We all watched it on TV— the Giant as he emerged from the debris of the earth; disrupting the strata of Greco-Roman remains which had lain undisturbed for centuries. We were gathered in my Uncle Felix’s mountainside home overlooking Tarqua Bay. It was the usual family type gathering we had on Sunday afternoons after church. Uncle Felix (actually he’s my mothers uncle) is the head of the clan, so he does the honors.
So there we were, high up in the mountains— elite region for the very wealthy and corrupt, tirefully reclined after a voluminous banquet of riverine cuisine with Oriental flourishes…
Beyond us: a sparkling aquamarine pool, and far beyond that, past Spanish-Moroccan arches, thousands of feet below, the glistening Ocean.
We sat amid shameless ostentation— everything of Felix’s is plush, pure, soft, exorbitant… or fragile— immaculate displays of crystal, arrays of Chinese period pottery and collector ceramics (for this was a passion.) Everything insured at obscene rates: this includes two Picasso’s, a Giacometti, a Matisse, a few Gaudi reptiles, a set of blonde Brancusi’s and the mosaic tile floors, done on commission by a well known Iranian set designer who lived in Paris.
I was there, so were Uncle Felix, his two wives, five of his children, three grandchildren and a son-in-law. Then there was Aunt Vivian and her two daughters, Victoria and Marie, Vincent, Victoria’s fiancé and Uncle Ovede (he was not related, but it was customary I address him thus). Of course my mother Elsie, and her husband Kayode. Not the whole family picture by a long shot, but a good composite anyway.
The conversation had turned to the subject of Victoria’s wedding. It was coming up in months and I lay on the Persian rug dreading it. I’d already been chosen as a bridesmaid (no one asked me if I wanted the job in the first place). And now they were catering the details around the British royal wedding, Aunt Viv was a great fan of Princess Diana’s bridal train (I shuddered at the thought. Quelle Horreurs!). The discussion was broken by a bold tremor— the earth moved beneath us. There was a split second of fearful silence, then a scream and a crash from the remote kitchen. It was Lucius the steward shouting —
“O God of Isaac and Abraham deliver us…”
We scrambled into Felix’s entertainment den to see what was on the news.
It was on the television we all saw it happen— the Giant breaking his way up to the surface. Reducing the Dorian arches and pillars to further rubble as his upper trunk emerged. The tremors ceased, because it seemed that his body was lodged in the earth and he could no longer move. I had never seen a giant before— (who knew they existed?)— but here was one right before my very eyes, making his presence known on to us via television. And he was an ugly phenomenon too. Later the BBC World Report (at times this was to be the only reliable source of information) would describe him as 82 feet long, 30 feet wide and 20 feet high. This must be fairly accurate seeing as the populace scurried about him like Lilliputians. His skin was elephant black and dirt brown from the soil he was bound to. His form had not fully emerged, nor would it in the days to come. He was trapped in this horizontal station and maybe that was a good thing too…
His hair was matted black and brown, reminding me of freshly dug tubers. Grey black testicles quivered uglily. His features coarse and craven, out of his black lips he spat…
I examined the faces about the room. My family. I had to see if there was shock or surprise. I could never really tell. You see, I wasn’t born on this tiny island state. And even though my mother is pure Diamankan stock, I share hardly any of their sensibilities. Strange things occur here frequently and are taken for granted. I used to make it my job to pointing out these paranormalcies: I was rewarded with pitying stares. So these days I’m slow to react: I keep my bewilderment to myself and process everything in private. However, this bright Sunday afternoon— each one is stunned mouth-open. Yes, even the sanctimonious steward, Lucius, who has privately promised me God’s wrath for my irreverence.
My father was American, a Black one. We moved here five years ago, from the U.S. because he died. I wasn’t thrilled about coming to Diamankor. I already had plans of my own. After high school, I would get into college and study sociology or psychology. Then I could get into the foreign service. It was my ambition to be a spy. Of course there were numerous means of achieving this; this guy who got to work in the KGB, all he did was to park outside the Soviet Embassy for a week. On the seventh day, Soviet authorities accosted him— and that’s how he got his foot in the door. It was a true account, I’d read it in a Readers Digest Condensed Books feature when I was nine.
Those were my plans, but my mother —her mind was made up. She hated America, and thus she ended her twelve-year exile from Diamankor. All former grievances her family bore concerning her marriage to an Outsider (this was a euphemism for something worse) dissolved. After all the man, (“the taboo”), was dead, and their daughter was coming home.
Encyclopedias and travelogues could not have prepared me for Diamankor. Basic data: a tiny island state five hundred miles off the coast of West Africa. A thriving Metropolis; a few minor towns and miles and miles of uncharted hinterland. Its first appearance in the world annals dating back to the days of Hatshepsut, the Egyptian Pharaoh. Her successor Thutmose II, used it as a penal colony. There are traces of Greco-Roman involvement (though this has never been clarified.) Centuries later the Portuguese traded and lived on the island, building their castles deep into the hinterland and when it suited it them, relations deteriorated into slave- trade. Of course there were the British— the last and nastiest of visible oppressors. In 1962 the state was declared independent, how independent? A third of the government employ were and still are British. There also seemed to be a continual influx of Belgians— owing to the central Coca Cola Company —a Belgian franchise.
Over the years, Mediterranean and Europeans bloodlines had mingled with the native islanders. And some had not. There were still prominent Portuguese families. And there were those who claimed to trace their North African lineage back to the times of Thutmose I. Lebanese settlers were as plentiful as the British. Of course there were pure breed Diamankan stock who considered themselves the original and sole owners of the land. They prided in their authenticity. My mother was one of those, but had broken proud ties by marrying an American (never mind that he was Black) while studying overseas.
The chief export was its mineral spring waters hence the thriving Coca Cola industry. Running a close second as a national income source was an exclusive multi-million dollar tourist trade. The Northern coastal reaches were dotted with private resorts and villas. It was something of a discreet millionaire playground. It wasn’t unusual find foreign paparazzi from rags like the Enquirer and The Globe snooping around searching for dishdirt on the rich and filthy…
My stepfathers’ on the phone with some government aide of sorts, he looks concerned. He should be— he’s the Minister for trade and commerce. Just think what would happen if the situation got out of hand and nixed the system. No more coffers for you to loot step-dad-dio. Not like I miss my father. Little girls are meant to adore their daddies at some point; mine was unlovable— obsessed with exacting his ‘African roots’. These ‘African Roots’ bound me in servitude to him as ‘Master’. I was constantly hounded into being demure and chaste “as a woman should”, (I was six.) There were endless restrictions; I could only speak when spoken to, certain clothes did not behoove me, i.e. trousers and any form of denim. I was not to play with infidels (this meant the white people downstairs), as a matter of fact I don’t remember being allowed to play with anyone. I couldn’t eat hot dogs, join the Brownies, be a normal kid…
The funny thing is, when I finally got to Africa, it wasn’t necessarily so.
As I grew older, corporal punishment became the preferred mode of control, I received lashes on the regular. It didn’t matter what I did, I was always wrong. Or perhaps he sensed my mother was wrong (in marrying him), but he took it out on me.
One day I said: “When you die, we’re going to have a party.”
You might say the pronouncement came unprovoked, except that I had it coming anyway, so why not make it worthwhile? Especially if it was the truth.
“Did you say something?”
“You’ll be dead soon.”
I waited for the belt. It didn’t come, somehow I had frightened him. For the time being at least. Punishments were administered on schedule the next day.
A few months later he was dead. And there was a celebration: we were the guests of honor at my mother’s homecoming party in Diamankor.
My stepfather on the other hand is a pretty different kettle of fish. The antithesis of my papa: Impeccably handsome, impeccably groomed (he only recently changed his tailoring from Savile Row to a fashionable Hong Kong establishment with even finer attention is paid to detail…)
An avid collector of vintage sports cars (some here on the island, others at his Bayswater residence in London), and women (before my mother he already had two wives by native law and custom, also numerous mistresses. He considers my mother his Prima Donna though, she works out better on a status level.) Educated on three continents, fluent in five languages a connoisseur of good wines and every Western and Diamankan vice he can sweep under his raw silk agbada. His position of influence has enabled him to sleep with all the corporate wives (domestic and foreign) and whatever female executives in his wake. It is a prerequisite to do business in this country.
I often fantasize about the day he will make a pass at me. It’s only a matter of time. We’ll take off to his north-eastern luxury Villa Romano, alone, in the mountains together. He will go into his wine cellar, to pick out that elixir that will set the mood for the evening. It must be something subtly sweet with a superfluous air of naughtiness…. I will follow behind coquettishly, and remove the axe from behind the door and chop off his head. The wine cellar is designed along the lines of a French oubliette. There’s a trapdoor that leads to a bottomless pit, so they say — I suspect it’s directly above a rocky ocean inlet. Whatever. This is where his body will go. Then I’ll set about the remainder of his anatomy. I’ll remove his skull and make me a shrunken head. I’m fairly sure I can accomplish this, I’ve seen it done on National Geographic. It’ll dangle from my motorbike (I’m still saving up for this, a Harley Davidson would be nice).
His absence won’t be noted immediately, he’s been known to bound from continent to continent without notice and in the company of his latest female cornucopia of delight. Eventually they will come to accept that he has vaporized. This is a country where people vanish just like that, the police reports missing and the file is closed in less than an hour.
We all saw it on television that afternoon. The Giant spat and bellowed out what seemed to be yabberish expletives bemoaning his plight.
©1996, 2013 onome ekeh