It’s been three hundred and fifty years since I approached a bank for a business loan.
“Please come through and take a seat, sir.”
“Thank you, miss…?”
“No, I’m Mrs Walukunga,” she says. “The manager will see you shortly.”
I nod and take a seat. This office is less formal than I’m used to.
“Meanwhile, I’ll take some details and ask you to sign and date our product disclaimer.”
She passes me a document and with my ink pen at the ready, I prepare to sign it.
“That’s Wednesday, the fifteenth.” She points to two boxes. “The fifteenth of July 2020, sir.”
“I notice you put November 1636 for your birth date, sir,” she says. “So if you could correct and initial above, please.”
When He promised me immortality, I never thought I’d be in this position again. I had strived to build my business empire, and I accrued a fortune over five decades. It had been my very existence; my soul. I agreed to bequeath all my millions to enrich the city of my birth for a share of forevermore. The only condition was that I trusted Him and never questioned his Word.
As the decades passed by, ‘forever’ became an unbearable duration to believe and trust the Word. I wanted to return and see for myself.
Now I’ve discovered that his Word isquick and powerful. It is sharper than a two-edged sword and divides soul and spirit. He is all knowing and discerning of all thoughts and intents of the heart.
“I understand you have connections in shipping,” she says, opening a laptop.
“Yes, I used to be deputy governor of a large trading company.”
“I see,” she says, checking her notes. “You’re a logistics specialist with international shipping experience?”
“Yes, that would explain my position.”
In the days when labour was cheap and expendable, I supervised the movement of men and resources between London, Africa and The West Indies. We traded cloth and beads for a strong workforce that produced the finest Caribbean sugar for a voracious European market. It was an efficient business model and lucrative too.
We had the invaluable help from our colleagues in Burkina Faso. Our desert trading partners filled their vessels with stragglers as they sailed down the Volta. They passed through Ghana and continued gathering more volunteers until they reached the southern coastline. Our rendezvous was at the Fort in Accra, where my sea captains would exchange our range of goods for their harvest of manpower. Often our new conscripts would bring their families to accompany them on their voyage west. That was fine, providing they were strong and healthy. The Atlantic passage was an arduous journey for all on board.
“Now, sir,” she says, looking up from her device. “Can I use your Christian name?”
“Sir is just fine, thank you.”
“I know we spoke on the phone, but I’d like you to be more specific; concerning your business proposal?”
I once commanded a fleet of one hundred merchant ships from my office in London. My new venture could start with a more modest number. I require a bare minimum to function until the business gets up and running.
“I understand you want an advance for twenty sea-worthy container vessels?”
“Yes, I intend trading with the countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean.”
“I see,” she nods and inputs the new data. “You mentioned a business plan and a costing report?”
She doesn’t know whom she’s addressing; my reputation speaks volumes.
“I’m looking for about ten million in sterling with a guaranteed return of three hundred percent in two years.”
“That’s incredible, sir.” She pauses her typing and looks me straight in the eye. “My manager will be more than happy to help you begin your project.”
I raise a tight-lipped smile and hold her gaze.
“However, I must insist on more detail and a formal plan.” She looks down again and her fingers rattle away on the keyboard. “You understand, I’m sure, sir?”
She must have walked around the town and noticed my name everywhere? They’ve written it on road signs, embossed it on school gates, engraved it on church pews and painted it on public houses. There’s a window in the cathedral bearing my name and a bronze effigy in the city centre, for goodness’ sake. How many more references do they require?
“I would like to speak to your manager, if you’d be so kind.”
“Sir, I believe she’s got time available next week and that will allow you time to organise your paperwork.”
“I’d like to discuss my plans today, as arranged,” I say. “If you would kindly inform your superior, forthwith.” I cross my arms. I’m not going anywhere.
“I’ll be right back, sir,” she says and disappears behind a heavy mahogany door.
I didn’t expect to encounter this level of difficulty when I broke my eternity contract. I assumed the pandemic emergency and the environmental collapse would keep the management busy enough to overlook one missing soul. I’ll be frank. With all that’s going on in Britain and across the pond, I thought I’d be able to pop down, admire my legacy, and then sneak back without being noticed. Big mistake. There’s a simple reason they call Him, ‘all seeing and all knowing’. However, on the bright side, my old hometown has immortalised me. Bristol deserved every penny I’ve donated over the centuries. It’s gratifying to see it all put to such good use.
“Hello, Mr Colston, is it?”
“Yes,” I notice the bronze name-plate on her lapel. “Mrs Boateng, I assume?”
“I believe my assistant has taken some notes. However, I would like a few more specifics before we can proceed any further.”
“That’s fine. If we can go to your office, I’ll outline my proposal.”
“Thank you,” she says and opens her office door. “Please, take a seat. A hot drink, perhaps?”
“Your finest leaf tea and six sugars, if you’d be so kind.”
“You’re just visiting our city, I understand?”
“I’ve been absent for too long.”
“You’ve missed your family, I assume?”
“Alas, I have no living relatives.”
“I’m sorry to hear about your namesake’s statue in Colston Avenue.”
“I believe it’s been carefully removed to be cleaned?”
“Not exactly, sir.”
“Hmm, I understood that it’s being burnished and restored to its former glory for all to admire.”
This procedure is more tiresome than I remembered it to be.
“I don’t want to take up all your valuable time.” I say and adjust my collar. “So, I would request that you prepare the funds for transfer to my account whilst I explain my intention.”
“With all due respect, sir, I can’t give you ten million pounds today.”
“I’m certain you’ll find this arrangement will work to our mutual advantage.”
“Mr Colston, I can’t release that amount of money without authorisation.”
“But my name is worth considering. Look out of any window and you’ll see it displayed before you.”
“Mr Colston, I can’t fulfil your request.”
“I have a plan that will make a vast profit for all involved and you will get your money back threefold.”
“I have a busy schedule today and I…”
“But you haven’t considered my scheme.”
“Mrs Boateng, I insist you listen,” I say. “I’ve moved heaven and hell for this meeting.”
“Very well, but I…”
“My plan is straight forward. I realise that labour in the Garden of England has become scarce with the country’s imminent exit from Europe. My plan is to collect volunteers from the eastern borders of the Mediterranean and transport them to Kent. They will work in the fields to feed the populace.”
“Is that so, Mr Colston?”
“Simple and brilliant, I think you’ll agree. However, the clever part comes later when the Scottish people vote to leave the United Kingdom.”
“You’ll have a fight on your hands, conscripting a work force from north of the border.”
“You’re right, they’d be unmanageable,” I say and draw a breath. “My plan is for my workforce in Kent to harvest all the barley required to produce Scotland’s whisky.”
“So you’re long-term aim is to control the multi-million pound Scottish spirits industry and exploit the exchange rate?”
“However, you’re assuming Scotland abandons sterling and changes their currency?”
“Indeed,” I say and smile. “Now if you’ll make ready an initial payment for me…”
“And the human trafficking part of this scheme is incidental and unimportant?”
“I have other options, Mrs Boateng. You’re not the only bank in town.”
“Mr Colston, you are more than welcome to approach other lenders.”
“I think you’re forgetting your position, Mrs Boateng.”
“Thank you, sir,” she says and stands. “I have a busy day and I realise your time is precious.” She offers her hand and then retracts it as I rise to my full height.
“Might I suggest you seek Colston Avenue while you’re in Bristol, sir.”
“I intend to.”
“You will find it most enlightening.”
They’ll always be people who’ll see the sense in my reasoning. I’ll take my business idea elsewhere. My project will generate another fortune in due course. If it doesn’t happen today, it’ll happen tomorrow. I have a name and a reputation and once I get started, I’ll have Him behind me too. My fall won’t last long.
* * *
I wander through central Bristol and arrive at Colston Avenue. Here I encounter hordes of excited people. They’re visitors and locals alike who’ve discovered my handsome memorial. I peer over the bobbing heads and I can see a crowd of a hundred people gathered in a central public space. Within a semi-circle of mature plane trees is a tall, silhouetted figure on a stone plinth. People are pausing in front of my monument to create digital memories. Their hand-held devices make brief flashes of light. They capture their grinning faces forever.
That’s my plinth for sure. I can read the inscription panels attached to the stonework. But the figure has female attire and an extended right arm. It’s a likeness of a woman. She has a clenched fist. Is this some wretched trickery? Do my senses deceive me?
The members of the local council shall hear from me today.
I’ll speak to the mayor and have the damn thing removed.
I’ll show them that my name still means something in this city.