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Chuma Nwokolo



Chuma Nwokolo

Nwokolo is author of Diaries of a Dead African and publisher of



photocredit: Andrew Ogilvy


 The Fall of Phiri Bombai

Phiri took Abe’s promotion to Grade Level 14 very badly indeed. He got the news on his return from his annual vacation and locked himself into the senior staff toilet to recover from the shock. He stared at the mirror. He tried to turn on his automatic smile. It didn’t work. He tried to flash an Imsohappyforyou smile. He couldn’t either. He looked gaunt and devastated, quite the loser. His charisma was gone. It had been atrophying for years, but it was all gone now. – And he knew what to blame for it: he had not been promoted himself for close to a decade. It was enough to break anyone’s spirit.

At first the lack of promotions had not bothered him. He was after all, Phiri Bombai, six feet two inches tall, and even at forty-three only the vaguest hint of a pot belly. He had passed his school certificate exams with distinction and every year he still checked the results from his alma mater to see if his old department at the University of Lagos had awarded another first class degree since he left. The smug grin with which he scanned the top of the results list had not slipped once in the twenty-one years since his graduation. In his two decades at the senior levels of Nigerian civil service, he had survived all the isms, from tribalism to nepotism. He had shrugged off the Federal Character caps on his progress, and although he had no godfathers, he had weathered two civil service purges. He had seen off every challenge to his progress by the sheer brilliance of his track record, the comprehensiveness of his credentials, and the charisma of his personality. He had proved that, even in Nigeria, there was no keeping a good man down.

Until his nemesis joined the department. Abe Araguna had only two assets to speak of: a Ph.D degree and his uncle, the Minister for Works. Abe was a slow-thinking, slow-talking historian who could not in all honesty be called a fool, because he did, after all, have a Ph.D. While he was never wrong about anything, his solutions were always so long-winding that he was usually in the middle of it when someone else solved the problem. Phiri had sat on the panel that employed him. He still remembered, with shame, the post-interview discussions of the three-member panel hurriedly recalled for a last minute candidate after the regular interviews had been concluded. The Director-General had been the most keen to hire:

Ph.D Medieval HIstory! he had repeated, over and over, Very impressive!

Although, he did spend thirteen years on it, Mrs Lenton had observed timidly.

That shows doggedness, the Director-General had replied, punching the air, we need some doggedness around here.

Phiri had cleared his throat with some irritation. I don’t want to sound petulant, he had said, sounding petulant, still smarting from his cancelled vacation, but his so-called university was still a college of education when he first enrolled for his teacher-training certificate, thirteen years ago…

You don’t need to be jealous! The Director-General had blazed, in the rudest put-down Phiri was to receive in his entire career, This department is big enough for two Ph.Ds!

That’s not the point, Sir, Phiri had continued when he found his voice again, unsure what he had said to so upset his Director General, but the candidate is a historian and this is the Ministry of Works — now, compared to the man we selected last week–

Rubbish, the Director-General had snapped, what this ministry needs right now is a new sense of history.

When Abe Araguna joined the service, it did not occur to Phiri that the slow Ph.D (who quickly earned the sarcastic sobriquet Please help Doc o) could – in a hundred years – be competition for him. The gulf between them was that wide. They were the same age but while Abe had spent a decade contending for his Ph.D from a former college of education, Phiri had acquired his own doctorate in Geosciences from his respectable alma mater, in a part-time programme that did not cost him a day in the office.

Phiri had joined the service on Grade Level 08. By public service rules staff were supposed to spend three years on each level before promotion to the next. On average most of his colleagues spent much longer but Phiri aced his promotion exams and returned from every annual vacation with a fresh diploma. He had skipped through to GL 14 on an average of two years on each level. When Abe joined the service on GL 10, Phiri was already on GL 14, within shouting distance of Directorship. In civil service terms, that four level gulf between the two men was like the ocean span between Brazil and the Bight of Benin. In knowledge terms, more cosmic metaphors were relevant, for Abe was a square peg in a round ministry. A historian in the Works Ministry was like a fly catcher in a nuclear lab. Abe took a week to get a grasp on problems that Phiri could solve with a phonecall. They were not ‘mates’ in Civil Service terms.

Yet, Abe was not merely introduced by the minister. He was the nephew of the minister.

Grade Levels 15, 16, and 17 were the director-grades, the Eldorado of the Civil Service. Public servants on GL 15 could fly first class, were supplied with the full complement of personal servants from drivers, through gardeners to houseboys – with some of them monetized. There were only three directors ahead of Phiri in the Department of Solid Substances, and they were all older than the D.G. In six years when the D.G. was due to retire, the most senior person in contention would likely be Phiri.  Had he continued on current form, it was clear that he was on track to becoming the youngest Director General in the history of the department.

Then strange things began to happen in the junior staff common room. Abe Araguna was appointed a ‘chief’ by a village nobody had ever heard of before. Phiri got the invitation to the coronation, like everyone else in the department, and snickered before tossing it into an overflowing bin. (His relationship with Abe had been delicate from the beginning: the D.G., trying to curry favour with the minister, had related Phiri’s opposition to Abe’s appointment, and the steps he had taken to overcome it) On the Monday afterwards, the event was all over the papers. The DG and the Minister had attended! Yet, that was not the most surprising thing, for the President’s Senior Personal Assistant had also attended! And those were just the faces that Phiri could make out from the photograph in the Vanguard newspaper! Phiri’s hands were shaking slightly as he filed the newspaper away carefully, for future rumination.

Things gradually got worse. Abe retired his English suits in favour of heavy white robes that slowed his already slow locomotion and work output further. But where he previously looked like a corpulent toad, his resplendent robes now lent him a regal bearing. He adopted irritating – and suspiciously fetish – mannerisms, like the sinister necklace which he touched before every handshake. He was now addressed, even by the DG, with the deferential moniker, Chief. This caused Phiri no little aggravation, especially when official circulars put out by the pool typists began to put the name Chief Dr. Abe Araguna above Dr. Phiri Bombai, contrary to protocol. On several occasions he was on the very brink of storming down to the secretarial pool, but he always held himself in check, recognising, quite rightly, that it was beneath him to notice such little-minded machinations by the hoi polloi.

Unfortunately, little-minded machinations began to occur higher up in the service as well. Every time Phiri went off on an annual vacation he returned to find a more senior Abe Araguna. Although he was Abe’s direct supervisor, promotion assessments ‘just happened’ to be bought forward to hold during the period of his vacation. The result was that – despite his atrocious work output, all Abe’s assessments were glowing and he was rocketing through the cadres at an even more precipitate speed than Phiri himself, a travesty that kept at least one civil servant in the department of Solid Substances awake at night. For, while Abe was moving up, Phiri was going to pieces. His personnel file had never before accommodated a bland recommendation, how much more a query. Now, his directors seemed to find fault with every thing he did. He now lurched from query to query, and there were currently three pending anonymous petitions taking issue with his retirement of festival funds.

Phiri spent eight years on GL 14. He was still there when Abe received the promotion that brought him level with his former mentor. Nobody called Abe ‘Please help Doc o’ anymore, whether behind his back or otherwise. – Although there was no shortage of people ready to help him. Even new entrants to the service quickly discovered that the best way to get ahead was to write brilliant memos for lucrative new committees, get Abe to sign them, and get appointed a deputy to Abe when his uncle approved it – as he inevitably did.




That morning, as Phiri stared at his face in the mirror of the senior staff toilet, he realised, with a grieving spirit, that Chief Dr. Abe Araguna was destined to become the next D.G. of the department. He raised his hands to his cheeks to wipe away the tears and noticed, again, the trembling that had started those rumours – shared with him only the other week by his secretary – of a potential compulsory retirement on medical grounds for the former rising star of Solid Substances. With a flash of insight (which had become rare these days) he realised that his hands had never trembled before Abe’s chieftaincy. He shut his eyes, heart pounding, as he tracked back, realising with shock, that it had all started with the handshake with which he congratulated Abe on his chieftaincy.

He was the subject of an occult attack!

He left the office immediately, at a loss as to his next step. Now that he had traced his problems back to that handshake, it was easier for him to admit that his performance had taken a downward spiral. It was years and years since he last came back from a vacation with a diploma in anything. The anonymous petitions were not entirely without substance – and he had fallen asleep while in charge of departmental minutes at a Federal Executive council meeting!

Yet, this was not simply Phiri going loco. It was an occult attack. He was suffused with a perverse relief. The ability to identify a fault outside himself galvanised him. He went straight to church, surprised to find it in full session at 12 noon on a Monday. Although he was a Christian, he himself only went to church once a month or so. He was not a particularly religious person, but he knew instinctively that this was a peculiarly spiritual problem.

The church was a beautiful, new denomination, barely six years old. The pastor-in-charge was also the general overseer of the ministry, and although he was barely greying, he had a look of great sagacity and an aura of imperturbable calm. Phiri waited impatiently at the back of the church until the prayer meeting ended. The congregants broke up abruptly, as their lunch hours expired, and drove off without the usual hanging around at the end of the Sunday services. It was not difficult to secure an audience with the pastor. Indeed it was as though he was expected, for the pastor called him by name, remembering to add the title, Dr., a feat of memory that both humbled and gladdened Phiri.

I have a big problem, said Phiri.

Tell us all about it, said the pastor. Phiri looked around him self-consciously, then realised, stupidly, that the pastor was referring to himself and God. So he did. And it was such a relief, speaking about it for the first time, that he gushed on and on. By four o clock, the pastor, who had to start preparing for his evening service, spontaneously broke into prayer and prophesy. Regarding the prayer component, he prayed fire and brimstone; concerning prophesy, he foresaw death and damnation. He prayed with such ferocity and rage that Phiri swiftly went from relief to apprehension about the Angel of Death on His way to ‘uproot and destroy’ all his ‘enemies’ at the ministry. After twenty minutes of the prayers he was able to break away from the maelstrom of curses. He arrived in the office just before closing, half-fearing a pandemonium of felled corpses, but the first person that he saw in the senior management corridor was Abe Araguna, who was looking particularly chipper as he touched his hand to the amulet of dense obsidian on his necklace and offered a handshake.

Phiri turned and bolted again.

He went straight back to church. The pastor, who was just about to start his evening service, was not quite as receptive as he was in the afternoon.

With these things, you have to make a serious sacrifice, he explained,

Phiri was incoherent with sincerity. I will give up anything: beer, cigarette… then he noticed the pastor’s humourless eyes and checked himself. He pulled out his chequebook and made a serious sacrifice. It was no good. The next day, he noticed that he was the subject of long, significant, glances. The women in the typing pool who used to look at him with forlorn lust were now looking at him with pity. As he arrived for the departmental executive briefing, Abe (who by virtue of his promotion, was attending for the first time) offered a handshake right in front of the D.G., so Phiri had no choice but to accept it. As the meeting broke up, he even tried on a ‘goodbye’ handshake which Phiri pretended not to see. So Abe laid the scorned hand on Phiri’s shoulder. That very evening, Phiri burned the jacket that Abe had touched, and spent the better part of thirty minutes washing his hand; but his right arm, from the shoulder, seemed to grow heavier and number by the hour.

Yet he couldn’t avoid handshakes in his office, and he couldn’t very well keep burning his suits either. That Sunday, on the recommendation of a lettuce-seller at the evening market, he tried another church. The Prophetic Latter End Miracle Centre did not hang about. Before Phiri had been in the congregation fifteen minutes, the ecstatic minister of God had purged a womb of fibroids and cast out an infestation of demonic spirits. Phiri felt a warm tingling all over. When the chants of praise began, he rose to his feet. Afterwards, he was one of a long line of people waiting to see the minister. Phiri was taken aback by the harried and morose faces on the queue, and hoped that he looked nothing like them. He tried on his itsawonderfulday smile, and was somewhat relieved that there was no mirror to assess it in.

On Monday, he arrived in the office with a lot more confidence than he had had in a few years. When it was time for the dreaded handshake, he not only shook it with gusto, he clapped his left hand on the shoulder of the startled Abe, for both his hands had been liberally pomaded with anointing oil blessed by the minister of God. He walked around his office with an over-full glass of water, to disguise the liberal sprinklings he had made earlier that morning with the bottle of the minister’s holy water. It had been dark when he carried out the protection instructions, and he had not counted on the noticeable splotches on the carpet.




He was okay for the whole of that year; indeed, his greasy palms dissuaded many a handshake. Then, the following year, he and Chief Dr. Abe Araguna were promoted to Director grade GL 15, on the same day.

His joy at this long-awaited promotion was swamped by his dismay at the premature elevation of his bitter rival. It was the first time in the history of the department that a civil servant would spend just a year on a grade that required a three-year maturation period. He knew very well that his own promotion was window-dressing; he was most likely going to retire at that level, while Abe moved on to bigger things. He felt a little light-headed as he folded away the official gazette, and then he blanked out, and found himself (quite suddenly) in the observation bed of a mustachioed civil service doctor.

The doctor was grinning genially: I also fainted myself in medical school when I saw my first corpse, he said helpfully. Take these tablets-

I want to rest for one week,

No problem, said the doctor, pulling up his sick leave booklet.

He took the medical advice. There were no more churches for him. The anointing oil and the holy water, he saw now, were passable defensive shields; but they were not proof against the pernicious patronage of the Minister for Works, who was at that moment lobbying the national convention of the ruling political party to become the next presidential candidate. Phiri knew he was going to die the day he had to answer sir to a roach like Abe Araguna. He moped in his bedroom, already feeling like guest of honour at a wake. Then his secretary arrived with the warning that Abe and his senior colleagues at the ministry were planning to come to his house the next evening on a get-well visit.

More like a kill-him-finally visit, he thought, fleeing to his village.

Because it was more than fifteen years since his last visit, he had to spend the first night in the hotel while his country home was scrubbed and cleaned of the dust and cobwebs from a decade of neglect. Yet, the change did him good. On the second day, he was actually well enough to walk, on tottery feet, along the river for which the village was named. It was so peaceful, so far away from ministry politics, that he sat there under a gnarled guava tree, and fell asleep. It was already dusk when he was roused by a gravelly voice,

Phiri Bombai? Is that you?

Phiri started awake. The elderly man in front of him was bald, but in revenge he had grown his beard with an obsessiveness that had no place for niceties like combs. The result was a tangled grey-black horsetail that hung down to his navel. Phiri recognized the other man immediately, despite the extra six inches of beard.

Uncle Manire!

So you remember us today,

Don’t mind me! Civil service life is terrible!

Phiri found it convenient to go along with his 'uncle's’ assumption that he had rattled his gate — not ten paces away — and finding him out, had fallen asleep while waiting for his return. In truth, Phiri had forgotten all about this distant cousin, until that very moment, had forgotten that Manire's father had worshipped the deity that gave the river its name long after such things became passe´. Three decades earlier, when Phiri’s father was still alive, Manire was one of the last adherents of the river deity, and his loyalty had driven a wedge between him and Phiri’s more Christianized section of the family.

Now, as Phiri paid his impromptu but quite agreeable visit, a radical and alarming idea began to grow in his mind, but it was an idea of such brazenness that he was unable to speak of it until close to midnight when he was several bottles away from public service sobriety. Menire had found a carton of beer of reasonable antiquity under his bed. A family of rats had nestled in it, but the liquid contents were fine, really. The hoard of beer was warm, but the evening was cool, anyway. They sat in the front yard of Manire’s lonely, riverside bungalow hedged around by a rustling wall of browning maize. A chittering monkey chained by the waist ate groundnuts and threw its husks at its captor. It was suddenly aeons away from cosmopolitan Abuja. It was suddenly the place for brazen propositions. His uncle heard him out and grunted dispassionately, The deity is dead, Phiri.

What about all those stories you told me when I was a child, of how Ukagba put children in wombs, how Ukagba put yams in barns…

They were true – then. But Ukagba is dead. Many years dead. You don’t leave a baby in the bush without food for twenty years and come looking for it-

A deity is not a baby –

But it feeds on offerings. On worship. Every god needs worship, Phiri.

A real god cannot die just because we don’t worship him. That means he was never almighty in the first place,

But who needs an almighty god in the first place? So long as he’s mightier than your neighbours, is that not good enough? All I know is that after one hundred years of worshipping America, God is not going to be parting any more Red Seas for Israel. That’s my finger! Let’s bet!

Phiri did not accept the bet.

Menire rose and shuffled into his two-room bungalow. He bumped into barrels that weren’t even in the way, and Phiri knew that his uncle was even drunker than he sounded. He came out a few minutes later bearing a carving the size of a fair tuber of yam. He dropped it dramatically on the ground before Phiri, the way one could never drop a tuber of yam. This is Ukagba, he said. Remember that Iroko in the village square? Our great grandfather carved Ukagba from one of her branches.

He resumed his chair. His lips were pursed and swiveled swiftly in circles, making a comic feature of his face, but Phiri was not close to laughter; indeed, he had never seen his uncle so close to tears. They both swigged huge gulps of beer. Then, losing his fight for self-control, Manire sniffed and broke open a can of snuff which he applied liberally into his nostrils, promising, The last time, the absolutely last, last time!

When he had sneezed – and wiped his tears like one that wiped away the products of a good snuffing – he shook his head and rolled the wooden idol with his toes until its terrible face looked up at the two men. Its bottom half was still black from decades of poured offerings. Its black eyes stared vacuously, impotently, at them. Manire shook his head ruefully, Look at it!

Phiri did, thinking that their great grandfather was not exactly a gifted sculptor.

It is only good for firewood now, said Menire bitterly, Hai! I remember when Ukagba was Ukagba! In those days, if I touched her without killing a cock first of all, eh? That whole week, headache won’t allow me to sleep!

Phiri looked longingly at the prostrate idol. The very land on which they sat had been land disputed with a powerful family. Their great grandfather had ended the dispute by setting Ukagba’s shrine in the middle of the land. Phiri’s spine tingled at the memory of that acquisition by divine fiat, that gem of family history. This was the sort of godfather Phiri needed! He remembered Abe Araguna’s obsidian necklace and obstinate uncle. The parochial unfairness of life suddenly bore down on him with grinding vindictiveness. Abe Araguna’s village was not dead. It was there, investing him with an empty chieftaincy that gave him prestige and respect in a bereft Abuja. Abe Araguna's tribal gods were not dead. For all his stately Christianity, he wore one of them around his neck, wearing down the potentials of his more intelligent rivals in the most parochial way. His uncle was dressed in ministerial pomp, not an unkempt beard. Phiri was suddenly overcome by his sad lot in life, I need a godfather! He groaned, that civil service is a terrible place! A very terrible place! And at that moment he was grateful for the beer, and for the scandalous depth of confidence it empowered him to share.

But you are a Christian, not so?

I am, said Phiri equivocally.

That’s good, said Manire approvingly, I am now a deacon myself. He kicked Ukagba again. His lips began to twitch again, We were idiots before, worshipping sticks and things that we can hold in our hand. Now we worship an international God. I still put children into barren wombs, sure, but now I give God the credit. We are-

I want something that I can hold in my hand, blurted Phiri. He swallowed. His fists trembled from the ferocity, and sinfulness, of his need.

Manire looked at the younger man with some alarm. Then he looked around the empty courtyard with drunken discretion, Okay now, he said, teary eyes gleaming with alcoholic resolve, bring your bible and your cross tomorrow. There’s no need to look for our gods inside the grave, eh? After all, we were more Christian than the missionaries that brought Christianity here. Eh?

Yes, said Phiri without conviction.

The following day, the influence of beer dissipated, Phiri remembered his idolatrous conversation with Manire with deep embarrassment. He instructed his driver to tell all visitors that he was sleeping, and took to his bedroom, deep in depression. He was hugely tempted to visit Menire — just to see what happened. But he was afraid that Menire would remember their drunken conversation, and imagine that Phiri had actually taken it seriously.

An hour passed, and a trembling driver came to report the presence downstairs of the Director-General and a party of commiserating senior staff from the department. Chief Dr. Abe Araguna did not just shake his hand. He hugged him for the first time, and the full bodily contact with the obsidian necklace dried out Phiri’s mouth and set off palpitations in his heart. He realized that nowhere, not even his village, was beyond the swathe of Araguna’s oppression. Much later, as the delegation left for their cars after leaving behind a get-well card signed by the office, the D.G. took Phiri aside and reminded him of the provisions under the civil service rules for early retirement – and the party convention to select a presidential candidate, which was in progress as he spoke, You have already finished your nice village house, he said gently, it’s better to enjoy your pension, you know.

Phiri thought that was very rich, coming from a D.G. who had, at the age of 40, sworn to an affidavit that he was actually 35, and who was dyeing the few remaining hairs on his head to wring out the last fictitious years of his working life without provoking anonymous petitions. As the delegation’s convoy left his house, Phiri hurried over to Menire’s bungalow with his bible and cross. His uncle was waiting patiently, tossing grains of corn to an overweight cockerel whose crowing sounded like the strumming of a bass guitar.

You have come, he observed, unnecessarily.


They retired into the parlour which, Phiri was relieved to see, did not have a cock or goat tethered for sacrifice. When he spoke his thoughts aloud, his uncle smiled indulgently. Without opening the bible, he quoted, Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me.

Phiri was duly impressed. He had dismissed the claim to deaconship as mere empty puffing.

Menire started the ceremony. He inspected the bible, The NIV version, he muttered approvingly. He dressed his centre table with a white cloth and set the bible and cross on it. An age passed in the course of which the deacon struck a desultory gong and sighed heavily from time to time. Suddenly he snapped his head upwards and to the left of a bicycle hanging on the wall, Tandi, he said curtly, and made a clicking sound. An hour passed, and he smiled and bowed deeply, Mehu-Mehu! Phiri recognized his father’s nickname, but he could not turn his head. He swallowed, waiting patiently as his uncle greeted many more ancestors, seeing off the more undesirable elements.

Then he set down the gong and began to chant. Disjointed passages from the bible flowed around the praise names of dead ancestors. Phiri felt a peculiar crowding in of memory. He knew very well that his father was not standing to attention to the left of him. He knew that his mother was not floating in the air, where Menire addressed his praise of Mother with the Heart of Water. But it was nice to feel that wholeness again, for the first time since he was a child in the hearth of his parents, it was nice to be – confirmed bachelor that he was – secure in a womb of family that death could not dissolve.

It was almost a rude shock when Menire broke off his chant and rose. An expression of incensed rage grew on his face and he began to harangue the air around him, speaking in a language that was neither English, Ukagba, nor any other Nigerian language known to Phiri. After ten minutes of this, he seemed to reach an accommodation with his spiritual collocutors. Taking up the bible, he kissed it and opened it wide to the ceiling. Then he lowered it, blew into it, and shut it gently. He gave it to Phiri, who, instinctually kissed it thrice before handing it back. Menire looked around the room which was now peopled with pews and pews of genial ancestors that only he could see. He made his choice, and kissed and opened up the holy book again. Five times he invited ancestors, five times they entered in, and five time Phiri kissed them welcome, dropping tears of gratitude onto the holy book. He welcomed in Mehuni, his father and Raisa his mother. He welcomed in Kaabaka his step mother, and his great grand father Atima, who had led Ukagba in the last communal war that humbled their upstart neighbours to the north. He welcomed in his grandfather Akarjo, who had retired a chief clerk, the highest ranking Nigerian civil servant in his days, at a time when the forbears of the Works minister were most likely peasant farmers. When all that was done, Menire gave him the book. Open it and read, he said.

What verse?

Any verse. Just open anywhere and read.

Phiri hesitated, then he cracked opened the bible centrally. His eyes fell on a verse from Psalm 144:

Reach down your hand from on high;
deliver me and rescue me
from the mighty waters,
from the hands of foreigners

Menire grinned happily. You see? God is here. That is your war cry. That verse is your amulet. It is your special word from God, from the Great Beyond.

Later that evening, they sat in the yard, enduring the jabbering taunts of the captive monkey, and reflecting on the portentous events of the day. What about the cross? Phiri asked.

It will sleep inside your bible. In the morning, you will put in on a chain and wear it everywhere. Your ancestors live in that bible now, so you must honour it. It requires serious sacrifice.

I know, said Phiri, reaching for his wallet.

Menire waved it away disdainfully. Not that type. The bible must never leave your bedroom. You understand? It must never be touched by anyone else. You understand? And your beard…


You must grow a beard, a full beard.

He saw Phiri's horified face. No, not long like mine, but this was Atima’s condition. He didn’t want to make your cross his token, so I asked him, what about your beard? At first he wanted it nice and long like mine, but I told him that you’re a public servant, and that Ukagba is not like Abuja. So that is the deal. He will fight for you, but you must grow a beard.

Phiri paused. This was heavy. So I will be a nazirite like Samson, eh?

Menire’s beer was almost at his lips, where it paused. He grinned, But no Delilah o!

They both laughed. The iroko is too big, he explained, that's why we carved Ukagba from her branch. It's the same with God and the Bible, not so? Who can obey every law in the bible? Eh? So we take a verse, we take a thing and hold it tight eh? That's what churches do. They select. And who knows God eh? So we bundle Him with our ancestors that we knew very well, eh? Maybe they were ordinary people when they were alive, but they are near God now, not so? So maybe it is idolatry, okay, but who can obey everything in the Bible? Eh?



The goat farted an amen.

The next week, Phiri returned to work, to a disciplinary hearing on the first of the anonymous petitions. He got a two-month suspension and a serious warning. Yet, he did not throw away his ancestor-ridden bible and cross, for on that same day, the Party convention announced the new presidential candidate; and it was not Abe Araguna’s uncle.

The following day, the sitting president announced a cabinet reshuffle in which the Works Minister and a few other presidential aspirants were sacked. (Phiri heard the news on a barbershop radio where he was grooming his beard into a natty point, and he flashed an Imgoingtodealwiththesepeople grin at the mirror, which worked quite well.) – Although the president was approaching the end of his maximum two terms in office, he expected his ministers to spend their energies campaigning for a constitutional amendment to get him a third term.

So Phiri grew his beard assiduously. It was clear that his ancestors were not almighty, and he did not expect them to win every battle. All he needed were a few solid punches landed on his behalf. As for the rest, his name was Phiri Bombai. He could take care of business.

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