By Baba Galleh Jallow
Loony the fox always wanted it both ways. He wanted the best of all worlds. He wanted to both eat his cake and keep it at the same time. He knew he was a heartless tyrant who was deliberately bullying and oppressing the animals of Smiling Forest. But he wanted to be considered a kind and generous saint and benefactor of all the animals. He was a dark-hearted idol worshipper but wanted to be considered the most clean-hearted and most devoted servant of the Great God Yallah. And so he draped himself in flowing white robes as befits a pious saint and carried around all kinds of religious regalia, complete with a small white copoti cap of the kind worn by the pious sheeks of Smiling Forest, most of whom had become fanatic goat holders for the brutal and greedy fox. Even as he inflicted horrendous acts of brutality on the animals and unleased the notorious Mental Surveillance Unit, his callous minions in the Loony is Always Right Movement, and the killer Gugula squad on them, Loony assumed a fake air of piety that almost made the animals puke with disgust. As far as Loony was concerned, it did not matter that he was a cruel and heartless tyrant and idol worshipper; it was enough that he pretended to be a kind and pious animal. To hell with everything and everyone else!
Throughout his long reign of brutality and terror in Smiling Forest, Loony made sure that every five years he conducted a national wrestling contest in Smiling Forest. These wrestling contests were designed to legitimize his rule and to show that he was not only a strong ruler, but also the undisputed and beloved choice of the animals of Smiling Forest. Any animal that wanted to wrestle with him was welcome to do so, Loony would announce. And if anyone ever threw him down, he solemnly swore by the Great God Yallah, he would step down and they would become the new rulers of Smiling Forest. He always followed this oath by also swearing to the Great God Yallah that no one would ever throw him down and that he would in fact be the ruler of Smiling Forest for a billion years. Loony would set a date for the grand wrestling contest and appoint a team of referees to officiate the event. Then he would declare a campaign period during which all contestants could go around Smiling Forest to seek the support of the animals and perhaps visit their spiritual masters in search of charms and jujus to help them throw their opponents down. However, none of Loony’s opponents were ever allowed to use Smiling Forest radio and television to address the animals, and journalists who reported anything critical of Loony were immediately picked up by the Mental Surveillance Unit, the regular armed foxes, or the killer Gugula squad and severely dealt with, even killed.
At such times Loony would travel the length and breadth of Smiling Forest, surrounded by heavily armed foxes, baring his large teeth, flexing his muscles, switching his large tail this way and that, this way and that, widely opening his horse’s mouth, and asking all the animals if they had not seen all the great work he had done for them and wondering why some of them were so ungrateful as not to in fact worship him. During these so-called campaign tours, Loony would promise those who supported him all kinds of developmental goodies and threaten to starve to death all who did not support him. “For 400 years the greedy red animals colonized you and did not do a single thing for you,” he would loudly cackle, baring his teeth, flicking his tongue, tweaking his nose and lashing out at the nearest animals with his large tail. “And after the greedy red animal colonialists left, for forty years Talkmuch Dolittle colonized you and did nothing for you. I created rice for you when you were starving and ordered water from the skies for you when it refused to rain. I built you air to breath and have driven all your sicknesses from your miserable bodies. I have even made it possible for your wives to have children when you couldn’t do it yourself because I have magic powers. But some of you who are nothing but donkeys still refuse to support me and say you support so-called donkey oppositions. If you support donkey oppositions then you are also donkeys and you will starve to death and go to hell. Because I will tell you right now that no one can ever defeat me in a wrestling contest and if anybody ever defeats me, then I am no longer your ruler and I will concede defeat and go back to live my life as a champion farmer. But no one will ever defeat me and I will rule this forest for a billion years and if you don’t like it you can go to hell.” He would pound his chest and shake his large tail and grin at the skies and shake his fist at the animals, some of whom would screech and scream and clap for him to avoid being picked up by the ubiquitous Mental Surveillance Unit, LARM agents or the killer Gugula squad.
For many years Loony was conveniently declared the winner of all these staged wrestling contests. In some cases, when it appeared that his opponents were about to throw him down, the carefully selected and appointed referees would surreptitiously intervene and pull his opponents’ legs or grab their necks and raise a cloud of dust behind which they would suddenly shout that Loony had won again! All accusations of cheating made by his opponents were simply ignored and Loony would be crowned in yet another lavish inauguration ceremony, complete with flamboyant new titles and much drumming, dancing and clapping by Loony’s numerous cronies and hangers-on. Loony used these opulent occasions to remind everyone that he was the undisputed champion and favorite ruler of all the animals and if any animals did not like it they could go to hell. Putting on his most notorious and arrogant sneer, the one that made his face look like a broken piece of dark wood with ashes for eyes, Loony would howl and grunt and cast aspersions on those he called unpatriotic animals who were agents and stooges of greedy red animals who wanted to come back and colonize Smiling Forest again. “I strongly remind all of those unpatriotic animals who did not support me that no one can ever defeat me in a wrestling contest,” he would rant. “If they think that they can be supported by the evil animals of the red forests to defeat me, then they must be fools. No wrestler can every throw me down and no stupid red animals will ever tell me what to do or install their puppets as rulers of this forest. This is my personal forest and I will rule this forest for a billion years whether they like it or not. If you don’t like it and if they don’t like it you can all go to hell! It’s a mad day!”
In the 22nd year of his brutal reign of terror, Loony decided to call for another wrestling contest to legitimize his rule yet again. He had noticed how angry the animals were and was a bit wary this time, placing as many obstacles as he could in the way of any potential challenger. He made it almost impossible for anyone to challenge him by imposing an age limit for potential contestants and raising the registration fee by a whopping 500 percent. He believed that apart from himself, no one could afford the outrageous fees to register to challenge him in the ring. And when some animals protested the unjust conditions and rules of that year’s contest, some of them were beaten to death, some tortured and raped by the killer Gugulas, and some thrown to jail on spurious charges of disturbing the peace. Unfortunately for Loony, these cruel measures and the stringent conditions he imposed forced the animals to pool their resources and unite behind one contestant for whom they paid the exorbitant fees. Loony was so shaken when he saw that the animals had united that he almost cancelled the contest. But that would have made him look like a coward, and Loony dreaded the very idea of being known for the coward he actually was. So he allowed the challenger to register and preparations for the grand contest to go ahead as planned.
As usual Loony appointed referees for the contest, hoping that in case he was in danger of being thrown down, they would intervene as usual and pull his opponent’s legs or grab his neck so Loony can sit on him and be declared the winner. Having appointed the referees, Loony then marched across the length and breadth of Smiling Forest, baring his teeth, switching his large tail this way and that, and making guttural noises and threats designed to scare the animals into supporting him as usual. “No one can ever throw me down,” he loudly boasted with his horse’s mouth. “I am invincible and if anyone thinks that they can throw me down, then they are fools and idiots and can go to hell. If the so-called donkey oppositions think that they can unite and pick one contestant to challenge me, then they don’t know themselves and they can go to hell. I will win this contest with the greatest landslide victory ever and will rule this forest for a billion years whether you like it or not.” He repeated all the rude insults he habitually hurled against the animals and dared anyone to raise their voice or even look at him with bad eyes. “I own this forest and if anyone thinks they can challenge me, let them come. I swear by the Great God Yallah that they will even forget their names! I will personally dig a big hole and bury them nine feet deep!”
But by this time, the animals of Smiling Forest had grown sick and tired of the mad fox’s unbridled cruelty and crass rudeness. They were tired of his rude insults and his tireless bragging that he was the personal owner of Smiling Forest and would rule them for a billion years. They were tired of living in a state of crippling fear and tired of the hundreds of Mental Surveillance Unit agents and liars snooping into their private lives and making life unbearable for everyone in the land. They were tired of the bullying and the endless whipping and the biting poverty they suffered under Loony’s brutal regime. And they were tired of being told that they lived in a haven of peace and prosperity when they were starving and their children were drowning to death in their hundreds as they tried to take the perilous Backway to the rich forests of the red animals. And they were determined to support the unity contestant and help him throw Loony down. “You just wait,” they whispered to each other, “we will teach this brute a good lesson this year!”
On the day of the great contest the animals of Smiling Forest formed a great circle to watch the event of the century. The drummers beat their drums and everyone shouted and ululated, urging their contestants on. Loony’s supporters called him lion and sang the “Loony will never die” song. When he arrived at the venue clad in all his red jujus and small animal horns, Loony sprang into the great wrestling ring and started doing the traditional baaku dance. He stamped his feet and wiggled his waist and thrust both hands to heaven and to the sides and gnashed his teeth and shook his butts to the accompaniment of the frantic drumming and clapping. He rushed this way and that, this way and that, and trotted like a horse to the rhythm of the drums, glancing this way and that, this way and that with wide, fiery eyes in the manner of the great wrestlers of old. He yelled and shrieked and did the somersaults and banged his chest with both his palms to scare his opponent, who stood calmly in his spot, flexing his muscles and waiting for the referee to blow his horn.
When at long last the referee blew his horn and said “let the games begin”, Loony and his challenger met in the middle of the ring and locked bodies in the famous rofoe style. The animals held their breath. Loony shivered as he felt the hard muscles of his opponent squeeze his body in what felt like a death grip. The wrestlers pushed each other back and forth in the ring, jumped around in tight circles, and pulled and heaved and raised a great cloud of dust. Their muscles grew taut like steel rods and Loony started casting secret glances towards the referee. Suddenly, Loony felt himself flying in the air, swung round and round in circles as if he did not weigh anything at all. He frantically whistled again and again, giving the usual signal for the referee to intervene and pull his opponent’s legs, but nothing happened as his opponent gave him one last swing and smashed Loony’s body with all his might onto the hard ground below. Loony shrieked as his back crashed against the earth; he saw fire and involuntarily let out a frightful yelp and another sound that no one heard because of the loud cheers and the mad drumming and clapping from the audience. Loony could hardly breathe as the victor sat on his chest and grabbed his neck, waiting for the referee to declare him winner. The animals could not believe their eyes as the referee ran over, lifted the challenger’s arm into the air, and declared him the winner of that year’s national wrestling contest. The animals burst into thunderous applause, clapping and shouting that was almost heard by the animals in nearby forests. As he clumsily sprang up to his feet in a confused daze, Loony heard the referee announce that from now on, the challenger was the legitimate ruler of Smiling Forest and that Loony was now the outgoing ruler. That night, word quickly spread around Smiling Forest that Loony was going to concede defeat and congratulate the winner the following morning. The animals could not wait!