It was the end of empire, and the last remnants of the former colonies were just islands dotted around the globe, a handful of places with a handful of people. The empire had been gone for a long time, if truth be told. It was better that those places were independent now, that they could make their own mistakes. The history books are already full enough of the mistakes made by those running empires, those abuses of power and acts of violence carried out to ensure the continuity of the status quo. The establishment were good at hiding the horrors, but not so good that the public weren’t aware of the worst abuses. Eventually. Turning machine guns on crowds of spectators seemed so despotic now, but less than a generation ago, politicians and generals, made speeches about making omelettes by breaking eggs
It had taken me a long time to track down the servant’s family. They had been employed by my grandmother, who had hidden behind the facts. She always said that she loved these people, but really what she loved was having servants and being served. The servants had, off course, become dependent on her wealth, and work was hard to find in these far flung parts, far away from towns and cities. She would walk into the local villages, looking for people, or sometimes they would go to the house she had had built. Gardeners, cooks, maids, she employed a staff, from various families at the beginning, then from one family, girls, boys, adults, all working for her. Once they had dipped into the pool, it became difficult to get out.
I had searched for the family using the internet at first, then I went to that faraway place, train boat, plain, and finally jeep, way off the tarmac roads, until we got into the district where the house was. I asked at the inn if it was possible to stay, and from there, I wandered around the district, stopping at what remained of the empires administrative outposts. A mayor’s office here, a bigger town hall over there, and even walking up the marbled steps into the columned building that was the viceroy’s palace. Of course, I’d had to pass through these steps; it was like visiting your family. With my status and wealth, the etiquette meant showering the local infrastructure with raise and bribes, even if it made me bloat.
But the slow drip of information came, and I found the family. The servant’s family.
Of course, the story was that I had come back to try to rebuild the house, renovating the place that nature had probably reclaimed. How like an Empire builder I had become, showering people with what for them seemed like riches, but for me were trinkets. I bought people’s opinions, freedom. If we blame people for that, we need to blame them for accepting the trinkets, and for giving them. How easy it is to say this with a full stomach, with good health, with no fear. I had persuaded the old woman and her son to come with me to show me the way to the old house. She was thin, grey, her worried eyes dark, wrinkled; her face showed life’s struggle, and her son was tall, dark and handsome, as the fortune teller would say. We bought some provisions, and I, paid the boy and his mother what I thought would be a month’s wages locally. Their eyes, of course, lit up. They asked some questions, of course, about what would happen once at the house, and I explained that if they didn’t want to stay, then I would bring them back to their village, and they could keep the money
It took days to get to the house. The jeep took us to the local river, and then we transferred the equipment onto three small boats, and carried on into the wilderness. We camped under the stars, after having found a place to tie up the boats. I made a fire, and cooked a supper from the provisions I had bought; I and the boy set up the tents. The woman cooked, and we set a perimeter around the camp of thorns. There were wild animals around; we could hear the noses of savagery echoing through the canopy. But nature is cruel, and kind. Perhaps we could organize a watch; I sat next to the fire, my hand on the rifle, and took first watch. 4 hours each, it seemed fair, the boy and I would take turns standing watch. Tomorrow we could catch up the sleep on the boats
We survived the first night, blinking into the sunlight, and waded into the cool water, pushing out the boats. The scenery was spectacular greens, browns, flashes of colour as wild birds and insects darted in an out of the luxurious vegetation. Winding down stream. We slept on the boat, feeling the sun on our faces, the shadows flitting over us.
Somehow there was no need to talk, every need to speak.
Time swept by, like the current of the river, sweeping us somewhere else, where we are changed. For good or bad, time erodes us, changes us, creates us, we are shaped by the incessant drips from the roof of the universe, transformed into stalagmites or stalactites over the decades.
I went to the big city, retracing my steps. I would need an architect, a builder, and supplies. I would have to pay to get workers to come and renovate the house, recreate those lost gardens.
I also went to the village, and spoke to the mayor. I offered land from the estate to people, to work as they liked, in perpetuity. If they wanted to change its use, they could ask, and the mayor or the local chief would decide. I also created a cooperative business, where the land would be worked by tenants, but the produce could be sold and the money used to build schools, a doctor’s surgery, roads and all those golden fruits. Perhaps I could help those at the bottom climb out from that sticky goo.
The people came, ready to work. It took over two years to rebuild and redecorate the house, but such was my wealth that I didn’t really notice the flow of money. I employed people, building, working, renovating, teaching and curing; People had started to come back to the village, and a shop had opened. A baker, a butcher, vegetable stalls. People came into to the village, with animals or harvests to sell, and the population increased. A well had been built, and then water treatment, pipes, and infrastructure. A small dam provided, finally, electricity, without too much impact on the environment. Babies were born, families grew, and the house grew. I opened the house as a tourist attraction, its vivid history and reconstruction attracted rich people, and a hotel appeared in the village. The village had become bigger, more complex. And with that, came decisions, using police, collecting taxes, maintaining infrastructure. The connections to other places had become easier, but it was still a struggle to get to places. Growth brought problems too. This was the moment to develop, rather than grow. Creating an empire again, that would be a mistake.
Every day, we would gather, and have a parliament. People could and did contribute, ideas, discussions. What was best for the community was decided, for good or bad, by the villagers.
I started to relax. This was the first mistake.
The house slowly took shape, deliveries of wood, concrete, tiles, paint, all came. Sand and cement, metal grids, roof tiles and flooring, all came in. Out here, that took time, and transport was slow and torturous. Products for roads and water infrastructure were carried u by locals on the back of pack animals. Repairing the road would make it easier to bring in machines, and that would take time, as the road had to be built by hand.
People formed communities, tried to protect those things they had acquired. Worker’s association sprang up, as businesses got bigger. The village had become a town, and was moving towards becoming a city. Grandma’s money was invested in many of the business, as well as the farms. But only a small percentage of the money. Money makes money, so they said, and the banker’s advice was to invest. Slowly, the companies looked to avoid paying workers too much, or paying too much in taxes. They devised ways of moving money into other businesses, other countries, or declared a lower turnover, cooking books and sales figures, inventing service provider companies to do so. The taxes not paid meant that services in the community started to suffer. People couldn’t afford to send their children to school, as their salary was too low. Or pay for the doctor, or dentist. Diseases came into the village as the population grew, and as connections improved. Because companies paid little, then little tax could be collected. New taxes, targeting businesses were voted by the parliament. But companies just offshored again, moving funds with the click of a mouse. What was needed was a business tax for those big companies to ensure that when they used our population, our roads and our infrastructure that they contributed to it. Grandma’s fortune was slowly being eroded, by time. I would have to ensure that the pool stayed full whilst making sure everyone could drink from it. This was the challenge. Everyday, people would come to the house with a problem, or a project.
Build a new school, buy new equipment, and contribute to new services. Very few people were turned away, but I ensured that I had a view of the companies and projects that came my way. Money came back into the house, like sowing grain and harvesting wheat
As new people came into the area, they came with different ideas, new ideas, and different attitudes. I decided to organize acclimatization workshops for newcomers, explaining how our community worked, welcoming them and encouraging them. I turned these workshops over to the population, encouraging newcomers to get involved.
The companies set up by grandma’s wealth were run for the community by the community. Then, the villagers decided to sell them for money, money to invest, and so that people could pay fewer taxes. This was voted, much to my dismay, and big companies bought the business and outsourced, moving production and wealth elsewhere, and not contributing to the local economy.
The village started to lose cohesion. It got bigger, became o town, a city. The once ideal vision had become diluted, corrupted. The police now ran the workshops, preventing newcomers from integrating, and the fascists took control, persecuting those different. The religious groups tried controlling the population, this was a new idea, from outside. In my folly the empire had been reborn, and now the grip of power, once held by all was held by a few. People had become richer than I, more powerful. I was the oddity, in my domain. As much as I could, I tried to ensure fairness, justice and equality on the land and in the businesses I still owned. I decided to buy shares in those businesses sold by the community where possible, bringing the wealth back to the town. I would have to rebuild the town as well as the village, and many in powerful positions wouldn’t like that. At first then, I kept the acquisitions secret. All the employees were owners of the businesses, and sworn to secrecy. This socialist dream wouldn’t last long in the fires of capitalism.