Sunday, 27 March 2016

A Million Books in an African Warehouse - Andrew Crofts







“You must fly down for the launch of the book,” the Minister boomed, “I insist. The President will be there. It will be a great day. There will be food and speeches. I will make all the arrangements for you.”

There was no arguing with him, and I didn’t really want to anyway. Most clients don’t even admit that they’ve used a ghostwriter; they certainly don’t want to invite him or her half way across the world to the launch party. In most cases they don’t even let the ghost know that there is going to be a party. Once the book is written and delivered the ghost normally slinks back into the shadows and moves on to the next project, allowing the client to bask in the glory of being a published author. The Minister, however, was a man who enjoyed the limelight so much he wanted to share it with the whole world, which was one of the reasons he was such an endearing man.

His extremely efficient assistant made the arrangements through the embassy in London and a business class ticket was delivered to the house by a driver. I didn’t even bother to ask about accommodation arrangements because my previous trips had shown that the Minister was the most hospitable of men. He would have thought of everything. Normally when you arrive at the borders of a country other than your own you need to provide evidence of where you will be staying. When your ticket has been arranged by someone like the Minister everything is different. Someone would have had a word in the ear of the airport officials, money or other favours would have been exchanged, minders would be waiting to take me to an SUV with darkened windows. It had happened like that every time I had been to see him during the writing process.

The launch of the book was held in a government office that I hadn’t been to before. The building must have been designed in colonial times and had a suitable air of faded grandeur, befitting a distinguished literary event. A feast had been laid out for guests on trestle tables and groups of sofas and armchairs had been clustered around the room so that politicians and business people could huddle and whisper, their conspiratorial conversations occasionally interrupted with roars of laughter and outbreaks of back-slapping. There were surprisingly large piles of books which the guests were helping themselves to, flicking through the pages in search of their own names or those of their rivals.

The arrival of the President momentarily overshadowed the Minister’s flamboyant act as host and newly published author. The pecking order took a few moments to readjust before everyone was comfortable once more.

The Minister made a speech and graciously acknowledged his ghostwriter in a remarkable display of modesty, honesty and openness. The President also made a speech praising the Minister. Conversations then resumed as one politician after another stood to tell the room how much they admired the author of the book and how exciting it was that his ideas on how to lead Africa to future prosperity were now set down in print.

The Minister smiled and nodded his appreciation to each of the speakers in turn, but he was also working the room as they talked, shaking hands and hugging everyone who came near him.

As he moved closer to where I was standing I overheard him accepting praise from a woman swathed in colourful traditional dress, a Rolex glinting on her wrist.

“Your book will be a best seller,” she assured him.

“Yes, yes,” he grinned his acknowledgement, “we have a million copies printed up and ready to distribute. We want every child in Africa to have a copy.”

I caught his eye over the lady’s shoulder and smiled. I knew that it was his knack for positive thinking and dreaming big dreams that had got him where he was and might yet get him into the Presidential Palace. The book, I knew, was just one more step in the process of establishing himself as a future leader. Eventually he reached me and clapped a mighty arm around my shoulder.

“Are you having a good time, my friend?” he asked. “Are you glad that you came?”

“Yes, very good,” I said. “How many copies have you actually had printed?”

“A million,” he said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

“I thought we’d agreed to start with a couple of thousand,” I said, still not sure whether to believe the bombast.

“You know me,” he winked, “I like to think big. I believe in the message of the book. I want copies in every school in Africa.”

“You’ve actually had a million copies printed?”

I was trying to imagine what a million copies of a book must look like. Even if he was exaggerating and he had only printed a tenth of that figure it would still mean crates and crates of books.

“Yes, of course.”

“Where are they?”

“My brother has a warehouse near to the town where my mother lives. You remember going there?”

“Of course.”

I had spent a pleasant weekend with his mother, a sunny, smiling woman who spoke no English and passed her days happily sitting in the shade inside the walls of the family compound, preparing food to be cooked by her daughters and shouting abuse at the goats whenever they strayed amongst her vegetables. I could imagine the delivery lorries arriving in the tiny town, coating the watching locals with dust from the unmade roads. In his home area the Minister was like a king and the warehouse full of books would be one more jewel in the crown of his glorious career.


As far as I know the crates are still in the warehouse.

3 comments:

Wendy Jones said...

Love this. Now that really is what I call thinking big

Chris Longmuir said...

WOW! A million books! I can't even begin to imagine what that looks like or how big the warehouse is! But it sounded like a fantastic experience.

Enid Richemont said...

Wonderful - LOVED this post, especially for what it so expertly DOESN'T say. It would make a brilliant short story.