Wednesday, October 2, 2013

FLASH OF THE SUN (Sample Chapters of an international thriller on France, Cameroon, World War Two, The Franco-Ahidjo War against Cameroonian Civic-Nationalists and the Creation of the Neo-Colonialist Cameroon State---Forerunner of "TRIPLE AGENT, DOUBLE CROSS"




 

Flash of the Sun


A Thriller


by





Janvier
Chouteu-Chando



FOR MY COUNTRY;
FOR MY TWO FATHERS, TWO MOTHERS
AND THE LINES THEY ARE DESCENDED FROM…









“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt


“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.


“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”
― Robert A. Heinlein


“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
― Oscar Wilde


“The use of political assassination against liberation movements has changed the course of history in a number of countries in Africa and continues to devastate the Middle East. The current power relations between the Third World and the dominant Western and imperialist powers, are a product of the war of attrition which the West has waged, particularly by political assassinations, which have robbed Africa and the Middle East of some of their great leaders, and weakened their important political organizations.”

― Victoria Brittain






New York, spring 1958



Renault's "princess"—the 1956 Renault Dauphine—made René Roccard proud, a feeling millions of his French compatriots also shared. So, when he bought a Dauphine sedan from the first consignment the auto manufacturer shipped to the United States of America, his co-workers were not surprised at all. However, people started raising their eyebrows when he made it a point of intoning stanzas of France’s national anthem La Marseillaise or honking in jubilation whenever he saw a Dauphine or drove past one.
It is easy to understand why the patriotic Frenchman regarded the car as a testament to France's recovery after the country's humiliating four-year occupation by Germany during the Second World War.
Even so, René did not feel proud or concerned about the automobile as he navigated streets of New York city that afternoon. The expression of grim determination on his face relaxed a little as he left East 48th Street behind him and joined the crawl of traffic through Broadway. Completely oblivious to the skyscrapers on both sides of the road, he grappled with the details of his self-assigned mission as if nothing else mattered in the world. The Frenchman’s extreme preoccupation almost made him hit the back bumper of the blue Ford Fairlane right in front of his car, but he reacted swiftly to the impending impact by stepping hard on the brake pedal. The Renault Daphne jerked to a stop, and he came close to bumping his head on the steering wheel. The thought that he came close to screwing up his mission by getting into a stupid accident, infuriated him so much that he hit the steering wheel repeatedly, gritted, and then dropped back in his seat.
Merde…merde, les salopards!” René cursed and didn’t cease until the sound of cars hooting from his rear alerted him that he was lagging behind the flow of traffic.
René moved the car forward, in rhythm with the other vehicles in front of him, and then looked at his perspiring palms one after the other. The irony of his nervousness brought a sigh to his lips at the same time that his eyelids narrowed even further. The contorted expression on his face only eased a little as he drove into 1st Avenue/United Nations Plaza, steering the vehicle through a variety of residential neighborhoods.
Cette circulation est agaçante,” he hissed under his breath.
True he hadn’t anticipated the heavy traffic at that hour of the day and never imagined the temperature could hit ninety-seven degrees Fahrenheit. He did not like the implication at all because it could mean a mess up of his plans.
René looked less agitated when he parked the car in the Turtle Bay neighborhood, got out, opened the trunk, and then pulled out a guitar case with hardly recognizable rifle parts inside. In fact, the thought of “La Bastringue” by the chansonnière Mary Rose-Anna Bolduc crossed his mind as he shut the trunk with a bang. But only after locking the driver door and pocketing the key did he start humming the Quebecer’s song under his breath.
“You have a nice baby there,” a voice with a distinct trace of Boston accent sounded from behind René, sending a chill up his spine.
He froze for a moment, and then turned around with a half-angry and half-surprised look on his face. “What did you just say?” the Frenchman asked with a sneer.
“It is a beautiful piece of machinery. Oh yes! As a matter of fact, my wife is buying one tonight,” the smiling American replied, and then ran his hand on the hood as if caressing it.
“Thank you, Sir! Believe me, your wife will love it,” René retorted, making no effort to disguise his thick Gallic accent. Then he regarded the man for a moment with narrowed eye-lids, “Excuse me, Sir! I must leave now,” he added and turned around. He did not even look at the man he addressed the words to when he waved him goodbye and hurried away.
He walked across the park with quick steps in the direction of the Tudor City apartments, conscious of the dampness on the back of his shirt.
“Ignore it,” he hissed in an effort to shake off the sudden upsurge of irritation plaguing him.
René increased his pace as he approached the apartment block situated directly opposite the United Nations Headquarters, right across First Avenue. He even covered the remaining twenty yards to the apartment door with half-running steps.
 “What am I doing to myself?” he mumbled, mindful of his panting and the slight trembling of his hands.
The Frenchman pulled out the bunch of keys from his back pocket, picked out an inconspicuous silver key, inserted it into the keyhole, and then unlocked the entrance door. He pushed it open with heightened anxiety, muttering a torrent of curses under his breath as he stepped inside Giuseppe Matteotti’s two-bedroom apartment. Then he locked the door behind him and hurried to the casement window.
It was just a month ago that he made the Italian painter’s acquaintance in a bar, got his invitation to his apartment to see his paintings, and then decided to copy the painter’s key after he told him he would be away in his old country for half a year.
René took less than three minutes to assemble the sniper rifle, and then set aside fifteen minutes to wait for his target while his high adrenaline level subsided. But the target did not show up until forty-three minutes later, and even when he exited the United Nations building, he did so with a crowd. On top of that, the man never stayed for more than a second or two in the crosshairs of René’s rifle scope, a development that caused his flow of adrenaline to rise even further.
Ruben Um Niobe, the energetic six-foot leader of “The Union of the Populations of the Cameroons (UPC)”, the civic-nationalist political party that morphed into the Cameroonian Underground Organization by taking up arms against France in French Cameroun following its ban by French authorities in 1955, appeared to be talking and gesturing to the five men and a lone woman around him with an air of confidence and a smile on his face that triggered a flow of bile up René’s throat. He swallowed it back and licked his lips.
René’s heart skipped a beat when the diplomats started walking with the French Camerounian away from the building. His cardiac turmoil was followed by an ache in his stiffened trigger finger as he focused his aim and waited for the moment to deliver the shot that would avenge the death of his brother. However, just as he was about to press the trigger, Ruben stopped, held the shoulder of one of the foreign diplomats, and then moved away. The unexpected movement made René gasp without intending to. Now, his target was almost completely hidden by the burly diplomat, a development that infuriated him even further, leaving his nerves more overwrought than before. The Frenchman bit his lip as he watched the other diplomats encircle Ruben. Then they walked with him to the waiting car. And then the car drove away.
Rage swept over René, making him to quiver, so that he buckled under the weight of his failure, slumped to the floor, and then rolled over. He hit his thighs with both fists, emitting as he did so a series of grunts that seemed to give a rhyme to the vocal manifestation of his tribulation. Then he leaned backwards on the wall and closed his eyes, muttering barely audible curses as he banged the back of his head on the barrier.
René Roccard’s lip movement stopped for a moment, followed by a deep frown, an unconscious facial movement that created a look of extreme rage on his face. Then without even opening his eyes, he nodded to himself several times as if acknowledging an inner voice. Yes, it was his inner voice all right. He would try again for the third time, and if the next attempt turned out to be unsuccessful too, then he would have to make the journey to French Cameroun and finish the job there.
René closed his eyes again and tried to shake off the haunting Monday, January 6, 1958 headline in the New York Times, but it kept imposing itself on his mind.
France Sends Troops to Crush Red-Led Uprising in Cameroons; Acts to Prevent New 'Algeria' in African Territory Where Rebels Burned 60 Villages.
Les idiots, les imbéciles!” he growled, paused for a moment with an expression of deep pain on his face, and then pulled his hair.
The rebellion in our Cameroun isn’t different from the one in Algeria. That’s why Marc is dead. He quivered in an inaudible voice, ruffled his hair, and then closed his eyes.
A moment of silence ensued before he buried his head in his hands and started weeping. He continued weeping as he started humming "La Complainte du Partisan" (The Complaint of the Partisan---"The Partisan"), and did not stop until he came to the end of the first stanza, when he growled the lyric “… I took my gun and vanished.”
René woke up the next morning feeling disheartened, but after recalling the song about the French Resistance against Nazi Germany, he sang it again all the way to the end as he took a shower and as he ate breakfast. In fact, when he arrived at work shortly after, he was feeling more solemn than sad. However, that emotion did not last for long because news from Paris reporting the return to power of General Charles De Gaulle reached the consulate hardly an hour after he got there. The afternoon report brought a genuine smile to his face for the first time that week.


                               **************

The month of May 1958 is remembered in the annals of French History as the month of the second and most important Algiers Putsch—an attempt to overthrow the reigning government in Paris that was launched from the capital of French Algeria.
This was after the French populace grew tired of governments that were plagued by recurrent cabinet crises that in turn increased the misgivings of the French Army and the French settlers in the colonies, especially in Algeria. The plotted revolt of these French soldiers was a culmination of years of political instability originating from the shortcomings of the parliamentary system of the French Fourth Republic, which saw twenty prime ministers govern France within a period of eleven years, the vast majority of them coming from parties on the left of the political spectrum.
Following years of chafing against the incompetence of different French governments to quell the rebellions in Algeria and French Cameroun, the army became convinced that even the current right-wing government of the German Alsace-born Pierre Eugène Jean Pflimlin was about to act out of political expediency and order another precipitated pullout from the territories, just like the previous center-left government of Pierre Mendès France did with French Indochina in 1954, thereby sacrificing French honor in the process.
That was why from the balconies in Algiers in Algeria and Yaoundé in French Cameroun, to the corridors of power in France itself, patriotic voices were heard disturbing the air, calling for the return to power of General Charles De Gaulle. The cry for the return of the towering French warrior and statesman to the political scene carried with it a fervor that felt like some sort of a religious zeal.
It was Charles De Gaulle who saved French honor during the four years of German occupation of France, but then surprised the nation by resigning from public office in 1946, decrying the weaknesses of the French Fourth Republic, its constitution and the parliamentary system of government. Now, he was vindicated.
Just like millions of discontented and despondent French citizens, René Roccard regarded the French legend as their only hope in rallying the French nation again. He was certain General Charles De Gaulle was the only person capable of giving a sense of direction to France’s relationship with its evolving territories and colonies, and with the rest of the changing world. But above all, René was convinced that France was entering a new era in its history, a phase that would allow patriots like him to accomplish their self-assigned missions for the fatherland and be acknowledged at the same time as French heroes who saved France from irrelevancy.



















 The night after the French consulate in New York granted his request to travel to France, René Roccard barely had enough hours of sleep to keep him alert the next day. With his anxiety fueled and kept high by his constant thoughts on French Cameroun, he had every reason to be anticipatory. There was much about the territory to keep abreast of—a lot to learn, personalities to know and strategies to devise.
He arrived in Paris that late spring without letting his friends, family and relatives know about it, and then reported the next day at the Ministry of Overseas territories for a meeting with the new minister. The appointment was set for Thursday.
René was in high spirits when he showed up at the former Hôtel Majestic in central Paris, once a massive luxury hotel that politicians decided to transform into a hub for diplomacy. He was even more effusive when a secretary ushered him into the minister’s office. But the meeting was a flop even before it ended or so, he concluded prematurely. The new minister’s partial grasp of the situation in French Cameroun left René infuriated to the point where he almost called the man a moron, a concern he thought of informing his superiors about.
A faint expression of suppressed rage at the lack of substance of the meeting could be seen on his face as he rose to leave. But then André Colin rose too and extended his hand to him. René hesitated for a moment before shaking it, musing at the fact that he stood a head taller than the minister. But then, André Colin made him smile for the first time that afternoon as he walked him to the door.
“I don’t think you know about this, but Monsieur Pierre Messmer is eager to meet you. In fact, he asked me to schedule a rendezvous with you for Tuesday next week, right here in my office.”
“Messmer?” he exclaimed, dimming his eyes suspiciously.
Oui, Roccard! Pierre Messmer himself.”
René smiled, shaking his head in acknowledgment. “I will be here next Thursday; that’s for sure. At what time is the rendezvous?”
The meeting was scheduled to take place at three o’clock that Tuesday. But René was at the imperial building half an hour early. He was eager to meet his former commander again. Their last encounter was during Pierre Messmer’s first year as the High Commissioner of French Cameroun. So, when five months ago, the new government acknowledged Pierre Messmer’s impeccable grasp of the developments in French Africa by promoting him to the strategic post of High Commissioner of French Equatorial Africa, René Roccard was not surprised at all about it. His former commander was the right person to talk to.
A secretary ushered him into the office a minute early. And there at the window was Pierre Messmer. André Colin was nowhere in sight.
“René, René Le formidable,” Pierre Messmer bellowed, opened his arms wide and approached René Roccard with a warm smile.
Mon Commandant,” René muttered with a smile spread across his face.
“Look at you. You haven’t changed much,” Pierre Messmer chuckled.
The two men had little to say to each other for the next couple of seconds as they clung to one another in a bear hug.
“I feel extremely honored by the fact that you set aside some of your precious time to see me. Especially with the busy schedule you have to keep up with,” René said, looking satisfied.
“What are you talking about? If I can’t make time for someone like you, then who else is out there for me to accommodate with my worries about France.”
“I guess there is much we need to talk about.”
“I am at your disposal. We have all the time in the world. Monsieur Colin made arrangements for some brandy to keep us going while we grapple with the problems haunting France.”
Magnifique! Cognac?”
Bien sûr que oui! Now, if my memory isn’t playing games with me, then I remember you as someone with a particular fondness for brandy. In fact, your taste buds for the drink were good back in the day. You might not have known about this, but you amazed me with your ability to distinguish the different qualities of brandy without blinking an eye.”
“What a drink!”
Excellent! Mon Dieu! You and I loved brandy back in the day! Huh! Brandy was so scarce back then in Indochina,” Pierre Messmer offered.
René grinned at the mention of Indochina. Like Pierre Messmer, he too was sent to Indochina right after the Second World War to help restore complete French control in the colony after the departure of the Japanese invaders, and to eliminate the influence of Ho Chi Minh’s Marxist Vietminh forces. That was his first posting to Asia and there were few distractions in the jungle to make Indochina interesting. That is until he developed an extreme fondness for oriental women and brandy. It was in Southeast Asia that he discovered his strong attraction for women with a high degree of pigmentation.
“Brandy is still my thing,” he said to Pierre Messmer with a smile.
René Roccard listened to Pierre Messmer as he small-talked. He never took his eyes off his former boss as he picked up two glasses from the open cabinet and poured them both a drink. Then Pierre Messmer handed him a glass.
Vive La France,” Pierre Messmer toasted.
Vive La France,” René repeated and clinked Pierre Messmer’s glass before bringing his drink to his lips.
“Well!”
Merci!” René responded after a good gulp, “C’est merveilleux!”
Certainement! It tastes better than the ones we had over there. You won’t believe it, but I experienced an unusual craving for brandy during those two months that I chaffed in Vietminh captivity.”
“I understand,” René said with a nod, locking eyes with Messmer’s in reaffirmation of their mutual trust.
“I know you understand because you also suffered the same indignity.”
“Five months,” René muttered and closed his eyes for a couple of seconds at the recollection.
“I take it you know what it means for you, for me and for our other compatriots who made it to glory in Paris with Parisians lining the streets cheering us for restoring their honor trampled upon by Hitler’s men. We went on to sweep through the rest of France achieving one victory after the other in battle buoyed by the spirit of Paris’s liberation. And the glory and vindication that came with chasing the Nazis all the way to Germany after liberating our land.”
Merveilleux!”
“And what happened a few years after our glorious ride to victory?”
“Well!”
“I am talking about the humiliation of finding ourselves in bamboo prisons controlled by swarthy dwarfish illiterates whose concept of war belongs to the dark ages. Hmm! And then we ended up losing Indochina to the savages after that because our politicians lacked the will to fight.”
“I understand.”
“I knew you would understand. We fought side by side in France, in Germany, and in Indochina. We returned home after those wars only to find France gripped by chaos. Yes, René! I took the diplomatic post to escape from the France I have always loved because I could no longer tolerate its squabbling politicians, especially those of the left.”
“I also did the same thing,” René interjected.
“Hmm! So you sought for peace of mind in America. Hmm! But it is obvious you never stopped worrying about our beloved France; you never stopped grappling with the challenges confronting this beautiful country.”
René Roccard nodded his head several times in acknowledgement. “Certainement!” he mumbled with half-closed eyes.
“René, Le Formidable! I’ll go ahead with the purpose of our meeting.”
Bien sûr!”
“When I learned of your request to go to French Cameroun, I said to myself— ‘Here is the man we need.’”
“I don’t want to recall the number of times I made that request.”
“René, René, René! Your kid brother was serving in French Cameroun! How much sacrifice could France demand from a single family at a given time?”
René shook his head but said nothing in reply.
“I am sorry about Marc.”
“He is dead and we have a job to do. Those bandits should not be allowed to succeed.”
“I am glad you are committed to the land your brother sacrificed his life for. The New France won’t be led to flee from French Cameroun or Algeria as the left-led France abandoned Indochina to Ho Chi Minh’s red bandits. Général Charles De Gaulle is back, and so too is our glory.”
“I like your language,” René said, sipped his brandy and licked his lips.
“You won’t believe it if I tell you that the first native we put there as prime minister wanted me to authorize the army to use Napalm on Um Nyobé’s people. He wanted us to ‘wipe the Bassa people out’, as he puts it.”
“André-Marie Mbida is a moron. His utterances against Um Nyobé and the UPC partisans the fellow is leading really make our campaign look bad.”
“Good you understand the liability we created. He certainly is a bad son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch for all I know. The Americans have a better way of phrasing it, don’t they?”
René nodded. “My experiences in Cameroun taught me that Mbida’s ethnic group is not fond of the Bassa people. So, you understand why I think getting rid of this Mbida guy was the right thing to do. All the same, we must not ostracize the Beti people in the process. They are a strategic asset in our control of that land.”
“You are right about the Beti factor. Andre-Marie Mbida is gone and now we have our prime minister there, someone who is a lot better to use in accomplishing our designs. If you ask me, getting rid of André-Marie Mbida was the only good thing Jean Ramadier did when he replaced me as the High Commissioner of French Cameroun.”
“The bastard! I heard he was planning to lift the ban on the UPC and make it legal again.”
“If Jean Ramadier had succeeded in doing that, it would have spelt an end to our project in the Central African region. He took us years back during his three-week tenure in office over there. Allowing the UPC to operate as a legal entity would mean allowing our enemies to take over French Cameroun. As a matter of fact, we found out shortly after the bastard got there that he was in very warm terms with Sekou Touré during the time that he served as the High Commissioner of Guinea. So you understand why we had to get him out of there without delay.”
“I never trusted our left-wing politicians. It is a mistrust that dates back to our days in the Resistance in France. And in a way, he is like his father. They have proven to be more committed to their socialist agendas than to the interest of France.”
“Like father like son!”
“Like father like son!” René affirmed.
Pierre Messmer thought for a moment, and then shook his head. “Apparently, the son is more to the left than the father. If you recall, Paul Ramadier ended his party’s alliance with the Communists while he was the Prime Minister of France in 1947.”
“You have a point there, Mon Commandant.
“As I said, pulling the rug under the Mbida fellow’s feet was the only good thing Jean Ramadier did, but implementing our long term plans for French Cameroun and the rest of Francophone Africa is a task we still have to accomplish.”
“How is Ahmadou Ahidjo doing?”
“Good you are versed with the fellow. So far, he has been fulfilling his purpose.”
“Good!”
“I am glad we are on the same page on so many things. Hmm, René! We are about to enter a new era in our relationship with the colonies and territories. They have a sense of the direction they want to go. But where they actually head to depends on how we want our future ties with those lands we adopted to look like.”
“It shouldn’t be in the direction Indochina took. The communists are roaming all over Vietnam today,” René said tersely.
“I agree with you, René. Général De Gaulle is of the same opinion. We are at the doorsteps of a new age in our history as we embark on a strategy to loosen our grips on our overseas backyard. We will relax our control, but we won’t let our colonies and territories go like the British did with theirs in Asia and Africa. Yes, the British are turning their backs as if it is of no consequence, even as their former colonies go about embracing the Soviet Union and Marxism. India and Ghana are with the East, Nasser hates the West and U Nu is about to deliver Burma into the arms of the Russian bear.”
“Our politicians must have copied the British policy by letting Indochina go the way it did,” René said with a sigh.
“I agree with you. We also risk the complete loss of our colonies and territories in Africa if we lose our nerves and allow France to be swept off its feet by the decolonization wave. It is a small wave now, but I see all the signs of a tidal wave developing there in the coming months and years if we lose French Cameroun and Algeria. We have vital interests in Africa, René. There is no way we can defend those strategic interests after the decolonization process unless we completely defeat the Algerian and the Kamerunian nationalists.”
“You are right,” René said with a nod, “I lived in America and learned something very important during my stay there. The heartland of capitalism thrives on interest. Wealth, power, and glory stem from the ability to procure, secure and defend your interests; and ultimate power lies with those who are most effective in guarding their interests and spheres of influence. We have a huge interest in Africa, and losing or maintaining it is our decision alone to make. That decision should not be based on righteousness but on the wisdom to accept the fact that we have a collective destiny with the francophone territories because we are their mentors.”
Pierre Messmer nodded, a slight smile corrupting the sides of his mouth. “I agree with you, René.”
“Through the scheme of things beyond the understanding of our mortal minds, France was given a responsibility to be involved in the destiny of peoples it managed to bring into the fold of humanity, into modern civilization as we all know it. Shying away from those lands now is an option that would only haunt us tomorrow.”
“René, René! You said it beautifully. I like your philosophy,” Pierre Messmer enthused and raised his hands in the air.
René nodded with a smile. “Merci, Mon Commandant!”
“I want you by my side in French Cameroun,” Pierre Messmer began, cracked his knuckles, and then continued, “I need someone who can direct the wind while I am away as my duties expand to French West Africa. I see a lot of political developments taking place in Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa by the end of the year. Général Charles De Gaulle, you, I and a host of other like-minded patriots think we should have the right order and the right Africans in place before we allow the colonies and territories there to become members of the United Nations Organization.”
“You are right.”
“Our purpose should be for the new France,” Pierre Messmer intoned and rested his hand on René’s shoulder.
René nodded. “I agree with you.”
“That’s why I think you have a strong shoulder to lean on,” Pierre Messmer said, dropped his hand and caressed his chin, “I see your focus is on French Cameroun. I cannot count the number of times I told the buffoons who were in power in Paris that the war in French Cameroun is winnable. I found it disheartening that few of the leftist sissies in the past governments actually believed me.”
“I understand your position. Believe me, I do.”
“I have devised a strategy,” Pierre Messmer said and emitted a light guttural sound, “In fact; I am looking forward to working with you and other like-minded patriots in perfecting and implementing this plan of action. Bear in mind that we are being presented with a very rare opportunity to practice all the theories of counter-revolutionary warfare that we devised in Vietnam.”
“How?” René asked without really meaning to.
“This is how it is going to work. We shall create pacification zones throughout our French Cameroun. And after doing that, we shall separate the civilian population there from the rebels in the bush. We shall relocate these civilians from their scattered villages and hamlets to roadside settlements in those pacification zones. The civilian population would be guarded by our troops and also by French Cameroonians who accept our rule. That’s how we shall alienate the guerrillas from their support base. The zones I am talking about shouldn’t be more than two percent of the territory of French Cameroun.”
“We must not lose again,” René whispered.
“I am choosing you for many reasons, but the most important one is your determination to see France win in French Cameroun. There is a divine scheme in our involvement in Africa. It goes beyond tradition, human comprehension, and national conscience. It is based on a belief, René; it is based on a belief that cannot accommodate doubts.”
“I agree with you, Mon Commandant!” René said, picked up the bottle of brandy and refilled their glasses, “Vive La France,” he toasted, making it sound like a battle cry.
Vive La France,” Pierre Messmer echoed, emptied his glass of drink, and then started humming Anna Marly’s LE CHANT DES PARTISANS---Chant de la Libération (THE SONG OF THE PARTISANS --- Song of the Liberation), which was the most popular song of the Free French and the French Resistance during the Second World War. René joined him as they articulated the lyrics:

Le vol noir des corbeaux                The dark flight of the crows      
Sur nos plaines?                             Over our plains?
Ami, entends-tu                               Mate, do you hear
Les cris sourds du pays                  The muffled clamour
Qu'on enchaîne?                             Of enchained countries?          
Ohé! partisans,                               Hey, partisans,
Ouvriers et paysans,                       Workers and peasants     
C'est l'alarme!                                This is the signal
Ce soir l'ennemi                              Tonight the enemy
Connaîtra le prix du sang               Will know the price of blood              
Et des larmes!                                 And tears...

Montez de la mine,                        Join the sabotage,
Descendez des collines,                 Get off the hills,      
Camarades!                                   Comrades!
Sortez de la paille                         Get out of the straw
Les fusils, la mitraille,                   The rifles, the grape-shot,    
Les grenades...                               The Grenades…
Ohé! les tueurs,                              Hey, killers,
A la balle et au couteau,                With a bullet or by knife,             
Tuez vite!                                        Kill swiftly!
Ohé! saboteur,                                Hey, saboteur,
Attention à ton fardeau:                 Pay attention to your burden:            
Dynamite!                                       Dynamite!

C'est nous qui brisons                     It's us who are smashing
Les barreaux des prisons                The prison bars               
Pour nos frères,                              For our brothers,
La haine à nos trousses,                  The hatred at our heels,         
Et la faim qui nous pousse,             And the hunger that drives us,             
La misère...                                     The misery…
Il y a des pays                                 There are countries
Ou les gens au creux de lits              Where people deep in their beds,            
Font des rêves;                                Weave dreams;
Ici, nous, vois-tu,                             Here, we, you see, 
Nous on marche et nous on tue,      We march, We kill,                      
Nous on crève.                                 We die.

Ici chacun sait                                Here everyone knows
Ce qu'il veut, ce qui'il fait              What he wants, what he does
Quand il passe...                            When it takes place… 
Ami, si tu tombes                           Mate, if you go down,
Un ami sort de l'ombre                  A mate out of the shadows,             
A ta place.                                      Takes your place.
Demain du sang noir                     Tomorrow black blood        
Séchera au grand soleil                 Will be drying under the sun,           
Sur les routes.                                On the roads,
Sifflez, compagnons,                       Whistle, companions,        
Dans la nuit la Liberté                   At night, freedom           
Nous écoute...                                 Is listening to us…


Merveilleux!” René said at the end of the song and shook his head repeatedly, “It inspired us in getting our honor back from the Germans.”
Pierre Messmer nodded too, his hand tightening around his glass, straining the muscles. “They are beginning to call themselves Maquis, just like our rural guerrilla bands of French Resistance fighters during the German occupation of France.”
“Merde!” René growled.
Pierre Messmer nodded, but did not utter a word for a moment.
René exited the imperial building that evening with a smile on his face. From the time he left the United States of America right up to the moment he showed up for the meeting, he had been wondering whether the Overseas and Defense Ministries would transfer him to fight in French Cameroun. And just when he was becoming desperate about it, Pierre Messmer showed up and offered him a high-profile assignment in the United Nations Trust territory. He had not expected things to work out So, well.
















Even though Clement Coulther slept through most of the transatlantic flight to Paris, he was half-awake just seconds before the air hostess announced that the plane was about to land. Clement opened his eyes, yawned and stretched his body. At least, I feel better now, he thought. He sat up in a lackluster manner, turned around, and then smiled at the elderly English lady by his side.
"You have slept very well. Do you feel refreshed?" she said and smiled back.
“I feel great! I am glad I’m up just in time.”
“Did you say just in time?”
“Uh-huh!”
“Oh, you mean for the landing?”
“Yes, Mrs. Moore. I can’t think of a sight better than a view of Paris from the air.”
“It is marvelous. And call me Barbara.”
Clement nodded. “It certainly is marvelous. All the more reason why I wouldn’t miss the opportunity of catching one for the sake of the best treasures in this world,” he muttered and smiled wider, but with a mischievous glint in his eyes that was aimed at an approaching flight attendant, “Even for that woman who could break my heart,” he added in a conspiratorial whisper.
“Hasn’t it been broken already?”
“Huh! Never! What are you talking about?”
“I heard you mutter her name in your sleep.”
“Really! Who?”
Silence reigned between the two for a moment before the English lady said in a forthcoming tone, “You actually repeated her name a couple of times. It could have been Helen or Elaine or something similar.”
“What else did I say besides a name?”
“I am hazy about it, but this one stuck out,” she said with a flush, and then put her hand over her mouth.
“It is okay, Mrs. Moore! Go ahead and tell me?” he urged with a smile.
“You said her name and something like ‘lost treasure’ afterwards. There were other things in-between.”
“Lost treasure?”
“Uh-huh! There was more.”
“What else did I say?”
“Did you kiss and embrace others in front of her?”
“Damn!”
“You must be in love with her.”
“Uh-huh!” Clement said and sighed, “I still think of her even as I kiss and embrace other women. Perhaps that’s what I was trying to say in my sleep.”
“I am sorry.”
“Huh!” Clement grunted, turned his face away from the old lady and frowned.
“Forgive me for poking my nose. I couldn’t help listening.”
He nodded but did not turn around to face her again. Instead, he dropped back in his seat and shut his eyes. “I was tired. I was truly tired,” he said, more to himself than to the lady by his side.
Clement placed the source of his listlessness with the disorientation that started haunting him a couple of months ago. It was sapping him of energy and the will to carry on with life like he was doing before. But he was determined to overcome that—first by getting over the bitterness of his divorce with Helen, and then by dispelling the haunting memory of the loss of his son.
Even though some of his friends marveled at his newfound freedom and thought he had so much to look forward to, he alone knew the turmoil in his soul. The return to a life of full time bachelorhood quickly lost its appeal as he became a jaded womanizer who even feared to be there for the woman expecting his child. His image in that regard was not helped by the parties, nightclubs and one-night stands that followed his divorce. That is, until the phone call less than forty-eight hours ago sent him packing his bags for Paris.
“See how beautiful Paris looks from above,” he mumbled with a darting glance at his neighbor.
“I love it,” she replied with a warm smile.
“I can’t wait to walk its streets,” he half-whispered, fixing his eyes again on the city they were wafting over.
The lady said something in reply, but Clement did not pay attention to her words. His mind had drifted again, back to a yesterday that held so many fun memories.

The last head-wrecking drama began at a party organized by his friend Peter Miller in a suburb in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He had consumed more than his fair share of drinks; he had danced with more blondes, brunettes, and redheads than he could care to remember; and he had not closed his eyes long enough afterwards, thanks to the effort of an energetic twenty-three-year old that made him doubt his vigor for the first time.
Fate appeared to have been on his side the next morning when his host told him that Jason Montgomery, his pal from the News Syndicate, wanted him on the phone.
“Tell him I will call back,” he had responded, and then went about nursing his hangover with the blonde nibbling his ear.
Peter Miller had returned a couple of minutes after with a smile on his face.
“Jason said you will like this one. The assignment involves Paris.”
“What the hell,” he had wheezed.
“He said it has something to do with Charles De Gaulle and ‘The French Rooster’.”
“Yeah!” he had added and continued kissing the blonde’s hand in a disinterested manner.
“He said ‘The French Rooster’ has already left America and returned to Paris.”
He had thought about that last piece of information for a moment, and then sat up abruptly. The blonde was startled when he tossed her hand off his thigh as if she were an itchy blanket, and then jumped out of bed and hurried to the phone.
Jason had to be right. Something was brewing in France. Charles De Gaulle, the French hero who saved France’s honor in the Second World War by championing French resistance against German occupation of the country and by leading the liberation of Paris; Charles De Gaulle the statesman who distinguished himself as France’s greatest post-war hope, but then shocked the world in 1946 by quitting the French political scene, was back in politics as the new Prime Minister of France. Also, the fact that René Roccard, alias “The French Rooster”, hurriedly packed his bag and returned home, buttressed Clement’s suspicions even further that monumental developments were afoot in France and its overseas possessions.
The New York Times needed a correspondent in the field right away, and Clement’s bosses thought he might want to do the job.
Of course, he wanted to do the job. Paris happened to be the one place on earth that never failed to pull him from the down side of life into making a fresh start, like a phoenix rising from its funeral pyre. He had made his debut there as a journalist working for the Air Force magazine, using the print media to report the excesses of the Free French Forces against the former supporters of Marshall Petain and his Vichy regime whom they accused of collaborating with the German military during the years that Nazi Germany occupied France.
He thought it was ironic that the first time he met René Roccard was on his first day in Paris. The French capital became his favorite city in Europe and inspired him to return home and finish his journalism program at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
The drive to New York was a long one, but he stopped only twice to relieve his bladder and get something to eat and to drink. Coffee and Coca Cola kept him awake throughout the drive and sandwiches did a great job of keeping his digestive juices at bay. He reported upon arrival at the New York Times building on 42nd Street when dusk was on the horizon. The process went faster than anticipated. He even signed his contract with a smile on his face, and then picked up his plane ticket and left the building.

Clement looked out of the airplane window and spotted the shining River Seine snaking its way through the city. His eye lids narrowed a little as he marveled at the rows upon rows of classic buildings that swept past. The beckoning Palace of Versailles and its beautiful fountains rolled from his view to reveal moments later the imposing Eiffel tower.
He took a deep breath as he prepared to disembark.
“What else do you have in there,” the customs officer asked pointedly, never taking his gaze off Coulther’s eyes as he rested a hand on his luggage.
“Nothing! Nothing to spoil my first night in Paris in two years and nothing to stop me from having a bite of one of your famous Parisian croissants,” he beamed.
The official let Clement through without a fuss. It was easy to find a taxi to the center of the city, so that he was en-route to the St Petersburg hotel hardly fifteen minutes after going through inspection. Even though he felt tired as he leaned back in his seat and avoided a conversation with the driver, he could not shake off his excitement.
He often wondered why the city stirred his instincts, accelerated his impulses and warmed his blood so much, filling him with ideas and memories of a past he seemed to love and hate. Yet, the answer was simple. Paris epitomized the essence of beauty, freedom, liberty and hope. Paris was the place that provided him with so many answers to some of life’s deep questions since the first day he walked its streets following the liberation of the city in August 1944. It was in the French capital that he first unleashed his passion for publishing and broadcasting the war, first as an amateur military journalist and later as a professional who covered Europe, Asia and Africa—reporting on war, terrorism, revolution, uprisings, and coups. The city also made it possible for him to meet all sorts of fanciful women.
The exhausted Clement heaved a sigh of relief when the taxi stopped in front of the hotel. He stepped out of the car, stretched his body, and then pulled out his wallet and paid the fare. The driver helped him to take out his luggage but did not follow him inside.
He felt a pleasing sense of change when he finally settled into the comfort of his hotel room. There was so much to do, so many people to get back in touch with and so many places to visit. But first, he needed water on his body.
The shower had its desired effect. It calmed him down. Clement walked out of the bathroom and flung his tired body onto the bed. He dozed off right away and did not wake up until it was already nightfall.
Clement left the hotel at 19:53 hours for the Cafe Zinc district and chose to settle in Jacques Melac’s famous Bistrot Melac. To some of the diners there, he looked like the average American exploring the city’s cuisine. He ordered a Southern French menu with the air of confidence of someone who knew exactly what he was leaving out. He even gave an acknowledging nod when the waiter told him that it came from Jacques Melac’s native Aveyron. Clement ate quietly, absorbing everything around him—from the staff to the customers and even the scenes outside. A glass of wine from Jacques Melac’s stockade off Rue de Charonne spurred him on his feet again.
Clement intended his next stop to be Grand Boulevards where he sang a ballad at a popular bar during his previous visit to Paris, but he found himself at Boulevard des Italiens instead. He wanted to walk a little, put his subconscious mind to work for tomorrow and the days after because he would have to get on René Roccard’s trail, get into the recess of plots by men of the former Free French Movement who were bent on creating the new French Republic. He was determined to be on top in reporting Europe’s next big story.
He acted out of an impulse and made a left turn into Rue Louis Le Grand. The street, though quiet and less crowded than Boulevard des Italiens, was picturesque in its own right.
Less than a hundred yards of walking brought him a couple feet away from the door to the apartment of Emilie Villiers, his ex-Franco-Cambodian girlfriend. He stopped for a moment but then steeled himself from knocking on it. His recollection of their first encounter on her twenty-fourth birthday made him wince a little. Emilie found the door into his life at a time that she was still reeling from the stigma of being the former mistress of a Vichy minister and for having had an affair with a German soldier.
He smiled without intending to as he recalled some of the games they played with each other’s hearts. His affair with Emilie had boosted her self-esteem to overcome her humiliation, but he didn’t think he had much of a future with a woman who drank champagne almost every day, glowed in the presence of the rich and the famous, and who seemed to enjoy her frequent mood swings. All the same, he could not stop himself from wondering about her as he walked past her door, six years after he slipped out of her life, and five years after her childhood friend Marie Rocheteau updated him on her unstable life.
A half-oriental herself, Marie suffered a similar humiliation when a Parisian mob shaved her head and paraded her half-naked in the streets with other women accused of sleeping with German soldiers. Marie’s older full-blooded Vietnamese half-sister, Christelle Nguyen was dating René Roccard back in 1953.
Clement was about to turn right at the next intersection onto Place D’Opera when a figure jumped in front of him, brandishing a knife.
Ton portefeuille...ton wallet...Vites, vites, vites,” the intruder said rapidly and approached Clement with a menacing look on his face.
Clement disarmed him even before he said the last words. Quick karate kicks knocked the knife from the mugger’s right hand to the point where the man had no idea of what was coming when Clement twisted his arm hard and flipped him crashing down on the cobble stones.
“Watch out who you run into,” Clement warned as he kicked the miserable-looking fellow repeatedly in the abdomen, forcing the guy to curl over. Then he spat on the groaning man, turned around and started walking away without even looking back, but conscious of the fact that the mugger got up and ran away in the opposite direction.
Clement felt irked by the incident. He figured me out as a foreigner, probably because of this Levi jeans and flannel shirt. Hmm, I need new clothes tomorrow to fit into the Parisian crowd, he thought.
But his attacker never imagined he was confronting a decorated ex-soldier and a winner of black belts in judo and Isshin-ryū karate.
With the surge of adrenaline subsiding, Clement sank gradually into a pensive mood, unconscious of the reduced pace of his strides. He stopped suddenly in front of the gigantic Second Empire Style Paris Opera building for no apparent reason, and then shook his head repeatedly like someone pondering a puzzling phenomenon. His countenance changed moments after as he peered at the building with an enigmatic expression on his face. The structure always seemed to be revealing something new and exciting each time he visited.
The avid brightness of his eyes made it plain that he was seeking a deeper meaning in the green cupola and the winged groups of sculptured figures. What did the architects and builders have in mind when they created them? He wondered.
“Exultation, exaltation, uplifting flight of the spirit to the highest pinnacles of joy and happiness?” he mumbled to himself.
Clement stuck his hands deep into his pockets but did not take his eyes off the building, oblivious to those by his side or those walking past, as he sank into his memories. It was in this building that he watched his first opera and fell in love with Charlotte Aglionby, one of the opera’s divas who opened his eyes to the world of classical music and made him appreciate French composer Georges Bizet’s opera “Carmen” and the hedonistic “La Traviata” by his Italian counterpart Giuseppe Verdi to the level of a connoisseur. A rueful smile caressed his lips as he dwelled on his past with Charlotte.
Charlotte Aglionby, the vivacious diva who strove to live her life like Violetta Valery, the heroine in the opera “La Traviata”. She must have fancied him to be her eternally loyal and understanding lover like Alberto, Violetta’s admirer, because she brought more men into her life than he could stomach, and made him weep several times in jealousy until the day he almost choked the life out of her in a brief moment of insanity that never failed to leave him with a residue of bitterness and rue each time he recalled it. The act had left him quivering in remorse as he watched her get up from the floor, stagger to the sink and drink a glass of water still holding her throat and gasping for breath. She had laughed at him afterwards, taunting him for not being as brave as Othello and for failing so miserably in sending her to her grave.
“You are my damnation, bitch, but I love you,” he had told her.
“I love you too, Clement,” she had cooed, pronouncing his name in that sweet French manner that he liked so much.
He had avoided her kiss that night, left her home without looking back, and then asked the next day to go back home to America. Hardly a month after he returned home, he met Helen Alston, the southern belle, and convinced himself shortly after that he could become a gentleman after all. Still, the memory of Charlotte’s voice producing melodious sounds of Brindisi—The Drinking Song, from “La Traviata”—clouded his mind.
The rueful expression on Clement’s face turned into a reflective smile of sweet reminiscences as he started singing “Brindisi” with closed lips, not articulating the words until he got to the second stanza.

‘Let us drink from the goblets of joy………
…In life everything is folly which does not bring pleasure.
...Life is nothing but pleasure, as long as one is not in love.
...That’s my fate...
Be happy... wine and song and laughter beautify the night;
let the new day find us in this paradise.

Clement took a deep look at the building, cocked his head, turned around and started walking away—destination Le Cafe Rive Droite where he would find someone to put him on René Roccard’s trail, drink some nice French wine, sing a little and find a woman for the night that would be a song for his ears.






















The sun seemed to have cast a warm spell on Paris that day, bringing out the brilliance of the city’s magnificent structures in ways that confirmed the city’s place as the most beautiful city in the world.  In fact, it also enlivened Clement Coulther with its heat, as well as stirred the zest of life in the bosom of Parisians. Clement wanted to make it the day to close in on René Roccard after an exhausting time getting on the path of his trail, a task that began with the mutual contacts they once shared. The prospects of finding the French enigma started looking bright again only after he got in touch with Marie Rocheteau the day before. Marie did not know Christelle Nguyen’s new address, but she knew where her friend lived. She helped him to find Christelle’s friend that morning so that he finally closed in on René.
Clement was surprised to find a large and boisterous crowd carousing in Bar Chantellier that night when he walked in. Jokes, laughter, and shouting mingled in the air, giving the place a liveliness that he liked in an instant. However, he was quick to observe that not all the customers in the joint were affected by the merry atmosphere. The English tourists who made the majority in the crowd were upbeat, but most of the French customers there looked like they did not welcome their rowdiness.
Clement spotted René at the far end of the bar, but he did not approach him right away. Instead, he walked up to the counter and ordered a glass of wine, sharing words and smiles with some of the English revelers while he kept an eye on René. He observed a waiter bring René a plate of a hero sandwich and even thought of ordering one for himself, but changed his mind when the bartender failed to respond to his first call. However, because of the distraction, he almost missed seeing another waiter refill the Frenchman’s glass with red wine had he not turned around again just in time to see the action.
“Wondering about that bloke over there?” one of the Englishmen with a high accent muttered, regarded Clement intensely for a moment, and then fixed his eyes on René before turning around again to Clement.
“He aroused my curiosity. I mean, sitting there alone as if nothing is going on around him.”
The English guy chortled for a moment, and then cleared his throat. "Won’t have believed it had I not seen the whole thing with my own eyes. One of my friends invited him to join us, but the guy made it known in no uncertain terms that he prefers to be alone,” the English guy said, shrugged, and then extended a hand and added, “My name is Jerry, Jerry Parker.”
He shook it. “I pass around as Clement Coulther. So what brings you guys here?”
“Huh! Nothing in particular.”
“I see quite a jovial atmosphere around me.”
“Hah! You can tell from our language that we are nothing but a bunch of old vets who wore down their boots while treading the beaches, mud paths and streets of the mainland during the last days of the war. One of my pals came up with this brilliant idea that we take a tour of the continent, get to appreciate these countries in peace time, relax and have a fun time. And as you can see, we all went for it.”
“I can see what you mean. I observed your friend over there guzzling beer as if he is in a contest.”
“Nah! Can’t say that much,” Jerry said and chortled, “Blimey! Todd is a fine lad, but his binge drinking is something I sometimes find worrisome. The guy tends to spoil for a fight whenever he compromises his sobriety. I won’t say he has reached that level already.”
“Spoils for a fight all the time?”
“Often, I would say. But not all the time.”
“Just out of curiosity, you know! You guys are in wine country, yet you carry on drinking beer as if you don’t want to discover anything new about the traditional French alcohol.”
“I am drinking wine,” Jerry said and raised his half-empty glass.
“I know. I mean your buddies.”
Clement and Jerry carried on with their conversation as low-pitched and high-pitched voices mingled in the air. Clement had to bend backwards several times to catch a glimpse of René who after finishing his sandwich, would look at his watch every now and then like someone expecting a visitor.
Todd attracted Clement’s attention again when he held his bottle of beer above his six-foot-two frame and roared, “To show my gratitude to you dear English gentlemen for providing me with such a wonderful company, I am making an offer to pay for one round of drinks for our thirsty throats. Breakfast will be at my expense too…but …” Todd stopped in mid-sentence and stared wide-eyed in the direction of the main entrance.
A wondering expression crossed Clement’s face as he tried to figure out the cause of Todd’s sudden silence. He was not alone in finding Todd’s unexpected muteness to be something strange. However, he completely understood what was going on when he found the object of his fixation.
An oriental lady in her mid or late thirties, whose beauty would have made her the perfect image of the princess in Turandot, was at the door, looking around the place wonderingly. It was Christelle. Aging appeared to have made her even more beautiful. She was trendy in her dressing too—spotting a silhouette with a pyramidal trapeze outline crossed high with wide sashes, narrow strips, drawstrings and slanted high-to-low lines.
Her face alighted when she spotted the person she was looking for. Clement followed her with his eyes as she picked her way through the tables and approached the seated René. Then a figured hurried in her way. Clement held his breath when Todd intercepted her, positioning himself between her and René’s table.
“Mademoiselle, Mademoiselle, please honor my invitation and join us over there. I might be known for coming across as a blabbering fool, but I have great respect for beauty and sophistication. In fact, I even make it a point of saying So, whenever I see a woman with those qualities,” he said and bowed.
The confused Christelle opened her mouth to say something, but the words couldn’t come out. All she did was shake her head no.
“I don’t mean any harm,” Todd said and offered her his hand.
“The lady doesn’t want to be with you,” René said and got up.
“Jesus Christ, Todd again!” Clement heard Jerry mutter under his breath, as he put his drink down on the counter.
Clement looked at Jerry for a moment, and then turned around again just in time to see Todd shove René aside. It did not have much of an effect, but René staggered backward a little, knocking down some chairs in the process. He quickly steadied himself on his feet again, advanced at lightning speed and aimed a jab at Todd that sent him sprawling to the floor. Christelle screamed and backed away.
“No! God dam it! She is his woman,” Clement shouted at the top of his voice as five of the revelers jumped to their feet and approached René menacingly.
Clement made it to the scene a moment too late after one of the men lunged at René’s waist, crashing with him to the floor while another kicked him on the back. Jerry was shouting now, ordering his buddies to cut the fighting, holding the other two who were trying to surge forward to join in the melee while the fifth helped Todd up to his feet. Clement forced himself in front of the kicker, urging him to stop.
Everything seemed so normal a quarter of an hour after Christelle walked in, making it hard to tell that a drunken brawl took place in the bar that night. Jerry even jokingly intoned that the fight was so foolish that he would be ashamed the moment he moved his lips to tell his sons about it. Aren’t we all former soldiers who not long ago prided ourselves as comrades in arms fighting Nazi Germany in a war to build a new Europe? So why fight one another when our politicians with a reputation for squabbling are making the modest effort to create the structures of a European community, Jerry pointed out.
“Because of a dame?” one of the guys who didn’t get involved in the altercation shouted.
“An oriental dame to be precise,” the guy next to him said in a monotone.
“And a beautiful one at that,” Todd added in a raucous voice.
René smiled, smoothened Christelle’s hair, and then looked at his watch. “I must leave you guys now,” he said in English, got up and shook Todd’s hand, “I am sorry for knocking you down.”
“It is okay man. Didn’t know the dame was here to see you. You are lucky, pal!” Todd said with genuine admiration in his voice.
The war vets exchanged more pleasantries before René bade them goodbye, and then walked out of the bar. Clement joined him before he stepped on the street.
“I didn’t offer my special thanks to you for coming to my rescue,” René said.
“No problem. I did what I had to do.”
“I received a surprise phone call from my sister today. She told me Clement has been looking for you.”
D’accord!” René intoned with dimmed eyes, indicating that she could go ahead with her account.
“I told her you are about to leave for French Cameroun,” Christelle blurted out with a ring of excitement in her voice.
René plastered her with a hard look, and then turned to Clement again. “What are you here for, Clement?”
“I had this strange idea that you could feed me with some news about the political developments in France from the day your hero General Charles De Gaulle returned to active politics.”
“Is this one of your little games again?”
“What exactly do you mean?”
“I don’t like your reputation, Clement. You have a nose for smelling trouble, but your mind is unreliable and you have a mouth for reporting things the wrong way. You never seem to get it. The great powers have interests to defend, obligations to fulfill. The responsibility for humanity’s survival rests on their shoulders. Your journalism or reporting fails to recognize that fact.”
“I beg we differ on that.”
“What do you want, clement?”
“I am chasing the news, that’s all.”
“Then you are in the wrong place.”
“You are news, René. Wherever you go to, whatever you put your foot on, whatever you stretch your arms at or whatever you hold becomes news. What are you aiming at, René?”
“You got all the news you want here, Clement. We are back. You will find enough news in France to keep you busy for the next decade. The Gaullists are back in Paris.”
“You put it perfectly, René!”
“What is perfect about it?”
“I have a trail to follow.”
“What trail?”
“You are the trail, René. You will lead me to all the good stories in France.”
“Hah, hah…hah, hah, hah!” René chortled, “France isn’t where the action is, Clement. Go to Algeria. Go to Africa.”
“You can say that only if you are going there yourself. Is that what you really plan to do?”
René Roccard was quiet for a moment. “I don’t need you breathing down my neck again. France is sure where your buddies need you.”
“Tell me about it.”
“You Americans have no taste for news from places you had no clue existed in this world.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Leave me alone, Clement!”
“Huh, René! I am glad I returned to France.”
“Stay away from me.”
“I am your friend, René. You make the news, I report it. Our symbiosis is perfect for everyone. So there is no point threatening your friend here.”
“You heard me,” René gritted, glared at Clement for a moment, and then turned to Christelle. “Let’s go,” He beckoned her and started walking away.
Christelle wrapped her right arm around her lover’s, looked back fleetingly at Clement, and then batted her eyelids as if to say ‘he is like that’. In fact, she had come to perceive the world as a place where men fought to make a point while having peace in mind as their ultimate goal.
Clement Coulther smiled back as he watched the pair fade away into the Parisian night walking arm-in-arm. He wondered at the back of his mind what he could do next. He didn’t feel like rejoining the carousers in the bar, and he didn’t have the urge anymore to get company for the night. Just then the thought of Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train” crossed his mind and he winced with half closed eyes. It had been a while since he last heard the song; it was years probably―five or six at least.  He started humming the lyrics softly as he stretched his arm for an approaching taxi. But even as he tried to be upbeat during the ride home, the revelation Christelle made about René’s intention to go to French Cameroun and René’s discomfort about it lurked at the back of his mind as a puzzle he could not shake off.









It was a half-moon night, dark enough to hide a lot in the forest, but light enough to distinguish the outlines of everything that it cast a shadow over. Crouched behind two rocks with a little gap between them was Clement Coulther. He smiled as he peered at the boy dancing around the camp fire, his arms stretched out like a glider. Clement had to catch his breath at the boy’s remarkable agility when he leapt about five feet high in the air. He even stopped himself from running out to give a helping hand when the boy somersaulted over the fire. Then the kid turned around and looked in his direction.
“The face; there is something about the face; I know that face. Michel Villepin?” Clement wondered.
The flashback took him to Northern France five years ago, to a Bretagne village where he had to step in on behalf of the boy being chased by a bunch of kids who kept chanting Fils d’un Boche (Son of a Boche)—a derogatory French term for a German soldier. He had taken the boy home to his grandmother Solange Villepin and visited them a couple of times afterwards. He even met the boy’s French mother Marie-Blanche Villepin the third time he went there. She was visiting from Nantes where she worked at a garment factory. Perhaps he would have loved to maintain that level of communication with the family had Michel Villepin not asked him to become his father right there in the presence of his grandmother and mother. The women had nodded in acceptance. When he promised the family that he would think it over before making a decision, he knew they would be getting nothing more than his financial support for Michel’s education. And that’s what they got. He wasn’t prepared at the time to become a father figure to the boy.
A sudden flash of lightning gave a moment of brightness to the forest, revealing a silhouette figure brandishing a sword behind a tree half a distance away to the left, between Michel and Clement. Michel certainly saw the figure too because he started running away. The man got on his heels, prompting Clement to emerge from his hideout in hot pursuit of them.
Michel was running frantically now. He tripped twice but got up quickly and was on his heels again, running like someone being chased by the devil. Another flash of lightning caught Michel just as he looked back at his pursuer. An expression of dread on his face turned into a sweet enigmatic smile, and then he was Michel no more. It was his son Jason Coulther—slightly bigger and looking like a ten-year-old.
“No, no…no, no―” Clement screamed.
His screams seemed to have alerted the pursuer who became relentless in his chase—jumping over brushes, fallen trees and a log. Clement continued screaming as he ran after the two at a pace that seemed unreal. But they too were running in a ghost-like manner, a point he made a mental of when another flash of lightning revealed the face of the pursuer. It was René Roccard.
“No, René. Not my son…Never my son—” he cried, tripped and fell. He got up to his feet again in an instant only to find that René was holding his son’s outstretched hand, with Jason tipped over a cliff and with the tip of René’s sword on the boy’s throat.
Clement calculated right away that René held the aces. He could let go of Jason’s hand and his son would find himself in a free fall down the cliff or he could make Jason’s death less painful by sticking the weapon into his throat.
“Please, René…please, René,” Clement pleaded in a helpless manner but with an underlying determination to save his son.
“I warned you, Clement. Stay away from me. He is not your son.”
“He is my son. I won’t let you take him away from me again.”
“Stay away, I am warning you for the last time.”
“You won’t dare do it, René. I will chase you to hell and make you pay for any further harm you do to my family.”
“To hell we go then. Take a dive, Clement. He is going to hell and you alone can save him,” René said and let go of the boy’s hand.
“Jason, no…no, Jason…, Jason, Jason, Jason!” Clement screamed and jumped down the cliff to rescue his son. But he couldn’t reach the boy whose faced changed from Jason’s to Michel's, and then to that of an oriental boy and finally to an African kid’s.


Clement was still screaming when Lisa Muriel, his new girlfriend, shook him awake. He continued whimpering his son’s name minutes after, as he sat propped up in bed.
“You just had a bad dream,” Lisa offered.
“It is okay Lisa. It could be more than a dream. Oh, it is a nightmare I have been trying to run away from all my life. Don’t worry. I will take care of it.”
Lisa sensed right away that he did not want to talk about it. She too did not want to dwell on it because she needed some more hours of sleep before dawn to keep her alert at work the next day.
Bonne nuit, Mon Chéri,” she whispered and dropped her head back on the pillow.”
“Goodnight, Darling Girl. Sleep well. And don’t bother to wake me up in the morning.”
Clement waited until Lisa was snoring before he got out of bed and walked up to the window. He draped the blind a little and rested his eyes on the crimson night. His nightmares had started after his return from Vietnam. It always left him tired, but he had never felt so tired of life before like he was feeling now. Helen, his ex-wife, had promised him damnation for failing to be there for her and Jason.
“A curse? What is the penance?” he whispered helplessly and slumped to the floor like a man indifferent to the use of his legs.
And truly he was tired in spirit, wearied like never before by a southern belle who told him at the start of their relationship that she loved him for his ruggedness, natural soul, and indefatigable spirit.
He had fallen in love with Helen Alston the first time he laid eyes on her, professed his love like a babbling fool, and then led her to the altar and made her his wife a quarter of a year into their relationship, much to the amazement of his family members and friends.
“How did she settle Clement down?” he too had asked himself afterwards.
But Helen Alston had settled him down all right. She somehow managed to tame the maverick soldier in his blood, chiseled a courteous journalist out of the daredevil he was reputed to be, and made him understand that life was not only about keeping others abreast of the miseries of this world. But above all, she made him the father of a beautiful baby boy; and she helped him become a writer who created wonderful characters, weaved fantastic plots and wrote fast-paced stories that made readers smile and be endeared to his name in the process. He became stable; he became famous as a writer, but he was restless all the same.
Helen wanted him around all the time. And he hovered around her as a devoted husband was expected to do until he volunteered to cover the September 1957 crisis in Little Rock, Arkansas. That was the forerunner to their problems. Helen didn’t want him to go, but he went there despite her emotional appeals.
History was being made in Little Rock, he wrote for the attention of Americans and the rest of the world. The American establishment was finally making the effort to integrate its Negro minority by forcing a white school to comply with judiciary decisions to admit Negro students.
Only, he did not write about his encounters in Little Rock with Vera Hilton, his high school crush who suddenly appeared in his life twenty years after. Vera never left his memory as the girl who made his blood hot in the tenth grade. She was the first girl he kissed. So, when she left New Jersey with her parents on a federal assignment to Alaska hardly a year after they met, the separation almost tore his heart apart, to the point where it took him another year to feel like he was in love again.
Vera had always been his type—fire with fire that led to explosions and explosions until they became oblivious to the open nature of their affair. Or perhaps they just didn’t care. She was working for the federal government on a mission to Little Rock to enforce Washington’s decision in the school debacle and he was working for the biggest media company in the country. She claimed she was in the process of seeking a divorce from her husband while he was trying to find accommodation with his stifling wife. The lovers even consoled themselves that they were doing good complementing one another in their tasks.
But then, he grew tired of the Little Rock story when it dragged on for too long and became less sensational. He sought for some space away from the wearying Vera and looked back to the gentle life he had known with his wife. However, he never reckoned that a yesterday missed can never be found even in a fine tomorrow.
He started feeling restless again hardly a month after he returned home to Philadelphia. Something was tearing him apart that he could not figure out. So, when his boss asked him if he would like to report on the increasing American military involvement in Vietnam, he jumped at the opportunity without thinking twice about it. Helen didn’t like it, but she there was nothing she could do to stop him. Nobody could stop him.
He wondered what he was doing again in South Vietnam right after he got there. However, that discomfiture did not last for up to a month as the maverick in his soul resurfaced and he was back in the jungle, away from civilization as most of his American compatriots knew it, and into a hell that was close to Dante’s Inferno.
“We got ourselves into one big hole that has quicksand underneath,” were his words to a French journalist after a three-week stint in the jungle with American Special Forces.
He admitted to himself not long afterwards that he too didn’t know he was in a bigger hole when he accompanied American troops into the jungle for a month and failed to get Helen’s telegram expressing her rage following her discovery of his affair with Vera. Then there was a second telegram about Vera’s pregnancy and a third hardly a week after, reporting the death of their five-year-old son from an unknown infection picked up at his kindergarten. He got the last two telegrams on the same day.
“Unknown infection?” he had raged, wept and despaired.
No answer.
“Haven’t we just invented antibiotics? Didn’t they declare that they have eradicated polio and all the other fatal childhood illnesses?” he had posed the question several times to whoever cared to listen.
Still, there was no clear answer.
He returned home to find a desolate and inconsolable wife who didn’t want him anymore, who blamed him for her grieving and cheated soul, and who openly declared that she too started an affair with a southern writer and real estate millionaire three weeks before the death of their son. The divorce was quick, final and difficult to swallow, but he was determined to carry on with life despite the heartaches. After all, he was only thirty-seven years old and he still had a lot of punch left in his system.
But nothing could replace the loss of Jason and the broken ties with Helen. Then as if to trick his senses even further, the recurring nightmare featuring Jason and Helen began and kept haunting him ever since. A week ago, before he got the assignment to France, the bad dream featured Michel Villepin for the first time. But not until recently did René Roccard get into the picture. He wondered what it all meant. He searched for other answers but the few he could get as a consolation were in the words of an elderly Gypsy woman who told him ten years ago that he had the gift to see his future if only he focused on it.
Clement regarded the sleeping Lisa and sighed. He would follow his instincts and look for Michel. And after that, he would get on René’s trail. He could be the cure to his nightmares after all.













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.

Now that you have disembarked in your journey into the heart of Africa, where do find yourself? You are certainly at the doorsteps of the city of Douala.
You are stepping into Douala because it is also the gateway to Cameroon. In the distant picturesque background is the Cameroon Mountain, an imposing volcanic outcrop from the Atlantic Ocean that features layers of forest, grassland and rocky desert in its entire altitude. You will also find beautiful creeks, rivers, and streams that crisscross and surround Douala. These unique features give the area its beauty and lustrousness—something admirers of nature always marvel at whenever they view the city from the air, the sea or from land.
Now, brace yourself for the challenge of walking into a unique unknown by opening the gates of Cameroon through the soul of Douala.
Douala is the city where the German colonial administration sought to build a cross of Berlin, Leipzig and Hanover in Africa, leaving behind an impressive array of architectural monuments as a stamp of their presence in the land, an exploit that lasted three decades and made Douala the melting pot of multi-ethnic German Kamerun.
The French also embarked on an ambitious project of making Douala a sub-Saharan Paris after they kicked the Germans out of the city in 1916. After all, the machinery of the Free French forces in Sub-Saharan Africa was molded here and Jacques-Philippe LeClerc made his debut in the city, eventually becoming the finest French general in the field during the Second World War.
Now that you have walked into Cameroon, what do you find going on inside the heart of Douala? If you perk your head a little higher, you will find a modest one-storey building standing in the northwestern portion of the neighborhood of Bali, close to Akwa.
They say the Akwa neighborhood has been popular for over a century now. It hosts Douala’s popular waterfront and main thoroughfare where you will find some of Cameroon’s famous restaurants, bistros, bars, hotels, coffee houses and French-style bakeries and nightclubs—all within commanding view of the sea, creeks and swamps. It is the part of the city frequented by the city's large expatriate population and tourists, and those Cameroonians with a taste for contemporary trends. They say the city’s inhabitants regard Akwa as their mirror to the rest of the world.
Now, let's go back to the one-storey building that borders the Akwa neighborhood. It is April 1958 and Joseph Nkabyo Njike is the owner of the modest structure in this part of French Cameroun. He resides on the ground floor with his family of a wife and five children, while two young families occupy the apartments above. He has tried to give some sense of security to the building by erecting a five-foot-high fence of concrete blocks with broken bottles on it, all pointing upwards. He has also built a gate to the yard from corrugated iron sheets that creak each time someone opens it, proving to be a source of alarm in itself. They say the owner of the building erected the fence and gate to keep undesirable elements out.
But coming from a man with two teenage sons and a stunningly beautiful sixteen-year-old daughter, the fence and the gate could also be construed as a measure to keep his family away from the bustling Douala night life considered by many to be most the vibrant in Black Africa.
However, another element has just cropped in—the sense of insecurity pervading the city after the French mandatory government banned the UPC (Union of the Populations of the Cameroons), the most popular political party in French Cameroun that along with its sister parties in British Cameroons, have been advocating for the reunification and independence of French Cameroun and British Cameroons.
Still, there was dancing in the streets, a fact not lost on the children of the Njike family and household who were barred from venturing out that night by their imposing father. So, even as he snored and rumbled that late evening, Joseph Njike knew his children were safe and asleep in their rooms. His wife also shared that thought as she stared into the dark night, wondering why she was having a hard time falling asleep like her husband.
The Njike mother was half-asleep when she thought she heard a sound that she could have sworn was in her dream. She half-opened her eyes and listened. It was a slight creak all right and she was not dreaming about it.
Maria Meunjeu Njike, née Njomo, quietly got out of bed and hurried to the window to find her youngest child, the eight-year-old Gavin Nemafou Njike sneaking out.
Joseph will kill him if he finds out, she thought. Without hesitating for a moment, she grabbed a wrapper, tied it above her breasts, covering the greater portion of her gown, and then tip-toed outside.
The sound of traditional music celebrating the end of the year for a meeting group was in the air, giving the night a festive spirit that Maria found alluring. She could hear the drums, rattles and hissing sounds from other percussionists, who certainly knew what they were doing. Maria stopped herself from shaking her head to the rhythm.
She didn’t have to think hard to figure out that Gavin was having a hard time resisting the musical sounds and the performers whose activities had animated the atmosphere in the neighborhood. Her son’s love for music was extraordinary. Maria felt a twinge of pride that Gavin inherited much of her musical genes. The boy often delighted in testing his vocal cords by singing familiar lyrics, and he equally enjoyed wriggling his body and moving his legs around in peculiar dance steps to both local and foreign dance tunes. She suppressed a smile at the thought that Gavin reacted to music in the same animated manner that she was known to react as a young girl.
The night was slightly dark and Maria could not understand why her fears kept growing with every passing second. Now she was afraid, afraid for her son, afraid of so many things. Her second cousin had uttered his death scream on a similar night three weeks ago, only for family members to find his lifeless body moments after with gunshot wounds that proved the high price he had to pay for his involvement in protests against French rule in the land.
However, as Maria looked skywards and spotted the crimson moon on the horizon, she felt slightly comforted by it. The moon exposes evil lurking in the darkness, and nobody can hurt my son, she thought.
Maria arrived at the celebration grounds to find Gavin articulating the lyrics of a song, stamping his feet, twisting and shaking his body in a serious but comic manner as he sang and danced with a crowd in the circle, receiving cheers and applause from the adult dancers for his performance. But she was not amused at all by the spectacle in front of her. She went straight for her son, grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and pulled him out of the circle, threatening and scolding. She even shoved aside a dancer who was slow in getting out of her way.
The initially stunned Gavin had nothing to say for a minute or two as he listened to the scolding words of his mother.
“Mama, the only thing I wanted to do was dance. Didn’t I tell you already that I want to become a musician? I need the practice,” he protested.
“Shut up and say nothing anymore…until...until,” she said and left the words hanging. Then she took a deep breath and shook her head in exasperation.
“Mama!”
“I said shut up.”
“Okay, Mama!”
“I’m taking you back home to your bed; do you understand? And I want you to go to sleep and do nothing else until tomorrow morning. That’s when we shall talk about this.”
“Please, don’t tell Papa,” Gavin pleaded.
“Why shouldn’t I tell your father that you want to become a bad child like those street children who steal around?”
“Because I promise I won’t do it again.”
“Shut up!” Maria snapped again.
Gavin did not utter another word. Just then, an owl howled in the darkness, sending a shiver up Maria’s spine. She did not like the bird at all. She, like so many of her fellow compatriots, was also convinced that its cry spelt a bad omen.
Mother and son walked the remaining half of the journey in silence. At the gate, they heard the sound of distant gun shots that grew louder and more frequent with every passing second. Maria hurriedly closed the gate, ran with her son into the house, locked the entrance door and led him to his bed. The sound of shootings outside did not last more than five minutes and the noise did not wake Joseph Njike and his boys up from their deep slumber compromised by corn beer supplied by his neighbor. Maria hung around Gavin and made sure her son was asleep before she walked back into her room.
It would be almost dawn before she fell asleep, as tormenting thoughts kept her awake, leaving her staring sightlessly into the Douala night. She had every reason to worry about her ingenious son whose love of life had exposed him to danger so many times. She was also worried about the growing insecurity in Douala where French and local forces were bent on suppressing and repressing the banned UPC (Union of the Populations of the Cameroons) through a campaign that risked sucking in his other sons. She feared they too could be caught in the middle like her deceased second cousin. Besides, he was convinced the UPC would never relent in its campaign to achieve reunification and independence for British Cameroons and French Cameroun, the territories that emerged from the partition of German Kamerun by Britain and France.
Before she fell asleep that night, Maria came to a decision that would alter the course of her family’s destiny. She would send her children to their uncle in Victoria at the foot of the Cameroon Mountain in British Southern Cameroons. She was certain they would be safe in the hands of her favorite brother Julius Wakam Njomo for the entire duration of the long holidays. And if the security situation in Douala failed to improve in the next couple of months, then she would convince her husband to move the entire family back to their ancestral homeland where they could be assured of peace and security.

















Five days after his nightmare featuring René Roccard, the bearded Clement boarded a train at the Paris St-Lazare station for a ride to the west. He arrived at the Brittany city of Caen just after midday, a comfortable ride per se that gave him enough time to reflect on the dream and the sinking feeling it left in him. He admitted to himself that the successive images, thoughts, emotions and sensations that blighted his mind during that period of sleep had finally stirred in his bosom a deep longing for a real meaning to his life, one absolved of guilt and other entrapping emotions. He even found himself longing for a woman with Helen’s listening ear. But the one thing he was really having a hard time figuring out was why the sight of children with their parents always brought out an unfamiliar softness in his soul.
With the dream still lingering on his mind, Clement found a room for a day in the Hôtel de La Fontaine, a beautiful four-star hotel located in the center of the city. But he did not take a moment to appreciate the place as he changed into fresh clothes minutes after he got into his room. He didn’t even check himself in the mirror before he hurried out of the room and made his way outside. It took him eight minutes to get down to Rue Saint-Jean, where he found a sporting shop and bought a jogging suit. A lot was still on his mind when he stopped a cab and asked to be taken to Giberville.
Michel was on the curb opposite his grandmother’s home, talking with two other boys in a listless manner when Clement stepped out of the vehicle. The boy didn’t recognize him right away but he shouted Clement’s name the moment he asked about his grandmother, and then ran forward and embraced him like he was all he cared about in the world.
Michel walked him into the house to the warm reception of his grandmother. Solange Villepin insisted he stay for the evening meal, thanked him several times for the sporting wear and perfumes he presented to the family, and then petered out his tightness with her hospitable gestures. Michel’s mother Marie-Blanche Villepin joined them from work when it was getting dark and carried on with the joyous mood as if he truly was their most cherished guest in years. She ran outside and returned moments after with a photographer. They took several photos, most featuring the sofa and one where Michel stuck his thumbs in his ears with a broad smile on his face. They started eating dinner after the photo shots. Clement even confessed that the Navarin d'agneau (lamb stew), Sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and Breton cake constituted the best meal he had eaten for a while.
Clement became shame-faced all of a sudden and burst into tears after his second glass of the Muscadet wine Marie-Blanche served.
“You are excellent, fine and wonderful people. I regret failing to give you my full embrace all these years after our paths first crossed. Michel has his head on his shoulders, and he even wishes to join the Foreign Legion. And you—beautiful women,” he said and regarded Michel’s mother and grandmother with misty eyes, “You have done a fabulous job raising this young man.”
The women encircled him within seconds, cooed sweetly and rested soothing hands on his shoulders. “You have always been his inspiration. He wants to go to university in America, and he even dreams to become a journalist and soldier just like you,” The grandmother said and wiped his tear stained cheeks.
Clement looked at Michel who nodded in acknowledgement. “Why don't we say after your Baccalaureate, young man? We have a deal on that one. I should be remarried by then.”
“Who is going to be the lucky woman?” Marie-Blanche asked.
Clement caught her wink but pretended to be oblivious to the hint. “She is on her way, my Dear Marie-Blanche. However, she still hasn’t got a face. I am yet to meet her.”
Clement was his joyful self again when he offered to leave them for his hotel room. But the women did not want to hear about it. However, he pressed home his reason for declining to spend the night at their home. He could be up in time to catch a ride to the train station, the women pointed out. But he had his way in the end, even though he promised to become more conspicuous in their lives. The atmosphere in the house was a subdued when he hugged them goodnight. In fact, he had a smile on his face when he boarded a cab for his hotel room. He thought he had every reason to feel good about himself.
As he brushed his teeth late that night, he wondered why Marie-Blanche was still unmarried. He even went to bed thinking that it might not be a bad idea at all to spend the last weekend of the month with the family.

                               **************

The next morning, René Roccard stared at the gate of the Lycée, expecting at any moment to see his son Dominique emerging from the school premises. He was still puzzled by his sudden emotional softness even though it had taken him over a month to make up his mind to leave for French Cameroun without seeing his family or letting any of them know about it.
But then, something touched his soul yesterday and made him board the morning train to Lyon. His first stop in town was at his father’s home, where he arrived just in time to join the elderly George Phillipe Roccard for a late breakfast. The hours spent with his father did a good job of preparing him for the encounter with his son.

“So, you were actually planning to leave without informing me about it,” George had said as he pushed aside his breakfast plate and placed his mug of coffee in the center of the table mat.
René had nodded and taken a bite of his last slice of bread. “I knew you would understand. But, Dominique… I doubted it. I owe that boy a lot. In fact, I am proud of you, father. You were always there for us in spite of your duty. And then, you were always around for Dominique when I should have been the one dealing with all the hassle. You have been marvelous.”
René’s outpour of appreciation might have been his own constricted acknowledgement of his father’s presence in Dominique’s life, but those words set off a steady flow of fatherly outpouring that brought tears to his eyes.
George Roccard’s confession that he had been too hard on René and Marc was so sincere and deep that his son patted him on his shoulder. When he said he regretted making the choice of staying in French Cameroon where all his children were born, a land whose inadequacies contributed to their mother’s death from malaria; René found it so touching that he squeezed his father’s shoulder. But that did not stop George from blaming himself for failing to break their attachment to French Cameroun right after the loss of his wife, hanging on there and returning home to France in 1938 only after René had passed his Baccalaureate. And above all, he thought he didn’t feel like stopping Marc from returning to the place of his birth because he too believed that France could not afford to lose the land.
“Dominique is our unblemished pride; he is free of our death-wish indulgence. Talk to him son; tell him we love him; tell him we shall always be there for him,” George had told him.
For quite a while, his father went on talking to him about life. He provided René with an update on his baby sister Anne-Marie as well as her husband and their two children in Sydney, Australia, concluding that they were planning to visit France in the summer of 1959. Then it was on to Dominique’s wonderful achievements in school, in sports and in other extracurricular activities, after which the Roccard father advised him on how to engage his son.

René made up his mind to follow his father’s counsel the moment Dominique stepped on the sidewalk and started heading home. He hurried towards his son, and then stopped abruptly the moment Dominique saw him. The boy was momentarily stunned, but quickly regained his composure and approached his father with hesitant steps. René opened his arms wide and got hit by a slight feeling of hurt when Dominique accepted the embrace without reaching out to him.
He took Dominique to a restaurant located a quarter of a mile away from his ex-wife’s home, hold him his son had left a note at the door for his mother, and then gave the boy the honor to order the meal. Eating must have worked its magic because it took a short while for them to start talking in a less restrained manner. Dominique asked questions, chided him for his absence, forgave him seconds after his rebukes, and then told him he would be okay afterwards.
“I told grandpa I shall become a doctor and he even confided in me that it is the best thing to do, that I have the heart for people.”
“He told me so too. He said a lot of good things about you. He is proud of you, Son.”
“He tried to explain a lot of things about the family—about his father, about himself, about his Uncle Marc, about you and about late Uncle Marc. He said something about all of you being dogs of war.”
René nodded, took his sons hand in both of his and closed his eyes. “Follow your heart and become an honorable civilian. Never allow yourself to become blinded by the romantics of war. There are many ways of appreciating our forebears without indulging in their mistakes.”
“Tell me honestly. Why are you going to French Cameroun?”
René looked at his son deep in the eye and said gently, “My dear Dominique, they need me over there to stop a confusing situation. If we succeed, your generation would be prevented from the madness of war.”
Dominique nodded with a pondering look on his face, avoiding his father’s eyes.
“I hope you find happiness there.”
Mon cher fils! Only a fool would find happiness from an achievement that is detrimental to those he loves. Let me also tell you this. I know  the most I can get from my mission is the feeling of accomplishment. And that I know is going to be short-lived.”
“Then why are you doing it?”
“Because it needs to be done. Mon cher fils, I am going to the land of my birth on an important mission, to achieve a goal that would leave the people of France more secure. Believe me, I know and I understand why you prefer that I stay in France and be around you as a father. That is actually how it should. But for reasons beyond my full control, I was away, out of France. As you can see, happiness isn’t what I am after in French Cameroun.”
René felt like telling his son more but steeled himself from doing so. Instead, he engaged him in some more small talk before offering to walk him home. Solange, his ex-wife, opened the door after the second rap. She let Dominique walk in, but didn’t let René do likewise. Instead, she shouted out, letting her son know that they would be back in half an hour, and then asked René to walk with her to the bench in the neighborhood hangout.
They sat there and talked, reliving memories of their romance during the war, to the birth of Dominique while he was in French Indochina. They even touched on the subject of their divorce. René accepted the blame, even though he knew that subconsciously, they both wanted their freedom and looked for an excuse to break up the marriage. She talked about the supportive role of George Roccard in their lives, of how unstable her love life had become; and she even mused that there was a chance she could consider him back if he promised to live in her cage. However, the only thing René got from her was a kiss on his cheek. He was glad even though. At least Dominique saw that they were not mad at each other anymore.
René lay on the bed that night and thought of his father, Dominique, and Solange, and then concluded that he was lucky to have a family that appreciated him. Now, he was prepared to go to French Cameroun, knowing that he would be leaving behind loving souls in France that he could always return to.











  


René did not waste time on preambles when French captain Roland Thiraud and his French Camerounian counterpart Inspector Mahmadou Bello picked him up at the airport baggage claim, and then led him to the waiting car tucked between two military jeeps right in front of the airport terminal. Instead, he started questioning them about the recent developments in the territory—the state of security in French Cameroun, the nature of the military campaign against the UPC insurgents in the towns and cities, and the progress they had made against the partisan movement’s rustic Maquis counterpart in the countryside. The news was not good. The Cameroonian Resistance Forces were in undisputed control of the countryside in the southern half of French Cameroun, which constituted some seventy percent of the territory, and they were upping their challenge of French authority in the urban areas as well. The implications were equally worrying because that meant the vital railway links between the economic capital city of Douala and the political capital city of Yaoundé, and between Douala and the agricultural hub of Nkongsamba were at the mercy of the fighters of the Camerounian Resistance. As a former Maquisard himself who fought against the German occupation of France, he had a better idea of the extent of the disruptive role the French Resistance played in wrecking the transportation network of France, resulting in a major disruption of the flow of supplies to the occupying German Army.
The serene expression on René Roccard’s face disappeared right after they left the Douala airport vicinity and headed for the police station located in the Bonanjoh neighborhood. With furrowed brows, a slightly held breath and pursed lips, he looked like a professor grappling with a worrying phenomenon. However, the thoughts racing through his mind did not involve hypothesis, theories, lab tests or measurable results. It was all about life and death. And since the death part of the game had already consumed his kid brother, he was not in a joking mood, to say the least.
“I know you must be wondering at the back of your mind whether we have actually made any progress on Marc’s case or not,” Roland said, interrupting René’s thoughts.
René looked furtively at Mahmadou in the driver seat before turning his head to Roland at the other end of the back seat. “Certainly! It gives me no pleasure knowing that you are yet to come up with something.”
“Don’t rush into conclusions, my friend. As a matter of fact, we just made tremendous progress in our investigation that I am sure you would want to look into. We got our hands on the guy and brought him down here from Mbanga.”
“When was that?”
“Yesterday.”
René regarded him with dimmed eyes. “You are not kidding me; or are you?”
“Why don’t you see him for yourself?”
“I want to see him right away before you take me to my quarters.”
“I will gladly do that. Mahmadou, we are driving to headquarters instead.”
D’accord, Mon Commandant! I am at your service,” Mahmadou responded without darting a glance behind him.
Roland smiled at René before giving him a regal nod. “Let’s see what else we can get from the fellow before I leave for Yaoundé tomorrow or Friday.”
Bien sûr!”
Roland shrugged in an uneasy manner but said nothing afterwards in response to the remark from his French counterpart who gave him the creeps.
The two Frenchmen drove the remaining mile in silence as if they were absolute strangers. René was apprehensive. He did not consider himself a tight-lipped person or an introvert at all; the more reason he could not understand why he was having a hard time developing the right degree of comfort with Roland. Perhaps he was tired from the journey, or perhaps it had something to do with the fact that his compatriot was also attracted to men and used his position in the force to satisfy his desires in a twisted way. The second thought brought a suppressed sigh out of his lips. He was sure their superiors in France knew about Roland’s unsavory activities, so the fact that nothing had been done to straighten the fellow out intrigued him a lot. He had also read that Roland felt uplifted with a strange but comforting sense of power each time he demeaned another human being to the point where his victims cried for mercy and regretted their actions, promising never to oppose what he stood for again. That makes him useful, but not indispensable, René thought.
Mahmadou brought the car to a gentle stop, and then cleared his throat for a moment as if alerting his passengers of their arrival at the destination. Then he hurried out of the car and opened the door.
René stepped out of the vehicle to the welcoming nods of the police officers outside, which he acknowledged with nods of his own. He took a quick look around him before he walked into the building, feeling an unfamiliar tightening knob in his chest. It made him wonder if it was a premonition of some sort or if it was an indication of fear. That was something he was determined to find out.
In Roland’s office, René rested his hand on the back of the chair he offered him to sit down in, and then asked in a languid manner, “What do I need to know about the fellow.”
Roland ferreted among the papers on his desk. “Not much. We have only had him here for a day. But I came up with something.”
“What are you talking about?”
"Take a look at the information we have on him,” Roland said, as he handed René a sheet of paper with a brief profile of the prisoner on it.
René read it in silence and with a clenched fist. “Where is he?” he asked finally.
"He is in the chamber.”
That was enough. Roland did not have to go any further. He was in French Indochina before and knew the exact meaning of the word chamber when associated with a security facility. That was where the different branches of the security service carried out sadistic and inhuman aspects of interrogations in war time, especially in a pacifying war where it was convenient to ignore the rules of the Geneva Convention. Roland walked in front him as they descended the stairs. He took note of Roland’s buffed shoes that shone like it just came out of a shoe factory and wandered who took care of his well-ironed uniform as well.
Roland opened the door without knocking, startling the three police officers inside who jumped up from their seats and saluted, their berets resting uncozily on their heads, the result of their scrambled efforts to be fully uniformed. He saluted back, a ritual René replicated without batting an eye.
“Has he spilled the beans yet?” Roland asked, taking off his beret.
Non, Mon commandant,” replied an inspector who did not look more than twenty.
Roland ignored his reply and turned to the tallest of the three, who looked down as if he just remembered something about his shoes. “Is that true, Jacques?” he asked pointedly.
Jacques nodded, averting his eyes still. “He might have been telling the truth. If not, then he must be the tightest-lipped prisoner we have had so far.”
“How far did you go?”
“As far as we could without making him have a cardiac arrest,” Jacques replied with pursed lips.
“What exactly do you mean?”
Jacques looked at the young inspector with disgust in his eyes. “Georges used the gégène to the point where I think it would be a miracle if the prisoner ever gets a hard on again. His penis must be roasted by now. I wouldn't be surprised at all if his testes aren’t already as hard as cooked eggs.”
Roland nodded and sucked his lips. Here is one difficult nut to crack, he thought. “Jacques, come with us; you two stay here,” he said to the other two men, beckoned Jacques over and then turned to René, “Let’s find out what the prisoner is still holding back from us,” he added and then started walking away towards the door to the room made of concrete walls, trailed by the two men.
Situated at the far end of the basement chamber and pivoted to the cement floor were two vertical posts, which were supporting a transversal crossbar. Called Le balancoir in French or roughly translated as seesaw in English, this device was Roland’s favorite method of torture. Hanging from the horizontal crossbar was a young man of about nineteen. He was groaning in pains. René overtook Roland with hurried steps, edged closer and gave a gasp of horror. Despite his awareness of the nature of the place before hand, the degree of deformation the suspect had undergone shocked him. The fellow was obviously athletic in nature and was strung up to the crossbar by his wrists and ankles which were tied in pairs behind his back so that he was in a flying posture facing the floor. René wondered whether his shoulders were still intact. That and the fact that they used the electric generator called the gégène in torturing the prisoner by attaching it to his genitals, and then switching it on, filled René with deep compassion.
In an instant, the sight in front of him brought flashbacks to the days he spent in captivity in Indochina. He understood the hell the prisoner had been put through and knew that the young fellow was still in a lot of pains because he appeared in far worse shape than he ever imagined himself in from the tortures he suffered in the hands of the communist guerillas. Also, the smell of urine and feces in the air hit him hard, sure enough signs that the rubber whips lying on the floor and the other torture devices the police officers used caused substantial damage. There was a bump on the boy’s head too. His nose was broken, and his eyes and lips were swollen so much that he thought they could explode at any moment. In fact, the boy’s eyelids barely parted when he called his name.
“I didn’t kill them,” Peter Ndepkeu responded in English.
“He pretends he doesn’t speak French,” Roland interjected.
“S'il vous plaît, soyez tranquille!” René gritted at Roland. Satisfied that he got the junior officer’s attention to stay quiet, he turned around again and faced the prisoner, “I am not talking about the others. I mean Marc, my brother. Why did you kill him?” he asked in English.
“I didn’t kill them or anybody.”
“Why did you kill Marc?” René snapped.
“What are you talking about?”
“I am talking about Marc, my brother. Why did you shoot him last October?”
When the boy failed to respond, René stepped closer and opened his swollen left eye so that he could see him clearly. “Tell me why you shot my brother?”
“Sir, I swear to God and my grandparents that I have nothing to do with the crimes they are accusing me of committing.”
“Where were you last October?”
“I was at school last October,” the prisoner whimpered, and then started sobbing.
“It is a trick. He speaks French. He is only pretending,” Roland interjected.
“S'il vous plaît, soyez tranquille!” René repeated.
“D’accord!”
“Unhinge him!”
“What?” Roland asked with an agape mouth.
“You heard me well. I said, unhinge him. I don’t intend to continue talking to him while he is in that position.”
“What do you think you are doing?”
René approached Roland so that they were eyeball to eyeball, so close that they could feel each other’s breaths. He even thought of pulling Roland’s handlebar moustache.
“Your rigorous oversight is pathetic. Apparently, your desire to close the case on Marc before I got here has landed you with the wrong suspect. Your prisoner is an Anglophone.”
“He is Bamileké.”
“Do as I say. You will also find Bamileké people in British Cameroons. That’s where he is from. Didn’t you get it from his accent?”
“He was speaking Pidgin English just like they do here and in Mbanga where we got him. He spoke some French too.”
“Uneducated French, I guess. His English is spot perfect. Cut him loose.”
“D’accord!”
Roland turned around and faced Jacques “Dépêches toi! Allez faire ça!” he gritted
René watched Jacques as he responded to the order by stepping forward in a hurried manner. Then he started undoing the ropes around the prisoner’s ankles with trembling hands, only stopping when the prisoner’s legs dropped down suddenly. Peter dangled a little before settling into a half-standing position, his hands held above his head with the bonded wrists perched on opposite sides of the crossbar.
“Free his hands too,” René said in an undertone.
Pour quoi?” Roland asked with an incredulous expression on his face.
“Don’t ask me why. Just do it,” René snapped.
Roland cocked his head in acknowledgement, looked at René for a moment, and then nodded to Jacques who went about executing the order, tossing his head from side to side in a petulant manner. He did not give the prisoner a helping hand after he freed his hands, so that Peter fell to the floor with a thud, and then curled up like a fetus in a womb as if the crouching posture he was forced to endure over the several hours he was hanging up there suddenly became a comfortable position to maintain.
“Could we step aside for a moment? I need a word with you,” Roland said in an agitated manner.
“Later, Roland!”
“You might not know this, but Peter Ndepkeu is the relation of a man Marc shot not long before he too was killed,” Roland blurted out, throwing his hands in the air as if he had just been treated so badly that he could not stand it anymore.
René stared at his French counterpart so hard that Jacques thought he was going to hit him. “Why didn’t you tell me that before?” he seethed.
“Could we step aside so that we can talk about this, please?” Roland said in a controlled voice.
“D’accord!” René said, indicating a hand.
He followed Roland back into the office, doing so in less than a minute. In fact, they walked so fast that a police officer they ran into in the corridor thought they were race-walking.
“Tell me what is going on here!” René roared the moment he banged the door close behind them.
Roland slumped into the seat behind his desk and buried his face in his hands. “Where do I start?” he whined.
“Where it got Marc involved.”
Roland raised his head and sighed. “The riots back in May 1955. We blamed the UPC for instigating everything, but you and I know that we overreacted. Our young soldiers, police officers and gendarmes in Douala had never seen something like that before, So, they panicked and opened fire in situations where they could have acted otherwise. We massacred them.”
“Marc was still in France when it all happened. He wasn’t involved.”
“Yes, he wasn’t involved. He arrived here in July as part of Roland Pré’s reinforcement to beef up our defenses in response to the deteriorating situation. Then Roland Pré banned them. We banned the UPC, René. That is when everything started falling apart here in French Cameroun. Our job was to pacify them, but your brother thought otherwise. He thought he could talk some sense into the heads of some of those he knew in the party. He talked to former Free French fighters he knew or who were friends with your father. He talked to Bruno Ndepkeu whom he played with as a child here in Douala. Most of them listened, but Bruno did not. When he found out that Bruno led a team in the New Bell neighborhood that masterminded the derailment of elections for seats to the new Assemblée Législative du Cameroun, he was not happy about it. He said he would talk to the fellow for as long as it takes to convince him, that the Bruno was after all a soldier who fought with us during the Second World War. I tried to talk him out of it, but he would not listen to me or anybody else for that matter, even his superiors. Luckily for him, Bruno was among those who escaped with most of the UPC leadership to British Southern Cameroons after someone tipped them off that we were about to arrest them for their roles in disrupting the elections. I thought that was all about it with the Bruno issue until last October. I remember the day like it was only yesterday. It was a peculiarly cool Monday morning when Marc arrived in the office looking very excited, if not agitated. He told us he was privy of Bruno’s whereabouts, and then scrambled together a squad and left with two jeeps. He found Bruno’s location all right, and then convinced him to come out of the house with his hands in the air. The Camerounian was doing So, when one of our men panicked and shot him. He claimed he was aiming at a man who suddenly appeared behind Bruno, a man he claimed looked threatening. All the same, he wounded Bruno in the shoulder. Bruno reacted after the shot by diving behind a half wall. He pulled out a pistol right after he found cover, and then went on to shoot at Marc and his men for a couple of minutes before making an attempt to slip away. That was when Marc shot him. He said he wanted to wound him in the leg, but he took the shot just when Bruno was crouching and just when he was turning around to look back. Your brother was distraught about the whole tragedy, but the damage was already done. Bruno died while Marc was rushing him to the hospital.”
René heaved a sigh. “How does that involve your prisoner?”
“He was caught in Mbanga last week without identification papers. Said he was going to Nkongsamba to see his mother. Georges, who happened to be in Mbanga last week, saw him at the police station there and made the connection. So, I asked them to have him transferred over to us for further investigation. Georges brought him here yesterday. It turned out that one of our new recruits recognized him and remembered he was at Bruno Ndepkeu’s funeral. Everything points to the irrefutable fact that Marc was killed in revenge. The shot was taken from a distance, which tells us that the killer is a good marksman.”
René sighed. He knew he was dealing with a man who felt uplifted with a strange but comforting sense of power each time he demeaned another human being to the point where his victim cried for mercy and regretted his action, promising never to oppose his line again. He had experienced Roland’s types before in Indochina. “Peter is a student,” René said in a monotone.
“So says the fake student identification card he carries.”
“Where is it?”
Roland pulled his drawer open and brought out a file. “Here it is.” He said, handing René a photo ID.”
“Good God! The young man just graduated from Saint Joseph Secondary School, which is situated in Sasse, a village off Buea.”
“Saint Joseph quoi?”
“It is a Lycée and it is situated at the foot of the mountain, a couple of miles from the town of Buea.”
“I don’t think so,” Roland said, sounding doubtful for the first time that day.
“For God’s sake, he speaks refined English. Is that all you have got against him—this ID and the claim that he was at Bruno’s funeral?”
Roland’s eyes dropped, and for a moment, he was quiet before he sighed. “Yes,” he replied in a tortured voice and with a nod.
“Meet me down there in thirty minutes,” René said with a sigh of his own, and then left the office, the image of the bewildered look on Roland’s face etched in his memory.
He found the three police officers in the torture room with curious expressions on their faces. Peter was holding a metal cup with water in it and was cupping something in his other hand. He looked at the cup, then at the three officers, and then at the cup again before fixing his eyes on Jacques who shrugged like a child caught stealing candies with one still in his hand. “What did you give him?”
“Water and tablets for the pain,” Jacques stuttered.
“Why?”
Jacques shrugged. “I thought you would want that.”
René closed his eyes for a moment, shaking his head as he did so. “Do you speak any English?”
“A little.”
“How little?”
“I comprehend it well enough.”
“Good! Where did you learn the language?”
“I picked it up from my father who learned it while with General De Gaulle in England.”
“And what about you Georges and…?”
“Nicolas!” the third police man said, and then added, “I don’t understand the language at all.”
“Georges?”
“I don’t too. English is like classical music to my ears!”
René stifled a laugh and shook his head again. “I want you boys to stay here while I have a chat with him.
The three officers stood back as he took charge. First, he made Peter sit in a chair, propped up by a pillow. Then he offered him a banana and a cup of orange juice, freshly squeezed from two orange fruits.
“Feeling better?” he asked Peter.
“Yes, Sir!”
“I want you to be candid with me. Whose school ID is this?” he asked, brandishing the photo ID he got from Roland close enough so that Peter did not need to squint at all in order to take a closer look at it.
“It is mine.”
“Are you a student?”
Oui Monsieur! I am in my final year.”
“Going to the final year or you just completed it?”
“We are still awaiting the results of the final year GCE Ordinary Level exams.”
“And you wrote as a candidate from?”
“Saint Joseph School, Sasse.”
“What do you know about Marc Roccard?”
“Nothing. I told the interpreter so.”
“Who was Bruno Ndepkeu to you?”
“He was my Uncle.”
“How come you are an Anglophone while he was a Francophone for all I know?”
“He grew up here, while I was born and raised in British Southern Cameroons.”
“How did that come about?”
“He was too young when my grandfather died, So, he stayed with my grandmother here in Douala. My grandfather’s younger brother in Victoria took my father with him and sent him to a primary school there where they study in English. My father never moved back this way after he finished his primary school.”
“Your granduncle raised your father, you mean.”
“Oui Monsieur! I called him grandfather. He too was taken to Victoria during the times of the Germans by his uncle working in one of the coastal plantations.”
“Let’s focus on your father. Does he speak French?”
Non, Monsieur! Only simple words like oui, je m'en fou.”
“Why?”
“He stayed there just like his uncle and started a family. That’s how I came to be born in British Southern Cameroons; that’s why I am an Anglophone.”
“What were you doing in Mbanga?”
“Nothing they accused me of doing. I was passing through the town. I only stopped there on transit, on my way to catch the next train to Nkongsamba to see my mother.”
“Does your mother live in Nkongsamba?”
“Yes, Officer.”
“Why does she live there when you said you are from British Southern Cameroons?”
“She divorced my father fifteen years ago and married another man who has his roots in the Mbohland. They both live in Nkongsamba with my five half-siblings.”
“Why did she divorce your father?”
“I don’t know. Nobody ever really talked to me about it.”
“Where is your father?”
“He is in Kumba.”
“I thought you said he lives in Victoria.”
“He moved to Kumba after he married his second wife.”
“When was that?”
“1946.”
“What does he do for a living?”
“He is a business man.”
“What sort of business are you talking about?”
“He owns a grocery store and an off-license. He also trades in agricultural produce between Nigeria and British Southern Cameroons.”
“What type of produces are you talking about?”
“Cocoa, coffee, bush mango seeds and egusi seeds.”
“Did he ever mention my brother Marc?”
“He never talked about him.”
“Did he know Marc?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Where does your grandmother live here in Douala?”
“She is dead. She died seven years ago.”
“Oh, sorry! Accept my condolence. Do you have uncles or aunts here?”
“My mother’s brothers and sisters are in Loum, Manjo, and Banganté.”
“What about other relatives here in Douala you can live with until you are fully recovered?”
Peter was quiet for a moment before he said in a hesitant voice. “My father’s cousin has a house close to where my grandmother used to live.”
“You mean his home?”
“Yes,” Peter said with a nod.
“What’s his name?”
“Paul Simou.”
“Good. We will make sure you get some treatment, and then we shall take you to your father’s cousin,” René said in a leveled voice.












July 29, 1958


Not often do we find men who despite their haunting lineages still find the strength not only to settle down in life but also to break the circle of misfortune and raise happy, prosperous and exemplary families that would survive them into old age. So, when someone like Joseph Nkabyo Njike distinguished himself as one of such rare men, we are likely to ask questions.
Close friends and family members regarded Joseph  not only as a man of extreme valor, nimbleness, and gentle smiles, but also as someone blessed with a very deep heart. Yet, it was his seemingly unstoppable nature that awed them the most. We often make simple judgments of people based on their personalities and appearances, so I wonder what a character judge would say about a man with a raucous voice, boisterous spirit, imposing physique, but who at the same time is blessed with a noble soul. I say so because Joseph Njike happened to be such a man.
He was also considered to be a whirlwind of a man, a discomforting figure to those with the evil disposition, but a hero to gentle souls and kids. People said he developed an extremely soft spot for children after he moved his family back to Banganté, and that he won the affection of the children in return. However, some of the adults who do not bond easily with little kids and teenagers were initially puzzled by the sight of this imposing figure sitting around the children of the neighborhood on the many evenings that he told them delightful stories, taught them the mysteries of letters, figures and words, and familiarized them with the lessons of life.
Even so, most of Joseph Njike’s skeptics or detractors did not take long to realize that he was a unique man of the world with an extraordinary character.
One could be tempted to think that the Njike father was one of those familiar talkers that are in love with their voices or that he was one of those peculiar characters with the childlike disposition which we often find in small communities. That is not the case because, besides his numerous attributes, he was also an exceptional toiler of the land. In fact, he presided over his household and family in a manner that set him apart from the other fathers in Banganté. In a nutshell, he was already ahead of his times in the community a decade before he moved back to his ancestral homeland.
This father of five even admitted that he believed in hospitality and solidarity, not because he thought it was beneficial to be kind, but because he considered himself a beneficiary of kindness during his greatest moments of need. Whenever he said he considered extending kindness to others as an obligation to humanity, he truly meant it. After all, he was an orphan who survived and made it to adulthood by living on the good graces of people who were not even his relatives.
True the subject of his life as an orphan was the one thing that never failed to bring out the philosophical side in him. As a matter of fact, his mother was the first person to jolt him into contemplating his destiny. That was on his seventh birthday, when she told him about his legendary grandfather Pokam Njike, describing him as a six-foot plus mover of the movers who could break iron with his bare hands, and who could hurl three hundred or more pounds of load onto his shoulder without breaking a sweat. That portrayal of a man he never saw, but whose genes got passed down to him, stirred his imagination back then to the point where he even thought his grandfather was the strongest man who ever walked the earth, and so fancied himself as the strongest boy his age in Banganté until a boy a couple of months younger wrestled him down in a dwell at the village square.
Joseph Nkabyo Njike’s mother also told him during his first year as an adolescence that his grandfather was in a blind rage when he killed the five enemies he found hovering over his younger brother's dead body that was still oozing blood from machete wounds during an inter-tribal war. His grandfather shouldn’t have killed at all, Joseph Njike’s mother told him, pointing out that a clause in the law on the extraordinary powers his ancestors bestowed on his grandfather forbade him from killing. That meant Pokam Njike should have disarmed and immobilized his enemies instead. That angle of the narration was something he could not wrap his head around because he thought he would have acted just like his grandfather in such a moment of heightened emotions. All the same, Joseph became convinced at a tender age that his grandfather defied an ancestral edict by killing in that war.
The legend also holds that Pokam Njike was in the prime of life when he died in his sleep, that his second wife and daughter died a couple of weeks after him, and that even his two sons also died within a year of his passing away. However, fate was not completely harsh to Pokam Njike because his pregnant first wife lived long enough to give birth to his only surviving seed, a son that came out of his mother’s womb with a sweet expression on his face as if he were smiling at a riddle posed by life.
Bernard Ketcha Njike, as this sweet child was called, did not enjoy the loving care of his mother who died some seven years after his birth, in accordance with the curse meted out against Pokam Njike by his ancestors or so the legend holds.
Joseph Njike’s mother also told him that his father died when he was hardly even a year old, that Bernard Njike was also an outstanding man like his father Pokam Njike, and that she did not believe in the curse thing that was being muttered around. But she too died when he was hardly even ten years old, forcing Joseph Nkabyo Njike to wonder whether she got the curse legend wrong after all. Not until after his mother’s death did Joseph Njike become apprehensive of the powers of the ancestors to the point where he even resorted to occasional ancestral worships and sacrifices in a bid to pacify his unknown ancestors.
Now, one would think that Joseph Njike’s life as a teenager growing up in Banganté was without some piquancy. On the contrary, his early years resonated more than those of his age mates, all thanks to a benefactor who treated him like his own true son, and who even sent him to school. Joseph Njike had this knack for telling people in perhaps exaggerated terms that his benefactor showed him the window to the modern world and that he gave him more in life than he could even have expected from his biological father. On top of that, he was comforted by his benefactor’s wise and assuring words that ancestral curses could not transcend the third generation. It meant his children would not be affected by the curse that haunted his grandfather and father.
Joseph Njike tilted back in his easy chair and fixed his gaze on his orchard devoted to the cultivation of avocado, guava, orange, and mango. The orchard was doing great, a reflection that brought a sweet smile to his face.
The sight of his youngest son Gavin chasing his older brother Salomon interrupted Joseph Njike’s thoughts, prompting him to sit up in his seat. In Gavin’s right hand was a rock that he was threatening his brother with.
“Gavin, Salomon, come here,” he called his sons over in a curt tone, demanding unquestionable obedience.
“It is Gavin’s fault. He wants to hit me with that stone,” Salomon began right before he even turned around and hurried to his father.
“No, Papa; no Papa! He is not telling the truth. I am only frightening him with it. Papa, he is wearing my sandals and won’t give it back to me even after I asked for them over and over again,” Gavin cried in a half-stuttering voice.
“Okay, Sons! Okay, Boys! We can do it by turns. Gavin, you start first. What happened?”
“He won’t give me my sandals, even though he refused to share his bar of chocolate with me,” Gavin said with wistful eyes.
“It is not true. I offered Gavin a piece of my chocolate, but he refused to take it. He kept insisting on having his sandals back,” Salomon interjected.
“Did he offer you some of his chocolate?” Joseph Njike asked Gavin in a light-hearted manner
“Yes, Papa! But only after I told him to take my sandals off his feet and never to wear them again,” Gavin said with a frown.
“Huh!” Joseph Njike grunted and stifled a laugh, “So you wanted your sandals back because your brother refused you a piece of his chocolate; but then, you wouldn’t accept the chocolate from him even after he changed his mind and offered it to you?”
“Papa, God takes a man’s first words seriously and wouldn’t listen to him when he changes his mind without really meaning it. You told me so yourself. Salomon wasn’t offering me the chocolate with his whole heart after he refused to give me a little piece the first time I asked for it.”
“Okay, Son! Your brother changed his mind. He realized he made a mistake. Didn’t I tell you that life is a give and take thing, especially between brothers and sisters or between siblings? And what do you want the sandals for when you are wearing those beautiful and expensive slippers?”
“Salomon doesn’t like sharing,” Gavin stuttered.
“I bought those sandals for you, remember? They were big for you, so I offered to give them to Salomon and buy you another pair the next time I travel to Douala. You said you would keep the sandals until your feet grew big enough to fit into them. Huh, Gavin! Do you remember how you surprised me by giving them to Salomon out of a brotherly impulse that touched my heart? That was a good thing you did, Son!”
A gentle expression settled on Gavin’s face for a moment before he twisted his right foot without meaning to, “You can wear the sandals,” he said to his brother in a subdued tone, and then put his left hand over his eyes.
“Put your hand down. You have just done the right thing,” Joseph Njike said, and then turned to Salomon with an amused glint in his eyes. “Give your brother the chocolate. Give him half of it,” Joseph Njike said to his third son with a slight edge to his voice.
“I don’t want to eat it anymore; I am not hungry,” Gavin objected with a pout.
Joseph Njike looked at his youngest son for a moment with puzzled eyes, and then started laughing. He laughed so loudly that his sons regarded him for a moment with astonished eyes, and then looked at one another, shrugged, and then started laughing as well as if their father’s laughing mood infected them too.
“What are you laughing at, Papa?” Salomon asked amidst his laughter.
“Come on Gavin; come and sit over here,” Joseph Njike said, indicating his lap.
Gavin flipped himself over onto his father’s lap.
Salomon was smiling as he gingerly edged forward, leaned on the right arm of the chair without having been asked to. “Papa, take,” he said with wide eyes and a broad smile, and then handed Joseph Njike the unopened bar of chocolate.
The father opened it and split the bar into two halves. He gave a piece to Salomon and the other half to Gavin. Gavin hesitated for a fraction of a second, but he took it nonetheless, and then smiled warmly at his father.
“You see Gavin; you didn’t want it anymore from your brother because of obstinate pride. Uh-huh! You acted that way all because of obstinate pride.”
“Papa, what is pride?” Gavin asked.
“And what is obstinate?” Salomon also asked right after his younger brother’s question.
“Obstinate is when you are stubborn and won’t change your mind, even though there is no reason for you not to. To have pride is to think too highly of yourself or when you behave as if your views or opinions are above those of every single person around you. You see son; you like chocolate, you wanted to eat it, but you decided not to accept it even after your brother changed his mind, all because of the simple reason that he didn’t offer you a piece when you first asked for it. Don’t be obstinate and don’t think too highly of yourself whenever you are dealing with your family, okay!”
“Okay, papa!” Gavin mumbled.
“Go ahead and eat it now. I know you like chocolate. Did I ever tell you the story of the Bamileké husband and the pudding?”
“Papa…papa, papa, you told me the story before,” Salomon said to his father with excitement in his voice.
“I was asking Gavin,” Joseph Njike said to Salomon in a mildly reproachful manner.
“No, papa! You never told me the story before,” Gavin replied, looking at his father with wide eyes.
“Okay! I will tell you the story after church services this coming Sunday. Now, I want you to promise me something. I want you boys to run out there and play together right after we sing Mangambeu.”
“I promise, I promise,” Gavin said excitedly.
“You promise?”
“I promise, I promise; we promise, we promise,” the brothers said in unison.
“Now, go and get your instruments,” Joseph Njike ordered his sons in a light-hearted manner.
Gavin and Salomon dashed into the parlor and came out two minutes after with Gavin holding a marimbula and Salomon having a kpanlogo drum around his arms.
Joseph Njike watched his sons play with the percussions and even sang with them for about half an hour before he announced that they could leave.
“Uh, uh! I am so tired,” Gavin said in a high-spirited voice.
“Ugh, ugh, ugh! I am about to faint,” Salomon jumped up to his feet, staggered backwards in a suggestive manner, faked a fall, and then started rolling over on the cement floor.
Gavin bent forward, embraced his brother on the floor, and then they started rolling around together. “Who is fainting? You are fainting. Who is fainting? You are fainting―” they repeated one after the other, giggling as they did so.
Joseph Njike watched his boys for a moment as they mock-wrestled on the floor, and then concluded that there was nothing to worry about it. He loved the way Gavin and Salomon bonded. They had nothing of the sibling rivalry thing that he had discerned in the relationship between his first son Bernard Ketcha and his second son Christian.
“Get up, boys. Go to the front yard and do your wrestling there,” Joseph Njike roared good-humoredly.
“Okay, Papa! Okay, Papa!” the boys replied one after the other.
The father smiled at the sight of his laughing sons chasing one another in their run to the playground. He loved his sons dearly but adored Gavin the most. His youngest son was doing a far better job than his siblings in enlivening his home with his zest for life. However, it wasn’t until recently when it dawned on him that Gavin did not like the deeply protective love coming from his brothers and sister, and that he always made it a point of trying to prove to them that he could be independent and that he could take care himself without their patronizing interference in his life. Besides, Gavin was a progeny with an unusual aptitude for languages.
When his youngest son returned home from his three-month summer holidays at the home of his maternal uncle in British Southern Cameroons, speaking English better than most of the Anglophone kids he knew in Douala, the boy reaffirmed his conviction that he was a gifted child who needed special nurturing. He was particularly struck by Gavin’s down-to-earth nature when he found his youngest son playing with the kids of the neighborhood and leading them around as if he were the natural leader of a gang. That was hardly a day after he moved his family to Banganté.
Gavin also made an unmistakable impression on Ken Smith, an American Baptist missionary residing with his family two hundred yards down the road, to the point where Kenneth Smith seemed to enjoy speaking English to Gavin all the time. That alone made Joseph very proud of his youngest son. Even more satisfying was the fact that the American asked him to allow Gavin to accompany him and his family on a picnic after the Sunday sermon, pointing out that he thought Gavin would make excellent friends with his ten and twelve-year-old sons.
As he sat on his easy chair and thought of his family, Joseph Njike concluded that he made the right decision. Moving his family back to the Bamilekéland, precisely to his ancestral homeland realm of Banganté and away from the throngs and rattles of war in Douala was the right thing to do for their safety.
A sigh escaped his lips as he recalled his warnings to his friends in Douala before he left the city, pointing out that the ongoing skirmishes between French forces and the banned Union of the Peoples of the Cameroons (UPC) were bound to escalate. The French were already whispering around in some circles that they would never allow the UPC to realize its program to reunite French Cameroun and British Cameroons, and then lead both United Nations Trust Territories to independence. Why the French assumed that they could get away with their game plan in complete disregard of the fact that the UPC commanded the support of the majority of the peoples of the former Germany colony, he could not tell. There was something else he was also sure about—his UPC comrades would fight the French and their puppets to the bitter end rather than live under the deceptive independence and democracy that the French were planning to impose on their overseas territories and colonies.
Nevertheless, Joseph Njike did not want to be involved in the madness of war. He would do everything within his powers to shield his family from the horrors of the deteriorating situation. He would run away from the war the way his grandfather tried to do.
Joseph Njike picked up a copy of the Monday, Dec. 02, 1957 edition of Time Magazine among the papers on the stool by his side, and then flipped the pages over to the article he had been told about. It read JUNGLE TERROR. He licked his lips, and then went on to read the full article:

Six months after the French gave internal autonomy to the French Cameroun, a California-sized land of steaming coastal plains, rain-sodden jungles and high savannah just above the equator on Africa's West Coast, native Premier André-Marie Mbida finds himself confronted with a reign of terror spearheaded by 5,000 hard-core Communist guerrillas-Led by a Prague-trained Communist named Ruben Um Nyobé, first secretary of the Red-front Union of the Peoples of the Cameroons (UPC)…in the...heartland of the 120,000-member Bassa tribe, center of the spreading rebel movement…

Joseph Njike closed his eyes for a moment and ruminated. He was convinced the UPC was losing the media war. Being tagged communist was not a good sign at all. He picked up the Mar. 03, 1958 edition of another Time magazine and settled on the article entitled FALLEN IDOL.

The French thought they had found the ideal man last May when they picked André Marie Mbida, 40, to serve as first Premier of the semiautonomous French Camerouns, the California-sized territory near the equator on Africa's west coast. His forehead bears a blue tribal tattoo; he is a Roman Catholic; and like the French themselves, he does not want to rush into independence before the 3,300,000 African inhabitants are prepared for it. When Mbida wanted to get tough with Communist-led rebels who were terrorizing parts of the country's coastal regions from jungle bases (TIME, Dec. 2), the French approved and dispatched two companies of French troops to help out…But Mbida became careless with the label of "Communist"—he began to use it against anyone who disagreed with him. He banished political opponents to remote areas, imprisoned an opposition editor who published an article written by Ruben Um Nyobé, Red-trained leader of the rebels. The French themselves gradually became disenchanted with Mbida…As successor, the French chose Ahmadou Ahidjo, 33, who had served as Vice Premier and Interior Minister in Mbida's government. Ahidjo announced his policy: independence (but without a timetable), union of the British and French Camerouns, cooperation with France on a basis of equality and confidence—a program that should steal thunder from the supporters of Moscow and Cairo. Ahidjo also is expected to try to lure the rebels out of the jungle with the promise that they will suffer no punishment if they surrender—the kind of offer Mbida had refused to make.

Joseph Njike spent the next hour reading the other papers in French. The stories were all the same. The media had succeeded in branding the UPC a communist movement. He placed the last paper back on the stool, shut his eyes for a moment and brooded.
“Oh no, no, no,” he raged. “They have found another puppet to turn the north too against us.”
He opened his eyes again and looked around him in a dazed manner. Satisfied that his outburst went unnoticed, he breathed out heavily and looked at the setting sun and the picturesque view it gave to the rolling hills of Banganté. Everything looks so peaceful, he thought.
A feeling of relief swept over Joseph Nkabyo Njike as he thought of his family. He was glad he brought them back home to the serenity of the life he was born and bred in. Only, he could not completely dispel the feeling that perhaps he had deserted his friends at the helm of the UPC party and the mushrooming partisan movement confronting the French military in French Cameroun. If only they could understand that his decision not to take sides in the mushrooming war had deep roots. He could not overlook his past commitments to both sides of the conflict, a past that sometimes made him smile and sigh in turns.

Joseph Nkabyo Njike was apt to consider himself a lucky and happy family man until Germany attacked France in the spring of 1940, forcing the capitulation of the mighty French Army and the flight of some of its soldiers to Britain. Like everyone else in French Cameroun, the defeat of France after less than six weeks of fighting came as a shock. Even so, the news that the much vaunted Marshal Philippe Pétain, who just recently became the French premiere, capitulated and signed an armistice with Nazi Germany was what appalled him the most.
Even though cessation of hostilities brought some peace to France, the truce gave the French State nominal sovereignty only over the entire French territory, allowing Germany to occupy the north and east of France, and recognizing Italian occupation of five percent of French territory in France’s eastern border adjacent with Italy. This effectively meant that the French State was allowed to have full sovereignty only over the unoccupied zone covering the greater portion of the southern half of France. Marshal Pétain and his Nazi-German overlords chose to call this semi-independent territory Vichy France.
He had the opportunity to discuss the developments in Europe with the much venerated Joseph Nana Njike and his sons while on a visit to the patron’s home in Nkongsamba in early July 1940. It became obvious right from the start that they too abhorred the stifling French control in French Cameroun and that they too were mooning for a reunited Kamerun, just like it was during German colonial rule under the Kaiser. But they were quick to agree on one fact: Germany under the Nazis could not and should never be trusted. However, when Joseph Nana Njike’s first son Hans Wette Njike, born from a romance between the patron and a German woman while he was doing his graduate studies in Germany, pointed out that the Nazis would treat Africans like sub-humans were they to get a foothold in Africa, he painted the picture in such a way that the prospect of Nazi control of Kamerun looked far worse than the horrible treatment the people of the Congo Free State suffered for a quarter of a century when the territory was under the private control of Belgian King Leopold II.
In fact, he returned to Douala after that meeting dreading the thought of Germany regaining control of the Kamerun territories. But he was at a loss over what the free world should do to stop that from happening because he knew that Germany wanted its former colonies in Africa back, because he knew that Adolf Hitler was out to avenge the treatment Germany suffered at the hands of the victorious Western Powers after the Great War, and because it was no secret that the combined territories of British Cameroons and French Cameroun were the portion of sub-Saharan Africa coveted by Nazi Germany the most in Adolf Hitler’s plan to control Africa.
So, when he learned that a certain French General Charles De Gaulle rejected the armistice with Germany and then went on to create a government in exile, he was impressed. When he became privy to information that the indefatigable Frenchman had just founded an organization called Free France, drawing from the allegiance of the French soldiers who fled Dunkirk and found sanctuary in England, he thought France had not been completely beaten after all. When he also found out from a French friend weeks later that Commandant Jacques-Philippe Leclerc, a trusted lieutenant of General Charles De Gaulle, arrived in French Cameroon a fortnight ago as the new High Commissioner of the territory in a move that spelled him out as the replacement for the wavering Richard Brunot, he knew their piece of Africa was about to see some action too. Still, it never crossed his mind that he could be a part of the action. He did not want to risk an early death like his forebears.
However, everything changed after he received a four-page letter from his Anglophone maternal second cousin Bartholomew Njoumen Ndepkeu in late August, handed to him by Julius Wakam Njomo, Maria’s brother from Victoria, a coastal town at the foot of the Cameroon Mountain in British Southern Cameroons. In it, Bartholomew recounted his experiences as a soldier in the Southern Nigeria Regiment of the Royal West African Frontier Force (WAFF), the British overseas colonial force sent to fight with the 1st African Division in East Africa against Italian forces in their campaign to increase Dictator Benito Mussolini’s "Italian East African Empire", a chunk of Africa that now included the Italian colonies of Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, as well as Abyssinia and French Somaliland, territories recently occupied by Italian forces. In the last two pages of the letter, Bartholomew expressed his exhilaration over the fact that they were about to restore the sovereignty of Abyssinia—a country that never suffered the injustices of European colonization until Italians troops heeded the order of their head of state, invaded the proud African nation in 1936 and deposed its king Haile Selassie I. His younger second cousin talked of the joy that came with fighting alongside his African compatriots from different parts of the continent against the scourge of fascism; he expressed his belief that these African forces were commencing the liberation of Africa from colonialism in a process that now involved winning the respect for their European colonial masters. The letter ended with the Italian conquest of British Somaliland and the retreat of the 1st (African) Division to Kenya.
Fired by the letter about the East African campaign from the son of his mother’s cousin, he sought the counsel of the French Guianese born Félix Adolphe Éboué, France’s first black governor or High Commissioner in Africa, who made history as the first of his rank to pledge his support to General Charles De Gaulle, a decision he backed up right away by making Chad the first French colony to join the Allies. The visiting governor of Chad probably took him seriously because he introduced him to Commandant Jacques-Philippe Leclerc. It was during their first meeting that he learned of the Frenchman’s plan to form a military force for Free France in French Equatorial Africa, and it was over a glass of brandy at the new French Camerounian High Commissioner’s residence in Douala that he too pledged his support to General Charles De Gaulle’s cause. Then he acted against his wife’s emotional weeping and pleas, steeled himself from the wondering eyes of his two sons and dismissed the concerns of his friends by joining the Free French Forces that Commandant Jacques-Philippe Leclerc and Félix Éboué were putting together in French Central Africa. He encouraged others to join too, so that Douala became the rallying center of the Free French Forces in Africa, producing many of the fine men that inspired others in the rest of French Africa to join this highly-motivated force fighting for the glory of a free France. Joseph was not surprised to learn that Africans were the majority in the movement, a situation that would stay unchanged right up to the moment the Free French Forces landed in France in 1944.
He was actually enjoying the drill into army life when news of the impending arrival of new French Camerounian recruits reached them in the camp. Still, it came as a shock when Barthomew’s nineteen-year-old younger brother Bruno Ketcha Ndepkeu hooped out of one of the trucks one afternoon along with the other recruits. When he found out that the young man’s widowed mother in Nkongsamba knew nothing about it, and that Bartholomew had no clue that he had enlisted into the Free French Force, he did his best to get him out of the military, all to no avail. However, after weeks of basic training that involved standing at attention, running, marching, crawling through mud and barbed wire, target practices, and scaling walls, he looked at his young relative and thought the whole venture was worthwhile after all. Even though the drill chiseled out a fit and disciplined young man from Bruno, it did not taper his enthusiasm to a comfortable level. So, when General Charles the Gaulle arrived in Douala that October, and then four days later announced his plans to invade other parts of French Equatorial Africa in order to make that part of the African continent his base from which he planned to launch attacks against German and Italian forces in Libya, Joseph Njike knew that the real action was about to begin. However, his worries about his young second cousin affected his anticipation of combat.
He kept an eye on Bruno throughout the Gabon campaign, jumping him down when the lad started charging recklessly in the direction of fire from Vichy forces during the battle for the town of Mitzic, pulling him away to safety after he got shot in the leg in the battle of Lambaréné on the banks of the River Ogooue as their forces fought to take the garrison. When they overran Vichy forces in Libreville and finally Port Gentil, he was glad that the campaign was over with Bruno still alive. With French Equatorial Africa now secured for the Free French Forces, Joseph started looking forward to action in French West Africa as the next area to wrestle from Vichy control.
However, the lull in fighting that followed the Gabon campaign tapered off his anticipation to the point where he started developing an interest in Brazzaville and the surrounding areas of French Congo. In fact, he first observed General Charles De Gaulle in an angry mood during that temporary interval of quiet, while he, his fellow French Camerounian compatriot Raphael Onana and a host of other French soldiers were in attendance to the high command in a party in Brazzaville, French Congo. It was a Friday actually, just around dust, and with a beautiful hue in the sky, when he caught sight of the furious-looking towering Frenchman hurrying to his car, timidly trailed by General Jacques-Philippe Leclerc and Battalion Chief Marie-Pierre Koenig. The living French legend ignored their entreaties, got into the car in a hurry, and then ordered his chauffeur to drive away in a curt voice that could be heard tens of yards away. Later that day, as he shared a smoke with Sergeant Marcel Kahn, he commented in an off-handed manner about the angry look on General De Gaulle’s face when he left the place in a hurry.
Marcel was an affable fellow of taciturn disposition. Unlike most of the French soldiers in the Free French Forces in the heart of Africa, he was born on the continent, in the French Equatorial African territory of Oubangui-Chari where he grew up before moving with his parents to French Cameroun at the age of eleven. It took only a couple of days working with Marcel to realize that he felt very comfortable with his fellow native Africans and that he abhorred the haughtiness of his French-born compatriots. However, they did not become friends until during the battle for Port Gentil, after he saved the Frenchman’s life by shooting dead a Vichy soldier who suddenly appeared behind Marcel as if from nowhere, raised his gun and was about to shoot him. Marcel stayed close to him after that near death experience, and he became the second voice cautioning Bruno. In fact, Marcel went on to tell him a lot about himself, his family, France and French rule in Africa. He learned that Marcel’s parents moved back to France with his three teenage sisters in June 1939 and settled in Bourges. That was three months before Hitler gave the orders for the German Army to invade Poland. But since Bourges fell under the control of Vichy France after the German invasion of France and the signing of the armistice between the victorious German Army and the defeated French Army under Marshal Petain, no information had reached him about his parents. Marcel also told him stories about his older brother who was working as an administrative officer in Dakar, Senegal, pointing out that the fellow was steadfast in his loyalty to the Vichy government. However, only when he talked about his French Camerounian girlfriend did his eyes light up in their sockets. Salamatou, as she was called, informed him of her pregnancy with his baby before he deployed to Gabon.
“The great general thinks of French honor in a manner that is more like a dream than the reality you, I and most people here consider it to be. He gets upset when others fail to see things the way he dreams them with his eyes open,” Marcel blurted out in response, was silent for a moment, and then took a puff on his cigarette, before slowly expelling the smoke through his mouth and nostrils, never taking his eyes off Joseph.
“You sound cryptic, my friend,” Joseph said finally, breaking the silent moment that seemed to be dragging for eternity.
Marcel shrugged with dimmed eyes. “Our great general does not understand why General Marcel Tetu and the other captured Vichy soldiers are refusing to join the Free French Forces. Even more so, he is having a hard time getting the significance of the positions taken by General Leclerc and General Koenig who prefer to see the captured Vichy soldiers locked up here in Brazzaville as prisoners of war.”
“Hmm! I agree with the great general on that one.”
“I am with him too, but I know things aren’t black and white.”
“What do you mean?”
“Come on, Joseph! Let’s be objective here. Yes, Joseph! We shouldn’t expect the affairs of men to be black and white only when it involves interests, values, and honor. Think of a mosaic and you will get the picture I am trying to paint here,” Marcel said with a pensive look on his face, and then took another puff on his cigarette and continued, “There is a lesson to learn from all of these. Any idea of what that could be?”
Joseph shook his head no. “What?” he asked with quizzical eyes.
“Apparently, the Germans are barbaric, but militarily, they are brilliant. They beat our military hands down, treated us in defeat better than they did with Poland and Czechoslovakia, made our top leaders believe that by allowing us control of half of France, they are being magnanimous. Their so-called magnanimity has divided the French people in the process. If I must admit it, they effected a brilliant divide-and-rule strategy in France. Yes, my friend; the Vichy people are of the opinion that Germany isn’t treating France as badly as they had expected Hitler to do; while we, the believers of a Free France, think any acceptance of German dominance is an act of treason. But there is a paradox to our resistance or call it our refusal to be subjugated as you and I see it. We are rejecting Germany from abroad, from a safe distance actually; we are regrouping from a colonial territory we captured from Germany in the last war, and we are getting most of our help from people that France subjugated and treated harshly. You, my French Camerounian brothers, are an honorable people. You are the first to rally to our fight against the Nazis when Germany treated you before better than France does or ever did. You see evil in Adolf Hitler, his fellow Nazis and his Nazi regime, and you reject the Germany you came to prefer because of that. Meanwhile, supporters of the Vichy regime are indifferent about the evil in Nazism and its leadership. Why? Well, I think it is because they too are likely to act like the Nazis if given the opportunity; I think it is because they too admire many of the racist views and laws against France’s minorities that the Nazis espouse. There is an underlying sentiment of racism in my dear country, but it is a sentiment that is being peddled around as ideological rigidity of the right. My friend, those right-wing ideas are born of pure, amazing, but unadulterated ignorance.”
“What is the lesson?”
“You didn’t get it?”
“I didn’t! What is the lesson?”
“The strategy! Yes, the strategy the Germans used and are using against us is what I am talking about. Defeat a people militarily, and then make peace with the despondent in their midst who have no fight left in them. Do so by also giving the despondent privileges and the trappings of power. That way, the despondent becomes your bulwark and works with you in fighting those resisting your rule. The despondent becomes your puppet without really knowing it, albeit a puppet who thinks he is being realistic and that he is safeguarding what is left of the interest of the country he purports to love. You see, the despondent even gets to the point of convincing himself that he is a realistic if not a pragmatic patriot. He might even consider himself a nationalist, when you and I know that the most consciousness he can develop is that of a pseudo-patriot. He has allowed limitations to be placed on the sovereignty of his nation.”


Joseph Nkabyo Njike sighed. The exchange with his French friend happened almost two decades ago, but the truth of Marcel’s words was reverberating now. What Marcel viewed as a brilliant strategy used by the Nazis against the French people during the Second World War had apparently been adopted by those who were the leaders of the Free French Forces, those very French patriots who had opposed Nazism so much. Only, these new leaders of France were using it now against his people, against French Camerounians who gave the Free French Forces their territory for the movement to form its first base in Africa. These new leaders of France were using the strategy against the people of the former German Kamerun who were the first Africans to rally behind General Charles De Gaulle and his resistant organization in the French campaign to liberate France and defeat the German Army. The General Charles De Gaulle he and other French Camerounians had risked their lives for by forming the core of the foreign fighters in the Free French Force that liberated Paris from German control in August 1944, was now disregarding the will, the dignity and the rights of his people in a manner that happened to be similar to that of Nazi Germany in so many ways. But he was tired. He would not fight the French or their army in French Cameroun. He would not fight anyone any more. He would make sure he stayed alive to safeguard his family. His children needed his love and guidance to go through their world that was becoming more complicated with every passing week.
I need to get a good night’s rest for the journey to Yaoundé tomorrow with Jean-Marie, he thought.
He would travel to the capital city the next day with Marcel’s son Jean-Marie Mbombo Kahn, for the young man’s travel documents as another phase in his preparation for the trip to France to start his freshman year at the University of Toulouse where he planned to study medicine. How he was so proud of that boy who called him father, just like his own real sons. He felt a twinge of shame thinking that he might not have been reciprocal enough. No, the boy was his son in every sense of the word. After all, didn’t he shed tears of joy when Jean-Marie graduated from High School, and didn’t he embrace the young man with the pride of an accomplished father when he passed his baccalaureate? Jean-Marie was his son all right, even if he did not seed him. After all, he came into the boy’s life after the war and never made himself unavailable since then, guiding him through his childhood and adolescence, teaching him the lessons of manhood, sending him off to the boarding school called Lycée de Manengouba with joy and expectations just like he was doing now with Bernard Ketcha who happened not to be as nimble-witted. He was proud of the young man’s accomplishments and looked forward to the day he would address him as Doctor Jean-Marie Mbombo Kahn and show him off to his world for all his worth.















Yesterday



When he committed himself to the war effort against Nazi Germany, his decision was based on a deep idealistic overtone of fighting for humanity. However, he admitted to a few friends afterwards that the other reason he joined the Free French Forces was to confront and overcome his phobia for war. He wanted to cleanse himself of the curse of war put on his grandfather so that it would not haunt him or any of his descendants in the future.
As a matter of fact, he loved his new life as a soldier during the first year he spent fighting with the Free French Forces. The battles against Vichy forces in French Equatorial Africa and the march against Italian forces all the way to the southeastern Libyan Desert in the campaign that culminated in the capture of the oasis town of Kufra, known for its strategic aerial connection to Italian East Africa, revealed the long hidden warrior instincts he inherited from his forebears. After the fall of Kufra, he joined his comrades in arms and somberly swore the oath their commander Jacques LeClerc came up with, pledging to continue fighting until "our flag flies over the Cathedral of Strasbourg". Though he had no clue at the time as to why his commander chose Strasbourg of all places, he committed the name of the city to memory as the epicenter of the struggle to liberate France from German occupation.
The rush of adrenaline as he confronted danger made him feel alive more than he had ever felt before. It was as if the rattle of machine gunfire, the crackle of rifle shots, and the deafening sound of explosives all mingled with the shouts and cries of the frightened, the wounded, the dying, the brave and the motivated to give more life to his being. This strange excitement from combat was easy to handle until the scale of the casualties increased multiple folds when what he initially thought would be a short war moved into the second year; when he watched his comrades in arms die in battle, in makeshift hospitals, and from their own hands.
He became a battle-hardened and an experienced combatant from the military encounters in Eritrea against Italian forces in the horn of Africa. He even learned some Arabic too while fighting with the 1st Free French Light Division in Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon against forces of the Vichy regime as the Free French Forces wrestled control of the last two mentioned French mandatory territories from the control of the collaborating Vichy forces. But then, the ache in his heart increased as he spent more days, weeks and months away from French Cameroun and his family, so that he starting wishing earnestly for the war to come to a speedy end, even though the reality on the ground was telling him a different story.
When Italian dictator Benito Mussolini tried to link Italian North Africa to Italian East Africa, the fellow must have thought it would be a simple affair. His forces in Libya were five times more in numbers than the British Forces in Egypt. As a matter of fact, the invasion went well until the British counter-offensive in early December of 1940 liberated western Egypt and decimated Italian forces in Northern Cyrenaica, forcing Italian forces to beat a panicked retreat into Tripolitania. It was a very dire situation for the Italians that December, especially with Commonwealth troops now poised to overrun Tripolitania. But Mussolini came to his senses quick enough the moment it dawned on him that the collapse of the Italian Army in the rest of Libya was eminent. Even so, few pundits saw it coming when the proud Italian dictator sought the assistance of his German ally. Adolf Hitler heeded his plea for help and responded to the impending disaster right away by deploying the newly formed German corps, otherwise, known as the "Afrika Korps", under the command of the brilliant and charismatic General Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel.
With Free French Forces edging north from their bases in Chad and the southern Libyan Desert, and as the Allies pressed westward from Cyrenaica, Rommel’s arrival in Libya proved timely for the Italians. But nobody, not even the Germans, expected the reversal of fortunes to be so dramatic. By the end of April 1941, Axis forces had routed the Allies out of most of Libya all the way to Sallum at the Egyptian border, except Tobruk and the surrounding area. A year of offensives and counteroffensives from both sides kept the frontlines in North Africa virtually intact.
Joseph, Marcel, the rest of the Free French Forces and the Allies knew that the Axis powers needed to capture Tobruk in order to push into Egypt and control the Suez Canal. With regrouping Axis troops threatening Allied forces thirty miles east of Tobruk along a line that ran thirty miles south from Gazala at the coast, the entrenched and equally regrouping Allied forces went about their business of fortifying their defenses in preparation for the anticipated show down sometime in May. However, while the northern defense around Tobruk was well prepared and well-constructed, making it almost impregnable to any advancing army, the southern part was not as tightly fortified, leaving it vulnerable to penetration from a heavy flanking force. General Claude Auchinleck, the Commander in Chief of British Middle East Command and the overall commander of Allied forces in North Africa, expected the Axis to attack the northern part of the defense. So, he placed the better armed and better trained 8th Army there. Here he was outsmarted by Rommel who attacked Gazala on May 26, giving the impression that the north was the main point of attack. At the same time, he sent the cream of his forces to the south, thereby outflanking the 8th Army in the process. But Rommel’s plan to cut the Allied supply lines by gaining rear access to their southern defenses did not go as smoothly as planned because of Bir Hakeim.
When General Claude Auchinleck asked General Marie Pierre Koenig, commander of the 1st Free French Division to relieve the British forces manning the fort in the oasis of Bir Hakeim, he never expected much from this diverse military unit made up mostly of French Camerounians, Chadians, and other Equatorial Africans. However, quick Axis successes against British troops south of the oasis made Bir Hakeim the next place to overrun in Rommel’s southern plunge that was intended to deceive the opposing Allied forces. Alerted of the rapidly advancing Axis forces, General Koenig readied his men in defensive positions early the next morning. So, when the enemy attacked, the fighters of the 1st Free French Division were prepared to do battle with the over-confident Axis forces.
He remembered the first day of fighting at Bir Hakeim as the proudest day of his life as a soldier because they fought in a manner and with a spirit that was beyond their expectations, forcing the enemy to retreat in earnest. The 1st Free French Division did not lose a single soldier that day, but they deprived the Axis forces of four dozen tanks and captured ninety-one prisoners. It turned out that even though Bir Hakeim held out, the Allied positions just north of it fared much worse as those defending it got wiped out, thereby leaving them at Bir Hakeim isolated and under siege.
The difficult development forced the defenders of Bir Hakeim to ration food and water, fortify their ranks and develop a suicidal mentality. In fact, they barely covered their eyes to get some rest thereafter. All the same, the dire situation made them become closer to one another than ever before; it made them determined to stick it to the Germans and their Italian allies. To sustain their bodies alongside their high spirits, they treated the fresh supplies the 101st motorized company brought in on May 31, under the cloak of darkness as if they were divine nourishment or as if they were manner from heaven.
Still, survival was the dominant thought on his mind as he battled the Germans and their Italian allies alongside his fellow soldiers of the Free French Forces. So, when he found out the next morning that the returning convoy took Bruno with them because of the wound he suffered from enemy sniper fire just before dawn that day, he wondered what was going on. But that did not mean he was not happy his young relative would not see the worst of the fighting, which he knew was yet to come.
Later that day, as he manned his position with a sniper rifle aimed at the desert night, Marcel scrambled to his side and asked him if he wanted a smoke. He declined by shaking his head.
“Here is a letter for you.”
“From whom?”
“From me, of course! I want you to keep it tucked somewhere underneath your uniform until the appropriate time for you to open it and see what I have written in there.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you make it and I don’t come out of this war alive, I want you to give the letter to either of my parents, my mother preferably.”
“What is it about?”
“You will find out. They will have something for you when you hand it over to them.”
“You are beginning to puzzle me.”
“I know. There is something else I want you to know. I am responsible for Bruno’s evacuation. There was no enemy fire.”
“What are you talking about?”
“He talked to me a week ago about the consultation he had with a marabou before he left French Cameroun; he told me the fellow gave him an amulet which is supposed to protect him from enemy fire.
“I don’t get it.”
“All I am trying to say is that your young cousin is convinced he survived the last four days of this war madness because of the amulet.”
“I still don’t understand.”
Marcel shook his head with a gentle smile on his face. “When I spotted Bruno this morning as he tried to slip out into the desert to attack our enemies, I thought to stop him was the right thing to do. So I sniped him in the leg. It was a spur of the moment decision to put him safely out of the way of death that was lurking around right in front of him. I say so because German and Italian soldiers thirsty for our blood were not far away. Now, I am glad I got him in the knee. He would walk all right, but he wouldn’t be considered fit for fighting anymore.”
“What do you think you just did?”
“I just saved the life of your crazy cousin who was trying to get himself killed. You don’t intend to tell anyone about it, do you?”
“You are crazy, just like him.”
“I know.”
“So, why did you really do it?”
“Your people are known for grieving the loss of a loved one very deeply. I didn’t want his death to make you and Bartholomew lose focus. I don’t know what Bartholomew is going through at the moment, but you and I would consider ourselves blessed if we both make it out of here alive. We would even be lucky if either one of us survives this siege. Mon Frère, we are about to see the real hell on earth.”
As a matter of fact, he was right. Their first real hell on earth began the next morning when they spotted fresh German troops advancing from the south and Italian troops closing in from the north. It turned out to be a harbinger of what was to come. General Rommel’s reinforcement must have given the Axis forces a very powerful boost because two Italian officers stepped forward and asked the defenders of the fort to surrender it or be blasted into smithereens. But they were not cowed at all. General Koenig rejected their offer and all hell broke loose the next day. German air raids after air raids, artillery exchanges between the opposing forces, the exploding minefields, the stench of burning materials and bodies were damaging all right, but the frequent counter raids by the Royal Air Force (RAF) kept up the morale of the defenders of the fort. All the same, the fighting depleted them of their strength. Even so, the Axis forces only managed to advance to within eight hundred yards of their defensive positions on the morning of the fourth day and made it to the inner perimeter the next day. Despite the fall in fortunes, the Free French Forces did not relent, fighting from their barricades, dugouts, fox holes and fortified positions.
He saw death and destruction everywhere, but with morale still high, they kept on resisting as if the fort meant the entire world to them. Soldiers of the Foreign Legion, the Colonial battalions, the Fusiliers Marins (Marine Fusiliers) and the Marine Infantry fought together in a brotherly spirit that he had never seen before―their blood and sweat mingling together, their muscles and determination propping up and urging one another to continue fighting in a manner that made Marcel feel like he was participating in the greatest moment in French history, a feeling he echoed by remarking that they were like the Jewish zealots taking a stand at Masada. But he did not like the comparison. He was convinced that his people were not suicidal at all. After all, he could not remember a time in his life that he had harbored a death wish.
When General Koenig announced in the third week of fighting that they would have to evacuate the fort, the Free French soldiers did not question his decision at all. They had every reason to feel it was the right thing to do at that moment. After all, they had put up a good show and slowed down the Axis drive to the east by prolonging the capture of Gazala and Tobruk, thereby giving the Allied forces ample time to reinforce the Egyptian defenses. As a matter of fact, the June 11 evacuation turned out to be truly heroic, even though there was a chaotic side to the entire process. Putting everything in perspective, it turned out that the Axis powers suffered more casualties that day than the Free French Forces, many of whom successfully broke through the German encirclement to the extraction point where British forces picked them up and ferried them away to safety.
The 1st Free French Division lost more than half of its fighters at the Battle of Bir Hakeimnine hundred soldiers of the Division captured by the Axis forces. However, he, Marcel, Pierre Messmer, Raphel Onana, George Philippe Roccard and the other battle weary survivors of Bir Hakeim would rest and regroup for the first and second battles of El Alamein that would turn the tide of the war against General Rommel and his seemingly unstoppable Afrika Korps.
As the Italians and the Germans entrenched their positions in Libya and northwestern Egypt, as French West Africa continued pledging its loyalty to the Vichy regime, and as French North Africa under Admiral Jean Louis Xavier François Darlan, a Vichy sympathizer, hesitated to switch sides and join the Allies and the Free French Forces, he fine-toned his fighting skills in preparation for the next battle. Moving up the ranks in the Free French Forces was not something he had aspired deeply for, but he accepted the recognition of his efforts with a great deal of indifference that surprised Marcel, who on several occasions, expressed his discomfort that he had been promoted to the rank of a major while his French Camerounian counterpart was still a Chief Adjutant. Still, the friends worked together. Marcel never stopped seeking his opinion and even directives despite the new difference in their ranks.
When the second battle of El Alamein began, he was already an expert shooter and a highly decorated soldier. However, he remembered little about the battle because he was knocked unconscious on the second day of fighting by an explosion caused by a tank shell. When he became conscious again on his recovery bed, the medical staff by his bedside told him he was lucky because he only suffered a concussion and shrapnel wounds that would heal in about a month or two, while all the men in his squad died in the battle. All the same, he suffered from recurring headaches afterwards that left him agonizing in excruciating pains. However, he only felt relieved when the battle ended with Marcel and Raphel Onana alive.
Then Marcel came up to his tent one afternoon with news that caused him extreme joy. What many of them thought before to be a flop had just been turned around to get the expected result. “Operation Torch”, the Allied landing in Algiers that sparked off fighting between Allied troops on the one hand and Vichy forces with assistance from Germany on the other hand, had just been brought to an end because Admiral Jean Louis Xavier François Darlan ordered French Forces in North Africa to cease fire and join the Allied Powers against Germany, and also because General Henri Honoré Giraud accepted to be General Darlan’s subordinate under his new appointment as commander of the Army of Africa and the other French forces in North Africa, a development that prompted the Vichy forces in French West Africa to follow suite and join the Allied war effort, thereby effectively securing the entire French Africa for French anti-Vichy forces and the Allies. Adolf Hitler responded to these developments by ordering German forces to occupy Corsica and the unoccupied south of France. But that was not all about it. Germany responded further by banning Vichy forces in the entire territory of France, leaving the Vichy regime with jurisdictional powers only.
“My compatriot, these developments mean we are going to have a big war in North Africa,” Marcel added excitedly as if he had to put a coating on the breaking news on the rapid turn of events in French North Africa.
“What do you mean?”
“Look, Joseph; I see a lot of intrigues in all of these developments.”
“What are you trying to say? Aren’t you happy that at long last, all of us in Africa are on the same side now in the fight against Germany and Italy?”
“Of course, I do.”
“Then what is the problem?”
Marcel laughed weakly and shook his head. “I know my people from the motherland.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“The United States and Great Britain endorsed Admiral Darlan without seeking General Charles De Gaulle’s approval. I am sure they did something like that because they know the support of French North Africa and French West Africa would be more substantial to the Allied war effort than the input from General Charles De Gaulle’s French Equatorial African base. The two Anglophone powers tricked General Giraud with promises to allow him to lead the Allied Command in the landings in North Africa and France, something that never happened and is never going to happen. Today, he finds himself under the command of Admiral Darlan, and the French are not going to command the Allied war effort in the impending Tunisian campaign. General Charles De Gaulle is our hero, especially those of us who are out of the motherland, but the people of France look up to General Giraud as the all-time war hero. General Giraud fought the invading German Army in France until they captured and imprisoned him; the general went on to orchestrate his escape from prison in the heart of Germany, made his way to the South of France. He even tried to convince Marshall Petain to lead France in resisting the occupation, all to no avail, yet he did not condemn the Vichy leader. Take it as accurate information from your friend here that General Giraud commands the loyalty and respect for most of the fighters in the French Resistance in France, the majority of whom are with the left. They look up to him more than they do to the other generals. So, tell me my friend; can these three generals who three months ago happened to be on different, if not opposing sides, work together for the salvation of France?”
“What do you mean by opposing sides?”
“Isn’t it obvious? Admiral Darlan harbors right-wing ideas that many people consider extreme, though it is not bad as Hitler’s or Mussolini’s. General De Gaulle is a civilized right-winger. Meanwhile, our General Giraud is a left-winger for all intents and purposes.”
“Your categorization is amazing.”
“Thank you. But you still haven’t answered my question.”
“I think they can work together. In fact, I think that is what they are going to do because each and every one of them loves France with a strong passion.”
“I don’t think so, my friend.”
Marcel might have been right after all because news reached them in the Libyan Desert on Christmas day 1942, reporting the death of Admiral Darlan, gunned down at the doorsteps of his office by Fernand Bonnier de la Chapelle, a twenty-year old member of the French resistance who objected to the admiral’s past collaboration with Germany and his lackluster embrace of the new alliance with the French Resistance and the Free French Forces. When Marcel informed him a couple of days afterwards that Fernand had been tried and executed two days after he committed the murder, if not assassination, and that General Giraud was now the de facto successor and commander in chief of French forces in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, he stopped taking Marcel’s insights lightly, he stopped taking his African-born French friend for granted.
Those rapid turn of events prompted him to start scouring for more information from other soldiers about the developments in French North Africa. That was how he found out about the agreement General De Gaulle and General Giraud reached to become co-presidents of the Free French Forces and the Comité Français de la Libération Nationale, otherwise known as the French Committee of National Liberation, which was a body formed to provide a unified command or leadership, and to organize and coordinate the campaign to liberate France. Somehow, he wondered if the two generals would be able to carry on as equal partners throughout the war. But then, when he learned that General De Gaulle thwarted General Giraud’s attempt to lift all the racist laws undermining the rights of the indigenous peoples of Africa, but then went on to support only the restoration of the Cremieux decree that allowed full citizenship for the Jews in Algeria while maintaining the lower status of the Africans there, he thought the leader of the Free French Forces probably wanted to move gradually. He did not want to dwell on the thought that his French hero could be having an underlying contempt for the very Africans who were giving their sweat and blood to restore French honor, people who apparently were very committed to the defeat of Nazi Germany.
In the Tunisian campaign that followed the capture of Tripoli, he fought with the conviction that kicking the forces of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany out of Tunisia would be the last routing of a distasteful idea from African soil. Long and bitter though the campaign was, he never complained, he never lost heart and he never had an emotional breakdown. That is, until May 13, 1943, when two hundred and thirty thousand German and Italian soldiers surrendered to Allied forces, confirming the defeat of the Axis armies in Africa. That was the day he went down on his knees and wept for the first time in his adult life. He shed tears of joy. But something was not lost to him as he celebrated the victory with his fellow comrades in arms. The Free French Forces in Africa that began as a ragtag force of dozens of soldiers in Douala, French Cameroun, had evolved into a powerful fighting force to reckon with; and they, blacks from Sub-Saharan Africa, constituted the absolute majority of this force. Meanwhile, Maghrebians—North Africans of mostly Berber and/or Arab origin—constituted slightly more than half of the combatants of the former Vichy forces of French North Africa and French West Africa, now called the French Army of Africa. Overall, Africans constituted more than three quarters of the fighters of the different French forces when put together.
News that General Giraud and General Charles De Gaulle decided it would be better to merge the Army of Africa and the Free French Forces they respectively commanded into the unified French Liberation Army, was highly welcomed by the rank and file soldiers fighting for the ultimate liberation of France. Still, he, like his other comrades in arms of the Free French Forces, did not stop regarding the former Vichy soldiers with suspicion. That is why he did not like the fact that the Allies commissioned the 1st Free French Division, comprising mostly men of the former Free French Forces, to garrison Libya, and then went on to give the reconstituted 1st Army Corps, brimming with men from the former Vichy forces in North Africa, the responsibility to liberate Corsica. However, when he learned that they succeeded in their mission to free the French island with the help of Italian soldiers who turned against their former German allies, he was happy about it.
The one year that soldiers of the 1st Free French Division chafed their nerves garrisoning Libya was not altogether bad for him because he was granted a furlough, allowing him to go home and spend some time in French Cameroun with his family and friends.
This break gave him the opportunity to spend cherished moments playing with his sons, bonding with his daughter born during the Gabon campaign and reiterating his undying love to his wife Maria. A week before he returned to Libya, news reached him reporting Bartholomew’s return from Asia to enjoy the break from the war with his family in Victoria, British Southern Cameroons. He told his wife about it, and then left the next day to see his relative.
Dusk was on the horizon, the imposing Cameroon Mountain was looking picturesque in the background and the distant sea appeared forlorn from across his left shoulder as he approached Bartholomew’s home. He always thought Victoria was an amazing place to live in, but the beauty of nature all around him that day failed to be the one thing he remembered the most afterwards because of Bruno. The sight of his limping second cousin emerging from the house never featured as one of the things he expected to experience that day. But there he was, his former protégée, raising his head and dimming his eyes as if wondering who the visitor could be, before opening his mouth and shouting out his name with great delight. He hollered back at Bruno in a voice full of keen pleasure, and then the two cousins fell into each other’s arms in a heart-felt embrace.
Their elation must have alerted Bartholomew because he appeared hardly a minute after, yelled his name too before joyfully taking him into his arms. They rambled heartily of their great delight at seeing and meeting again, inquired about each other’s health and the welfare of their families, stammered, shook their heads, gave thanks to the lord for the blessings he never ceased to shower on them, and then they became quiet all of a sudden as if they needed to catch their breaths. It was then that Bartholomew grabbed his bag and walked him inside. He was still having a wide smile on his face as he took the bag to the customary bedroom Joseph slept in whenever he visited, and then returned and joined them in the sitting room. Bartholomew's wife Jocelyn and their two sons Peter and Paul came forward moments after and offered their greetings too, and then scurried away as if they thought that these soldiers fighting for British and French forces wanted to be left alone. as if responding to the departure of the mother and her sons, the three soldiers sat down with beaming expressions on their faces and carried on with their conversation in an exuberant manner, fueled by the boiled groundnuts Jocelyn supplied and the corn beer Bartholomew brought to the table. They had so much to talk about the challenges encountered during the war that they ate supper still recounting their stories, they drank late into the night still exchanging their experiences and views, and they went to bed reflecting on their different accounts of the conflict consuming three continents. But he never told either of his second cousins about Marcel’s role in taking Bruno out of the war.
On the third day, just as he was about to leave, as the three men gathered together for the final conference, he advised Bruno to get married and start a family, a sentiment Bartholomew echoed. Then the three men promised to see again the next year, convinced the war would be over by then. With his spirit elevated, he made his way back to his family in Douala feeling more refreshed and optimistic. That was why when he returned to Libya, his appreciation of life, love and family was greater than ever before. It was on the account of the recent developments that when the 1st Free French Division landed in Italy that April of 1944 to assist French and other Allied troops gearing up to fight there, he was ready for real action.
Somehow, they became involved in the Italian Campaign when it was at its most difficult stage. Even though it was already half a year since the Allied landed on the Italian peninsula, they were yet to break through the Winter Line―a series of German military fortifications of minefields, barbed-wires, concrete bunkers, gun pits, and turreted and machine-gun emplacements constructed across the Italian peninsula from east to west to defend the area that stretched slightly north of Rome to the northern frontiers of Naples.
Thrust into the fight for Monte Cassino in what became known as the fourth Battle of Monte Cassino, the 1st Free French Division and the rest of the French forces outperformed their Allied counterparts, fighting their way through until they finally captured Monte Maio, which then allowed them to assist the Eighth Army in the nearby Liri valley. Unlike the forces of the other Allied countries, they never lost ground in the brutal battle known for its offensives and counteroffensives where strategic grounds were lost, gained and lost, again and again, consuming thousands of lives in the process and leaving even greater numbers wounded. When the Germans finally retreated from Monte Cassino and Anzo to the Gothic Line up north, thereby conceding the loss of the Winter Line, the Allied forces found those places in rubble.
Like many of the men of the 1st Free French Division, he too deplored the fact that they were not taking part in Operation Overlord that began on 6 June 1944, otherwise known as D-Day, a high-stakes and well-planned operation that involved the landing of Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy in the north of France. He would have been extremely proud had he been a participant in the campaign that finally brought the war to the Germans in France for the first time since they occupied the country. Still, he and the others of the 1st Free French Division followed the developments of the war there from their positions in Italy, feeding on whatever bits and pieces of information about the Allied progress in France that they could lay their hands, eyes, and ears on. The brief interlude of calm soon set his mind at work again on ways to pursue the Germans further up north. In fact, he was starting to look forward to the day their Division would resume the fighting in Italy until the last of the Germans forces there had been defeated, when his commanders came up with other plans. They wanted the 1st Free French Division to participate in Operation Dragoon as part of the French 1st Army, comprising mostly North African units from the Army of Africa. He was okay with the decision because he now felt comfortable working with the Maghrebians and the French Pied-noirs—North Africans of European ancestry, who not long ago were soldiers taking orders from the puppet Vichy government in the south of France. So, he readied and waited.
When their version of D-Day arrived, he was more than relieved. The successful August 15 and August 16 parachute and amphibious landings of Allied troops on the beaches between Nice and Toulon in Provence, in the southwest of France, stunned the Germans who never imagined that the Allied Powers were thinking of opening a second front in France. The ferocity of the assault that followed the landing sent the enemy forces into a state of panic, so that hardly a week into the operation, the German forces were seen retreating to the Vosges Mountains in eastern France, near the border with Germany as if they were being chased by the devil. He was amazed by the developments.
In fact, he and his fellow Allied soldiers were still savoring their successful landing and early victories when news of the Battle for Paris reached their camp. For the first time since he got involved in the war, he regretted why he did not become a soldier in the 2nd Armored Division under the command of General LeClerc, who, working with the French Resistance, was leading the fight against the German Army in the French capital. Buoyed by the capitulation of the German forces in Paris hardly a week into the fighting there, intoxicated by news of the harassment of the German Army all across France by the local French Resistance, and frenzied by Allied successes in Operation Overlord, the French 1st Army and the other Allied forces in the south pushed westwards and northwards, capturing a hundred and thirty thousand German troops and securing most of Southern France by the end of the fourth week. But then, the Allied forces of the Southern Front quickly realized that they were overstretched and short of supplies. So, they stopped their advances, consolidated their positions and went about repairing the transportation network of Southern France for the shipment of supplies for the impending offensive to liberate all of France and advance into Germany.
One of the good things about the lull in fighting during this late summer was that it gave him the opportunity to know France, appreciate its countryside, enjoy its cities and meet with its civilian population. Marcel helped him in this endeavor—joining him in singing the Zangelewa song in a bar in Nimes, giving him the honor to open a bottle of champagne for the first time in his life as they toasted with a French extended family of four generations in their vineyard in the Languedoc countryside. When their hosts asked them to spend the night there as their honored guests, Marcel looked at him in a conspiratorial manner, so that they raised their shoulders in a seemingly synchronized fashion, said bien sûr, and then thanked the family for their great hospitality. But he didn’t see it coming when Irene Armand, a thirty-six-year-old lady of the third generation, sneaked into his bedroom late that night, hushed him quiet, and then got underneath his bedcovers and entreated him to make her feel like a woman again, after telling him in very few words that her socialist husband, a Maquisard in the French Resistance, died a month before the Normandy landing as a result of a gunfight with German soldiers. And since did not know what to say, he just went along with the flow and made her feel she was the most desirable woman in the whole of France that he had ever laid eyes on.
During breakfast the next morning, at a time that he was yet to digest the experience of the night before, he found himself flustered when Marcel smiled at him in a teasing manner, and then looked at Irene and her twenty-nine-year-old cousin Caroline Armand with mischievous eyes. However, not until right after breakfast, when Marcel confided in him of the wonderful time he had in bed with Caroline the night before, did he finally understand what was going on. Only then did he tell his friend of his affair with Irene. He was expecting Marcel to be taken aback if not shocked, but his friend surprised him by bursting into a raucous laughter, and then went on to hug him still expressing his mirth as if he were glad they had ended up again as conspirators in another gamble.
If they ever thought their affairs with the Armand women were over after they left the next day, then they were badly mistaken. The cousins went on to pay them visits at their camp; the women went out with them to bars, parks, and the cinema; and they promenaded around with their African lovers as if they had known the Free French fighters all their lives. However, he found it strange that the cousins never even broached the subject of their wives and families in French Cameroun as if they expected nothing back from the men they were heaping so much love on. All the same, when the cousins shed tears the day the train carrying their lovers hissed and jerked for the journey to the war front, the friends understood that they had touched souls that could not be taken for granted.
His love of France and the French people kept growing stronger as he fought with them against the retreating German Army through the Vosges Mountains and as they made their way together into Alsace. With France liberated, and as they took stock of the developments in a process that involved him rubbing shoulders with the different shades of units that now constituted the French Army of 1.3 million soldiers under arms, he discovered things that disheartened him so much. The Free French Forces he had enlisted in and proudly fought under in a selfless manner, the Free French Forces he had watched emerge in defeat and victory with heads held high, the Free French Forces that embraced the Army of Africa which was loyal to the Vichy regime, and then went on to give it a new character, thereby making the two a proud fighting force of a quarter of a million soldiers, the Free French Forces that formed the core of the new French Army of four hundred and forty thousand men, eighty percent of them indigenous Africans when the Allies landed in France, the Free French Forces he had always held proudly in his heart even in the morphed form, was now an army of France of 1.3 million soldiers that he could hardly recognize because the French Army had grown over the months to include members of the French Resistance and other French men and women who joined the fight when the Allies landed in France, people who had no regard for the contribution of the North Africans and Sub-Saharan Africans in the liberation of Africa and France.
He heard stories of how during Operation Overlord, African soldiers who had faced death and who had eaten dirt in battles in Africa and Italy suddenly found themselves relegated to junior positions and other inconspicuous roles while less qualified French men got promoted. He learned that some French Divisions, among which was the 2nd Armored Division, purged their ranks of Africans before joining forces with the French Resistance in the battle to liberate Paris, doing so under the thinking that French citizens were likely to have a hard time associating their liberation with the goodwill of African soldiers. Only with the liberation of France did it dawn on him that the half a million Maghrebians and Sub-Saharan Africans were now a minority in the new French Army that recently became the fourth largest army in Europe. He was lost for words when he found out that the majority in the leadership of this new army would not give people like him who were not French citizens their deserved treatment and recognition.
When he brought the subject up to Marcel, his friend was very candid in his response.
“With the exception of us from Africa, there are four factions in the army at this very moment: The first is the seven hundred thousand or more soldiers we have today who never resisted German occupation during the four years of humiliation but who upon seeing the approaching victory for the Allies, joined the war and are now fighting for France, feeling great about themselves in the process as if without their contribution, France would not be completely liberated. The second are the hundred thousand soldiers from the French Resistance who never left France, people who felt humiliated by the occupation and were brave enough to join the Maquis or the other partisan groups that resisted the Germans in the countryside, the urban areas and other parts of France. Our third are the soldiers who accepted the defeat of France by Germany, fighters who accepted to keep wearing their uniforms and went on to collaborate with the Germans, thereby acknowledging the role of Petain, his government and the Vichy regime in the South of France. Today, this third group is made up mostly of French citizens from French North Africa and French West Africa, by which I mean Pied-noirs and the other French men and women who were serving in Africa when the war broke out. The people of this group redeemed themselves by joining the struggle, but the sad thing is that they are carrying on as if they have to justify the two years they failed to get involved in the struggle on the side of liberation. Our fourth group of soldiers is those who refused to accept the defeat of France even after Germany captured all of the motherland. They escaped humiliation by staying out of France during the four years of occupation and the collaboration of the Vichy regime. In French Equatorial Africans, they found willing if not magnanimous friends who made them relevant with their sweat and blood sacrificed in the African Desert fighting Germany, Italy and their allies. The people of the fourth group that I am talking about are those soldiers who constituted the Free French Forces, especially those who were there when everything started in Douala.”
“So, where do you belong?”
“I am not in any of the groups. Let’s say I am a Pied-noir, but one who happened to be comfortable with the fourth group. I am an African-Born French citizen who was not in France when the war started, but who kept his French honor intact by never accepting the Vichy government and by fighting for the Free French Forces.”
“You consider yourself a Pied-noir?”
“Uh-huh! What better description do you have for me?”
“What has your classification got to do with the way blacks and Maghrebians are feeling today about the treatment they are getting from the new French Army?”
“I will make it simple. Africans, especially people like us from French Equatorial Africa, who were the first to join the Free French Forces, make those of the first group of French men feel like they are gutless. We from French Equatorial Africa are the ones who have gone all the way in fighting the war. We are the ones who have been there from the beginning to the end. Undermining us is like refusing to accept our role in the liberation of France or it could be a delusional way of saying that serving France is our principal reason for being on this earth. The second group might not like us as well because they too confronted danger resisting the Germans all these years, but they were doing so for their honor and for their country, the reason why they are having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that people like you risked your lives in a war that did not really concern your homeland and your people. The third group envies us because of the simple fact that we never wavered. My fear is that some of our Free French Forces people, by whom I mean those who had little or nothing to do with Africa during the war, are now beginning to think that Africans are no longer relevant in the war effort.”
“It is like satisfying yourself with a whore, and then dumping him afterwards as if she has no other purpose to serve.”
Marcel was thoughtful for a moment before he said in a tired voice. “It is something like that. Yes, that’s it. All the same, I think it is a phase. They will learn; they will overcome the feeling of humiliation. Believe me, Joseph. It is only a matter of time. It wouldn’t be long before these different groups come to truly appreciate us from Africa.”
The friends conversed a little longer before they coiled up in their sleeping spots, said goodnight to each other and then tried to catch some needed rest for the night before joining the other soldiers the next day in the Allied thrust into Germany.
It was during this lull in fighting on the Western Front that he deepened his interest in the developments of the war on the Eastern Front. He was initially shocked when he pried and found out that Germany had been committing about two thirds of its forces against the Soviet Union throughout the war and that most of the German casualties in the war came from the brutal battles fought against the Soviet Red Army. Further information picked up revealed the enormous price the Soviet Union had paid and was still paying in materials and human lives, especially during the early stages of the war.
It soon became evident to him that the much talked about assistance the Soviets received from their American and British allies was overrated and that the Russians and their other fellow Soviet compatriots had managed through most of their own efforts to build a formidable war machine and a military industrial complex that was not only baffling the retreating Germany Army in the East, but that was also intriguing the Allied powers in the West. However, he didn’t have enough reasons to be optimistic about the authenticity of the information he was getting from the newspapers and journals reporting Soviet military advances in the east against the retreating German Army, reports spelling out the recovery of territories they had lost in Belorussia, Ukraine and Moldavia. He learned with misgivings that further Soviet offensives had forced German troops out of Eastern Poland and Eastern Romania, sparking off local uprisings in Poland and Southern Czechoslovakia, as well as coup d’états that brought down the pro-Nazi regimes in Romania and Bulgaria. When he found out that the advance of Soviet troops into Yugoslavia had forced the Germans to withdraw their troops from Albania, Greece, and Yugoslavia, he knew the Soviet Union that his patron Joseph Nana Njike had talked to him about with guarded respect had truly arrived at the world stage as a super power or military force to reckon with.
 The last month of the year was the time it dawned on him that there would be a race between the Western Powers and the Soviet Union on who would get to Berlin first. Also, he could not dispel a gnawing feeling that the retreating German troops would likely capitulate to the western forces than surrender to the Soviets and their new Eastern European allies. That meant one thing only—the war was virtually over for them and he was less likely to die from the impending campaign to overrun Germany and kick the Nazis out of power.
So, when news reached him too that mid December 1944, reporting a major Germans offensive through the Ardennes region that formed the borders of Belgium, France, and Luxembourg, he was shocked if not unprepared for it. He followed with puzzlement the news of German advances, of Allied counteroffensives, of German counterattacks, of the massacre the Germans committed against Allied prisoners at Malmedy, of the retaliatory massacre of sixty German prisoners of war by American troops close to the Belgian village of Chenogne on New Year 1945, and of the return to what was the pre-offensive battle lines that middle of January 1945. He kept abreast of those developments and the halt to the German advance in the north of France even as he battled with the 1st Division in conjunction with other Allied troops against the Germans in Alsace. But the fighting was low-keyed until the German 19th Army launched an offensive in late January 1945, forcing them to pay a very high price while defending the area south of Strasbourg.
It was during the battle that he was wounded in the right shoulder and his left leg as he tried to rescue a wounded French soldier who had been lying exposed on the ground for several minutes while crackles of rifle fire ringed the air. The fact that he got shot after he hefted the guy on his shoulder and started running with him back to his former safe position behind a concrete wall, made him a war hero of some sort that the military brass could not afford to ignore.  Some members of his squad told him afterwards that the shots were fired by a sharp shooter, probably a German sniper, but to him, it did not matter what the person who knocked him out of the battle was. What he found important in the whole episode was the fact that it marked the end of the war for him since the French Army sent to Toulouse to convalesce in the military hospital there. When Marcel pointed out the irony of his situation on a visit by joking that he almost died saving a communist, he did not think it was funny at all because he thought he was only trying to save a man who did not deserve to die at a time that the war’s outcome was fully known by all the warring parties. Marcel told him the name of the fellow he rescued, but all he remembered afterwards was that the guy’s first name happened to be Jean-Pierre.
So, when a young soldier clicked his boots by his hospital bedside one late morning, snapped a military salute, announced his name and then told him that a certain Captain Ribery wanted to see him, he had no idea who the person was. He acceded to the request, all the same, only to see Jean-Pierre approach his hospital bed with slightly hesitant steps. The Frenchman thanked him for saving his life, apologized for the fact that he almost got killed in the process for his sake, and then wished him a speedy recovery. However, he did so with eyes and lips that were twitching in a funny manner. All the same, the Frenchman’s strange behavior did not stop him from accepting his kind words, even though he could not help wondering what could be wrong with the intriguing Frenchman whose life he saved from German gunfire.
“Are you all right?” he asked Jean-Pierre with dimmed eyes and a gentle voice.
“I am fine, as you can see. I can move around, unlike you. My injuries were insignificant―just minor wounds―I would say. I was mostly shell shocked, that was all. Thanks again for saving my life. The bullets you took were certainly meant for me.”
“That’s nothing. I had your back, and I am sure you would have done the same for me.”
“You think so?”
“Uh-huh! Also, seeing the way you twitched not long ago made me think something else was wrong.”
“Can’t you figure that out?”
“Figure what out?”
“That I hate you?”
“You don’t hate me.”
“I hate you because I betrayed you already.”
“No, you didn’t betray me at all. You didn’t shoot me.”
“You don’t understand. I betrayed you all right. I hated you before perhaps because I subconsciously knew you were a better person fighting a war that is not yours to fight, risking your life to free my country France that I love so much, and doing all of that for no material benefits. Or perhaps I hate you because I thought you were doing so with people whose ideology I do not share. Now, I don’t know.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Look, I have come to see the depth of your being, and now I know that you are truly a good person. Still, I hate you because the deeper I get to know you, the greater is my awareness of my shortcomings. So I try to give a negative meaning to everything you say and do, and then try to convince myself afterwards that I was right in my impression of you when we first met or the way I treated you afterwards. It makes me sane that way; it gives me a sense of worthiness and convinces me that I am doing the right thing by betraying you.”
“How did you treat me?”
“Badly, I guess. It is obvious I ignored you. I think I even turned my nose on you like some of our ignorant soldiers do. I was in the Resistance, but I failed to embrace you guys from Africa. I think I even allowed myself to think like many of the others who joined the fight recently. I behaved like an ignoramus.”
“I still don’t get what you are talking about. I don’t see how the things you have been saying about yourself tantamount to a betrayal of me or any of my folks from Africa.”
“I hated you Africans for working with them.”
“Working with whom?”
“The Fascists. Why do you serve people who don’t respect you as normal people do to other human beings; why do you risk your lives for people who were Vichy and Nazi supporters yesterday, but who today pretend to be supporters of universal human rights? I can’t understand why you guys put your lives on the line; I can’t understand why you Africans abandoned your families and dishonor your people for someone like De Gaulle who thinks you are uncivilized and need nurturing, for someone like him who thinks with conviction that it is our place to determine the type of development you need. He thinks you have no right to aspire for development out of the French empire or as an autonomous entity. Didn’t you get the position the right wing took during the Brazzaville Conference last January.”
“Not really.”
“Why are you and your people aspiring to be subservient all your lives to people who do not have your interest at heart? I say so because my parents whose footsteps I have been trying to follow the past couple of years worked all their lives to convince the Right in France to pay some respect to the rights and dignity of France’s colonial subjects.”
He must have been in a deep thought for a moment, staring at Jean-Pierre sightlessly before he finally understood where the left-wing Frenchman was coming from. A sudden and inexplicable emotion gripped him so that he propped up in bed out of an impulse and gave Jean-Pierre his hand again for a shake. The Frenchman smiled with him when he took it and brought it up and down repeatedly.
“I see you are a good man. I respect you for sharing your deep feelings with me. Now, this is what I have to say about myself. I joined the war to fight against Nazism and Fascism which are scourges of humanity. I joined your war because I believe I am fighting for humanity. I am nobody’s lap dog. I am nobody’s stooge. The war is over for me.”
“Are you serious?”
“Uh-huh! I want to go home to my wife and children. I will return home to my people; I will find my way back to Kamerun and dedicate the rest of my life to teaching young children to improve their lot in life, to know what is right and what is wrong, and to know what they need to do in order to better their lives and the lives of those around them; I will return to my homeland and try to be someone like your father and your mother.”
When Jean-Pierre bent over and embraced him on the bed in an emotional display that he didn’t see coming, he was truly taken aback. The Frenchman did so muttering incoherently for a couple of seconds. Then he pulled back like someone who suddenly realized he just acted awkwardly. He looked momentarily embarrassed, but then a smile emerged on his face as if he just had a clever thought that he wanted to share. “You are not like the others,” he said.
“What do you mean?” he asked with quizzical eyes.
“I mean the other soldiers who are from Africa just like you?”
“Whom are you talking about?”
“I mean the others who want to go back to their homelands as evolues; I mean the others who are prepared to serve the interest of the right-wingers for the handouts that those men are dangling as baits to make the people of French Africa give up their heritage; I mean compatriots of yours who are prepared to play the roles of glorified Nazi kapos.”
“I said I am for humanity.”
Jean-Pierre’s response was a nod and the dimming of his eyebrows. “Then I am glad you saved my life; I am sorry for behaving in a disturbing manner, and I would be honored to have someone like you for a friend. And I think my parents too will be honored to have you as a guest. Would you mind meeting them someday?”
He always remembered with a smile how he told Jean-Pierre he would be happy to know his parents and then urged him to take a seat. With amused fascination, they talked of the war, of French history and of politics. It was after a moment of trust building that Jean-Pierre told him the story of his family.
His mother Caroline Mauroy was the only child of her parents, but she had a close cousin a year older than her that she promised to marry on the day she celebrated her fourth birthday. Jean-Pierre Dieterle, as he was called, was also fond of her and treated her like his little sister. When she found out at age eight that she could not marry him because they were related, she blamed everyone for it, accepted her fate and moved on in life, doing well in school and making many friends. But the two cousins never stopped keeping in touch with one another. They shared their progress in school and life; they updated one another on their future plans, and they exchanged views on developments around them and the world at large. Caroline chose to become a lawyer, went to university in Paris and excelled in her studies. But then she joined a Marxist study circle, mastered the writings of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and several other later day Marxists and made it a point of sharing his ideas with anyone who in as much as gave her an ear. She believed at one point that the working class would inherit the world and was convinced the words of God no longer had a place for humanity’s progress. Her cousin, on the other hand, studied theology and made it his mission to save the soul and enlighten the world on God’s purpose for humankind. Thereafter, they disagreed on almost everything except about the purposelessness of the Great War raging on in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Jean-Pierre Dieterle left France in 1919 for Africa, just a month after the post-war peace treaties that shrank the national territory of Germany and deprived it of its colonial possessions. He chose to evangelize as a protestant missionary in the new French possession called French Cameroun and made it his mission to help expand the infant education system there. Meanwhile, his cousin looked at the end of the war and the coming to power of the Bolsheviks in Russia as a new era for humanity. She chose to work hard to replicate Vladimir Lenin’s Russian Marxist revolution in France. As a matter of fact, her peculiar fervor left delegates at the 5-day 18th National Congress of the Section Française de l'Internationale Ouvrière (French Section of the Workers' International) or SFIO musing, especially in the way she went about siding with the revolutionaries against the reformists in the vote to join the Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin’s Third International. This difference in the direction the delegates wanted the Socialist party to take, ended up dividing the ranks of the SFIO, resulting in a split in the party. Even though the revolutionaries won the vote, they still went ahead and formed a new party called the Section Française de l'Internationale Communiste, (French Section of the Communist International) or SFIC, which among other things stood against colonialism to the point of sympathizing with the Moroccan rebel leader Abd el-Krim in his revolt against France and Spain.
Caroline might have gone crazy in her activism for the new French Communist Party had she not caught the eye of the thirty-year-old French surgeon Nicolas Ribery who married her a month after they started dating and promised to make her his queen. His intention must have been to domesticate her instead because she gave birth to three sons within a span of three years, cute babies she chose to name Jean-Pierre, Jules, and Jacques. Tired by the bickering French Left and fired by her cousin’s adventures in French Cameroun, she convinced her husband to move the family to the French Camerounian capital of Yaoundé where they embarked on the selfless and arduous task of improving the health of the people there. They did not return to France until 1936. By then, her idealism had mellowed and she no longer believed in Democratic Centralism or Soviet Communism under Joseph Stalin. as if they considered it a natural thing to do, every member of the family joined the French Resistance during the four years of German occupation of France, which explained why Jules and Jacques were still at the Western Front wearing the uniform of the new French Army.
He honored Jean-Pierre’s invitation all right and spent a week with his parents and brothers at their family home in Bordeaux where he talked about Cameroon and socialism with them, got his hands on some political literature and promised the entire family over dinner one evening that he would not return home and become a kapo for the French right wing or any other French government that in as much as showed an inclination to trample on the rights, dignity, and interests of the colonial peoples of the world.
When Marcel returned to France late that May following Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 07, 1945, he was surprised by the depth of his friendship with Jean-Pierre and the rest of the Ribery family. They spent three more days together, and then he and Marcel left for Paris to straighten out their decommissioning from the French Army. The next step in their journey was Toulouse where they visited the Languedoc countryside to the delight of the Armand cousins and the rest of the family. He told Irene he would return home to French Cameroun at the end of the month while Marcel made it known to Caroline in very plain terms that he was harboring no plans to leave France until he saw his mother and father whom he thought were in Northern Portugal.
When the day arrived, she could not avoid the feeling of anticipation mixed with sadness and relief as he made his way to board the ship at the Bordeaux harbor for the voyage to Africa. Marcel and Jean-Pierre were there to wave him goodbye. After they embraced with a promise to see again shortly, he took out the letter Marcel gave him in the Libyan Desert to hand to his parents in case he failed to make it alive at the end of the war. It was still unopened. He held it for a moment as if contemplating what next to do with it before he handed it back to his friend who regarded him for long with wondering eyes. Then Marcel opened his arms again and hugged him very tight. He didn’t know what to do and just stood there for a while with his arms by his side before he raised his left hand and patted Marcel repeatedly on his back.
“I understand,” he muttered.
“Thank you, Mon Frere,” Marcel said in an emotion-choked voice, and then pulled back and held Joseph’s shoulder with his left hand while brandishing the sealed envelope, “This is what trust is all about; this is the real trust I always imagined comes from a true friend. I can always count on you with my legacy. Brother, we shall read this together when I join you again in Douala. And even if I don’t see you before the end of the year, you will get something from my wife for you and for your family,” he  added  

  







  
Today  


It was while on the train to Yaoundé that René had his first twinge of doubt regarding his decision to return to French Cameroun. He wandered whether the impulse that had driven him to leave his post in the USA for the madness going on in the land of his birth was not laced with insanity. Actually, he was beginning to have a hard time not thinking so because everything around him seemed to be having an eeriness that he could not fathom.
It must be the long flight from France and the lingering effect of the jetlag from the flight from the USA, he thought.
Still, he found no comfort from that thought.  He had landed at the Douala airport with optimism and was even gripped by a moment of exaltation when Roland Thiraud told him Marc’s murderer was in custody. But then, a time with the supposed murderer revealed something else. His brother’s killer was still at large. He might not have taken it that hard had the discovery not left him with the task of ensuring that the innocent Peter Ndepkeu got treatment at L'hôpital Laquintinie in the Akwa neighborhood. And then as if to play with his senses even further, his first night in French Cameroun got interrupted by tortured dreams featuring his mother cautioning him, chiding him and even telling him to go back to France; and he had challenged her, rejected her call and even cried to drive home the seriousness of his mission to the point where his mother finally fell silent.  He had taken a cue from that as her acceptance of his position.... 



                               










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