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Future Memory: A True Story
by Devon Pitlor
I. In the cafés of Abidjan Of all the strange sights one sees in the coastal cities of western Africa amongst the jumble of tribes, races and clans which pour into the urban areas, often half starved from a season of drought and famine and usually begging for the merest scraps of sustenance, are surprisingly those eccentric refugees from Europe who straggle into the teeming cities of the Ivory Coast and Senegal still wearing the torn scraps of uniforms once issued by disbanded and forgotten regiments of tirailleurs, spahis, zouaves and chasseurs, those weathered "anciens" who once made up the spinal cord of the Army of Africa and who still guard almost abandoned outposts in regions so infertile and arid as to be practically devoid of population save for the wandering bands of untamed and barbarous Tuaregs, Fulanis and Toubous, who have wandered the endless stretches of the caravan routes of the Sahel and its murderous mountains and ergs since the Middle Ages and once composed the backbone of the mystical and evanescent Songhai Empire which stretched from the quiet coastal plains of Senegal across endless tracks of nothingness into what are today the emerging countries of Niger and Chad. These old soldiers, lifers so to speak, bound forever to the French Army of Africa, grow old under an arson sun and respirate a dust choked atmosphere, which has not mollified itself since the dawn of human habitation. Their faces, twisted and gnarled, are creased in a million lines of stress and wear. Their jagged visages mirror the horrors of the Tenere Desert, the Grand Erg of Bilma and, above all, the remote, foreboding and nearly inaccessible Aïr Mountains which spring up like granite citadels from the blazing sands of the Central Massif where no permanent habitations of humans have ever been established and where nomads of differing clans routinely kill one another instantly upon contact. Eventually, these old ones manage to fight their way down the antediluvian camel paths from the barren mountains into struggling centers of civilization like Niamey, Ouagadougou and eventually to Dakar or Abidjan or Lomé, where they are always uncomfortable and feel upon their souls the tug of the lifeless ergs and desolate granite
slopes calling them back to the austere emptiness of the sunbaked high plateaus, where, still wearing the shreds of their regimental uniforms, they continue to serve France by dividing ferocious warriors from one another until the latter can round yet another dune or rock outcropping and engage each other in blood feuds which have their origins in a time when Europe was struggling to emerge from the Dark Ages. Why these old soldiers remain in the worst parts of Africa always seems to be a mystery, as is how they manage to subsist on a diet of sand swimmers, horned vipers, grilled scorpions, python meat and wart hog droppings and still manage to stay alive. In the commerce-charged air of places like Abidjan, they long for the desert and the rocks, for the thorns and the scrub-tree shea bark brews like the forbidden aragi and ogogro, which distilled in large rusty drums once used for petroleum lubricants, date from the shadows of the pre-Islamic past when every tribe distilled its own raw alcohol from whatever sparse ingredients could be rasped and scoured from the blistering sands and caused to ferment and be passed through a crude alembic. Nearly all of these old soldiers despise the young and conscripted, as I was, who are given easier military posts along the coast, and, even though in the Ivory Coast bullets were flying over our heads nearly every day and there was always the risk of a Baoule rebel bomb detonating under our feet, have a much softer task of protecting Marianne's interests than do these leathery androids of the desert and the rock. One such old soldier, still wearing the threadbare uniform of the Chasseurs du Maroc was a loquacious relic whose name I learned later to be Gérard Jolicôté, who had once hailed from Toulon where he had been released from a prison on the condition that he join the ragged strings of wretched spahis that guarded the environs of the lugubrious Mount Gréboun from the unrestrained ferocity of the constantly warring Tuaregs and Fulanis. Jolicôté had spent over twenty-five years, therefore, on the high plateaus of the Aïr and had the haggard visage of one who had seen most everything. And I suppose he had. He sat across from me in a palm shaded café sipping palm wine spiked with native absinthe and pretended to read Le Monde, but it was clear that Jolicôté was most probably
illiterate and could only pick out words scattered here and there across the pages of the newspaper. At length he muttered the words "France is fucked. Always fucked. Strikes. Violence. Civil unrest. Student protests. Burning cars." I raised my eyebrows at him, knowing that he was right. The time and distance he had put between himself and Europe had given him other visions, and in his rheumy yellow eyes I saw a reflection of the horrid otherworld that he habitually inhabited. I offered him another round of native pastis and motioned for him to come sit at my table. Around us black Africa swirled. Hatred glared in the eyes of the population we had been sent to guard. We were only uniforms. An occupying force from a country which had once held official colonial sway over the Ivoiriens and still did through the devious means of "commercial relationships" forged in the deepest corridors of the Quai d'Orsay and passed to each new generation of French boys to uphold. Jolicôté, however, liked it, and he was in Africa on his own accord. He could have returned to Europe years before, but life there would have been devoid of interest or understanding for him. He no longer had a "context" to base experience on, or rather his context was now the loneliest and most dangerous part of Niger, which had ostensibly ceased to be a colony in 1960, but that was only something else written on paper and false enough that Jolicôté would have never chanced to read or believe it. For him and his kind, Africa would always be a colony. And he was right. II. Pretty side Like all wasted soldiers of the now-frayed Armée d'Afrique, Jolicôté had a story to tell and was just waiting for an appropriate moment to get started. Perhaps it would come after another round of pastis and palm wine, perhaps after a strolling, jet black prostitute would brush against our sides soliciting what whores do, but openly and by visibly displaying her government-sanctioned health certificate and its obliterated date. Jolicôté would indeed have a story to tell, a story of the granite mountains of the barren versants of Gréboun or the endless rifts of the Tenere, where life itself drew to a limit and ceased to exist. I simply needed to wait. A Sudanese vulture streaked through the filmy skies above Abidjan on its way to dive onto
an unseen prey. Jolicôté examined the bird through his bulging orbs that were accustomed to staring into the sun for hours on end without risking blindness. "A bird of worship," he began. "In the interior, on the slopes they worship those things, and for good reason...." Jolicôté, whose name meant "pretty side" in a language he had nearly forgotten, cut himself short. He gazed back at me, envying perhaps my clean-cut schoolboy youth. "Animists," he continued. "The tribes. They find special powers in birds like that. And I know they are right. They have dances that bring them to earth, big vultures like that, only featherless. They can enchant hairless dogs off of the desert too. Most people don't even know they live there." "Hairless?" I said, hoping to get more. Jolicôté nodded. "Not a strand of hair on their bodies." He took another sip of pastis and gazed back into the sky. "A bird like that once saved my life, but that is another story altogether." I asked him what story he most wanted to tell, and he informed me that "ignorant as he was" he understood the word 'context.' "You mentioned me no longer having a European context," he muttered. "You're right. I don't. I could never live there anymore. The mountains and the caldera are my context now. Killing Tuaregs whenever I get the chance. Getting some little pension from France, but mostly surviving on my own. But I know what context means. And it is because of context that I don't understand half of the things I have seen on the massif." When I asked him to explain, he did---perhaps begrudgingly, but he did. And what he told me was not what I was expecting at all. It was, in effect, one of the strangest stories I have ever heard in my life. But first I have to tell you about Amber Casteel, a girl I used to date in New York. Jolicôté can wait because it is due to Amber that I once again remembered him. III. Amber Casteel
I was all of nineteen years old when I met Jolicôté and heard his story. I was wearing the uniform of a country that I later forsook when I was twenty-two. How I left Africa, returned to France and eventually settled in the United States really doesn't matter here, so I won't bore the reader with it. Neither will I bore the reader with a tedious tale of how I entered a well-known American university and began my studies toward a masters degree in general economics. I will describe Amber only briefly: She was pretty, young, smart and a student at my university. For a time, she liked me and I liked her. But it was only for a time. In one's life many bed partners float in and out of the passing parade. For me, Amber was just one of them. She had long, shiny brown hair, a svelte physique and deep set, shaded eyes. During a short period, I was fascinated with her. There. Enough said. What was important about Amber was that she was a history student, and her specialty was the Sixteenth Century in France, the century that gave us the baffling and eerie quatrains of one Michel de Notre Dame, otherwise known as Nostradamus in Englishspeaking countries. During his lifetime, Nostradamus went into virtual trances and produced over nine hundred four-line verses which, according to many, clearly foretold specific events from a future far removed from his own time. Many and various interpretations have arisen on the exact meaning of his quatrains, but all who study them, as Amber did, come away with the disturbing feeling that Nostradamus saw things in a detailed way but in no particular order nor following any special theme. He simply saw the future and named names and places---and I will suppose here that the reader is far more familiar with his anomalous predictions than I will ever be. Amber Casteel was spellbound by Nostradamus, but she had a particular take on him by the time I met her. One day after our classes, Amber and I met for a drink in a campus hangout and sat looking at each other in a dim corner with our books piled up in front of us like folded fishing nets at the seashore. Like Jolicôté a few years before, it was clear that Amber had something she wanted to tell me. It began as the same dull repetition she always had on matters that involved Nostradamus: his indecipherable verses, his relative closeness of names and events, like a powerful dictator called Hister (Hitler) who would try to take over the world "with steel" but would fail. Like an "islander" named Bon Ami (Bonaparte) who would offend the pope by conquering Lombardy (Italy). Hundreds of other examples prevail.
Above the racket of the chattering student crowds, Amber told me her theory. In short, it amounted to the fact that Michel de Notre Dame had no particular idea of what he was writing about because he had indeed seen things but had no valid context to put them into. "He got a lot wrong because he didn't know what he was hearing or seeing," she said. "Who could do that? He got visions from hundreds of years into the future...even beyond our own time today. He must have only half-comprehended what he saw. To understand events beyond our knowledge, we need a context," she said. "Nostradamus had no more of a context on the future than we do from our time. But he saw things." That evening as Amber and I strolled down the busy and well-lit campus lanes, Jolicôté came back to me. He too had mentioned context in his story. I decided to let Amber talk and say nothing about Africa and Jolicôté. In truth, I wanted to forget what I knew about Africa, what I had seen. And to tell it rightly, since this is biographical, I had a wife, and I was unfortunately cheating on her with Amber. But we did things like that in those days, and that is another story which really has no business here. IV. The dog restaurant Yes, I was temporarily "on leave" from my American wife, the girl who had brought me to this country, and she was temporarily "on leave" from me. If that offends any readers, so be it. I was twenty-five years old and separated by an ocean from my old friends and family. I could do anything I wanted. Amber was a kind of fling, whatever that means, and I soon got over her. But not before we went into New York City's lower East Side and had the adventure of eating at a barely legal Cambodian restaurant that served dog meat. It was something that we both wanted to do, and don't bother to ask me why. I had eaten market dog before in both Dakar and Abidjan, and then again in Marseille. I was just something I challenged Amber to do. In the snaking streets of the East Village there were all sorts of outlandish ethnic cuisines. Eating spit-roasted dog flesh was no big deal. So we both agreed on doing it. It was, I should note, something my wife at the time would have never countenanced. Maybe that was one reason I liked Amber. It doesn't matter.
What does matter is that the sheltered interior of the restaurant held a cage that was full of small chow-chow dogs which were specifically bred for their meat. Readers who have experienced a meal of grilled dog will know what I am referring to when I say that these dogs were both hairless and vacant-eyed. Whatever peculiar breed the Cambodians used for food was, in effect, exactly like what I had experienced in both Senegal and France in the past. They were like dogs that didn't bark or show affection or display any sort of sentient behavior. Hollow-eyed beasts, they made you feel much less guilty about eating them. They were not bred to be smart or affectionate anymore than cows were. Also, their bodies were smooth and brown, and, above all, hairless But they brought back another memory. Something Jolicôté had said. I lit a cigarette and shared it with Amber. We both knew we were breaking up soon. Our undergraduate days were nearly over, and we were going our separate directions. I knew that if I was ever going to tell Jolicôté's saga, it had to be now. "The Kanuri," I began. "They live on the high plateaus of the Aïr Mountains in the Republic of Niger and are totally nomadic. They breed only within their own tribe, and most of them have never been beyond the boundaries of the Sahel. They worship dogs like these." I pointed to the pile of fatty, red rib bones in my plate. "They wander sometimes into the temporary oasis pools and perform rituals using smoke, incense, dancing and some sort of spice that they ferret out from under the sands. They produce what is called 'future memory,' or so they claim." "Memories of what?" asked Amber, opening her eyes slightly wider in the greasy smoke of the occluded restaurant. "They themselves are not even sure. As you might say, they have no context. But they believe that the past, present and future are all the same and embedded in the petroglyphs buried beneath the sands of the desert. They really don't know what they see during these sacraments, but they know the hairless dogs are important---and not as food---important to their descendants in a future time. The same goes for featherless birds that have
enormous wingspans and look like big fleshy vultures. They worship them because of something they know from the future." Amber, a student of Nostradamus, snubbed out our cigarette and said "Silly, primitive nonsense." "Maybe not," I retorted. "I heard the story of one old spahi, a desert denizen, who was invited to one of their rituals. Would you like to hear it? It may be about context or whatever." V. Return to Jolicôté In reality, Jolicôté had told me two interlocking stories that day in the bazaar café of Abidjan. One was a chilling account from his mounted spahi days about how he and a small unit of infantry tirailleurs had been taken prisoner by a cutthroat band of Tuaregs who had decided summarily to kill them in a very usual African way, which was to put worn out tires around their bodies from head to toe, douse them with flammable doum palm oil and set them aflame to roast on a concrete ledge near the base of Mount Gréboun. Jolicôté recounted how he and his comrades were all stripped naked and the surplus tires were wedged onto their emaciated bodies. He invoked the smell of the horrid oil and the mad chantings of the Tuaregs who liked nothing better than to roast Frenchmen. At the last moment just before a burning knot of brush thorn was thrust onto the tires, the leader of a band of nomadic Kanuris, sworn enemies of the Tuaregs, came up and began to negotiate with the Tuaregs in the Hausa language, the commercial lingua franca of all Niger. Apparently, the Kanuris, ultra-darkskinned wanderers, had some sort of unfinished commerce with this coterie of Tuaregs who were about ready to kill the Europeans. The Kanuris somehow convinced the Tuaregs to sell the Frenchmen as slaves to them, and, surprisingly, the Tuaregs, who generally relished killing white skinned invaders more than any other sport on Earth, decided to wait to see if the Kanuris would guarantee them some rights to a stone oasis pit within the limits of their sparse territory. This guarantee needed to come at once from a powerful chieftain named Ngueme-Fol. The problem was that Ngueme-Fol was over three hundred kilometers away in the sand-
baked, mud hut village of Tanout. Without the promise of Ngueme-Fol, Jolicôté and his cohort would be torched without hesitation. To the best of Jolicôté's understanding of the Hausa language, the Kanuris convinced the Tuaregs to wait for the chief's arrival, which under normal circumstances would have taken days over roadless dunes and mountainside stone outcroppings in the Aïr range. The Tuaregs, who also occasionally ate the livers of their victims, did not wish to wait, but the Kanuris convinced them that Ngueme-Fol could be on hand before sunrise the next day, so the Tuaregs killed a wart hog, drank its blood, and stripped its flesh away and proceeded to eat it raw, as was their manner. During the entire desert mountain night, Jolicôté and his unfortunate fellows waited, bound standing in oil soaked tires, for the Kanuri chieftain to arrive. None of them had any hope for salvation. Ngueme-Fol was simply too far away, and neither horse nor camel could get him to their location before dawn. But he did arrive. And it was just before sunrise as the Tuaregs were once again lighting knotted brands to set fire to the Frenchmen. And I remember Amber rolling her eyes languidly and asking "And how was that?" I hesitated before answering the question. After all, we were far from the stark ergs and granite outcroppings of the virtually unpopulated mountain range of central Niger. We were in New York City, albeit in a dog-eating restaurant, but within reach of all the amenities of cutting edge civilization. "Let's have another drink," I suggested. And out came some rice brandy in shallow bowls. The dog bones were not removed from the plates in front of us. Amber went to the rest room to relieve herself. Then I did the same. When we were both once again seated, I resumed just as if I had never paused. "It was something they had learned from the future," I said. "Something in their future memory for which they did have a sort of crude context." What Jolicôté had casually explained to me was that a huge and totally bald bird arrived on the camp scene. It looked like a featherless vulture, but it was not one. It was a
different species entirely. In its beak was a large piece of eucalyptus bark covered over with unfamiliar symbols scratched onto it. One of the Kanuris took it from the bird, held it in front of the Tuareg leaders and proceeded to translate it into broken Hausa. It announced, Jolicôté said, that the bird was inhabited by the mind and spirit of NguemeFol and it gave his secret password, which the Tuaregs readily accepted. The guarantee of oasis rights was sealed for a handful of tirailleur and spahi prisoners who were summarily released into the care of the Kanuris, who took them on as slaves. And when this commerce was finished, the bird flew off into the rising sun over the mountains, and the Tuaregs, satisfied, went on their own way, as did the Kanuris with their prisoners tied with thorn vine ropes. This type of negotiation was apparently quite common with the Kanuris. The fact that their chief could enter the body of a huge bird was not taken as shocking by either tribe, although Jolicôté learned later that it was a "future memory" secret which only the Kanuris knew. And that was that. Amber seemed duly impressed by the story. VI. Hairless dogs and featherless birds That was the last encounter I would ever have with Amber Casteel, and we both knew it as we walked back to our separate quarters by Manhattan moonlight. Along our way we paused in a small deserted park, sat down on a bench, and I told her the rest of the story and how to Jolicôté context was so important. The Kanuris, it seemed took a liking to the small band of French soldiers and used them well. They fed them on dry dates and grilled sand swimmers and gave them huge gourds of Islamically forbidden distilled burukutu to drink. Then they concluded a kind of pact with them. Once again, it involved French soldiers being used as peacekeepers to divide the bellicose tribes of the mountainous desert. Days later in their own separate camp removed by several meters from the Kanuris, the real Ngueme-Fol arrived by camel. His
physical journey had indeed taken several long days. Ngueme-Fol had lived in the parched city of Agadez for some time and spoke perfect French. He confirmed that the birds were only "borrowed" as a means of transportation, as were certain hairless dogs into which the Kanuris could, through ritual, thrust their consciousness for short periods of time. This was something that came from a future memory and involved---once again---the usage of smoke, incense, dancing, chanting and ceremonial rites which only the Kanuris knew how to perform. Finally, it became obvious that Jolicôté had been invited to attend one of these smoke and shadow rituals, and, for some reason, he did not readily want to talk about it. "Of course not," interjected Amber in the inky darkness of the New York night, "he wanted you to pay for more drinks and give him time to think up something really wild." "I suppose so," I grimaced, glancing at my watch. "I hope you have enjoyed the story even though it is second hand. Those old Africa types always had something interesting to spin as yarns." "As long as you paid for their drinks and meals," responded Amber with some disdain. "I enjoyed your story, Dévon, but unfortunately that is all it is, a story." "This coming from a girl who has spent countless hours pondering over the quatrains of Nostradamus." A quiet, unspoken tension was edging itself between Amber and myself. It was the exit door out of a relationship that neither of us should have been having in the first place. Within days I would be reunited with my young wife and attending the final classes required for my first degree. Within weeks I would be in graduate school. Within months all would be well between my wife and me again, and we would resume our uneasy pact which would last several more years until it became intolerable to both of us. Amber was little more than an escapade, and a rather shameful one at that, but an escapade nonetheless. Guilt began to well up in my chest, and I rose to my feet making some weak excuse for needing more sleep and study time. Final exams were coming. The night was
aging into day. The stars were invisible. Anything...anything to extricate myself from Amber. As we shook hands and embraced for the last time ever, she shot me a hard glance and said: "Dévon, all I have really learned from you is that you were an impressionable boy drafted into your country's forces in Africa at eighteen. You liked to listen stories of the old drunken veterans, and this one stuck in your mind. A lot of mumbo-jumbo nonsense...." "Like Nostradamus," I half-smirked. "You can't get him off your mind, and, to tell the truth, I don't want to let go of Jolicôté. Not ever. Because Jolicôté was as real to me as Nostradamus is to you. I'll be twenty-five next week and a college graduate shortly after that. There are some things from one's youth that one never wishes to unclench." "I am going to be one of those things you have no trouble doing that with," sighed Amber at length, her long straight, shimmering brown hair glistening in the lights of a hundred night spots and small cafés that encircled our vantage point in the little park. She released my hand and glided off down East 8th Street framed by hosts of dancing moths beneath the yellowing street lamps of Washington Square Park. By the time she met Broadway, she was only a silhouette in the shadows, one of the millions who swarmed in our own muddled and chaotic population pool. As she disappeared into the naked glare of Broadway, she ceased to be a real person and melded irretrievably into the late night pedestrian masses. All that was left with me was her observation that Nostradamus had very well seen visions of a distant future, but that he could only understand them in the context of his day. As I walked silently back to my third-floor cold-water sleeping room, I realized that both Amber Casteel and Gérard Jolicôté had been right. Context was everything. Without context, you could witness the most miraculous things and have no idea of how they were different from the glaring billboards on 42nd Street. In fact, if you saw too much, your visions would of necessity take up the grotesque shapes and images of these all too mundane urban signposts. The strangest pictures which danced into your awareness would be interpreted only as the effects of a hangover and too much many lightshows competing for your attention on the street. And that was Jolicôté's experience exactly. Nearly everything he witnessed during the
arcane Kanuri rituals needed by force to remain in the context of the sterile Aïr Desert and the sand dune immensity of the Grand Erg of Bilma. Some of it could be explained by the memories he still guarded of the twisting port side streets of Toulon and the towering, snow-capped Maritime Alps which rose behind the city toward the inland, but much was just apparition after apparition of people, places and events that he could not place in any cognitive framework that he had ever developed during the tedious years of wearing shabby, unkempt uniforms amidst clans of natives who not only avoided him but secretly scorned him as an non-integrated outsider doomed to linger behind the thin thresholds of any sort of deeper or more sympathetic perception. Such is the white man in Africa, condemned forever to only gaze through the filmy windows of distorted observation at worlds that he can never hope to fathom. VII. Professionalism and the shadows of Mount Gréboun It was good two years later when, solidly reconvened, rejoined and reconciled with Meredith my wife and having the serious assurance of not only a good job as an economic analyst but savoring the prospect of a new baby who was about to enter our world, that I thought of Jolicôté again...his story...the Kanuri ritual and what the staggering old "ancient soldat" had told me he witnessed during the illicit Kanuri sacrament to which he and his scarecrow companions had been invited to attend. Meredith had decided--yet once again---that she loved me and had taken a sudden interest in hearing about the recondite hours of my childhood and early manhood, which in the past she had only dismissed as boyhood fantasies. We sat on our rented streetfront porch in Canarsie under a much quieter moon, and she stroked my legs with a kind of sensual delight that, if nothing else, loosens men's tongues, the sort of temperate touch which is always a prologue to passion among civilized and patently Western women. "So what about that guy Jolicôté?" she blurted suddenly, pulling her creaky, wooden chair a few inches closer to mine. "What exactly did the natives show him at that ritual?" "Smoke and mirrors, incense and insane, frenzied dancing," I sighed dismissively. There was no way---no context---for me to divulge what Jolicôté had really said. Besides, it had been in crude, idiomatic French, and I had no appetite for translation---then or now. No
sooner had I banished the question than a huge floppy eared stray dog of some indeterminate breed streaked out of the shadows of the far end of our peaceful street, clattering as it were a string of empty beer cans taped to its tail and panting madly as it dissolved once again into the gloominess which fringed the boundaries of Flatlands Avenue and led toward the always dark and undisturbed cemetery of the Canarsie dead. It was a dog out of context. Its story had no beginning nor end. Its plight offered no explanation. It had neither a future nor a past. It just was. That was how Jolicôté had explained the Kanuris' ritual visions to me: as great amorphous events that came out of nowhere and dissolved into nothingness. If one understood them somehow, then the observer was lucky, then the observer had a context. But in each wispy, evanescent hallucination there sprang a sort of spiraling revelation about a time that was not his, about places that were not on the Tenere Desert nor in the Aïr Mountains. They were vignettes of things to come, or of things that had already passed, huge vignettes depicting a world that was neither now, then or even in Africa for that matter. What opened were fleeting but lucid windows into a time yet to come. And the observers, Jolicôté and company, were left with what the natives simply called future memory. "So what is going to happen in the future?" whispered Meredith somewhat indulgently in my ear as we lay snuggled flank to flank in our undersized half bed listening to roar of an occasional elevated train passing overhead. "What did this Pretty Side guy say he saw?" "It was all in French and, besides, it was a long time ago and far, far from here." "But what was it?" Meredith insisted, now turning on her side and gazing down at my half-lit face in the dim bug-dotted glow of a streetlight that illuminated our humble bedroom. "I don't know and I don't remember. Just the ramblings of a crazed old vet who had spent too much time under the desert sun, a madman who had ingested too much of that raw oil drum burukutu." But as sleep overtook us both, I realized that I was lying. Jolicôté had been neither drunk nor mesmerized. Of the impenetrable weirdness of Africa he had seen enough not to be tricked by drug induced hallucinations. What Jolicôté saw was real, and though he did
not have a context for most of it, he made do with the tools of experience that his feverish brain had already provided. And these were things that I never fully told Meredith or Amber or anyone else during the forty-six years that I have spent on Earth. They were things that surely must have died along with Jolicôté, as Jolicôté , well on in years then, must have surely been dead by now. VIII. Context In the greasy smoke of the Kanuri campfire on a barren stretch of jagged granite lost in a treacherous and uninhabitable desert highland, Jolicôté and his tight band of rescued tirailleurs and spahis had glimpsed the future in fleeting images and bursts of sound that pierced their ears and convulsed their wondrous brains. Before their eyes danced visions of what was a world yet unborn: Great concrete structures being erected off the coasts of islands, buildings so tall that they were skirted by clouds. Thunderous and earsplitting convulsions in the Earth which cracked an entire continent asunder, followed by appalling torrents of sea water which rushed in to fill the cavernous new voids and create fresh oceans, the distant shores of which were shrouded in the invisibility of the unspeakable remoteness from the dry land they had replaced. Deafening engines booming endlessly under the ground, churning up tidal waves of colloidal rock and surface debris. And men. Men who had divided themselves by color and stature. Men who lived on the awesome bridges and archways which wove between the lofty and soaring structures built against the sea. Men who lived beneath the surface of the soil and were as pale as the Tenere sand swimmers of the Grand Erg. Men who had developed new organs to breathe salt water along with the appendages to navigate its ferocity. Men and women who enjoyed the luxury of endless sleep and others who endured the drudgery of ceaseless toil chained to gleaming rods of metallic machinery which (in Jolicôté's context) looked like huge pistons and which pumped vast quantities of burnished golden liquid from their spreading maws. Men and women who lacked noses and wore strange masks around the center of their mutilated visages. Men and women who could enter the body of hybrid animals, like vacant-eyed, hairless dogs and travel great distances with ease only to emerge and rejoin their own bodies. Men who flew, like Ngueme-Fol, in the bodies of bald, commandeered birds. The "wet" biology of a thousand new technologies built
around living creatures bred and subjugated to human transportation, sporting and sexual needs. Travel by beast....game and sex by animal. Animals everywhere. All dulleyed and hollow. All serving the multifaceted purposes of human beings who could command their movements as their own, much as one takes a taxi from Manhattan to Queens today. And food. Huge mushroom-like things rising up from the Earth taller than the highest trees and buildings, puffing out black clouds of spores which were gathered by people into vast piles by machines resembling gargantuan vacuum cleaners. Ready, tasty, available and free foodstuffs pushing up everywhere from the ground, tended by no one, eaten at will by all. The end of famine. Golden liquid in pools. The end of drought. And savage children. Children with eye slits in the rear of their skulls who could observe in two directions. Children with slithering tentacles where hands should have been. Happy, content children, freakified by technologies that were not even dreamt of in the present and for purposes that remained thankfully unrevealed. IX. Another revelation And as Jolicôté reminded me, everything was in the wrong context, which was to say his context. Perhaps the buildings were not really buildings, the mushrooms not actual mushrooms, the animals not truly animals, the Earth tremors and seismic seizures not really earthquakes but something else. Likewise the machines, the gleaming steel, may have not really been machines or steel, as the water may have not in truth been water, and the dark sun overlooking the scenes may have not really been the sun at all as we know it. It was all in a context. The Kanuris had already learned from these dreamland episodes how to fashion mindless animals for sport, sex and transportation purposes. The Kanuris had already discovered some of their own now pale brethren living in endless caverns below the ergs in sunless worlds from which they would only emerge to trade in desert foodstuffs of an unknown yet strangely fungal nature. The Kanuris had already taken part of the future of mankind, as they saw it, as their own---and these were the secrets of the great Aïr Massif beyond the innermost rifts where even the Tuaregs and the Fulanis dared not venture. The Kanuris had seen disconnected pieces of the future of mankind on
Earth or perhaps on some other world, and some of these pieces they had already made real. Jolicôté was pale, faint, haggard and exhausted when he finished his monologue and ambled away back to a thirty céfa per night flop house where he had a flaxen mattress filled with crawling vermin and another boiler can of aragi. The next day he would be gone back up through the gouged valleys and dry river beds to his little contingent of soldiers who had remained far beyond their appointed time in a land so accursed and desolate that even its natives needed to keep constantly moving in order to assure their own survival from one bleak day to the next. Jolicôté would never quit this blighted and damnable terrain for the remainder of his days because now he was an inseparable part of it, like the gnarled and knotty roots of some primitive baobab which had withstood countless seasons of shifting sands and gut-wrenching famine and drought. When he left our table in the cacophonous Abidjan café, he didn't bother to pay. That was left to a new and weaker brand of soldier like myself who ventured not onto the high sandswept plateaus nor onto the harsh and razor-like ledges of the vacant piedmont. That was left to a bewildered and baffled one-time French schoolboy who would only be in uniform for a short time and that in a place far more protected than any zone the old soldier still craved to occupy. He was, after all, Jolicôté, the man who had seen the future. X. Epilogue I awoke the next day hours before Meredith. I stood before a bathroom mirror and examined the deepening lines on my once fresh face. I twisted on the requisite tie, knotted it, and walked out into the conspicuous haze of a Brooklyn morning carrying at my side a half-filled briefcase loaded with documents that I barely understood and about which I cared even less. I walked smartly to the subway entrance, took the B train into the city and sat down in front of a computer screen at a desk which was deemed to be mine. On it was propped the smiling countenance of my pregnant wife, a woman whom I knew would never ask me again about Africa or Jolicôté. I was already an American, soon to be a father, and already some peculiar anomaly which the facile world around me knew only as Devon Pitlor.
_______________________ Devon Pitlor -- July, 2011 */*/*/*/*/*/
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