by Fiston Mwanza Mujila

Nonstop (Issue III/2019)

This scrap heap of a truck came too late, or not at all, and made people crazy, distracted, choleric, melancholy and completely slow. It made them aggressive about every little thing and vengeful towards the rain, melancholic, dark, clumsy and also possessive. They pleaded with all the saints for help as the night progressed and their legs gave way to tiredness. One person laughed like mad, again and again, out of fear or nervousness, and, above all, because of a hangover. While the truck was waiting, the maddest of the rabble poured themselves a drink, an adulterated beer, a homemade whisky, Bissap, Djudju juice and other nameless brews.

18:22 – 18:34 – 18:45 – 18:52 – 19:14 – 19:24 – 19:57 – 20:08. Time passed at a furious pace, but the junk truck dating from the 1960s still did not show up. The tension rose and rose. Breast-fed children, youths and those who are hardly youths, adults of all income groups, social classes, sexual orientations, party affiliations and religions waited at the stop in their dozens, perhaps in their hundreds, and stepped impatiently from one leg to the other, sweating, endlessly swearing, pleading with the gods and waiting for this truck to take them back to their miserable slums.

Macadam remained a colonial city, literally and figuratively. At the time of the Belgians, Italians, Portuguese and French, it had been divided into two areas of unequal size. The representatives of the colonial administration, the Portuguese and Greek merchants and the like lived in the city. The second area, squashed at the edge of the city, was home to the black population. Many of them worked in the European quarter as cooks, gardeners or servants. As soon as it got dark, they had to return to their neighbourhoods and shacks by the quickest route, under threat of being flogged or thrown into prison.

Long after the dictatorships and the cheap imitations of electoral ballots, the colonial order remained intact. The former European part of the city, which had become the city centre, contained everything: the post office, the bank, the first-class restaurants, the supermarkets, the good schools, the three-star brothels, the cinemas. And the mob from the Amour slum tore themselves out of their lethargy every God-given day in the hope of filling their stomachs, fulfilling one of their countless bureaucratic duties or breaking the vicious circle of unemployment. Officials, market criers with newspapers, handkerchiefs, bananas or talismans; retired pimps, boxers without a club, students, all rushed to work in the city. Even the crooks, pickpockets, smugglers of all kinds of stuff (sugar, manioc flour, palm oil) and highwaymen moved their asses there, because in the Amour slum there was nothing to steal or sell.

21:34 – 21:38 – 21:43 – 22:46. The truck still did not come. The restlessness was followed by anger, the anger by fear, the fear by sadness, but in the end, anger got the upper hand. Normally, the truck took two hours to arrive at its destination. If the road was blocked by mega jams, as was usually the case, the junk truck reached the run-down quarters of Amour at least an hour later. That evening the whole route to Amour was congested with traffic jams and, as if that wasn't enough already, torrential rain had fallen on the whole region. The rivers had overflowed their banks and the water was making its way into the streets, apartments, parks.

23:19 – 23:25 – 23:27 – 23:29 – 23:32 – 23:33 – 23:34 – 23:35 – 23:36. The truck still did not show up and it didn’t escape the notice of the rabble from Amour that with these torrents it would take a miracle – or two or three – to get them home. This fuelled anger, as well as restlessness.

23:46 - 23:48 - 23:51 - 23:53 - 23:56. No truck in sight and not one person among the rabble took the risk of walking home. They had good reason, after all, Amour was not only the dirtiest and most populated slum in the city, it was also the furthest away. The latest news also quelled the enthusiasm of the brave: A mass of water had swallowed up five city streets and made a bridge collapse - and now it was gushing towards the slum.

2:35 – 2:48 – 2:52 – 2:53 – 2:54. The truck still hadn’t shown up and all at once, the enthusiastically swearing people began to sing, passionately and rousingly, as if from one pair of lungs. It was as if they wanted to make fun of the rain and the floods. As if they wanted to make fun of the calamity. As if they wanted to diss the truck. They all shared a destiny. This junk-heap vehicle which was, as now is blatantly obvious, delayed.

2:55 – 2:56 – 2:58 – 3:05. In time a peaceful atmosphere took hold. The coal traders chatted with the journalist. The potential thieves scrapped with the students, but without using excessive force. Police smoked a cigarette with the highway men. The professional poker players, who were in the thick of things to make ends meet, chatted and competed with one another amid loud laughter. An orchestra started to play a piece that everyone knew. Whoever had fallen asleep now woke up, to clap or to dare to dance. A young man acted the prophet, and gave all he had with a long sermon, in which he compared Noah’s ark with the truck-bus and the rabble with the animals and the flooding with the biblical flood. A pick pocket who tried his luck was caught red handed. The crowds piled onto him. The soldiers, who were drinking beer, shot into the air to restore order. It only lasted a short time. Laughter. Sarcastic comments. Farts. Calls. Salsa, polka, gangnam style and, again and again, gangnam style.

At around three in the morning, there was a loud roar followed by honking. It was the truck that had finally shown up. Those who had laid down to sleep on the floor were suddenly wide awake. The thieves stopped stealing. The soldiers stopped smoking their Diamba. The snack-bar mamas stopped their conversations. The school boys and girls cheered with joy. They all ran towards the vehicle. They climbed on the truck before it had come to a stop. In a flash the vehicle was filled to the brim. Whoever didn’t manage to cling on, stood in its way. A long discussion kicked off between the two parties. “You’re not leaving without us” cried a young man, as if possessed by the spirit of the Zongo. Meanwhile, time continued to pass, undeterred. 4:48 – 4:52 – 5:53 – 5:55.

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