Last Updated on June 9, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1348
The man thinks about how he is able to block out the world around him when he focuses on his job. He is grateful that he can keep himself busy and fails to understand how some people seem to enjoy jobs where there is not enough work to fill the day. On this particular morning, someone comes into the rail office and announces there has been a coup in Ghana: Nkrumah has been ousted, and the Party men in his services are hiding in fear. The man reflects that this new coup will not bring any more change than the previous ones have, even when people are saying they will not “tolerate any Nkrumaists now.”
When he proceeds home, the man senses that the world is very quiet, and he feels separated from everything around him. However, he does not feel overly hopeful that conditions in Ghana will improve. The man arrives home to his wife’s news that Koomson is hiding in their house. Koomson is in their bedroom, sweating profusely and nervously farting. The room smells terrible and is pitch dark, and the protagonist feels the sharp change in Koomson since they last saw one another. He realizes that even though Ghana will not change with this new leadership, everything in Koomson’s life will be different.
The man has Oyo prepare some food for Koomson, who eats greedily in the dark bedroom. Oyo expresses her gratitude that her own husband did not get mixed up in corruption and end up like Koomson. Soon, a car pulls up near the man’s house, and he and Koomson must flee. They must work their way through the latrine and exit the premises without being noticed. The two men travel through back lanes to avoid people as they escape.
As the man and Koomson approach the harbor, the man carefully leads his companion around houses looking for safe lanes in which to travel. They must cross an open field, which is riddled with obstacles in the form of tree stumps and unexpected holes. They use a gutter to cross under a bridge before noticing a police van in the distance. The man must find a way for him and Koomson to avoid the police barrier, even though Koomson begins to walk toward it, seemingly in a daze. The man must physically pull Koomson down into the roadbed and the grass for them to continue.
The men move down the shoreline to the breakwater and visit the boatman in his home. He is hesitant to help Koomson, but when Koomson promises him co-ownership of his boat, the boatman agrees to let Koomson take a vessel to escape. The watchman does not want to let Koomson pass, knowing he is a member of Nkrumah’s party, but Koomson is able to pay him off and go on his way. The man helps Koomson get the boat started, and the man asks what Estella will do once Koomson is gone. Koomson says she is provided for and knows of his plans. Once the boat has left the harbor, the man uses a tire as a flotation device as he jumps off the boat and moves to the shore. He feels a sense of liberty as he arrives ashore.
Having slept on the beach after his flight with Koomson, the man awakens and sees a woman whom he imagines for a moment to be Maanan. He understands that no one has the answers to his existential questions, not even Teacher or Maanan. The man makes his way home after falling asleep a second time. On his way, he witnesses a bus being pulled over for a police check. The policeman is easily bribed and does only a cursory look around the bus to check for Party loyalists. As he continues to walk along the road, he sees a bus with an inscription: “THE BEAUTYFUL ONES ARE NOT YET BORN.” The lettering is accompanied by one flower. The message makes an impact on him, and he is still thinking about it when he returns to town. He also observes a bird and its “strangely happy” song before he remembers the world he is about to return to: his family and his monotonous job. He makes his way to the house slowly.
The coup that deposes Nkrumah initially leaves the protagonist feeling that nothing has changed. He carries on with his workday, while outside of the Block, he can hear the crowd celebrating. The man thinks,
old songs with the words changed from the old praise for Nkrumah to insults for him. So like the noises of the Party when all the first promise had been eaten up and it had become a place where fat men found things to swell themselves up some more.
The man does not believe that a new leader will change Ghana at its roots; rather, everything will be familiar, just with a different man at the top. Armah uses similar language when the man also reflects, “new people, new style, old dance.” This coup will mean that a new group of Party men will be punished and ostracized—maybe in new ways but according to a cyclical pattern. He wants to think that “future goodness may come eventually,” but the man also knows that current ways of Ghana’s government will not “prepare the way for it.”
The man’s assumption is reiterated by ongoing examples of bribery in these chapters, such as the scene in which Koomson bribes the watchman to get through the harbor, despite the watchman’s identifying him as a Paraty loyalist. Though he at first intends to bar Koomson’s escape based on his political affiliations, the watchman is quickly won over with cash. Similarly, a policeman working on behalf of the new regime is easily bribed by a bus driver when his passengers want to move quickly through a checkpoint.
On the other hand, the man learns in these chapters that even though Ghana as a whole may not be different after Nkrumah, the deposed leader’s loyalists will undergo a steep decline. This truth is brought to life in the person of Koomson, who is utterly changed when we see him in chapter 13, fearfully hiding in the man’s bedroom. In chapter 11, when Oyo and the man visit the Koomson residence, he presents himself like a king, feeling every bit of his superiority over the man. Now, he “looked imploringly at the man,” depending on him for his very life. The man “wondered at the great contrast with the superconfidence of the days gone by.” The man recognizes the irony in Koomson’s dependence, and he resents that only now does Koomson appreciate him. It is in his detailed observation of Koomson’s fall that the man realizes that “here was the real change. The individual man of power now shivering . . . For him everything was going to change. And for those like him who had grown greasy and fat singing in the praises of their chief.” Though the corrupt system may remain in place, the men who benefitted from it under this particular leader will experience a complete reversal of fortunes. In this way, the novel offers some measure of poetic justice.
In contrast to Koomson, the man earns the utmost validation in the same chapter when his wife confesses, “I am glad you never became like him.” This pivotal moment allows the man to feel justified in holding to his principles, despite the lure of corruption all around him. Ultimately, though Oyo once coveted the lifestyle of the Koomsons, she is relieved to have not experienced the attendant downfall. It is this reconciliation between husband and wife, as well as the novel’s close, that offer small glimmers of hope in what has been a relentlessly bleak world. The inscription on the bus and its singular flower, along with the songbird the man sees after, suggest that in a world defined by rot and decay, there is still some beauty and thus something worth fighting for.
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