saw are coming off and it is not working. Se saws at ze legs of ze bed, it cuts but se jumps too mush at each stone sud on ze gates and each sot in ze air. More se jumps, more se saws me. Se spends too long now wiping ze blood flowing from my skin over ze saw. Se wipes wiz ze rag from my penis and se says—My God, my God . . . Se puts ze rag back and mutters again to her god: what am I doing, my God, what have I done? Why has he an erection like this? Ze sunders of stones redouble. Ze gates are playing at all ze drums from Brazza to Queenstown. Ze washmen shoot in ze air. Internashonal lady saws. Zen a silence. Za tell you zat like zat it begins. Open your ears wide man under ze sky, pay close attenson, let ze sun be your sole eye, look out for ze wind which blows from ze East and listen me: “Blood, hatreds, and misfortunes will flow. In ze fless, in ze belly, guns will speak. In ze cartrisses, forever in ze rust, tears will be wissheld.”

Ze washmen come back in.

“You must go inside, Madame.”

“I’m not finished! I will not abandon this man!”

Her hands are covered in blood—my blood. Her hands sake.

“You must go inside, Madame.”

“Why aren’t you shooting any more?”

“We have no more bullets, Madame!”

“I will not go inside! Find a way of holding them back a bit longer!”

Zey’re shouting out zere in local salamalecksis—Avereno ny namanay fakanareo fo dé avelanay e!

Internashonal lady does not understand. Ze washmen translate.

“Give back the organ man? I don’t understand.”

“We don’t understand either, Madame; they are saying that this man is a fridge full of organs!”

“My God!”

Internashonal lady vomits. Se doesn’t know what to do any more. Se wipes her face with her bloody hand. Blood on her shin and her sheeks.

Ze washmen: “You must go in, Madame.”

“Never, you hear!”

Se runs to ze gates, opens them wide. Za see zere is no one outside. Za know zey are still zere. Internashonal lady yell—never, do you hear me? Never! Just put one foot through this gateway and you’ll be roasted alive; it’s electrified! An even greater silence. A long while passes. One in ze crowd calls to ze internashonal lady—give us proof electric fence!

“Just try it out, if you dare!”

Se waves the saw and sakes even more. Se closes ze gates.

“Here! Saw!”

One washman takes ze saw and saws. Ze stones have stopped.

Internashonal lady breaz loudly—won’t he be here soon, that idiot Rakoto? Ze washman insults me under his breass. Za reply zat he, on ze ozer hand, is a mere sawyer of beds! He lets the saw swerve and it cashes my hand. Za am injured again! Internashonal lady: in the name of god, what is going on now?—a tiny slip Madame, nothing at all . . .

Suddenly a child’s voice sounds in a nearby tree: “Zay see a naked man in a bed. Zay see a white lady. Se has lots of blood on her hands and her mous. Zay see a washman who is sawing ze priziner’s hand.” The rumor swells all at once! Souts from the right. Souts from the left. Hollering ululashon. Oil drums beat before a brutal silence falls. A long stick rises over ze gates. A passetic rope is tied to ze stick. From ze rope dangles a kitten. Ze kitten is delicately lowered onto ze gates. It is not electrocuted. A roar—she lied! At once ze stones come back. A woman says: “Well, but we all know that electricity doesn’t frighten cats; it’s just like birds sitting on telegraph wires!” Ze stones stop. Anozer long silence. Zen from ze roses in ze garden a hellish noise: a Molotov cocktail!

“We must go inside, Madame!”

Ze internashonal lady is in complete dis-realisashon. Se gives way. Ze washmen take her. Zey go inside ze house. Ze child in ze tree: “Zay see zem retreating into ze house!” Zey ask him if Za am still zere.

“Zay see he is still zere. He is very bloody. He still has no clozes on. He already has one cut on his leg.”

Za laugh at zeir nonsense. Za will never give up my organs or my heart. Za will never give up my body and fless. Za belong to my son. Za give my word. Za will never be sold off in pieces. Za never wrapped up in cellophane and plastic. My son, my boy, ze river has begun zently to eat him, to rot him and fill his mous wiz plastic. Za promise you, my son, Za will keep your fazer whole; Za will never drift away for weeks; Za will not be scattered for spare part organs along ze black river of Okcident. Za laugh at it all and sundry too.

A wooden ladder is stood against ze gate. A man comes over it, taking care not to touss ze metal. He zumps and lands in ze garden. He looks all around him. He sees me—Ee! Yul see my bro we sal succeed! We sal! Zay am here! You calvaries finiss here. Is over. Is the road to happness now. Za laugh again. He russ towards ze gates. He stop sort—you sink my bro zat gate is electrifies inside, mm?

Za don’t listen. He zently touss the gates. He is not roasted. He touss a bit more. He is still not roasted. Now he touss properly. He opens wide and ze populace surze into ze place. One turns my bed round pronto and puss me out. Ze wheelless leg grind. Anozer one comes to ze rescue. My bed goes zrough ze gates and takes ze road. Ze people are destroying ze flowers, attacking ze house, zey srow more bombs at ze windows. Stones. Paving stones. Zey holler—Down with foreigners who suck out our blood and our organs! Death to France! My bed, sielded on all sides by soze on foot, abandons all and sundry too and picks up speed, left back wheelless leg a little raised by a patriotic compatriot. We go back towards ze tunnel. Za see a barricade zat stops ze cars. Za turn round: smoke is already rising from ze house. We don’t take ze tunnel, we turn left. Za know where zey take me: Ambanidia, ze Land-of-low-zourneys, ze Land-of-humble-steps!

© Jean-Luc Raharimanana. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2013 by Sophie Lewis. All rights reserved.

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