The Bigger Bite
Beneath the shining crescent moon, the driver, yelping like a poor puppy, was dragged down from the vehicle. He was helpless.
Decades of dents and rust stains held the mini-bus together. It was a typical Ndiaga Ndiaye. Simply white in color, but destined never to travel along the Rue de Corniche that was lined by palm trees, rocky cliffs, hidden beaches and reserved for the Foreigners and African Bourgeois. Standing high off the ground, it rattled and fumed with every turn, move and gear change. Mostly maids and cheap laborers embarked in the rear of the vehicle and rode for a measly 150 CFA. The bus attendant dangled from the swinging back door, like a spider on its web, lifting men, women and children onto le transport des Africains en Afrique. Soft and tired voices echoed off the metallic walls of the inside that offered little cushion, leg, or breathing room. Exhaust, dirt, and grim clung to the passengers.
The driver was drunk. It was well past 4 a.m. and the Ndiaga Ndiaye was empty. Locals had long returned home to neighborhoods like Pikine, Guédiawaye and Parcel—distant Dakarois neighborhoods plagued by power outages and poverty. 4 a.m. was not for the Ndiaga Ndiaye traveler. It was for the night owls: the foreigners, the prostitutes, the musicians, the young and rich, those who controlled time. 4 a.m. was not for those controlled by time.
Barreling north up Oukkam road, the dazed and dozing driver struck a yellow taxicab parked at the hole-in-the-wall entrance of Just For You restaurant and nightclub. Upon the collision, the taxicab driver, unaware of the out-of-control Ndiaga Ndiaye, thrust forward. His head struck the steering wheel and then fell limp. The horn blew unremittingly.
* * *
Inside the club, Pape and Mamadou, both studying law at the nearby Cheikh Anta Diop University, watched rerun coverage of the evening news. They had just come from the late night Sabar dancing of a former classmate’s wedding party and entered the club to split a few Gazelle beers—discreetly, of course.
Pape, much younger than Mamadou, came from a family of educated professionals and diplomats. Mamadou, mysterious and quiet about his upbringing and the pigmented scar down the right side of his neck, led student protests on campus. Pape stayed away; his father, the minister of agriculture, would have never approved. Pape conveniently disappeared when conspiring talk of burning tires and blockades arose amongst his classmates and peers. Momo, as Mamadou’s friends called him, had become jaded by the politics of school and the growing disdain of his people; the people of the Ndiaga Ndiaye.
The Egyptian Revolution was the world’s news. The local news highlighted a recent dispute between the Union of Workers Secretary General Mademba Sock and President Abdoulaye Wade. Sock, dark and burly, would have easy advantage in a fistfight with Wade, who was old and scaly, like a fish. Their disputes, however, were resolved behind closed doors, away from the masses. The media caressed their faces and voices and audacious statements made in French. The Union dispute was much talked about, but routine city protests brought little change. Rocks were thrown towards his Presidential Palace and cars were aflame on Independence Avenue, but Wade mocked these weak attempts at a coup d’état. “I am not against dialogue,” he declared equivocally to the masses.
Wade even planned for his supporters to hold campaign parties in other parts of town. While dissidents downtown went rogue, boys and girls bused from impoverished townships, black with ashy elbows, clad in baggy, white T-shirts with Wade’s wide grin, sat mechanically and choreographed with perfect posture on the steps below the statue of African Renaissance and cheered on cue when the Wade-supporting adults prodded. The typical day of protest would be heated, but then power outages would continue and Senegalese ownership of Senelec would further slip into foreign control. Pape and Mamadou knew the routine well. Mamadou lit another Marlboro Red. Pape sucked his teeth at Wade.
“First, Ben Ali. And then again with Mubarak. Then, Gaddafi. Anything can happen. Wade. He’s next. This man, you know, he’s destroying our country,” Pape, skinny as a straw with a squashy nose, said.
The bar was dim. Only redness emitted from Mamadou’s cigarette. His clandestine face moved more like a shadow, hovering and following suspiciously. Mamadou inhaled and spoke with ease and confidence. “Deedit, no. You talk big, but you’re too comfortable. This man doesn’t matter. The people will have the bigger bite.”
“Sama xarit, my friend. Bite of what? There’s no pie to bite or piece to have. He has it all.”
“That’s not what I mean,” Mamadou said. He took long drags.
Pape, anxious and timid, was distracted by the blowing horn outside. “What’s that horn? It’s been going on too long now.” His voice was always high and shaky.
Mamadou, impervious to the noise outside, glanced back at the news. Sock, muscles protruding through his overly starched, white dress shirt, was still weak compared to the light-skinned and carefully dressed Wade. Puppets, Mamadou thought.
* * *
Outside the night air was crisp. The commotion had already begun, and though they were witnesses, Mamadou and Pape could read the scene well.
“Ah, my dear, these drunk Ndiaga Ndiaye drivers,” Pape said. He was still anxious, even in the fresh air. “They are no good after dark. They drink, but don’t hold their liquor well, and then they still continue to drive. They always hurt the innocent.”
Both drivers had been dragged from their vehicle, but with a different tone; for the taxicab driver, the victim, it was one of pity and urgency. Pain, unrehearsed and chaste. His limbs moved as dead weight, slippery and disobedient. He was spread over a piece of faded cardboard along a dusty pathway to the club.
The Ndiaga Ndiaye driver, the guilty, felt a pain, too, but one inflicted by the masses. The mob foamed at the mouth. Kicks and punches struck the driver’s limp body. Crimson blood spewed. Traffic stopped and passer-bys hesitated. Pape, still anxious, feared for the man’s life. He motioned to Mamadou that they should intervene. Mamadou only stood still and stared, emitting nothing more than the red light from his Marlboro Red.
“I have to stop this,” Pape said finally and moved toward the crowd.
It had been enough. It had been plenty. The mob had spoken and it was unclear which driver was in worse shape. Pape had help from some Toubab on-lookers who spoke Wolof as an infant would.
“Baxul, baxul, baxul, not good,” they repeated sassily and waved fingers in protest. White fingers waved, like flags at war. Pape used them as ammunition for his cause. The mob slowed. The Ndiaga Ndiaye driver, body throbbing, rolled on his stomach on the sandy ground and searched for some stability. In the sand he noticed tiny, glass pieces that shined, like diamonds. He rolled over again and laid on his back to find breath. The sky was empty. The crescent moon offered no reprieve. Perhaps from exhaustion, the crowd subsided their acts of revenge and focused their attention on the victim. The ambulance came, as well as the Gendarmerie, and both men were taken away.
The people gradually returned to their respective places: the streets, the cabs, the buses, the clubs, the villas and the shacks. Mamadou and Pape stood outside the club and surveyed the street.
“Like I said. The people will have the bigger bite,” Mamadou exclaimed.
Pape sucked his teeth and sighed, tired of his friend’s arrogance. “What did that prove now? Two men might die. Neither will ever drive again. The taxi-man has lost his means of profit and the drunk man will be exiled to some far-off village or even worse, he’ll be sent to prison.”
“I never said it proved anything. I merely said that the people will have the bigger bite. You have to live by the laws of the people.”
It was a line repeated by the Egyptian revolutionaries.
“Your arrogance is repulsive. It’s you who talks too big. Give me a cigarette.”
The air around them had warmed. Mamadou gave Pape a cigarette and a light.
“Let me tell you a story,” Mamadou said to Pape. His tone softened. Pape took a quick drag and chuckled.
“Now you want to tell stories. Okay, I’m waiting.”
Passers-by no longer hesitated, but walked with casual routine. The commotion had passed.
“You know the lighthouse in Mamelles?”
“You know, there is a woman who tends the place day and night and she lives there with her kids, right?”
“And you know that where there is shelter, there are people, right?”
“Waaw. So, one day a family walked to the top of the lighthouse. They wanted to view the ocean and watch the dolphins that swim through the sea of Mamelles. It was an American family—a husband, his wife, his two children, and two pets—two dogs.”
Pape looked at Mamadou’s face, wondering where his shadow actually began. “And?” Pape questioned.
“This American family spent some time at the top of the lighthouse. It was a family day. The children were happy, unaware of anything other than their happiness. The children decided to release the dogs from the leashes, just for fun. The dogs ran and the children laughed. They laughed and laughed. Even though the dogs were pets, they were wild, and one, a black Labrador puppy, began to bark at one of the Senegalese boys who lived there at the top of the lighthouse. That boy, like all Senegalese boys, was afraid of the dog. So like any boy would, he ran from the dog. The dog ran and chased that black boy. That black boy ran and cried. He feared for his life. The American children laughed and hollered, even louder.”
Mamadou took a long drag and continued. His speech slowed. His eyes met Pape’s. “The dog thought that Senegalese boy was playing. That boy slipped and fell, but the dog didn’t stop. The dog bit that Senegalese boy. Over and over. On his leg. On his arm. On his throat. The American children looked on, but didn’t move. The boy’s neck bled, and his hands trembled. From that little, ashen African boy, a puddle of blood spilled on the asphalt. Now, Pape, my friend, what do you think happened next?”
“I don’t know.”
“Sure, you do. Think about it. What happened?”
“They killed the dog?”
“Ah bon? That’s right?”
“That is right. They had to kill the dog. The American family cried, especially the mother. Just think about it. The mother cried about the dog, while the damned thing bit that Senegalese boy. He could have died. You know, they, the poor people who live in the shacked huts at the lighthouse of Mamelles, took that dog from that family, even though they were American and held all the money in their world, and the people killed that dog. They cut the dog’s throat.”
“And the family didn’t stop them?”
Mamadou smirked. “They tried, but they couldn’t. The father tried to pay that boy’s mother. Just think, he tried to pay for the pain the dog caused. But that boy didn’t bleed green, he bled pain, and he never forgot that day or the expression on the rich American father’s face. The people aren’t prostitutes. They can’t be paid off for maltreatment forever. It was a dog. Why wouldn’t it just be killed?”
“Waaw, I know it’s true. The people will always have the bigger bite. This Wade doesn’t matter. Wade is a puppy. Wade is a great, black Labrador. You mark my words: the people will have the bigger bite. If you continue to push, the masses will push back. There is no true legitimacy other than that of the people.”
Pape took another drag of the pasty and thick Marlboro Red. Time passed quickly. The crescent moon dropped and the sun threatened to rise. Pape wasn’t quite sure what his friend’s point was since it seemed they both believed in the same idea. The future of the people, the people, the people of the Ndiaga Ndiaye, should be prosperous and attainable. Education, Health Care, Employment, Money. In Dakar the disparities were more transparent than the waters off Yoff beach. Perhaps they merely disagreed in the manner by which to attain these rights. But Pape nodded in agreement with Mamadou. When the people strike with violence, do they always prevail in the end, Pape wondered. Perhaps justice was always found, like in those dubbed-over American Clint Eastwood flicks that his father loved. Pape wondered, however, if the people could achieve it.
Together they smoked the last Marlboro of the pack and then parted ways. Mamadou walked to campus, towards the rising sun. Pape hailed a yellow cab to return to his parent’s home in Fas, towards the old part of town. The crescent moon lost its eminence. On the ride home it finally struck Pape: that ashen African boy who got bitten by the dog was Mamadou. He was that poor, Senegalese boy that inhabited the cold shacks sitting atop the hill of the lighthouse in Mamelles. He was that black boy bitten by the black Labrador. Momo had feared for his life, but he had the bigger bite. That explained the scar, Pape thought. The new day waited no more.