My Friend Tiawan

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted April 29, 2002

For the past two days, I have been walking like a zombie, with tears in my throat and a stone in my belly, my eyes filled with tears and my heart in a knot. My mind wondered, trying to escape reality. I found myself not being able to do anything, to find joy in anything. No water and no food. I went out with some friends, thinking that I would escape for a while, but they too knew about Liberia. They knew about this lawyer, a human rights lawyer who had been jailed and tortured by the police. They asked me if I knew him, I said yes, and switched to a different subject. I didn’t want to talk to them about Tiawan, because the reason I was with them was to stop thinking about the situation at home, for at least a short while.

We sat at a dinner table. The food smelled great. I took a bite and there was a knot in my throat, I couldn’t swallow. I put my fork down. I imagined Tiawan, in his cell, naked, dehumanized, being kicked in the head, boots trampling on his head, kicking his stomach, stepping on his fingers, kicking him in the mouth. I imagined the darkness of the cell, with other prisoners, all victims, assembled in a corner and watching, helpless as the killers carried on their macabre duty.

I took a sip of water. Water was tasteless, as it usually is except when one is really thirsty, as I imagine how thirsty Tiawan had been in the middle of the night, while his torturers got drunk on can-juice and smoked marijuana, taking turning on kicking him in the groins, insulting him, asking him if he wanted to talk about human rights.

I left the table and went to the restroom, turned off the light and stood there for a second, and imagined how Tiawan felt, in the darkness, at the mercy of drunken thugs, not knowing where the next kick or punch would come from or where it would land on his frail body. I imagined him trying to protect his face or his private parts. I imagine him wondering how much more his body could stand before he stops feeling pain. I turned the light on and looked at my own face in the mirror and imagined the face of Tiawan, bruised, his eyes kicked in and swollen and bloody.

I thought of my daughter and imagined how Baby T must be feeling. I imagined the fear in her soul, the despair in her heart. How would she sleep? Would she ever see her father again? Would he ever walk with her again? I wondered how Edith would be tonight, when she goes to bed, wondering if she would ever again have those sweet moments she shared with her husband.

I cried tonight when I thought of Tiawan. I cried, wondering how we came to hate each other so much? What kind of evil has usurped the soul of our people? Where did this demon come from, to turn our nation into one hellhole? What has become of our people? I cried but not of despair. I was feeling anger, the same anger that everyone must be feeling. I cried thinking of all those in Monrovia who would go to bed tonight, wondering when their turn would come. I cried thinking of the thousands of Liberians roaming the forest, eating insects and sleeping in the mosquito-infested jungles. I cried thinking about the millions of Liberians going to bed hungry. I cried thinking of the hundreds of thousands of Liberians sleeping in foreign land, scared to go home.

Tiawan is a man of rare species. I know he didn’t cry they kicked him. I know he didn’t ask for mercy when they brutalized him. He just wondered why. I know he just said “Oh, God” like Mahatma Gandhi did when he felt the bullet perforating his chest. I know he just lay there, and prayed. And when the butchers got tired and the sun was up they sneaked out of the cell, taking one last punch and one last kick at his bloody body on the cold cement floor.

They damaged his body but they didn’t damage his soul. I know Tiawan. He will get up from this and walk again, stronger than ever. The spirit of freedom, human dignity and decency that God put in Tiawan will not die. It is the spirit that builds nations, it is the spirit that kills tyrants. It is the spirit that will some day send Paul Mulbah and all the other thugs of the Master Evil packing, sooner than they expect.

We will not panic and we will not give in to terror, fear and intimidation.

The spirit of Tiawan will triumph over evil and greed.

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Atlanta, GA 31145