Sample text for Second burial for a Black prince / Andrew Nugent.


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Chapter One

Click! On, the front porch security light. Click! Open, the distrustful eye of Mary Murtagh upstairs in her bed.

“Jack, wake up, Jack, will you? There is somebody down at the door.”

The doorbell rang, making an honest woman of her.

“Jack!”

“Sweet Jesus, Mary, what time is it?”

“Ten after two.”

Another hawk of the bell, like a whiskey cough in the night.

“Get up, Jack, in the name of God!”

“I’ll do anything within reason, ma’am, but I won’t get up out of this bed.”

She dumped herself heavily onto the floor. Flat-foot patter over to the window, screwing her face into focus. Clunk of a skull on the window pane. Rales of labored breathing.

“Merciful hour, Jack, it’s a black man!”

“Sure, the King of the Congo. You’re dreaming, woman!”

“Black as yer boot, Jack, I swear to God. Oh Jesus, he’s blood all over, Jack, and he’s falling down. Get up, Jack!”

Sergeant Molly Power belonged to the Murder Squad of the Garda Si;ochána, the Irish Police Force: in literal translation, the Guardians of the Peace. It was March and peace was doing fine: business was not brisk. Perhaps, the Irish being very religious, the assassins had given up murder for Lent. So Molly, all out of murders, was being usefully redeployed in patrol cars. It was four o’clock in the morning. She had been useful since midnight, being driven around the South Dublin seabord by Garda Tommy O’Brien, instead of being at home asleep in the arms of Jan-Hein Van Zeebroeck, her darling young Dutch art-expert husband of nearly nine months whom she still loved frantically and forever.

The shift was midnight to 6:00 a.m. Midweek in March, not much had been happening. A break-in at an off-licence in Dun Laoghaire. A maternity false alarm at Glenageary---wind probably, Molly thought. Then a handful of raucous teenagers to be dispersed from under somebody’s window. These were young and not drunk. Mere sight of the police car was enough to send them scuttling home to their mummies. Most trouble had been an alleged suicide off the east pier, who turned out to be a bona fide midnight nippy-dipper with attitude, lots of attitude. They had stood on the windswept pier for forty minutes discussing the American Constitution and FDR’s Four Freedoms, one of which, apparently, covered nude bathing in the dark.

The radio crackled.

“One-sixty, where are you?”

“One-sixty here. Killiney Hill,” O’Brien answered.

“Good. Make for Loughlinstown Hospital, okay? Something about an African guy attacked. Bad scene. Sawed his leg off, or something.”

“Jesus, tonight!” He looked at Molly. She nodded.

“Peel right, Tommy. We’re on it, Control. Okay. Out.”

She was with him when he died, vaguely hoping to get a statement. A nice-looking boy, about her own age, gentle, brave, so very lonely, full of faith. It affected her deeply.

Mid-morning.

“Cut the leg off him, Inspector, and dumped him on the Dublin Mountains. I don’t know how he got as far as that house.”

“Was he conscious, Doctor?”

“When he got here, hardly. Said his name, Chat or Chad or something. That’s all. He was dead in a few hours. Loss of blood. Irreversible shock. I’d say the shock was as much moral as physical. Just the horror of what had happened to him. I let your girl go into him. I doubt if she got anything.”

Inspector Jim Quilligan shook his head, phewing out vapors of disapproval.

“This racism is getting out of hand.”

“Not racism, Inspector, not this time.”

“Not racism! Hack the leg off a black man, and it’s not racism?”

“There was no hacking. This leg was surgically removed, under anesthetic. A meticulous amputation below the knee joint. Racists don’t give anesthetics, Inspector.”

“Well, what the hell is this about?”

“You tell me, Inspector. The whole thing is weird. The operation, the amputation, was competently done. But whoever did the postoperative bit didn’t have a bull’s notion. A Boy Scout would have done better. The leg was ligatured crudely, the stump stuck into a black plastic bag, which was tied tightly at the top of the thigh. Then the chap was driven up the Dublin Mountains and dumped. He hadn’t a hope.”

Quilligan pulled his big hands down each side of his face.

“So the ligaturing and black bagging had nothing to do with recovery or recuperation. It was done just to stop the victim from bloodying up somebody’s carpet or car.”

The doctor looked at the inspector with interest.

“I suppose that has to be right. And, mind you, in that grisly perspective, the job was not so incompetent after all. Quite effective, I’d say, though the guy was pretty bloodied up by the time we saw him. But that probably happened after he was dumped, when he was struggling to get to that house. The plastic bag got torn, and some of the surgical stuff around the stump had come undone. The main artery was still holding, though. Otherwise he would have died long before he got here.”

“Well, the dumping bit, at least: that has got to be racism.”

“Or worse.”

“What is worse than racism?”

The doctor shrugged.

“What you can’t name is always worse.”

“Was the severed bit, the foot, the foreleg, or whatever you call it, was it in the bag?”

“No. So riddle me that one. They keep his foot and they dump the rest of him. Its like what Gladstone said about Disraeli.”

“What did he say?”

“You don’t want to know.”

Quilligan nodded slowly.

“Well, we’d better start finding out who he is, or was. Chad or Chat, you say---his name?”

“Yes, but I can do better. He had handbills in his pocket, ads for some sort of ethnic eating house. In Parnell Street, I think.”

“Ah, Little Africa. That figures.”

“Yes. Hold on there a moment.”

The doctor went out and came back in a few minutes with a green plastic bag.

“We’ve left the clothes on him for the moment. They’ll cut them off for the autopsy.”

Quilligan winced, knowing how much else they would cut.

“But here’s what was in the pockets: a Biro, some money, a comb---fuzzy hair, what do they need a comb for?---and the flyers.”

Quilligan took one and flattened it out in his big hands. It was a hopeful little piece, badly printed on cheap paper.

COME TO:

SHAD’S PLACE

Igbo Quisine

HAVE BIG MEAL EVERYTIME

Rice and R

Stew S

Very V

Plenty P

TRY OUR SOUPES: OKORO, EGUSI, OGBONOR, BITTER-LEAF

COME TO OUR RESTAURANT: IT SERVES YOU RIGHT!

FOOD READY EVERYTIME

4a Parnell Close, Dublin City N:dg1, Ireland, Europe.

Quilligan could not help chuckling at “It serves you right” and at the sheer imagination displayed by turning a postal code into a quality rating. He gestured sadly even as he chuckled.

“God love him, and is this the best we can do for himself and the likes of him? Imagine coming all that way from Africa, just to die in a ditch like that. What age was he?”

The doctor forebore to point out that Loughlinstown Hospital is hardly a ditch. “Probably twenty-seven, twenty-eight, less than thirty anyhow. Go and see him yourself in the morgue, Inspector. He looks nice.”

It was, Quilligan thought, a strange remark for a leathery old doctor.

At 3:00 a.m. Jude had slept for an hour, worn out finally from crying. Shad dead! Shadrack his brother, his senior one, his little father. He could not take it in. Shad was dead. How cold the bed was without him, how desolate the world, and how bitter this cruel little island of Ireland.

Jude Ekemauche Okafor: Igbo by tribe, native of Nnewi, Anambra State, Nigeria. Twenty-three years of age, about. White people always wanted exact figures. Why? What use was it? He did not know his mathematical age. He knew his age group. “The gazelles” they were called: wonder boys all of them, dancers, drummers, runners, tumblers, fleet and beautiful. Oh, where were they all now, Chinedu, Oneyma, Uchedike, Chidebere, the ever-faithful ones, the good, where were they now, his brothers, when, like a wounded warrior, he needed them and their strong arms to hold him up? And what of his mother, who would tell her? How would they tell her? She would die of grief, surely, for Shad---Nwachukwu---her first-born son.

In a stupor of grief and exhaustion, Jude saw Shad again in that hospital morgue where the police had brought him. So small he had seemed, so slender, motionless; the alive so dead, his mutilated body so pitiable in its torn, blood-stained clothes. He could hear Shad crying to him now, pleading, pleading: Shad, the strong one, the senior brother who always gave to his junior ones, Shad who never took anything for himself, how had he become so weak, so poor, so pitiously helpless?

Wide awake suddenly, terrified, he was lying flat on his face, as if for judgment, naked as for sacrifice, his sweat surging in the pulsating heat of the sacred forest. In his flared nostrils, that acrid tang, as unmistakable as his own smell, the animate musk of Africa, whose red earth he could feel gripping and throbbing beneath his drenched and trembling body. In his ears, drumbeats, night sounds of the deep forest, ecstasies and agonies of the hunt and of the dying, of rutting and killing.

The spirits were calling him, his father, his father’s father, great elders before whom he had prostrated himself as a child, the heros of his race, many of their names forgotten or known only to priests or to the great storytellers, yet ever-present in his own life, to judge, to punish, or at times to reward honor, courage, and fidelity. These, the great ancestors of his Igbo clan and tribe, warriors and wizards, prophets and princes, saints, stern, inflexible men: these were calling to him now, to him by name: Jude Ekemauche. It was a great and terrible privilege, one rarely given and which could not be refused. In this night, his life was being utterly changed, his destiny was being written now forever, for better or for worse, for salvation or damnation.

“Ekemauche, our son, open your ears and listen. Attend to the voice of the spirits. You must lay this your brother, Nwachukwu, our son, to rest with honor. You must bring justice down on the heads of his murderers. Avenge this treacherous deed! Avenge the name of our people! Eat fire, Ekemauche! Drink deep of anger! May Great Chukwu strengthen your arm against our foes. May he enflame your chi with pitiless knowledge of all who talk lie, may he fill your belly with the valor of our greatest warriors.

“We command you, Ekemauche, choose now. Become a mighty one of our race, our blessed son, champion of the people---or else, be you ten times accursed and outcast forever.”

Jude covered his head and ears with both hands, crushing his face down onto the earth in a gesture of intense fear, in supplication, in perfect submission.

It was already after eight o’clock when Jude woke from a deep dreamless sleep. Fresh fruit, fish, and vegetables were his responsibility, and he had never before missed the market. Downstairs he could hear Margot, their massive Ghanaian mum-away-from-mum, bustling between dining room and kitchen. She was doing, he did not doubt, Shad’s work, and his, as well as her own.

Nothing could stop Margot. Besides feeding half the African population on Dublin’s north side, she was universal mother to throngs of harried and lonely people, most of them black. It was she who had taken Jude in her arms the night before when the police had brought him back from identifying Shad’s body. She had just sat for so long, holding him, stroking his head, singing soft songs in his ear, words which he could not understand, yet song that soothed his aching heart.

He lay on his back thinking, hands entwined behind his head. In one terrible night, he had ceased to be a child and had become a man, a man deeply sorrowing, yet calm now and strong, a man raised above mere self-pity and able to carry his pain. A man, too, who had pledged his deepest self. He would die rather than fail.

He got up and took his bath in a bucket of cold water, in traditional African style. Pure pleasure in the tropics: harsh penance in this unending Irish winter. But there was no money to spare for heating water.

As he washed, he reflected. Until four months before, Jude had never been farther than Anambra and the neighboring Igbo states, what used to be called Biafra. He spoke Igbo fluently and English well, but it was the English of Igboland and the Delta, quite different in syntax and intonation to the provincial dialects of Dublin. He had a big problem of communication in a city whose natives seemed certain that the best, indeed the only correct English in the world, was as spoken by themselves.

Jude was no stranger to city living. He knew Onitsha like the back of his hand and he had spent three months in Lagos on his way to Ireland. Anyone who survives those maelstroms, friends had assured him, would survive anywhere in the world. Dublin by comparison was small, and calm to the point of being eerie. He could not quite believe it at first: the cars stayed on their own side of the road---the wrong side actually---and they always stopped at red lights, even when there was no Yellow Fever man standing by with his whip to torture the drivers, as there was at home.

He still felt far from secure. Although not particularly hassled by police or immigration officials, most of whom seemed quite human, he had far too much to do with them. Visa offices to visit, police stations to report to, forms to fill out, questions to be answered, all the time more and more questions, many that he had no idea how to answer. Immigration formalities were interminable, bewildering, and intimidating. From day to day, from week to week, he had no idea whether his case for a resident’s permit was going forward or backward. There was the nagging fear all the time that they would come for him suddenly and send him packing.

Perhaps now, with his brother dead, they would think that he was trouble and a bringer of bad luck. They would drive him out. Besides, he had no money to pay bribes. Always when tragedy strikes the police are involved, and when the police get involved, you have to bring money. Whether you are wrong or in the right, the police must eat money. Jude’s own father had been struck and killed by a taxi. His family were poor people. The police would not let his family have the body to bury until they bring money. Eventually, one reverend sister “dashed” them two thousand naira. Their father stank at his funeral. Well, Shadrack would not stink at his funeral. Even if Jude had to kill for it, Shad would have a decent funeral. “Standard,” as they say at home, when by which they mean “the best.”

Jude knew the world of Dublin’s Little Africa, that area from Parnell Square back toward the North Circular Road, increasingly colonized by Africans, who had come to hitch a ride on the Celtic Tiger. He was also fairly at home in the food markets down near the river, where people knew him and where, in typical Dublin style, everybody called him “Judo.” He enjoyed walking back from there each morning, the huge basket of fresh produce balanced skillfully on his head. He could sense people looking at him admiringly. Sometimes he would flash pearly teeth at some pretty girl, who would immediately turn pink. Then he would go home happy, dreaming impossible dreams.

But outside the little circle of Africans frequenting Shad’s restaurant, the mostly friendly neighbors in adjoining streets, his market pals, and some clergy and faithful at the church where he worshipped, Jude knew virtually no one and was shy of making contact. In the six weeks he had spent in Dublin he had not encountered much racial hostility. Incoherent taunts in his back a few times, once a glutinous yellow snot landing at his feet, and another time, from a pretty girl on the arm of an ugly lout, obscene gestures, which sparked disgust and even pity in his heart, more than anger or fear.

But he had heard stories of what had happened to other people, those who had strayed from the African ghetto and dared to compete in other sectors of Irish society. He was in no hurry to do likewise. He knew nothing south of the river bisecting Dublin, not to mention anywhere outside the city. He had not even learned how to take a Dublin bus, use a public telephone, or handle any but the simplest commercial transactions. It was a slender basis for all that he had to do now.

Having dressed, Jude knelt down, as he always did.

“Sweet Jesus,” he said, “my Savior, my brother, you are my only Shad now. You, too, are Nwachukwu, son of God. Make a home for Shad, break kola nut for him, heal his broken body, dry his tears, forgive his sins. Console our mother very well, and I will console your Mother. Help me, guide me everytime in what I must do. Make me worthy of my father, as you are worthy of your Father. Love me too much, I beg, I beg. Amen.”

Copyright © 2006 by Andrew Nugent



Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Nigerians -- Ireland -- Fiction.
Blacks -- Ireland -- Fiction.
Immigrants -- Ireland -- Fiction.
Amputation -- Fiction.
Brothers -- Death -- Fiction.
Police -- Ireland -- Dublin -- Fiction.
Dublin (Ireland) -- Fiction.