Revolution, Chapter Two: Disturbance, Part Two
This is chapter 2 of a serialized novel appearing on Art For Liberty weekly. Read from the beginning here.
Ko Hamilton looked out the window of the top floor of the People’s House. The name was a bit of inspired political theatrics. Under British rule, the governor’s mansion had been called “King’s House” in a fit of self-promotion that bordered on sedition. When Hamilton had ascended to power, he had declared that the people of Oraanu owned the property of Oraanu, including the finest house in the country. Now, he was wondering if he should call over one of the people of Oraanu (his servant) over and get the windows cleaned. There was a large fire burning to the north and it had deposited a bit of soot on the otherwise spotless bulletproof glass. Instead of calling for the servant, he decided first to find out what was going on. He turned away from the window and took a step toward the door, bellowing, “William!”
His aide was through the door in under two seconds. “Yes, your excellency?”
“What’s that fire out there, William?”
“Nothing, your excellency. A bakery owner was killed resisting one of our tax collectors. Somehow or other his bakery caught fire in the process. It’ll be written off as an accident, your excellency.”
“I see.” Hamilton turned back to the window. “Too bad about the baker. Did we at least end up collecting?”
“Yes, sir. Even more than we were planning on.”
“Excellent. See that the collector gets a cut. If he can pull the fat out of the fire in a case like that, he might be a rising star.”
William chuckled correctly at his boss’ play on words and said, “Your will be done, your excellency.” Hamilton liked that phrase and nodded dismissively to William, who left the room.
Hamilton experienced a vague pang of conscience and looked over to the mirror. He was the picture of a modern African statesman. He wore a well-tailored Seville Row suit, two gold rings, and a tasteful polished wood and bead bracelet that had been given to him by an elder of one of Oraanu’s native tribes. Once a muscular soldier, Hamilton had grown into a late middle-age stoutness.
Hamilton told himself that the nameless baker had died from his own stupidity. Solving Oraanu’s problems required money, and the only people left who had money were miserly property owners like the baker and those merchants his men had roughed up in the marketplace earlier in the day. How could men like the baker expect to resist the common sense measures Hamilton had adopted to deal with the economy? Vast areas of the country still lacked food, clean water, medicine, and roads. Someone had to provide for all those who lacked those necessities.
Hamilton had plans for the country and he had spent the last twenty years of his reign pursuing them. Half his time was occupied by traveling abroad to try and coax foreign aid from wealthier governments. He used whatever he got to buy supplies for the people who constituted his political base. Most of these people were poor, but the most important ones lived in splendor. They were the leaders of various factions in the government and military.
In Oraanu, he was focused on getting his tax collection system up and running. He spent much of the taxes on the military and police. He lived in constant fear of another coup, and maintained a vast intelligence network to ensure that no one would surprise him the way he had surprised his predecessor.
Whatever he did not spend on aid for his political base or the security apparatus went to development projects that he thought were worthy of Oraanu’s money. There were always people presenting promising plans for development. He had recently approved a proposal to create soy farms on some of the arable land east of the capital on the edge of the interior jungle. Soy was the next big cash crop, according to the report from the Agricultural Ministry and the presentation given by the Oraanu representative of the partnership which would be responsible for the project.
Hamilton never asked how the Agricultural Ministry got its information or why the language in the report and the presentation were suspiciously similar. For that matter, he didn’t notice that the Agricultural Minister was being chauffeured around Lomboko in a brand new Mercedes. The idea seemed plausible enough to Hamilton, and that was all that mattered.
Even if that project fell through, Hamilton thought, one of the projects would have to work eventually. And when one finally did, the country would be on the road to development and prosperity. To get there, however, required money. To get money required that the property owners of Oraanu sacrifice a bit for the greater good of their country. They needed to get some skin in the game, anyway.
Hamilton looked away from the mirror and sat back down at his desk, content in the knowledge that he was doing the right thing.
* * *
Tangwishon looked relieved when he saw Sindamo was well enough to talk. “Your idea can wait, Thomas. First, we’ve got to get you to better accommodations.” Tangwishon noticed a slightly indignant look on Martha’s face out of the corner of his eye. He turned to her and explained.
“He’ll be safer with me. The government thinks he’s dead. The mayor put out a press release expressing his regret at hearing of the death of Thomas Sindamo. They’ll eventually find out he’s not, and when that happens they’re going to want to find him. They’ve got enough people on their payroll that they’ll find him if he isn’t taken somewhere out of the way.”
Martha wasn’t convinced. “How do we even know they’ll come looking for him? What do they care, one baker more or less?”
Sindamo tried to sit up to add his thoughts to the conversation, but made it only a few inches before falling back. Tangwishon pointed to Sindamo and said, “He’s got proof on his chest that the hornets are killing indiscriminately now. If their intelligence people haven’t completely fallen asleep (and Hamilton wouldn’t still be in power if they did that very often), they’ll know how bad incidents like this make them look. Even the people getting bribed by Hamilton will start asking uncomfortable questions if too many of the actual productive Oraanu citizens turn up dead.”
Martha did not respond. Sindamo croaked, “He’s right, Martha. John, unless you’ve got something else important, let’s get going. We’ve got a lot to talk about.”
Tangwishon picked up his lighter, smaller friend and brought him out to his car, an expensive looking SUV. It occurred to Sindamo that he had never actually seen Tangwishon’s car until now. In fact, he hadn’t even known Tangwishon had had a car. John had always just popped up around the bakery. The two had always walked to events around Lomboko.
Martha followed them out and, before Sindamo could convey his thanks, she said, “The only thing you owe me is to get well. There aren’t many people in Oraanu who seem worth a damn. You’re one of them.” With that, she walked off in the direction of the marketplace.
Tangwishon whistled appreciatively as he got in the driver’s seat. “We’ll have to check back in with Martha after you’re better. Sounds like the good doctor might want to give you a check-up…”
Sindamo laughed despite the pain in his ribs. The two sat in silence for several minutes as Tangwishon drove out of Lomboko. It had been many years since Sindamo had left the city. The outskirts looked even worse. The farms outside the city were destitute. The fields contained a few scraggly plants; the livestock looked emaciated.
Sindamo grit his teeth against the pain and said, “Looks like Hamilton’s programs are off and running.” John nodded. After a few moments, he said in the tone of a statement rather than a question, “And you want to do something about that, I take it.”
Tangwishon looked over at Sindamo and then returned his gaze to the road. “Think it over while we’re driving. It’s about two hours to my house. While you’re thinking about it, try to think of the last successful revolution. Not a coup, I don’t know anyone in the government who would do anything different than Hamilton. Try and think of the last time anyone just up and decided to conquer a country from within.”
After a moment, Tangwishon added, “You’d also better get a pitch ready to convince me why I should help. You’ll get an idea of why I might not want to when you see my house.” And with that, Tangwishon turned on the car’s CD player to a concerto by Rachmaninov and continued driving toward the setting sun on the bumpy road out of Lomboko.