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Fiction Literature Mystery & Suspense

The Last Man in Jalingo: The Future in the Hands of a Slave Child and a Witty, Cheerful Man – Yul Zaga

  • November 21, 2023
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The Last Man in Jalingo: The Future in the Hands of a Slave Child and a Witty, Cheerful Man – Yul Zaga

I never knew what music was. I did hear it but never listened. Yet, I knew one – that which my traveling brothers sang aloud with the passion of our never-ending journeys. This song, I sang in my soul, for I never uttered a word. The song went thus: –

The scorching black earth is but life

Men marching madly, stripped with strife

With gleams, our bruised feet walk the lands

Hear ye our voices soil and sands

The hollow eye sleeps when we awake

For we have no roof to forsake

The road, our father and mother born

From her we’ve come, to her we return

Ye! Here belief lies, in this ring

The slave is master to the king

I am a settler and I know no father or mother. All I ever knew was one master after another in my search for greener pastures. The more I served, the crueler they seemed to become until I knew I was going to die in the hands of one of the cruelest man alive.

And I think I’ve found him…

The Beginning, 1991

Crossing a Southern Bridge, many of my brothers couldn’t carry on so we settled in a small town called Jalingo, dominated by settlers from numerous tribes. There, we served Master Abukir Uttar in exchange for a dwelling to rest our weary feet. As time went on, I drew closer to Master’s heart though he was full of spite, and this is to become the genesis of my downfall.

It began with rumors of shady dealings between Master and some foreigners. No one cared, until the day I found the truth. After serving Master herbs, I was dressing the wrappers when some strange visitors entered. I hid in the curtains.

Lo and behold, Master dined with them and they spoke of people dying, everyone dying… but I didn’t understand. Yet, I was scared enough to push past my boundaries. How could Master be so wicked? He was working on an operation that left everyone on borrowed time!

I knew the entire plan was written on a piece Master had hidden away. So while he slept, I stole it and took off with the hope of finding someone who will help deliver my brethren – fellow settlers like me – scattered all around Jalingo from what awaited them.

I didn’t leave unscathed. The theft was discovered and the alarms sounded. The dreadful one-eyed head of guard – Jeghar Tewalle – was after me and I watched in horror, hidden in the bushes outside the building, as they marched out to hunt me. When the path was safe, I ran, clutching my only evidence as if my life depended on it. It did depend on it.

I ran for miles and stopped when the exhaustion and cold got into my bones. Trembling, I collapsed at a doorpost, unknowingly slipping out of consciousness.

I could hear them – my brothers’ song, and once more, their laughter and faith, I could hear again.

To her, we return… I closed my eyes.

Everyone in Jalingo was to die tomorrow, and only I could save them now.

CHAPTER TWO

History is life!”

Professor Yankee repeated those lines frequently and almost as always, his students were barely looking at him. He proceeded with a confident smile.

“In 1825, something terrific happened. Two neighboring tribes, attached to major ethnic groups – Toko and Bongani formed a truce in order to make efficient use of their resources, but the Bongani people had other plans. They wanted more and tried to hijack more resources. The crown prince of the Toko people ended up dead in the event. It led to a bloody war but many of the Bongani people survived and fled with all while what was left of the Toko people swore vendetta on them…” He paused for the chills to sink in. “…no one heard of the Toko people again but as for the Bongani people, well… well… they, in fact, dominate our present town Jalingo by sixty-two percent…”

“It’s no use teaching us!” One of the students – Imani – interrupted, her head bowed. “We are all going to die anyway.”

His face closed. “Don’t say that, Imani. There’s hope every day…”

“There is war every day!” Another stout-looking boy from the class interrupted. “Every now and then, they just come and kill us. They kidnap us, sell us… Blacks and whites… no difference… all bad. We are nothing!”

Professor Yankee evidently wasn’t impressed by this but he sighed with a smile. “Moko dear… What the world needs is just a little love. Black or white, we are all one and in the future, everyone would realize that… and guess what, Moko… that love begins with you!”

Moko scoffed and turned away, tears glistening in his eyes.

“You know why Thulani has been quiet in the backseat?” Bekele, another firm-looking child with an accent, shot at him and the entire class turned to look at a child sitting quietly with his head bowed. Professor Yankee waited for answers. “…Both his father and mother died yesterday… in a war at the Northside.”

He felt his blood run cold as the child stood and ran outside the class, ignoring his calls. He sighed, his eyes glowing with tears but his smile remaining nevertheless.

“What do I say? You can’t terminate your present because you feel you’ll die so soon. Listen, children, I lived this life and finally made it abroad, but what made me the ‘Yankee’ this town now calls me, is the fact that I studied until I made a degree for myself, becoming the first graduate in Jalingo. They respect me for that. Knowledge is power, dear…” He paused and watched the gloominess on their faces unwavering. “Who’s going to be in the Bongani’s hundred years remembrance event tomorrow?” he tried to change the topic.

“Everyone… the whole town is going. It’s going to be held in the town hall, the only place in this town that could truly pass for a house. What do you expect?” Moko replied.

He nodded. “You can’t shut yourself away to feel safe, children. There is so much joy, so much life everywhere!”

“Really? Show me!” Imani challenged.

Professor Yankee thought briefly and suddenly, pulling up his suit jacket, he began to hum as he danced to his tune. The class exploded in laughter seconds later.

“That’s the spirit!” Yankee laughed.

The students all left the class. Yankee picked his bag to leave, looking out for Thulani to tender his condolences. He saw the school principal – Nala – instead, a slender lady who looked as intelligent as she was.

“Fair is to the sun as beauty to the lady!” Professor Yankee greeted. She rolled her eyes and smiled.

“Yankee, we need to talk about how you handle your kids.”

“Not again…”

“They are teenagers, Yankee. Stop giving them the privilege to disrespect you!” Nala complained. “I watched them today. I saw them walk out on you and all that. They are not learning anything that way. Stop it, Yankee. Give them discipline if that’s what it demands!”

“Please ma’am. I think I know how to handle my kids.” He paused. “…what you see is not the real deal. They actually learn a lot. They are just facing the pressure of the wars our times are putting on them. They do not disrespect me.” He had a crooked smile. 

“Hmm?” Nala rolled her eyes and broke into a smile. “Yeah, that’s it… that smile!” He was laughing now while Nala cursed with a boyish smile and walked into a room, visibly blushing.

Yankee strode on and caught the bus to take him home where he turned on his radio to listen to his usual Daylight Show for music requests and public opinion show at 3 pm. The station was typically the only one in town.

“Hmm… if you ask me my opinions on how to fix what we are experiencing today, I’d say the world needs an icon to demonstrate true love for humanity – a person who is willing to sacrifice for all…” Yankee said to the radio in response to the topic of the day before requesting that Bill Withers Grandma’s Hands be played for him.

He got home in high spirits by past eight, just like every other day. He was about to open the door when he jumped back, exclaiming in horror at the figure crouched at the corner. He flashed his light at the person and relaxed when he saw it was a boy, folded, fast asleep, and clutching what seemed to be a sheet of paper. Curious, Yankee drew close and yanked out the sheet. He opened it and glanced through it, reading.

“Goodness!” He exclaimed, and just then, he was trembling with horror. “Goodness!” he cried again. “The vendetta is true! The vendetta is tomorrow!”

I was awake then, watching him, and somehow, I could tell he understood whatever was in the paper. His flashlight glared at me again and I looked away.

“You must be a slave…” He mentioned. “Come in… You’re cold!”

He opened up the door and led me into the warmth of the house.

“Have you had a meal?”

I shook my head. He disappeared into the rooms and emerged with some kelewele. I was reluctant but then he insisted with a broad smile. I grabbed it, tore at it, and gulped it down immediately. He took a seat by a table and turned on a lamp, examining the paper with the light from the fire and saying some things to himself about a map key.

Suddenly, he turned to me again. “If we can make it to the hall early tomorrow, we could deactivate the bomb beneath the building before it wipes everyone clean!” He said to me before asking me more about where I had come from. I told him all I could with signs and said nothing. He soon got used to the fact that I couldn’t speak… wouldn’t speak. After a long talk, he returned to reading but soon fell fast asleep while I stood there, staring at him and wondering how he trusted me enough to be so comfortable around me.

This was my master now. He fed me, and now he housed me. I was here to serve.

After what seemed like three hours, he jumped up from his sleep and looked around. When he saw me, he frowned.

“Why aren’t you sleeping, child?” he asked. I shook my head slowly. “You don’t feel like it?” I did feel like but I made a sign with my hands. “Master? Me? Your Master?” He scoffed. “Come closer, son.”

I drew closer to him shyly and fidgeted when he held my arms. “I am not your Master, child. I am your friend, and your friend wants you to go to bed, okay?”

I couldn’t believe my ears. The further, the crueler… So what was this? I couldn’t react for quite some time. “What is your name, son?”

I shook my head.

“You don’t have a name?”

I knew what names were but had been called so many to have one. The man shook his head, his eyes glistening, his smile ever constant. “Many immigrants, slaves, and travelers have only one friend – the road, and I know you’re not different…” I wasn’t. “…I am Professor Yankee, and I will call you Addo, for you are the king of the road… not a slave anymore!

I nodded, trying to smile but not knowing how to. He inhaled deeply and stood to examine a black and white picture I had seen earlier that held this same man with another woman and a little child. When he turned to me, he saw the curiosity in my eyes. “…my dear wife and daughter, Addo… two sweet people the gods loved more.” He said to me with a sad smile before settling on a chair. “Sleep now, Addo… tomorrow, we would need to be saving a thousand people from a great disaster.”

For the first time since I knew the land, I had a good dream, relishing in the delight of finding a capable person who had the same goal as me.

CHAPTER THREE

 After Professor Yankee had fed me to my fill with some cold Akara, he ensured I had a warm bath and then offered me some oversized clothes and hats to put on. What he wore was almost no different from what he wore the previous day – a brown suit that was way bigger than him, neatly polished shoes, and a hat.

We moved out early in the morning and took a bus. I had never been on a bus before and I almost couldn’t get a hold of myself. Professor Yankee calmed me down and began filling my head with the most delightful stories from history as he greeted his students and told me about each one he saw, assuring me they were coming to the major event as well. It was a beautiful ride.

We were alighting from the bus when a stranger suddenly walked up to him, peering. “Here he is… here is the Yankee who is in support of the whites just because he sat in their big houses with a book and a piece of a feather!” He yelled at some other boys who now gathered around him. He turned to me with a smile. “Give me a minute, Addo.” He whispered and then turned to the men, still smiling brightly. “Folks, I do not support the whites or the blacks… Everyone is one thing to me – human!”

The leading man slapped him suddenly and I could no longer watch. I jumped at him and bit his laps as hard as I could. He shrieked and moved away.

“No, Addo…” he pulled me back, gently. “Let them hit me if they wish to. These are my brothers. Let them do as they wish. Don’t hurt them.” The men didn’t seem to be a threat anymore so we continued the journey and Professor Yankee continued the stories. As we walked, we got into a fanfare and his face lit up, brighter than ever since I knew him. “I love these scenes, Addo! It’s beautiful!” he immediately ran into their midst and began to dance along with them. Turning to me, he signaled. “Come on, Addo!” I didn’t hesitate but jumped in as well and found myself lost in the drums and kora and the bass of the male singers. I loved this place!

“Ever climbed a pony?” He asked me. I shook my head and he immediately picked me up and placed me on one, climbing up after me from behind and flinging some coins to the waiting owner. Reaching out, he took two feathers from an enthralled peddler and fixed them into our hats. “Now, that is what we call ‘macaroni’.” He guffawed. “Feathers are symbols of brilliance and beauty, noblemen of power!” And as we rode through the fare on the horse, I felt more alive than ever. I was lost in the melody of this moment that even as we moved on, I never wanted to leave. As we proceeded, we came across some elderly men playing lyres on the roadside.

“Come, Addo!” he beseeched me. “I want to sing!” He went over to them and dropped some coins in their hands. The tune they played changed immediately. He turned to me, grinned, and began. “… The scorching black earth is but life… Men marching madly, stripped with strife…” I gasped but he didn’t see the shock on my face, yet. He was too busy with his eyes shut, lost in his tunes. He knew the immigrants’ song! I couldn’t believe my ears. I had never heard it sung so sweetly. In no time, passersby stopped by, listening with appreciation and soon joining in until they created an orchestra!

Tears filled my eyes as I felt my lips stretch and form into what would pass for a wide smile. The first time I ever did smile… Professor Yankee saw me now and a silent understanding passed between the both of us. His smile broadened as he walked up to me and lifted me up, placing me on his shoulders while the others carried on with the music as we walked away.

“You know, Addo… on my deathbed, I would really love it if someone sang me a song… a sweet song, made for me, one I will carry with me to the other side…” He said to me before continuing down the winding road, disappearing into the dust.

CHAPTER FOUR

“Addo, we made it!”

We had arrived at the hall, and we seemed to be the last set of people to make it to the show. It was a sight no one could ignore. The hall was filled to the brim with zealously joyful individuals already dancing to the performance of ancient songs on a podium ahead. I was trying to get a view when Professor Yankee saw what was coming. He immediately bent to my height.

“Follow me, Addo…” He whispered, and despite the beats of the native drums and tunes of the instruments, I could hear him. My heart raced. We dived through the crowd of people until we were almost backstage. A few show regulators strolled to and fro. He immediately pulled a curtain aside, looking around for who was coming by before he faced me and smiled, like always…

“They are looking for you, Addo… them men… I’ve spotted them. Remain here and let me take over. Child, for no reason should you come out!” He instructed and with an ever-confident smile, he began to turn away. “Let me take it from here, child.”

I grabbed him by the shoulder, and he perceived my fear. He looked me in the eyes and smiled. “I… not a professor alone, Addo. I… a warrior!” With the brightest grin, he gave me a peck to my forehead and chanted. “To culture!”

Then he was out of sight, looking back one last time, the drums in the background beating as fast as my heart. I watched him finally disappear and knew better than to hide. If everyone was listening to the music, then it was possible everyone could listen to me too. I just had to sing it!

And I knew the truth…

It was more than possible to keep him safe with my new plan and in less than a minute after he left, I was back in the crowd, searching for someone we had seen earlier in the bus, and discussed.

CHAPTER FIVE

 Professor Yankee was in the dark confinements of the building’s interiors now, making his way with the map layout in the piece he had studied. Keeping to the walls, he dodged coming and going guards numerous times.

“Twenty-six minutes left!” He checked his wristwatch before forging ahead. I knew he knew how much was left as well, though he never said so. It was then he heard it – the change in the tune, a voice he recognized as well as his own.

“We shall dedicate this song… to the man who organized this event to celebrate our multiple cultures – Chief Abukir Uttah…” Then the strangest song ever began and he was reading the meaning to it. The entire secret of the vendetta plan!

“My Imani!” Yankee grinned. “That’s my Imani! That’s my student!”

He knew in no time, every listener in the entire hall would panic and clear the hall before the time ran out. Then he heard footsteps and crouched again before creeping in deeper. The next set of guards seemed to be panicking as they sped by. The panic was already rising and one of them was saying something about the children on the stage being serious and the people violently throwing questions at the absence of the chief. He knew the chief’s downfall had come. How could he sponsor the entire celebration only to be absent from it?

It was then he heard the beep and froze. Sneaking into the room, he found the large device and the timer.

Nineteen minutes left…

He immediately set to work! “In 1914, Nigeria was amalgamated. It was a delightful moment, except many believed it would fall below expectations… J. Robert, a terrific genius, made bombs as a blessing but…”

To think, Professor Yankee kept this chant going on and on like a sacred ritual while he went from wires to wires, disconnecting it gradually, bit by bit, and ensuring he was taking out the true one.

Then there was a sudden gunshot and Professor Yankee groaned as the bullet tore into his chest from behind. Funny enough, he didn’t look back.

“The king of Ala tried to call those he loved, but help wasn’t coming…” He went for another wire when another gunshot tore the stillness of the air and he yelled again, his ash suit soaking dark. “Constantine couldn’t believe in God until God had to do the job. Now, Christianity is all about what he…”

Another gunshot came and he paused now, leaning against a panel and turning slowly to catch sight of the man.

“Ha!” He smiled broadly, his mouth flooding with blood. “It’s you… I recognize you. I took that one eye off you, the dreadful Jeghar Tewalle. Remember me during the early wars? I do remember you; you’ve not changed a bit. Since the day you killed my wife and child…”

The one-eyed man smiled broadly, a dark sinister grin. “Too bad I’m killing you as well now, Grady Zahair. It never had to end this way but you refused to join the rebellion and I had to do what was necessary.”

“Including eliminating the family of your ‘best friend’” His smile remained.

“What must be done must be done…”

He nodded. “True, my friend…” He paused, panting. “I never killed a man, and I won’t kill one, either. The mistake is from your ignorance, standing on the wrong spot at an awkward moment.”

Suddenly, Professor Yankee pulled a switch, and the other man flung off, rammed into the wall, and fell dead and frozen after a thousand volts sped through his veins. 

“Michael Faraday discovered electricity… even on his sudden deathbed; he wished it never did that….” He continued until he had pulled out a large, red cable and the timer hummed off. 

The bomb was gone!

He laughed dizzily, sighing as he turned and made for the exit without looking back, slouching through the passageway. There was panic everywhere and everyone was running outwards, not caring about who was right beside him. The whole plan had been exposed and everyone was seeking justice, ready to burn down all the suicidal guards who knew of the plan all along.

Professor Yankee just chuckled as he staggered out and paused when we finally came to face him, all seven of us. He looked at us and seemed surprised, smiling.

“My children!” He gasped. “What a funny scene to end up here together…”

But they all knew what was happening and they watched him with tears in their eyes, none moving but staring in disbelief, tears streaking down their eyes. He seemed curious as to why their expressions were that way.

“Come on, children. Let’s just go back to class. I have…” He suddenly sputtered and one of his legs fell to the knee. We ran forward and held him, two of them that had enough strength – Moko, and Bekele – and they placed him upon a chair, sobbing.

“Don’t do that, please…” he pleaded and it was just then I offered what I had for him. From their midst, I began.

Yankee Doodle came to town…”

A song!

I saw the surprise on his face, a surprise I’ve never seen before, one mixed with pain and passion.

“…riding on a pony…” I sang on. “…he stuck a feather in his hat and called it Macaroni…” 

The second time, we all chanted it together and Professor Yankee began breathing fast, sobbing and laughing together, breathlessly…

“You know, Addo… on my deathbed, I would really love it if someone sang me a song… a sweet song, made for me, one I will carry with me to the other side…”

“Come, my children!” He spread open his arms and we filled it, sobbing together before he finally began to scrutinize us one after the other. “Imani dear…” He patted her cheek. “…there is hope every day… Remember, Moko… do not let the hate this world gives harden your heart. The love you seek begins with you giving it… Bekele, the strong… you shall end this war with that vigor of yours… Thulani… I’m so sorry for what happened to Papa and Mama, I so wanted to tender my condolences. Still, remember that these living ones you have are enough hope… Abimbola… full of talents… it shall make a way for you… Bassel…” He chuckled. “…people like you are what the world needs – those who die for the people…”

He paused now and turned to me. Holding my arms, he pulled me close, smiling faintly, his eyes glistening with tears.

“Thank you, my Addo.” He whispered to me. “…all my life, I lived in nothingness. Now, I’ve found my calling and you made that difference. You are a slave no more, Addo… not to a human, not to the vices of this world, not to yourself. You are king, Addo…”

“We called for help… medicine…”

“And you have such a beautiful voice.” He rushed in.

“I don’t want you to leave me, Professor Yankee.” It was strange to even hear myself, the words hanging like tattered clothes spread out on my accent.

“No, Addo… no!” Professor Yankee sounded pleading. “…Addo, I am always here.” He stabbed an index finger to my chest. “…I am there in your soul, your memories, the air you breathe, the path you walk, in your brothers. Addo, I am there in your song. I am there in your beautiful song.”

It wasn’t enough so I wrapped him in a tight hug, weeping.

“Thank you again, Addo.” He whispered in my ears. “…from her, we’ve come…”

“…To her we return…” I finished.

He was a settler, a traveler like I was!

“Who am I to you, Addo?” He asked and coughed. I could feel the blood wet my shoulders.

I knew who he was. “My friend.”

“And so it is.” He laughed. “Sing me that song again, Addo.”

I hesitated then began. “Yankee Doodle came to town…

We were all singing now and by the time we were singing the second round again, I could sing no more but sob silently, for I felt his heartbeat seize and his head slump on my shoulders in graceful slumber.

My Professor Yankee was gone…

CHAPTER SIX

Twenty Years Later

“…So it is that Professor Yankee is the man who taught me how to become what I am today, and I know if he was here to witness the world in twenty years time, he would have been more than pleased with the sudden shift in the age and technology.` 

Professor Yankee never frowned so I can’t tell what he could look like frowning. He was always smiling until the people took it for idiocy. He was always assuring everyone that everything was perfectly fine and he did so with his attitude. You’ll see him and wonder – ‘What type of fool is this?’ In the middle of the war happening all around the world, someone was laughing, dancing, and making it seem like everything was alright. 

When I first met him, I had those slight thoughts as well, thinking he was probably mentally ill. That moment when thugs walked up to him and slapped his face… despite his certificates and his higher standing, Professor Yankee only smiled at them… He called them brothers. He held me back from acting up and told me not to hurt his brothers, even if it meant he got hurt!

His students walked out on him, treated him like trash, and disrespected him but somehow he knew they were not what they seemed and they proved so. He was the rarest of men and till he died, he remained who he was. The world, with all its terrors, and horrors, and troubles, wickedness… they never blemished him…

 My life is full of this – symbolism. Go through my story thoroughly and you’ll find a thousand hidden meanings in them if your eyes are open… but this is not my story alone, but the story of the man who liberated me, physically and psychologically, and now, his story shall liberate you all as well from the chains of the eternal crisis of the world we live in…” Addo paused. “Thank you all for listening.”

A round of applause echoed across the stadium as the suited man descended the stage and made his way through the countless reporters, pressing at him with questions.

“What happened to the chief, sir? I mean Chief Abukir?” A white lady inquired. Addo smiled.

“We all know the popular story of the man who died miserably trying to play dirty politics – politics of blood and revenge…” Addo replied and walked on.

Another black journalist came through with his microphone raised. “Professor Dedan Lewis…”

“Addo…” Addo hurried in. That was just my legal name, one I registered as I forwarded my dreams of being the richest man on the continent, but I never answered it.

“What?” The journalist enquired.

“…call me Addo…” he replied. “…Professor Addo…

I am Professor Yankee, and I will call you Addo, for you are the king of the road… not a slave anymore!

And once again, I could see Professor Yankee come alive…

THE END…

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Okpala Michael

"Behold He Whom You Shall Call King..." WRITER| MODEL | POET | AUTHOR | NOVELIST | THESPIAN At Your Service. Follow and Link Up!

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