The False Rains of Africa

At a wedding reception a few years ago the band, so far sticking to crowdpleasers, began playing a song I didn’t recognise at all. Out of curiosity I turned round to the others at my table to see if anyone knew it, only to find them all enthusiastically singing along.

“I bless the rains down in Aaaafrica!”

They seemed surprised I didn’t know the song. It was very famous in the 80s, after all. Of all of us there I was the one who remembered the most about that decade and I insisted I had never heard it before. They looked at me with surprise and amusement.

The same song turned up at another wedding a few months later.

“Oh my God, they’re playing Toto! I love this song!”

And my valid objections to this statement were drowned out by the rumbling of feet hurrying off to the dance floor.

I heard it in shops. On the radio. At Christmas parties. Wherever there was airspace to broadcast it I heard it. From never having experienced it before that January my exposure to it had now increased by infinity per cent.

The thing is I lived through the 80s, and I can assure you that Africa by Toto was never played then. Not once. And you know why? Because it never existed.

This is the unalterable Truth I clung to. The reason I had never heard the song before was because no one had. It was written in January 2014 and spread to a select few. And it was only played in locations where it was known my ears would be. It was all a big prank at my expense and everyone I knew was in on it.

And I have to admit it’s a well-organised prank. For all of them to have kept it up for so long, even in the face of my unanswerable objections, is very impressive. One friend even went to the effort of faking a video for it, which she uploaded on YouTube and played at a party. The video was reminiscent of so many pop videos from the time. Most people would probably be fooled by it.

I like a practical joke as much as anyone. And I’m not too proud to laugh at myself. But there are limits. The time to own up to the hoax was the second time I heard it, at the latest. That would have been very funny. But to drag it out like this? That’s just tedious and frustrating.

It has been four years now.

You’d think they would know when to stop. There are friends I haven’t spoken to for months, because they couldn’t admit I was right. They would sacrifice friendship for the sake of a lame trick? And I still sometimes hear it when shopping. “I bless the rain…” How much time and expense went into something so ultimately pointless?

After a recent particularly bitter argument on the subject with my girlfriend I stormed out of the bedroom and settled down on the sofa bed. My mind was seething with righteous anger and for a time I could not sleep. But then I did, and I had a dream.

I was in a hospital bed, at the end of a long and productive life. My large and devoted family were all around. I smiled weakly up at my wife, at our children and grandchildren, and I said to her:

“Come on, now. Africa by Toto. There never was any such song, was there?”

And she looked down at me, a tear leaving her eye and a beatific smile on her dear face and said:

“Well, in actual fact -”

And then the cat was sick on my shoulder.

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