‘Come and sit down, Kalaki,’ she said, as she stood up from her desk, shook my hand, and pointed me in the direction of a plush green leather armchair. Then she hobbled towards her well-stocked cocktail cabinet. ‘What can I get you to drink? I know you like a drop of brandy.’
‘A double Klipdrift would do me fine,’ I replied.
‘We can do better than that in the minister’s office,’ she cackled. ‘How about a double liqueur cognac? I’ve got a lovely twelve-year old Marie Antoinette here, how about that?’
‘That’ll do fine,’ I admitted.
I was in the office of the Minister for Controlling the Poor, the dreaded Professor Clueless Cluo, a little wrinkled old woman, about four feet tall, but precariously balanced on a pair of six inch high heels and wearing a miniskirt.
She came back with the bottle and two elegant cut glass tumblers, put them on the walnut coffee table, and settled herself into the other armchair. ‘Well, Kalaki,’ she said, ‘are you still trying to see the funny side of life?’
‘Is there any other side?’ I laughed. ‘Take that nice big bottle of Marie Antoinette, for example. How can it be legal to sell a large amount of brandy in a big bottle, but illegal to sell a small amount in a little plastic sachet?’
‘So that’s why you’ve come,’ she laughed, ‘You want to know why I banned tujilijili.’
‘Of course,’ I said. ‘As the President-for-Life of the Zambia National Union of Brandy Drinkers, I am very concerned that this constitutes an attack on the poorer members of our great union, which has always stood for One Zambia One Drinker.’
‘My dear Kalaki,’ she sighed, ‘you’re way out of date. Times have changed since independence. Nowadays, we who are privileged to rule have a duty to control the terrible excesses of the lower classes.’
‘You mean the working class?’
‘Much lower than that,’ she said, as she took another swig of her cognac. ‘They drink so much that they can’t work.’
‘I rather thought,’ I said, ‘that they drink because they can’t find work. It gives them something else to do.’
‘Don’t be silly,’ she laughed. ‘There’s plenty of work, but they can’t do it because they’re always drunk. That’s why we’re having to bring in the Chinese.’
‘Half a minute,’ I said. ‘Let’s get back to my original point. There has to be some consistency in the law. According to the law, neither selling alcohol nor drinking alcohol is illegal. So how can it be an offence to sell a small amount in a sachet, but not an offence to sell a large amount in a bottle. Surely the larger amount is more dangerous?’
‘You’ve missed the point as usual,’ laughed Clueless Cluo. ‘The lower classes can’t afford a big bottle for twenty-five pin, so they have to buy small sachets at one pin each.’
‘So banning tujilijili will keep the lower classes sober?’
‘Exactly,’ she replied. ‘Help yourself to another drop of Marie Antoinette.’
‘Thanks,’ I said, as I refilled my glass. ‘But your policy still allows the ruling class to get drunk, and mess up the country horribly!’
‘We who are privileged to govern,’ explained Clueless Cluo, ‘are of course more educated and civilized than the lower classes. We know how to control our drinking. Besides, we don’t have to work with our hands or control machines, so it doesn’t matter if we’re not completely sober.’
‘The work of the upper class is just to sit and think,’ I suggested.
‘Exactly,’ she agreed. ‘We have to think how to control the poor and improve their miserable lives. And such elevated thinking needs imagination, which is much improved by a drop of brandy. In fact, it was only after drinking a full bottle of cognac that I came up with the marvelous idea of banning tujilijili.’ So saying, she tottered over to the cocktail cabinet to fetch another bottle of Marie Antoinette.
‘But you seem to have changed your party policy,’ I said. ‘During the election campaign you were giving tujilijili to the unemployed so that they would vote for you.’
‘Obviously we couldn’t give them jobs before we got into government, so instead we had to give them tujilijili to keep them happy.’
‘But now you’re in government, you still haven’t given them jobs.’
‘Don’t be dull, Kalaki. I’ve already told you that we have to get them off the tujilijili before they can be fit for employment. Nobody wants to employ a drunk.’
‘I know what you mean,’ I said sadly, as I took another gulp of the excellent Marie Antoinette.
But all the time we had been talking there was a growing noise outside, and suddenly the Impermanent Secretary appeared in the doorway, bowing and clapping his hands. ‘Please, Honourable Professor Doctor Madam Minister Sah, there’s a mob at the gate!’
‘What’s wrong with them this time?’ she shouted.
‘Madam, they say they’ve got no tujilijili!’
‘Send in the police to sort them out!’ ordered the minister.
‘Please Honorable Professor Minister,’ he whined, ‘it was the police who confiscated all the tujilijili, so now they’re all drunk!’
Clueless Cluo staggered unsteadily to the window, and raised her glass of cognac in the direction of the distant protestors. ‘No tujilijili? she asked sarcastically, ‘then why don’t they take Marie Antoinette!’ So saying, she fell off her high heels, flat on the floor. Out cold.
I turned to the Impermanent Secretary. ‘Splendid idea!’ I said. ‘Go and deliver Marie Antoinette to the crowd!’