Marius sits with his back upright on the chair. He moves his left hand to rub his cheek, the sleeve of his jacket draws down. It exposes a leather strapped timepiece. It’s thick on his wrist and it’s guarded by a bracelet. His jacket is buttoned. And guess who he looks like. President Kagame. His generous forehead and distinctive nose. His eyes and skin tone. They are all like the
I stretch out my hand to have a grip of his. I introduce myself.
“Ernest Jacob Tuape. From Uganda.”
He nods and holds out a handshake made of concrete. I tease him about his resemblance to the President of Rwanda. He laughs it off and says he doesn’t look like PK. I tell him he does. He says he doesn’t. He’s definitely more mentally mature than I am because he deflects my teasing. I mean, I’m the silly guy who gets overly playful sometimes. Marius sees the banter in my words.
“You can call me Yakub if you like,” I add as I sit next to him.
He wore a thinking face, one that seemed to have reminded him of something. Maybe it was something his mother told him about speaking to strangers or something his primary school teacher taught him about greeting. It could’ve been words from his ex-girlfriend. Something was on his mind.
“Do you know the story of Yakub?”
“Nope. Who’s that?”
“Really? You don’t know Yakub?”
“No, I don’t know that guy.”
I probably would’ve known him if he was giving out free tickets to go watch Alicia Keys perform. Alicia is eye candy. Have you heard her speak? Her voice! Oh la la! She’s a ray of oohs, ahs and wows. And when she sits with her fingers on those keys, yippy yay aka yo! Perfecto! Perfecto!
“There’s a story about Yakub. It says he created the white race.”
“He did what?”
“Yeah, he created the white race.”
Marius launched into some badass myth about this Yakub guy. Strap up and rub your palms because you’re about to get served some hot lore. You don’t have to believe it. I don’t believe it either but it’s so tantalizing I’ve got to share it.
So, Yakub was a black scientist who walked this planet about 6,600 years ago. He had a head the size of the largest jackfruit you’ve set your eyes on. The people who lived during his time called him, “Big head.” He was one arrogant son of a man. A smartass too.
Wait for this one.
Enter magnetism. At the age of six, as he played with magnets made of steel, probably somewhere in the sand under a shade, he discovered the concept of attraction and repulsion. He was fascinated by this finding that ideas of other stuff to do, including creating a new people, flirted with his mind.
Let’s back track.
He grew up into a genius, consuming all the knowledge he could gather. His diet was made of knowledge, reading and more knowledge. He didn’t know what smoothies were. That was stuff of the future that hadn’t crossed his mind. Smoothies weren’t important to him. He was so brilliant that by the time he turned 18, he knew everything from all the universities in Mecca.
Some shit is about to get spooky.
Yakub then discovered that the black man had two important seeds; the black and brown seeds. This was how the idea of creating the white race shook hands with his mind. He gathered thousands of his followers, who later became his guinea pigs and lab rats, and moved to a place called Patmos. This is the point where I ask you to pull out your knowledge of genetics that you learnt from biology class.
Mr. Big head started breeding out the black trait. He’d cross the black people of different shades. He’d then exterminate the babies with darker skin color. If I was born during this guy’s time, I wouldn’t have made it alive. Not with my melanin rich skin. And after 200 years, he created the brown race.
He indoctrinated his followers with his beliefs and made disciples of his scientific experiments. They continued with this eugenics, selecting what was their favourable trait and doing away with the inferior traits. Yakub wasn’t immortal. He died at the age of 152. His disciples carried on his work. These guys just kept working, generation after generation, selecting for the lighter skin until, 600 years later, they created the white man.
I know, even I find this story messed up.
Marius just looked at me at the end of the story expecting me to say something. I was mute, still processing the authenticity of this story.
“I’ll read about him,” I said. “And by the way, you guys closed the border. What was that for?”
You wouldn’t expect me – a Ugandan – to sit next to my Rwandan counterpart and not bring up the closed border issue, would you? It’s a natural direction to take, the cover of a mango that’s got to be peeled. I got it off the wire.
He picked up his pen as though it’s the pen that’d speak.
“We didn’t close our border. Our side of the road was under maintenance and we gave you guys an alternative route to use.”
He was confident in his response, like he represented the voice of his people. He was diplomatic, a man who sorted his words carefully, separating the stones from rice. “Our media reports say it’s dangerous for our citizens to stay in your country. There are reports that say Rwandans are being arrested in Uganda. It is grim. I mean, when you hear such reports over and over, it scares you, it makes you feel unsafe, it pollutes your mind and you start looking over your shoulder with fear.”
He knew what to say, how to say it, when to say it. He was convincing. I listened. The media in Uganda was reporting what it believed were facts.
The thing about the media is that it can pursue a narrative that corrupts minds and makes you apprehensive. It makes you have a one dimensional view of things. You look at the guy across the fence as the bad one, the one that doesn’t wish you well, the one who wants to grab your land and throw you out to the red ants.
The guy across will be digging his garden to plant tomatoes and you’ll think he’s planting a listening device. He’ll have a party at his place and play music. You’ll imagine he’s being spiteful, provocative and disrespectful. If you don’t have any other alternatives to gather information, you can get destroyed in your own mind. To set your mind free, you’ll need clarity, a fresh coat of news, a perspective that paints a balanced picture. That’s a conversation we both had.
When all was said, we both agreed that whatever was happening at the border was beyond what he and I could fix. Closed or open borders should never come between friendships. It was political and we were two youthful Africans who should work together to break the barriers to collaboration that colonial marks caused.