The Nsoro are merciless bastards, of that I am sure. You had hoped that this wedding would be the first step to peace between our tribe and theirs but, Your Radiance, my confidence dwindles by the minute. The day began well enough. Everything was in its rightful place, as was everyone. However the trouble came just before the morning invocation. The twin grooms caught sight of the garments they were meant to wear and went on a rampage. Apparently, the Nsoro hold orange as a holy sign and blue as the source of nightmares and inauspicious tidings. Now the grooms’ family demands that the entire process be restarted, from the betrothal ceremony to the ninety monthly invocations. The bride’s family has no choice but to agree for the sake of peace, but even they grow weary with the constant badgering they’ve received this past year. There are mutterings amongst the tribes; they say that even the ancestors agree that the Nsoro and the Fihan were never meant to cease our warring.
Your Radiance, how am I to even begin broaching the subject of building the Mpatapo in these conditions? If this is what I have to contend with, then I fear our great city of a thousand temples will never—
Victor was dragged up from reading the epistolary textbook by a knock at his office door. He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. Pausing and waiting, he hoped that it was just a student who had the wrong office, but was proven wrong. When the knock came again it was louder. Victor slowly rose from his chair and crossed the room in long, heavy strides, his black traditional clothes kicking up around his feet as he went. Maybe whoever it was would get the hint. No such luck.
Leaning against the doorway was Mathew Navysun, an eager smile painted on as he waved a hand. “Professor Ochrerose, good to see you again.”
Mathew was a shock as always. At some point between last Friday and the current Monday, he had dyed his long dreadlocks a platinum blonde and decorated them with bright orange beads which matched his nail color. A smile found its way on Victor’s lips, fondness seeping into his voice as he said “Mathew, it's only been a week. I doubt you’ve missed me that much. Is there something wrong?”
“Nothing like that, sir. This is more of a formal visit than anything else,” Mathew gestured behind Victor to the office. “Can I come in?”
Victor hummed, glancing back at the book left wide open on his desk. He squeezed the doorknob in a moment’s indecision before letting it go and crossing his arms. “I don’t know, I’m pretty busy these days,” he lied. “Can it wait?”
“It’ll only take a moment, Sir. Scholar’s vow.” Mathew’s grin turned apologetic as he looked up at Victor from under long, dyed white eyelashes.
Victor paused, taking in the other’s words before sighing. “Is it truly important?”
“Yes sir,” Mathew nodded, his dreadlocks bouncing on his shoulder. “I’ve got an offer for you. It'll suit you perfectly. Hear me out at least, yeah?”
Victor leaned against the door, watching the man across from him with an unsure frown. Mathew Navysun had been one of his favorite students last year, it was true, but Victor had gotten enough job offers trying to lure him away from Aurum National University to last him a lifetime. Still, he mused, it wouldn’t hurt to listen. Victor slid to the side so Mathew could enter. He almost instantly regretted that decision, rolling his eyes as Mathew strode inside and flopped down in the same chair he had for the past few months, clasping his hands behind his head and watching Victor with widened, expectant eyes.
Victor closed the door, and retook his seat. He slid a bookmark between the pages he’d been reading and closed the textbook, putting it in the drawer face down. “So this offer,” he said finally with an indulgent lilt.
Mathew sat up straight, rearranging himself so his hands were clasped on his lap and his knees touching. Why was he sitting so stiffly, Victor wondered while raising an eyebrow. “I won’t waste your time Professor, I’ll just cut to the chase. My employer recently gave me a huge responsibility and I think you’re the perfect person to help me with it.” Mathew’s speech was rushed, his grin somehow growing wider.
“Oh?” Victor leaned back in his seat, waving his hand for Mathew to continue. His loud-colored student said nothing, instead reaching into his left shoe and taking out a little brown handkerchief with words on it and smoothing it out on the desk before him. It read ‘The City Must Rise’. Victor started at the sight, nearly falling from his chair in his haste to grab the handkerchief. Mathew snatched it away before Victor could do anything, tucking the silken cloth back where he’d gotten it, eagerly grinning the whole interaction. “Son, do you have any idea what that is?” Victor asked, words rushed.
“Yes sir. I'm aware.”
“Are you? Those people are radicals, boy. They are dangerous. They’re wanted in most of the provinces in both Aurum and Argenti. The bounties on their heads are enough to buy us thirty-times over.”
Mathew’s smile wilted an inch, a frown beginning to form. “With all due respect sir, I’m not a ‘boy’, nor am I your son. I’m a man. A man who's been working for the MRC for ten years now. And I’m here to offer you a place in the ranks.”
“Mathew, what?” Victor’s words were little more than a whisper.
“Sir, you may not agree with their methods but their beliefs, their goals, are right up your alley. Just hear me out.”
“Mathew, what!” The fluorescent lights above suddenly felt too heavy, too hot and Victor was suffocating. He didn't want to listen, but he did.
“I’m serious. At the beginning of the year, you told the class you were a coward and I believed you. I still believe you, but don’t you want to be something more?”
“No.” Victor stood suddenly, his chair nearly rolling from under him with the force of his movement. “Not like that. That isn’t the way.”
“You can lie to me all you want, but you can’t lie to yourself. I remember those nights we sat together, Victor Ochrerose. You’ve talked endlessly about the history and culture of our two tribes. You want to restore the Mpatapo. To merge our tribal lands and get rid of those ridiculous names the British gave us. No more Aurum or Argenti, just your Fihan and my Nsoro. You want our people—yes, our people—to completely shun the influence of the west. I saw what you were reading. I see how you’re dressed; red Hye Won Hye symbols embroidered on black, ‘that which cannot be burned’. Sir,” Mathew gave an incredulous laugh, “who do you think you’re fooling? You want the old days back. Will you lie to me even now?”
“You don’t know—,” Victor cut himself off and briefly put his head in his hands, searching for the right words. “Mathew, it's not that simple. There's so much at stake.”
“But Professor, that's how we know it's all worth it. How will we get anywhere if we have to beg our oppressor for freedom? Black or otherwise, they see no value in our past. They call our ancestors heathens, heretics, and devils, and then thank their god for enslaving our race. They don’t see us so we have to force them.”
Victor went to the bookshelf on the far side of the room. He turned his back to his old student, mind running a mile a minute. “I know this. But all the same, the violence your organization deals out is senseless. It's not directed to anything useful so it hurts everyone. How can I condone that? How can you?” He traced the spine of one of his older books, absently marveling at the difference in position he found himself in. If this offer had come five years earlier, Victor’s response would have been different and there would be no listening to his family on the matter. A once and a lifetime opportunity.
“That's why we need you. You know who we need to ally ourselves with, how we should conduct ourselves, and what to say to get the masses on our side. You know how to lead us."
Victor faced him, gaping. “Mathew, are you suggesting . . .”
“Yes,” he answered, a hard look in his eyes. “It's just as you said. The violence is too undirected. It only makes people hate us and what we stand for. We could be better, and we will with the help of our new heads. And they want you up with them this time.”
Victor inhaled sharply, digging a hand into his hair and pulling. What was he supposed to say to that? Him as a leader of the MRC? Where would he even start with reforming them? So much had been destroyed; nightclubs that disallowed dark skin women, schools that banned 4c hair, shops that sold perms and bleaching creams. There was so much, and yet what if Victor did it? He shook his head at the thought. Everything was at stake
“You don’t have to give me an answer now, just think on it,” Mathew said as he stood. “Pray to your God if you must.” He took a black business card from his pocket and slid it across the desk. “Here's my number. Call me when you’ve made up your mind. I know I can trust you, sir. You won’t betray the cause.” And with that, the door closed with a click.
Victor walked back to his chair and slumped down into it, exhaling a shaky breath as he did. He would’ve never thought Mathew Navysun of all people would be a part of a terrorist group. The same boy who drank orange juice out of a sippy cup and painted his nails a different color every month, was trying to recruit him for the Mpatapo Restoration Confederation. For a while, he was too stunned to take his thoughts further. Victor scoured his mind, searching for any hint of a radical in the boy who’d hid behind the podium after a fly had gotten into the lecture hall one afternoon. But he couldn’t. The image of the ever-technicolor Mathew of his memories wouldn’t compute with the image of the group that had tried to burn the Gold House and Silver House not even a month ago.
He interlaced his hands, resting his chin on them as his frown deepened. As an Ochrerose, his biggest gripe with the MRC was that they gave a bad name to the peaceful organizations who advocated for reestablishing the tribal confederation. Victor was already on thin ice as he’d never been shy about his political leanings. He was a conservative just as his family had been for generations. If he so much as looked like he was going radical, the police would be at his door in less than a second. And that couldn’t happen. He had to protect his wife.
His wife. Victor stood again and began to pace the room, a smile blooming on his face. If he asked his wife for advice, he knew what she would say. Tamika was the sort to read bell hooks like the bible and curse Booker T. Washington like he was Judas. Her answer would be obvious. Join the MRC and get justice for his people. Victor grimaced and turned to the picture opposite of the first. There, he and his brother stood in front of their tall and rounded family compound holding one of the largest catfish anyone had ever seen. It took both of their strength to even get it on the boat. Victor frowned, clenching his fist.
His brother would have a different opinion. Andrew would slap him upside the head for not throwing Mathew out of the office. Andrew would rant and rave, then urge Victor to leave the province—no, the country if he could, and go in hiding. His eldest brother would probably suggest going to America and living with Tamika’s parents in Memphis. The longer Victor thought about that option, the more his stomach churned. He didn’t want to leave and that was the crux of his problem. He was tempted. In his heart of hearts, he was proud of his flighty student for taking a stand, dangerous as that position was. And maybe he was a bit jealous too.
Victor’s father was a conservative but the now 106 year old had always pressed the importance of appearances onto his children. Victor and his siblings grew up dressing in finely made traditional clothing, speaking as many languages as time would allow, and participating in national debates about their politics. All of that had resulted in the Ochrerose name being connected to Pan-Africanism and afro-centrism. But that was it.
Jebadiah Ochrerose believed in patience and persistence. Victor wanted more. He wanted to see Mpatapo’s restoration begin in his lifetime, not in six. He wanted to see the Fihan and Nsoro officially allied and their lands made one. He wanted their traditional clothes to be worthy of all occasions, not just village weddings. He needed to witness the reinstatement of the matrilineal traditions the tribes had held for centuries. A time when the phrase ‘a woman’s place is in the home’ meant that she owned it; the home, the land it was built on, and all the people born on it. He wanted change and he wanted it now.
Victor sat back down in his seat, glancing at the clock before retrieving the textbook from the drawer. He stared at the cover of it for a moment, taking in the adinkra symbols drawn on in perfect calligraphy, and opened it where he left off. He read the words of the Mpatapo’s founder, her frustration and fear. Yet, she had succeeded. She built that great city of a thousand temples and attracted scholars from all over the continent. The Radiant Setsosa Bekoy Jwimi yIn of the Fihan was the pride of her two peoples. And though much of her creation had been nearly destroyed during colonialism, there were documents and works that had been spirited away and buried deep, waiting for a time when it was safe to dig them up again.
Victor turned his head and looked at the black card. Anxiety swirled in his stomach. If he said yes and joined the MRC, he could change things for the better. With halting movements, he brushed a thumb lightly over Mathew’s phone number. Victor wanted desperately to change things for the better.
He brought out his phone and dialed Mathew’s number, heart beating frantically in his chest. His hands shook during the time it took for his old student to answer, but finally a cheery “Hello?” came from the other end.
“Uh hey Matthew, you available for dinner tonight? My wife’s making blackberry cobbler for dessert.”
* * *
Your fretfulness manifests through your penmanship. I have sympathy for you. Nonetheless, the city must rise by any means necessary. Do what you must and do not disappoint.
My Most Familial Regards,
Chieftain Okimiki Ukixa Kzom yIn, Your Sister