IN ABIDJAN, WHEN THE COPS SEE A bad guy with a gun in his hand, they don’t stop and chat, they shoot him quick like a deer or a rabbit and ask questions later. One day, the police shot three bad guys. Two of them died right away, but before the third guy died, he told the police that all their stolen money was with the money multiplier Yacouba-alias-Tiecoura, so the police went straight round to the money multiplier’s house.
Maybe it was because he made fitting sacrifices, maybe it was his fitting sacrifices or maybe he was just lucky, but when the police came straight round and searched his house and found lots and lots of suitcases full of stolen money Yacouba-alias-Tiecoura wasn’t home.
Yacouba never went back home. He left Abidjan in the middle of the night and aliased his name to Tiecoura and spent all his time hiding in Togobala where everybody who saw him said they hadn’t seen him. Yacouba still believed, and even said out loud, Allah never leaves empty a mouth he has created.
This is the guy who was supposed to go with me to my aunty’s house in Liberia. Walahi! It’s the truth.
One morning, he came to see me and took me aside and secretly told me things in confidence. He told me Liberia was a wonderful country and that over there his job money multiplying was like gold. Over in Liberia they called him a grigriman. A grigriman is a big somebody over there. He told me lots of other stuff about Liberia to convince me to go with him. Fuforo!
He said they had tribal wars in Liberia, and street kids like me could be child-soldiers, which is pidgin and according to my Harrap in American they call them small-soldiers. Small-soldiers had every-fucking-things. They had AK-4~s. AK-47s are Kalashnikov guns invented by the Russians so you can shoot and keep shooting and never stop.
With the AK—~s the small-soldiers got every- fucking-thing. They had money, they even had American dollars. They had shoes and strips and radios and helmets and even cars that they call four-by-fours. I shouted Walahi! Walahi! I want to go to Liberia.
Right now this minute. I want to be a child- soldier, a small-soldier. Child-soldier and small-soldier is kif-kif that means it’s the same difference. In bed, when I did pooh-pooh or pee-pee, I shouted out small-soldier, child- soldier, soldier-child!
One morning at first cockcrow, Yacouba came to our hut. It was still dark; grandmother woke me up and gave me rice and peanut sauce. I ate a lot. Grandmother came with us, and when we got to the edge of the village where the rubbish tip is, she put a silver coin in my hand that was probably all the savings she had. Even today I can still feel how warm the silver coin felt in the palm of my hand. Then she cried and went back to the hut. I’d never see her again. That’s how Allah wanted it. And Allah isn’t fair about all the stuff he does here on earth.
Yacouba told me to walk ahead of him. Yacouba had a limp, that’s why they called him the crippled crook. Before we left, he told me that we would never go hungry on our journey, because Allah in his infinite goodness never leaves empty a mouth he has created.
We didn’t get far, not even a whole kilometre, because suddenly an owl gave a terrible cry on our left and flew out of the grass and disappeared into the dark. I jumped I was so scared and I screamed ‘ Mama!’ and clung to Tiecoura’s legs. Tiecoura, who was a fearless and blameless man, recited one of the biggest, most powerful suras he knows off by heart. After that, he said that when an owl flies past a traveller from left to right it’s a really bad portent for the journey (a ‘portent’ is something that predicts the future). He sat down and recited three more big important suras from the Qur’an and three really scary native shaman prayers. Automatically, a touraco started singing somewhere on our right (‘touraco’: a large fruit-eating bird, according to the Glossary). Once the touraco had sung on the right, Yacouba got up and said that the touraco singing was a good omen. Mama’s spirit is really powerful on account of all the crying and suffering she did here on earth. Mama’s spirit cleared our path of the ill-omened cry of the owl. (Even though I was cursed by my mum, her spirit was protecting me)
Morning started to rise and we kept on walking. Suddenly all the birds on earth, in the trees, in the sky, started singing because they were all so happy. That made the sun come out, and it jumped up right in front of us, up above the trees. We were happy too. We were looking at the top of the kapok tree of the next village far away when suddenly we saw’ an eagle fly up on our left. The eagle was really heavy because it had something in its claws. When it got as far as us, the eagle dropped whatever it was carrying on to the path. It was a dead hare. Tiecoura shouted lots of bismillahs and prayed for a long time, a really long time, and said lots of suras and kaffir animist prayers. He was really, really worried and said that the dead hare in the middle of the path was a really bad, totally bad augury.
Walahel Faforol Gnamokode!
Excerpted from Allah Is Not Obliged, a novel by Ahmadou Kouroma (pictured left), the late Ivorian author, who was born in Boundiali, Cote d’Ivoire on November 24, 1927 and died in Lyons, France on December 11, 2003. The book was originally published as Allah n’est pas oblige, on August 12, 2000 by Stock Publishers in Paris, France and translated by Frank Wynne for Heinemann Publishers in London, who released it in 2006.