I saw him standing, there, looking like a king. The crazy man, “le fou”. Kilao is the name in Vili, Lingala and Kitouba, but everyone just calls them “le fou”, those people who have gone off the edge of sanity, and roam the Congolese cities, naked and barefoot, sometimes dressed in rags, with long wild hair, matted into rastas, their bodies caked with dirt and mud.
We were driving to the seashore, all windows down in Franck’s taxi, and we were going fast and cautiously at the same time, on the road, paved but covered in sand, blown in from the beach.
Le fou was just standing there, unusually tall for a Congolese man. Tall and strong, muscular, at least 6 feet tall if not taller. He had very broad shoulders, and strong legs. He was standing on a pile of dusty trash, facing the sun, slowly setting to the west. He was standing camped firmly on his barefooted legs, wide apart.
His head was raised, his chin up, and his eyes were shut tight, I saw his nostrils flare as if he was taking in the seabreeze, and he looked perfectly content.
He was wearing a greenishbrownishblack industrial tarp that he’d fashioned into a sort of coverall with suspenders. He looked like one of those characters from Jessica Lange photographs of the dustbowl. Where’s our Jessica Lange, where’s the one who will chronicle the arrival into the abyss of poverty from where you can only rise? Where’s our Jessica Lange who will take pictures of the humble and show them as kings? For now only my words will mention this “fou” who looked saner than all of us put together yesterday afternoon, gripping firmly on the suspenders of his tarp-overall, smelling the seabreeze, feeling the warmth of the setting sun on his eyelids, totally free.
I have no idea what was going on in his mind, but he looked so regal, so free from everything, so strong, firmly planted on the dusty hard ground, that I craned my neck and put my chin down on the back seat to watch him disappear behind me, as we headed to the ocean. I hope I look like him one day to a person who’s trying to figure things out. He made me feel like I’d gotten a little closer to some sort of answer. Or at least that the journey was a worthy one. Why he made me feel that way, I have no idea, but I’m grateful for it. I learned a long time ago not to question things that happen. A lot of things are gifts that don’t look like it.