“Triple Agent, Double Cross is a taut and engrossing thriller… there is authenticity in the attitudes it takes, and credibility in the characters, settings and situations it portrays…The structure of the novel is clear and comprehensible, and it is constructed with a strong sense of dramatic necessities such as timing and suspense, and the need for constant action and interaction…the author keeps up the critical tension that takes the reader through the book…The actual writing, the literary style, is first class and entirely appropriate to the genre…the reader is effortlessly transported from the opening pages, into the world of the novel, and dare not leave until the very end. The writing is strong and fluent, and therefore maximizes the potential brought to the book by an impressive, cleverly constructed plot…This is a professional and an accomplished piece of writing.”
Editorial Director of Minerva Press
“A mind-stirring fiction that sticks long after you have read it.”
“A story no thriller fan can afford to put away.”
NEW YORK, RALEIGH, LONDON, AMSTERDAM
PUBLISHED BY TISI BOOKS
Europe dominated by Nazi Germany 1939-1945
Nazi Germany-controlled France: 1940-1944
Partition map of Africa (1884-1914)
Cameroon on a map of the world
Cameroon over time
- German Kamerun (1884-1911)
- German Kamerun (1911-1916)
- British Cameroons & French Cameroun: 1916-1960
- British Cameroons & La Republique du Cameroun (1960-1961)
- British Southern Cameroons & La Republique du Cameroun (1960-1961)
- Reunited/Independent Cameroon today.
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it--always.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
Flourishing in the niche of the dreams of our hearts,
Blossoms the nourishing legacies of our souls.
Yet, our spirits are waned by the destructive legacies.
We look up to an uncertain future through our pasts,
Knowing that the determining present is their cognation.
If we had held hands instead of talking,
We would have scared them and not be in disarray.
If only we had acted together instead of accusing,
A heavy price would not have been paid without the claim.
We should never forget that yesterday’s ghost still haunts.
Only tomorrow’s glory and vindication are our salvation.
The beast can cuddle, purr, entice and hibernate.
But do not be fooled, my brothers.
It looks tamed by the smell of blood and carnage.
By trying to humanize the bastard, you unveiled its monstrosity.
The African Pearl
If you board a plane or ship plying any of the international routes and ask to be taken to the heart of Africa, do not be surprised to find yourself disembarking in Cameroon. It is a beautiful country per se, situated opposite the middle portion of Brazil, on the eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean. Bordered by six countries of which Nigeria is the most prominent neighbor, Cameroon appears on maps like a heavily pregnant mother carrying a baby on her back.
This peculiar geopolitical entity was created by accident and apportioned to Germany during the 1884 Berlin conference that carved up Africa. Thereafter, Berlin treated German Kamerun as its treasured colony for thirty-two years until Great Britain and France captured the land during the First World War, partitioned it into British Cameroons and French Cameroun, and then went on to lord it over the people for four decades. However, they too were challenged by Cameroonian civic nationalists who campaigned for the divided territory’s reunification and self-rule. Today, English and French are the country’s official languages, mirroring the dominance of the two Indo-European languages in Africa.
They say the gods have a design even in the most outrageous acts of mortals. If that is the case, then it also applies to Cameroon. The country has defied so many odds in its history that the people now pride themselves with the saying that “Impossible isn’t a Cameroonian word.”
Renowned voices tend to call Cameroon “Africa in miniature”, not only because of its fanciful shape and turbulent history, but also because of the physical and human aspects of its geography. It is the point in Africa where the East meets the West and where the North meets the South. It is a country that features plains and mountains, plateaus and valleys, rivers and seas, lakes and waterfalls and other landmarks that mirror the rest of Africa. The south is dominated by equatorial and tropical rainforests, the north is covered by Sahelian vegetation, and the middle portion of the country is graced with high savannah of mixed grassland and forest. In fact, all the different flora and fauna in Africa can be found in this carelessly-drawn triangle called Cameroon.
The curious eye is apt to notice varying statures, facial types and shades of complexion as it travels throughout Cameroon—the result of the territory’s history as the crossroads of African migrations. Anthropological linguists hold that all of Africa’s four major language groups converge in Cameroon.
The southern portion of the country is the base from where Bantu speakers spread to southern and eastern Africa. The furthest spread of Afro-Asiatic peoples is in the north of this territory, featuring groups like the Semitic-speaking Arabs, Berber-speaking Tuaregs, Chadic-speaking Hausas and Batas, and Fula or Fulfulde-speaking Fulanis or Peuls. Nilo-Saharan speakers dominate the north of the country in their furthest spread to the west of the African continent. Also present in Cameroon are small ethnicities of the fourth major subgroup called Niger-Congo-A that occupy the southwestern border regions with Nigeria. Settled in the northwestern portion of the country that looks like the pregnant part of mother Cameroon is the fifth and unique indigenous group that you will find only in Cameroon. Named semi-Bantu, Graffi or southern Bantoid, this group has characteristics of all the four major language groups or sub-races in Africa. Legends and lore hold that semi-Bantus are originally of Afro-Asiatic and Nilo-Saharan descent and that they assimilated all the peoples they encountered in the course of their migration. The Bamileké people are the dominant ethnicity in this group.
It is true that Cameroon’s human and physical wealth has been the source of its turbulent history, its pride and the ingredients that give its people a unique flavor. The flavor has produced colorful Cameroonian characters that the curious eye and mind is likely to enjoy by hating or loving them, pitying or angrily denouncing them. These characters provide insights into the human nature and the African continent that is haunted by leaders with the evil disposition.
While other African peoples have picked up arms and warred among themselves to have their country split up, Cameroon is the only geo-political entity in the continent whose inhabitants went to war to reunite its people separated by the legacy of the Anglo-French partition of the former German colony of Kamerun. It is the only country where those who fought for its reunification and independence are yet to assume political power, as they continue to languish from the defeat suffered in the hands of the French overlords and the puppets the French political establishment installed in power in Cameroon. It is the land where you will find Africa’s biggest political deception and sleaziest mafia. It is the country in Africa with the lowest number of heads of state in its history, yet it is a country that is unlikely to engage in internecine war to get rid of the suffocating system.
In the middle of the twentieth century, a child was born in Cameroon who by the age of ten, proved he could become anything he wanted to be. This child prodigy happened to be the son of a soldier of the Free French Forces that fought across the African desert in the drive that liberated France from German occupation during the Second World War.
In a previous book, we found out that the boy looked up to his revolutionary father as his greatest source of inspiration in life. But how he ended up as an adult who got caught on the side of those who wrecked his world, is the riddle this story is about to unravel.
Hardly anyone paid attention to the grey-haired figure with a chevron moustache and a slightly athletic gait as he sauntered through the crowded burial ground. He was dressed in a faded overcoat, old pants and worn-out shoes; and he was carrying a somber expression on his face that made him look like a poor friend or relative at the funeral of a benevolent soul that would be sorely missed. The man’s demeanor changed a little just before he stopped under an avocado tree. So when he pursed his lips, and then dimmed his eyes as if grappling with a painful memory, it marked a fundamental expression of his grief. Had there been a deeply curious eye observing the stranger at that moment, the person would have noticed that he looked a shade lighter on the back of his neck than on his face, and that he appeared taller than most of the people gathered there. However, nobody discerned any of those things about this guardedly mournful man waiting for the priest to bless the dead man.
Amare et sapere vix deo conceditur (To be in love and to be wise is scarcely granted even to a God), the priest articulated in Latin as his final words in the solemn prayer dedicated to his dead friend.
A flicker of oblivious brooding disturbed the expression on the stranger’s face. But he did not move any other part of his body as he closed his eyes as if suppressing a tempest within him. The stranger was so engrossed in his thoughts that he did not hear the murmurs as the priest talked to the men and family members around the coffin, and he scarcely paid attention to the rattling sound of the sisal ropes on the coffin as the men started lowering it into the grave. He probably would have stayed fixed a little longer had the outbreak of ululating and mourning cries not jolted him out of his silent grief.
Gavin Nemafou Njike opened his eyes again and took a deep breath. With his head inclined and with his arms folded, he watched the coffin confined to mother earth in what crossed his mind as Vincent Ndi Chi’s journey to his ancestors.
Gavin did not wait to witness the end of the solemn ceremony that was becoming too depressing. Instead, he made his way through the crowded burial ground to the Volkswagen Passat parked about half a mile away, hidden behind the dense clumps of elephant grass obscuring the view to the valley below.
Not until he was safely away in the shadows did he remove his wig, fake moustache and eyebrows, and then wiped his face clean of the complexion jelly. The dead man was still on his mind as he combed his hair, peeled off his overcoat, removed his old shoes, and then put them in the trunk of his car.
Then he shut the trunk and looked at his Rolex watch to find that it was already 16:57 Hours. He sighed, got into the car and fixed his eyes on the rear mirror. Satisfied with the way he looked, he kicked the engine of the car alive and drove to the 17:00 Hours rendezvous.
The three agents he had conferred with that morning joined him hardly a minute after he got there. They too were at the burial to gather some information for the service. Oddly enough, they looked too relaxed for his liking.
“Get in quickly,” Gavin ordered the men into the sedan.
“Huh!” muttered the last agent to get in.
Gavin frowned as he rubbed his brows and gritted his teeth, fighting off the conflicting thoughts racing through his mind.
Emmanuel Ebako Mukete sitting in the back, directly behind the driver seat, leaned forward with dimmed eyes. “Is there a problem, Chef?”
Gavin turned around and regarded his men, shrugged and then nodded at Emmanuel.
“What’s going on?” Jean-Baptiste Ondoa asked from the front seat.
Gavin clicked his tongue. “Let’s brace ourselves for the tough times awaiting field agents like us. Our service just got rid of an old lion, one that was about to die anyway. The unfortunate thing is that by killing him, we unintentionally sowed the seeds of his legacy.”
“What do you mean?” Jean-Baptiste asked.
“We have let loose lion cubs that are imbued with his ideas. They are roving free, everywhere. And they are doing so with a sense of vengeance that nobody should ignore. Boys, we have a tough fight ahead of us against Vincent Ndi’s disciples.”
“Did you just say a fight?”
“What are you talking about? We killed the movement at its fetal stage. We nipped it in the bud. That man was crazy. Of what good is a democracy to us? We are okay with the way things are. I am glad he is gone for good,” Jean-Baptiste said, gesticulating with raised eyebrows.
“You don’t get it!” Gavin muttered in a disinterested manner.
“He is dead. Moreover, dead people don’t talk. They don’t lead, and they don’t fight either.”
“Come on, now! You are a professional. Try to analyze like one.”
“I just did.”
“Look! We cannot afford to let our hearts take control of our heads in moments like this. You and I know that Vincent Ndi was not alone.”
“What is the point?”
“That man certainly had others he could count on. I mean men with enough energy and craziness to continue after him. I am sure he expected a quick end to his life.”
“Who wants to die?”
“He was a pioneer plowing a dangerous field. He knew that. Yes, my brothers; his ideas are still alive in men he molded.”
“You could be right. Still, it doesn’t count,” Jean-Baptiste persisted with an indifference that surprised Gavin.
“What do you mean?” Gavin asked with dimmed eyes.
“Chef, he is dead. That is what matters. Besides, he was never a great man,” Jean-Baptiste chuckled.
“Of course, he is dead, but his dangerous ideas are not. We should have killed the ideas first; we should have killed them instead.”
“Kill his ideas? Chef, I am having a hard time understanding what you are talking about?”
“Ideas can be killed by simply discrediting and humiliating them.”
“What is your point, Chef?”
“Events make great men and great names. That is a lesson from history. That man could become a hero if his ideas prevail.”
“The fellow is history. Besides, he didn’t accomplish anything worthwhile or remarkable,” Jean-Baptiste chuckled again.
“History sustains the legacies of heroes. The crowd out there thinks he is a martyr to emulate, the sort of figure to follow.”
“It looks like you are trying to say something here?”
“We need to start learning some facts about his life, that’s all.”
Gavin leaned back. “That stiff fellow’s legacy poses challenges we cannot afford to ignore,” he said in a monotone.
“Why are we fencing? There is no reason for this,” the subtle Maurice Nze Mezang interceded for the first time, “We did our job by following the orders, that’s all.”
“Bien sûr!” intoned Jean-Baptiste.
“Everything is now in the hands of the politicians,” Maurice interjected again, but with a sigh.
Gavin shut and opened his eyes rapidly. “Who gave the orders?” he asked in a leveled voice.
“It was a triangular affair,” Maurice replied, and then took a deep breath.
“So tell me! You were involved, a boss and who else?”
“I was with them, Chef,” Jean-Baptiste said abruptly, a haughty smile exposing his fang-like incisors.
Gavin closed his heavy-lidded eyes in disappointment. A clique with ethnocentric bearing, he thought. “I guess you know what you have done?”
“We did our job, for our interest,” Jean-Baptiste bubbled.
Quiet reigned in the car for a moment until Maurice sighed. But he did not offer a word.
Gavin sighed too. “That was a good and professional answer. Vincent Ndi was certainly a prized bull. But by quietening him, did we do harm or a service to Cameroon?”
“We rendered a service, Chef!” Jean-Baptiste blurted out, paused for a moment, and then continued, “That man’s language was too confusing. The reforms he had in mind threatened this country with disorder and division, instead of building on the wonderful things we have accomplished.”
Gavin looked away. “Keep this in mind. That man's death marked the birth of an unfamiliar enigma in this area. The enigma is his legacy. His death can do this nation a great harm or a great good depending on how we manage it. Ah, boys, never forget that we are the frontline soldiers whenever there is a mess to clean up.”
“Believe me, Chef! His death will do Cameroon a great good. The man was a loner, besides his few Anglophone friends who supported him. Graffi friends, precisely! They are cowards, for all I know. Aren’t they all from the Northwest Province?”
“You don’t know them,” Gavin muttered in a lackluster manner.
“I am an expert on the Northwest Province. In fact, I have worked here for five years. None of you have a year of service in this province in your records,” Jean-Baptiste boasted.
“What is your opinion of Chef Gavin’s sense of judgment, especially on this issue?” Emmanuel asked suddenly.
Gavin closed his eyes again and tried to put his thoughts together, fighting off the urge to intervene in the targeted exchange that ensued between Emmanuel and Jean-Baptiste. Even though he did not open his eyes again for about ten minutes, he and Maurice interceded every now and again to calm the other squabbling two down, to the point where Maurice came up with strong accusative words of wisdom that finally triggered a moment of silence in the car.
However, the tense silence was interrupted shortly after by faint cries that became distinguishable with every passing second. The men looked at one another without uttering a word, and then turned their heads to the direction of the approaching cries. Some men in traditional Northwest costumes, probably Vincent Ndi’s associates, were chanting along with the mourners in their descent from the burial ground.
“The hills are angry,” Emmanuel said in a somber voice.
“And the leopard went berserk!” Gavin remarked in Bamileké, in the Banganté dialect.
“What does that mean?” Jean-Baptiste asked.
“And so ends the story of the day,” Gavin drawled.
“You are right, Chef. It is all over,” Jean-Baptiste chuckled, his eyes on Emmanuel.
Gavin nodded and smiled back at the excited young man. Then he bit his lip and fixed his eyes again on the approaching mourners. They were chanting a war song. Then he saw him—the agile man of dark complexion, average height and a determined face. He could not forget that face.
“What’s the problem?” Jean-Baptiste asked, jolting Gavin out of his thoughts.
“Let’s get our asses out of here,” Gavin rasped as he turned the key in the ignition.
Gavin was in a pensive mood that sunny afternoon as he relaxed in the cane chair on the balcony of his third-floor apartment in the bustling city of Douala. The sun was bright and intense, casting a hue on the tarred streets and pavements that gave a beautiful mirage of the New Year. The familiar excitement of the first day of January was also in the air, even though Gavin also sensed an unusual mood around. People enjoying the day were going about their business with an uncomfortable determination that he did not think was characteristic of the Cameroonian spirit.
A smile of amusement spread across his face the moment he noticed a boozed up man staggering in the street below. It changed into a slight reflective grin as it dawned on him that the fellow was the third person he had seen that day who had lost his sobriety to alcohol. Still, he did not want to qualify them as real drunks—at least in the Cameroonian sense of the word where drunkenness involved some hollering, zigzag movements or roadside slumber.
Not until around midday did it cross Gavin’s mind that the children were the only ones enjoying themselves on the streets and that their parents were indoors as if they had planned it that way. It made him wonder whether the adults were trying to make a point. And in a way, they were making it all right, as if reiterating the fact that the global economic crisis finally caught up with his Cameroonian compatriots, shredding the blanket of felicity and vibrancy that always encapsulated Douala during the years that the economy flourished. The downturn’s mortifying effect on those whose festive spirit gave a distinctive flavor and glamour to the city was so obvious this New Year.
Nevertheless, he was determined not to allow the subdued atmosphere to affect his mood. After all, he prided himself on the fact that he was a nightjar, a remarkable product of nature that no one could cage. So he would make the best out of the day, but only after the cloak of darkness would have engulfed the city.
He wondered what he loved the most about the power of darkness. Perhaps it was the alluring feeling of the night that could dull or stimulate the senses. Or perhaps it was something else. Whatever the case, dancing and singing in the streets and indoors were activities he especially loved every New Year. And on top of that were beer, wine, spirit and the women—all at amazing prices that any of Casanova’s or Don Juan’s disciples would appreciate.
“Life, life, life,” Gavin mumbled and took another slug of his drink, “New year, new challenges.”
His mind was already made up. He would follow the same pattern—eat one of his favorite dishes in a good restaurant in the Akwa business district, Hotel Le Nde or the Akwa Palace Hotel preferably. And then he would wrap up the day in bed with a lustful Eve by his side.
His glass of drink held firmly by his strong fingers, Gavin got up from the chair and leaned on the rail. When he brought the glass to his lips again, his intention was to have a mouthful, but he ended up taking a sip instead. A grunt escaped his throat as he licked his lips and peered at the sprawled city below, making no mental effort to stop his thoughts from drifting again. Finally, he shook his head, sighed, took a massive gulp of the drink and closed his eyes. Still, the thoughts would not go away—haunting memories of a past that connected him to Vincent Ndi Chi. He knew the dead man and his lineage well, a genealogy that only a handful of people were aware of. In fact, it wasn’t long ago that he too made the connection that Vincent Ndi was the sad product of their common history of separation that took place almost a hundred years ago in the southern portion of the Western Highlands populated by the Bamileké people.
Tchatchoua, the ninth king of Banganté, ruled this largest Bamileké realm with the astuteness of a great ruler, making his name renowned in the entire Bamilekéland. He also won the high respect of some of his royal counterparts from afar, even in the land of the Bamoun people, considered at the time as the common rival of the Bamileké people. Therefore, when the new German colonialists arrived in the Western Highlands and tried to exert their control there, Banganté presented itself as the logical realm to court and win over in their policy of conciliation over the fiercely independent peoples of the area. The new German colonial administration rewarded King Tchatchoua in 1885 by making Banganté the capital of the new administrative district comprising the Bamilekéland and the Bamounland.
Legends hold that Tchatchoua was an outstanding warrior, an intelligent ruler, and a skillful hunter; and that he had an endearing touch nurtured since his childhood that placed him firmly in the hearts of his subjects. He was also a remarkable husband, father, family man and friend, they said. In fact, he easily won the love and respect of his harem made up of many inherited wives drawn from dozens of other Bamileké realms.
So the fact that Tchatchoua married many more wives did not diminish his strength as a reliable husband. In fact, his partial fondness for the first wife of his choice almost went unnoticed. Njonang Nana, as his favorite wife was called, bore him three children that they chose to call Nemafou, Ketcha, and Tenga.
Nemafou, the first child of the beloved queen, grew up into a handsome young man remarkably different from the other princes strutting King Tchatchoua’s royal court. His nimble wits, subtle ways, physical prowess, mastery of the art of war and peace, and his engaging nature with people brought him early into the midst of the notables and the authorities of the royal court.
Those with a keen eye around the royal palace noticed that the young prince began fencing with his father even before he started spotting facial hair. However, he never delighted in putting his father on the defensive over traditional values and customs of the land that he considered retrogressive. The good-intentioned prince just happened to be an empathic soul who believed in the joy and harmony of the people.
They said Nemafou’s deep sense of respect, good humor, and noble intentions saved him all the time from whatever concerns his words stirred with his father or with the members of Banganté’s council of notables, known widely as the Kamveu.
The beloved prince even carried his exceptionally gifted nature through boyhood and into early manhood, making him the dream-love of lassies with romantic notions of life, even though he feigned indifference about it. The truth is that Nemafou did not fancy taking advantage of his father’s subjects. Unfortunately, his notion of the morality of a prince made some people to start doubting his masculinity. The nubile beauties, in particular, could not understand why the maverick prince and outstanding hunter downplayed their overt and subtle advances, preferring instead to spend the early hours of his nights indoors—chatting with his mother, and reaffirming his love to his siblings and stepmothers.
It did not need an extraordinary wit to figure out that Nemafou was a critical self-analyzer. True he was conscious of his passions and agonized over the fact that he had little control over his compassionate nature that sometimes led him to commit himself in an irrational manner. That is why when he fell in love with a girl called Ngenkep and they started having an affair, he kept it a secret from everyone. His prudence landed him in trouble, his sympathizers would say afterwards.
Barely three weeks into their affair and just two days after he left Banganté on an errand to his mother’s parents in another Bamileké realm called Bangou; Ngenkep’s father betrothed her to his king. When Nemafou returned a week after and learned about the ongoing development, he kept his sorrows to himself by telling no one about it.
Even as a child, Nemafou had this natural inclination to cling to his game like a mongoose. He lived up to that reputation barely nineteen days into Ngenkep’s stay in the royal palace, when one of the notables caught him making love to the young queen.
The story of the prince who could not let go of his lover even after she married his father the king carried an extra spice in its narration because Banganté was the most renowned Bamileké realm and prided itself for being the upholder of age-old traditional Bamileké values. So the scandal spread quickly around Banganté and beyond, to the neighboring Bamileké realms and even afar, putting King Tchatchoua in a position where he could not close his eyes to the fact that his favorite son assaulted his rule and masculinity.
Thus, the Banganté people braced themselves for a verdict from their supreme ruler, a punishment that those versed with the culture, customs, and traditions of the Bamileké people could easily predict. Any man caught in an affair with the wife of a king is subject to expulsion from the king’s realm. Nemafou’s case proved to be no exception, even though he was the Banganté reign’s son and the prince who a short while ago, was widely speculated to become his successor.
King Tchatchoua expelled Nemafou from his jurisdiction, thereby severing the young prince’s ties to the realm and his family. He even promised expulsion to any subject of Banganté caught dealing with the exiled prince.
People wondered afterwards why the promising pretender to the throne had to be so reckless for the sake of a woman he was likely to inherit after the death of the aging king.
Nemafou accepted his disgrace with calmness and rue, moved out of Banganté in 1898 and wandered further north in the mountainous grasslands of German Kamerun until he reached Akum. He settled in this small realm in the Ngembaland and started putting his life together. Determined to be cautious this time, he married without delay and committed himself to building a new family.
Nemafou died eight years after he left Banganté, leaving behind a distraught wife and a three-month-old daughter called Klara Nana Nemafou. There are stories of how before he died, he wondered aloud in a tearful manner whether his father would ever forgive him. The disgraced prince is said to have requested several times while in his sickbed that his descendant carries forth his plea for forgiveness to the Banganté royal palace, and there are even stories of how he prayed for his mother and siblings to lay their eyes on Klara Nana and embrace her into the family fold. However, Nemafou died knowing that he would not fulfill his dream of seeing his mother cuddle Klara Nana whom he had christened in her honor.
World War I came to pass with Germany dispossessed of its colonies. The people of Kamerun wondered why the world failed to seek their opinion when the victorious British and French powers partitioned the German colony. This action separated Nemafou’s child and widow from Banganté even further. Akum and the rest of the northern portion of the Western Highlands became a part of British Southern Cameroons. Meanwhile, the southern half of the Western Highlands of which the greater portion of the Bamilekéland is a part, fell under the control of the French, along with two thirds of the conquered German Kamerun.
Blood ties among the Bamileké people are so strong that outsiders to the Bamileké culture are puzzled by the attachment the people give to their relations. Whether close or distant, dead or alive, known or unknown, a relation is a relation. Tradition obliges a person to look out for his or her blood relations, especially the ones that are close. Therefore, it did not come as a surprise that the sibling love between Nemafou and his younger sister Tenga never flickered out despite the years of separation.
The people of the former German colony were still coming to terms with the consequences of the partition of Kamerun by Britain and France when the rebellious Tenga who had eloped to the south of British Southern Cameroons with a Bamileké man from Bayangam, defied her husband’s edict and went looking for her brother. Her arduous search brought her to the point of despair until she finally found her way to Akum. There, she met with the news of her brother’s fate and the presence of her niece Klara Nana.
Tenga’s grief over her brother’s death was memorable. She wailed inconsolably for days; she rolled several times on the red earth as if oblivious to the fact that she had bones that could be broken, if not fractured, sustaining cuts in the process that made her agonize in pains for days.
However, the people of Akum would recall with sweetness that she organized a memorial service for Nemafou’s soul, that she spent much on drinks and food, and that she recounted her deceased brother’s regal past in Banganté with flourish. However, Tenga regretted failing to see Klara’s mother who had remarried and settled in Bamenda, leaving Klara in the custody of her grandparents. That notwithstanding, the undaunted Tenga tried on several occasions to persuade the young girl’s grandparents to allow her to return home with Klara Nana. Her desire to be attached to her late brother’s child reached a point where she took Klara Nana away without the approval of the child’s grandparents, only to succumb to her conscience at the bus station an hour after, and then take her niece back to her grandparents’ home with tears in her eyes. Still, she was hopeful. That was why she left Akum with a firm promise to stay in touch and help Klara Nana know her roots.
Tenga’s children would recount that she was somehow despondent when she returned to her family and that she died hardly a year after she found her niece. But as fate would have it, she departed to her ancestors only after imbuing her children with a deep sense of commitment and attachment to their unseen cousin, despite the fact that her husband disapproved of it.
However, not until ten years after Tenga’s death did her enthusiastic first child called David Nemafou mount another search for his cousin. Hectic though it was, he finally found Klara Nana in Bamenda, now married to a prosperous Akum trader. Her marriage was blessed with seven children. Vincent Ndi Chi was the second son, the fourth child and the adopted son of his paternal grandfather.
Vincent Ndi’s admirers credited him for being a boy genius during his school days in the fifties and sixties. Even those in the circle of power in Cameroon whispered around a number of times that Jacques Foccart, the mastermind of French post-colonial policy in Africa, squirmed in his seat when he first learned that John Ngu Foncha, the leader of the former British Southern Cameroons who realized Cameroon’s reunification, made Vincent Chi his adviser. Jacques Foccart was afraid that Vincent Ndi would convince the Anglophone leader to side with the popular Union of the Populations of the Cameroons (UPC), the land’s number one political party for the reunification and independence of French Cameroun and British Cameroons, which later morphed into a partisan movement following its ban by France in 1955 and Britain in 1958, and that was still fighting the French Army and the puppet regime of Ahmadou Ahidjo that France installed in the former French Cameroun, the territory constituting the greater portion of the reunited Cameroon.
As a matter of fact, Jacques Foccart had no reason at the time to be fearful of Vincent Ndi. The young man’s outlook on life made him an advocate of constitutional liberalism and reform, hence an opponent of war. With a doctorate in economics at the age of thirty-three, Vincent Ndi was a unique man of his time in the infant nation of Cameroon. He taught at the University of Yaoundé in the late nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies, and he captured the hearts of his students and friends because of the depth of his soul and the wideness of his intelligence. In short, he was among the very few Cameroonian lecturers and professors with the free spirit to put his thoughts into writing, thereby winning recognition for his three outstanding novels and numerous political essays on Pan-Africanism, Cameroonian civic-nationalism otherwise called Cameroonian union-nationalism, and the democratization process in African. Still, that was not all about his creative mind and analytical thinker. Vincent Ndi also wrote numerous plays and poetry that made him a hero in the literary world.
People were convinced that Vincent Ndi was a union-nationalist, that he was an advocate of a New Cameroon with a strong central government—one that would work in partnership with the provincial and regional governments on matters pertaining to defense, foreign policy, transportation, education, national statistics, monetary policy, and the settlement of ethnic disputes. They said he also saw the need for a strong central government that would assist in applying and upholding the central, regional and provincial laws.
Gavin also learned that Vincent Ndi sank into a period of despondent brooding after the French-backed regime sealed all hopes of a democratic and pluralistic Cameroon by imposing a monolithic system on the entire reunited land. Still, he hung around until 1975, when he quit Cameroon, following several assassination attempts on his life. However, unlike his grandfather, he was never exiled.
Vincent Ndi returned to Cameroon in 1983 and became a dedicated revolutionary in his fight for the genuine liberation of his fatherland. He would not criticize and run away this time. He would work with others for a change, create an opposition and ensure the ascension to power of a patriotic and democratic government committed to the original Cameroonian ideals. That was the vision the union-nationalist shared with others when he returned to his fatherland and discovered that the new oligarchic Pablo-Nero Essomba regime was just a continuation of the system put in place by the French authorities before they handed French Cameroun its conditional independence and before the territory's reunification with the former British Southern Cameroons.
The government held that Vincent Ndi began the democratic drive in Cameroon in the late nineteen eighties, that he compiled the documents to form a political party, and that he won over some supporters in the upper echelons of the system who covertly facilitated his activities. Whatever the version, Vincent Ndi made a poor judgment. He dwelled too much on the system’s weakness of acting only after much steam has been let out. He delayed the registration and launch of the political party until the end of the year.
Nobody expected the Pablo-Nero regime to strike even before the lid was opened to let steam out. On December 20, Vincent Ndi was found dead in his sitting room, the file of documents missing. The autopsy commissioned by his family revealed something strange. A pellet the size of a pinhead was found embedded in his right arm. This pellet was laced with a deadly poison.
Gavin took another sip of his drink and sighed. He had met his second cousin on three occasions only, all within the past two months. Vincent Ndi went the extra mile to make him feel at ease in their first meeting by taking him into his arms with genuine warmth. He spun another surprise hardly an hour into the meeting by revealing his grief for the country, and then went further by telling him about his plans to organize an opposition to the establishment, even though he avoided mentioning any of the names that were also involved in the project.
Vincent Ndi intrigued him during their third and last encounter by appearing withdrawn. He nonetheless welcomed him into his home with a smile, poured him a drink, and then moved from the opposite seat and sat by his side on the sofa, doing so with a peculiar look on his face that he found both engaging and disquieting.
“Tell me everything about your job, your real job,” Vincent Ndi had told him pointedly in a low but strangely commanding voice while looking him straight in the eye.
He remembered stuttering when he began, but he went on to tell Vincent Ndi about himself, his job, his reason for joining the secret service and his mission to Bamenda. Strangely enough, he blurted out the weaknesses of the oppressive machinery with relish, to the point where he was even taken aback by the relief he felt.
Vincent Ndi appeared to have understood everything because he flung his arms open in a gesture of unconditional acceptance, embraced him, and then patted him soothingly on his back.
“Destiny put us in opposite camps, but we have two things in common.”
“What are you talking about?” he remembered asking in a quizzical manner.
“Come on Nemafou! I don’t have to tell you that we have the blood of King Tchatchoua and Queen Njonang Nana in our veins. Should I add that we are both patriots and genuine union-nationalists with strong ambitions for this country, perhaps as products of history? That is why we should be together. So you fight from within, and I will fight from the outside. You understand what I mean, don’t you?”
He did not respond right away, since he doubted the whole idea of taking a stand against the system when the divisive history of the land had proven time and again that it was difficult, if not foolhardy, to take upon oneself the colossal task of galvanizing the traumatized and brainwashed people of Cameroon to confront the system. He knew it was even more difficult familiarizing Cameroonians with a national ideology that embodied the collective Cameroonian dream which addresses the hopes, dreams and fears of the country’s different ethnic groups and religions, as well as its yet to be harmonized Anglophone and Francophone populations.
“Aren’t you asking too much from me?” he had asked Vincent Ndi.
Gavin’s real intention at the time was to stir a debate with his second cousin. However, he realized his mistake right away because Vincent Ndi’s eyes changed suddenly from a gentle gaze into an angry hue as if he just got possessed by an unfathomable spirit. Even so, he remembered seeing something else in those eyes. He saw a growing mist developing into tears.
“Who do you think you are?” Vincent Ndi had roared.
“What do you mean?”
“Do you think you are different from me, or from all the others who have been damned for eternity until each and every one of us come to terms with our pasts and exorcise all the ghosts haunting this land? We are doomed, Gavin.”
“What do you mean?”
“We are doomed, Nemafou. We are cast for eternal damnation until we confront all the Cameroonian demons personified by this rotten establishment set up by France and administered by its puppets. I was around in Switzerland at the time,” Vincent Ndi had told him with a deep nod, and with tears in his eyes.
“What are you talking about?” he remembered asking because he knew the question sounded stupid right after he posed it.
“I witnessed his agonizing pain before he died. The French Secret Service wanted him to die in Conakry where he was supposed to arrive two days after the meeting with William Bechtel, the person responsible for his poisoning.”
“Uncle Felix?” he had agonized.
“Yes! I am talking about Dr. Felix-Roland Moumié, the second UPC leader!”
“It is simple. His enemies wanted to put the blame of his death on the Guinean president. The plan was to hold Sékou Touré responsible. However, God was on our side because his poisoner put an overdose of the thallium in his drink and he felt sick shortly after drinking it. I went to his hospital room in Geneva every day for one week. Yes, Gavin! I was there when your Uncle Felix died. He was the best for this land,” Vincent Ndi had muttered in an emotion-choked voice that made Gavin’s lips to quiver.
“Uncle Felix Moumié!” he had mumbled barely above a whisper.
“Yes, Nemafou. They killed your Uncle Felix Moumié.”
“You were supposed to be in England, studying.”
“I happened to be visiting with a Swiss friend. Believe me, I witnessed his agony.”
“God!” he had gasped with closed eyes.
“They got your brothers too, remember? They also got your mother, father, and sister. Oh, and your cousins, uncle, and friends as well. Tell me! What are you doing? Closing your eyes and living with the illusion that the leopard changed its spots?”
“No!” he had quivered, and then nodded as if acknowledging something to himself.
“Do you know what else they did two years before killing Felix Moumié? They killed the first UPC leader. They killed Ruben Um Nyobé. As if killing him was not enough, they dragged his corpse across Boumnyebel to serve as a warning to those supporting the cause. They dehumanized his body as if he were a criminal. Yes, Nemafou! They mutilated the dead body of Cameroon’s first historic leader who championed the cause of this land’s reunification and independence. Yes, Gavin, they dumped the corpse in a pit so that people like you would be cowed from opposing De Gaulle, Ahidjo and the mafia of a system that the French put in place in Cameroon and the rest of Francophone Africa, a system that is haunting this nation today and that is dragging all of us into abyss.”
Gavin remembered slumping into the sofa and rubbing his brows, avoiding Vincent Ndi eyes all the while. He was not afraid. It was just that his searching soul could not muster the strength to confront his second cousin.
“I know,” he had responded finally in a dejected manner.
“And where is Felix Moumié today? Buried somewhere in Conakry and almost forgotten by people who cherish him, people like you. Is he going to be there forever? Can this land ever move forward without bringing home those who gave everything for its freedom? Where is Abel Kingue? I am asking you now with tears in my eyes. Where is he today? Is he resting quietly in his grave in Egypt? What about Ndeh Ntumazah, Mongo Beti, and all the others—hundreds of thousands of patriotic souls still languishing in exile? Oh, I almost forgot. What happened to Ossende Afana, the first Cameroonian with a doctorate degree in economics? He too had dreams for this land, dreams we all shared. Tell me what they did to him. Perhaps you want to know. They killed him, remember? They killed him in his humane drive to see his fatherland become truly free, independent, progressive, prosperous and liberal. What did they do to him afterwards? They decapitated his body, right? I hope you haven’t forgotten that they buried his headless body somewhere in the southern forest.”
He had nodded and grunted but said nothing in reply.
“Ah, don’t tell me you have no idea of the fate his lifeless head suffered in the hands of this mafia of a system.”
“Ahidjo ordered it put on display in Yaoundé for all to see,” he had quivered with closed eyes, tears streaming down his cheeks.
"Tell me, Gavin! What about Ernest Ouandie, the last historic leader of the historic UPC party? He did a brave thing by giving himself up to our local security forces. Do you even remember him?”
He had nodded again, but kept quiet.
“He walked into a police station and announced his presence to the bewildered officers whose first reaction was to run away, leaving him alone in their station for hours. There was a point to that. Ernest Ouandie surrendered because he wanted to prove to the world that the UPC’s fight wasn’t against the Cameroonian people. He wanted to prove that the UPC's principal reason for waging the partisan war of liberation was to confront French deception in the land. Tell me Gavin; what did he get in return?”
“They killed him by firing squad in front of his people in Bafoussam.”
“And then they buried the body in a nondescript grave so that people like you would delude yourself that he never existed.”
“What are you doing to me?”
“I am trying to remind you that you are the great-grandson of the legendary King Tchatchoua of Banganté, that you are the son of the heroic Joseph Njike and that you are the godson of the iconic Felix Moumié. You do not belong there with the mafia system.”
Gavin remembered chuckling for a moment, as he nodded as if acknowledging his inner voice. When he raised his head again and looked at Vincent Ndi straight in the eye, he was surprised to find a cryptic smile on his face. However, it was something about the softness of his own facial expression that illuminated his second cousin’s face in an instant.
“You want me to change sides, but in a covert manner. That’s fine. I understand. I shall become a double agent. I shall furnish you with the necessary information and help you win by keeping you abreast of their plans and moves against you, and the precautions you need to take.”
Vincent Ndi had taken him into his arms right away in a suffocating embrace that was fierce and warm, reproachful and forgiving. The two relatives had shuddered with emotions as they placed their hands on each other’s shoulders, muttered vows, and then went on to discuss at a deeper level.
At the door that night, just before he stepped out, Vincent Ndi had held him on his shoulders for a moment, patted him on the cheek, and then said in an emotion-choked voice. “I knew you would comply. I knew you were not with them.”
He had nodded somberly and at that moment, he thought of his brother Bernard murdered three decades ago, wondering why his second cousin stirred memories of him. “Tell me, Professor; did you know of my involvement with them all along?”
“Yes, my brother,” Vincent Ndi had told him with a smile, “Of course, I did. Somebody would have written an interesting epitaph about you already, had I not taken a firm stand against it. You don’t need me to tell you that you have a stinking reputation, do you? It is not your true bearing, for sure, but it is scary.”
“Huh!” he had grunted, meant as a subtle urge for his second cousin to continue talking.
“Believe me Nemafou, over the name of my grandfather Nemafou, who was your grandmother’s brother. To be honest with you, your transfer to Bamenda unsettled some of our people to the point where someone even called for your elimination. The leak was from your people, you know.”
“Don’t you think I ought to know who the others you are working with are? To keep me on the safe side of things, you know!”
He remembered Vincent Ndi shaking his head in refusal. “It is our game and you play it our way. My comrades know you. Rest assured that they would contact you if the need arises. Believe me, my brother! My friends will never raise a finger against you without my approval. I told them you would cooperate. Now, do as I say for our sake.”
That was the day he accepted to become a double agent. He had done so for personal reasons too. However, when he began the drive to Banganté two days after the meeting, he left Bamenda with a piece of information to prove that he had gained Vincent Ndi’s trust. It involved a living phantom called “The Green”.
However, he was still savoring the quietness of his ancestral land when information reached him reporting the death of Vincent Ndi in Bamenda and ordering him back to the town for further assignments. He had followed the orders and showed up as an old man at Vincent Chi’s burial. He had done so with three other men. He had seen what Jean-Baptiste Ondoa and Maurice Nze Mezang did not see. He had seen what Emmanuel Ebako saw but did not discern. He had seen a man—an unimposing figure with a determined face that was unusual around. There had to be a powerful link between the man and the late Vincent Ndi.
Gavin emptied the glass of vodka with a massive gulp, put it on the stool, and then leaned on the rails. He was settling into his thoughts again when a car approaching their building in the street below swayed dangerously. It was Emmanuel Ebako’s blue Toyota Corona.
Gripped by a sudden premonition of trouble after the car pulled to an abrupt stop less than two yards away from the elevated veranda of the ground floor of the apartment building, Gavin held his breath as if prepping himself for something bad to happen. Then Emmanuel scrambled out of the car, clutching his right shoulder, blood on his left hand and the top right side of his shirt.
“Chef Gavin, help me! Grand frère, Gavin, Grand frère, Gavin … Gavin! They are killing me! They are coming! Help me, help… help!” Emmanuel shouted hysterically, collapsed to the ground, and then tried to get up again in a frantic manner.
“Ebako!” Gavin shouted back, snapping out of the paralysis that had gripped him seconds ago.
He was about to run downstairs to Emmanuel when a fast moving Peugeot 505 caught his attention as it screeched to a crawl behind Emmanuel Ebako’s car. It swerved to the right, and at that moment, Gavin caught a glimpse of a figure in a dark leather jacket, which was an unusual outfit for a city like Douala with its hot and humid equatorial climate. The man was holding a rifle through the front passenger window. Emmanuel was on his feet again, and must have understood the man’s intentions because he leaped for cover behind the trimmed hedges, seconds before the rifleman opened fire. Then the car sped away.
Emmanuel’s sheer determination not to let go of his last breath surprised Gavin when he arrived at the scene and found the dying agent lying on the pavement, soaked in his own blood.
Gavin raised his head under his left arm. “Who did this? Tell me Ebako, and I will get the bastards,” he stuttered.
Emmanuel gasped with trembling lips, and then spurted blood as he tried to say something, his words hardly intelligible to the anxious Gavin.
Gavin closed and opened his eyes as he fought off the cold wave of anger sweeping over his body in his conscious effort to help his friend battle death.
Emmanuel painstakingly gestured with his left middle fingers for him to edge forward. Gavin did, bringing his ears closer to his wounded friend’s quivering lips. In a voice barely above a whisper, he urged and encouraged Emmanuel, promised and assured him, straining his ears all the time for the dying man’s revelation.
“Our men chased me. We saw them before in Yaoundé. ‘The Twins’,” Emmanuel slurred and gasped for breath.
“Who are they? Tell me,” Gavin asked, barely stopping himself from shaking Emmanuel in a frantic manner.
“They spoke a Beti dialect. They got me, Mon Chef… Vincent Ndi. Also beyond salvage, eh?” Emmanuel mumbled.
“Give me names, Mon Frère!”
“Owona! Be careful, Big Brother. Those bastards…should be stopped. They are ruining this country; they are creating hatred and confusion.”
“I shall get them, I promise.”
“Big Bro, I am dying.”
“No, you are not. I am taking you to a good hospital, okay? Listen to me, Petit Frère. I will make sure they patch you up really good. Then we shall hunt them down together, and we shall celebrate afterwards as winners always do.”
“Take care of my boy. Tell him I love him. Tell him…” Emmanuel gasped, coughing out blood.
“Hold it! Do not move at all; do not speak even, okay! I am getting you out of here. We shall, we shall…” Gavin stammered as Emmanuel pulled on his shirt.
In shocked disbelief, Gavin watched life ebb out of the body of his friend and colleague. He was still holding Emmanuel in his arms when a tap on his back brought him back to the reality of his surroundings.
“Do something,” said the sad-looking old man by his side who seemed to have suddenly appeared from nowhere.
Gavin closed his eyes and fought back the hot tears of despair threatening to trickle out. He was still trying to come to terms with Emmanuel Ebako’s death when he heard faint shouts, cries, murmurings, and sighs—sounds that stirred his senses as the seconds swept the reality in front of him into his consciousness. He opened his eyes again and looked around him to find a growing crowd. With surprisingly steady hands, he laid the dead man’s head on the pavement, sighed, rose to his feet, clenched his fist, and then gritted. Even as he crossed himself over the body of his dead friend, he was oblivious to the divinity he was seeking consolation or counsel from.
Two weeks after the death of Emmanuel Ebako Mukete, Gavin jumped out of bed morose again, plagued by an internal turmoil he could not shake off so easily. He thought he could have saved the life of the naïve and outspoken agent. Or at least, he should have seen the move against Emmanuel coming.
Even though there was no longer an iota of doubt in his mind that the agent’s death was an inside job, he still could not figure out why Yaoundé wanted him dead. However, two thoughts plague him since Emmanuel’s burial a week ago. The first was: Did the Delegate-General of National Security Pierre Ndam Saidou have a hand in it? And the second was: Was Emmanuel’s elimination connected to the death of Vincent Ndi Chi?
Gavin settled into the recliner in the sitting room, closed his eyes and fell into deep contemplation as multiple thoughts raced through his mind, finally converging onto the memory lane that took him back to Vincent Ndi’s burial a month ago, a journey that saw him dismissing figures, incidents and discussions in an instant, until his memory slowed to a crawl the moment it came to the heated exchange between Emmanuel and Jean-Baptiste. His conscious effort not to get involved in their argument by closing his eyes might have been intuitive at the time, but it might have been helpful after all. Now, with his eyes closed again, he could weave a chain as their words flashed through his mind.
I am an expert on the Northwest Province. In fact, I have worked here for five years. None of you have a year of service in this province in your records. Gavin recalled Jean-Baptiste’s words.
What is your opinion of Chef Gavin’s sense of judgment, especially on this issue? He remembered Emmanuel asking.
“He is good,” Jean-Baptiste had said, paused, and then added, “Only, he has misjudged things.”
“What do you mean?” Emmanuel had queried again.
“He failed to see that we have everything under control.”
“He is an Anglophone. And he is Graffi too. I suppose you know that,” Emmanuel had persisted.
“I disagree with you. He is not from the Northwest Province, and neither is he from the Southwest Province. True he is Bamileké. That makes him a Francophone. Graffi, Graffi, you said. Hmm! That is a complicated reference. Well, maybe he is Graffi after all,” Jean-Baptiste had intoned.
“Chef is a breed from this area, no matter how you look at it. True he grew up in the Southwest Province, but his parents came from Bawok, in Bali.”
“Are you kidding me? He is Bamileké.”
“Yes, he is Bamileké, J.B. I thought you knew that Bali-Bawok is a Bamileké enclave in the Northwest Province.”
“It still doesn’t change anything.”
“All I am trying to say is that Chef Gavin isn’t different from the prototype of a Graffi man. Besides, Chef Gavin understands the feelings of the people of this province better we do.”
“What is your point?” Jean-Baptiste had spurted.
“My point, my dear friend, is simple. Chef Gavin is Graffi. It makes no difference whether he is French-speaking or English-speaking when it comes to the issues at stake here. Apparently, you are failing to see that Vincent Ndi’s murder is revamping a spirit that has been dormant all these years. The spirit I am talking about is the people’s voice.”
“Merde!” Jean-Baptiste had hissed.
“There is no reason to say damn it.”
“Merde!” Jean-Baptiste had hissed again.
“Whatever! J.B, I am trying to make a simple point here. The fellow who ordered his death should know that the mess they created with your compliance is now on our laps. And we may not be willing to fight it out with our people.”
“You do not sound at all like a loyal agent of the state,” Jean-Baptiste had said.
“Did I hear you well?”
“Of course, you did.”
“Whatever! I am a patriot, J.B. Now, I will make my point very short and simple. Vincent Ndi’s disposal isn’t going to serve the interest of the state. Why? Because the man was an exemplary patriot. He was a fervent union-nationalist who was trying to give birth to the Cameroonian dream that has been aborted so many times in our history. The dream of a New Cameroon would have revamped this country that those up there crippled. But you killed him,” Emmanuel had said in a resigned tone.
“Merde!” Jean-Baptiste had hissed.
“How come you are calling him a patriot? I mean! He was a Biafran! He was an enemy in the house! Do you glorify a man whose ultimate aim was to tear this nation apart? Can’t you see? That man was trying to revive the dead notion of a separate state for Anglophone Cameroonians,” Jean-Baptiste had half-screamed.
“Liar! Yes, you are lying,” Emmanuel had shouted back.
“Did I hear you well?”
“Of course, you did, J.B!” Emmanuel had retorted with an edge in his voice that had surprised him and probably Maurice too, “I have known that man for decades. He was a good man. He was the staunchest Kamerunist I ever met. He was a true union-nationalist. What do you think you have done? Yet, you are all blind. You didn’t see a thing there. You claim everything has been won.”
“Another Biafran right here in our midst! A true Anglo-fool! And an enemy in the house, I must add. Ah! At the end of the day, you are all the same. I always knew it. Anglophone Cameroonians should never be trusted,” Jean-Baptiste had growled before directing his words to Maurice, speaking in Beti, in their native Ewondo dialect, “You saw the side he took against us, didn’t you? And he was even insulting our tribe, our ethnic group, our people.”
“Please stop this crap?” Maurice had moaned.
“He called me an Anglo-fool, forgetting that he is a Franco-frog, a beast of no nation,” Emmanuel had teased.
“Chef, you heard him again. He just called us frogs,” Jean-Baptiste had directed his complain to Gavin.
Gavin remembered sighing before replying Jean-Baptiste. “You just called him an Anglo-fool! You even went further and tagged him with the terrible word Biafran, when he is not of Ibo origin, when he is not even a Nigerian! You labeled him an enemy in the house, when he considers himself a patriot. What must I say to that?”
“Is that all you can say about this?” Jean-Baptiste had asked in a bewildered voice.
“Come on J.B! This is childish. You know that none of the stereotypes the different Cameroonian ethnicities have for one another are true. They are funny, that’s all. Our people even have stereotypes about themselves,” Maurice had said in a placating voice.
“Listen!” Gavin had interjected with a note of exasperation in his voice, “I think you and Ebako are crazy on this one. Can’t you see how fragile this country still is? Yet you pick on one another identifying yourselves as an Anglophone and as a Francophone. Guys, those concepts of identification make us victims of the legacy of the partition of our land by Britain and France.”
“We are Cameroonians. That’s what is important. Foreign influences should strengthen us and not push us apart,” Maurice had chipped in with a chortle.
“J.B and Emmanuel are still haunted by the master and slave concept—the master believing that it is divine will to lord it over the slave, and the slave believing that the master has been a lord for too long and must be debased. We can never find our mutually compatible interests as a successful state when our people are still haunted by such a divisive mindset,” Gavin had said.
“Are we getting into Friedrich Nietzsche now?” Maurice had joked.
“Chef, you are right, in a way. They think they are destined to be the masters forever,” Emmanuel had said in a frenzy that surprised Gavin.
“Please, shut up!” Gavin had snapped, fixing Emmanuel with reproachful eyes before closing them again.
“Merde!” Maurice had growled.
Silence had reigned in the car for close to a minute before Gavin spoke again. “Aren’t we smart enough to know that this crap should stop? We have our duties to Cameroon and a job to do.”
“It is okay, Chef. J.B and Emmanuel are always like that,” Maurice had declared with equanimity.
“Thanks for chipping in,” Gavin had rasped.
“You don’t expect to rid their minds of prejudices with a whiff like that, do you? Believe me, they need eternity to become open-minded and embrace your mindset on the way forward for Cameroon.”
“I see! Their uncalled-for mutual suspicions aggravate the animosity even further. Distrust is at the heart of the malady plaguing the Cameroonian soul after so many betrayals?” Gavin had said, opened his eyes and fixed them on Maurice.
Maurice had smiled encouragingly at him and nodded, eliciting a reply nod that brought a sudden brightness to his face. Gavin remembered turning his head around after that and closing his eyes again. And he remembered thinking at the time that Maurice understood why he was irritated. He had every reason to think that way because they shared a lot in common, having spent much of their youth in the English-speaking part of Cameroon.
Maurice was born ten miles east of the petroleum city of Limbe, the former Victoria. As the son of a public administrator who recorded more than ten transfers to different parts of the national territory, Maurice could boast of having had his fair share of narrow-minded Cameroonians of the Anglophile and Francophile mindsets who felt at ease subjugating their Cameroonian national identity as if the only things that mattered were their ethnic groups, regions and the foreign languages they communicated in. He even remembered telling Gavin that only advanced Cameroonians with the ability to relate to the cultures and sensibilities of their compatriots in both the English-speaking and the French-speaking parts of the country were capable of making worthy contributions to save Cameroon from becoming a failed state.
It was shortly after those supportive words muttered by Maurice that they heard the chants, cries and ululating from the mourners descending the hill from the burial ground. That was the moment he decided to drive away. It was then that he found his true bearing. He would have to redeem himself. Emmanuel Mukete Ebako must have thought along those lines too.
As he opened his eyes again, Gavin came to a conclusion. Emmanuel’s death came about from his soft feelings for Vincent Ndi Chi. He would make that knowledge an asset. First, he would have a talk with Pierre Ndam Saidou.
Three weeks after the burial of Emmanuel Ebako Mukete, Gavin walked into the headquarters of the security service in Yaoundé with a serious look on his face. An inspector at the office room downstairs informed him that Pierre Ndam Saidou, the Delegate-General of National Security and the non-titular head of Cameroon’s secret intelligence service, was free in his office and waiting for him. Gavin thanked the female inspector, smiled and even complimented her for her fanciful hairstyle. Then he blew her a kiss out of a sudden impulse and left, conscious of her expectant eyes on his back, and knowing that she was waiting for him to make his move. But he did not look back as he walked with hurried steps for the stairs to the second floor.
He did not find the climb tasking at all, and even thought he was still vigorous for a man his age. At the end of the staircase, he turned left, and then headed down the hallway until he bumped into two men emerging from the nearby waiting room—men who must have been having their minds on something else just like him.
“Hey, Gavin,” the taller of the two greeted him in a somewhat startled voice, and then stopped for no apparent reason. The guy recovered quickly, turned around, and started walking away again, but with slightly hesitant steps.
“Hey!” Gavin hesitated before he responded in English, not stopping to shake the timidly extended hand of the shorter companion. He hated the fake courtesy laboriously fronted by those involved with the service in this establishment, the edifice directing the system’s oppressive machinery.
Gavin felt calm by the time he stopped at the door of the connecting office to that of the security boss. The two hard pairs of eyes that greeted him failed to stir his emotions. Still, he did not like what he saw in the gaze of the guards. They too possessed that hypocritical receptiveness he found annoying. These were people with a special passion for inflicting pain.
“The Commander is expecting me,” Gavin said, more to himself than to the two men. The guards nodded in reply, but they did not utter a word.
Gavin smiled mildly, pressed down the knob of the door, pushed it open and stepped inside. He greeted the two secretaries in the connecting office, waited for a moment for them to say something, and then nodded when they told him to proceed. He moved his shoulders out of an impulse before he knocked and entered.
And there he was, Pierre Ndam Saidou, sitting behind his desk, looking a lot younger than his estimated sixty-eight years under the sun. The spirited look in his eyes must have been there fifty years ago or even further down the years when he defied his parents’ Islamic sentiments as a fourteen-year-old maverick by adopting the Christian faith and by accepting his expulsion from their polygamous home.
When the young Francophile settled in Douala, a city of mixed values, his intention was to become a petty trader. However, he soon caught the eye of Jacques Phillipe LeClerc, the enigmatic French colonel representing General Charles De Gaulle’s Free French Forces as the new governor of French Cameroun. He heeded LeClerc’s call, volunteered to fight in the Free French Forces in French Cameroun and participated gallantly in the campaigns that wrestled French Equatorial Africa from the hands of the Nazi puppet regime of Vichy France, which was controlling the southern half of France during the four-year German occupation of the country. He was also involved in the campaign after the capitulation of France, which culminated in the capture of Kufra in the Libyan Desert in 1941. However, Pierre Ndam Saidou’s military adventures did not end there.
The young soldier trudged with LeClerc across the Sahara Desert in the historic march that began in Lake Chad, and then went beyond the Libyan oasis town, all the way to Tripoli, a distance of over 2,400 miles. He even claimed that he was by LeClerc’s side when they entered Tripoli with the British 8th Army, and that he saved LeClerc’s life in the Tunisian campaign, during one of the battles against the fine German Army commanded by the legendary General Erwin Rommel.
Ndam Saidou was apt to say that he got rewarded for his loyalty to France by fighting under the LeClerc-led French 2nd Armored Division whose nucleus was the veterans of his African campaign. Even though battles fought during the campaigns to liberate Tunisia, Corsica, Italy, France and Germany claimed the lives of most of his African companions, he emerged from the war convinced that he was created for a mission. This belief was especially reinforced when US General Omar Bradley honored LeClerc by letting the French 2nd Armored Division lead the liberation of Paris in August of 1944. He was one of the few Africans in the African-majority Free French Forces that the military leadership allowed to be a part of the French 2nd Armored Division that liberated the French capital.
A look of self-importance always crossed Pierre Ndam Saidou’s face each time he talked about his experiences as a soldier around General LeClerc at Gare Montparnasse, when General Dietrich Von Choltitz led his German forces in Paris to surrender to the French 2nd Armored Division under the command of the legendary French general. And then, there were the French women who showed their gratitude to the liberators for risking their lives to free France, to the point of even turning down their men in favor of him. How he wished he had been born a French.
Ndam Saidou’s cherished memory of fighting under General LeClerc paled in comparison with his recollection of that fateful day when Captain Pierre Leblanc, a close aide of General LeClerc, called him into his office and announced that they had selected him over a host of other worthy foreign combatants to spend some years in France for further studies and training.
He avoided finding out why he was chosen over other French Camerounians and Francophone Africans. Instead, he complied with all the directives of his French mentors, allowing himself to be molded into a machine for oppressing his people. He became a ruthless executioner during the late 1950s and the rough early years of the Ahidjo regime. As a matter of fact, pundits hold that Pierre Ndam Saidou’s decisive role in the French security and the nascent Cameroonian armed forces in the early 1960s was behind the UPC liberation movement’s defeat by the Franco-Ahidjo alliance.
Yet, as the temporary instrument in the hands of providence he always claimed to be, as an actor in a history he considered himself destined to continue shaping, he surprised everyone by resigning from his inglorious role in the arena of the Cameroonian secret service after Ahidjo let go of the presidency and never made a comeback. The fact that he made a comeback and continued serving in the regime of Pablo-Nero Essomba puzzled many Cameroonians, including Gavin.
Gavin was about to close the door behind him when a sudden flush of memory made him stop and stare sightlessly at the opposite wall. The taller of the two men he bumped into in the corridor a few minutes ago was wearing a leather jacket, a similar if not identical color to the one worn by the rifleman who gunned Emmanuel Ebako Mukete down. Emmanuel mentioned a twin in his dying words, indicating a pair. His stress on the Beti origin of the men sounded lucid at the time. Gavin could feel a rising sensation in his bosom as his mind raced to a conclusion. The men were undoubtedly from the central forest region, and their French carried a Beti accent with it.
“Gavin, are you all right?” Ndam Saidou’s question registered faintly in Gavin’s mind.
Finally jolted by his approaching footsteps, Gavin turned around to find that the Delegate-General was less than four yards away, and that he had a puzzled expression on his face.
“I am sorry, Mon Commandant. I got trapped by elusive thoughts, that’s all,” Gavin stammered, smiled reassuringly at Ndam Saidou, and then closed the door behind him.
“My boy, my boy, my boy!” Ndam Saidou muttered and patted Gavin on the back, “I fully understand, I fully understand. This service has estranged us all from our thoughts as natural people of this world as if we have become nothing more than robots for this country. Tell me; do the thoughts have anything to do with our business?”
“Non, Mon Commandant!”
Ndam Saidou clasped Gavin’s left hand in both of his. “I am glad everything is fine with you. Who likes being laden with more worries on top of what he already has?”
“I would be damned if I burden you with more problems, especially ones that I can handle on my own,” Gavin said in English.
Ndam Saidou grunted. “Good, Son; it is soothing to know that I have someone who cares,” he said in the Bamoun tongue, “Take a seat, Son,” he added, motioning Gavin to the soft leather chair at the left corner.
“Thank you, Father,” Gavin responded in the Banganté tongue, and then sat down.
“That’s life, Son; that’s life,” Ndam Saidou muttered and slumped in his seat behind his office desk.
“We must make the best of whatever bad situation we find ourselves in; we must carry our crosses and play our roles.”
“You are right, Son; you are right about that one,” Ndam Saidou articulated as he stretched his body.
Gavin smile, amused by Ndam Saidou’s encircling approach—a front the security boss started using a couple of months ago each time he needed a favor from him. Moreover, he always did so by engaging him in small talk in the Bamoun language when just the two of them, conscious of the mutual intelligibility of the Banganté and Bamoun tongues.
“Son, we are in a hide-and-seek game again. Huh, I wish I were younger. Ach! I have no intention of belittling the obvious by telling you how good I was during my heyday. Huh! Those few years I enjoyed out of the service as a farmer did take its toll, you know.”
“I understand!” Gavin said with a nod.
“Thanks! Nevertheless, it is hard to understand how I felt when I returned and found myself in the dark in so many areas that I don’t even feel comfortable talking to you about the experience. This service has seen so many new rules, so many alterations. Everything happened during the few years that I was away.”
“Much dynamism is expected in our field. I think we have been on top of the game because we always stay ahead of the changing times.” Gavin said tersely.
Ndam Saidou’s sudden switch surprised Gavin. “I can see for myself that you are yet to get over the death of your friend.”
“It was a terrible case.”
“How is his family doing? I mean his wife and kid.”
“They are handling the tragedy just fine.”
“Any idea where they are?”
“In their village, near Kumba. They are tough after all.”
“Oh, that boy! I haven’t made any headway on his case. Any clue as to why he was murdered?”
Gavin hesitated for a moment, wondering whether to mention his suspicions of the ‘Twins’ to his boss or to let it lie low. “Non, Mon Commandant,” he replied.
“He died in your hands.”
“I wasn’t around when he stopped the bullets that killed him. I heard him call out my name, and then there were the gunshots. I didn’t even bother to put on my shoes and ran outside barefooted, only to find him heaving out his last breaths. He died seconds after I arrived at the scene.”
“It is a terrible story,” Ndam Saidou said, shaking his head.
“It is a lot less terrible than living the agony of it.”
“Can you think of any motive for the killing?”
“Do you know anything about the death of Vincent Ndi Chi?” Gavin asked, watching Ndam Saidou closely.
The security boss looked thoughtful for a moment before he burst out laughing. “You amaze me, Son,” he said amidst the chortle, “Do I have to tell you that you are a true Cameroonian after all? I pose a question and your reply is a question of its own! That’s our nature, a cryptic nature they say. Our reply to a question is a question that counters it and at the same time provides a subtle answer. Don’t you think our cryptic nature is a sign of wittiness, a good indicator of the resourcefulness of the Cameroonian mind?”
Gavin laughed too. “Well!”
“Well, what? Tell me, Son! Aren’t we resourceful? Who would have thought that Cameroon would hold together after we reunited our English and French speaking territories? Yet, we are forging ahead stronger than other countries. Yes, we are even doing better than Canada or Belgium.”
Gavin did not respond. Instead, he nodded.
“Okay, Son, I am being upfront with you here. We assassinated the old man.”
“I suspected it,” Gavin said and dropped his head.
“Look, Son! I knew about it only after the act had already been done.”
“What are you talking about?” Gavin asked, with a bewildered look on his face, even though he was feigning it, “You are the boss. You didn’t allow something like that to happen behind your back, did you?” he added in a slightly guarded tone.
Ndam Saidou laughed meekly for a moment, rubbing his chin as he did so. “Well, well, well! Think of me as a boss who allowed himself to drift into a Rip Van Winkle-type of sleep, and then woke to find that the patterns around his jurisdiction have changed. He may still be needed, but he has lost some control. He isn’t fully with the times anymore. The only difference is that my political hibernation turned out to be refreshing in the insight it unveiled in my nature. I think I am instinctively a farmer. I can distinguish weeds from the different grains.”
“But… but,” Gavin said and stifled a chuckle, “You are funny. You almost made me laugh. I thought you are supposed to be informed about operations around here.”
“Not at all levels, and not all the time. Believe me, a trifle like that doesn’t bother me at all.”
“I got it.”
“I will redress that later. You know, I didn’t regain full control of international operations after I returned. Simply put, not all operations with international bearings have my blessings anymore.”
“Son, the French basically run the show in our intelligence service today, a development that started in my absence and looks likely to persist for a while. In a modest way, I am the third in command.”
Gavin nodded to show that he understood. “I was curious, that’s all. That man is safer dead anyway. One of my junior officers suffered from a slip of the tongue and blurted out the nature of the operation to us. I think the French had someone for the operation, while Jean-Baptiste Ondoa and Maurice Nze Mezang pointed Vincent Ndi out.”
Ndam Saidou nodded also. “Jan Kolarov did the job.”
Gavin’s eyelids flickered for just a fraction of a second—too short and just too subtle to betray his thoughts. “I was at the burial as you ordered. I was there with Ondoa, Ebako Mukete, and Nze Mezang. They looked odd in the crowd. Their Bantu features stood out markedly. Besides, they weren’t looking mournful at all as they should have been.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I have this funny feeling that Vincent Ndi’s men killed Ebako in revenge. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are having other plans against our people. We should start taking them seriously.”
“I thought so too and made a special request to the president, asking him to authorize the transfer of Ondoa and Nze Mezang out of Bamenda, but he said no,” Ndam Saidou said with contempt in his voice.
So even Ndam Saidou was being kept in the dark over certain operations because he was not an ethnic Beti, Gavin thought in silence. The upper echelon of the Beti-dominated government was discriminatory and feared Ndam Saidou’s non-Bantu origin.
“I was thinking,” Gavin said somberly, “Perhaps out of my soft spot for Ebako. Vincent Ndi’s men massacred him. They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. I want to do something punitive that would check their activities. I can speak the tongue of Mankon and I also understand a few other Ngemba dialects around Bamenda.”
“What are you talking about?” Ndam Saidou interjected.
“My point is that I can penetrate the web of those rascals and put a stop to their activities. I can hit them hard and knock them out. Give me the backing, the cover and consider their movement dead! I shall update you on their every move.”
“What do you mean?” Ndam Saidou asked in rising elation, his eyes almost popping out of his head.
“I mean exactly what I said.”
“Do you mean to say, do you mean…?” Ndam Saidou sounded and looked hopeful, his anxiety unhidden beneath his thick mass of facial flesh.
“I want to penetrate their security, their den of plots,” Gavin said with hardness in his voice that surprised the security boss.
“Son, I am glad you are committed to this fight. Actually, you are making things too easy for me. Tell me, Son, before we proceed with the arrangements. Are you sure you can do this?” Ndam Saidou asked with a cautious note in his voice.
“I am determined, Mon Commandant.”
Ndam Saidou flashed Gavin one of his rare smiles that did not give warmth to his thoughtful face, but that usually preceded his icebreakers. “Did you just make my day? Son, I admit you took me aback with your zeal. I don’t doubt it, believe me. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it at all. That does not change the fact that you did save me some breath, you know! I was about to ask you to play the same role.”
“Son, you have made a significant decision, which I appreciate a lot. Believe me.”
“Significant? Mon Commandant, this decision required of me a whole state of mind and conviction,” Gavin said with a slight iciness in his voice that did not escape Ndam Saidou’s attention.
“I understand, I understand. Son, believe me, you have my full understanding,” Ndam Saidou said in a subdued tone, “But that does not mean I shouldn’t add a word or two of caution to make my point even clearer. Love and hate are two emotions that become blinding whenever we stretch them to their extremes. You should have a clear mind in your actions, no matter the circumstances you find yourself in.”
“I suppose so, Mon Commandant. Please know that it is my nature not to fail.”
Ndam Saidou leaned back in his seat and regarded Gavin curiously. He had always held the young agent in high esteem, but this sudden self-commitment puzzled him. He had not anticipated it at all.
“Let me say this: you have just made a brave decision, something that must not be taken lightly.”
“Oui, Mon Commandant, but it is a decision that was carefully thought over.”
Ndam Saidou nodded, rose, straightened his jacket, and then rubbed his eyes. “The dead are the wisest,” he said casually, and then nodded with a thoughtful look on his face, “They are even wiser than the Great Sultan. Do you know why my people hold onto those words, a saying that is almost sacred in their lives?”
“I will be glad if you tell me.”
“That’s because the dead can lure even the most rational and toughest men into grievous commitments. The dead tend to influence the living to hate or to love too much. Those two emotions should never be allowed to exceed rational bounds.”
“I understand, Mon Commandant.”
“I hope Ebako didn’t get you that far.”
“I know my limits, Boss.”
“Good, good, good,” Ndam Saidou said, mused for a moment, and then added, “Our history, our people! Hmm! I suppose you know that we are brothers. By brothers, I mean our Bamoun and Bamileké peoples. I beg your pardon! No! We are cousins by origin. You see, when the Bamileké and Bamoun peoples fled the Adamawa region from the hordes of Fulani warriors in their Islamic jihad to Islamize our ancestors, our peoples took to their heels at different intervals in history. Yes, Son, they made it to the south in successive droves. You see; we the Bamoun people came into the area when the Bamileké people were already in possession of the southern half of the Western Highlands region. So the Bamoun people had to fight their Bamileké cousins before winning the southeastern half—what is today the kingdom of Bamoun. Our people must have learned one or two tricks from the Fulani warriors, you know. Anyway, the Bamoun rulers managed to lord it over the vast region even though the conquerors were outnumbered by the local Bamileké population that stayed behind. Guess what? They succeeded in bringing homogeneity to their new realm; they created an entity that is markedly distinct in the process in what is today the Bamounland.”
“An interesting piece of history few of our people know about,” Gavin commented.
“Damn interesting!” Ndam Saidou affirmed, “I am confessing to you that I consider myself Bamoun, even though I have some Bamileké blood running through my veins and arteries.”
“Our languages are mutually intelligible,” Gavin offered.
“Sure, Son! But one of our great Sultans thought otherwise. No, we had kings back then. My apologies. The Bamoun people started calling their kings sultan only after the Germans left this land.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Now you know. This King of blessed memory did not take our common history into account and stretched incredulity to the utmost. And because of that, he paid a heavy price in life. First, this king’s mother was Bamileké. However, when his son by a Fulani or Peul wife got killed in a border skirmish with the Banganté people, he succumbed to the spirit of vengeance and decided to beat the drums of war. Urged and supported by his new Moslem Fulani friends, he embarked on a broader campaign to bring the rest of the Bamileké people under his rule. Subjugation wasn’t what he had in mind. He thought he was making a radical move to end the years of Bamileké-Bamoun animosity and border wars of attrition. He was partly Bamileké after all. The king conquered most of the Bamilekéland, except the area of your group of Bamileké people—what is predominantly Nde division today, which is the area where the Ndanda and Medumba dialects are spoken. His favorite son, whose mother was indeed of known Bamileké descent, led the cream of the Bamoun army. This son was his best general in the campaign. However, the princely general suffered defeat and got killed near Banganté.”
“That happened in Bangoulap. I heard it was an ambush,” Gavin interjected.
“You are right. The prince suffered defeat and lost his life in the Battle of Bangoulap. The king became so distraught that he sued for peace with the Banganté-led forces, demanding that the two share control of the rest of the Bamilekéland.”
“Share control of the Bamilekéland? I don’t think that ever happened,” Gavin said, looking fully interested.
“Of course, it never happened. The Banganté king demanded instead that the Bamoun people relinquish control over the areas of the Bamilekéland they were occupying. Yes, Son, that was his precondition. It was a strategic move to conclude general peace with all the other Bamileké realms involved in the conflict. So you can judge for yourself that our great king engaged in war out of blinding hatred and accepted peace from a greater hatred because he couldn’t sustain hate from losses. Guess what? Our Bamoun and Bamileké peoples are at peace with one another today. Nobody lords it over the other. We can see that by the high degree of intermarriages,” Ndam recounted, his eyes wide in their sockets with excitement.
“One piece of story to ponder over,” Gavin commented with quizzical eyes.
“Never forget it,” Ndam Saidou said in a casual manner, “You might have heard this one too. Most modern day Bamoun people are either Muslims or Christians. They reflect the soul of their legendary king or Sultan, the man known in the history books as Sultan Ibrahim Njoya. He cemented his alliance with the Fulani people by converting to Islam, the very religion his forefathers rejected by fleeing the Islamic warriors of the advancing Fulani army more than a century before him. He embraced Islam for the sake of peace with the Fulani people who were on his northern borders. However, he converted to Christianity when his kingdom became a part of German Kamerun, in appreciation of the support the German Colonial Army gave him during his military campaign against the Nso people to recover the skull of his father. You see; his father the late king was killed in battle and decapitated by Nso warriors who went on to hold onto his skull as a trophy. The curious thing is that he turned around and embraced Islam again following the defeat of the Germans in the First World War. I guess you must be wondering why he did that,” he added.
“You piqued my curiosity with that one, Mon Commandant.”
“You see, King Njoya or Sultan Njoya, or whatever title you choose to bestow on him, disliked being a true Christian because it forbade him from being a polygamist. He disliked being a Muslim even more because being a true Muslim entailed abstaining from drinking alcohol. That was how our dear ruler came about professing to be one or the other depending on the situation he found himself in. He would enter a church and bow down in prayers, and then invite any pick from his harem the next hour to reassure himself of his virility. I have even heard stories of how he sometimes attended Friday Muslim prayers with men in his court carrying kettles with them. Guess what? The kettles sometimes contained palm wine or red wine, depending on his mood that day.”
Gavin chuckled as he watched Ndam Saidou laugh too. “I respect him for his wits in devising a script and for coming up with a new spoken language.”
Ndam Saidou nodded. “That’s one of the things that made him unique. He was never a self-righteous man,” he said, paused for a moment, and then added, “Now, where were we?”
Gavin and Ndam Saidou went on to thrash out further details of the mission to be accomplished in Bamenda, and then talked at length about other aspects of their jobs. It was almost midday when the effusive Ndam Saidou shook Gavin’s hand, and then walked him to the door.
“Thank you very much, Mon Commandant,” Gavin offered as he reached for the knob.
Ndam Saidou nodded and patted Gavin on the back. “Son, I am glad you know the limits of life. Come around again tomorrow, same time, for the set-up,” he said and squinted.
At 09:03 Hours the next morning, the Delegate-General of National Security received Gavin in his spacious office with a beaming smile and a warm handshake.
He did not waste time on preambles and went straight to the point. Gavin was given ten days to prepare himself for the new assignment before leaving the capital city for Bamenda. He was required to live within the perimeter of the Bamenda Provincial Hospital, in the Mankon neighborhood. The rationale was simple. The service suspected the area stretching from the hospital, via the Longla neighborhood, to Sacred Heart Secondary School at Mankon, as well as the stretch of settlements in the direction of Mbengwi, as the area where Vincent Ndi’s comrades were most active.
Ndam Saidou assigned Gavin to a hastily created job as an English language instructor in the French-speaking department of the city’s sole Government Bilingual High School, otherwise known as GBHS Mankon, Bamenda.
“Make yourself a buddy of the staff and students. Make yourself a man of the people with the townsfolk, your neighbors more so and the natives in particular. I know you have a reputation with languages. Rekindle my memory once more. How many foreign languages have you mastered?” Ndam Saidou asked.
“Five,” Gavin replied.
The security boss mused for a moment, biting his lower lip as he arranged his thoughts. “Which languages are we talking about here?”
“French, English, Russian, German, and Spanish.”
“Should I add a smattering of Portuguese?”
“Not something you can fully rely on,” Gavin lied.
“Good, good, good,” Ndam Saidou grunted, paused for a moment, and then continued, “Go about your business grumbling about your talents and mastery of foreign languages that the government doesn’t appreciate. Make the people who give you an ear to believe that the system is victimizing you because of your ethnic origin and Anglophone upbringing, and more so because you are against the ruling party. The people out there would agree with you that the minor post of a teacher is beneath your true worth. All you have to do is work your way into the confidence of that movement. They might even seek your services. I want you to make it your business to get to their core with the tack of a professional, for God’s sake. Do so with some class, if I must insist. Ultimately, we shall come in and nail them down and out, completely!”
The security boss wrapped up his briefing by giving Gavin his private and secret office numbers, before beefing that up with the number to the French consul general—the Franco-Vietnamese and actual head of Cameroon’s secret service. He also gave Gavin a briefcase containing seventeen million CFA francs for the start of the operations.
Ndam Saidou stopped Gavin at the door just as he was about to leave, and then added, “You are the Hawk. That’s your code name.”
“Why?” Gavin asked with a puzzled expression on his face that made his boss laugh.
“Come on, Son,” Ndam Saidou said in a somewhat paternalistic tone, “You and I know that ‘The Hawk’ devours the chicks of other fowls. Its easiest prey is a young bird. You are about to devour a young movement.”
Gavin nodded, relief flowing through his face. He was glad Ndam Saidou failed to tie ‘The Hawk’ appellation to his name. However, he left that morning determined to work with the old man only on his own terms.
The picturesque hue cast by the sun over the rolling hills of Yaoundé heralded dusk in a manner that made the Cameroonian capital look like a city encapsulated in a spell. Even if that were the case, the Peugeot 505 with four high-spirited men inside appeared to defy the mood as it pulled to a stop in front of Centre Cassé club, a joint located in the city center. Gavin greeted the animated atmosphere around by muttering a wow. There was mist in the air in that portion of the city, an inconvenience per se that was made hazier by the fumes of burning garbage and burned hydrocarbon. Nevertheless, that was not the least of their concerns. The four men noisily got out of the car, shut the doors behind them, and then strode into the club with a great deal of gusto as if revving themselves up to make it an all-out night of fun.
The cheerful friends made themselves comfortable around a table in the bar, and then went about saturating their throats with the cognac Gavin ordered. When they delved into other subjects as well, Gavin stood out as an unrewarding contributor. The two secondary school teachers from the Bilingual High School at the Essos neighborhood of Yaoundé were fiercely argumentative. Looking more like brothers, the men were small in stature and dark in complexion. They also had fiery eyes and quick tongues, and they enjoyed eating and drinking as if they were in constant need of something to boost their energy level with. Robert Babilla and Richard Tem, as they were called, shared a mutual tendency to pick on each other’s nerves. Robert Babilla appeared to have a fixed gaze most of the time that gave him the expression of someone trying to figure out a puzzling phenomenon. Standing at five foot eight, the third companion Joseph Mendjo was five inches shorter than Gavin and worked in the Finance Ministry. He was fair-skinned, taciturn, handsome and very effusive like a salesman.
The friends went on in a ravenous manner to eat suya—the thinly sliced roasted beef that made carousal so good, especially when eaten with pepper and other spice. They drank some Cameroonian beer with it—something Gavin found to be of better taste.
The music, company and ambiance gave the club a lively atmosphere even though it was hardly 22:00 Hours. Things heated up not long after they finished the suya on their table when a dancer mounted the stage and lured all eyes in her direction. With their drinks in front of them, the four men watched the Bikutsi dancer twist her waist and belly and move her buttocks to the rhythm of the song “Essamba” in a perverse fashion that made their hearts throb in their chests faster than normal. The sexual suggestiveness of her mouth and eyes, and her robust gyrations were highly unusual for the dancing styles prevalent in the country at the time. But the dancer’s performance made Gavin, his friends and the other men around to applaud, yelp, whistle, yawp and throw suggestive remarks at her—proving all the same that she was a welcome source of distraction and relief to the men.
Gavin did not mind at all that he was there that night. The unusual entertainment the club offered was amusing in its own way, and it was turning out to be a welcomed relief from the stress caused by his new assignment.
“I have a job now,” Gavin announced casually to his friends.
“That’s great! Congratulations! I am glad to hear that, even though money isn’t really your problem!” Robert Babilla said, still riveted by the dancer. The other two friends added their congratulations too.
“Congratulations again, buddy! What is the nature of your job?” Richard Tem asked.
“They assigned me to teach English in a Bilingual High School, out there in Bamenda.”
Robert Babilla looked gloomy when he said, “My savoir Jesus Christ, please have mercy on my poor country! That? I was expecting to hear something better! You were a linguistic whiz kid who did not surprise anyone by turning out to be the polyglot you are today. You deserve a lot more than the government has offered. In fact, I expected them to make you a director, or a real boss somewhere in the ministries, or even in the diplomatic service.”
Gavin laughed weakly, and then threw his hands in the air in a dejected manner. “You are beginning to sound like a stranger in Cameroon. Do I have to remind you that I am an Anglophone? Besides, my ethnicity has been made to appeal to the hatred of so many! Have you forgotten that I am not a member of the president’s sole political party? Put those things together, and then tell me if I have a chance of getting something better.”
“Don’t be disheartened, Old Boy. Your new offer is better than nothing,” Joseph Mendjo soothed.
“Of course, it is better than nothing. At least I will refresh my memory every day.”
“You had a consolatory saying for something like that—about men and their dreams.” Robert Babilla said.
“Uh-huh! Men have their dreams, but only the realists and pragmatists among them don’t mind alterations in life in so far as the setbacks fail to derail them completely from their dreams,” Gavin said.
“That’s a beautiful one,” Richard Tem offered.
“Besides, you and I know that ethnocentrism, tribalism, nepotism, corruption and Anglophobia have eaten deep into the bones and marrow of this system,” Gavin added with a shrug.
“Let’s cheer up, chums! Better times are still to come. Our talents will be appreciated, and we shall be given our worth in this country of despondent souls,” Robert Babilla said in an animated tone, and then raised his glass in the air for a toast.
“Put your drink down and let’s move on with it,” Gavin responded with a chuckle, “I think I know what our elusive friend means. The better times he is talking about will come while we are in our graves.”
“I don’t think so,” the subtle Joseph Mendjo intoned.
Nobody offered a response to Mendjo’s words because a girl with swaying buttocks, clad in a miniskirt, strode past their table. Gavin had seen her around before. She was a beautiful lass in her mid-twenties, and an easy lay at that, though the strictly-for-cash type.
“Mama Mia! Did she spoil my day?” Gavin mused.
“What are you talking about?” Richard Tem roused.
Gavin whistled under his breath. He was being dramatic, and playing the ridiculous buffoon was a role he was actually finding enjoyable. He smiled, turned to Richard Tem and held his left shoulder. “What do you say about those legs,” he asked, indicating the owner of the aggressive buttocks.
“Are you talking about that wolowose?” Richard Tem asked.
“What does wolowose mean?” Gavin shot back.
“I meant it for the girl you just whistled about. She is a whore or better put in our Cameroonian lingo, she is a wolowose. Man! Don’t tell me you don’t know the meaning of that word!”
“Heard it before, but I don’t know its exact meaning. Hmm! Thought the word connoted a hot chick.”
“Get it right, this time. She is a wolowose, a whore.”
“When you first said it, I thought you meant she is a woodwose, you know, judging from her hairstyle and stuff. I prefer women with natural beauty.”
“Get out of here,” Robert Babilla interjected.
Joseph Mendjo shook his head in an amused manner. “Ah, so my friend here looks at the legs only. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we find out one day that Gavin made it home with natural sisters of Orangutans.”
“Pals! Our mutual friend did that already. I bumped into one of his girls at a party and had nightmares afterwards. Her face was not prettier than King Kong’s,” Robert Babilla gibed.
“Her friend was the one I wanted,” Gavin protested, and then chortled, "Hmm, hmm, hmm! I forgot to mention something else. You see, I was drunk at the time and you guys know what the booze can do to a man’s sense of appreciation of beauty! I know of a case where a guy mistook his girlfriend’s grandmother for her after doing damage to two bottles of vodka. Now, back to that girl. She too made herself too friendly with the booze that day and took the words meant for her friend for herself.”
“That’s beside the point. You cannot change the fact that whenever you compromise your sobriety, you look down most of the time. That must be the reason why you see the legs only! I suppose the girl had beautiful legs!” Robert Babilla teased, and then chuckled.
“Eh, pals! Do I have to remind you that the legs carry the beauty in a woman?” Gavin said with raised hands.
“Keep your head down and rest assured that you will end up missing the best in women—above the waists, that is. Take the beautiful faces, as an example. As an admirer of the legs, you fail to understand the meaning of a woman having Mona Lisa’s subtleness or the Madonna’s disarming beauty,” Robert Babilla elaborated.
“And of course, Marilyn Monroe’s torso,” offered Richard Tem.
“I didn’t even mention Meryl Streep’s elegant shoulders!” Robert Babilla said and chuckled.
Gavin grunted. “I’m not trying to refute your claims. The point I am trying to make here is that the legs carry all of those features you appreciate so much. Take the case of our Queen Zinga. She had this thing of making men gape and drool whenever she strolled in the expansive compound of her palace. Her legs did the job. They made her walk with an uncommon dignity not found in the affected gaits and manners of Europe’s monarchs. Five Englishmen had a brawl over whose turn it was to peep through a hole as she paced about in her courtroom.”
“Are we on the same page here? Aren’t you talking about the Angolan reign who immolated her lovers?” Joseph Mendjo drawled with a chortle.
“You are right. There are all sorts of claims about her. Like, she wittily stood up to the Portuguese governor in Angola by ordering her servant to get down on all fours on the floor, and then went on to sit on his back. You see, João Correia de Sousa, as the Portuguese governor was called, offered her a mat to sit down on during negotiations.”
“A mat? Why?” asked Richard Tem with an incredulous expression on his face.
“Uh-huh! The governor wanted to make a point that she was subordinate to the Portuguese, even though her people were not fully under Portuguese rule at the time. God, that was demeaning. She, a princess, representing her brother the king during the negotiations with the Portuguese, and then being subjected to a horrendous treatment like that!” Robert Babilla moaned, stomping his feet as he whirled around.
“Stop getting too excited and sit down. Why are you working so hard not to accept the fact that she was a beauty with muscles?” Gavin interjected.
“Huh! I disagree. She could not have been anything better than a slut with a royal title. She certainly had a very high libido too, something she wasn’t shy about,” Joseph Mendjo intoned.
“She did what most people in authority do. Uh-huh! She used her position to have fun,” Gavin said, feigning a smirk.
“You mean getting laid?”
Gavin shook his head. “What else could I be talking about, Richard?”
“Just think about it. Have any of you guys read the story of the harem of men she kept after she made it to the throne, and how she would make the men fight one another to gain a night in bed with her, and then put her pleasurer to death the next day for whatever reason? I have difficulties figuring out why she did that. She was like that insect that feeds on its mate’s head right after mating,” Joseph Mendjo added.
“The praying-mantis,” Gavin interjected and chortled.
“I won’t get into the piece written by her enemies at the time. Now, back to Gavin. Whatever excuse you give is not good enough for my regal eyes,” Richard Tem snorted in a funny manner, “Nothing can change the fact that your craving for the legs leaves you with the baboon-looking faces,” he added
Gavin shrugged, feigning indifference. “Having my eyes below the waist help me in life. I become a lot more careful and rarely kick stones and other objects around me. That’s why my shoes last longer!” he joked and chortled so much that it spurred the others to laugh too.
“You are a crazy slave for women!” Joseph Mendjo chided, shaking his head in a playful manner.
“But that girl is cute. Did you see her face?” Richard Tem asked, gesturing to Robert Babilla.
“What are you talking about, pal? That’s the only part of her that caught my attention!” Robert Babilla said, “Pals, I am an admirer of faces!” he added in a comical tone.
“Now, I can see why the front of my buddy’s shoes is always pointing to the sky. Too many shoe accidents while concentrating on the female faces within his range of vision!” Gavin teased, appreciating the laughter his words provoked.
“What about Joseph?” Robert Babilla asked.
“I admire the physical beauty and the mind of a woman. She must have some class, though,” Joseph Mendjo said.
“And Richard?” Gavin asked.
“Richard claims he is a socialist in his relationship with women. He comes up all the time with this defense that he does not discriminate! The guy clears all women—from his junior fifteen-year-old female students to mothers in their menopause!” Robert Babilla responded.
“I admit it. That girl is beautiful,” Gavin said suddenly with a seriousness that surprised his friends.
“Chill, pal! What is it you want? Do you plan to marry her?” Robert Babilla queried.
“I was thinking. She is like a fertile but unproductive soil in need of one or two elements to make it blossom,” Gavin slurred and whistled lightly, shaking his head as he did so.
“Like?” Joseph Mendjo drawled, regarding Gavin with quizzical eyes.
Gavin sat back in his seat. “Like water and something like, you know, or other things like seeds.”
“And what have you got to say about your beauty?” Robert Babilla asked with an ironic smile.
“She is capable of making a lady of herself if given a good home and some style. Did you see the way she carried herself? There is intelligence in her ways.”
The friends went on to argue about the nature of women and had some more drinks to sustain their festive spirits. They were still chatting enthusiastically when Gavin moved his chair further away from the table, and then sat up abruptly. The girl was approaching their direction. His elusive beckon caught her attention.
“You called me?” she mumbled in a timid manner, putting her forefinger on her chest, just in the cavity between her breasts. They heaved out provocatively.
Gavin nodded, and then made a gesture for her to lower her head. She did. “What are you doing now?” he asked in French.
“Nothing. I have just finished my drink,” she replied barely above a whisper.
“Can we go to another spot?”
“Yes, Of course! Only, you will have to pay for my move out of here. Also, try to be good with money. That’s all it takes for me to give you a good time.”
“If that’s the case, then what are we doing here? Let’s go!”
“First, I have to go to the toilet and ease myself. I want to pee!” she cooed with a smile, moving her shoulders in feigned timidity.
“I can wait,” Gavin hissed.
Gavin watched her shaking buttocks as she strode away. He did not wait for long before he rose too and headed in the direction of the male section of the lavatory as if caught with an overfull bladder.
“Where to pal?” Robert Babilla asked.
“To the restroom, to get rid of the beer,” Gavin replied as he walked away from the table.
He caught up with her just as she came out of the lavatory. He took out two ten-thousand-CFA-Franc notes from his breast pocket and thrust them into her hands. Then he held her right arm and gently shoved her back into the lavatory. There was a funny glint in her eyes as if she was enjoying it. Gavin bolted the door behind them, and then made the girl bend forward, her hands resting on the cistern. He pushed her skirt up, revealing bare brown buttocks. She was not wearing panties.
It must have lasted for about five minutes when he pulled his pants up, breathing heavily. A brief and exciting relief, he thought, before it dawned on him that he did not even think of using a condom.
“To hell with AIDS!” he said angrily in English.
“What’s wrong?” the girl asked in French, a smirk on her face.
“Get lost!” Gavin snapped in French.
The girl turned around, pulled her skirt down, and then walked out without saying another word. Gavin waited awhile before leaving the lavatory—heavy-heartedly, he regretted. How he allowed his excitement to go out of control to the point where he picked up an easy lay and did a quickie job on her without using a condom, was something he would have to look into. Alcohol, unfortunately, was behind his hasty action.
Gavin loved Bamenda, the capital of the Northwest Province. The city’s congested, ethnically diverse, commercially driven and religiously varied character reminded him so much of life in Banganté and the rest of the Bamilekéland and Bamounland. Something else he liked about Bamenda was its Anglophone culture, a reminder of his Anglophone upbringing following the tragedies his family experienced in the nineteen sixties. However, he could not close his eyes to something peculiar that he recently perceived about Bamenda in particular and the people of the Northwest Province in general. Like the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe, many of the different ethnicities and clans of the Northwest Province were also plagued by the self-destructive tendency of dwelling too much on their differences with others close and afar, instead of focusing on their mutual compatibilities with those around them—the things that they could build on.
The thought of that aspect of the peoples of the Northwest Province was on Gavin’s mind that morning as he paid a visit to Ivan Fru Achu’s home. Ivan Fru’s nephew appeared at the door after the second buzz, asked Gavin a couple of questions, and then told him to wait outside while he announced his presence.
The young man returned a couple of minutes after with furrowed brow. He did not offer a word at all, but then beckoned Gavin over and led him inside, before telling him to make himself comfortable in the sitting room while Ivan and his wife finished their breakfast.
An expression of shocked disbelief appeared on Ivan Fru’s face the moment the stranger appeared at the door. He should not have been surprised at all.
“God help us! We have the devil himself right here with us!” Ivan Fru said in the Akum dialect.
“Who is he?” Angela Bih, Ivan Fru’s wife, asked, staring wide-eyed at her husband.
“You heard me. The devil himself,” Ivan Fru repeated, and then wiped his mouth with a paper napkin.
Ivan Fru was versed with Gavin’s reputation. He had seen him on two occasions only, yet he had picked up substantial information on the enigma from the secret file Vincent Ndi’s widow gave him a week ago. The file helped him arrive at a simple conclusion: Gavin was as unreliable as a hungry lion. The records labeled him as an agent with a tenacious reputation. A paragraph there, probably an excerpt from the government’s records, even described him as a psychopath with a compulsion to go beyond the limits of reasonable action.
Irrespective of the above, there was another side of the Gavin riddle that also puzzled Ivan Fru. Vincent Ndi indicated in one of his notes that Gavin’s beloved father was a remarkable UPC partisan during the failed liberation war against French control in the land and against the Ahidjo regime that France put in place afterwards to govern Cameroon. Ivan Fru could not understand why the son of an acclaimed Cameroonian revolutionary and union-nationalist was compromising his future by working with a corrupt, unpatriotic and Francophile Pablo-Nero regime. He initially thought the motive was the money the system lavished on those doing its dirty work, but Vincent Ndi put that worry to rest in their second to the last meeting.
“Never forget that we are family and that we share the blood of an honorable legend. Gavin Njike is my cousin, albeit of the second generation. History has never seen the honor of our line betrayed by one of its own. Apparently, he is in the government. But I know he is not with them. That’s why I am convinced he would be of great service to us,” Vincent Ndi had told him.
Ivan Fru did not believe at the time that there could be another side of the agent to rely on. But then, Vincent Ndi called them over to his home one wintry night and broke the promising news. The agent they dreaded so much had just offered to cooperate and become a mole. Ivan Fru and his other associates left Vincent Ndi’s fenced compound that night in high spirits. One more highly placed agent in the system’s oppressive machinery would be working with them.
But joys and expectations were short-lived when three days after, Vincent Ndi’ wife found him dead in the sitting room. The family had insisted on a personal and reliable autopsy that came up with strange results. The cause of death was a pellet the size of a pinhead that was laced with a deadly poison. Ivan Fru’s conclusion was simple: only an outstanding professional and someone close to the dead man could have carried out the assassination. And Gavin was the only agent at the time that fitted the picture of such an assassin. Besides, he was nowhere to be seen at the time it all happened. He had vanished into thin air. Now, here he was, resurfacing when matters were really brewing.
Gavin stood up as Ivan Fru approached him from the dining room. “Good morning, Ni! I am sorry for barging in the way I did!” he greeted and nodded.
Ivan Fru gestured him to a seat, before moving over and sitting on the left side of the sofa, keeping an eye on Gavin all the time. Then he coughed lightly and raised his hands in the air in a gesture of goodwill.
“I suppose you are familiar with our customs and traditions. Hmm! So you understand where I am coming from when I tell you that you are welcome, provided you are here in good faith.”
“I am, Ni.”
“I suppose your name is Gavin Nemafou Njike.”
Gavin was flustered even as he smiled and nodded at Ivan Fru. The man radiated a strange feeling in him. Besides, he was convinced he knew a lot about his person. That could mean one thing only—Ivan Fru worked closely with Vincent Ndi Chi before they knocked him out of the picture. If that were the case, then he would have to fly straight. Besides, he had called him Njike—his real last name, instead of Wakam—his last name as the official records hold.
Gavin nodded. “You said it right. My name is Gavin Nemafou Njike.”
“What brings you here?”
“Please, is it possible to have a drink, something dry?” Gavin asked, making an effort to put his host at ease.
“What brings you here?” Ivan Fru repeated, ignoring the request and warm smile.
“My name doesn’t sound strange to your ears. That means your late friend mentioned me to you.”
“Late friend? Which? The rigors of my life left me with many good friends whose lives were cut short by the wicked forces of this world.”
“I meant the late Professor Vincent Ndi Chi.”
Ivan Fru sat back and regarded Gavin with quizzical eyes. At length, he sighed and grunted. “He did, but you have been missing for over two months.”
“I will explain myself later. But first, I would appreciate something to drink.”
Ivan Fru regarded Gavin for a moment with searching eyes. Satisfied that he did not look armed, he left the sitting room and returned minutes after with two mugs and a pot of coffee. He poured one for Gavin and the other for himself.
“Accept my modest hospitality,” Ivan Fru offered.
“Thank you,” Gavin said as he took a sip from his cup, “I sincerely hope you are not inconvenienced by my request for coffee.”
“No, no, no! I also have a special craving for a drink in the early hours of the day.”
“You are welcome! Now, you haven’t been around for a while.”
“That’s true,” Gavin said and held his hands together, “You might not know this, but I saw you at the professor’s burial.”
“You weren’t there,” Ivan Fru retorted with a puzzled look on his face.
“Yes, I was there to see him laid to rest. As a matter of fact, I was heavily disguised.”
“I swear I never saw you. Three of your men were there, but not you.”
“I was an old man, and I was standing under an avocado tree.”
“I can’t believe it! I saw him all right. It was you?”
“Perhaps you should believe me now. What about the three men you saw?”
“Are you talking about the two Beti men and the other? I was informed that someone killed the Bafaw agent in Douala—a hit-and-run gunman, the papers wrote.”
“A hit-and-run, you say.”
Gavin nodded and took a sip of his coffee. “So I had three agents with me out there at the burial in Akum.”
“You must be good with disguises.”
“Thanks for the compliment,” Gavin said, took a deep breath, and then sat up in his seat, “I always fool my way around with those disguises. Now, I will get down to the point. First, I want you to know that I fully understand your reasons for considering me the likely suspect in your friend’s death. I also want you to know that I was nowhere around when it happened. I had no idea at the time that plans had already been hatched to end his life.”
“Where were you at the time of his death?”
“Banganté." Gavin said and nodded, "The professor was a good man. I appreciate men with his ideas and conviction. I couldn’t be a party to his death.”
Ivan Fru’s wan smile reflected the thoughts on his mind. The agent’s professed sympathy was akin to a lion brooding over a massacred zoo deer. “What brings you here?”
“I came over to extend a hand of cooperation.”
“Say that again.”
Gavin sighed and tapped his thumbs together. “This is the fourth time I am laying my eyes on you. The first was near your late friend’s home; and after that, at his burial. I saw you again at your business center yesterday and tailed you home. I was right in my earlier assumption that you knew something about my case. You are the right person to come to.”
Ivan Fru was quiet for a moment, never taking his eyes off Gavin’s face. “Tell me,” he said, “Tell me the name of the person who killed my friend?”
“Not the security or our intelligence. It was not an order from Ndam Saidou to his boys. The big man in the presidential palace in Etoudi, Yaoundé wanted him dead and the French secret service executed the order. They used their own hand, a Bulgarian whose mother is French. He goes around today under the name of Jean-Marie Kolarov. The guy defected to France five years ago. That is why the mode of killing was different. Poisoning through a pellet is an exclusive Bulgarian method of killing.”
Ivan Fru brooded for a moment, shook his head, and then said in a somber voice, “His death was a setback.”
“I understand,” Gavin offered.
“We were like brothers. Our fathers were very close friends and did a good job of passing their love for one another onto their children. They were against the Anglo-French partition of German Kamerun after the defeat of the Kaiser’s army in this land. They equally did not appreciate the way those two Western powers administered French Cameroun and British Cameroons. I was born barely ten days before my late friend. Yes! Vincent Chi’s father christened me. I don’t have a single name from my family. So on the day he was born, my father had every reason to be jubilant. He was actually looking forward to having a namesake. You see, he didn’t count on the fact that Vincent Chi’s paternal grandfather was around at the time and that the old man had plans of his own. The grandfather insisted that the baby be named Vincent Chi. My father did not mind. Ndi was the middle name my late friend got from my father.”
“I see,” Gavin offered.
“Now, you can understand why we grew up sharing dreams. Vincent Ndi believed we should live for something above ourselves—like a mission for our fatherland. I don’t want to let him down on that.”
“The move against him was a covert operation.”
“That’s amazing!” Ivan Fru laughed, “I suppose the Bamoun buffoon was unaware of it. He knows there is a circle around the president that enjoys sidelining him, even though he bears the responsibilities for the dirty jobs the Pablo-Nero government does. I still don’t understand why he returned from retirement to a service that didn’t miss him much. He evidently has some loose screws in his head!”
“It is a clique steeped in tribalism. In fact, the two Beti men you saw that day pointed your friend out. I was completely in the dark about the whole operation. Ndam Saidou wasn’t spared embarrassment either. The funny thing is that they call us into the game only when it gets tricky and out of the grasp of their French masters!”
“But you have been missing for two months. What reason can you give to justify your sudden absence from the scene?”
“I had to take some time off. I needed that. I also had to get over the added massacre of the young agent. We were close.”
“You threw me off on that one. Why was your friend killed? Tell me also. Who did it?”
Gavin would have been baffled by the question had he not known about ‘The Twins’. “Ndam Saidou is convinced Vincent Ndi’s comrades killed him in revenge,” he articulated, “That’s what the French and the Pablo-Nero clique want our side to think.”
“Be candid about it. Why was your friend made a scapegoat?”
Gavin nodded, and then shrugged. “He too fell in love with the ideas espoused by Vincent Ndi but committed the mistake of failing to keep his feelings to himself. It must have been too much for him when he saw the corpse consigned to mother earth. So he blew his lids off and babbled his sympathy for the professor and reproach for the government. Unfortunately, he did so to the hearing of his ethnocentric partners, men whose devotion to those in power can’t be questioned. They informed the leader of their clique and Ebako got the worst of their discomfort.”
“Was there something special between your late friend and mine?”
“As a matter of fact, Vincent Ndi stood as godfather to his younger brother. Your friend was also his late father’s friend. They shared their friendship since their school days at Saint Joseph Secondary School in Sasse, Buea.”
“I see,” Ivan Fru said, looking thoughtful for a moment. “I was informed you now teach in GBHS Mankon.”
“That’s an undercover job.”
Ivan Fru sat quietly on the sofa and listened to Gavin’s story. Gavin told him how the security boss called him up to his office the previous day and inquired about Ebako’s unresolved case; he told him how he learned about Jan Kolarov’s involvement and the circumstances that led to his new assignment.
Gavin grimaced, and then continued, "Ndam Saidou doesn’t want to be left in the dark anymore. He needs materials he can use to defend himself if he ends up on the losing side tomorrow. He isn’t as smart as he used to be. Actually, I don’t care if he ends up in the dungeons. I know he counts on me, based on our mutual Graffi ties. The old fox expects me to stay blindly committed to his plans. The only thing I can say for now is that he deserves hell for a niche. Hell, hell, hell! They killed the UPC, the only genuine, progressive and all-embracing political party this country has ever seen. They deluded so many patriots and excluded self-sacrificing Cameroonians from making this nation a cherished land in Africa,” Gavin growled, and then sighed.
“You let out some steam there.”
“I am sorry I became emotional.”
Ivan Fru nodded.
Gavin nodded too and gulped empty his mug of coffee. Now, he went on to tell Ivan Fru how he honored Ndam Saidou’s request to see him the next day, how he got his new post and the house in that part of Mankon in Bamenda. He looked composed when he talked of Ndam Saidou’s expectations to see him nudge himself into Vincent Ndi’s movement and get information that the service could use against them.
“I was even heavily financed. Seventeen million CFA Francs is precisely the amount I got from them. Here are some of my contacts to those who are running the show,” Gavin said, and offered Ivan Fru three sheets of paper with a series of addresses and phone numbers on them.
Ivan Fru held them for a moment, and then handed the papers back to Gavin without committing any of the information to memory. “What is your intention?” he asked.
“I want to work with you. I have already committed myself. I’m sure my late cousin mentioned my intentions to you.”
“I guess that’s the only way I can make up for the past. I was derailed.”
“Derailed? How can you explain that?”
“I got badly derailed!” Gavin said, and nodded, “In my quest for vengeance, I betrayed the people whose deaths I was out to avenge. I betrayed the cause whose goals my father stood for. I lost my bearings as a patriot and as a union-nationalist. I think I have a chance of finding myself again. And this is the only way.”
“You are already committing yourself to something deeper. I wonder how you plan to honor that.”
“It’s simple. I shall become a mole in the service. I shall become your link to the conspiracy against your movement. There is something else I want you to know about. I wouldn’t become active until later, in order not to raise suspicions. I will inform them about your activities and strengths, but in a misguided way. I will also keep you informed of their plans. I will help you build your security.”
Ivan Fru surprised Gavin with a mild chuckle. “What makes you think I need that crap? Do you expect me to believe you?”
Gavin shrugged with a laugh. “I would have respected you less had you failed to question my commitment. Perhaps I should assure you of the seriousness of my intentions or commitment by starting first with those two Beti men.”
“Are you trying to let me into your operations?”
“I want to give you the opportunity to betray me if you think it is to the benefit of your cause. But there is something else I want you to know about.”
“It is simple. This is the moment for you to take the initiative. My role will be to force the government to come out in the open.”
“You will see.”
“Would you mind if I ask you why you are doing this?”
“You already did. Your only chance of defeating this mafia set-up of a system is by engaging them in the open. That’s something the Pablo-Nero regime and his French masters are afraid of. You don’t have much of a leeway in a hide-and-seek game because it leaves your ranks open to blackmail.”
Ivan Fru leaned back in the sofa and regarded Gavin with quizzical eyes. He clasped his hands together for no apparent reason, and then sighed. “Vincent Ndi Chi’s killers took away the documents we were planning to submit to the administration to make our party legal,” he said somberly.
“Do you mean the real documents? Damn it,” Gavin blurted out.
Ivan Fru flashed a reassuring smile. “But they didn’t do us any real harm. Those were not the original documents.”
Gavin heaved a sigh of relief. “I’m glad to hear that. Now, I see no reason why we can’t proceed.”
Ivan Fru nodded. “What else?”
Gavin coughed and regarded the man in front of him straight in the eye. “Your friend talked of a triangle. But I don’t know the other angle.”
Ivan Fru shrugged. “No movement can afford not to replace an angle after suffering a loss like ours. Besides, you have to prove yourself first before you get to know the angles.”
“Who is the real boss?”
Ivan Fru’s questioning eyes betrayed his wariness. “There are three sides in a right-angled triangle. Some people view the two angles supporting the hypotenuse as the most important. To others, the right angle is the driving force. I think there is no difference in importance between the three.”
Gavin nodded to show that he understood and would not probe any further. “I shall honor my words.”
“It is a dangerous game you are playing.”
“I figured out all the angles before committing myself. I think I can make it.”
“I hope so.
“It is about time I leave,” Gavin said and rose to his feet, “When can we meet again?”
Let’s make it the same time next week. It should be where you started tailing me.”
“Your business center, that is?”
Gavin nodded. “I have a recorder in my pocket, in the back of my jacket. You can keep the cassette with its recorded conversation as a sign of good faith.”
“I know,” Ivan said with a smile, and then made a beckoning sign with his hands. Three men walked into the room seconds after.
“For me?” Gavin asked.
Ivan Fru nodded. “Go ahead,” he ordered.
It took about a minute for the men to find the forty-eight-square-centimeter recorder strapped to Gavin’s body. The tallest guard gave it to Ivan Fru.
“Give it back to him,” Ivan Fru said, never taking his eyes off Gavin’s.
Gavin took it from the guy’s outstretched hands and nodded. “Thanks,” he said.
“Give us a moment,” Ivan Fru grunted, and then indicated that the three men could leave.
Gavin waited until the three men were gone before he flicked the ejector open and brought out a tiny cassette. “I was about to give this to you as a sign of my commitment. It recorded everything we discussed. So you can set me up if I betray you. Future events will implicate me even further if you decide to bring this up against me.”
Ivan Fru shook his head no. “There is no need for that. All I need to know is how and why you found yourself with that bunch?”
Ivan Fru noticed the flicker of emotion in Gavin’s eyes, and then the sudden recuperation.
“Not now,” Gavin said, “A man made a move at the wrong time in his life, that’s all. All he wants is a chance to make up for the mistake.”
Ivan Fru smiled in encouragement. It did not soften the hardness of his eyes, nor did it give warmth to his determined face. “I am glad to hear that.”
The sun was fully out when Ivan Fru saw Gavin to the door, flashed him a genuine smile, and then shook his hand. He ruminated for a while as he watched Gavin drive away, before he strode back into the sitting room, collapsed into the sofa, and then chuckled.
“God Almighty! Lucifer too got converted!” he exclaimed.
A brooding Gavin hummed John Lennon’s immortal song “Imagine”, inserting new words and altering the intonation. Like the rest of the music world, he too was enthralled by the song before the violent death of its writer. “Imagine” never failed to stir emotions in his bosom whenever he listened to it, especially the last stanza.
Gavin leaned back on the sofa and closed his eyes, musing at the fact that the legendary singer still had an effect on him almost a decade after his death.
Why is the world failing to heed Lennon’s peaceful messages? He wondered. He wished people could rally behind some of the messages carried by the legend’s songs. Unlike Bob Marley that the Third World and the underprivileged classes elevated to the status of a martyr after his death, John Lennon and his Utopia visions were having a hard time winning new audiences.
Gavin rose, walked into the kitchen and poured himself a mug full of beer. He took a massive gulp, returned to the sitting room and rewound the cassette. He was in a calculating and pensive mood now as he listened to his favorite song blaring from the speakers, so that when it stopped moments after, he was unaware of it. The last time he played the song was in 1985, the year he joined the service and his nightmares began—nightmares whose origin lay in the past he was still having a hard time dispelling. He shut his eyes as his thoughts started wandering over to his lineage, to that part of his family history that somehow pushed him to become involved with the wrong side so early in his adult life
When the beautiful Tenga, the daughter of the legendary King Tchatchoua of Banganté, first heard that her father was looking forward to marrying her off to the Bamoun Sultan as a confidence-building measure between their two peoples, she was not happy about it. The Bamoun king was old, she claimed; and her wish was to become the wife of a cherished man whose name she had mentioned just once to her brother Nemafou. She never discussed her heart’s desire with her brother again because her father the king expelled Nemafou from Banganté a week after her confession.
Gavin learned from his uncle who raised him that Queen Nana Njonang contributed much in alleviating the status of women in Banganté, and that she was also a great and loving mother to her children. Unfortunately, her joy and pride of motherhood was denigrated when Nemafou, her favorite child, offended his father’s royal pride. The queen’s beloved first son slept with the king’s new wife and got expelled from Banganté as the punishment for his transgression. The tragedy left Njonang Nana broken-hearted and in a state of lethargy that lasted a year. The cheerful attitude of her only daughter Tenga, it was said, helped enormously in her recovery.
If Queen Nana Njonang ever thought she was affected the most by Nemafou’s expulsion from Banganté, then she was badly mistaken. She never witnessed Tenga’s tears, which she shed when nobody was around. The queen equally failed to see that Tenga had less appetite for food as she tried to come to terms with the absence of her favorite brother and the only soul she felt comfortable confiding her fears, hopes, dreams and heart’s desires to.
Now, King Tchatchoua’s insatiable desire for more wives went up as if he was trying to prove a point to his subjects, and with that, a growing remoteness and despotism that fueled the once disarming Tenga’s memories of Nemafou’s subtle, compelling and loving ways. Embittered by the expulsion of her brother, she grew up despising King Tchatchoua’s authority. Now, bitterness coming from a young woman also known for her sharp wits and guarded values is not good at all.
Nighttime exchanges by the fireside across the length and breadth of the Bamilekéland in the late nineteenth century often involved gossips about the royal palaces of the kings. German Kamerun was just beginning to witness the constant and increasing immigration of the young from their traditional villages, realms, and kingdoms to the less constraining and more promising parts of the colony. This phenomenon had already become worrisome by the turn of the nineteenth century, leaving some traditional Bamileké rulers with more subjects outside their realms than within.
If other Bamileké kings showed their alarm at the loss of able hands in their realms, King Tchatchoua on the contrary, feigned indifference to that threat to Banganté’s future. After all, his palace was unaffected at the time, and most of those leaving were the restive young and dissidents who questioned his rule and the people’s way of life that had stood the test of times.
However, when Tenga’s eloped with Tientcheu Njomo, she jolted her father the king out of his smug complacency. The reign of Banganté viewed the elopement as an unprecedented abomination that could not be ignored.
However, the stunned King Tchatchoua was initially silent about it, not because he did not know what to do, but because he did not want to be harsh on a daughter whose spirit he was so fond of. He had observed with amazement the recent development of her daughter into a sensation in Banganté and the surrounding Bamileké realms, as she became every virile Banganté man’s dream lover, just like Nemafou was to the women. However, when the handsome and rugged Johannes Schmidt Von Haussmann succumbed to her attractiveness by slipping into a lustful reverie, and then begging him afterwards for her hand in marriage, King Tchatchoua had to tell the German that he had already promised his daughter to the king of the Bamoun people.
King Tchatchoua had his own reasons for circumventing his friend of five years, a man who had even made Banganté his new home. He considered Johannes Schmidt a playboy of some sort, whose charms and generous nature had enamored dozens of adventurous Banganté women. His German friend had even confided with the king’s half-illiterate nephew that Tenga was his black Aphrodite with the qualities of Athena. To the king, comparing Tenga to an alien female god was an abomination beyond his regal comprehension. He thought a man with such a mind had to be someone with no respect for boundaries.
All the same, the king’s reluctance to act harshly against his favorite daughter only encouraged other youngsters in Banganté and the royal palace to become more overt in their free-spiritedness. When more than half his adult children left for the Coast hardly a decade after Tenga’s elopement, King Tchatchoua felt like an abandoned father. To a man, especially a king, children meant wealth, power, and respect. His rule mellowed afterwards, prompting a change in his subjects' tone in the way they discussed his actions every day.
“Our king’s early rule was the most glamorous and successful in our history. But it has waned to an unimaginable low. Perhaps history will judge Nganteu, our first King, as the most glamorous of all the panther kings this land has seen,” Ngako, the mind-speaking and most respectable palace historian and warrior started muttering around. Even Ngako’s doubts were respected.
Tenga settled with her husband in Victoria and boldly severed her ties to Banganté. By the time she clocked five years in the coastal town, she was already counting two children—David Nemafou and André Ketcha—as her blessings in life and her joy of motherhood. Still, she reminisced about her favorite brother, a recollection that made her think of her father in unfavorable terms. A month before she realized she was pregnant with Julius Wakam, the third child, she received words from her mother imploring on her good heart to visit home to pay her respects to the disappeared king and departed soul of her father. People said afterwards that she wept in a pitiful manner for her father, asked for his posthumous forgiveness and declared to all that she wished her father were still alive to hear from her own lips that she did not hold anything against him.
Tenga’s visit to Banganté stirred old memories of Nemafou that she promised to put to rest upon her return to Victoria. However, another great rip-off occurred two years after, with the defeat of German colonial forces in Kamerun during the Great War. In the general confusion that the Anglo-French partition of the land caused, Tenga, like Nemafou, also found herself under the rule of the British, while the greater portion of the Bamilekéland became a part of French Cameroun.
Tenga lived up to her determination to find her brother two years after the birth of Maria Meunjeu, her fourth child and the only girl of the family, who got so much attention and love from her brothers and father that she had to catch herself from becoming jealous of her. However, when she embarked on the arduous journey to the north of British Southern Cameroons, her husband was not happy about it. All the same, the lively Tenga finally made it to Akum looking exhausted but expectant in spirit. There, she was welcomed by news that caused her much grief. This was the report that Nemafou had been dead for half a decade. Still, Tenga felt consoled by the discovery of Nemafou’s six-year-old daughter Klara Nana.
The story goes further that Tenga looked waned in spirit when she returned to her family in Victoria, and that she died eleven months after, but not before imbuing her children with a sense of commitment to their Anglophone cousin. Her offspring did not fail her in that regard.
Tenga's enthusiastic first child called David Nemafou honored his mother’s memory on the tenth anniversary of her death with a pledge to find his cousin. The promise took him almost a month to fulfill and brought him to Bamenda, a town located about ten miles north of Akum. There, David Nemafou and Klara Nana shed tears of joy at their first meeting. Enthralled by her radiantly beautiful cousin whose resemblance to his late mother was so strong, David Nemafou offered to take Klara Nana’s second son under his wings. The meeting must have left a strong impression on Klara Nana because Vincent Ndi, who was not even born at the time, told Gavin that their uncle David Nemafou recounted the family history repeatedly to the point where their mother boasted to them several times afterwards that she knew every phase of it.
David Nemafou spent more than a month in Bamenda before he returned home. He arrived in Victoria to find that the peace, harmony, brilliance and cheerfulness that had reigned at their home was shattered while he was away. Their father Tientcheu Njomo exploited his absence following a quarrel with their stepmother, and without consulting anyone about it, he kicked her out of his home, accusing her of witchcraft and infertility, and then brought in one of Victoria’s popular harlots as his new wife. The advice and pleas from his four children could not make him recant his decision. This breakdown in communication in the family was the principal cause of the misunderstanding and rift that eventually developed between the father and his four children.
Sarah Nyamondo, as the new wife was called, misused Tientcheu Njomo’s wealth, despised and ill-treated his children, forced Maria into squabbles and fights in the streets, consulted witch doctors for their deaths and misfortunes, and she even plotted and connived with strangers against the Njomo children. The Njomo father chose to close his eyes and ears to all that was happening around his home, preferring instead to believe the new wife he had pledged to keep under his wings. He even failed to heed the words of concerned neighbors and fellow tribesmen confirming the complaints Tientcheu Njomo’s children brought up against Sarah Nyamondo. Tientcheu Njomo doubted everyone and claimed he had never seen a wicked person in his wife.
Even so, Tientcheu Njomo had been fairly warned, even though he chose not to take the cautions seriously. He found himself on the wrong side of fate when he returned home one evening earlier than usual, only to find hustling and jostling in the yard. Maria Meunjeu was fighting with his wife. Sarah Nyamondo was all bloody and started weeping when she saw her husband. The horrified Tiencheu Njomo would have killed his daughter in a raging fury had concerned neighbors not pulled him away. Still, he cursed and raved, threatened and roared. It was an abomination for a child to fight with the father’s wife, let alone beat her up severely, Tientcheu Njomo pointed out to anybody who in as much as gave him an ear.
But that was not all about the matter. They said Tientcheu Njomo and his wife were drunk the day before he expelled Maria Meunjeu from his home and brought upon himself the wrath of his four children. When his sons and daughter took the matter to the hearing of the local Bamileké Council (Kamveu) in Victoria, they were simply making a desperate effort to save the unity of the Njomo family.
But Tientcheu Njomo would not cooperate. Instead, he rejected the verdict from the council that called on him to accept Maria Meunjeu back home and allow her to prove her remorse, and that also called on Sarah Nyamondo to commit herself as a reliable wife and mother through acts that she publicly vowed never to perform. Tientcheu Njomo’s friends responded by chiding him for being weak, for siding with his wife and for alienating his children. Still, he failed to budge in his decision that many claimed was influenced by the charms Sarah concocted.
One would have expected the father to change his mind after his sons threatened to leave him in solidarity with their sister. Instead, he dared them to leave, threatening to cut them off his will. In their despair, the three young men abandoned their home. Tientcheu Njomo angrily forbade their return. He disowned them.
Only in separation from his children did Tientcheu Njomo get the true picture of his third wife. Sarah Nyamondo failed to cook his meals, flirted disgracefully, spent his money extravagantly, brought into his home hordes of her relatives, and she even became unwelcoming to his friends and fellow tribesmen. Tientcheu Njomo initially tried to delude himself that there could be another side to all that was happening around him, but the weight soon proved to be too much for his soul to bear. So when he continued telling those around him that he was okay without his children around, nobody believed him.
Tientcheu Njomo might be considered a simple-hearted soul who tried to be an assertive father just to prove a point to his self-centered wife. But then, the estrangement from his children weighed heavily on him to the point where he started expressing his regrets to the few friends he still had left. The father brooded for his children, gentle souls he had cuddled and brought up to be promising adults, but that were now separated from him because of a worthless woman who blinded him with her deceptive ways.
Tientcheu Njomo’s emotional plight was confounded when he suffered a stroke that confined to his sickbed. Incapacitated and helpless, he watched Sarah in her detachment as she sold most of his possessions and absconded.
Gavin’s mother told him that Tientcheu Njomo sent emissaries to his children in French Cameroun with the intention of reconciling with them. The children heeded their father’s call and hurried home a fraction of a day late when he had already given up the ghost. Still, there was reconciliation. The four Njomo children did forgive their father. And just like their mother, they too declared the clarity of their hearts and pledged to uphold their father’s legacy. However, only Julius Wakam, who had always been his father’s crutch until his misjudgment, upheld every word of that pledge by staying behind in Victoria to revive the late old man’s fortunes and to carry on with the Njomo legacy. The other three Njomo children chose instead to return to French Cameroun.
David Nemafou and his two siblings returned to their ancestral homeland determined to trace their parents’ lineage. Unfortunately, for them, Tientcheu Njomo’s side proved to be frustrating. He was an orphan who left his ancestral realm of Batoufam and sought refuge in Bayangam. His father and mother too had been orphans, they were told. They could not search beyond the grandparents.
Tenga’s blood ties were easily sorted out in the Banganté royal palace where the Njomo siblings met their Francophone cousins, aunts, uncles, and king. They even shared a meal with King Njike II of Banganté, their mother’s half-brother, whom she had spoken fondly of. David Nemafou went a step further by adopting his late uncle Ketcha’s last son.
Though the two Njomo men loved Banganté and professed delight in reconnecting to their roots, they, however, concluded a year after staying there that Banganté held no future for them. David Nemafou returned to Douala, while André Ketcha settled in Yaoundé. Maria Meunjeu chose to stay behind in Banganté.
It was in Banganté that Maria Meunjeu Njomo met her lover in the person of Joseph Nkabyo Njike. This rugged character became an orphan very early in life, just like her father of blessed memory. He was barely a teen when he left the neighboring Bamileké realm of Bangoulap and resettled in Banganté where he caught the attention of a local patron who sent him to school as compensation for his services working in the patron’s coffee and quinine plantations during after school hours and during the holidays. The intelligent and purposeful Joseph Njike went on to find a teaching job at a public school in Banganté, and lived a rigid life until he became enamored with Maria.
The respectful young Anglophone and Francophone lovers conferred on their mutual considerations, sought the consent of their elders, married in a traditional manner and started a conjugal home to the joy of those involved in their lives. But Joseph Njike thought shortly afterwards that Douala held better promises, convinced his wife to move down there with him, and then began the arduous task of accumulating wealth.
So when he succumbed to the charms of Jacques-Philippe LeClerc, the new governor of French Cameroun, and then went on to become one of the early volunteers to LeClerc’s mushrooming Free French movement, doing his utmost to encourage other French Camerounians and British Cameroonians to join the Free French Forces in fighting Nazism and the supporters of the Vichy regime that the Nazis installed in the south of France, he puzzled many people, including his wife and friends. He survived the war all right, returned home from Europe in June 1945 as a wounded veteran, plunged himself again into business and tamed his soul as a teacher in one of the local schools. In fact, he was doing great in business and was warming himself into the ranks of advocates for the territory’s reunification and independence when the French trusteeship government banned French Cameroun’s most popular political party, the UPC (Union of the Populations of Cameroon), thereby causing the outbreak of hostilities between the historic party and French authority in the land. The insecurity in Douala forced him to move his family back to Banganté because of its relative safety.
Joseph Njike did not envision things going awry when the authorities mistakenly posted him to Bafoussam. The dispatcher in Yaoundé read Bafedja, but then inserted Bafoussam instead, a town of greater renown. It was while in Bafoussam, in the heartland of the Bamilekéland that Joseph Nkabyo Njike got sucked again into the socialist doctrine of the UPC, its patriotic and nationalist objectives, and its extended fraternity of Pan-Africanism.
Even though the rattles of war finally stirred up those suppressed warrior instincts he had inherited from his ancestors, he fought against getting involved in the struggle. He knew that the UPC leadership’s belated resort to a partisan war of liberation had put them at the mercy of international judgment. He was convinced that the new French President Charles De Gaulle would respond harshly to the partisan movement, not just because it was the first of its kind in black Francophone Africa, but more because the UPC was organized and using the tactics that De Gaulle’s Free French Forces employed against the German Army in the early 1940s. Joseph Njike also judged that the partisans could not sustain a campaign that effectively eliminated French control only in the countryside and some of the urban areas in the south of the territory.
Joseph Njike pondered French strategy in the territory when they replaced the flippant puppet French Camerounian prime minister André-Marie Mbida with Ahmadou Ahidjo, a Fulani Muslim from the north of French Cameroun where the UPC lacked strong militant support. He wept when French forces killed the UPC leader Ruben Um Nyobé in September 1958.
Even the developments in Guinea after it rejected De Gaulle’s new French constitution fascinated Joseph Njike. He reflected on France’s capacity to be malicious when the French colonial administration left Guinea abruptly, breaking off all political and economic ties with the new country—taking with them files, dismantling key installations and wrecking the infrastructure there, in a move that ended French assistance to the new country. He followed with a great deal of curiosity the developments that led to Guinea becoming the center of refuge for the exiled UPC leadership.
If Guinea was the birth defect of the new French Fifth Republic vis-à-vis French-controlled territories in Africa, then French Cameroun was judged to be the soft spot or the Achilles Heel that could unravel French grip on Francophone Africa, Joseph Njike reasoned. That is why he was not surprised when the French Fifth Republic intensified its military operations in the land while controlling media reports on French Cameroun, allowing only filtered information to reach the western audience.
Still, Joseph Njike decided to stay away from the conflict and protect his family. He did not pick up arms when Ahidjo hailed the independence France granted to French Cameroun on January 01, 1960 and at the same time forced the one-hour old infant nation to sign a series of military, economic and political pacts that effectively gave the French military far more powers in the land than France ever had as a Trusteeship power under the mandate of the United Nations. Shortly after that, the French secret service poisoned Ruben Um Nyobé’s successor Félix-Roland Moumié on October 15, 1960, an action that plunged the UPC party into another crisis. Still, Joseph Njike stayed hopeful. His hopes blossomed when British Southern Cameroons voted in a plebiscite to reunite with The Republic of Cameroun, the former French Cameoun.
To say that Joseph Nkabyo Njike viewed post-independence developments in Cameroon in a positive light would be like stretching credulity to the utmost. He too, like the rest of the sympathizers, supporters and members of the UPC, mourned the territorial loss of British Northern Cameroons to Nigeria following the plebiscite votes in the north. Even the independent Cameroon they had given in so much for was turning out to be nothing more than a partial and quasi-independent state, a sort of backyard of France. Hard-pressed, determined but vulnerable, the UPC sought to liberate not only the reunited Cameroon of thinly disguised French control but also to get rid of the first Cameroonian president Ahmadou Ahidjo who was put in power by his French puppeteers.
All the same, Joseph Nkabyo Njike was enjoying his old job as a teacher, and actually loved his other life as a local farmer and gentlefolk when British Southern Cameroons and the former French Cameroun reunited on October 01, 1961. In fact, he would have continued staying out of the civil war brewing in Cameroon had soldiers of the infant Cameroonian Army not killed his first son Bernard. However, when he quit his teaching job in 1962 and became a full-fledged freedom fighter, nobody in his family knew about it. He quickly moved up the ranks of the new UPC leadership of Ernest Ouandie and won the admiration of his fellow fighters for his experience, leadership, courage, daring spirit, and tactics. However, his effectiveness in the bush was short-lived. The French Army captured him while he was leading a raid on an ammunition depot in Bafoussam. No trial was carried out.
Pierre Ducros, the non-titular head of the pseudo-Cameroon Army, responded swiftly to Joseph Njike’s capture by ordering his immediate execution. A short distance away from Bafoussam is the Bamendjou waterfall. It is a picturesque sight with a curious element added by man. The French Army constructed elaborate and slippery conveyor belts leading to the bottom of the falls. And in the waters below swam jealously guarded crocodiles with little worry for food. The Franco-Cameroonian Army carried out executions there by blindfolding their prisoners and forcing them to step onto these conveyor belts for the inevitable stumble and fall to the bottom of the falls for the crocodiles to devour.
When the Franco-Cameroonian Army took Joseph Nkabyo Njike and other prisoners to the Bamendjou waterfall for execution that hot Thursday in December 1964, it was business as usual. Five UPC fighters calmly accepted their fates with little resistance, only to protest at the bottom of the falls with cries that the ravenous crocodiles quickly muted. When his turn came, Joseph Nkabyo Njike grabbed three military officers at lightning speed and dove with them to the bottom of the falls. Two of the officers were Frenchmen. One of them was Pierre Ducros’ nephew-in-law.
They said that something snapped in Pierre Ducros’s head after Joseph Njike’s stunt, that he became worryingly furious and more merciless in his war of annihilation against the population.
“Nde, Nde, Nde,” he was reported to have muttered while taking a walk with Ahidjo and a soldier in the infant Cameroon Army, “The Banganté people claim that NDE signifies their Noblesse, Dignity, and Elegance—a mortal pride, I must admit. I will see to it that the few survivors in that accursed part of the Bamilekéland live the rest of their lives haunted by the memory of where they come from.”
And Pierre Ducros lived up to his words barely a month after, as highlighted by articles the Cameroonian authorities found tagged on various vertical surfaces of Nkongsamba’s sole High School, otherwise known in French as Lycée de Manengouba, as well as on the streets of Nkongsamba and Loum. The articles decried the razing of villages in the Bamilekéland, the horrifying massacre of the people, the wanton execution and beheading of captured UPC fighters; and some of the articles even revealed details about French plans against the Bamileké people that hinged on genocide. Pierre Ducros featured in them as the Lucifer behind the operations and Max Briand, his field commander, as the executioner. Investigations carried out led to a student movement headed by Joseph Njike’s second son Christian Njabu Njike as the source of the incriminating materials. The authorities accused him of leading a core advocating the use of terror as a countermeasure to the pacifying efforts of the French Army in Cameroon and the nascent Cameroonian Army that they were training and leading.
Pierre Ducros quickly concluded that the students wrote those articles with information from an insider in the Ahidjo regime, suggesting a leak. He also made the connection that Christian Njabu Njike was the son of Joseph Njike, the man he had labeled a miscreant. So without wasting time on preambles, he immediately banished Christian to the notorious political prison in Tcholliré, in the north of the country.
Gavin’s mother Maria Meunjeu wept tearfully for her son, and then dispelled her fears two days after the banishment by walking into the police station to start the process of his release before the execution of the transfer to the north. The police officers gave her a seat instead, and then told her to wait. But then it was an unusual wait because they never allowed her to return home. Alarmed by the development, her third child Josephine Tenga decided to brave the station to find out the true reason for her mother’s and her brother’s detention. Little was heard of her after her inquiry except that some security officers raped her. Gavin and his older brother Salomon Nana grappled with the crisis and came to the conclusion that their maternal uncle in Douala stood as the best person to solicit help from since he wielded a lot of financial weight and influence. They promptly sent information to him, reporting the arrests and detentions of his sister, nephew, and niece. In David Nemafou’s attempt to help, he too was arrested, imprisoned and tortured.
The crisis in the Njike and Njomo families prompted Gavin’s youngest maternal uncle Julius Wakam Njomo to convene a family meeting. It was during the gathering that Gavin’s other uncle—the wise André Ketcha-Njomo—made his memorable statement that prevented further disasters in the Njike family.
“Njabu, who loved his father so much, and who couldn’t close his eyes to the wrongs around him, has been taken away to the dungeons. My dear sister, who stood by the son she loved and understood, has been dishonored further in her widowhood. She has not come back. Josephine Tenga was true to her caring nature just like her grandmother of the same name. She too defied the uncertainty, went to find out the reasons for her mother’s and her brother’s incarceration, and as we all know it, she, like those she was out to rescue, never came back. Even David Nemafou, my dear brother and the elephant of the family, has been swept away by the monstrosity of this system. What should I surmise from this? The answer is simple. We are dealing with a devilish, heartless, inhuman and corrupt regime that has no place for reasoning. That leaves us with few options. Our best recourse is to stay quiet and get our sister’s two other children out of Banganté. No amount of pressure or interference from our end is going to get our family out. Instead, we would get more of our loved ones into the liberties of their tortures. So let’s leave the government to weary itself out in its madness.”
The two free Njomo brothers reached a general consensus that night placing Salomon Nana under the custody of André Ketcha Njomo now living in Ngaoundéré, while Julius Wakam Njomo took Gavin with him as his adopted son. The Njomo brothers reached another concord whereby Gavin and his brother Salomon accepted to conceal their identities by adopting their uncles’ middle names. That was how the rueful but hopeful Gavin survived and matured under the guidance of his judicious, loving and illustrious Uncle Julius who called himself Julius Wakam-Njomo, and who was married to a woman from Bawok, a Bamileké enclave in the Chamba realm of Bali located in the English-speaking province of Northwest —the northern half of the Western Highlands.
Gavin's relatives living abroad told all sorts of stories about his life during the years that his family suffered incarceration in the hands of the Ahidjo regime and its French backers. But one view holds sway that the bright-eyed prodigy grew into an intrinsically kind but rugged teenager who sometimes suffered from bouts of moodiness and that his kind disposition was interposed by moments of snappiness and defiance. They also said that his insight into the human soul became baffling and that he was extremely self-sacrificing to those he loved. However, the more he loved, the more he steeled himself from showing it as if he feared a calamity arising from his affection. The only time he was caught crying was during his Uncle Julius Wakam’s funeral a month before he sat for the Government Common Entrance (GCE) A-Level public exams. It was as if the loss of the only soul who could relate to his pains, dreams, hopes and fears only went further to steel his heart from the emotions of this world.
Some of Gavin’s peers and teachers spoke of his extreme solemnity when he sat for the final-year examinations as a student of the Government Bilingual High School in Molyko, Buea. But then, three days after the GCE A-Level results were released, news of the arrested and detained members of his family was heard again, bringing with it mixed feelings to all who knew the tragedy that befell the Njike family. The mother Maria Meunjeu had died while in detention. Her family and relatives were never shown her grave. Other releases came weeks after. Christian Njabu, whose testicles had been badly battered, was diagnosed shortly after with tuberculosis. David Nemafou Njomo came out paralyzed and suffered from bouts of persecution mania afterwards. But of them all, Josephine Tenga was the one who emerged looking the most piteous. Considered before as the reincarnation of her beautiful maternal grandmother, her sojourn in Tcholliré left her with a blinded left eye, a scarred face, a chronic limp and a fear of men many doubted she could never get over. Finding life unbearable, she committed suicide two years after her release. Christian Njabu grieved her death to the point where he lost his mind and got killed by a hit-and-run driver seven months after her burial.
The bitter experiences that Gavin’s family suffered in the hands of the Ahidjo regime made him a survivor. He learned the hard way never to show his anger or hatred against a stronger adversary, for fear of being crushed. He knew the dangers of uttering a threat, for fear of a quick reprisal. He would conceal his contempt for his strong enemies while he used time and the false sense of pacification to acquire the skills and experiences needed to avenge the deaths of his loved ones. Even his pass in the GCE A-Level in four papers with outstanding grades did not illuminate his heart. A story goes that he even saw no reason to celebrate the scholarship he was awarded to study abroad.
Gavin never knew how his scholarship came about. He never knew that words about the plight of the Njike family reached the UPC leadership in exile, prompting them to act accordingly by arranging for the intelligent lad to further his studies in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). It would be six years after his move to East Germany that the intelligent and enthusiastic Gavin would celebrate his graduation as a holder of a Master’s Degree in chemical engineering. He worked with the communist East Germans for two years before accepting a job offer with a Venezuelan oil refinery. Still, he could not dispel the aching urge of vengeance.
That is why when the UPC finally worked out a place for him as a student in the Patrice Lumumba Friendship University in Moscow, he happily went for it. The institution molded him into a deadly agent. However, he stepped out of its doors as a disillusioned and reformed communist who was determined to follow his own path and pattern. He had his own mission.
The UPC leadership still considered Cameroon unsafe when Gavin graduated. That was why they made arrangements for him to move to Spain. Like the majority of his compatriots, Gavin never imagined that the end of Ahmadou Ahidjo’s reign could be so near, or that a rift could develop between the puppet and any future French leadership. So when Ahmadou Ahidjo resigned the Cameroonian presidency in 1982, Gavin was apprehensive. However, when the first Cameroonian president gave his failing health and the pressures of the job as the main reasons for leaving the highest office in the land, Gavin was convinced that something was afoot.
They said Pablo-Nero Abena Essomba who succeeded him was intended to be an interim president only, and that Ahidjo retained his role as the leader of the sole political party in the country, with the intention to string-control Pablo-Nero Essomba without the stress of the day-to-day hurdles of running the affairs of the state.
Few Cameroonians at the time accepted the exiled-UPC’s outcry that even the French socialists under the leadership of Françoise Mitterrand were determined to maintain the north-south axis in Cameroon—a divide-and-rule strategy otherwise known as the Beti-Fulani domination of the country’s political life—involving the rotation of power between French puppets from the Beti and Fulani ethnic groups. Not many Cameroonians knew about this stated objective of preventing power from falling into the hands of Cameroonian union-nationalists in the west of the country. This, despite the fact that people in the corridors of power in the Elysée Palace in Paris were known to whisper every now and then that the western portion of Cameroon comprising the two Anglophone provinces, as well as the Littoral and the West Provinces, would be subjected to a long wait in the political doldrums until it tamed its spirit of nationalism to the point of accepting unconditional French influence and dominance in Cameroon.
Ahidjo’s resignation and the succession of Pablo-Nero Essomba as the new president of Cameroon did not convince Gavin of the paradigm of the north-south axis, even though he knew that the first prime minister of French Cameroun André-Marie Mbida was Beti, that his successor Ahmadou Ahidjo was Fulani, and that Pablo-Nero Essomba identified himself as Beti from the Bulu subgroup.
In fact, Ahidjo never reckoned that he was a French tool that could be used and discarded at will, or that he was made the president of Cameroon for the purpose of defeating and marginalizing Cameroonian nationalism under the auspices of the UPC, or even that his resignation marked the end of that purpose. So when Pablo-Nero Essomba got jolted by a bloody abortive coup two years into his presidency, and then turned around and blamed Ahidjo for it, claiming that the former president wanted power back by using his loyalists in the government and security forces, experts in the concept of master and puppet arrangements understood right away. Ahmadou Ahidjo’s French master ran out of patience with him and decided to seal their former puppet’s demise forever by casting him as an enemy of the state of Cameroon by using Ahidjo’s very own hand-picked successor.
Only after the rift in the system did Gavin and other Cameroonians put the pieces together. Ahidjo got tricked into resigning on false health reasons, in a conspiracy masterminded by doctors assigned by French president François Mitterrand to take care of the first Cameroonian president. But Ahidjo should have known that Mitterrand never forgave him for sending away the French socialist lawyer he dispatched to Cameroon to defend Ernest Ouandie, the UPC’s last historic leader executed in 1971 by the Ahidjo regime under the directives of Georges Pompidou, the right-wing Gaullist president of France at the time. Besides, Ahidjo frequently fueled the campaign funds of French Gaullists parties from Cameroon’s public treasury, while François Mitterrand, the leader of the Socialist Party of France, chafed in the opposition.
Gavin did not heed the advice of the UPC leadership in exile, and he even ignored the consent of his blood ties when he returned to Cameroon and secretly pledged his loyalty to the Pablo-Nero Essomba regime.
If the decision to return home was shortsighted, it was not completely devoid of advantages. Gavin’s new position as an intelligence officer provided him with the cover to pursue his vendetta that involved twelve assassinations by the end of 1988. Unrecorded and unknown to the Cameroonian and French Intelligence Services was the fact that Gavin had his hand in the death of the seventy-four-year-old Pierre Ducros, whose murder became a mystery in Caen and France. When René Roccard, a retired French soldier renowned for his exploits in crushing the UPC in the 1960s, took four slugs that severely damaged his lungs and caused his health to deteriorate to the point where he died a year after, the French authorities were quick to look at it as a random crime against a wealthy antique and African art collector. Nobody thought of the young boy he petrified more than two decades back in a remote corner of Africa. Gavin was neither loud nor complacent about his activities. His major regret was that the first Cameroonian president Ahmadou Ahidjo never got within his range.
Gavin began to discern the restive mood in the country in early 1989. Cameroon was evidently crumbling from mismanagement, corruption, rampant embezzlements, discrimination lawlessness, and the suffocating socio-economic and military pact it signed with France in 1960 that effectively game the European power special privileges over the control of Cameroon’s resources. Gone were talks of Pablo-Nero’s delusive vision for Cameroon, as rising murmurs for change became the order of the day. Still, he convinced himself that he was doing his job by defending the regime. The government finally grew concerned over the growing agitations in Bamenda and sent him there to expose the threatening opposition movement. Instead, Bamenda revamped his patriotism and purpose for his nation. Vincent Ndi helped him to find himself again. He helped him to accommodate his past horrors.
The final stanza of “Woman” by John Lennon whisked Gavin out of his remembering and settled him again in the present. He pondered the lyrics for a moment, completely indifferent to the sound of John Lennon’s version of Ben King’s “Stand by Me” that was now playing. At that moment, a strange thought crossed his mind, spurring him to his feet. Gavin turned off the stereo and returned to his drink. He noticed the slight trembling of his hands as he picked up the glass and gulped down its content. Then he heaved a sigh and walked into the bathroom.
He knew his decision to carry out a momentous operation that evening would likely elude everyone, but he knew it would put him on an irreversible course in his destiny. He had phoned Ndam Saidou three days ago and reported the presence of a black Cuban in town, a man he claimed to have seen with men suspected of being involved with the growing movement.
“Perhaps he is a hired hand,” the Delegate-General had told him.
In the bathroom that evening, Gavin put on a false moustache, jellied his face to a lighter shade, attached adhesive skin to his forehead to give it a wrinkled look, then put on a wig and a face cap. Next, he put on a jacket and tucked his gun with a silencer fitted onto its muzzle inside the sophisticated holster attached to the jacket. In the right inner pocket of the jacket were a garrote and a superb stabbing knife. A sigh escaped his lips as he cut off the lower half of the left heel of his shoes. That made him walk with a limp. He breathed out mildly, conscious of the anxiety creeping up in his system.
Gavin unlocked his kitchen window at around 23:30 Hours and peered outside. He found nothing of interest in the shadows except his next-door neighbor. The guy was talking to a young woman who appeared to be feigning disinterest in whatever proposal he was making. Gavin left the window and didn’t return until moments after, only to find the two walking into the neighbor’s house. She would keep him occupied and make good his alibi, Gavin mused. He waited for about six minutes before he jumped out and disappeared into the night.
Gavin was still familiar with the house Maurice Nze Mezang and Jean-Baptiste Ondoa rented and lived in, even though the night was moonless. He used the back door, inserted the key he had with him and slid the door open without much of a rustle. He knew the two men well—after all, three months of being their operational boss came with enough insight into their nature. Jean-Baptiste Ondoa and Maurice Nze Mezang always began their Saturday evenings in a bar, indulging in bouts of boozing that often ended with much of their sobriety compromised. They returned home before 23:00 Hours almost every day.
The big four-bedroom family house the two lived in looked was well furnished—boasting a kitchen, a big parlor, two and a half bathrooms, and an expansive veranda. It was located about a thousand feet from the Finance Street junction but elevated enough by the knoll it was built on, making it visible from the western end of the town.
With his gun drawn, Gavin closed the door gently behind him and tiptoed into the corridor. His knowledge of the interior was good as well. Maurice Nze Mezang, reputed to be as alert as a church mouse, occupied the room at the left end of the corridor. Jean-Baptiste Ondoa, the brute, slept in the first room to the right. His peculiar snores were familiar to Gavin’s ears. He had heard them before while they kept an eye on the home of Ali Marafat, a Chadian millionaire, in their attempt to arraign a veteran jihadist of the Afghan war against the Soviets. Yunis Simou, as their target was called, never showed up and nothing was seen or heard of him afterwards, suggesting that he slipped out of their watch unnoticed. They joked afterwards that Jean-Baptiste’s loud snores while in the car virtually alerted Yunis Simou to their presence nearby.
Gavin decided to ignore Jean-Baptiste for the time being and start with Maurice instead. The wheezing sound emanating from the room confirmed his suspicions that Maurice had had his fair share of alcohol too. He opened the door without much of a sound and stepped into the room with soft steps. Had he not been a professional, his surprise at what he saw would probably have caused a stir. Maurice was in bed with a woman whose partially closed eyes were staring straight at him. But she did not move at all. She too was spread-eagled on the bed and looked heavily boozed up just like Maurice.
Gavin went down on both knees and crept closer to the bed. He was about two yards away when he recognized the woman. She was the Bamileké tart who had been keeping Maurice company during the past two months. She was fast asleep and reeked of alcohol. Even though he knew she was not a threat, he decided not to take any chances.
He took out the syringe from his jacket pocket and injected the grey-fluid into her system by a single prick of the needle, reflecting in an instant that it would take seconds for her to fall into a deathlike slumber, which would then give him enough time to carry out his mission. He hardly moved a facial muscle as he brought out the knife from its sheath and crawled to Maurice’s side of the bed...