‘Don’t ask,’ I said grimly. ‘I shall only get annoyed.’
Jumani was a bit out of touch. He and his wife Tobre, who now live in Cape Town, were here on a short visit.
‘Pabwato is going round in circles and getting nowhere,’ explained Towani.
‘The wind has gone out of their sails,’ said Sara. ‘The captain huffs and puffs at his own sails, and wonders why the boat can’t move. He’s becalmed.’
‘Becalmed!’ laughed Kupela. ‘More like embalmed!’
‘Embalmed?’ Tobre wondered. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Maybe the whole nation is going to be embalmed!’ laughed Kupela. ‘Haven’t you been reading the papers since you arrived? Every day The Past has the latest episode of the embalming scandal! They claim that Zombibeef has been indoctrinating its beef with formaldehyde!’
‘That’s just a cooked up story,’ Sara laughed, ‘designed to divert our attention from the removal of subsidies, rising cost of living and collapse of the budget. I doubt if there’s any truth in it.’
‘Truth!’ cackled Kupela. ‘This is Zombia! There’s no such thing as truth, there’s only plausibility and implausibility.’
‘People don’t believe a story just because it’s plausible,’ I declared.
‘My point exactly,’ said Kupela. ‘The more implausible the story, the more likely that it will be believed!’
‘Half a minute,’ said Tobre, scratching her head. ‘Surely the more implausible a story, the less likely it will be believed.’
‘Here it works the other way round,’ cackled Kupela. ‘Let me give you an example. In any other country the government introduces subsidies on food and fuel to help the poor. But here the government removes these same subsidies to help the poor. You see, here in Zombia, the more implausible the story, the nearer it is to the truth.’
‘Oh dear,’ said Tobre. ‘Then I certainly am lost.’
‘We’re losing track,’ said Sara. ‘Let’s get back to the embalming story. The first thing we should ask ourselves is: Who benefits from concocting a story like that? I mean, Zombibeef can’t have any interest in embalming its customers, or it would soon be left without any!’
‘But on the other hand,’ said Towani. ‘If the newspaper readers can be persuaded to believe the story, then everybody will have to support the government when it steps in to nationalize the company. Then, after all the malpractices have supposedly been eliminated, the company can be sold by tender!’
‘For one kwacha to the owner of The Past newspaper!’ I suggested.
‘Who will then sell horsemeat imported from Cuba!’ Sara laughed.
‘But much praised in the editorials,’ laughed Towani.
‘Ah ha!’ said Tobre, with some satisfaction. ‘Now this is beginning to make more sense! It sounds more like South Africa! A straightforward bit of Zumanomics!’
‘Not so fast,’ Kupela interrupted. ‘Your entire explanation of the truth is based on the assumption that the original embalming story was false, and concocted for devious purposes. But you have assumed this because you consider that the story is self-evidently implausible. This was despite my warning that, in Zombia, the wildly implausible is more likely to be true!’
‘Even in this case?’ Jumani wondered.
‘You have to look at the bigger picture,’ explained Kupela, ‘not just at the petty stealing of a prosperous company. The overall picture is that Pabwato is becalmed and going nowhere, and the Punching Fist leaders are getting older, and are obviously not going to last beyond their sell-by date of September 2016.’
‘So they design a scheme to preserve themselves all the way to 2021 by embalming themselves with formaldehyde. If swallowed as a liquid it kills you. But if ingested in low concentration in beef it can turn you into a zombie, a sort of living dead, that could last even for centuries.’
‘This could explain the strange and useless behaviour of the government!’
‘Exactly. Becalmed because embalmed. They appoint one day and fire the next. Introduce a subsidy one day and remove it the next. They keep sailing round in circles. This happens because they spend most of the time in their coffins, only waking up for one hour a day.’
‘Half a minute,’ I objected. ‘This explanation is even worse. It is a reason for the government to conceal their secret supply of formaldehyde, not expose it in The Past!’
‘This is not the end of the story,’ said Kupela. ‘The opposition got wind of Pabwato’s cunning plot to live forever, and arranged for Zombibeef to also provide them with formaldehyde in their weekly supply of offals.’
‘Offals? Why not steak?’ wondered Tobre.
‘You don’t understand our class system,’ explained Kupela. ‘The government eats steak, the opposition eats offals, and the rest of us eat such things as kapenta, vintubala, inswa, or even locusts in a good year.’
‘So the government now has to nationalize Zombibeef in order cut off the supply of formaldehyde to the opposition, and to maintain their own monopoly over everlasting life.’
‘Exactly,’ said Kupela. ‘This time the one-party state is going to be embalmed in formaldehyde. We shall never get rid of it.’
‘All this seems very far-fetched,’ said Jumani, ‘If you ask me, there should be an independent commission of enquiry to look into this formaldehyde scandal and issue a report!’
‘Yes,’ laughed Kupela, ‘like the Gabon Report!’
‘Yes,’ said Jumani. ‘By the way, what happened to the Gabon Report?’
‘It was embalmed,’ said Kupela.