Friday, February 17, 2012

Death Trap

Published in December 2003, this piece looked back at the time, ten years earlier, when our Football Heroes were sent to their deaths by a government that gave them an old rickety aeroplane that wasn’t airworthy…

Death Trap

I scanned the array of empty chairs in the vast sitting room. Nobody there at all. I was just about to leave when I spotted the wrinkled and diminutive Kafupi Kadoli, sitting up like a cocky cockroach in the corner of a huge white leather armchair. ‘Kafupi!’ I said, as I went over to greet him, ‘Where is everybody? Have all your friends deserted you?’
‘Certainly not!’ he laughed, ‘They’re all down at the magistrate’s court, where my case is coming up later this morning. Do excuse me for not standing up to greet you, but it’s such a struggle to climb back up onto this chair.’
‘That’s life,’ I said. ‘Once you slip down, it’s always difficult to climb back up. Maybe you could apply to the Physiotherapy Department at the UTH to be given a little ladder.’
‘Certainly not!’ he snapped. ‘I’ve always been against government assistance for the handicapped. Anyway Kalaki, what brings you here today? To talk about ladders?’
‘Of course not. I came to ask you about the Aeroplane Disaster of 1993.’
‘Hah! Nowadays The Post seems to be entirely preoccupied with resurrecting corpses from ten years ago. Maybe you should change the paper’s name to The Postmortem.
‘Were you the one responsible for the crash?’
‘Hah! Certainly not! I have a perfect alibi! I was on an official trip to Bujumbura at the time of the disaster. Four thousand kilometres from the scene of the crime!’
‘But you were in Lusaka when the decision was taken to use the ill-fated aircraft. So you must have been implicated.’
‘Certainly not!’ he retorted. ‘That was two days before the crash happened, and two thousand kilometres away from where it happened. So how could I have been involved?’
‘It is claimed that the aircraft was a death trap.’
‘Certainly not! It was a Blundering Bugaboo, made in Canada in 1923.’
‘But were you not the one who took the decision to use this ancient old Bugaboo?’
‘Certainly not! The decision was taken by the officer in charge of all our Blundering Bugaboos, Air Marshall Shaky Shikashiwa.’
‘Perhaps he advised you against using the plane, and you overruled him?’
‘Certainly not! I ruled over him, but I didn’t overrule him.’
‘But you demanded blind loyalty?’
‘Certainly not. I allowed him to open his eyes and have a look at the plane.’
‘He reported that one wing was loose. Wasn’t that dangerous?’
‘Certainly not! I made a point of showing him that there was a perfectly good spare wing on the other side.’
‘Is it true that one engine was getting too hot?’
‘Certainly not! Engines are supposed to get hot.’
‘Since you left earlier for Bujumbura, I wonder why you didn’t use the Blundering Bugaboo? If it was such a nice plane, wasn’t it also suitable for you?’
‘Certainly not. My wife was far too large to fit through the small door of the Bugaboo. So reluctantly we had no choice but to settle for the luxury Boeing 737 with the en suite bathroom.’
‘So the Bugaboo wasn’t a death trap?’
‘Certainly not.’
‘So you don’t feel responsible for the death of the Fallen Heroes.’
‘Certainly not, Kalaki. In fact, that would be logically impossible. You see, it is only possible to become a Fallen Hero after death, so nobody can cause the death of a Fallen Hero. Perhaps you meant to ask whether I should feel responsible for turning these young men into Fallen Heroes.’
‘And do you feel responsible?’
‘Certainly not! It was the outpouring of national grief that turned them into Fallen Heroes. I certainly wouldn’t want to claim any special responsibility for that. Although I was careful to make sure that I wept more than anybody else.’
‘Because you felt responsible?’
‘Because, as a great leader, I had to take the lead.’
‘It was a national tragedy.’
‘Every cloud has a silver lining. It provided a marvellous national re-awakening. It brought us together as a nation after a period of political division and acrimony.’
‘But it was also a time of much murmuring that that our leaders did not care for the people’s heroes, who were negligently sent to their fate in a rickety old death trap. That must have been a great embarrassment to the government.’
‘Certainly not! Simply not true! On the contrary, people understood that it was not the business of government to be providing air transport. They soon understood that government funds were meant only for government leaders, and not ordinary citizens, who should pay for themselves.’
‘To stay alive?’
‘The date of death of each of us is set by the Lord, and it is not the business of the government to try to interfere with the will of God. That is why we declared ourselves to be a Christian Nation.’
‘And the government gave them a Christian burial.’
‘Since the day of the Fallen Heroes, people have now become accustomed to mass funerals. And government has also become more experienced in assisting people to pass quickly through the agonies of life in order to reach Heaven at the earliest opportunity, in order to re-unite with their Fallen Heroes.’
Just then Kadoli’s secretary put his head round the door. ‘The Minister for Shushushu, Air Marshal Shaky Shikashiwa, has sent a limousine for your trip to court. It’s already waiting outside. Shall I tell the driver to wait?
‘Certainly not!’ screamed Kafupi. ‘It might be a death trap!’

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