May God Save Us All.
Our country, as we knew it, was gone forever; a storm was brewing in the hearts of the youths, and it was up to the faithful to stop them before we lost everything, the Imam boomed from Bello’s radio. ‘Don Allah, reduce this volume.’ I asked as I scanned the faces partially lit by the kerosene lanterns and mosquito-repellent light coils. No one could be trusted nowadays, no one except Bello. Bitcoin traders disappeared after the nation-wide ban. Sometimes, they came back wide-eyed and silent like they had frozen mid-shock. Others came back stuffed in small sacks like Sallah meat. Bello’s brother never returned.
Bello raised his head from the laptop. ‘Eh-heh? Why don’t you ask me to throw the radio away since you are the new owner of the shop?’ but he did it anyway.
I spotted the red cotton band that I designed myself on Jibril’s arm first and quickly blew out the candle on Bello’s groundnut tray. Jibril’s mouth moved but it was impossible to hear anything over the sizzles of roasting beef, the vying calls of the midnight bus conductors, and Bello’s ramblings. Going closer to Jibril and his men was too risky. I would not be able to explain myself if I was caught with bitcoin.
‘These Imams of nowadays eh, the government sends them a bag and they start singing the tune of a completely different song. They tell us to beware of haram, but now, they say even revolution is haram.’ Bello ranted as he handed me a nylon bag with a brown envelope. I pretended to inspect it as if I didn’t already know that the money was complete. ‘It is because you are my brother, Mahmoud.’ Bello said. ‘I do not do such late business for anyone, especially with bitcoin.’ Even the mention of the word ‘bitcoin’ could lead to execution now that it had been declared illegal.
I changed the passwords to my bitcoin account and forgot it years ago. Grand-maman’s last coin was what I offered to Bello to buy our tickets to safety. I had called her a traitor to the state when she refused to let go of hers. I had been so foolish. Bello cut two net sponges from the wooden plank above his head and stuffed them on top of the envelope.
I grabbed the bag and asked him, ‘Did you think about what we discussed?’
Bello’s eyes ran away from mine. ‘I set the VPN to Paris so it should be untraceable for now. I don’t know how long you have left.’
‘Time is running out, Bello.’ I said.
He cut up my nano sim and tossed it into the bin with my phone. ‘Then maybe you should start coming to the market earlier.’
‘Look. If it’s Aisha, I can-.’
‘Mahmoud. You and Samira are just two. My stepmothers. My sisters. Aisha’s parents in Dagana. What about my own village? I can pluck as many fruits as my hands may hold. I cannot carry the whole tree. Who will take care of ma famille here? That has been my problem with you, Mahmoud. You cry about the revolution as if you have ever known hunger. Have you buried your child with your hands before?’
I stared at my fingers gripping the bag. Bello continued, ‘You are a good man. Allow me to pray for you, and you, pray for me. That is all I ask.’ He hugged me and patted my back. Bello threw a cherry lollipop in the bag. ‘For Samira.’
I walked to the market junction. A preacher screeched, ‘This is the end times, my brothers and sisters. Christ est venu, my brothers and sisters. Look at our country, look at our Senegal. There is nothing left to hold onto than Jesus, my brothers and sisters. Repent before the Messiah returns.’
I walked past him, clutching the bag to my chest, and he grabbed my arm. ‘Mon frere, are you prepared for the end times?’ His eyes were wide and I shrugged him off and kept walking without looking back.
Originally written for WRIT-225 by Sope Lartey