The White-haired Man

Melody Kemp
Jan 17th, 2014

The white-haired man cruised along the emptying thoroughfare as the falling sun swam in red over the neighbouring nation. He enjoyed the push of wind through his hair and the dampish chill of the December air on his hands as he drove his open sided wartime jeep. His wife had gone ahead in the far more modern family car.

The white-haired man had become as synonymous with his vintage car as he was for his clear and creative vision of an equitable future for his nation. His many friends had often said quietly to themselves that it was strange that a man so engrossed in meditative peace and whimsy should drive such a clearly identified symbol of war and dominance. A few, with slightly raised eyebrows and faint smiles, mused that it was his form of joke.

As the evening closed in and the sun completed its dive into the mighty river, the white-haired man noticed a few normally indolent police officers flagging him down. Anyone living in the city knew that police keep bankers’ hours, usually going home before nightfall. That thought also struck him as he obediently pulled over.

What happened next was caught on the yellow-tinged tapes of CCTV cameras nearby. The images blurred; the stuttering figures walking as if captured by Super 8 that had lost the odd sprocket.

Some insist that shots were fired, but they remain unheard on the silent film. Others say that after being pulled over, the white-haired man recognised an old friend, a senior police officer who, it was said in darkened rooms, also later disappeared, maybe transferred out of sight.  Nodding, they conceded that this might account for why the white haired man accompanied the other out of his beloved jeep and into another car and then ... well ... slipped into silence.

His waiting wife tried to call his mobile, but that too remained unheard. As the evening wore on she became increasingly alarmed. But her concern was silent, until then unshared. Later becoming increasingly anxious, she checked hospitals and police stations, but her pleading and questions met by walls of denial.

The news passed between whispers in city coffee shops.  Gossip and theories traded places. As it became clear that he had been abducted, a wave of rumours was deliberately released, their power resembling water from the sluices of a dam.

He was having an affair with a Thai woman.  She was married to a general. The general staged the hit. The unheard question was, so how did a Thai general get assistance from the local police? Why did they allow this to happen to one of their citizens without intervention?

He was murdered by a business partner whom the white haired man had double-crossed. Again the unheard question: So why did the police not help, but appeared, from the footage, to aid and abet. Are the police so openly for sale?

The insouciant denials from the government rose like steam from a drain. As they barricaded themselves behind a wall of refutations painted the same colour as the white haired man’s jeep, it became increasingly less likely that they might say, ‘Surprise! Here he is! Just joking!’

 Instead, terminal sullenness saturated the city air.

Barely heard whispers after a quick check over the shoulder, insisted he was murdered. Drunken officials slurred that the minister for Foreign Affairs, with support from on high, had ordered the hit. He was executed by a secret squad, 103: or was it 106? He had been seen a week ago. He was still alive and would soon be released. He had been killed within thirty six hours of his capture. He died as a message to others. If we can take most the famous man we can do it to you.

Some insisted, while intensely scrutinising their shoes, that his body had been dumped in the river only kilometres from where he lived. Ironically, the white-haired man had joked that he would sometimes wake to find rolling and blank-faced bodies bumping silently against his garden, which fronted the big river. Who would find his?

Several months after his abduction, people stopped talking about him. The white-haired man had become a wraith, an embarrassing hyphen at the end of an unfinished sentence, too uncomfortable to acknowledge.  A year later he is still absent, silent. But just in case, more rumours began to seep and smell like sewage from a leaking pipe.

The white-haired man only pretended to be a saint.  He was actually dishonest, taking donors’ money to enrich himself and his family. He had many pieces of land he’d speculated on. He had many houses. They relentlessly stamped on his memory and vision of happiness and equity, like a cigarette that could not be extinguished and that threatened to ignite a bigger fire.

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Melody Kemp
Laos
Last blog date: Oct 10th, 2015

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