"David, wake up! We have to go. Now!" My eyes opened, but my mind was still half-closed, trying to make sense of the words in a sleep-induced haze. The reflection of light cascaded off of a black man's bald head. The man was hunched over me, his glasses hanging precariously on his nose. He had a full black mustache and a look of urgency on his distinguished face.
I wiped the crust out of my eyes in an effort to stall and allow my brain to clear itself of the dust. When I opened my eyes again, the man became more than his mere features. It was Herman Cain, Republican presidential candidate.
"David, we have to go. We need to get these diplomas to displaced Bosnians so they can make a life for themselves abroad after the war is over. I have a plan- I am the only one of us with a plan- but we have to go now." My confusion wafted back across my mind. All I could muster was a timid, "What year is it?"
"It is 1992. We must go now."
On the plane ride over to Sarajevo, Herman Cain explained the details to me. He had a backpack filled with BAs, BSs, MAs, MSs, Phds, and MDs. We needed to get them to their rightful owners. Bosnia had become a hopeless war-torn land. Its educated citizens were hoping to emigrate and needed their degrees in order to prove their worth in their new nations.
As we landed in Sarajevo, I heard gunfire aimed at our plane. The danger of what I was entering flooded into my blood. Herman Cain saw my fright and looked over to me with a reassuring smile. "Relax. I have a plan. It is a good plan."
"What is it?"
"It is based on the Chilean model. We will look in the phone book for the names on these diplomas. These people will likely not be home. So we will try to call their relatives and neighbors to locate their whereabouts and then return their diplomas to them." It didn't seem like much of a plan, but the uncertainty and illogic of war left me too petrified to think of anything better.
"Mr. Cain, I have one question?"
"Yes, what is it?" Cain asked in his usual upbeat and fragmented manner.
"I thought you hated Muslims. Didn't you say that, should you win the presidency, you wouldn't have a Muslim in your cabinet? These Bosnian diplomas seem to belong to Muslims. What gives?"
Cain screwed up his face as if shedding a mask, "Howda fuck should I know, it's your dream." And just that quickly, Herman Cain's robotic tone, complete with fully enunciated syllables, had melted into a comfortable and aggressive replacement. "Oh," I answered lamely.
Herman Cain and I spent the next few hours cooped up in Sarajevo’s Holliday Inn making phone calls and arrangements to return the diplomas. The plan was mildly successful in that we would relinquish all of the diplomas. Whether or not their rightful owner would eventually be the recipient, we didn't know. It could be a neighbor hoping to cash in on someone else's achievements or a person who by happenstance shared the same name with the educated Bosnian. Frankly, it wasn't a tremendously well-thought-out plan.
Every call that Herman Cain made went the same way. Each sentence was in a singsong fashion and choppy, providing enough time for every word to be pronounced properly and to allow it to sink in. "Yes. Is [name] there? Do you know where [name] might be at this juncture? I have [name's] diploma and would like to return it to [name]." At that point, either the other end of the call would hang up or make an arrangement to pick up the diploma.
We managed to return all of the diplomas at great peril. When it was all over, I asked Herman Cain, "Mr. Cain, one thing still bothers me. It's not why you and I needed to perform this particular task. It's not the time traveling." Herman Cain's hand rested on his chin, displaying a thoughtful posture. "Well, what is your question, David?" he asked calmly.
I took a breath and asked, "How did you get all of those diplomas?" Herman Cain's smile grew as large as the impact of the Bosnian war, "Niggahead, it's your dream." A giant lump the size of 400 years of history formed in my throat. But I realized that, in a sense, it was Herman Cain's history, so I guess it was ok for him to say that word. I decided to take it as a term of endearment.
At that moment, I woke up. Back in America. Back in 2011. Herman Cain was tied with Mitt Romney for the lead in the national polls of the Republican presidential race.