Prologue

Home for the Bewildered

The man in the next bed,
Thought he had a coffin
Growing out of his head.
He couldn’t wear his hat,
What do you think of that?

In the clinic, the Home for the Bewildered, the woman from Alcoholics Anonymous asked me if I had smuggled in anything to drink. AA was always ready to help. Don’t be shy to come to our meetings, she said. Eric Clapton wasn’t.

Clapton had had a concert down the road from our rehab. Wherever he went in the world, Clapton dropped in on the local AA chapter.
“I’m Eric, and I’m an alcoholic,” he said.
“What do you do for living, Eric?”
“I’m a musician.”
“Any money in it, Eric?”

The recovering alcoholics had been too drunk in the culturally-starved but well liquored southern territories to follow the rise to wealth and stardom of the finest guitar player in the history of the instrument.

“Now we’re all great fans of Eric’s and we’re buying all his tunes when we can find them,” said the woman from AA.

So they were getting their rush from Clapton now.
A witchdoctor came to the Home for the Bewildered to exorcise the man in the next bed. The wailing and throwing of bones went on for hours. It didn’t work. The man with a coffin growing out of his head still couldn’t wear his hat.

He had blood-chilling nightmares. I tried to console him. I asked him if he had been smoking  Mutoko Madness, our greatly efficacious wild marijuana plant, or the equally powerful Chinhoyi Chaos or Binga Bang or Malawi Gold, the sought-after variety smuggled in from Malawi. He said he hadn’t.
“I am confused too. I don’t know who I am. I have demons growing out of my head,” I said.
“I can’t see them, the demons I mean,” he said.
“I can’t see your coffin. It’s not there. There’s no coffin. It doesn’t exist. That’s the truth.”

But the demons and the coffin certainly existed somewhere.

I placed the hat on the man’s head. It was a perfect fit.

But the man said the hat was above him, on top of the coffin. He said he looked silly.

“Well, you could go into opposition politics. That’ll cure you.”
Mr Mugabe’s men would cut his head right off, coffin and all.  Or they would beat him until the coffin was the last thing on his mind.

I was born here and I grew up here. I had been round the block a few times now, but at what a cost – to one’s liver and one’s sanity. I’d seen seven African wars and fought in one of them. Some countries had two wars – insurgencies or conventional ones – in the span of a working life that put me in jail three times. I had met the Pope on his African pilgrimages – Catholicism had lost ground to the revivalist and gospel churches; they had less of a problem with condoms, polygamy and sex outside marriage.

I’d met Henry Kissinger and other world statesmen trying to negotiate peace in Africa. I’d met dictators who had slaughtered innocents. They didn’t have coffins growing out of their heads. They slept soundly at night.

I’d met film stars and music stars on their visits and I’d spent time with all manner of people drawn to drink and drugs. The spliff of the great Hollywood actor Tony Curtis had to be top of the range. Eric Clapton stayed clean after rehab – perhaps it was easier with all that money to spend on other things. I had even met Sharon Stone before she famously opened her legs in Basic Instinct.

A different, bigger hat was tried.
“It’s no use. The coffin’s still there,” the man in the next bed in the Home for the Bewildered told me glumly.

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