The Emperor’s New Hose


Stacy Hardy


The President of the Republic is having a shit day. He has the feeling something is missing. Somehow he has forgotten, let something slip. The feeling has been with him for some time now. Since morning. God knows it starts badly. He wakes up late, sweating in his new bed. Still dressed in his silk shirt, Italian boxers.

The fault of the Russians undoubtedly. The previous night they kept him up, had insisted, another drink, a not-so-clear cocktail of vodka, palinka and rakiya, which he was forced to swallow. It went on and on - a mad pact! Something resurrected from the old party days, cold war, "the struggle" era. The endless toast: to the revolution, liberation, to glasnost, to capitalism! And to Lenin, of course, rotting in his tomb, dead, brainless, longing for the air, longing for freedom...

He frowns, tries to remember, the song they were singing? An old communist anthem. He taps a rhythm with his fingers. How did it go? He racks his brain and tries dah-dum-dah-dit-dah. Not that way, damn it. He tries again - dat-dat - through his alcohol soaked brain - dit-dit - the mists of times. He closes his eyes. He gropes for the tune in the dark - dit-dah -

It is the phone that wakes him. Has he forgotten!? The party congress? His big speech!  Of course not! Already he is out of bed, jumping from the bunk, swaying. On his toes. Big feet slap the tiles. In the mirror his cheeks are swollen, eyes sunken. He will feel better after a shower. The narrow cubicle that promises security, enclosure. The walls, the tiles, the ceiling. The shining gold faucets. How gently the water murmurs, swirls and swills down the drain. The alcohol leaving his system, only a residue, a dim feeling that there is something, something he ought to be doing....

Even as he drinks his first cup of coffee, a voice nagging him.... Darling you're not... He waves his wife away. He has no time for her attentions today, still in her slippers, her hair on end, how she always fusses with his food, his clothes, ticking off his preferences (tea or coffee? toast or cereal? briefs or boxers?) He slams down the mug, walks resolute, ignoring her voice, behind him, scarcely able to keep up, darling, darling wait your.... slams the door, so hard the glass quivers, quakes in his exit. 

His office is in chaos. Everyone waiting. They crowd the door. All a jostle, all pushing for his attention: Mr President! Mr President! The pervading urgency of their voices. No! Not today. He needs to focus, the party congress, the big speech - the piles of documents that scatter his desk. Double typed, that large font, well spaced. He plops down. Settles giant arse into black leather. Wiggles himself comfortable. Arranges his body, its great girth, big fingers clumsily shuffling the paper.

The first page. Those swimming words. There are always so many of them. Each one has to be said, slowly and clearly as they have taught him, enunciated, the names, the dates, the allusions and metaphors. Gibberish! What do they matter? What do they prove? What can all that speech be used for? It’s talk, not money; can’t be deployed to build dams, nor power stations. Once paid, it can only be left there to rot, read and mocked by future generations. The same sentences endlessly repeated but always with some modification. Now with some filling out, now a little thinner, now simplified, darker and denser. The pauses that are included, the double slash: breathe here.

He exhales, puts down the paper. Rings for his coffee. A button that buzzes, conjures the secretary, scooting about her on those legs, the taut in the calf muscles, the cleft in her breast, the round mounds that she sometimes lets him fondle. Today they unnerve him. Somehow recall that thing he has forgotten. It hovers there, within reach, but he can't touch it, can't quite get his finger to grip.....

His secretary breaks his thoughts. Slips into the space between him and the thing. Is everything all right sir? His eyes moving slowly, away from her breasts, up to the hand on his shoulder. The hand that lays the tray, pours the coffee and milk. Fresh croissants! The pastry still steaming. No, he pushes it away. I don't feel like any. Really you need to - No! He has become angry. Upsets the cup, stabs the knife in the butter. Leave me!

He returns to the speech. To be delivered at the coming Congress, Thursday, September 16, 11 am. Shit, he’s already late. The car is waiting. Its shiny black paintjob, chrome hubcaps reflecting, leave him blinking, an unfamiliar feeling, like getting stripped of his face or as if it hadn't been his to begin with. Around him the ministers swarm. Advisers, generals, aides, all in chorus: our Chief, our Benefactor, the father of the new nation! The car with its tainted armour plate windows. They all climb in. The secretary next to him. She crosses her legs, makes a fold, takes out a pencil and scratches across a scrap of paper. Don't forget to thank the Russians. She has written out their names, whole words without vowels, impossible letters. A bloody nightmare, he mutters to himself, stares out of the window, seeing only himself, an enormous mirrored bald head...  

It is the biggest congress yet! Entering, the audience is shaking hands; they hug, kiss, the dignitaries sweep jackets up in their hands, gather skirts, they sit, plop! The Minister of Police, a nod to history: a grip on the white fedora's brim, so jazzy! a little bow; Minister of Education, that damp glistening smile. State Security, cold and immobile, his head raised - the wire of his headset suspended, lifeless from his ear. On his other side, the Foreign Minister, constantly taking notes, a leather bound, luxury notebook. The Minister of Defence chatting carelessly with the mighty Minister for Industry, others from the upper echelon, clerks of the Cabinet, their entourages.

The Youth League President breaks through the crowd. Elders should sit first, but the young cadres these days, really! thrown respect to the dogs, the way they push forward. A line of yellow t-shirts bearing the President’s face. Fill up the first four rows, the seats nearest the stage. Greetings ring out, comrade, compadre. Everyone ready, waiting. All part of the ceremony. Sometimes for hours. They fill the time with songs from the old days, the hey days, the exile years. They stand together and sing with one mouth. On the stage, colours of the party, the curtain and their fringe - tints of crimson and gold. Finally the drapery is thrown open, a thick rope of gold swings loose, the Minister in the Presidency flicking the light switch, on and off then on again, tapping the mic



The room buzzes in response. The moment that they have all been waiting for.

Honourable speaker;

Chairperson of the national council of provinces;

Deputy speaker of the national assembly and deputy chairperson;

Deputy president of the republic;

Honourable chief justice and all esteemed members of the judiciary;

Governor of the reserve bank;

Special international guests;

Former political prisoners and veterans...

He begins well. Voice, clear and resolute. A faint murmur. He silences them, Compatriots and friends, we are meeting against the backdrop of great turbulence... it is worse by page two. The economy is in tatters. The numbers fly through his mind like the balls in a lottery machine. He skips the list of economic indicators. The page after that. International affairs. Disaster looms in the form of deteriorating relations. The page is starting to blur, letters morph into obstacles, hazards and pit-falls to be avoided. His voice wavers. He stops and begins again. Tries to keep control against the impeding chaos. By page three it is useless. The documents are ruined, mixed up; headings, conclusion, and decisions mismatched, buried, lost. He stops and starts again.

We must work faster, harder and smarter; each word stretches out for fifteen minutes, losing its verbal form and becoming a sound, a sigh, a breath of air. He loses the place. He tries to find it with his finger. He blinks. His head is too hot. Sweat breaks on the dome, it accumulates, pours down his forehead. He reaches for his hanky, right pocket, can't find it, left, no, neither the pocket nor the hanky. His hand comes away empty. He holds it up.

The crowd is silent. The pause grows. It overflows into irritated movements, rustled skirts, the creaking of bodies, clatter that fills the space reserved for his voice. Everyone is waiting. The security men, uneasy, circling like hyenas. The portraits of the Party’s founding members looking down on him, veiled contempt, faces tightening in their skulls, their eyes becoming round and bulged, ready to jump their sockets.

It is a clear voice that breaks the silence. Soft but powerful, it comes from the back. Then louder, resolute, a shout almost. The crowd turns, straining their necks, the dim auditorium, one cannot see clearly. A flashbulb pops. There! It is a young cadre. A boy. A nobody. Rank and file card carrying member. He stands. He vaults forward.  His finger rises. Dances. It stops in the air. Stops to rest in the president corner. It accuses: But look, the President, he hasn’t got anything on!

The crowd’s head follows his finger, a gasp, the room inhaling. It’s true, yes! the president’s naked chest, protruding belly! His varicose veined legs! Those bulbous knees! The room is in uproar. Security men emerge out from covers and hidey holes. They charge the crowd. Head for the boy. His offending finger. Someone shouts, get it, quick, disarm him!

On stage the President stands. Suddenly stopped, nailed to the spot. His mind spins in multiple directions. He begins to turn, casts about in panic. His flight intercepted by security personnel. One of his personal body guards. The man's face. Dark glasses. He blinks. He sees himself reflected in the convex plastic lenses. Sees his reflection remembering something. The thing he has forgotten. He sees himself squint, focusing. Accidentally he has raised a hand to his breast. His nipple is a hard knot. It points back at him. It accuses: the enormous presidential arse, the wilted dick. How cruel and purple it looks. A sudden stab of panic. His Adam's apple bulges.  Skin of his neck stretched taut. His heart dropping down, down, endlessly down. Feet reaching for the bottom —the floor, the red carpet....

No! Something deep inside him resists. This is no time to back down, to back out. Toward death, toward the chasm! With lips trembling, eye-lids swelling up, his rear rises. It turns. It faces the room. Its gaze traversing every member. It spreads and takes a breath. There is strength! And without pause he begins to dance, slowly, deliberately, bent legs stretched wide, his gigantic thighs rise up, his feet slap down. Dit-dah-dit-dah-dit-dah-dit-dah. He recalls the Russian rhythm perfectly this time. He gives himself over to the beat. His belly wobbles. His trembling fingers. They tug on the swinging Presidential penis. The dick doesn't disappoint. On cue it rises. It grows and grows. It outsizes itself. Look! It is a quill or an arrowhead, the spear of the nation; the weapon with which he fought for freedom. The blade that battles the lion, the elephant, the leopard, all four-legged animals. It is a knife. Does it stab? It slices the air! It swings left and then right.

The vibration releases a wave of applause from the crowd. On its feet!  They clap. Stamp their feet. The penis leans hungrily forward. The applause feeds it. It grows some more. Swollen! Prodigious! It bulges then steadies. Steeling itself against the crowd, it takes aim. An AK47! No, wait, it is a missile! Barrroom!… straight ahead! An explosion! An eruption! Such precision, it spurts forth. Word after word. Word perfect. Verse in a steaming milk - it rains upon the people. A new beginning... the seed of something, can you feel it? Even now it is gestating, it is growing, gaining momentum, fingers and toes, tiny limbs, legs! His feet are on the ground, his heart strong, listen, from this time on, I shall for fight: freedom from oppression, truth from corruption, fraternity, love! flying forth....

The people are silenced. Frozen, as if they have been shot. Bodies crumble back, collapsed down in seats. They sigh in admiration. They wait. On stage the President is panting. His penis suddenly quiet, subdued after sexual triumph, sated, it swings slowly between his legs.