The man was standing right in the centre of his cell. He has been holding this position for a few hours now, his eyes closed. Apart from a faint noise coming out of his nostrils, he showed no life signs.
He is 68 years but looks younger. He can stand still for long stretches of time that would drive any normal human being crazy. It’s part of his daily regimen, a life raft he held to.
The guards who went past him now and then will give him a cursory look, filled with contempt. Sometimes, they’ll throw at him some extremely harsh words but they have never got him to move or even flutter. They thought this black man’s a weirdo, one of those inmates that have been jailed far too long to keep their sanity intact.
The guards are young though. They have not reached the age when one starts to pay attention to the most intricate details before making any eduction. But why should they adjudge him to begin with?
He has already been judged, by life and in court. Judged for his skin colour. Judged for his extreme defence of the most basic human rights.
If only they looked closer, they would notice a hint of a smile on his face. While his outward posture made him a lifeless toy, his inner being was serried with joy.
He was one of those time and space travellers that do not need to move to start on their journey. Leaving his shell in his cell, he let his spirit ride the rich train of memories he collected before getting caught for a crime he didn’t commit.
On this day, he travelled back to Lagos, his cherished hometown. The year is 1970. He was 25 years old then. A strong, handsome, and respected musician sitting next to Fela Anikulapo Kuti somewhere in the communal compound Fela declared independent that year. A compound known as Kalakuta Republic.
In one of those anachronisms that often happen in dreams, Fela knew somehow that the physical presence of the young musician was a hologram projected by a much older being, from the future.
‘Tell me my friend. What will become of Kalakuta? Who will carry the flames of Afrobeat that I ignited with Tony? Are Nigerians happy and well? Are Neguses an extinct species? Are all our brothers and sisters free?’ Fela asked.
The young man can fully express himself in only one language and that is Music. So as an answer, he brought a tape out of his pocket, inserted it in the cassette deck and pushed the Play button. As the tape began rolling and before the first sounds came out of the speakers, he turned to Fela and said: ’Freedom. Freedom is just a feeling.’
He then stepped aside and let the tape quell the puzzled look on Fela’s face.
This short story is best read while listening to ‘Fela Kuti, pape de l’Afrobeat’, a curated playlist by Qobuz.