He is standing in the jail cell, leaning against the farthest side of the cold concrete walls. His eyes are red with blood, his face and upper torso covered with sores and ulcers. He takes a blank stare at me for a while, then he begins smiling as he takes small steps toward the bars. This man has just been charged with crimes that could see him spend up to 60 years in prison. A few years prior to this day, however, he had been delivering sermons every Sunday, speaking about righteousness and salvation. But it looks as if no one is going to be able to save him from the grip of the law this time because he is guilty—and he knows it. His name is Mark Adu Boahen and he is my friend.
About 30 miles away from the city center, in a small town of no fame, is the mother of this man in custody. She is completely oblivious of all the recent developments concerning his son. She humbly works as a "toilet woman," scuffling hundreds of kilos of used paper every morning as she smells the stench of people's feces mixed with their urine. But she is successful in other things: she has labored to raise all her children "in the way of the Lord"—except this son, apparently. According to the prosecutor, he is a burglar, a rapist, and a ruthless murderer. But how did I come to have such a crook as friend. Well, let me start from the beginning; not the very beginning, by the way.
Mark had graduated from college but was unable to find any good job after several years. Having become totally frustrated with his unworthy life, he decided to consent to an earlier encouragement from the clergymen to pursue spiritual goals by entering a seminary school. At least, by becoming a priest, he thought he would have honor, respect, and meaning to his miserable life; and, who knows, maybe a couple of enchanting virgin nuns thrown his way. He wasn't the most religious in his church but he was bent on pushing his luck—and he got lucky. The diocese sponsored him and six others for the four-year program that would see them become priests after completion.
At the seminary, Mark realized things weren't as he had expected. Here, students are expected to obey "whether ye understandeth that which the Spirit teacheth thee or not." To the contrary, Mark was cocky (as it later shows, quite literally too) and so openly challenged his lecturers and even the archpriests. He also got involved with some nuns at a convent where he was assigned to assist with office duties. Among these was the prioress herself whom Mark described as "a woman of infinite concupiscence and insatiable nymphomania." On the day of ordinance, he ungracefully interrupted the service with a request to speak, and after banging on awhile, he concluded thusly:
Hence, as I stand here on this day of days which is the day of my ordination, it is not with a clean conscience that I speak, consequent to a rumination over 1 Corinthians 11:27-29. I have lost confidence in the papacy after coming to knowledge about popes Sergius III, John XXII, and many others like these who were no more than gross criminals. Also, I have come to reject the doctrines of priestly celibacy, indulgence and purgatory, and transubstantiation. I therefore hereby rescind my decision to join the priesthood since I am not even certain of which God I believe in now.
After his obnoxious, unplanned speech, Mark was whisked away to the superintendent bishop's office where he laid it all on the line about his tasteless immorality and questionings of the Church's long-standing teachings and practices which, according to the Catholic Code of Canon Law, carries the penalty of automatic excommunication. After much debate, the bishop declared: "Son, you have broken your vows of celibacy and obedience. You may go home now. We shall arrange for a visit to your episcopate soon." He knew that "visit" was going to be his official excommunication from the Church so he decided not to go back home at all—the shame!—but rather became a wanderer.
Mark traveled several miles north, away from the seminary school, to a mid-sized city known for brewery and manufacturing. Before settling in this city, however, he had worked at several menial jobs in four different cities and towns. Once here, he got a job as a primary school Math teacher; later, a factory floor worker, workshop supervisor, and then the warehouse manager at a plywood manufacturing company. It was during this time that he met Rita, a pretty—but slutty—young lady who soon became a mother. Concerning friendships, Mark palled up with a gang of dreadlocked bodybuilders who hung out at a shady bar where they was a high activity of weed smoking.
Across the street where I lived was a gym that my roommate frequented. Occasionally, I would tag along but just so I could watch the coquettes work out in their tank tops and tight leggings. It was on one of such visits that I met Mark. We got along fairly quickly probably because we shared a history of failed religions. We talked about living, music, sports, politics, and almost anything. We were both the type that would go to a strip club on Saturday night and still be ready for church the following morning. In other words, we knew how to tread the razor-edged bridge over the chasm of hell without falling in—or so we thought. Then one day, while brooding, he began to speak:
It feels like only yesterday but it was long ago. I remember the smiles, the laughter, the happy faces; the smell of the garden as the breeze stroke my face. I'm losing it, man. All the good things I once knew have left me in a pitch of gloom. My life is so empty, desperately in need of fulfillment. How long I can keep this dry heart from also breaking apart, I can't say. But I know that there's no such thing as freedom, there is no such thing as independence. It's just too hard to live without those you call family, those who know you, those who love you. O Lord, my faith has never been this weak!
Mark had a friend in me and the crew but, apparently, he wanted more: his family. But he dreaded going back home, thinking people would consider him a failure after going away for so long and yet coming back with virtually nothing. On top of that, he and Rita's relationship had been on the rocks for many months with Mark suspecting that she was having other affairs. Even though they were not married, he expected her to be committed, faithful, and motherly—you know, with them having a child and all—but the woman had other opinions. Because of these concerns, he started drinking and smoking more heavily than he ever did. In fact, the man was nothing short of a mess!
One night, while hanging out at the bar where the crew more often than not gathered, as we were listening to Bob Marley's Crazy Baldhead song, one guy raised concern about foreigners seemingly taking over businesses in the country. Another guy, who had been working at an illegal gold mining site operated by some Chinese nationals, complained that the natives were not being paid enough compared with what the outlanders were taking home. Mark, who was initially sitting on the fence, became the chief orchestrator of a plan to rob the conveyor when he is transporting the gold from the refinery. But there was something that stood in their way: firepower to subjugate their victim.
The night before the attack, Mark and two other guys—those who had actually resolved to carry out the robbery—broke into the home of a prominent police officer in the countryside. They made away with an AK-47 assault rifle, a six-shooter revolver, and purportedly also gang-raped the wife of the officer who was out on duty that night. The following morning, like a group of hungry raptors, they swooped onto their victim who was carrying 12 kilos of gold from the refinery. After a brief combat, the man was battered and overpowered, and they ran off with the gold and $14,500 in cash. In a surprising twist, the police found a note at the crime scene which read as follows:
We've choked back our desperation for far too long, lived in far too many phases. We no longer want to keep running, seeking for shelter and promise. Enough! It's time for a man to get what's coming to him. Just as death and hell will never run out of souls coming into them, so will the earth never be of gold. Go deeper into the mountains and search for more treasures, and forget about that which you are giving us today. We are sorry that things had to go this way. Consider it as the tax that you have evaded all these years. We hope you understand. But even if you don't, who cares?
The note was undoubtedly written by Mark; the other guys were dim-witted and couldn't write a sentence to save their lives! But as to why he decided to make such a strange and perilous decision simply beats my thoughts. Mark, who was the driver of the getaway car, dropped off the other guys and the stash at an unspecified location and drove several miles farther to a bus terminal where he abandoned the vehicle and scatted back home. The Chinaman, on the other hand, had a different fate: he died en route to a nearby hospital, as a result of severe injuries to his head and chest during the struggle. All seemed well and clean; Mark had succeeded in committing a perfect crime.
I was staring at the bright screen of my monitor, during the wee hours of the morning before dawn, when I was interrupted by distant sounds of gunshot: the police had come to arrest Mark. But this wasn't your regular police squad: they actually looked like military men but in police uniform. After a bit of chaos and more shooting, they left spectacularly in their armor vehicles. I didn't see Mark myself but some bystanders claimed that they had seen him handcuffed and being led into one of the trucks. In contrast, efforts to apprehend the other guys came out futile, effectively making Mark a quasi-scapegoat. Before long, he was arraigned before the city's high court for trial.
A key testifier in the case turned out to be Rita, Mark's partner, who elected to tell "the truth" and, in doing so, practically convinced almost everyone in the courtroom that the man with whom she had a child was a vicious criminal who was more than capable of committing the crimes that he had been charged with. Visitation requests were constantly denied during the trial period but two weeks before the verdict, we were finally allowed to show solidarity toward our comrade. That was when I got to see Mark in the state that I described in the first paragraph. When I was leaving, he secretly handed me a piece of paper to deliver to his onetime soon-to-be wife. This is what it said:
Dear Rita, It cries me so much how I had hoped I could read your heart and change your mind. O how hurtful it was when I thirsted in your company while you poured out your heart to strangers, to lowlife men of despicable souls! But I forgive you, for the sake of the child that is probably not mine. But not ev'rything. For me, I'm already judged: they'll never let me through the celestial gates for the things that I've done and those that I'm yet to. But as for these terrestrial streets, I will walk them again, as a freeman. Then, I will seek you out and let you gulp down your last drink. Mark.
It seems to me that Mark used the letter to vent his anger and frustration in connection with their relationship and, perhaps, also intimidate Rita into reversing her statements to the court. But he achieved very little, if anything at all. The man was surely going to jail for a long time so I saw no point in delivering his threatening message but, out of courtesy, I did. When the case resumed in its concluding days, Mark continued to plead not guilty on the crucial and decisive charges, insisting that he merely came up with the plan without taking part in its execution. The jury, on the other hand, found him guilty and was consequently sentenced to 60 years in prison with hard labor.
Seven months after Mark was convicted and subsequently condemned to the slammer, news came that he had committed suicide, by hanging himself with a shoelace that he had stolen from one of the prison officials. It came as a surprise to me because, whenever we spoke on the phone, he would comfort himself that he wasn't going to pass the full jail term, that the state was going to bear at least a third of the time for him. Some members of the crew doubted it, though, arguing that he had rather bribed his way out. Fueling this speculation was also the warden's insistence to discuss the matter with only a verified family member of Mark. But how could he—he had no money?
About three years after these events, I one day received a call from my former roommate saying I'd received a package. Apparently, the sender thought I was still living in that apartment but I had actually moved to another city a few years prior. So the following weekend, I made a long travel to my ex-roomie's place to collect the parcel which turned out be an unimpressive small box tightly wrapped with duct tape. It had my name and address on it but no indication of who the sender was or even might be. Inside it were a King James Bible, two packs of Rothmans cigarettes, and a folded picture of Alice Cooper. At the back of the photo were the following handwritten words in red:
She pulled out my tongue thinking I won't be able to speak anymore. But look! now everyone hears me louder and clearer than ever before. Oh yes, I had to make my statement when I had a gun in my hand and a bullet in the chamber. These bloods on my hands are nobody's but mine so, indeed, I'm eating my own flesh and terrorizing my own soul. But I couldn't care less, now that I walk the streets like the devil himself in everlasting darkness: those who know my name don't see my face and those who see my face can't tell my identity. Goodbye, brother. It was nice knowing you.
Folk say that people always have their comeuppance but I'm not sure if I should hope so for Mark. He believed in loyalty, justice, and living life to the fullest, but it seems he may have taken matters a bit too far. Regardless, it's heartbreaking thinking about friends you're never going to see again, wishing you could see them for one last time, say the right things, and correct any wrongs. So for the last time tonight, before I blank out our yesterdays, I'm going to turn out the lights and head off to sleep dreaming in the memories of the good times we shared together. And if anyone asks me in the morning why I had to write this, I'll simply say: "Just because I had to break the silence."