This is the last chapter of my diary. I wrote it on the night train from Madrid to Paris. I was to hang around Paris for a few months and then it was home, sweet home; Cameroon, the land of my forefathers!
One suitcase in hand, a bag slung round my shoulder, I rushed into the Chamartin train station just on time to hear the sweet, oily voice of the announcer over the intercom system, announcing the time as twenty hours forty. Would passengers for Paris by Expreso kindly board the train as it would be moving out at any time soon?
I just had enough time to take a seat when the train began to crawl out of the station, lazily at first, then picking up speed, it rushed towards the approaching darkness. The time is one-thirty in the morning. I see the other passengers sharing this cabin with me, three in number, turning this way, then that way, trying with little success to court the fleeting sleep. They all have their eyes shut.
Before I too join the sleep-wooing team of my fellow travellers, I’ll first recapture my last days in Madrid. With Jesus Ndongo and Bassey gone, loneliness became my only companion in that city. To make things worse, Lupe was called up for a job opening in a hospital in Valencia and had to relocate to that city. She is a nurse. She insisted that I go with her, at least just to be with her so she wouldn’t feel too lonely in such a strange city but I said no way! I was going back to my people and my home.
Left alone in the city, I ran into other people I had met but had had nothing to do with them during the one year I spent in Madrid. Many of them, especially the Equato-Guineans, didn’t trust anyone who was friendly to Jesus Ndongo with his interminable predictions of violent revolutions as a way of purging his country, in particular, and Africa, in general, of their woes. I met a few Cameroonians at our embassy when I cared to go there but they all stared at me as if I had just dropped from space. One of them, with a very pretty young girl by his side, thought I was eyeing her too much for his liking and didn’t hesitate to ask me to mind my own business. I quickly left; a fight over someone else’s girl was not on my plate at all. I hear he’s busy telling whoever cares to listen what a dangerous fellow I seem to be and that it would be unwise for anyone to trust me around his wife, girl friend or daughter.
Our train is heading at break-neck speed towards Paris several hours and several hundreds of kilometres away. The pall of darkness has completely hooded the land. An occasional light at the horizon does indicate that we are about to enter a town; once we coast through it, the fingers of darkness again strengthen their grip around the flank of the land. My watch reads 3:25 in the morning. I started writing about two hours ago. This is the first time since I started keeping a diary that I have had the time to write for hours at a stretch.
My last impressions of Madrid? Well, what can I say, really? Except that when I left that sun-battered city, it was nearly nine o’clock in the evening, yet the sun’s rays were still flirting with the approaching darkness. But the sun seemed to be backing down before the violent and persistent assault of the forward-cruising darkness.
Madrid looked helpless and resigned to itself as light and darkness clashed in its skies, and darkness prepared for its imminent and inevitable victory. The sun, imperial ruler of the sky for the whole day, would have to bow down to the sharp sword of the victorious night. A victory which is bound to be short-lived, because in summer the sun laughs longest in the sky. Just enough time for it to catch its breath, and you see its fingers again scanning the sky as early as four o’clock in the morning. It’s then that night packs its dark cloak for a hasty retreat.
Madrid. I had come to know you and your numerous faces. Madrid of “Brother Wolf”. Heavy soul sounds crashing through the hazy, smoke-filled basement with its nicotine-yellowed walls. An atmosphere of racial harmony on the dancing floor where blacks and whites dance together and leave to make love far from the car-clogged streets of the city, far from the age-beaten, graffitti-smeared benches of the dirty and stuffy amphitheatres, far from the droning monotony of teachers’ voices in the dusty classrooms, far from the disapproving gazes of a scandalised and intolerant society.
Madrid of “Zara” with its variety of social classes; from pipe-puffing African diplomats, to revolutionaries like Jesus Ndongo, to what Jesus took pride in calling revisionist sell-outs like Jean-Marie Mobutu, to young Spanish girls fleeing parental restrictions for amorous adventures with Africans, to much older women, heavy in years, flashing false teeth at you.
Madrid of public fountains and monuments. How often did I stop at Plaza de España to marvel at the gigantic statue of the skinny Don Quijote on his skeletal horse, preparing an assault against some invisible wind-mills which might have appeared to him like devils, while his pot-bellied servant, Sancho, stared on abashed? Behind them, rise magnificent bubbles of water from fountains, so colourful and romantic at night, so graceful and sight-tickling during the day.
Madrid of Cervantes, the creator of Don Quijote. Madrid of the poets: Machado, Lorca, Unamuno. Madrid of the sweet music of Pablo Cassals. Madrid of the painters: Picasso, Dali. Madrid of other numerous masters of poetic love and tenderness and creativity.
Madrid of the rich cloistered in their bullet-proof cars, darting suspicious glances all over the streets. A wave of kidnapping has been making deep inroads into a world in which the rich have more than they need, while the majority loiter around street corners, noses in the air, hands thrust deep into empty pockets, listening to the ominous music of their empty intestines.
Madrid of the poor; the real masters of the streets. Who bothers to kidnap drifters, bohemians, drug-addicts?
Madrid of whores and pimps, owners of the infamous streets of the red light districts.
Madrid of Gypsies whose horse-drawn carts block the smooth-flow of traffic, sending gold-chasing, neatly-suited men behind the steering wheels of multi-million-dollar cars, into paroxysms of fury. By their warm sides, their mistresses with long polished nails and obscenely reddish lips, wonder where the world is heading to with Gypsies daring to hamper the advance of civilisation!
Madrid of faceless, ever-pressing crowds. Men and women in ever-surging crowds. Some with hearts to mend. Others with dreams fading in sorrow-licked fingers. Still others running away from shattered homes, or chasing a rival for a kill, a concealed weapon warm in their breast-pockets or handbags.
Madrid: I had come to know you and your numerous faces. The more I knew you, the more I saw you were not for me. I wasn’t for you either, Madrid. In vain did I search through the crowd for a reminder of my home and my people. I did not hear Mama urging me to eat. I missed my sister, Yefon, and her husband, Banka, and their children. I hear her last son can now say a few words, and that he even calls my name, wondering when I will be coming back home!! Can my sister exaggerate when she means to!
My brother Litila wrote to tell me he has been appointed the First Secretary of Cameroon’s embassy in Lagos and that he will be leaving in January. Basha, who has been reading computer sciences at the University of Lagos for the past one year, will surely be delighted with Litila’s appointment. I long to see all of them; to be with my family again.
I have also been longing to visit my father’s grave again. I wish to stand over his grave, bow my head and tell him I’m back home and, this time, for good.
Last, but certainly not least, I have been eager to listen to the herd-boys sing songs which the endlessly twisting, saw-toothed hills of my land echo so well.
So, Madrid, you see why I have to run away from you. Life in exile is not for me, my friend. I am going back to my family, to my people, to my land, the land our forefathers bequeathed to us, unsullied.