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For All Nails #51E: Victoria's Secret (Part 5)

by Jonathan Edelstein

Nairobi, Victoria
3 April 1973

The fallen sign swirled in the wind at Victoria Madoka's feet.

She knew what it was even before she looked at it; an invitation to tomorrow's demonstration. The signs seemed to go up as fast as the police could take them down, calling the black people of Nairobi to leave their jobs and take to the streets. Calling them to demonstrate for her freedom.

The very thought felt strange to Madoka. When had she become the cause? If the case against her were dismissed, how would that make black Victorians any more equal? What unjust laws would it repeal?

There were black people being arrested even now, for putting up signs like the one that lay at her feet. They would no doubt be tried and convicted, and they would no doubt be sentenced to longer prison terms than she was facing. Where were the demonstrations for them? Was their freedom worth less than hers?

What is the VNC trying to accomplish? The organization had never cared much for black citizens -- even those who, like Madoka, represented them in court. To the VNC, blacks who had chosen citizenship over struggle were little better than traitors. Now, though, they were taking to the streets for one -- and they were pulling out all the stops.

The demonstration had been called for Wednesday, the middle of the work week, and it would wind through Nairobi's main commercial district. No doubt the VNC intended to teach the whites how much the city depended on its black secretaries and clerks, and how much its business would be disrupted if they were on the streets instead of their jobs. Oh, yes, it would teach them that -- but it would also scare them, and frightened people don't make concessions.

Maybe that's what they want. The VNC had always been dissatisfied with its lack of support among the citizens and second-class blacks. Maybe this demonstration was a message for them -- a message that all the elections in the world couldn't change things, and that only revolution could.

Lessons like that weren't often learned. Many other revolutionary movements had tried to provoke repression in order to sway the middle classes to their side, and they'd usually been only half-successful. They nearly always succeeded in provoking the repression -- and the middle class nearly always concurred in it, for fear of those lower than they. FN1

There had been demonstrations in Victoria before, even riots, but none of them had produced anything good. Neither would this one.

Victoria Madoka would not be at the demonstration. She was due in court, to represent one of the people who had been arrested for putting up signs, and she didn't intend him to go to gaol because his advocate was absent.

He was the cause. She was not.

Empire Square
Nairobi, Victoria
4 April 1973

There may have been twenty thousand people on the street, or there may have been thirty. The demonstrators spilled from Victoria Avenue, in the heart of Nairobi's business district, onto the neighboring streets, and horns blared as traffic struggled to find its way around them.

Armed riot police were everywhere, but thus far they had done nothing more than mutter curses and glower at the protesters. The demonstration was quite illegal, but the police were under orders to minimize the disruption to business, and the chaos that would result from violent suppression would be much greater than that caused by the march itself. Without saying a word to each other, the VNC and the police seemed to have reached an understanding; they would stay on the main road, and the police would leave them alone. The police intelligence analysts were on the rooftops with their binoculars and cameras marking out the leaders, but that reckoning would come later.

Then they reached Empire Square.

Nairobi was a planned city of broad, tree-lined avenues, designed by colonists as a showcase of the promise and progress of a new century. The center of the city, surrounded by public buildings built in the Treasury style, FN2 was a half-kilometer-wide square that enclosed a public park. At the center of the park was a reflecting pool that surrounded a statue of Queen Victoria. In the original city plan, the plaza had been named Victoria Square -- but, as luck would have it, it was finished in the same year that Victoria won its independence as part of the United Empire. FN3 Despite war and privation, it remained the showplace of the city, and on any ordinary day it was filled with citizens enjoying a respite from business.

This was not an ordinary day.

There were others already in the square when the marchers entered -- police, but also a mostly-white crowd of counter-demonstrators. Most of them were unemployed immigrants from the Gold Republics, and many were drunk. As the demonstrators marched on, they shouted racial epithets and threw eggs; the police watched it happen as silently as they watched the march.

Someone threw a bottle.

Later, the government would blame the demonstrators for provoking the incident, but nobody would ever be sure which side the bottle had come from. The only certain thing was what happened next; the two sides charged each other in a blur of fists and impromptu clubs. The counter-demonstrators, outnumbered, reeled backward, falling back behind the police line. The pressure of the crowd continued to push the demonstrators forward. Some of them began overturning squad cars and attacking the policemen.

The police panicked.

Somewhere, a gunshot was heard, and then another. A demonstrator fell to the ground, clutching his chest. He was trampled by the crowd, and died where he fell.

The machine gun nest in front of the Parliament building opened up.

The demonstrators began to scatter, running frantically away from the hail of bullets. The crowd behind them blocked their way. Some were cut down by machine-gun fire, others were crushed. In minutes, the square was littered with broken signs and broken bodies.

The gunshots continued until very late in the day.

Kibera, Victoria
4 April 1973

From where Victoria Madoka stood at the window of her apartment, she thought she could see the fires burning. Behind her, the vitavision played unnoticed, with the news announcer estimating more than two hundred dead. An hour ago, Prime Minister Patten had promised stern measures to deter future riots, and vowed to bring to justice the black revolutionaries who had started the violence. Scenes from the square played over and over as the newscaster described the horror.

They died in my name. The demonstrators had been there for her, and it was for her that they had faced the guns. They had died for a false cause, a distraction, a single case that meant nothing to the future of black Victoria.

Damn them. She couldn't deny the marchers' courage, but this day had accomplished nothing. It would only make things worse, even for those who had not lost their mothers or sons. Or husbands...

She had believed in demonstrations once, when she was at university. She had met her husband at one, and their romance had blossomed at rallies and political meetings. That was before the pass law, and the march of '59...

That had also led to Empire Square, and that was where it had gone wrong. She had been holding Michael's hand when the bullet hit him; she had seen him ripped from her and stretched lifeless in the street.

She had been married six months. She had never married again.

How many others had been widowed today? How many children had lost their parents because of her?

They died in my name. In my name...

Forward to FAN #51F (5 April 1973): Victoria's Secret (Part 6).

Return to For All Nails.