"Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings..."
- Patrick Henry
The day is Saturday. The date: Unknown. Place: The country of my birth.
Salome looked up at me with her milky beautiful eyes. Now that the excitement of my presence among them after a month or so had ended, it was time for the interrogation. I always get that. And the dialectic excuse that I am a prodigal son never washes with the little angels. Perhaps, they are yet to know what a prodigal son is.
“Where did you go?” asked Salome with the serene innocence only children have. The other little ones never really have insightful time for questioning my absence. But Salome is different. She exudes inquisitiveness that I always seek in my students and indeed most of my country folk. As far as Salome is concerned, I am not the kind that just disappears and re-appears without justification. I belong in her world. It seems the little thing has this thing in her that I always owe her an explanation. I do anyway, so I had to.
“I was in school,” and with that I hoped the interrogation was over. Not knowing I had just opened a can of worms.
“Boza,” (lies) she screamed. And she turned onto her friends. “baMbinji is saying he was in school. Huh! He is too old for school.” And for a while a debate among them commenced, with “boza” being the most pronounced word I could hear.
Perhaps, I got caught up in my own lies by not explaining exactly what I meant by being in school. Should have told them what school I really was in. To them school is a kindergarten. And I am surely too old for that, except as a teacher. It didn’t matter, I had already lost the ploy.
In hindsight, Salome’s lament was not really that I had lied. No, it is simply that I did not accord her the dignity she deserves. Salome and I dwell in the same world. We are each other’s keepers. We celebrate joy and success together, as this builds on our understanding of each other. And we lower our heads in sadness, shame and remorse together, as one’s misfortunes, failings or thoughtlessness, gives us the strength to always seek to walk paths on the bright side of the moon.
And as it is so between Salome and I; in a democracy it is so too between a people and those that they choose to lead on their behalf - the valets de chambre. Those chosen are after all the employed. We are the employers.
Democracy is about mutual respect between the led and those that lead on their behalf, thereof. But, democracy places a higher price on the dignity of the valets. More so because the valets should always remember that a people do not queue up in the scorching summer heat, just to throw pieces of paper in a box so that they reduce their worthiness as keepers of those among them that become valets. Look, we can’t all be valets, someone has to do the dirty work and for that we respect them. And they too should respect us for giving them the honour to do so.
However, the events of the last few weeks in my country have filled most with foreboding and uncertainties as to the worthiness of some of our valets. This is a period in which, instead of humbling themselves in recognition of the fact that the positions they hold are because a people decided so, they on the other hand diminished the worthiness of the very people that in multitudes queued up to cast the ballot for them.
There surely is nothing wrong in saying the chief valets de chambre is not feeling well, and hence has gone for a medical checkup. Doing so, is in fact a demonstration of evidence that a people are respected as that is what a democracy demands. In addition, there is nothing not African in saying the chief valets de chambre is not feeling well, as some would want us to believe.
And if the contrary is the case, which is the chief valets de chambre is actually well, then mutual respect demands that the chief valets de chambre should walk into the cool July sunshine and greet the people. The people will jubilate, not only because the chief valets de chambre is indeed well, but much so because the chief valets de chambre and his deputy valets do indeed respect them.
For deputy valets to instead, threaten a people for simply asking of the chief valets de chambre’s well-being, as has been the case lately, is simply callous and not deserving of a country that prides itself of being a democracy. It is disrespectful. Sic.
The chief valets de chambre, is like Salome and I. I owe Salome an unhesitating answer. An answer that will soothe her lamentations, as this is what Salome expects if she is to continue respecting me. In lying to Salome, I have injured her dignity. I have to restore the mutual respect we have.
In Salome’s song lies the one lesson our valets always have to learn – “We simply ask for and deserve mutual respect”. And that is not asking too much. Or is it?
Ora pro nobis.