General Brother

I observed my brother’s rise to power during the revolution of the city.
I saw how he allowed it to happen.
I saw the toll it took on him, spiritually and physically.
And I forgave him for allowing it to happen.

In the beginning it was just a rumour on the streets.
People were hurrying past, expressions of determination on their faces, looking straight ahead.

We stopped a friend of ours. It took him a moment to recognise us. And when he answered he was looking not at me but at my brother.
Since he was my younger brother, I put it down to my brother being closer in age to him than I was. He named names that we both knew.
He said that they were all there and that we should join them.

There was very little traffic, even on the motorway, apart from a car, which reversed towards us at top speed on the fly-over. After that we proceeded with caution.
A stretch of road 20 metres long was missing.
My brother was driving. He brought us right up to the edge.

We got out and looked down to see a tablet of steel-reinforced concrete lying across the lanes below.
We made a U-turn and headed back, ready to warn oncoming traffic that the city was now cut off.

The forces had occupied a single floor of an office block. I parked the car and when I got up I saw how well my brother fitted in.
The office-booths had been cleared to one side. A long pile of swivel-chairs, desks and modular wall-panels lay in front of the windows. Computer and telephone wires trailed over the top like spider-webs.

Business seemed to be conducted by word of mouth. Runners bearing messages came and went in relays.
At the centre of the room stood a small crowd. The deputies who formed the outside layer were in constant movement. They milled around the interior leadership in a figure-of-eight dance.

My brother simply remained still. The group enveloped him. On either side of his head, I could see mouths were working.
He nodded, laughed and passed an occasional comment.
Whatever he said brought the central leadership closer and closer. And soon, he disappeared from view.

I withdrew out of the line of sight of the group, which was directed back towards the lifts, specifically to their numbers.
Eyes would fix on the face of the messenger as he or she approached and, once they had their orders, flick back to the numbers, to the face or faces revealed as the next set of lift-doors opened.

I went to the windows.
I got as close as I could by standing on a chair that was part of the barricade made from office furniture.
I could see down into the street, which was full.
Amongst the vehicles stuck in gridlock, between the cars and motorcycles and in the small gaps left around the buses and trucks, I watched the word spread.

Couriers on cycles and on foot carried the news.
Still messengers kept arriving and being dispatched.
The deputies circulated in their bee-like dance in and out of the crowd and my brother was somewhere inside.

I left him there.
I left my car, certain that I would be able to collect it when things had settled down.

The reforms did not effect me much, apart from an improvement in the quality of public broadcasting, which I enjoyed, and the inability to travel, which I did not.

The streets were quiet and then a public address system would break in with loud words, and more words.
People spoke more quietly and gently for the insulting barrage of voices. You could be anywhere, in a public toilet, when a speech would suddenly issue from a speaker above your head.

Three months had passed when I got the call.
It was my brother.
He wanted to meet.

He suggested a time and a place, and I was there early. But I didn’t see him arrive.
I called from the shadow of the bus-stop.
He smiled and we walked together.

He said that he wanted to visit the gardens, that he hadn’t been outside for a while and he wanted to feel the breeze and see the greenery.
We went in.
We climbed the hill in the sunshine and stood on the grass.
He wouldn’t sit down.

When he laughed, he didn’t laugh outright. It was as if there was something uncomfortable in him.
And he kept saying how much he was enjoying being away from his position.
Position?’ I asked.

They’re making me a leader,’ he said.
He shrugged, ‘One of the five.’

A week or so more passed and I received an invitation to attend a party.
Anyone would have recognised the address: it was the office-block where it had started.
Now the whole building was theirs, or ours, or whatever it was.

Public transport was better too, so I I caught one of the new trams that went through the inner city.
I owned a single suit and, combing my hair, I’d thought, ‘What am I doing this for?’

It was the same except there were doormen checking the guests, but only for an invitation.
It seemed very relaxed.
The lift smelt of cologne and there was a boy on a stool in a little red uniform. He took us to the roof.

I’d had no idea this was here. It was a proper roof garden with a pool.
I heard the music but paid it no attention.

Down one side of the pool stood all the leaders with their deputies.
For the first time we could see who they were.

I joined the queue of guests who were making their way along the line shaking hands.
I was given a drink.

My brother stood exactly in the middle, and I recognised the people on either side of him.
They were not our friends and I couldn’t believe they were friends to him now.
In the past they had cheated and lied and betrayed us both.

When he eventually saw me, when the samba-line had got that far, he gave me a smile and stepped forward.
We hugged.

I tried to catch the eye of the deputies over his shoulder. They wouldn’t meet mine.
They looked away, like the cowards I knew they were.