Friday, November 19, 2010


She is one of the most successful business women in Gambia. Her name is known far and wide, she is a patron of many celebrations.

Come with me to the Serign, her mother says, Chat baahut Ida. Come with me, that he can protect you from wagging jaws and wandering tongues.

But she does not listen. If she is not too busy traveling she is too busy meeting, with important men, for lunch.

One day something bad happens. A deal gone wrong, a trust betrayed. She is shocked, to the core. She loses some money. Nothing irrepairable, you understand - after the initial shock she gathers herself again, and past a slight hardening within her, she is herself once more.

If you had come with me to Serign Mbaakeh, her mother begins, but she snaps at her, and gets in her car, and leaves again for the office.

A plane is delayed, a flight is cancelled, and she catches the ferry to Barra the next day, for her reconnection through Dakar. A flight attendant recognizes her at the airport.

Ida Sosseh deye morm, the attendant says to her friends that night as they sit together, she has lost her money deh - she has to take the ferry now. The girls laugh, and high-five each other. And there the rumor is born.

And by the next day the rumor has grown, has assumed magnificent proportions. It travels through the country, covered with a web to which each teller adds their own sticky strand. And it is covered with filth, heavy with it.

That she had tried a business deal, with some mafia members. That she had lost much money, and disappointed them. That she fled, then, into Senegal, filled with shame. Did you see what she wore at the airport - did you see how plain it was? Did you see how she hurried, so no one would see her - as if Banjul dang fi muna nobu! Where is all her class now, is what I'd like to know? She will be arrested if she ever steps foot inside this country again.

All while she sits on a plane, looking out at a Sun that scatters its light across the fluffy surfaces of clouds, and thinks about her meeting in New York.

And now the rumor, fat, pregnant with itself, begins to enter into reality, it begins to assume a tangible form.

And those charged with listening to the mutterings of the people, in order to discern any dissent, come into contact with the rumor. And from the ruptured belly of the rumor they gathered hardened pus, which they call cold hard fact, and run sniggering to present to their superiors.

Ida Sosseh is in Brussels, awaiting her connecting flight. She flips lazily through a magazine. She thinks to call her mum. Then she thinks No, ah, let me wait until I get there, merr bi dafa Barry wah, I am tired...

And the facts (that are in fact only the hardened pus of the rumor) are polished until they glisten, and presented at last to the ones who make the decrees. And the ones who make the decrees think on them, and then present their decisions. Guards are posted at the airport, a holding cell is cleared, an interviewer is put on alert.

And they all wait, for Ida Sosseh.

And her mother hears, in the way mothers have of hearing, and her mother is gripped with terror, and sits by the telephone, waiting for Ida to call.

When Ida Sosseh finally checks into her hotel in New York she is so tired she thinks she will call her mother the next day. Probably asleep anyway, she thinks, as she drifts off to sleep herself, in a haze of jet fatigue, no point in waking the merr…

In the morning she wakes late and has to rush to her meeting. It runs late, and when she finally gets home she has to pack and rush to the airport for her flight home. She does not call her mother. She boards, and has her layover in Brussels. But the plane lands late, and it lasts a mere three minutes, the flight attendant politely hurrying her along.

When she lands at the airport back home she is accosted by a strange man, shorter than her, with a tight haircut. The man takes her arms and asks her to follow him. There is an arrogance in his tone, a hint of violence.

She thinks there must be a mistake. Yow Baaye ma! She pulls away. And when he will not let go of her arm she gets angry, she shouts at him. And then she is terrified - she shouts at the spectators for help, but they will not move, refuse to meet her eye. Then other men come, and she is a limp presence at their center, as they surround her, and walk her away.

I told you many times, Serign Mbaakeh tells Ida Sosseh's mother, to bring her here. Chatt baaxut!

Ndaham I told her... You know these children... You know what they are like nowadays... they believe nothing... nothing...

The old woman's shoulders are slumped, and she looks down at the ground.

She is not beyond saving, Serign Mbaakeh says, in a gentler tone, Now - you must do exactly as I tell you....

She does, of course. She carries out the Serign's instructions to great precision, she gives out each sarah twice. She does more than is asked of her, and she prays, and she fasts, every single day.

And a decree comes, from above, and one day, just like that, Ida Sosseh is freed.

Her mother is given notice, and she travels to the jail in a taxi, and waits for her outside. When she walks out under the Sun, when the glare has stopped burning her eyes, Ida Sosseh sees her mother, where she stands waiting, a kaala draped hurriedly over one shoulder. And Ida Sosseh bursts into tears.

Later, in the evening. They sit in their living room, the news on the television, that they both ignore. They look off into space, they do not look at each other. They have not spoken much all day, and when they speak they skirt around the topic of the imprisoning.

The Serigns can see things, her mother begins, that we cannot. And they can protect us against these things. That is all - whatever it is they take from us.

Ya, a Serign could not have prevented this! It is only these hypocrites and liars, and how they will speak against someone in the jealousy that eats at their rotten hearts. That will not mind their business!

She is filled with emotion as she speaks. Her mother sits with expression unchanged, staring deep into the arm of a chair.

You have always been stubborn, Ida. I had no one else, to set against you - this is why I spoilt you. The neighbors talk - the way you will not greet them when you pass. The smoking. One day you came home and said you did not want to go to daara anymore. There was something in your eyes - a fear, a holding back, I did not understand. So I let you stay home.

These things - chatt, gaymaynye, they are merely self-fulfilling prophecies. She uses the English phrase, and it sounds crude, in the midst of the Wolof. They succeed because people believe in them. The antidote to them is to have people shut their dirty lying mouths up. Not giving money to Serigns.

Her mother says nothing after this, and they sit watching the television in silence, where now there is a report of a public ceremony, screaming people and raised dust, red shirts and waving flags, until the night comes in and they each retire to their own bed.

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