Revolution, Chapter One: The Shop on the Corner, Part One
This is chapter 1 of a serialized novel appearing on Art For Liberty weekly. Read from the beginning here.
Thomas Sindamo woke up from his sleep. He had dreamed again of that night twenty one years earlier when he and Sister Schiller had listened to the Ode. The occurrence of the dream was not particularly noteworthy for Sindamo. As with most people, he dreamed of the events of his childhood about once a week. Sometimes he would dream of the Ode. Other nights he would dream that he was back in his math class at the missionary school or reading a book at night on the porch while the flies tried to get through the mosquito netting.
There never seemed to be any connection between what was happening in his life and which particular memory his subconscious chose for a dream, but in retrospect the Ode would seem an appropriate prelude for the events of the day.
Sindamo looked out through the window and saw that it was not yet light out. He swung his legs out of bed and sprang up, thumping loudly on the floor below. It was one of the little joys in life. Living alone in a one room apartment above the bakery he owned, he knew he wouldn’t wake anyone up and had all the privacy he could ever want. Many years had been spent in pursuit of this level of independence.
He had worked in the missionary kitchen throughout his time at school and had toiled many more years at another bakery in Lomboko. All that time, he had been learning.
He had learned how to make delicious breads and pastries out of ingredients of inconsistent quality. The farmers of Oraanu were perpetually struggling to produce the raw materials necessary for baking, and Sindamo had learned to depend on a variety of sources in case one of the farmers who supplied him had a bad year. Sindamo’s ability to cultivate a stable supply network of farmers became one of the reasons he had been successful enough to go out on his own. The residents of Lomboko knew that if they stopped by Sindamo’s bakery, there would always be bread, pies, and even treats like cookies no matter what crazy invasion, disease, or political turmoil was affecting the country.
He had learned how to compete against the other bakeries of Lomboko. He employed a legion of children to check around the city and see what prices his competitors were offering and whether there would likely be an increase or decrease in demand the next day. His market analysts/children were paid in bread to take back to their families or to share amongst the orphans of the city.
He had learned that these children were more trustworthy than the adults. They had not been infected with the lethargy of most of the other subjects of Oraanu. The children worked because if they didn’t, they and their families might go hungry. Most subjects of Oraanu worked just hard enough to keep from getting fired. There was a saying in Oraanu that captured the essence of the economic situation: “As long as the bosses pretend to pay us, we’ll pretend to work.”
Ko Hamilton and the others in the government directly or indirectly controlled almost all the business in the country. They doled out the foreign aid, decided which employment projects would receive funding and which private businesses would enjoy the protection of the police and army. The people of Oraanu knew where their livelihood came from. Ko Hamilton always worked to make sure that no business got too big or too successful and that almost everyone had some bare minimum of food. This was enough to keep the country staggering from one influx of foreign aid to the next without ever really achieving anything.
Sindamo went downstairs and out the back door. He had to take care of the first thing every man had to do in the morning. That done, he walked around the building to the front door. Though he was clad only in boxers, he knew that no one else was likely to be up before dawn. Besides, this was Oraanu, in the hot and humid heart of Africa. People weren’t very self-conscious and didn’t bat an eye at a shirtless man.
A boy, no older than ten, was just arriving at the front of the bakery carrying today’s Locketon Gazette. Sindamo paid one of his child employees to bring him the paper as early as possible in the day so it would be there when he woke up. The boy was evidently running late today. As he took the paper, Sindamo asked, “What kept you, Roger?”
Roger answered nonchalantly. “Had to go around the hornets, Mr. Sindamo. They’ve locked down the Kwange marketplace.”
Sindamo nodded. One of his friends had warned him the day before that the police were going to raid the market. Roger’s story was certainly plausible, and he was only a few minutes late. “Good work remembering to bring the paper, Roger. Sometimes it’s hard to predict what the hornets will do.”
Roger smiled. “Just doin’ my job.” Sindamo had to suppress a groan. The kids had stumbled across some American comic books from the 50’s and were constantly repeating their favorite lines. Sindamo had heard Roger use that one dozens of times in the past month. “Keep it up, Roger.”
Roger’s smile vanished. “Be sure to read the front page, Mr. Sindamo. Trouble’s coming.”
Sindamo managed to keep a straight face at the boy’s innocently patronizing advice. “Hard to miss the front page, Roger. What’s up?”
Sindamo grinned inwardly as he noticed that the pages were slightly rumpled. Roger had clearly peeked through it already. Sindamo didn’t mind the children getting a free read of the paper as long as the pages weren’t too smudged. Though he wouldn’t admit it to anyone, Sindamo was actually proud that his work allowed many children in Lomboko to read and stay current. The children also got a chance to learn the importance of information.
In Oraanu, if you didn’t keep up with the news, you might be blindsided by some new or oncoming disaster. Today was a good example. Roger was right, the Gazette’s headline could only mean trouble. Sindamo read out loud: “Hamilton condemns ‘hoarders’, signals new round of seizures.”
Roger added with all the solemnity a ten year old could muster, “And the hornets might come here this time, Mr. Sindamo.”
Sindamo grunted in acknowledgment as if he hadn’t considered that possibility. “We’ve just got to stay ahead of the hornets then, don’t we?” Roger nodded vigorously, as if Sindamo had unveiled a brilliant strategy for dealing with the ever-predatory Lomboko police. Sindamo concluded, “Don’t worry about it, Roger, they haven’t gotten us yet. Now get on back home and get some sleep, you’ve got to be back here in a couple hours.”
Roger waved goodbye and started running back home. When Roger had gone, Sindamo laughed to himself. Roger was a bright boy and constantly worried about the bakery. When he wasn’t at work as part of Sindamo’s network of child informants, Roger pestered Sindamo with questions about how the bakery was run. In a few years, Sindamo might let him actually work in the bakery. Might need an assistant someday, Sindamo thought to himself.
He turned his attention back to the paper and the headline about new seizures. Sindamo rarely considered any of the proclamations of Ko Hamilton to be good news. Sindamo had been barely a teenager on the night General Hamilton had seized power. The nightmare of that night regularly interrupted Sindamo’s sleep.
Don’t think about that now. It’s a brand new day. Sindamo shook his head as if physically escaping the memory and walked back in to start the ovens.
As he loaded up the first batch of the day’s bread, he thought about the news about the new seizures. He would have to talk to his friend in the police about it. At the very least, he needed advance warning if the police were going to come around his shop looking to confiscate money or equipment. Like any prudent Oraanu businessman, he had a hiding place where he could keep his valuables while a raid was in progress. He’d have to keep enough out to appease the hornets, and the loss would hurt, but the hornets wouldn’t be able to destroy all he’d built.
A buzzing sound interrupted his reverie. Sindamo looked up to see that a bee had wandered in through an open window. It’ll be a good day, Sindamo thought to himself. Bees were a good omen in Oraanu. They went about their business of making delicious honey and helping crops and didn’t bother anyone unless provoked. In a country where just about nothing worked, bees were a welcome exception.
Hornets, by contrast, were a bad omen, which was why the merchants of Oraanu called Hamilton’s police “hornets”. Hornets didn’t produce anything. They just ate other animals that did — especially bees.
Sindamo did not have much hate within him, but he did loathe the hornets. As the bread baked and he planned out the day’s work, he hoped that he wouldn’t see any hornets today to spoil the good luck of the bee.
Like most hopes in Oraanu, however, this one would not be realized.