The title (in English ‘After me, the flood’) is often attributed to Louis XV of France. It is a phrase that President Mobutu used during his dictatorial reign in Zaire between 1965 and 1997, to warn of the implications of overthrowing him.
For some, life in Kinshasa is pleasant. There is the sun to enjoy, drinks to be drunk and business deals to be made. For others less fortunate, it is very much the Third World, haunted with memories of loss and war.
In a Kinshasa hotel room, a businessman casually jokes and flirts with an elegant interpreter. He is European, based in Cape Town, who comes to Kinshasa frequently on business. The interpreter also hails from abroad, although she has lived in Kinshasa for over 40 years. Neither of the two is particularly affected by the thievery and poverty in this war-ravaged country. They are the lucky ones - their only concerns the heat, the smells and the noisiness of other hotel guests.
An old African man has turned up unexpectedly at the businessman’s hotel room. He cannot speak the businessman’s language, which is why the interpreter has been hired to facilitate the conversation. Through the interpreter, the African man tells the businessman that he has a 19-year-old son who dreams of becoming a footballer in Europe. After secretly following the businessman around the city for a week, the son has decided that the businessman is the ideal person to act as his agent. The African man is very ill. He is desperate for his son to become a success in a city free from rampant crime and poverty.
The businessman listens politely to the elderly African man’s request. But he is not inclined to help, having no experience in the football business and rarely visiting Europe. The African man persists, suggesting that his son could work as the businessman’s bodyguard, or city guide. But the businessman cannot see how he could take on responsibility for the young man while trying to establish him as the next African football sensation in Europe.
Still hopeful, the elderly African tells the businessman about his son’s horrific past. Kidnapped aged eight, the boy was forced to train as a child soldier. For three years he murdered and maimed men, women and children in terrible raids. After he was miraculously found by his father, the young boy was haunted by his ordeal, suffering terrible nightmares. The sad tale interests the businessman, and he starts to consider the possibility of taking the young man back to Cape Town to be his valet. But he is hesitant. His own health is deteriorating and he eventually decides that he is far too set in his ways to be bothered with a young man who has never set foot abroad. Resigned, the old African goes to leave. At this point the businessman unexpectedly decides that he wants to meet the young man who wants to start a new life abroad. Perhaps, as his health gets worse and he confronts his own mortality, the businessman will need an assistant. And so, he decides to hire the young man. But in fact this can never happen. The old African confesses that his son died sixteen years ago, aged three. The child never had the chance to grow up, but if he had, his fate would have been exactly as his father told it. Now, the old man knows that there is another man out there in the world prepared to acknowledge that his son would have been worth knowing and worth remembering.
The African man leaves, and the interpreter and the businessman are left alone. Neither of them talks about the strange conversation with the old African. The businessman pays the interpreter for her services, and life goes on as they joke and talk about their pasts and life in Kinshasa.
The play is set in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There are a number of references to wars and unrest in this central African region and to the period of time when it was called Zaire, under President Mobutu, who used the phrase ‘Après moi, le déluge’. Mobutu was ousted from power in a coup in 1997, and Zaire subsequently became the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The play is preceded by a quotation from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness which reads, ‘Men who come here should have no entrails’. Conrad’s novel is also set in Africa, and the quotation refers to the harsh climate which almost required men to be devoid of insides if they were to avoid becoming ill.
The Catalan version of the play was awarded the Cataluña’s National Theatre Prize in 2007 and the Lletra d’Or Prize in 2008.
Cunillé Salgado, Lluïsa. 2007. Après moi, le déluge. Available for download at http://www.catalandrama.cat/obras/apres-moi-le-deluge [accessed August 2011] (Online Publication)
Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 27 October 2011.