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When Monty is born to a dying mother and faceless father in a dilapidated, wartime refugee camp, his future is uncertain, even after he is rescued by Sister Eileen Doherty, a Catholic nun. The rest of the story chronicles Monty’s post-war, mental and social journey, finally highlighting an aspect of war that is often ignored—its aftermath and consequences.

Initially set in a nameless nation whose attempt at secession has resulted in a devastating civil war, the initial scene is an appalling refugee camp where survival tests the utmost in human endurance and misery. After Monty’s rescue from the camp soon after his birth, Sister Doherty, his rescuer, is shot but doesn’t die until she manages to deliver the infant to a secret airstrip. Here, he is miraculously kept alive by Father Brendan who gives him the name, Monty, and thus begins the child’s phenomenal journey, which covers two continents. He is first taken to Ireland, but the United States is soon considered to be more suited to his psychological and emotional needs. At nine he is sent there to live either with surrogate families or in special educational facilities. The two families that host Monty at different times in the United States—the Joneses and the Kennedys—each have a different impact on his vision of life, his impressions of himself, relationships and his survival instincts. But Monty largely stays to himself, carving out imaginary worlds that are supposed to fill the many gaps in his life.

For a greater part of his life, Monty is marked as a refugee and ward of the Catholic Church. Lacking the basic knowledge of who he really is and having to endure the mental and physical defects that result from his gory birth, his struggles are partly alleviated by his uncanny flute-playing skill, which is discovered before he is a teenager. For the rest of his life the flute becomes his most trusted companion, a source of self-worth, a source of inspiration and a pathway to recognition and hope.

After completing the educational training that is considered appropriate for him, Monty is settled in a Co-op in Madison, Wisconsin, where he lives with other wards of the Church. This is the closest he has come to being independent and earns a stipend for playing his flute during church services at a cathedral. But he is still largely detached and suffers long bouts of aloneness. Totally frustrated and obsessed with discovering who he really is, he rebels against the Church and this results in his being sent back to the land of his birth where the civil war that created him has long ended. At this time, Monty is a young man.

Back in the land of his birth, arrangements are made for Monty to meet with Father Brendan, the same priest that had saved his life 30 years earlier and given him his name. The meeting place is the former airstrip, now a war museum.Monty's meeting with Father Brendan sets the stage for his final rediscovery and offers him the opportunity for renewed life, even if it will always be tied to the Catholic Church.

Monty is Influenced by my recollection of the refugee camp situation during Nigeria’s civil war.

After the July celebrants were made to squeeze on to a low platform during which everyone else sang “Happy Birthday to You,” it was time for Monty to perform. For the first time the limelight shifted from the celebrants to another Center celebrity. He was nervous and trembled visibly. Yes, he had anticipated this moment and the fears he would battle with, always finding reassurance in the flute, but reality proved to be far more intense than imagination. The extent to which he was terrified was something he could never have foreseen. When he rose to take the stage, Sister Tracy observed how he hesitated. She also saw how his steps were a little wobbly, even though his bowlegs generally gave the impression of wobbly motion. Smiling broadly, she walked up to him, grabbed his right hand and whispered emphatically in his ears, “you can do it Monty; you’re the best flute player in the world.”

In spite of her encouragement, she had to half-drag him to the stage. Once they made it there, she released him and returned to her seat. He was now alone and very self-conscious. Slowly he looked down at the magic object that he now held in both hands. He was alone except for it--the flute--, his companion. They were together and inseparable. It meant that he wasn’t quite alone after all, and recalled the instances when he tried to predict this day, gathering strength from the flute each time uncertainty crept in. He couldn’t guess the future anymore. It was here. Now was the time to tap from the flute just as it would tap from him. Now was the time to exploit power from what was, perhaps along with Dorothy, his best friend. The thoughts filtered through his mind at great speed, and yet they still allowed room for him to instantly recall the Joneses and the impact of staring back in their stabbing eyes. The group expected him to eventually face them, but they didn’t expect it to happen that dramatically. In an instance Monty raised his head, eyes wide open, and looked at his audience. It was almost a glare, as if he was challenging them to a duel. Some were impressed, most were surprised, but Sister Tracy was a little worried. She couldn’t decipher the implications of Monty’s sudden and unexpected stance.

All eyes were on him. He was still short. His thin legs were still bow and his stomach still drooped over his waistline. His nose was still flat, as if it had been stamped to his face and rolled over again and again. His ears had not lost their stuck-in-mid-flight impression, and they were still large, flat, and wide. And it was good that he didn’t smile because if he did his aim at encouraging relaxation and good spirits might not have been understood clearly, and might have been mistaken for something else. His outfit did little to camouflage his looks. He was made to wear a white shirt with a bow tie that may have been fitted too tight, and a square-shaped jacket to match. His black jacket also matched his black shorts that reached past his knees, which they caressed lightly. He had worn his black shoes on the right feet and laced them up close-to properly. His white socks, pulled up efficiently, almost met with the base of his shorts. But nothing was unusual in the Center, and he was motivated by this knowledge.

Like Sister Tracy had instructed him, Monty bowed, then, after taking a deep breath, he began. At first it was slow but it built up fast and as it did, so did his confidence. He put a lot of emotion into the well-known "Happy Birthday" tune, embellishing it with an ambience that nearly changed the original. To the celebrants, it just wasn’t the rendition of an old song; it was a salutation that came from the heart. They were touched, even those who couldn’t quite interpret the beauty of the art form and the way it was rendered. They too were touched by Monty’s sincerity and innocence, and by his sheer skill. Everyone in the hall was touched.

When he was done playing “Happy Birthday” twice and “Puff the Magic Dragon,” he received a standing ovation. Some couldn’t help the flow of tears, including Sister Tracy. But the cheering was cut short when another tune filled the air, piercing every other sound and drowning them out. The people were surprised but interested; their applause steadily died out and they tuned in again, taking their seats. Sister Tracy was concerned as this episode had not been pre-planned. But she, too, sat down, puzzled and biting her nails in expectation.

It was not a particular song or tune; just a hybrid of mellow sounds that came directly from the soul of a naive boy who longed to live life without inhibitions and undue pressures. They were formed on the spur of the moment and he breathed life into what would otherwise have been harsh and meaningless. Somehow he blended the sounds, creating harmony between the slow and the fast, the loud and the soft, and told an enchanting story without words. While each person decoded the story differently, there was a prevailing release of serenity that was received at all levels. He continued for about twenty minutes and time stood still. From Monty’s audience the awe, the silence, and the focus were overpowering. When he was done, he bowed again. About two seconds of silence followed and then the place erupted. Sister Tracy rushed on the stage and grabbed him in an everlasting hug, and wept. He couldn’t understand why she wept, seeing from the response of his audience that his presentation had been extremely successful. With time he would learn that tears didn’t always express pain. In the background the applause and eulogies continued.

Philip Effiong has been an Online Professor of English at the University of Maryland since October 2006. He holds a Ph.D. in dramatic literature from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and has taught English, writing, drama, literature and cultural studies at the University of Calabar in Nigeria, Regent University College of Science & Technology in Ghana, and, in the United States, the Universities of Wisconsin at Madison, Tennessee at Martin, Delaware at Newark and Lincoln in Pennsylvania. In addition to a text on African American drama and his novel, Monty, his articles on African and African American literature and culture appear in a number of periodicals, including Theater Studies, African American Review, the 1996 Dictionary of Twentieth Century Culture, Encyclopedia of African Religion, the 2008 Encyclopedia of Africa and the Americas and West African Review. Philip is also a writing consultant and carries out writing projects for profit and nonprofit organizations.


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