THE CASE OF THE MISSING CREDIBILITY
[This feature first originally appeared in Arabic in al-Ayam daily on 8/4/89 and was translated into English with some modification]
I woke up one morning and discovered that my Credibility was missing. The first inkling I had of something going amiss was when I neatly tied on my turban and looked at myself in the mirror. As my reflection stared back at me I realized with utter bafflement that my Credibility was no longer there. At first I thought I must have misplaced it somewhere. My eyes darted around the room. I looked into all the closets. There were a lot of skeleton but no Credibility. I peered under the bed. There were lots of dirty linen but no sign of Credibility. I flung open all the drawers and emptied their contents on the floor. Nothing! At that moment my wife walked in and looked aghast at the mess in the room. “For Heaven’s sake” she gasped, “what are you doing?”
“I am looking for my Credibility” I said meekly, “Have you seen it?”
“Which one of them do you mean?” she asked a bit puzzled.
“Well it is the one…” I began and abruptly stopped. How could you describe your Credibility? Would you say it was the thing you had since you were born; the thing that had made people believe you and believe in you. Or was it something you acquired with cunning and deviousness? Was it something you inherited with the family’s name and fortune. Or were there more than one Credibility at your disposal using each according to circumstance? I must admit I was not sure. Funny thing you could not put a definite definition of your own Credibility.
I was beginning to get worried. I had a packed schedule on that particular day. First I had a morning press conference which I had specially arranged to ask myself all the pertinent questions that the biased reporters had invariably always failed to ask. Second, there was to be an All-Families Grand Council session in which I would clarify and qualify all the answers I gave in the press conference. More importantly, I had to deliver a statement to the Assembly of Absentees reversing my earlier argument that the chicken came before the egg. Finally, I had to make the opening address to the Family Plan Syndicate’s conference on “How to Change Your Partner without Really Trying”. I was also planning to squeeze in a brief encounter of a double-crossing kind with a prospective new partner.
Needless to say, I could not really afford to be at any of these important functions without my Credibility. That would be the first thing to be noticed, particularly by the bloody reporters. You could imagine the avalanche of embarrassing questions that would be heaped on me:
“Don Hamido, did your Credibility disappear of its own free will or did someone take it for a ride?”
“Is it true that it had been seen flirting with someone else?”
“Is it on a private cosmetic visit abroad?”
“Did you garrote your Credibility because it could no longer smell shata without sneezing?”
“Sir, was your Credibility involved in plea-bargaining?”
What would I say? I could not possibly confess that it was missing. I could already see in my mind the screaming headlines:
BIG MOUTH ADMITS CREDIBILITY MISSING
MOB DECLARES TOTAL MOBILIZATION
MILITIAS START STREET SKIRMISHES
SPLM FAMILY DENIES RESPONSIBILITY.
INTERPOL SENDS TOP INVESTIGATORS
The gossip columnists would have an inexhaustible mine of gossip. I could well foresee the malicious and unfounded allegations: “Reliable sources confirm that top associates were implicated in the untimely disappearance of Credibility and suggestions of manipulations in shady deals have been strongly hinted at …”
“An inside informer, who understandably wishes to remain anonymous, told our reporter that the Credibility had sustained extensive bruises after slipping on a judicial banana peel and was flown for immediate surgery in a friendly country. Brain damage cannot be ruled out …”
Even worse, viewers would make nasty and demeaning remarks when I appeared on national TV.
“You know what,” some jerk would say, “he looks more credible without his Credibility. The man is a real magician after all”.
There was equally the disturbing certainty that a spoilt brat would point at me on the TV screen and shout, as though discovering an age-honoured truism, that “the emperor has no clothes!”. The TV announcer might even feel constrained to warn viewers beforehand that, “the following scenes are not fit for people under the age of forty … ” That would be the ultimate humiliation: ending up with an X rating!
How did I get into such a mess? It seemed incomprehensible that only three years before I had won my Credibility with flying colours. It was sweet, adorable, healthy and the envy of all the other Families. Everyone had great expectations of it and I carried it around with all the pride of someone who had garnered all the gold medals in the Olympic Games. I often had visions of myself sitting in the grandstand and saying to some jealous Don: “See that one who just broke the world record? That’s my Credibility.” I would then beam with self-satisfaction and self-congratulation.
After all I was not called the Capo of all Capos for nothing. But as time passed something seemed to happen to my cherished Credibility. It began to lose its radiance and vitality. It lost weight and began to wither rapidly. Indeed it so diminished that I was forced to put it on the top of my big nose so that everybody could see it was still there. But I never figured that the day would come when it would disappear altogether.
I was suddenly jolted from these depressing thoughts by the sharp voice of my wife saying: “Perhaps your brother-in-law pinched it. He is always borrowing your things without telling you.” There was a note of unmistaken disdain in her words.
It was a measure of my desperation that I immediately rushed to the telephone and called my brother-in-law. In my haste I had forgotten about the row we had recently which ended our brief reconciliation and partnership.
And sure enough, before I even said a word he started complaining how he had lost his own credibility and nobody cared; how my new-old allies are muscling him out of business and nobody seemed to care.
As I listened to the litany of his recent misfortunes I had the uneasy feeling that it was a replay of my own. I put down the receiver trying to avoid my wife’s questioning glance. “It’s no use,” I said at large, “the man has the nerve to blame me for the loss of his own credibility.”
At that point I realized I had no alternative but to call in the ‘doctor’. He might be an old ‘buffoon’ or a ‘witchdoctor’ as my wife usually called him. But he was an old buddy of mine. He was my ‘consigliere’, to be exact. I could still recall the many occasions he was able to extricate me from some tight spots into which he had unwittingly placed me. I went to my study and made the call ordering the doctor to report to me immediately. Before I put the phone down, the good doctor was standing before me, like the proverbial genie out of the bottle.
“Here I am Sidi,” he said bowing, “your word is my command.”
I knew I had to handle him carefully for he was infamous for his volatile temper.
“We seem to have a serious problem.” I began slowly.
The doctor’s temper flared up. “It’s that Medani Gang again, isn’t it” he started to shout racing wildly around the room. “I will crush their bones, I will riddle their bodies with bullets!” He swung his AK-47 assault rifle hitting a table lamp and sending it crashing to the ground. “I will send our militias into the streets.”
I raised my hand and stopped him. “It is not that at all,” I told him, “it is my Credibility. It seems to be missing.”
To my utter amazement, the doctor went into a fit of compulsive laughter. .”Is that all, Sidi?” he said trying to muffle his laughter, “I thought it was something serious.”
“It’s serious” I admonished him.
“What’s serious about it, Sidi?” he said still chuckling, “Who will notice a missing credibility?” He looked closely at me and added, “You look fine to me.”
“I can’t go out without it”, I said sharply, “not with all those damned reporters following me everywhere.”
“Let the reporters say what they want,” he said, “who believes them anyway.”
I tried to explain to him that under the prevailing circumstances nothing was certain. Even the Cops have taken to issuing warning memoranda. Obviously, it was to our advantage to keep a low profile, at least for the time being.
I could see that the doctor was not convinced.
“Look,” I earnestly, “restoring my Credibility is very important to me. My standing with the other Families is at stake. I want that Credibility back right now and with the least possible fuss.” I paused and then added pointedly, “Otherwise, I may have to retire from the family business and resign all my official and unofficial functions.”
That seemed to have had the desired effect. The doctor looked anxiously at me and said, “You don’t have to do that, Sidi. I will get you your Credibility back in no time at all. You don’t worry about that, O.K?”As I nodded he headed for the door. “I will be back in a jiffy” he said.
I waited for what seemed to be ages, looking constantly at my watch. It was already past the time scheduled for the press conference and the reporters would be restless. But they would wait, as usual
There was a knock on the door and the doctor came into the room with a big grin on his face. “Eureka! Eureka!” he shouted triumphantly. Behind him was a man who looked like a Sufi with a distinct religious air about him.
“This is the best Faki in town,” the doctor said, “and he will restore your missing Credibility for you.” He turned to the man and said, “Isn’t that so my good Faki with the Baraka?”
Before the man could answer the doctor turned back to me and whispered, “and to make it a tight case with some religious balance thrown into the bargain, I have also a most reputable priest waiting outside.”