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.
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.