A COUNTRY OF NO RETURN
TIMERI N MURARI.
-The Struggle of Man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.
The man, David Richelieu, knowing he was going to his own execution for unspecified crimes, looked down at the sleeping woman. Her hair, revealing white at the roots, shielded half her face, tousled from a restless night; her breath shallow, gently reassuring. He bent, breathed in the perfume, and kissed the air goodbye.
It was early morning, the light muted by the shades, as he moved to the door. A stocky man, broad shouldered, unruly grey hair, was surprisingly light on his feet, not a rustle of sound as he stepped into the corridor. He patted the pockets of his summer jacket, wrinkled and a size too large to check he had his passport and wallet. The gift was in the inner pocket. He had a new phone, the old one hidden in a suitcase, switched off. At times, he could be absent-minded, but on this day he was alert to the possibilities of a fatal error. He walked out of the hotel to a near deserted city, stepping out of a long darkness into the light, tensing for the journey ahead. His hired car was parked down a side street with the overnight case in the boot.
He had not told Marge of his planned misadventure. She would have wanted to accompany him, a sprightly woman who loved him and accompanied him everywhere. They were on vacation, sleeping late, seeing the sights, indulging their appetites for wine and good food. When she woke, she would believe he had gone for the morning newspaper and would join her for breakfast. If he wasn’t there, she would start searching for him, pacing the room, calling reception, calling the embassy, calling the tour organisers, calling the police finally when she could not find him. She would not panic, not just yet, allow him a day or two to find his way back or get in touch. She knew at times he needed his solitude and would vanish, then return with no explanation, relaxed, as if nothing had happened. He did not have a lover; she was positive of that but never understood what he did on these excursions. Just the need to think something through, he would reply and she accepted the explanation. He was a thinker, after all, a man with a past.
The drive had taken longer than he had calculated, nine hours, not six, as road works were in progress just as he had started out, and was trapped him in the traffic back up. The road leading to the border was only two lanes and he had to drive carefully, as the trucks and cars raced with the familiarity of knowing the idiosyncrasies of the route too well. Two hours out the traffic thinned, an occasional truck, then just the quiet hum of the car, the warm breeze through the window, lulling his senses. He was enjoying the drive through the forest, keeping within the speed limit, suspicious of police speed cameras. He stopped at a village hotel for lunch, putting on sunglasses and pulling the fedora low over his head and, as he was ahead of schedule, rented a room to nap. He had slept badly, anticipating this journey, mentally preparing himself for it. He woke late evening, checked the time and continued his journey. Darkness came swiftly, only the intensity of the headlamps drew him along the winding road. He peered to look up, a clear sky, the half moon and the stars without light pollution so visible. The radio had long fallen silent as he moved further from the city, and he hummed to keep concentrated. It was nearing four in the morning, when he stopped at a curve, got out and walked down the road, past the bend, and saw the border check post.
He remained watching a long time, deciding whether to drive on or drive back. He had come this far, and saw no harm in crossing and finding a good hotel in the city. His passport was in his inside pocket, it had a valid visa. A good man, the vice president marketing for CCP International, selling its financial products – investments, start ups, inside information – to clients around the world. A successful corporate type, bland, ambitious only for his success, one day elevated to President of CCP International, if all went well. The corporate world as dangerous as the real one in manouvering for power. This journey was a break from business, a private holiday to explore the beautiful capital with its wide roads, monuments, cafes, museums and expensive whores. No, he had no meetings planned, no investment opportunities to sell, his diary blank for the next two days. But should he meet, by chance,a possible client, he had a list of these investment and start ups memorized, every one of them bonafide, not cons, easily checked by reading the financial papers or online. Even a call to the CCP Inc. head office would vouch for his authenticity. The switchboard would connect the caller to his office, a secretary would regret that David Richelieu was on vacation and back next week.
‘I am David Richelieu, vice president of CCP International,’ he said out aloud to the night, speaking to the trees, the bushes, up to the starry sky. Fading now, as the dawn light had begun to steal away the magic of night. He spoke to reassure himself, to be what he was, and returned to the car, the motor still idling as he hadn’t wanted to break the silence by starting up. It would be heard miles away, and knew why he had taken such precautions. He treasured silence, the hum of insects, the first stirrings of the birds, waking from their sleep, even the trees reaching out to the early light.
He drove slowly, almost coasting to the border post, his lights off. The wall emerged gradually from the surrounding grey light. He had seen photographs of it, looking so much like other walls, built to last centuries- the great wall visible from the moon, walls of ancient forts, long breeched by invaders, inhabitants salughtered, the walls of prisons too to incarcerate men, and women. As the first rays of sunlight touched the wall, he saw that it was made of steel and granite, at least fifteen foot high, an admirable wall, topped with barbed wire, that guarded the borders of this nation as far as he could see. It followed the jagged imaginary line drawn on a map to define the nation’s existence. It didn’t inspire, it filled him with despair at such a world that imprisoned itself to keep out the alien. That was the nature of all walls, to keep the outsider out, the insider in. The wall was now 17-years-old, a new born, and had weathered well, formidable and impregnable. In far distance he saw the camps of those excluded, desperate to enter a promised land, praying that wall would vanish when it heard their incantations and chants. He imagined the children, mothers and fathers staring all day at this barrier in their lives. In a forgotten age, a trumpet blast disintegrated a great wall. Once, before the wall, there was a view of fields, villages and in the hazy distance the hint of a city just below the horizon. There was a break in the uniformity of the wall, a metal barrier, wide enough for a motorcar to slip through and on the other side, the border control office. To right side of the post, half way up the wall was the signboard, blurred by the rain and heat, concealed by weeds, no longer proud of boasting to the outside world ‘Welcome to AKRANDAH.’ Now, that was another country, obscured too by the passage of time, the wall and just a memory and a longing.
He stopped the car at the border post, got out, stretching, as a border guard came out of the office, stifling a yawn, rubbing sleep from his eyes. The second one stood at the barrier, already waiting to lift it. He took out his passport, ready to hand it over. The guard took it, opening the pages slowly, finding the visa, comparing his face to the photo. He went to the office, took out the stamp and placed the seal on the page. The barrier lifted. Just beyond it, Richelieu caught sight of a man walking towards the post, purposefully. He looked straight at Richlieu as he neared and Richlieu knew that someone had betrayed him.