FICTION: The Election Parade - Part two

By Drum Digital
16 March 2017

A fat man stepped up to the microphone, wearing a tight suit unbuttoned over his belly and a wide scarf in party colours draped over his shoulders. By then the crowd was in a good mood and calmed down in expectation of his words

By Thomas Szendrei

. He was the man. The man who would give out parcels.

He started off well: “Comrades, brothers and sisters, citizens of this great city. . . ” By the time he hit his stride, his voice thundered over the speakers and he punched the air like a Sunday prophet.

“You hear false voices . . . two-headed snakes, hissing false promises . . . Don’t trust them. My party is the only true party of the people. I have walked the streets like you. I know what poverty is. I am your friend.” He paused – either because he had run out of words, or because in his haste he was choking on his tongue. He lifted an arm with the fist clenched and shouted, “Viva!  Together! Viva!”

The first time he did this, he got an answering roar from the crowd. But as he returned to his war cry after each bout of effusive preaching, the responses got feebler and feebler. There was a restless stirring around me, and mutterings of: “Where's the food?  When will he give us something we can eat?” In a matter of minutes the muttering thickened. More and more voices joined in, and the cry swelled till it burst as one unstoppable question:  “Where's our food?”

THE REFRAIN swelled into a sustained, rhythmic roaring. Soon a thousand people were punching the air and roaring the question together. There were ululations and lots of arm waving. I saw Beggar Boy in the forefront of the crowd, whirling and stamping his feet like a warrior, thrusting his right arm at the ground as if killing the two-headed snake.

At first, the fat man up on the stage tried to still the crowd with ineffectual gestures. He was soon joined by the guy in the velvet jacket whose plea over the microphone went unheeded. Pretty soon the politician was surrounded by beefy men in dark suits who hustled him away.

That was when gift parcels were found, piled up behind the stage, and the discovery triggered a scramble. No liquidation sale at a fashion takkies warehouse ever saw such a human stampede. It was hand-to-hand combat – grabbing and ripping. Caps and T-shirts were easy to recognise – they disappeared in no time at all. The real prize was the stack of sealed cardboard boxes. Food parcels! Boxes of tinned stuff and maize meal and sugar and tea.

With whoops, another treasure trove was discovered under a tarpaulin – braai packs! That set off another shoulder-to-shoulder scramble to lay hands on the packs. Of course, the boxes were not labelled – mothers, kid, pensioners, or anything – so it was alright for a street kid like myself to grab my share and make tracks.

Never had I seen women running with such speed and poise, even with boxes on their heads. They outstripped guys who were banging their knees on cardboard boxes clumsily clutched to their midriffs.

The flames of braai fires licked high and burnt long into that night. There was a lot of loud-voiced but good-natured bartering going on, exchanging baby food for maize meal or brisket for wors. I flogged my yellow T-shirt—it was far too short in the waist and tight under the arms. Maybe it was made to Chinese measures. The mood got even jollier when hidden stocks of beer came out and quarts passed from hand to hand.

Swaggering around with one of those bottles, the Beggar Boy poked me in the chest. “Hey, mafundi. We all know you went to big school. You know everything, so tell me, when is the next election?”

“In 2020.”

“When is that? Next year?”

“In four years’ time.”

For a moment, sobriety came to his face. “Can’t be. I’ll be dead by then. C’mon. Think again.”

“Maybe two others before then.” I was thinking of local government elections and perhaps a ward election.

“I knew it!” Beggar Boy gleefully pulled a hard swig from the bottle before lifting it to the sky. He cupped his other hand to his mouth and blew a loud trumpet screech. “Election!”

Yes, good fun was had by all that day, though I wasn’t sure about the fat politician. Pity I never got to hear the election promises. But maybe they're not meant to be remembered anyway.

The End

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