Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. “I Won’t!”

 

My father was a remarkable man. Over the course of his long life, he met very few men whose will was stronger than his own. Here’s the story of one of them:

Shortly after World War II, Dad was ordered to the ancient Northern Nigerian city of Sokoto to serve as the Assistant District Officer (that is, as everyone else’s general dogsbody) in the British Colonial Service. It was his first posting, and the culmination of a childhood dream that had as its origin the adventure books of Edgar Wallace and the stories of his hero, Sanders of the River.

When I was entering my teens, nineteen out of any twenty English boys you picked would have known of Wallace, and most of them would have known who Sanders was as well. Those who did not, had simply not yet got around to reading the eleven books that Wallace produced, between 1911 and 1928, featuring his hero, the legendary District Commissioner Sanders, together with Captain Hamilton and Lieutenant Bones, the soldiers commanding his detachment of Hausa Police, and Bosambo, the wily Monrovian who Sanders plucked from the jungle to be his right-hand, man, who then became Chief of the Akasava, a tribe until then rent by internecine feuding. As I found out later in life, kasava (manioc) is the staple food around Forcados, where Wallace was stationed for part of his term in West Africa. The simple addition of an “A” to this common Nigerian word makes it a thoroughly acceptable and relevant tribal name. But I digress. [Note well: The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree in this regard.]

In 1935, Paul Robeson starred as Bosambo in Zoltan Korda’s film version of the first of the books, with Leslie Banks as Sanders. Robeson is later said to have regretted playing the part, which by then he thought had demeaned him; though in the eyes of many a British filmgoer of the day (especially young boys–myself included) it had made him a superstar. Years before that, however, on the strength of the books alone, I had already decided that if at all possible I was going to become (as Robeson sang, over the film’s opening credits):

“Sandi the strong! Sandi the wise!
Righter of wrong! Hater of lies!
Laughed as he fought! Worked as he played
As he has taught, let it be made!”

As with most things in Dad’s life, the wish was father to the thought, and so he did.

Not long after his arrival, Dad was sent East from Sokoto into the bush and instructed to bring back a prisoner from somewhere around Gusau so that the man could stand trial for what we’d call premeditated murder. So, one fine day, Dad and his cavalcade of African “tour guides” and native bearers (Dad–in his late twenties at this time–was the only non-African in the group) set off on their trek across the sub-Saharan savanna. Shortly after “lift-off,” and as per the usual custom, the fellows carrying all the gear stopped in their tracks, put it down, and waited as their women appeared out of nowhere, picked it all up, put it on their heads with a very bad grace, and thus burdened proceeded down the trail followed by their now happy and chattering menfolk. Go figure.

Four or five days later, the little troupe arrived at its destination, retrieved the prisoner from the village authorities, did some provisioning for the return journey, and prepared to set off back to Sokoto with the criminal in tow.

Dad found the murderer, who had confessed to the crime, to be a youngish and articulate man who spoke Hausa (at which Dad was becoming increasingly fluent), and who was full of stories of local lore and customs. Dad, being Dad, soaked them all up avidly, along with the only danger signal and concerning thing that he could spot in the developing situation, which was the prisoner’s repeated declaration that he would never stand trial because he would be dead before the group got back to Sokoto. Dad, a rational man and a realist to the core, wasn’t having any of that, and kept a close eye on the convict, insuring that he ate a reasonable amount of food and drank plenty of water, and that he had no access to any means to cause himself harm.

And yet, the prisoner, who remained affable and chatty, and who was experiencing no outward signs of physical deterioration, continued to insist that he was dying and that he would never stand trial for the murder he’d committed (after which he’d surely be hanged), because he would be dead before the group got back to Sokoto.

Eventually, even someone as generally immune to suggestion as my father became a bit worried by the prisoner’s air of determination and certainty, and on the night before the group was to reach Sokoto, he chained the prisoner (who was already handcuffed and shackled) to his left arm, sat them both down propped up against a tree, and fell into a night of uneasy and fitful dozing.

The following morning, he found himself handcuffed to a dead man.

There are 19 comments.

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  1. Arahant Member

    Yowza. Now that is quite an act of will. Also, love the picture of the old boy.


    This conversation is an entry in a long march of conversations that is our Group Writing Series. While it is under August’s theme of Will, all of the future slots in August are taken. If you really have something to write concerning acts of will or guys named Will, we can always slot your conversation in as a bonus, of course.

    On the other hand, our theme for September is Order. Group Writing was formulated to bring more members out of hiding to write, to practice their writing, and to diversify the topics seen on Ricochet. Thus we have very broad themes each month. In September’s theme, let your imagination loose to consider all the various shades of meaning in the word “Order.” Can you bring something interesting from your life to Ricochet that is related to some form of order? Law and order? Emerging order? If you think you can, come visit our schedule and sign-up sheet and take the first step by choosing a date.

    • #1
    • August 23, 2018, at 10:22 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  2. JoelB Member

    Was the cause of death ever determined?

    • #2
    • August 23, 2018, at 10:31 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  3. Brian Wolf Coolidge

    Wow what a story and perfect for the theme too. Wow.

    • #3
    • August 23, 2018, at 10:38 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    JoelB (View Comment):

    Was the cause of death ever determined?

    No. No health issues, nothing organic or apparent. He just died.

    It would make a good story for Edgar Allan Poe, wouldn’t it?

    • #4
    • August 23, 2018, at 11:03 AM PDT
    • 15 likes
  5. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Here’s the opening scene from the movie, Sanders of the River. I hesitated about posting it, because it’s so clunky, and the characters are, by the standards of today, so cardboard and stereotypical and even objectionable. But whatever one thinks of the movie (what I think of it is that it’s incredible that it was nominated for some international film awards, and that it was only three and four years later that cinematic masterpieces such as Snow White and Gone With The Wind were produced), or whatever one thinks of Paul Robeson’s politics, Lord, what a voice he had . . . .

    In 2007, a few months before Dad died, I spend a month with him in the UK. He wasn’t very well at all, and we watched Sanders of the River, a copy of which my sister had found on DVD somewhere. I cried when I watched Dad watching it. He was like a little boy again.

    • #5
    • August 23, 2018, at 12:29 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  6. Arahant Member

    She (View Comment):
    whatever one thinks of Paul Robeson’s politics, Lord, what a voice he had . . . .

    Indeed. One of my favorites, along with Thurl Ravenscroft.

    • #6
    • August 23, 2018, at 12:35 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  7. Hang On Member
    Hang On Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    She (View Comment):

    JoelB (View Comment):

    Was the cause of death ever determined?

    No. No health issues, nothing organic or apparent. He just died.

    It would make a good story for Edgar Allan Poe, wouldn’t it?

    All about the juju. Live it, breathe it, use it, guard against it. It can be the cheapest insurance policy you can get. I certainly used it when I lived next door to where your dad was.

    • #7
    • August 23, 2018, at 1:33 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. Nanda Panjandrum Inactive

    As ever, thoroughly intriguing and engaging…The photo is marvelous! Fanks!

    • #8
    • August 23, 2018, at 2:12 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  9. RightAngles Member

    Welp, you sure have a more interesting family than I do. What an eerie story!

     

    • #9
    • August 23, 2018, at 5:06 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  10. RightAngles Member

    My Great-Aunt Davida called her daughter one Tuesday morning and said, “I want to have my hair done. Can you take me?” Aunt Margo asked why on earth she wanted to have her hair done on a Tuesday, and Davida said she just did, that’s all. So Aunt Margo took her there and drove her back home. When Aunt Davida got home, she sat in her rocking chair and died with a little smile on her face. (Vanity is a dominant gene in our family)

    • #10
    • August 23, 2018, at 5:19 PM PDT
    • 16 likes
  11. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Welp, you sure have a more interesting family than I do.

    I doubt it. I love the family history stories on Ricochet and, if memory serves, you’ve told a few yourself.

    If I have a slight advantage in ease of telling, it may just be that so many of mine are written down. We’re that sort of family.

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    My Great-Aunt Davida called her daughter one Tuesday morning and said, “I want to have my hair done. Can you take me?” Aunt Margo asked why on earth she wanted to have her hair done on a Tuesday, and Davida said she just did, that’s all. So Aunt Margo took her there and drove her back home. When Aunt Davida got home, she sat in her rocking chair and died with a little smile on her face. (Vanity is a dominant gene in our family)

    That’s a lovely story. I’m glad Margo humored her mother over that, bet it made her happy.

    • #11
    • August 23, 2018, at 6:20 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  12. RightAngles Member

    She (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Welp, you sure have a more interesting family than I do.

    I doubt it. I love the family history stories on Ricochet and, if memory serves, you’ve told a few yourself.

    If I have a slight advantage in ease of telling, it may just be that so many of mine are written down. We’re that sort of family.

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    My Great-Aunt Davida called her daughter one Tuesday morning and said, “I want to have my hair done. Can you take me?” Aunt Margo asked why on earth she wanted to have her hair done on a Tuesday, and Davida said she just did, that’s all. So Aunt Margo took her there and drove her back home. When Aunt Davida got home, she sat in her rocking chair and died with a little smile on her face. (Vanity is a dominant gene in our family)

    That’s a lovely story. I’m glad Margo humored her mother over that, bet it made her happy.

    Yes, I’ve always been glad she did too!

    • #12
    • August 23, 2018, at 7:18 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. MisterSirius Member

    Thank you to She for telling this story! It is shot through with the same mix of art and life found in the Sanders fictions.

    I say that as a person who only discovered Sanders in the 21st century and rapidly read everything Sanders, and rather a lot of Edgar Wallace as well (he wrote a ton). Well done!

    • #13
    • August 24, 2018, at 6:21 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    My Great-Aunt Davida called her daughter one Tuesday morning and said, “I want to have my hair done. Can you take me?” Aunt Margo asked why on earth she wanted to have her hair done on a Tuesday, and Davida said she just did, that’s all. So Aunt Margo took her there and drove her back home. When Aunt Davida got home, she sat in her rocking chair and died with a little smile on her face. (Vanity is a dominant gene in our family)

    This one is a bit different.

    My grandfather died early on a Saturday morning, after a very painful illness with cancer. Saturdays were always my grandmother’s hair days. She opted to keep her appointment that day, explaining to all that as Grampa had died, what was the point of hanging around the house? Besides, she wanted to look nice for the funeral.

    Well, when she got to the hairdressers, the ladies asked her how Grampa was doing, knowing that he had been ill. My grandmother couldn’t quite think of what to say, so she blurted out “Well, he isn’t himself today.”

    • #14
    • August 24, 2018, at 6:45 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  15. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    This one is a bit different.

    My grandfather died early on a Saturday morning, after a very painful illness with cancer. Saturdays were always my grandmother’s hair days. She opted to keep her appointment that day, explaining to all that as Grampa had died, what was the point of hanging around the house? Besides, she wanted to look nice for the funeral.

    Well, when she got to the hairdressers, the ladies asked her how Grampa was doing, knowing that he had been ill. My grandmother couldn’t quite think of what to say, so she blurted out “Well, he isn’t himself today.”

    As is this one. Mr She has always told me that his grandmother, very ill with cancer was determined to live until “next year,” so that the family could take the dependency tax break.

    She died on January 1.

    I’m not exactly sure, given the tax laws in place at the time, if that actually did accrue to her husband’s financial benefit. But Grandma was thinking about him till the end.

     

    • #15
    • August 24, 2018, at 7:03 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  16. RightAngles Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    My Great-Aunt Davida called her daughter one Tuesday morning and said, “I want to have my hair done. Can you take me?” Aunt Margo asked why on earth she wanted to have her hair done on a Tuesday, and Davida said she just did, that’s all. So Aunt Margo took her there and drove her back home. When Aunt Davida got home, she sat in her rocking chair and died with a little smile on her face. (Vanity is a dominant gene in our family)

    This one is a bit different.

    My grandfather died early on a Saturday morning, after a very painful illness with cancer. Saturdays were always my grandmother’s hair days. She opted to keep her appointment that day, explaining to all that as Grampa had died, what was the point of hanging around the house? Besides, she wanted to look nice for the funeral.

    Well, when she got to the hairdressers, the ladies asked her how Grampa was doing, knowing that he had been ill. My grandmother couldn’t quite think of what to say, so she blurted out “Well, he isn’t himself today.”

    I think I’d have liked her.

    • #16
    • August 24, 2018, at 9:25 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  17. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    She,

    Don’t you think that South Africa is in desperate need of your Dad or Sanders of the River? They are going down the same road as Zimbabwe and they will end up with the same disastrous results.

    Liberal South African Think Tank: Trump Is Right About Land Reform

    The South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR), a liberal think tank, endorsed President Donald Trump’s criticism of that country’s new land reform policy on Thursday, saying that the U.S. president had exposed the “damage” the policy was doing.
    On Wednesday evening, President Trump tweeted that he had directed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers.” Trump was responding to a segment on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News, which included a statement by the State Department that appeared to dismiss concerns about land reform in South Africa. “President [Cyril] Ramaphosa has pledged that the land reform process will follow the rule of law, and its implementation will not adversely affect economic growth, agricultural production, or food security,” the statement asserted.

    After the whites are all dead or driven out of the country then the real civil war will start. The factions will gleefully kill each other as the economy collapses. Of course, the devil whites will all be gone so everything will be Wunderbar, not!

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #17
    • August 24, 2018, at 10:43 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  18. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    She,

    Don’t you think that South Africa is in desperate need of your Dad or Sanders of the River?

    Next time I have a chat with Dad, Jim, I’ll tell him you said hello. If anyone can, through an act of sheer will, reappear in this life, it’s probably Dad.

    • #18
    • August 24, 2018, at 2:10 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. Seawriter Contributor

    For those interested: Sanders of the River.

    • #19
    • August 24, 2018, at 5:28 PM PDT
    • 5 likes

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