No One Dies Yet

Kobby Ben Ben

February 14, 2024 
The following is from Kobby Ben Ben's debut novel No One Dies Yet. Kobby Ben Ben was born in Ghana, where he is a prominent book reviewer and runs the African Book Club and the Ghana Must Read website.

Harry (1969–2018)

Independence came and left. Colonisation left and came. Harry came and left. It was we who killed Harry.

We saw him the moment his flight squatted and spilled its stairs across our tarmac. Birthed this man hauling little luggage of silver spoons and swaddled in that milky, not-from-here scent. Passed from one immigration officer to another, fussed over. Eyes, an innocent blue, beheld this motherland as if some prenatal prophecy permitted him possession of her. Cocky and colicky, the result of a disturbance that rammed his head farther up his ass. Tossed onto us after some white land’s postpartum disappointment.

We listened to his slow, deliberate, dumdum footfalls creating gaping wounds in the skulls of our brothers buried beneath. Whenever his kind stepped on our soil, we cried from unrest, we slammed the roofs of our graves like disgruntled kids kicking up a fuss. If only we could puncture the earth’s surface and wrench him down here with us. But we are powerless.

So we watched him sit in his arranged car. We watched him watch the sights in awe, listen to the city’s noises, breathe in our smells. And scoff. And sneeze. He struck his nose as though it had smelt evil. What in the bloody hell was that shite smell! “Cor, blimey,” we said back at him, not as useful as our onyɛ aye gbemi, but we did the hand gestures to fill in the semantic gaps their languages left. E le akɛ gamɛi ji wɔ!

Harry’s eyes had never met Africa. Still, he and his kind came with their conceptions passed down from old sailors’ songs. Songs about indigenous peoples whose lives were dissected wing after wing, one antenna after the other, like an insect tortured at the hands of a fascinated child. Songs with ludicrous lyrics: Oh what bare land and deep, evil forests, oh what dark men swinging from the branches of trees, clothed in leaves, hooting at each other and hunting wildlife, running amok then jumping onto the saddles of elephants gifted them at birth.

Finding no evidence of the above accounts, Harry needled his ancestors’ narratives into the men who walked the streets with their hair matted, their dicks hanging and swinging, their ashy, dusty buttocks revealed through a pair of pants that looked like they’d survived the Chinese’s galamsey dynamites. Yes, he confirmed, this was Africa; where women hooted while carrying loads on their heads; where fowl and dogs ran wild or were run over and over until their innards mingled with the tar. His expectations met, he awarded himself a look of horror and disdain, relaxed into the back of his taxi and placed a liver-spotted hand on his chest. No more a baby to this city, his dramatic skin had visibly aged. His real age now evident. Fifty. But could be younger, given his kind—all things white like —moulded rather rapidly.

As though things couldn’t get any worse, and he could no longer be shocked at the sights Africa had to offer, he found himself spying on a mob in action. Those armed pedestrians jaywalking through the streets, swinging from lane to lane and picking up their victim the way a butcher’s knife swoops down on obnoxious bone. His heart, it lurched. “Christ,” he muttered as he watched the apprehended thief being slapped and stamped and stoned. The novelty of this experience, unreported in all of his ancestors’ songs, filled him with genuine dread. His driver, unfazed by the incident, whistled on and wheeled on as if violence was a default setting of the city. “My God, who are these people?”

Onyɛ aye gbemi.

Violence is what built this city. Violence was the navigating ships teeming with the Harrys of this world. Violence was the vice that infiltrated our culture. It was the spices and the resources stolen. It was the mice that scurried across the indigenes piled one on top of the other. Dead. When the locals sought to push back the invaders, violence raised the buildings, the trade routes, it raised the funds to build torture sites for them.

Yet Harry sat back in his hotel, oblivious to the violence that had preceded him, as those too were exempted from the gospels of the sailors. The images of men being beaten to death would scar his memory. Savages, he might have called us.

Do we need to give more reasons why we killed Harry? Is Violence not what begets violence? What more motivation did we need? Maybe if you considered Harry a symbol and not human, the violence, like hungry canines, we unleashed on him would be stomachable.

Here are more symbols we’d like to be rid of: acne-ridden volunteers who step on our heads with their mud-encrusted boots and summon their saviour-complex to save our earth, pasty-looking employees of MNCs who take jobs in Africa from Africans. All of them, taking a break from their cold, capitalist weathers, daring to swim in our seas, and buying out our lands to build their embassies.

For Harry and the other symbols, we could not act quickly enough; the “neo” part of this stage as deadly as its forbearer. Before we knew it, they had almost outnumbered us. Again. For every Black dreadlocked man on the streets, there were five white women looking to birth mixed kids with superior genes. We could not watch our children commit the same mistakes we did, inviting them in and letting them take over. Yet, we could do nothing on our own.

We are dead anyway. We need vessels to act on our behalf. We need you. Maybe if it were your hands holding the kerchief that did the smothering, or your eyes spying the lids of these Harrys surrender consciousness, you’d be more forgiving, eh? If you heard our pleas in your dreams, would you refuse us? Who watches his brothers cry in agony and refuses to help? We would drown you in our pain, shock you with our voices. You would try to resist. We are stronger.

It was to our burial site that we lured Harry. Always our burial site. The swanky resorts. The clean beaches.

Harry’s eyes were his weak point; little mirrors, which gave easy access to his wits. We saw our sea, our food, reflected in them. We also saw her. Our vessel. Dancing in them. Who could resist a shapely, voluptuous vessel? Yoo ni damɔ shi. Meatier than their women back home. The kind all of them would dabble in, anything to take a break from their predisposed desires. For what is a fling if not an opportunity to invest in an object different from your usual pursuits? Wasn’t that what Africa was to the Harrys of this world? A vast land ripe with adventure begging to be juiced; mangoes falling off trees and rolling towards white feet.

She, this vessel, worked as a server in the resort’s restaurant. He watched her sashay towards him, like one of those exotic palm trees bordering the coast, as she brought in a tray piled high with our remains. “Why don’t you feast on our fathers’ pain?” she said. He was bewitched. He wouldn’t look at the tray and its contents. He ignored the sharp-toothed aroma of decay that snaked into his nostrils. His senses were directed at her even as he devoured, cutting through our skulls and spooning our marrows into his mouth. Nom. Nom. Nothing like a four-century-old microwaved meal. He chewed and chewed. We are tough, we are painful, our stories are hard to ingest, but he washed us down with the preservative ethanol, without choking, without crying, without acknowledging four centuries of pain presented to him on a silver platter for a tour fee of gossamer value charged against the violence wreaked and yet some of them gawked at the prices anyway, because they assumed Africa would be cheap.

Buulu. Onyɛ aye gbemi.

Our vessel smiled at him and asked if he was enjoying his trip. “Not until now,” he answered with the devious charm of his kind, wiping away the cobweb that dribbled onto his chin. “What’s your name?” he wanted to know. Our vessel gave the Harrys of this world a different name every time. Harry rose when he was done with his meal. He staggered. “I think I should walk you to your room,” she offered.

We’ve managed to convince the locals to live by a set of taboos. Taboo to not pray to us before fishing. Taboo to harvest more than enough fish. Taboo to fish on Tuesday. If disobeyed, they believe we will reveal ourselves to them in haunting shapes.

On Tuesday, we all rose to the occasion as our vessel brought in Harry who’d been shackled and stripped naked to reveal his fat. Good, industrial fat. Not even the seagulls that squawked at us in the mornings were around to witness this feast. The waters were silent, as were the winds, which were our breaths held in anticipation. We raised our hands for the sacrifice. We sang the song of dentists asking little kids to open their mouths for observation. Ahhhh. We swallowed Harry into the depths of our new home—where they had dumped us to file insurance claims and returned with wreaths for our corroborative silence.

Gbemi, gbemi, gbemi!


From No One Dies Yet by Kobby Ben Ben. Used with permission of the publisher, Europa Editions. Copyright © 2024 by Kobby Ben Ben.

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