reading notes from Tram 83, Fiston Mwanza Mujila.
IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE STONE, AND THE STONE PROMPTED OWNERSHIP, AND OWNERSHIP A RUSH, AND THE RUSH BROUGHT AN INFLUX OF MEN OF DIVERSE APPEARANCE WHO BUILT RAILROADS THROUGH THE ROCK, FORGED A LIFE OF PALM WINE, AND DEVISED A SYSTEM, A MIXTURE OF MINING AND TRADING.
“Patience, friend, you know full well our trains have lost all sense of time.”
The survival instinct can't be learned. It's innate. Otherwise they'd have introduced instinct classes at university already.
Inadvertent musicians and elderly prostitutes and prestidigitators and Pentecostal preachers and students resembling mechanics and doctors conducting diagnoses in nightclubs and young journalists already retired and transvestites and second-foot shoe peddlers and porn film fans and highwaymen and pimps and disbarred lawyers and casual laborers and former transsexuals and polka dancers and pirates of the high seas and seekers of political asylum and organized fraudsters and archeologists and would-be bounty hunters and modern day adventurers and explorers searching for a lost civilization and human organ dealers and farmyard philosophers and hawkers of fresh water and hairdressers and shoeshine boys and repairers of spare parts and soldiers' widows and sex maniacs and lovers of romance novels and dissident rebels and brothers in Christ and druids and shamans and aphrodisiac vendors and scriveners and purveyors of real fake passports and gun-runners and porters and bric-a-brac traders and mining prospectors short on liquid assets and Siamese twins and Mamelukes and carjackers and colonial infantrymen and haruspices and counterfeiters and rape-starved soldiers and drinkers of adulterated milk and self-taught bakers and marabouts and mercenaries claiming to be one of Bob Denard's crew and inveterate alcoholics and[…]
In the labyrinths of the City-State, you don't listen to jazz to get a whiff of sugar cane or reconnect with Negro consciousness or savor the beauty of the notes: you listen to jazz because you have to listen jazz when you make your bed on banknotes, when you deliver your merchandise daily, when you manage an extraction plant, when you're cousin to the dissident General, when you keep a little mistress who pins you to your bed in a dizzy haze. Jazz is a sign of nobility, it's the music of the rich and the newly rich, of those who build this beautiful broken world
Jazz is the only lever used by all the riffraff of Tram 83 to switch social class as one would subway cars.
As the beer flowed, they held fast to the obvious. The backwash had cleared the way for them. They could no longer sing from the same hymn sheet. They were just two life forms adrift in a city become a state by force of Kalashnikovs.
They sleep during the day. They know, more than any man, how to make both ends of the week meet. Honorary doctors in all fields (corruption, drugs, sex, looting, minerals, embezzlement, serious drinking …), the night is their main stock-in-trade.
The rest of the saga remained a mystery to all, since the final six verses were in Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa.
He had somewhat mastered the chapter on “Discussion with a young woman you meet in the elevator.” Requiem had given him the code: “Try by any means to remain neutral, cold, and forlorn.” “Do you love me?” He crossed the street.
There was nothing apocalyptic about the first dream. A metallic voice squawking from Jacqueline's face instructed him to grab his texts and climb aboard the first train leaving for the Back-Country, the land flowing with milk and honey. And he, in a sleeveless outfit, on a theater stage, balked, scoffed at the voice and the face, and held forth in a language lacking r's, z's, t's, a's, and s's. He defended himself, claiming that his life was his own, that he could fling it about wherever it suited him. But the voice and the features took on a different appearance. He noticed he was not on a theater stage but in a little boat leaving a misty port; between his legs, a cat was licking his left foot.
Requiem for a New World alias Local Boy alias Man and His Destiny alias Al Pacino alias The Myth of Sisyphus alias The Founder alias The Authorized Signatory alias King Nzinga Nkuwu alias His Serene Highness alias Ancien Régime alias The Lord of the Rings alias Marshal alias Supreme Leader alias Patriarch alias Man of Discernment alias Zambezi River alias Hitler alias Don Quixote alias Proto-Bantu alias Lino Ventura (full name Angiolino Giuseppe Pasquale Ventura) alias Neanderthal Man alias Venezuela alias Négritude alias Zanzibar alias Siberia alias Bertolt Brecht alias Demi-God alias National Identity alias Colonist alias Polish alias What More Could You Ask For alias No Entry alias Obama alias Away Goals Count Double alias Dostoyevsky alias The Most Mysterious Marquis alias Sultan alias Cousin of the Dissident General alias Pasha alias Mani Kongo alias Susuhunan alias Raja alias Minangkabao (generally shortened to Minang, or improperly called Orang Padang) alias The Negus alias Black Market alias Haile Selassie alias Prince-Provost of Berchtesgaden alias Maharajadhiraja (meaning King of Kings) alias Shah alias Tika Sahib Bahadur alias Caliph alias Emir alias Fatwa alias Freiherr (German for Free Lord) alias Makoko de Mbe (king of the Téke) alias[…]
Time to go pray. Pray = worship = sacrifice your organs and your last pennies in honor of the gods of inebriation, of infidelity, of impotence, of debauchery, of fertilization in vitro, of fertilization in the mixed restrooms of Tram 83.
A glass of water. The fridge, empty and dirty. He'd not been told that Requiem lived according to the rhythm of the trains carrying the students and the miners condemned to eat dirt. RULE NUMBER 64: let them play the hardmen, for they paper over society's dregs. RULE NUMBER 67: the mightier crush the mighty, the mighty defecate in the mouths of the weak, the weak sequestrate the weaker, the weaker do each other in, then split for elsewhere. Hunger crushed him
Jalopies out of gas, deep-frozen products from the Galapagos Islands, knickknacks, ceiling fans, oil changes, sheep, sarcastic remarks, hearses on alert, eggs contaminated with melamine, relics, minarets as far as the eye can see, bistros, baker-deli-linen-fish-lumber stores, phone booths, internet cafés, criminal records, pools of stagnant water, garbage bags at the mercy of beggars, stray dogs, no-entry signs, mountains of refuse, black market in the merchandise and its derivatives, discotheques, abandoned locomotives, born-again Christian evangelist churches, cockfights, settlings of scores, boxing galas, mosquitoes resistant to all pesticides, booing, trolleys, wimps bankrolled by mercenaries, Neanderthals, laundries, desires, beverages, arranged widowhoods of wives of soldiers declared missing, ringworms, jeers revised and corrected by the foreign press, daydreams of dissident rebels prepared to open another front because of an oilfield, magic potions to treat unidentified diseases, backwash and backwash, cannibals, bleeders, baby chicks with their “do you have the time?”, idols with feet of clay, smoking rooms, palimpsests, cathedrals, repeat offenders in custody released on bail who return to the scene of the crime with the weapon of the crime, oriental tapestries, suicidals, the comings and goings of naked-men diddlers, assorted gaffes, superfluities, prolegomena[…]
All nights have this particularity: they are long and popular.
RULE NUMBER 34: watch out for hunger! Toddlers, barely weaned, have been known to take entire trains hostage, including the merchandise and everything that moved inside and out. Remote cause: the hunger that dissolves any possibility of escape. Direct result: armed robbery with bloodbath.
The City-State is one of those territories that have already broken through the barrier of internal suffering
Death holds no meaning since you've never really lived. You cheat life. You devise a life that's bogus. You devise a life on the basis of porn film tapes. It's the only thing you can get hold of easily in the City-State. To escape the monotony, fever, sleeping sickness, earthquakes, cholera, and cave-ins, everyone, with the exception of those who hang out in Tram 83, gets into American porn or Russian porn. Long live globalization! Long live American porn! Long live Russian porn!
This country's been knocked flat, it's all got to be rebuilt: roads, schools, hospitals, the station, even men. We need doctors, mechanics, carpenters, and garbage collectors, but certainly not dreamers!
RULE NUMBER 94: reality of life, when you drink, you piss, and when you piss, it remains your beer in your toilet
Let's just say a stage-tale that considers this country from a historical perspective. The Africa of Possibility: Lumumba, the Fall of an Angel, or the Pestle-Mortar Years. It is highly likely that this text will be performed in Europe. Characters include Che Guevara, Sékou Touré, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Lumumba, Martin Luther King, Ceaușescu, not forgetting the dissident General
We've already had enough of squalor, poverty, syphilis, and violence in African literature. Look around us. There are beautiful girls, good-looking men, Brazza Beer, good music. Doesn't all that inspire you? I'm concerned for the future of African literature in general. The main character in the African novel is always single, neurotic, perverse, depressive, childless, homeless, and overburdened with debt. Here, we live, we fuck, we're happy. There needs to be fucking in African literature too!
RULE NUMBER 17: don't lose your nerve in front of our girls, they've got no alternative but to grovel; the latest statistics confirm what we all know: there are more girls than us, fancy footwork, fancy footwork, fancy footwork.
STRATEGY MEANS RESOLVING A GIVEN SITUATION INTELLIGENTLY.
Lucien knew nothing about either the contents or the precise significance of the hunting-bag. “This bag is a fragmentation bomb,” sniggered the Negus. In his moments of hysteria, the Negus was fond of saying that his haversack imbued him with the power to reinvent the system
UNFAIR COMPETITION: YOUR NEIGHBOR SELLS DOUGHNUTS; YOU ALSO START SELLING DOUGHNUTS; YOU EVEN DABBLE WITH BLACK MAGIC TO NAB ALL HIS CUSTOMERS.
They spread havoc but were cherished all the same. The rumors grew increasingly confused, giving way to an indescribable muddle
Even now, the City-State exists only in name.
The dramatist's drama remains the distractedness of the characters on whom the plot depends.
Trial by ordeal or the survival instinct of a sleepwalking, lazy, wretched king.
People used to have power twenty-four-seven, before companies started sprouting like mushrooms. The term “blackout” didn't appear in the dictionary. People were not dependent upon electricity. Then came the rush, the for-profit tourists, and their companies excavating for raw materials. Then the rebellions and mutinies. The first talk of blackouts appeared around the 1990s
RULE NUMBER 23: every day is a pitched battle. As soon as dawn breaks you wonder what you're going to eat, and then, with the sun, you reintegrate the cycle of the City-State, you fish, you dig, you scavenge, you glean, you devise, you fuck, you sweat, you sell, you trade, you peddle, you abuse, you corrupt, you drink, you shit in the stairwell, you identify with the jazz, you taunt the white tourists. Everything can be liquidated, each devises their own system.
Marie Mujinga Mbombo, daughter of Marcel Kalambay Mutombo and Jacqueline Ntuma, paternal granddaughter of Jean-Pierre Tshimbalanga and Thérèse Kalenga, maternal granddaughter of Mr. Jean-Philippe de Sauvageon and Marie-Louise Kahenga, or perhaps Nelly Lomgombo, niece of Mr. Rolando Petuveria, offspring of a certain Mbuanga who worked as an odd-job man at the port of Beach Ngobila
RULE NUMBER 46: fuck by day, fuck by night, fuck and fuck some more for you know not what tomorrow brings
RULE NUMBER 33: if you don't manage to get yourself out of this hole, marry a girl to get you out, but not just any girl! She's gotta sweat gold and cash; and that kind of girl is a critically endangered species.
Requiem liked to say that every human has two cables in their head: a blue and a yellow. If the blue cable is cut, the person goes mad
In a town erected solely upon guile, resourcefulness, Kalashnikovs, and the stone, it had become hard to discern the precise identity of the tourists
arrived with the hope of living in a world, a continent, as yet unpolluted by the excrement of globalization.
“Foreplay is like democracy, as far as I'm concerned. If you don't caress me, I'll call the Americans.”
There are cities which don't need literature: they are literature Tourist Street, Independence Street, International Armistice Street, Gravedigger Street, Mineral Street, Copper Street, First Revolution Street, Third Revolution Street, True and Sincere Revolution Street
RULE NUMBER 27: you don't head out to settle your business as if you were going to the beach.
Hope Mine, situated not far from the town center, passed for a veritable Tower of Babel. It was the main bone of contention between the various protagonists, who fought over it until the last drop of sweat. The numerous security firms didn't live together in perfect harmony. They functioned according to mood, the tourists, and the interests on that day's agenda. They were hard to manipulate. They betrayed each other, battled each other, hit it off with each other, doggedly harried the suicidals, plotted on behalf of the dissident General, and gathered the scraps from the tourists of British descent
Tram 83 had a soft spot for the Negus. He stayed the same on all his fronts. He knew what he was doing, that you can't invent the wheel twice, that there's no point fretting, that the rules of the game are clearly defined, and that the main thing is to live off anything that falls into your hands. “The tragedy is already written, we merely preface it.” From the moment this motto began to resonate consciously in his mind, he never held back from following his heart. He was simple and honest even in his mischief
Requiem was the opposite of Lucien, who irritated the whole of the Tram with his waffling, a hypocrite scribbling on scraps of paper instead of telling us the truth to our faces, and lazy regarding the girls. He tired us out, Lucien did. He was too much! What's the point of playing the intellectual all the time if the equation must remain the same? The roads that lead to truth and honesty are cut by flooding, filth, dog turds, lies, and blackouts, but why did he obstinately maintain his belief that a better world was possible? Why did he strive to reduce humanity to the dreams and quotations he gleaned on the pages of his texts? It's called cowardice, perhaps even amnesia, or indeed a combination of the two. The world is beyond redemption, as Requiem put it. But supposing … Putting aside our personal feelings, perhaps Lucien was right. Let's think about it. What would we do if we found ourselves in the shoes of this poète maudit? Requiem's answer: “The tragedy is already written, we merely preface it. So let us preface.”
RELIGION OF THE STONE: WE DON'T KNOW THE WEATHER FORECAST, WE ARE THE WEATHER FORECAST, NOT TO MENTION THAT WE DEVISE OUR OWN SOLAR SYSTEM
RULE NUMBER 20: cocksuckers exist to suffer fuckups
ARREST, OR THE BOOKS OF REVELATION, CORINTHIANS, EPHESIANS, GENESIS, GALATIANS, THESSALONIANS, AND COLOSSIANS 2:21-23.
RULE NUMBER 5: both the mines and the train tracks belong to us, but there are some whose superiority complex makes them believe that life began with them, and so they appropriate our resources.
Revelation 12, verse 3. Books of Corinthians and Malachi. Psalms 40. Genesis 8:3-9. Psalms 17. The Eternal is my light and my salvation: whom should I fear? The Eternal is my life's strength: of whom should I be afraid?
The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya, by Rimsky-Korsakov
Each note contributes to a work of speleology, the speleology of the soul
The chief of police had been so keen to share his weakness for classical music that he had eventually rigged up some speakers down in the hole, and adhered to a strict broadcast schedule. Monday, from midnight, Stravinsky and Bach. Tuesday, round about eight in the evening, Tchaikovsky followed by Dmitri Shostakovich. Wednesday, after work-duty weeding his sugar cane plantation, Mozart's Vesperae solennes de confessore. Thursday, time for the Strauss family. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, either Gregorian chants or the Beatles or Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov or Chopin or Sergei Rachmaninov.
Torture is one of the demarcation points between an organized banana republic and a chaotic, or in other words disorganized, banana republic
The former country, which now exists only on paper, was an organized banana republic. The torturers officiated in very good conditions
Yet torture is above all an art, an artistic discipline just like literature, cinema, or contemporary dance. All the detainees in the City-State ghettos bitterly missed the torturers of yesteryear, those monsters who worked with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker. Lucien, who in times past had joined every single protest march, could not bear the idea, even in his most fleeting dreams, of ending up behind bars, whatever the torturers
He had opposed the Authenticity movement by renouncing his surname. In short, as he said himself, “To be rid of a veil that stops you peacefully enjoying your beer.” But why this complex?
Was Requiem not ultimately Lucien's double? Distanced, thousands of miles from each other, by dramas, fissures, and follies, how did they manage to live under the same roof? Some wagging tongues were abrupt in their appraisal. They are children of the same father, whether they like it or not.
“You don't smoke, you don't screw, you don't eat dog, you don't raid the Polygon, you don't deliver merchandise, you flee the girls, you don't take liquor, I wonder what you do in life!”
They had come with German shepherds trained to understand and carry out everything they were told, in order to spread awareness of the dog issue, forgetting that, with a few exceptions, all the meat in the City-State came from dead dog and horse. It was said that these German shepherds could count from one to ten, that they walked on two legs, that they whispered lullabies, that they could switch on a television, that they knew how to make coffee, that they could read, and write. The same sources intimated having glimpsed them with their masters in the quarries for business dealings. The tourists from the American organization Save The Dogs In Africa were crazy about the Tram.
“You're a writer and you're asking me what you should do with your text?”
Swansongs are eternal. Final choreography. Last installment
Those who went out at night knew the plot, the prosody of events, the convulsion of circumstances, the gloomy processions toward the unknown
Nights were a delight for those who knew how to make the most of them. True nights were long and popular. True nights were always eventful. True nights were no longer free from corruption and other low blows. True nights stank of neuralgia, the spit and traumas of those who built this broken beautiful world.
Within and without the Tram, a convulsion of incompleteness. Within and without the Tram, cries and yelling. Within and without the Tram, the songs and texts of the sacred couple, united by the same momentum, time's wasting, the thirst for archeology, solitude.
Poverty is hereditary just like power, stupidity, and hemorrhoids. It's even contagious, this locomotive life.
An atalaku, or shall we say a shock-emcee.
some Coupé-Décalé, revised and corrected, the new kotazo dance, also known as the dance of the mpomba (meaning strong men, Kinshasa bandits who'll slit your throat at the drop of a hat) accompanied by a type of ndombolo called lopele (fishtail), throwing some merengue and conga steps into the blend, occasionally summoning to the rescue a remixed kotazo called kotazo 2 — a question of universality no doubt
They opened the hostilities with “Débarquement,” lead single off King Kester Emeneya's album Le Jour le plus long. In the background the “pigeon pigeon” dance that was, we learned, a massive hit in Central Africa, particularly the Belgian Congo. The diggers who had previously fought in Zaire, Rwanda, Uganda, and Angola in the ranks of Jonas Savimbi and who knew all these songs and dance steps by heart, prattled on about how they weren't at all surprised that the competition took on such proportions. Same music, same dancing, same vocals, same get-up, same midriffs, same nationality, face to face, body to body.
There are people who don't know how to make the most of their existence.
why these Tintin-in-Sudan machinations?
Lucien took himself a bit too seriously. Life is short and you need to know how to live it to the full. Is it a crime to nick a miner-prospector-tourist's wallet? Where's the harm in stealing a tourist's dog and eating it for the family meal, with onions and red wine attached? It won't be the end of the world, the dog or the wallet, given that he excavates at a rate of maybe three thousand tons of copper a day.
Fleecing a tourist who's excavating is an act of self-defense, a practice handed down from father to son in both the Back-Country and the labyrinthine mines of the City-State.
A MAN'S CREDIBILITY DEPENDS ON THE POWER OF HIS UNDERBELLY.
There was a dissidence within the Dissidence
Misfortunes always succeed each other closely
When they began to cross the rails, stepping from one to the next, the music reached them, a delicious conversation between saxophone, drums, and trumpet. The saxophone rose, rose, rose, then faded into blissful silence. The drums then filled the empty space before petering out. Sax and drums then climbed together, before the drums broke off, giving free rein to the sax, which soliloquized like a dying dog. The saxophone passed away in turn with an almost cerebral hiccup. It was at this precise moment that the trumpet made its entrance, covering a tune known throughout the City-State. The saxophone then ascended from its ashes and set to nibbling away at the space conquered by the trumpet. In two beats, the drums joined this predators' ball, which echoed through the station with its unfinished metal structure, gutted by artillery, train tracks, and locomotives that called to mind the railroad built by Stanley, cassava fields, cut-rate hotels, greasy spoons, bordellos, Pentecostal churches, bakeries, and noise engineered by men of all generations and nationalities combined.