by Eric Darton
(for Thomas Isidore Nöel Sankara)
And here, let us be clear about what we really mean, that the day we took the presidential palace, we knew nothing except how to be incorruptible. We disabled the air conditioner – for how could we allow ourselves to exchange atmospheres while the people sweltered? We escorted the monetarists to the tarmac, turbines revving. We thanked them for their concern, their munificent offers, which we respectfully declined in perpetuity. We jeeped into the provinces to see the vaccination commando with our own eyes, to lay the cinderblock cornerstone of the thousandth school, offer prayers of thanks for the fifteenth village child born alive. We hit the airwaves, arguing the cessation of excisions, pour la santé, and in three years even Mère Bintou at ninety is convinced and lays down her razor blade.
But there were, it pains me to say, a few, a handful, who found the new policies naïve and disagreeable, who were reluctant after such a struggle to live without privilege, who resented the delays in electrifying their hometowns, who found degrading – and inexplicable – this lack of air conditioning, the injunction against promiscuous motorcades and who saw fit – these rogues – to burst through the door without benefit of scheduling a plenary and favor me with their ballistic displeasure, and it was at this moment – seeing first their faces, then their guns – before ditch, before vultures, before the popular uprising forced them to dig me a proper grave with a mausoleum on top and build my namesake dam (which the monetarists praised) and bridges, and stop work once a year for the festival of the revolution when the women march and the men go to market and prepare meals – that I remembered:
A dusky sky and impossibly tall buildings of white brick and sand-colored masonry set along wide boulevards. And from each roof-terrace spills a garden, lush as the presidential gardens we fought through, fountains of vegetation overawing the street, and suddenly in this great park all is night and clouds such as I never saw in all my life rush over my bicycle in the lamplight and I look down and find I have grown fourteen million legs and I steer with fourteen million vaccinated arms, and we – seven million strong with not one excision among us – are traveling together. How do I know we are all here? But in the dark I sense it. To believe such things is crazy, non?
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Eric Darton is author of Free City, a novel, and Divided We Stand, a cultural history of the World Trade Center. He teaches in the Historical and Sustainable Architecture Studies program of the Department of Art History, New York University, and the Harry Van Arsdale Center for Labor Studies at Empire State College.