‘Grandpa,’ said Nawiti, ‘what is the government?’

‘Why do you ask?’

‘Because Mummy and Daddy are always talking about the government. The government this and the government that, but when I ask them What is this government that you are always talking about? they just say something like Nawiti Darling just go and see if Dingani has fallen out of his cot, we just heard a nasty thud. You’re the big sister, you have to look after your little brother.’

‘They’re quite right,’ I said. ‘Mummy and Daddy are very busy people, so it’s your job to help them look after your little brother.’

‘That’s the same answer I get from Mummy and Daddy. I should just shut up and look after my little brother. But I mean, it’s the two of them that produced little Dingani, so it should be their job to look after him and stop him committing suicide. But if I have to do their job of looking after Dingani, they could at least treat me like an adult and tell what they’re talking about all the time.’

‘You’re too small,’ I said. ‘They don’t want to frighten you.’

‘That’s what’s worrying me. The way they talk about the government I get the feeling that there’s some big monster out there and they’re very frightened about what it might do next. Maybe it will put its big head in through the window and swallow Dingani, and I shall be blamed for putting him too near the window.’

‘Your intuition is amazing,’ I said, ‘because government really is a type of monster. Mummy and Daddy just want to protect you from being frightened and getting nightmares that might wake Dingani in the middle of the night.’

‘I thought so,’ said Nawiti. ‘But Grandpa, you’ve always been my friend, and advised me how to deal with Mummy and Daddy. And you’ve told me about all the other monsters such as witches, vampires, dinosaurs and headmasters. So it’s about time you explained this government monster.’

‘Government,’ I explained, ‘is a collection of monsters that swallow everybody’s money. Before people get paid, they have to give a big slice to government. Then, when you go to buy something in a shop, again government takes a slice of the money you pay. Every time money changes hands, government takes its slice.’

‘So why haven’t I ever seen any of these monsters taking their slice?’

‘The monsters are very clever. They don’t do the collection themselves, they send their snakes from the Zambia Reptile Authority to slither under doors at night to take the slice from pockets, wallets, tills, safes and banks.’

‘But where did these monsters come from?’

‘It is generally believed that they were originally human, and have grown from babies that were left out in the forest.’

‘But how do babies get left out in the forest?’

‘Some are suspected of being bewitched, some are born of witches, and others have mothers who choose to give birth at inconvenient times and are chased away from maternity clinics.’

‘Surely such babies would die in the forest?’

‘Very often they do,’ I agreed. ‘But sometimes a kind lion, hyena or wild dog will adopt a human baby and bring it up with its other o spring.’

‘So do they grow up as wild animals or as humans?’ wondered Nawiti.

‘A human hyena will behave more like an animal but look more like a human. Like wild animals they are greedy, cunning, ruthless and cruel. But they also have the entirely human instinct to reap where they did not sow and to live as parasites o other humans. In other words they have natural leadership qualities.’

‘So why do we allow these monsters to come and take a slice of everybody’s money?’

‘Because these monsters promise they will use our money to look after all of us, with schools and hospitals and so on.’

‘And do they?’

‘Of course not. They spend the money on themselves. After all, hyenas don’t see the need for schools or hospitals since they grew up in the forest, and they have now returned to town to get their revenge on the people who left them in the forest.’

‘So why don’t we just chase these parasites back to the forest?’

‘They have terrible claws and teeth to protect themselves from the enemies of the government.’

‘Oh Grandpa,’ said Nawiti, ‘no wonder my parents are always talking about the government. They must be scared stiff. But you were quite right to tell me the true story. My parents think I am still a little girl, but I am now big enough to understand these things.’

Just then there was a terrible crash from the kitchen, then a scream, and into the sitting room came Dingani carrying one half of a broken dish, with custard all over his face. He threw the dish at Nawiti and shouted ‘Witi go! Custy mine!’

Immediately Nawiti swept him up under one arm and headed for the door.

‘Grandpa, I’ve already decided what I’m going to do. I’m taking this little monster deep into the forest and I’m going to dump him there. The only way to protect this family is to get one of us into government.’