Momoh Sekou Dudu
On a hot and muggy Saturday in April, palpable tension drenched the air in Riceland’s capital, Williamsburg. At exactly noon, in defiance of strict government warnings, a few brave men assembled at the gates of the country’s flagship university. Soon, that early trickle of men was joined by hundreds and, eventually, thousands of other Ricelanders. As word spread of the unfolding situation at the university, all across the city, citizens gathered at other identified protest sites. The confrontation that had festered for so long seemed just about ready to erupt. Several of the men, self-anointed ring leaders of the protest action, addressed the crowd, each repeating lines loaded with nationalistic fervor. “We can’t sit and watch as they hang our native brothers!” one angry man yelled into his bullhorn.
“Our rights! Our rice! Our lives!” hollered another, making direct reference to the crucial issue the Williamsburg Twelve had championed—the arbitrary hike in the price of rice, the nation’s staple. “We will not be enslaved through hunger! We must fight back now!”
As the speeches took hold and the gravity of what raged beneath the surface settled upon the gathering, faces in the crowd frowned and voices became heated and louder. East, up the street leading to the presidential offices, a caravan of armored police vehicles approached cautiously. A few yards away from the protesters, hundreds of policemen—batons and guns at the ready, alighted and positioned themselves at the crossroads forming a thick, blue wall between the protesters and the presidential offices.
“Keep the executive grounds off limits at any and all costs!” IG Vinny the Bulldozer ordered his men.
There was, for a moment, a stunned pause among the people. The proverbial calm before the storm, it seemed. That interlude soon fizzled.
“The audacity of this murderous government in trying to deny us our basic right of peaceful protest!” bellowed a young man into his megaphone. The crowd went berserk. It was as if an ‘action’ button had suddenly been triggered in their heads. Men, women, old and young, railed. They hurled insults at the armed policemen and the government they represented. Even folks who had idled at appreciable distances away from the protesters ran and joined their ranks.
Reverberations from the bullhorns intensified.
“There’s no goddamn stopping us today!” someone yelled into his bullhorn, provoking a thunderous round of applause from the swarming crowd. The Ministry of National Security, through the government-owned radio station, Radio Riceland, continued its broadcast of stern warnings to the general public. “The so-called protest action will be met with requisite force. It will be crushed and anyone caught in the response will have only themselves to blame. Be warned accordingly,” the radio announcer read, his voice as terse as it was menacing.
The citizens were not intimidated. Their ranks continued to swell and their speeches got even more vociferous.
“No more! We won’t suffer silently under this government ever again!” a ringleader bellowed into his bullhorn. “We are not represented at any level. My dear countrymen and women, the time has come for us to assert our rights!”
Vinny the Bulldozer sensed a moment of reckoning. He’d take no chances. He issued final orders to his men as the protesters started their advance toward the police line. With only a few yards separating the police and the protesters, the IG stepped forward, huffing and pouting like the ubiquitous red-headed Riceland lizards that came out on hot days to do their attention-seeking pushups on Williamsburg’s brick walls.
“Officers!” the IG hollered, the strain of the moment evident in his unsteady voice.
“You have been warned. We ain’t playing here!”
The crowd continued to surge and stomp forward. The IG, aware he and his men were outnumbered and were possibly about to get run over, took aim again, at close range, and fired. This time, it was at the crowd. A man fell to the ground and bled profusely. The wounded man tried to rise up on his hands and knees. He slumped back to the ground. He had been mortally wounded.
That was the last straw. The crowd, now in overdrive, scattered into smaller pockets of disorder. Pandemonium overtook the city. Running battles—bloody and unforgiving, ensued between the police and the protesters. The fracas continued all afternoon and into the night hours.
On Camp Francis Boulevard, one of the major thoroughfares in the heart of the city, a group of highly agitated, mostly shirtless young men, stormed the “All in One Supermarket” shattering glass and breaking brick walls. As they made away with all sorts of wares, the police shot live bullets in their midst. The protesters, in turn, threw stones and Molotov cocktails.
Across the city, similar scenes played out. As morning dawned the day after, the reality of what had transpired laid bare. Mangled, charred vehicles littered the torn streets. Doors to ransacked stores were flung open, flies hoarded around the dead, and the injured overwhelmed the city’s barely equipped hospitals and clinics.
The grapevine claimed that more than a thousand people had been injured and that at least a hundred had been killed. There was neither an official confirmation nor denial of casualty figures from the government. As the full measure of the damage to life and property set in that morning, an intimidating quiet settled upon the city. It seemed as though the whole of Williamsburg had been silenced by some magical force.
Army Sergeant Peter Sumo, gripped by the enormity of what had happened, sat at home, in his derelict military housing unit, contemplating his own future and the future of Riceland. “Oh, God!” he lamented, “So many people have lost their lives in cold blood at the hand of this government! This cannot be allowed to go on unchecked.”
On the city streets, a few police cars accompanied hospital ambulances as they made the rounds collecting dead bodies. Beyond that, the only other activity in the city was taking place up the hill, in the confines of the majestic Masonic Temple —constructed in the mode of nineteenth century American architecture with generously designed arched windows. There, high ranking officials of the government gathered for an urgent meeting. The officials, mostly men dressed in incongruous dark suits with long-tailed overcoats, wore discernible expressions of urgency on their faces.
The Masonic Temple, as everyone in Riceland would tell you, was the nerve center of power. It was there that crucial decisions of policy and politics were taken.
“Mr. President,” announced Grandmaster Godwin Williamson, “Welcome to the sacred chambers of the Grand Lodge.”
“Thank you, Grandmaster,” the president replied.
“Now, Mr. President, pray tell us what is your government doing to arrest this situation before it gets out of hand any further? What are you doing with the traitors who are hell-bent on overthrowing this government and altering our way of life?”
“Grandmaster, the government is taking appropriate steps to address the situation. In the interim, we ask for patience as we weigh our options.”
“Patience, Mr. President? Do you realize that these boys are an existential danger to the republic?”
“Yes, of course, we do, Grandmaster. That goes without saying. But, given what just happened, we want to thread a little more prudently.”
“Thread carefully, Mr. President. But as you do so, know that these savages understand one thing and one thing only and that’s violence. Meet violence with violence, Mr. President! These good-for-nothing troublemakers must hang!”
In the military stockade, The Williamsburg Twelve heard rumblings of the chaotic situation in the city streets. The news put them on edge. That was reasonable for they knew the government would blame it all on them. “The cruelty of endings, some endings, at least,” A.J. Salinger, the noted firebrand of the twelve, remarked.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Copyright (c) Momoh Sekou Dudu, 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Main Pic: Momoh Sekou Dudu, Liberian Author, writer
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