‘You can go in,’ said the secretary, without looking up from her cell phone. I knocked on the door, opened it and stepped inside. There, sitting on a sofa in a vast office was a little old lady, but with fat thighs bursting out of a Zondwa skirt.

‘Yes?’ she said, as she peered above a newspaper headline saying Cholera closes three more universities, ‘How can I help you?’

‘I’m Kalaki from The News Diggers,’ I said. ‘You had agreed to be interviewed.’

‘Oh, in that case,’ she said, ‘I shall have to occupy my official chair so that you can receive an official statement from me in my capacity as Professor Cholera Cluo.’ So saying she heaved her rear off the sofa and planted her stubby little feet into a perilously high pair of high heels.

‘You go and sit on that little wooden chair over there,’ she directed me as she began to laboriously climb the twenty steps to her high professorial throne, grunting continuously from the pain of her arthritic knees.

Then she looked down on me disdainfully. At that distance her beady little eyes looked like two little marbles rolling around in the two big saucers of her owl-like spectacles, and a bright red splash of lipstick made her mouth look like an open sore. A tiny frightening monster.

‘Now, Kalaki, you can appreciate that, as Minister of Elevated Education, I am now in a position to make pronouncements that are not open to dispute by any lesser mortals situated in more humble positions further down the educational pyramid. Please think carefully before you ask me your first question.’

‘I just wondered why you closed three universities. Was it because the students were protesting against non-payment of their meal allowances? Or because these universities were vulnerable to the spread of cholera?’

‘You don’t seem to realize, Kalaki, that I am not any ordinary professor, I am Professor of Microbiology. My eyes are like two powerful microscopes. When I go into an infected area I can see cholera microbes running everywhere, just the same way as ordinary people see rats and cockroaches. That is why I’m known as Professor Cholera Cluo, because I can see all the clues of cholera.

‘My question was simply to find out whether the universities were closed because of protesting students or because of dangerous microbes.’

‘Look, Kalaki, you see these as two different explanations because of your inability to reason scientifically.’ As she waved her agitated little arms her head seemed to be swelling but her body seemed to be shrinking. ‘Whether the university is a once healthy body which has fallen into morbidity because it is being attacked by microbes or by students is neither here nor there. From a medical point of view the remedy is the same – isolate the diseased body until the disruptive elements have been eliminated.’

‘So you see students as microbes that are infecting the university?’

‘From the elevated position of this professorial chair, it makes little difference whether it is microbes or students that are disrupting society, since both forms of primitive organism are equally far removed from the level of biological complexity and intellectual sophistication that constitutes the advanced brain of a Professor of Microbiology.’

Either her chair was going higher and higher, or she was getting smaller and smaller. She now looked more like a little nthumwa bewitching me with her beady eyes. I decided to change the topic to try to get some sense out of her.

‘Lets us now turn,’ I suggested, ‘to the good people of Chongololo, who have turned down your suggestion to have a nuclear plant in their chiefdom.’

‘I’m afraid you’ve got yourself confused again, Kalaki’ she screeched. ‘I have not merely suggested a nuclear plant, I have told them that they are going to have one because it will be entirely for their benefit. And I haven’t asked for their opinion on matters they don’t understand.’

‘But from a democratic point of view, don’t you think it would be a good idea to ask the people of Chongololo whether they want a nuclear plant or not?’

‘Kalaki, you keep asking me the same question because you can’t understand my answer. The villagers, rather like yourself, do not know the difference between nuclear bombs, nuclear energy and nuclear research.’

‘They have no more sense than microbes?’

‘Exactly, Kalaki, you’re beginning to get the picture.’

But the strange thing was that I could no longer get any picture. Maybe the light was fading, but now I couldn’t even see her little beady eyes. ‘But professor,’ I protested to the empty chair, ‘microbes are entitled to be scared of radiation. Neutrons, protons, even electrons can kill living cells. Microbes are particularly vulnerable.’

‘Yes, but the microbes don’t know that,’ squeaked the empty chair. ‘They have no brains.’
‘The microbes know more than you think!’ I shouted back.

There was no reply. I got out of my seat and climbed up the long way to the professor’s great seat of learning. But there was nobody there. Nothing except a small smelly puddle.

‘The Great Professor of Microbiology,’ I said to the puddle, ‘quite forgot the central lesson of medical science – microbes will always fight back!’

(Look out for Kalaki’s latest piece in tomorrow’s edition)