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  • Empire of the White Rastas

    I remember.

    It was around the time I lost my parents that the first message came. It was midnight and I must have fallen asleep reading a paperback when I was awakened by a ping from my mobile. My bedside lamp was still on and the book I had been reading laid open on the floor.

    Instinctively, I remember reaching out for my mobile, flicking the message up as my eyes adjusted to the light. The words read “We are the King of Kings, the Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah, descendent of King Solomon & the Queen of Sheba.” Shocked & bewildered I can recall reading the text message repeatedly, “We are the King of Kings, the Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah, descendent of King Solomon & the Queen of Sheba”.

    Stunned, I let go of my phone and reached down grabbing for the book which had fallen off my bed.  Clumsily I allowed the book to slip out of my hands and it landed open on a photo of the last Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie taken in the 1940s. His fine features and dignified pose impressed me. In the same way as his charisma had impressed World leaders, when he stood up to fascism at the League of Nations after the Italian invasion.

    Alarmingly, my phone started to ping again. This time I shot out of bed shaking with fear imagining I had been dreaming. Emotionally I had been all over the place. In fact, I felt as if my body had been paralyzed with fright. Like Scrooge seeing Marley’s ghost in a Christmas Carol!

    Reaching for my phone that time had been mentally painful, yet his second message had been more personal and comforting “Do not be afraid, David, we are with you and through your voice the world will prepare for my return”. Trying to make sense of what was happening in my mind. I began to think that perhaps this was some sort of sick joke from a colleague? Embarrassingly now, I remember messaging back. “Whoever you are get a life, this isn’t funny”.

    The next text became more detailed it was then that I finally realized that this was no joke.

    “David do not fear for we are with you. We have chosen you to be my prophet, as my people will reject me.  Firstly, we must show forgiveness to the one who strangled me, a defenseless elderly man in his bed. Then the restoration of our most valuable treasure will be able to take place. Then finally when the Meskel bonfire the celebration of the True Cross is truthfully celebrated in New York will we reveal myself to the world”.

    After hearing that I can recall needing a drink! It was true I had studied the history of the Ethiopian Empire & the life of Selassie, the most recognized leader in African history. In truth, it was partly because of him that I became a journalist in the first place. But how could I accept that a dead man could be texting me in 2019! It sounded so unbelievable.

    True, I had been fascinated by the man for most of my life. The night I had received the first message I had been reading about the Emperor’s ordinary birth far from any Royal line of accession. In fact, his mixed-race mother had suffered a series of miscarriages and any unborn child was not expected to live. But a mysterious visit from a hermit to his father, the Governor of Harar revealed the first of many prophesy’s over his life.

    The holy man revealed not only that his wife was pregnant, and the healthy child would survive but as a young man would become the ruler of Ethiopia. This son would bestow greatness and pride on the nation making it renowned the world over. This projection was confirmed just a few years later when the Black American activist Marcus Garvey prophesized about Selassie, “Look to Africa, when a Black King shall be crowned there, the Day of Deliverance is at hand”.

    Against all odds Selassie emerged as regent and heir to lead this ancient empire, the only Black nation in the African continent to remain independent for almost sixty years.

    What was so incredible to me though was that the Emperor had been murdered during the Red Terror of 1975. So how could I believe that these texts on my mobile were from a dead man who had never even seen a computer!  A man who had regularly visited presidents & kings around the world and who was regarded as the ‘Father of Africa’ by men like Nelson Mandela, informing me, a simple journalist from London, that he was about to return to the world.

    Taking solace in alcohol was my way of making sense of the situation. How could I have shared such messages with Clara, or anyone close to me?

     

    It was not long before the alcohol began to take over my life. It was a coping mechanism at the time to deal with the stress of not knowing how to handle the messages. Clara stayed around as much as she was able to, but the impact of my drinking on our relationship proved too much for her and she walked out. I cannot blame her. I lost interest in life and had fast become a slob.

    Finally, one Monday morning I woke with a stinking headache while the sun shone  through my half-drawn curtains. I had slept past the alarm. The clock said it was ten when suddenly the phone rang. “Why me, why” I found myself saying.

    Awkward silence at the end of the phone. It was my boss at the BBC. He was not impressed! I think I explained the situation with my parents’ deaths and Clara leaving me while fighting back a combination of tears and an overwhelming exhaustion that crept over my entire body. I agreed to take a six-month sabbatical from my hectic role as an international news journalist with the BBC London.

    After that, all I can remember is booking the first package holiday I could find, flying from Heathrow airport and landing in Gibraltar the following night.

    Not sure why I headed to that beach below the light of the rock, and even though it was late, I was hungry. Merchant ships were anchored for the night and I reminisced about my father who had been a radio officer in the merchant navy in the late Sixties.

    There was only one restaurant on the beach, empty of patrons. Told to sit wherever I wanted, I quickly discovered the waiter spoke little English. I finally managed to order a steak. The restaurant’s owner was obviously a major Bob Marley fan for one of Marley’s albums played continuously in the background during the next few nights I remained the only night-time visitor.

    One song that really spoke to me was the Rastafarian “Redemption Song,” the words revealing a spiritual meaning with each lyrical line. Gradually, I began to write them down:  

          

      ‘Old Pirates yes they rob I.  Sold I to the merchant ships

      Minutes after they took I.   From the bottomless pit.

      But my hand was made strong.  By the hand of the Almighty.              

      We forward in this generation triumphantly.                                          

      Won’t you help to sing. These songs of freedom.                    

      Cause all I ever had. Redemption songs.

    It was only then that my eyes were opened to the truth. Haile Selassie’s pre-coronation name had been Ras (Duke) Tafari (name) or Rastafari which was where the Rastafarians or Rastas devolved their name. It was that night that I finally realized who the Emperor really was. And I had been chosen to create a movement social media mockingly labelled the ‘Empire of the White Rastas’.

    At last the realization as to why Selassie had been trying to speak to me became clear. I was to surrender to his will and accept the mission that he had prepared me. I was humbled. I had been chosen. His fatherly voice and wisdom always spoken with the royal ‘We,’ which he used when referring to himself begun to enchant me.

    Like the many students he had sent abroad to study, he was preparing me for something special, something huge. I was overwhelmed with happiness to be holding such a secret purpose.

    The next message led me to Zimbabwe. Being an international journalist, I had contacts in the region and the finances derived from the recent sale of my parent’s former home supplemented my sabbatical income.

     

    Mengistu had not been hard to find despite killing over a million of his own people including the Emperor during the decades of his evil Marxist dictatorship. It was not long before I found him living in luxury in a upscale suburb of the capital.

    I arranged to meet him under false pretenses using my BBC journalist ID. Mengistu’s mansion made it hard to imagine how this man had ever called himself a Marxist as the opulence around him was pure hypocrisy given his beliefs.  During our time together, I had passed him a handwritten message which His Majesty had texted me in Amharic. Mengistu looked shocked and his guards were soon lifting him into a chair.

    What had followed between us had been a long silence while he contemplated the message laid before him. Mumbling something in Amharic he had appeared bewildered. Eventually he began to regain his feet and disappeared into a back room. His guards nervously watched the clock. After a painfully long wait, he emerged with an ancient book which he reluctantly handed to me without any explanation except for the word “treasure.” His manner then became increasingly abrupt, signaling to me that it was time to leave.

    As soon as I was in the safe confines of a taxi, my examination of the book began. Surprisingly, it weighed not much and once the clasp had been opened, I noticed the book contained a secret compartment which had been cleverly hollowed out. The Emperor had spoken of a hidden treasure, which to most people would be financial. Financial theft had been the biggest lie Marxists used to dethrone the Emperor claiming he had hidden billions of pounds in Swiss bank accounts. The reality verified by the Head of the Ethiopian Bank is that the Emperor did not even have a bank account let alone steal money. In fact, he had given away his house in Bath, England to a charity and his second palace to a University.

    Within the secret compartment were no financial papers or bank details but a solid glass case. The sun reflected on its surface and within it lay a simple fragment of wood. What sort of treasure had Mengistu parted with? This felt like an anti-climax. Surely this could not hold a key to the future.

     

    I impatiently waited for another message from the Emperor. The idea of paying a visit to the former Empire of Ethiopia had become increasingly attractive. Ethiopia had only been a short plane ride away and messaging ahead through social media would create an instant following. The history of the Ethiopian Empire had been erased out of the Ethiopian education system for years. Any messages reporting the Emperor’s return would create an uproar amongst the youth who had been taught a romantic tale about Mengistu.

    During the flight into Addis Ababa, I looked at the mountain scenery, which was breathtaking. The natural landscape was abundantly green and lush in contrast to the years of media coverage in the West that focused on the nation’s famines. The enthusiastic welcome I expected proved to be pitiful as most supporters were too elderly to leave their homes. Only a dozen supporters turned out at the airport and these were soon engulfed by angry demonstrators.

    In this youth-oriented city, many citizens were visibly angered by the images of the Emperor that were being carried by his supporters. The contrast between this scene and those old “YouTube” films taken of the Emperor being driven past hundreds of prostrated subjects in his maroon Rolls Royce unnerved me. With most of the older generation either murdered or in exile, the Emperor’s paternalistic rule had been long forgotten. Crowds of young people shouted expletives as my group passed them, headed up the hill towards the beautiful grounds of the Jubilee Palace where the Emperor’s pet lions and cheetahs used to mingle with foreign guests.

    The Emperor had often asked to be driven across the city from this Palace in order to meet personally with his people. Without worrying about his own safety, he had regularly handed out cash and supported many through the bank who had fallen into debt. Yet years of Marxist indoctrination and lies erased these memories.

    The former palace had been built by the Emperor in the 1950s for housing visitors and was later his principle residence. Our arrival at the palace proved to be an eventful one. To my horror, the social media announcement backfired. Our welcome was heralded by police and government officials angry with our presence there. Humiliated like the Emperor when he was forcefully removed from office in the back of a VW Beetle, I was ordered to leave the country.

    Once the texts from the Emperor resumed, he sounded disappointed. “It was never my will for you to enter Addis Ababa for it was there that my people rejected me. Even that was not enough, my very bones were broken, and my body was hidden as part of their plan to eradicate my name from history. Yes, I may have come at the wrong time, but I am going to change the time”. 

    It felt too much and tearfully, I asked for his forgiveness and trust. His reply had been long and detailed. I had a direct order to take his message to the capital of the modern world, New York.

    There was no time to lose. I placed advance notices in all of New York’s papers since I was determined not to fail, this time. Incredibly within days, several thousand New Yorkers created a movement and I had not set a foot in the City yet! Even the dreaded social media showed a surprising interest. Their prior derogatory labeling provided me a celebrity status in the Big Apple. The ‘Empire of the White Rastas’ had been born.

     

    The initial implementation of my instructions from the Emperor had gathered a greater momentum. Bordering the plane for New York brought an excitement not known since Christmases as a child, a feeling of expectation and purpose which eluded me for many years.

    On the plane, I was seated next to a most stunning African beauty. Liya was a young Ethiopian of royal lineage. She heard of my mission and was intrigued by the messages. Our meeting was to be more significant than either of us would ever have imagine. During the long flight, she shared her knowledge of Ethiopian religion and history in a way no book could ever do.  Especially captivating was her explanation of the ‘Meskel,’ the ancient ceremony of the true cross celebrated by Ethiopians all over the world in the form of a bonfire, and previously led by the Emperor in Meskel Square, Addis Ababa when he was alive.

    Astonishingly, it was only then that it dawned on me what had been given to me by Mengistu. The hidden treasure that the Emperor had disclosed was indeed something beyond any fortune he could have given away. It was in fact the remains of the Cross of Christ!

    I carefully retrieved the book from my backpack placed under the seat in front of me while  Liya was asleep. I knew my visit to Mengistu must not be revealed or the trouble with the Ethiopian authorities.

    Inside the box encapsulated within a glass case was the tiny fragment of wood. Secretly holding it within my hands, my heart had been pounding at the realization of what was unravelling around me. History itself had seemed to be in my hands, an ordinary guy from London.

    Returning the box to my backpack, I became aware that I was being watched. Startled, quickly looking to my left, Liya seemed to be stirring. Had she seen the box? Who was she anyway? Was it just coincidence that she departed on the same flight and finagled a seat next to me?

    The captain then made the announcement to fasten seatbelts, for New York was on the horizon.

    As my taxi arrived at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel across from Central Park, I became   overwhelmed by size of the place, as well as my task ahead. Journalists had already got wind of my arrival since my notices had been running in the newspapers for almost a week. There were supporters waiting at the hotel and fighting back tiredness I gave an impromptu speech. These followers of Selassie flocked around me in the hotel lobby eager to gain the time and date for the Emperor’s return. I felt a little dizzy when out of the blue, Liya appeared. Clasping my hand firmly she led me to an elevator and guided me to my suite.

    The apprehensions I had about her instantly disappeared. I was grateful for her presence. She prepared me a drink and disclosed some disappointing news. I had been banned from attending the New York Meskel, the celebration of the True Cross convened by Ethiopians from around the world and formally led by the Emperor in Meskel Square when he was alive.

    This news rocked me to the core. It was hard to take in. The central focus of my mission was evaporating and I was shocked. Dizziness returned. Liya helped me into my bed, her gentle words eventually soothing away the shock. I cannot recall very much except from the passionate kiss she gave me before I slipped into a deep sleep.

    When I finally woke up it was evening, and pain racked my head. I tried to stand. My body swayed uncontrollably. Instinctively, I knew I had been drugged. My baggage laid scattered on the floor. I searched through the contents that were thrown all over the room. To my horror, the box that held the Cross was empty. The Cross gone.

    Liya!

    It had to be Liya. The thought was a hurricane sweeping through my mind. It kept flashing. Getting control of my panic, I became aware of weeping in the lounge outside of the suite’s bedroom. Moving cautiously towards the doorway, I saw Liya curled up in a ball on the floor in front of the sofa.

    Once she saw me, she sat up and with a pained expression started talking through a stream of tears. Her words shocked me even more than what I had experienced before coming to New York. Liya was an agent of the Ethiopian Secret Service.

    At some point, for reasons unknown to me, she fell in love with me. And at the same time, she changed her opinions of the Emperor and developed a genuine affection for him and his legacy. She shared that her family had suffered beyond words during the Red Terror when enemies were tortured and murdered every day. Her belief in the Prophesy consumed her thoughts and feelings since being handed her assignment. Her devotion and courage had surpassed my own.

    The danger we were now facing crept around us like an early morning fog. Agents would be arriving later for a pre-arranged meeting to retrieve the only remaining piece of the True Cross. Mengistu stole the Cross from the Emperor while he pleaded for his life. 

    Liya was now willing to risk her life for His Majesty. If the messages were correct, a Meskel bonfire must be held over the site of this segment of the True Cross for His Majesty to return. This would herald a golden age for the world, a new order of peace, prosperity, health and equality for all that would last for a thousand years.

    Liya created the plan. She needed to act as bait for the dark forces that would soon be upon us. Kissing me, I felt that the night might have been deeply romantic if terror did not engulf our spirits. Outside the lights of New York shone like the heavens. Taking the cross box and an item that could be used as a tool for digging, Liya headed out to Central Park. Her plan was to hide the box until it was safe to retrieve it. Having been prevented from attending the New York Meskel, we were desperate to create a safe focus point for the Emperors return.

    Watching from the balcony, I could make out the shadow of Liya entering the park. After what seemed to be an eternity, she finally appeared. Despite the danger she was in she took the time to look up and nodded to confirm that her mission was completed. That was the last time I saw her alive.

    After waiting some time, I took an elevator to the lobby. As I exited, I immediately noticed another elevator had been jammed open. To my horror, I saw Liya’s legs splayed across the entrance to the opened elevator. As a horrendous panic set in, a multitude of medics hovered over her as a pool of blood seeped down the grate between the lobby’s floor and the end of the elevator’s step-off. A knife wound was visible across her throat.

    Another wave of panic overwhelmed me. I had to go into hiding.

    Knowing that they could eventually trace me through my mobile, I made a final call to the Emperor. His reply was painful.  He stated that I should not have visited Ethiopia. This action was my mistake. I knew I had to disappear. Leaving the hotel, I walked to the nearest river and threw my phone into the darkened waves. I made sure I had the paper with the notes of the Emperor’s last message.

    I sat on the steps of New York’s central library writing the full story, all my experiences since that night when my mobile tinged over and over until I answered. I addressed the envelope to a Lincolnshire UK address given to me by the Emperor. My role was over. His Majesty needed to contact another of his subjects. My only instruction was to tell the UK recipient of my mailing of my story to a New York magazine and to await the Emperor’s messages.

    In order to save the world, Rastafari must return for all people. And this story had to be published, or my sacrifices would have been in vain. After posting the envelope, I decided to surrender myself to the authorities. They will blame me for Liyas death and more than likely, after a trial, place me in a padded cell for my own protection.

     

    They will think they have silenced me; that they have prevented his return. I pray the world will know otherwise…

     

     

    About The Author

    Clive Uckfield

    Clive Uckfield is married to a Greek Cypriot and they have two wonderful sons. He has travelled to many places around the world and lived all over the UK. While working at the RAF College Cranwell Lincolnshire, his aim in writing stories, poetry, and exploring photography is to bring happiness to others through his imagination and creativity. In 2019, Uckfield won a major photography competition and his photo, ‘Metheringham skies remembered’ appeared in Country Life Magazine and is displayed in the café of the International Air Museum. His fiction story in this issue was written in the form of a Rastafarian fairy tale/prophesy. He mentions, “The Emperor Haile Selassie is still as loved and respected around the world as he was when he ruled Ethiopia, despite decades of attempting to eradicate his memory through lies.” Clive’s latest  story “The Last Chogyal of New York” is finally being put to paper after a visit to Nepal some years ago. He quips, “So watch out aaduna readers.