Friday Night Story

  The name of the city sounds like an ironic euphemism, and if you’re only familiar with Sierra Leone’s recent history, you might believe that. But it began in the late 1700s as a utopian idea- abolitionists and former slaves living together as equals. Of course, the indigenous people weren’t so happy to have this very British form of freedom forced on them, and revolted, but that’s a side issue.

Freetown has always had a complicated relationship with its name. In the 1800s, it served as both the British colonial capital and the seat of their West Africa Squadron- at its height a full sixth of the Royal Navy, dedicated exclusively to abolishing the slave trade. Freed slaves often settled in the city- virtually the only place on the continent where their freedom was assured. The city even served as one of the bastions against the Nazi incursion into Africa during the Second World War.

But it was in 1961 that the British finally gave up Sierra Leone as a colony, on the anniversary of the Hut Tax War of 1898. Sir Milton Margai, the man who saw Sierra Leone through decolonization, died one day after his three year anniversary as Prime Minister; that seems like something to me, but I’ve been accused of paranoia before. Margai’s brother succeeded him, but was corrupt. Siaka Stevens was elected to follow him, but the country was plunged into a series of coups and counter-coups. A year passed with a coup for every season, then the Anti-Corruption Revolutionary Movement restored the government, and allowed Stevens to finally take up his post as Prime Minister.

By the end of a decade, Stevens oversaw the return of the irony to his capital’s name by making Sierra Leone a one-party state under the All-People’s Congress party. Seven years later, Stevens gave power to his hand-picked successor, Major General Momoh. Momoh was weak, and his advisers and ministers pillaged the country’s resources until we often couldn’t afford to import fuel, and had to go without power, sometimes for months at a time.

The Revolutionary United Front launched its first attacks on Sierra Leone in early ’91. Like most any movement, the intellectuals were murdered and replaced with rabid dogs early on. They became notorious for forcibly recruiting child soldiers, for performing amputations on prisoners, for cutting open the bellies of pregnant women, for eating the flesh of fallen soldiers. They cut the rest of the country off from the diamond revenues, crippling the economy. Momoh ended the one-party system, but it wasn’t nearly enough to put a stop to the RUF’s momentum.

After less than a year of civil war, Momoh was overthrown in yet another coup; however, the coup leaders were just as ineffective against the RUF, and their army was driven to the very doorstep of the capital. Mercenaries from the Executive Outcomes firm finally drove the RUF back. By ’96, the coup leaders were pressured into turning over power back to an elected government; in ’97, that government was overthrown in yet another coup. In ’98, an African coalition force reinstated the elected government. In an attempt at appeasement, the RUF was invited to join the government.

Almost immediately, the RUF began violating its peace agreement, even going so far as to kidnap hundreds of UN peacekeepers. Because this town eats up its irony, it was the British, its former colonial masters, that finally ended the civil war, beat back the RUF, and gave the UN force enough room to establish order in 2000.

Now, I consider myself a student of history, enough that I understand the… quandary in quoting Dick Cheney on the subject, but he’s correct: “it’s easy to take liberty for granted, when you have never had it taken from you.” For the first time in its history, the city is truly under the command of its citizenry, which in its unique way, brings us to Curran (the Irish lawyer, and not the Muslim holy text): eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. I’m heartened to see it’s a message not lost on my countrymen; there have been several notable occasions when vigilantes have struck against criminals the authorities would or could not.

And then, my sister was raped and beaten by her neighbor. She insisted on continuing charges, spending a month’s wages to pay the fee for a government doctor to examine her. The doctor found that the semen he left in her was tainted with HIV. Hers was one of the 311 rape prosecutions last year, but not one of the 5 convictions. Instead, she was ordered to marry her attacker.

She was devastated, and I feared she might do something drastic, so I decided to intercede on her behalf. I realized it would have been unethical to deny her husband-to-be his freedom to rape- so I simply removed his motivation. Severe crushing and avulsion (or tearing away) of flesh make replantation surgery difficult if not impossible; suffice to say that these methods were used exclusively. I paused as I stuffed the severed appendage into a baggie, realizing the parallel I’d drawn by using the tactics of the RUF, but I dismissed it; after all, the difference between justice and terrorism is righteousness.

I had spent the previous week preparing. There was a full ten minutes between when I arrived and when the judge returned home. He noticed the broken back window just as I stabbed him with a needle, and pumped him full of a paralytic agent. He moaned pathetically as I removed his pants.

I’d kept the borrowed organ beneath my arm, hoping to keep its toxins fresh. It was slicked with blood, which, had he the ability, might have made the judge thank me. When it was done, I wiped my blooded hands on his pants.

I closed his front door, not caring if I was seen leaving. The night air was crisp, and I rolled Sartre over my mind: “Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.” I was certain that, as a judge, he understood that homosexuality in our country was a crime, and that I’d just made him a criminal; the thought brought a smile to my lips. This city loves its irony, and so, I must admit, do I.

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