Kangni Alemdjrodo, born in 1966, in Lomé, Togo, is an actor, director, play-wright, novelist and short story writer. He has published two plays : ’Sa majesté s’amuse’ et ’La saga des rois’ (NEA). He received the Grand prix littéraire d'Afrique noire in 2003 for his book 'Coca Cola Jazz’. Advisor to La Francophonie at the Presidency of Togo.
Novels : 'Esclaves', Paris, Éditions JC Lattes, 2009, traduit en Portugais ('Escravos' Pallas Editora, Rio de Janeiro) ; 'Canailles et charlatans', Paris, Éditions Dapper, coll. « Littérature » ; 'Cola cola Jazz, Paris, Dapper, 2002, traduit en allemand, aux éditions Peter Hammer ; 'La Légende de l’assassin', Paris, Éditions JC Lattes, 2015 ;
Theater : 'Théâtre vol. 1', Bertoua, Cameroun, Ndze, coll. « Théâtres », 2009 ; 'Opus including 3 plays: 'Apprentissage de la mémoire', 'Nuit de cristal', 'La saga des rois' ; 'Théâtre Vol. II', Ndze, 2014, Opus including 4 plays: 'Atterrissage', 'Mon cancer aux tropiques', 'Le dramaturge et son maître', 'Francis le Parisien' ; 'Chemin de Croix', Bertoua, Cameroun, Ndze, coll. « Théâtres », 2005 ; Prix Tchicaya U'Tamsi of the 17e Concours Théâtral Interafricain-RFI, 1990 ; 'Atterrissage', Bertoua, Cameroun, Ndze, coll. « Théâtres », 2002
A Fragrance of Tear Gas Bombs
[published in RN 05 in June 1992, unpublished original text written in French translated by V. C. Koppel]
To Albertine Hounnou, she knows why.
This city in mid-air... my God! Lethargy... Diseases.
Fantasies of drunkards weary of their unemployment... in the approaches to Tirana's only dreary café where the jazz and blues eat away the senses in sentimental fits and starts.
'Baby let me hold your hand...
Get me lower...'
And now and then, the bitter taste left by the sight of one of those lonely girls who sleep off boredom in a dark corner of the café, being dragged away by some generous crank.
This city so lonely on the outside, you can't help coming back in the end.
Three o' clock already... the small hours of the morning... dirty, despairing dawn on a Sunday just like any other. And, like at every close, the invisible disk-jockey let Ray Charles recount the separation...
'I'm going down to the river
where I'll drown myself...'
The inevitable refrain of despair resulting from routine.
However, that morning Ray's words expressed all Josué's thoughts. He had decided to drown himself in the great torrent of the universe.
This city at dawn, the cold, the dew... the suspect noise of bed springs, the indescribable smells which greet you round the corners of the houses: wee wee, poo poo, cakes.. the morning gifts of a city whose youth is sick with unemployment, AIDS and the single-party system! This city at dawn and finally those unforeseeable encounters with the unusual. Hey! That woman walking up against the wall.. it can't be ... it's her all right....Mrs What's-her-name, the dress maker... where's she come from? So it's true what people say? Maybe she's a... Muck-raking.
José comes out of the café, stops a minute in the middle of the road, smiles, relights his never-ending cigar, takes three drags, then stubs it out. He's still smiling at the thought which had come to him just a minute earlier: Tirana at dawn looks like any town in the world where State-Party trickery cripples people's lives. He'd like to repeat that at the next Writers' Symposium (Just imagine the mugs of the civil servants working on the Arts Council, when he comes out with that one), only he won't be there, they'll be talking about him in the past tense.
3h10... Jo comes onto Bujumbura Avenue. That's the new name he's given to Stalin Avenue, after a personal theory that Tirana can be transported anywhere, Zaire, Warsaw, you name it.
A swaddy's dozing off with his chin resting on his gun. He's young, he's cold, long live the king. "Heil Hitler!" yells Jo. Suddenly roused, the swaddy springs to attention and has to acknowledge that the figure disappearing into the mist has had him good and proper this time.
3h20 (Tian’anmen Square): a make-shift coffin with "ZONE FORBIDDEN TO CIVILIANS" on its militaristic sides. Jo retraces his steps. He didn't want an interim death. He'd never wanted one, for that matter. Death's like language, the old pastor, Ramiz Alia, used to say.
'Because language always derives its authenticity from choice. My little Jo, you always have to die your own death, your chosen death, in order to relearn how to live.'
Ah, Ramiz, what an abstract and alternative consciousness he has! His independent mind has always interpreted the Word in the sense of a personal concern. Jo had met him one evening at Pigalle, disguised as a Samuraï and provoking the prostitutes with quotes from the Coran. He had felt him to be a blood brother, a symbol of the martyr raped by life and enlightened by the irruption of some forbidden suffering in his flesh. Cosmic Alia, sublime Ramiz! The old pastor had his "double" who plagued his conscience with lustful images: violently entwined hot homosexual bodies, Egyptian singers' knickers, Brassens grilling a frog's leg in the company of Lucifer, carrots, macaroni valley, alleys strewn with bodies refusing to die, a dictator fishing a throne out of the swamp. Ramiz always said he was in transit. Where to? He never knew. In his lucid moments, he refused any kind of discussion, promising to resume only once his interlocutor had appeased his gay appetite. He had found in Jo a first-class partner, with the same unruly passions, the same "asocial" desires.
3h30 ( Presidency Avenue) Jo feels the cold cutting into his flesh. Despite his thick sweater. He relights his cigar and, ritually, stubs it out again after three drags. A big army truck overtakes him. By the time he can get a good look at it, the truck is disappearing into the horizon. A mirage? He thought he'd seen soldiers in green hoods sitting in the back. An illusion, maybe.
Honking of a horn... Shouting...
(a vaguely familiar voice)
He turns around. The man has poked his head out of the black car and is waving at him madly like a friend. The car comes up to Jo and stops. The man gets out. Writhing. Strip-tease. Endless loud laughing. 'He has such a vulgar way of expressing his joy' thinks Josué.
'Ha, ha, ha... Jo... goddam old bean! You get up to those kind of tricks, ha, ha...'
'As you can see, I'm alive and well, Colonel Matsumura. Jo kept his calm, despite his trembling voice. I'm alive, but not for much longer. The Dragon is threatening Tirana. Nobody, Matsumura, nobody will escape it.
'It's all right, Jo. Ha, ha... You writers, really! ha, ha...'
Addressing the stranger at the steering wheel, Matsumura continues.
'This is Josué, our most famous writer. Jo, this is Sergeant Matalobos.'
'Ah Matalobos "the Galician thief who's just back from Madrid".'
- 'What?' exclaimed the man at the wheel his voice too loud to be that of a chauffeur.
'Nothing Matalobos. Just a little literary recollection. Goodbye Matsumura, I love you.'
And Josué bursts out laughing, a bizarre, crystal-clear fuzzy laugh. As he watched the Colonel's car drive away, Josué imagined what he would think of him and his combat with the Dragon: a simple flow of ideas, no doubt. A prey to gossiping in Tirana, he was known as the most famous, but the craziest of writers. It's true to say that, at the age of 27, three successive editions of his complete works had secured him fame. At the same time as his three attempts at gasing himself to death had completely miscarried.
4h.50...He crossed the threshold of the Brunswick... a tangle of masculine odours, languishing looks, muscles of homosexual intellectuals on heat. Six couples of gypsies were dancing entwined on the dance floor splashed with purple light to an ever-longer blues. He noticed Maruyama, a handsome seventeen-year-old lad, drinking at the bar.
'Hi there Yama!'
'Are they here?'
Glances... Shivers... but that day, something serious prevented them getting on together. Jo was truly in love with this brilliant young painter. But Yama told anyone who would listen that he wasn't interested in Jo."I don't find him attractive, he's my guy" The quirk of an aesthete which could also be read in his love relationships. A group was already forming around Jo and Yama. Chibi was there, he was Tirana's most marginal musician, as well as Rimota, Ramiz's son.
At 6 o'clock, a white car came up the street in front of the cathedral. Bell-ringing filled the street. One of the four people in the car had just enough time to catch sight of the fresco in front of the cathedral portraying the torment of Saint Sebastian. Though the glimpse of the beautiful half-naked body was but a fleeting one, it sent a liquid shiver across the lower part of his abdomen. No one in the white car knew he was rubbing his sex through his trousers.
(That same evening)
20h.15 Television studio115 in Tirana.
FACE DROPS the most popular television programme.
Compère: 'In fact, you don't object to being seen as provocative?'
Josué: 'No, for me provocation is hardly a luxury'
Compère: 'How do you reconcile homosexuality with writing?'
The question is like an inward light for Jo; he raises his head towards the projectors, straining his eyes against the dazzle to pick out a particular person. Finally, their eyes met. Yama was seated next to the cameraman.
Josué: 'I don't reconcile them. I experience them quite separately. It's like dissidence and sleep (he smiles). The former can only be lived to the full in a state of wakefulness, at least's that how an old pastor friend of mine sees it. Literature is the refuge of insomniacs, bad actors over-excited in the evening after too strong a dose of vitamin C taken before the show. I used to live in Ryad near the airport, I had an Alsatian dog who wrote love poems when the moon was full, for the B-56 planes leaving for the Gulf. That's how he celebrated the devious love affair between Saddam-the-anus and big-mouth, Sam, the one which the tramps in woe-begone Koweit gossipped about at midday to help them forget their hunger and boredom.'
The compère couldn't believe his ears. Jo was talking utter clap-trap!
'Finally, I'll say it again once and for all, homosexuality is the sign of a strong mind which refuses and will always refuse...'
There was a shout. A simple, tortuous, banal shout. Jo stopped. Without even lifting his eyes to the camera, he realized that Yama had decided to take the offensive. Reflected in the Tirana-TV compère's wide popping eyes, there was a flash of metal as straight as a Samuraï's sabre.
'Cut! Cut the sound. Stop filming!'
He was thoroughly excited. The compère of FACE DROPS, was perspiring despite the Antarctic blow from the air-conditioning, driveling slightly at the corners of his mouth. Almost affectionately, Jo snatched the mike from his hands. The chief cameraman (rather what was left of him after he had lost so much flesh in a matter of seconds) was doing his utmost to remain at attention. A red bubble had already traced the outline of a stage set on the over-white collar of his over-blue shirt.
'Stop Josué, Yama, what are you doing? We're on the air.'
'All the better. That will also help me test my skills at compering on television.' He pulled out a big revolver. 'Keep quiet now! I'm appealing to all soldiers on duty watching this programme: don't move, we have hostages. Television director, don't give any stupid orders, we've got grenades. Finally, I appeal to the life-long President of this fucking stupid country: your son is part of the commando. He's not asking you to save him, just to listen to him. To conclude, I'd like to say to all those demoralised alternative people in this beautiful big hole of a country that we believe the time has come to contribute to the coming of democracy as we see it.'
He then pulled out a series of papers covered with black dots and began to speak. He spoke for a long time. And in this fucking stupid country, as he called it, everybody's eyes were riveted on the commando of intellectuals who had just caused grey Tirana to turn red with curiosity.
This city in mid-air... my God! even death is experienced live on the telly there.
In Tirana, a prey to uncertainty, a commando of four intellectuals had just attacked the telly. 'But how could they have got past the soldiers on duty carrying arms? Ah, the President's son was in the group, they wouldn't have been searched anyway!' Those inquisitive citizens of Tirana knew that at the very moment the leader of the group was airing his views, the army had already surrounded the television studio. Would there be an assault, even though the life-long President's son was there?
On the television screen, Jo had finished speaking and was now stripping off his clothes. The greater viewers' surprise, the more they foamed at the mouth.The writer's torso shone with sweat. Then everything took place as in a B series film.
Chibi, Yama, Rimota themselves undressed... and.took the pins out of their grenades. There were four simultaneous explosions... followed by the army invading the studio.
A few minutes after the "live suicide" of the "manipulated fools for democracy", as the official press journalist would report, the whole of Tirana lit up bitter red with grief: there was destruction, pillage, havoc... Tirana's youth, idle and active alike, sore with resentment, let all hell loose throughout the town to cries of DEMOCRACY, MULTIPARTITE GOVERNMENT. A new myth had just been born, a myth inaugurating a new quest for freedom.
Jo and his friends' suicide left its mark on Tirana's frenzied youth, above all because of the participation of the life-long P...'s son in Jo and Yama's group.
Wildly hysterical town...
My God! Even the suicide of a handful of intellectuals isn't enough to get things moving there.
The life-long P... continued his life-long P..., in the accustomed manner. Tirana, after a heavy bout of repression, was "calm" again that same evening. A fragrance of tear-gas bombs lurked throughout the country.
"Normalization has been successfully carried out", the swaddies were able to report to their life-long P....
The inevitable refrain of despair resulting from routine.
Lomé June 4th 1991