Night of the fireflies

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THE SHIFT OF FORMS
António aroused me from a troubled doze to announce dinner in slow and cumbersome English. As I tried to get up, I realised that I was in the full grip of depression. Pleading weariness, I asked to be left to sleep.

For a long time I lay naked under the sheet falling in and out of consciousness. Whichever way I moved, the bottom sheet clung to my sweating body. And whenever I awoke, Kudzi popped into the forefront of my mind to torment me with her absence: I saw and felt her shining skin, uniform to the eye, glazed to the touch, exuding a smell as intoxicating to me as the smell of the savannah after rainfall; I saw her sudden smile; and I heard her unique laughter sustained at a single pitch like a kettle steaming.

I had to walk round the room for a while to ward off these sensations, only to trade them for dreams the moment I lay down again …
I am a young boy playing whist with my parents, so wrapped in love and security that I wish the card game would go on forever ... until, like a shark, the realisation closes in on me that this idyll can not last. Sure enough, my father shoots to his feet yelling at my mother with vicious loathing as he overturns the felt-topped card table ...
My father changes into Rainer Kruger’s father, raising a spade with a triangular head and striking me with it ...
Maputo airport: a severed head rolls over the runway with blood spurting – it’s Rainer’s head, with his eyes bulging as usual. As it tumbles over the landing strip, his head turns into my head, which eventually comes to rest at Kudzi’s feet ...
My lover stands watching me – on her face an expression of a pain far greater than mine.

Gunfire! Real gunfire. I sat up to the sound of it, close by, out there in the night of the besieged city. I rushed to the window, my pulses racing: nothing, not even a shadow crossing the gap in the gate. Now the terror of my dreams was matched by a living terror outside.

I lay down wide-eyed upon the bed. The firing stopped – leaving nothing – not a sound. Behind the fan, the candle guttered. I fixed my gaze upon the teetering flame – a human life is just as fragile, I thought; how simple it would be to extinguish my own flame.

A long period of suffocating darkness followed through which I tossed and turned. It was broken, eventually, by the sound of a door closing somewhere in the house, followed by the patter of bare feet. Then two voices began talking, discussing the gunfire, perhaps. Their tone was troubled. The sibilant flow of Portuguese became audible as the voices rose in argument. I inched my door open: Rainer’s voice was discernable and I was vexed to hear my name being mentioned. Tentatively I moved down the passage to the hall where flickering light from a paraffin lamp at the far end of the veranda revealed Rainer and António huddled in tense discussion.

More astonishing even than the spectacle of master and servant in this pose was the level of intimacy revealed by a mutual understanding of references that came up either as unrecognisable words or as incomprehensible phrasing. They were speaking Portuguese, but my confusion did not arise from my lack of total fluency in the language. It was almost as if they were resorting sometimes to a secret language known only to them.

From the recess of the hall I listened with increasing alarm. It was clear that their topic had nothing to do with the recent gunfire; they were talking about me – and the discussion was framed by some sort of political action in which they were both involved.

António, it seemed, was not happy with my presence. He said something that sounded like “Você está recebendo uma frquência errada.” (“You’re receiving the wrong frequency.”)

Rainer, however, was insistent. “Que seca! I need to be encouraged by you. Some stranger comes along, and off you go complaining! I need time. His function must become apparent.”

Then he said something incomprehensible like: “I cannot identify him in the universal field. (Não consigo identificá-lo no campo universal.)”

“So you admit that his line of life (linha da vida) does not cross with yours?” the younger man said.

Rainer answered, “You don’t approve of the conspiracy, so why should I listen to you?” (“Conspiração” raised the hairs on the back of my neck, in due course to be interchanged with “intriga” which means “plot”, and both of which spelt politics.)

“You never listen to me,” António complained.

There was a pause, interrupted by the occasional twang of insects on the veranda screens. Then I heard António plead, “Let him slip back into the chaotic transmitter.”

Rainer made bitter references to this “transmissor caótico”, then said, “His presence could help activate things. That is the true reason why you want him to leave.”

A sadness entered António’s voice. “I am upset that you are bringing things to a head ... you know my views.”

“And am sick of hearing them!”

“I warn you again – your method is not the way to push forward the shift of forms.” (It sounded like poetry: “a mudança de formas.)

Thereafter, I was lost in a maze of ambiguities until Rainer stopped António with strident sarcasm (a favourite device, as I was to discover at my own expense). “Blah, blah! Do I need reminding that I have been stuck this long? Merda!

Seconds later Rainer interrupted the servant, angrily. “Yes, yes!” he hissed. “Next time you will lose me.”

Then after a pause, he almost wailed, “I see nothing in Zeega. Nothing! They suffocate me. Always you try to make me feel guilty. Guilty about what?” (As I write this, I remember with a smile that the first time I heard the word “Zeega” I thought I heard “Cimas”, the acronym for Central African Medical Aid Society.)

Rainer continued with a stream of gibberish packed with resentment, and ending with “Do you wish to drive me really crazy? As long as you refuse to tell me what happened there, I will never forgive you. Never!”

He got up in disgust, and I edged back into the darkness from where I could still hear him say, “Soon ‘the ham’ (‘o fiambre’) will arrive. Then all the cards will be in my hands.” To which António responded most firmly, “Tomorrow you can tell them not to bring the ham. Stop this rubbish now, before it is too late!”

The servant’s sudden rising to his feet sent me on a quick retreat down the corridor.

Soon after I had closed the door of the library behind me, the tick-tack of sticky feet came past, followed by the squeak and thump of a door closing – António, presumably withdrawing to the domestic quarters in the back garden.

I shuddered to think of the possible implications of what I had heard. Judging by Rainer’s reactionary style it could even be a connection with Renamo, those apartheid-backed bandidos who liked to mutilate people slowly until they died. How clever to have cooked up that lunatic’s card! It made Rainer the perfect clandestine scavenger of information. And clearly the role of servant was António’s cover; he was probably a member of a Renamo cadre placed in a “safe” house. Whatever they were up to, my own problem was obvious: I would be automatically involved simply because I happened to be his guest. If Rainer were under suspicion, or worse still, up to something dangerous, I could get arrested and deported at any moment. Already I had been seen with him by men from foreign governments who clearly had no liking for him.

Through my films and books I had supported the liberation war that led to Zimbabwe’s independence, and I was a supporter of the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa whose national choir had provided music for several of my films. These were sensitive times in front-line states like Mozambique from where the ANC was launching covert operations. Political skulduggery was the last thing I needed. I decided to leave the Kruger premises as soon as the sun was up.

Scarcely had I lain down on the bunk bed than I heard someone moaning outside. In exasperation I marched to the window and bashed the Venetian slats apart. At once my gaze fell on Rainer stumbling around in the garden while rubbing his head with both hands. After a few steps he would cry out and strike at the night as if he were being attacked by invisible bees. I let the blinds snap together loudly, outraged by the intrusion of his personal dramas upon my own.

The moans of the wounded beast were driving me to protest when a calming voice was heard. Once again I traipsed to the blinds: António had his arm round Rainer and was encouraging him to go inside.

Doors closed and locked, and silence settled uncertainly upon the house.



DAY TWO – THURSDAY 20TH DECEMBER 1984

A STATE OF TRANCE
I thought the room was on fire: red rays pierced the blinds like pokers, shimmering motes of dust. It was so hot it seemed the blazing star itself had crashed through the window. Acid ate my stomach. Next to the bunk bed the fan soldiered on, without effect; I switched it off. My watch said six-thirty. How would I ever find the strength to rise to the challenge of Mozambique? I cursed Rainer Kruger for irresponsibly inviting an innocent stranger into a house riddled with intrigue.

Wrapping my burning flesh in a towel I tramped off in search of the outside shower. In the kitchen, Rainer was seated at a wooden table before an untouched cup of coffee, staring into space. A plump black woman dressed in a white apron, a blue uniform and a bonnet came forward, drying her hands on a kitchen cloth. “Good morning, master. My name, Agi,” she announced with a generous smile. “António tell me you our guest. You from Zimbabwe. Ooo, very nice!” She shook my hand as if I were a long-lost relative. “I from South Africa. Twenty years I work for Master Kruger.”

Rainer remained frozen at the table, with Rosa sleeping at his feet. Despite the gauzed back door and windows, flies cruised around master and dog. Sightless immobility had turned my host into a sculpture. The pupils of his hypertrophic eyes had opened like those of an animal in the night, but without luminous vigour – deadened rather, and glazed like a couple of marbles. People on hallucinogenics have pupils like that. Peering closer into his orbs I saw smudgy blotches stirring as on a forest floor. “What’s wrong with him?” I asked Agi irritably.

“Oh, is nothing, master,” she giggled. “Master Rainer, he sometimes go to dreaming standing on his own two feet.”

Rainer did not blink. Agi also came and looked into his eyes. “For sure it will not be long now,” she said as though she were giving an update on the weather. Going to the stove she said, “Would the master like some good coffee?”

I decided I would have a shower first, and went out through the sprung back door.

Walking around the back of the house, I was impressed by the sight of a peacock pecking at the dry grass – the source of an indefinable cry that I had heard at intervals during my restless night. The great bird had no doubt been installed by Mr Kruger Senior to retain a semblance of his fading grandeur.

I proceeded alongside a well-supplied vegetable garden dotted with paw-paw and mango trees, past a chicken run with fluffy hens surveyed by a fine cock, beyond which stood typical small-roomed domestic quarters with an asbestos A-frame roof. As I turned the corner of the house I could hear the sound of a handsaw from a wooden shed. Like a sunlit streak of dead parchment, a wizened arm was going back and forth across the door’s black yawn.

The shower was a metal lean-to next to the famous António water tower, supporting three tanks. One of them was rusty and unusable, and one had a furnace under it containing the dying embers of a wood fire.

It was wonderful. You could have the shower hot to scald off ingrained dirt, then cool to freshen up ... almost cold, actually – a miracle created by António who threw bags of ice into the third tank every morning. The water was brown, with a metallic taste, and smelt of earth. I came out of there a new man.

As I headed back round the house I drew up in astonishment: a double-barrelled shotgun was trained on me through the open door of the shed. I was about to make a run for it when the old fool Kruger chuckled and went “Boom!” I cursed him out loud, and stormed past, catching a glimpse of his jellied eyes, untouched by the mirth that shook his face.

In the kitchen, Rainer was sitting with his dog, transfixed as before. Agi brought me a mug of coffee, but I could not bring myself to drink it in front of a man who had tumbled so strangely into an abyss of reverie or was, perhaps, simply acting at not being present.

As I was heading for the inner door a disembodied voice called out: “Sente-se, Miguel!” The words had a hollow tone, as if they came from a vast distance. I looked round.

“Sit down! Be with you in a minute.” Rainer’s lips, like the rest of him, had not moved. Ventriloquism – a new gimmick? I clicked my tongue in annoyance and left the kitchen.

I dressed minimally – shirt, trousers, sandals – then set off down the passage to look for the phone.

A door next to the bathroom opened into a palatial dining room where an oval mahogany table shimmered like a pool of water in the window light, guarded by a dozen high-backed chairs. Overhead, a gold ceiling fan hovered like a bird of prey. As I crossed this room an antique grandfather clock gave me a start by cranking out “Ave Maria” to herald the hour.

The adjoining lounge was dominated by a decorous Christmas tree standing tall like a symbol of defiance against the ideology that was raising havoc beyond the garden wall. I wound my way between comfortable armchairs and a black leather sofa, then past a well-polished grand piano, its open lid poised for play. From the double-doors at the far end of the room I spotted the telephone on a side table in the entrance hall.

Once again I listened to the terse message recorded on the machine of a journalist I had once met in London – the same message I had listened to in Zimbabwe and in the booth of the Polana Hotel. Another machine answered when I tried a local film producer. Christmas was no time to be looking for the Maputo elite – they were all out of the country.

I decided to call an Irish woman of considerable charm whom I had met on the plane on her way back from a shopping trip to Zimbabwe, even though her African-American husband, Joe van Melvin the Second (no less!), who worked for the United States Embassy, had made it clear while giving me a ride into the city that there was no room for me in their house over Christmas.

By good fortune Maeve, as she was called, was at home. Nervous about being identified with the Kruger household, I lied to her about where I had spent the night, claiming that I was at the Polana but had checked out. Did she have friends with a spare bed, a sofa, even a floor, maybe? But by the time I rang off I had gained nothing more than an invitation to a US Embassy Christmas Eve party on a launch.

In Mozambique clothes simply perform the duty of a sponge; by the end of the phoning I was sweating as much as I had been before my shower. I decided that after a quick breakfast, I would leave my suitcase at the house, to be collected later, walk out the gate and deliver myself to Kudzi’s doorstep … assuming I could find the flat where she was staying with her Danish plumber friend, Ulla.

With this plan in mind, I returned to the kitchen where I was exasperated to find Rainer still fixed brazenly at the table. Agi was delighted by my return. “Yesterday I get flour from ration shop,” she said. “Look, I make good bread. But sorry, jam she is short!”

Presenting my back to my host to regain my composure, I sat sipping coffee and nibbling Agi’s bread. A steady pounding from outside, beyond the garden, slowly invaded my consciousness: a sound characteristic of an African village, of pestle grinding corn on mortar. It was this that finally drew Rainer from his trance-like inertia. His vacant stare traversed me, then settled on the gauzed back door. His pupils gradually pulled focus and his full lips trembled, an earthy voice rising from him, the syllables of sound barely registering on his lips: “Get the chaff, Agi! Pay them the usual!”

Less moved by Rainer’s return to life than by his commands, Agi began to wring her hands. “They trouble me for extra money, master,” she said. Then, slapping her palms upon her hips, she turned in the direction of the stomping and announced sombrely. “Long time since we have mealies!”

Her statement caused animation to pour across Rainer’s face like a tide. “The chickens love the chaff,” he said at speed as though he were newborn. “It is worthless to the povo. Pay them more!” his excitement raw and palpable like a child’s – and infectious too, judging by the skidding paws of the dog as it scrambled to its feet.

Agi shook her head. “The povo, they eat everything from the mealie, master.”

Her statement swept the callow glow of innocence from Rainer’s countenance, replacing it with a sourness that ate at his mouth. Reverting to Portuguese he said, “Their city will crumble and the povo will return to stamping mealies!” He let his body slump, and in this manner found himself looking down at his happy dog, a spectacle that restored his spirits somewhat. He leaned down and stroked the animal. Soon he was making overtures to it: “Horrible street kids tried to eat you, didn’t they my lovely?” – the dog rolled on its back and made delighted chopping motions with its plaster leg – “Poking sticks at you through the gate, with nails and razors. Smashing your leg.” – tossing a wild glance in my direction – “Filhos da puta! They wanted to eat her!”

I was about to launch into my final show-down with him when the spring on the back door squealed and António entered carrying a sensational Carnaby Street shopping bag with John Bull and the Union Jack printed on it. He mumbled “Bom dia!” at large and proceeded to unpack bags of rice and salt and other items, scolded all the while by Agi for not getting sugar because he had set off too late to secure a good position in the ration queue. Rainer, meanwhile, had responded to António’s entry by assuming an air of pained weariness that climaxed with the dropping of his brow on to the wooden table, with a thump.

“Is my bitterness a reflection of your own?” he asked the table. “Does it make you dislike me as you dislike yourself?” I did not understand whom he was addressing until he swung his head up from the table and fixed me with a rheumy-eyed stare.

“We both know, Miguel, that life sells us short. Do you deny that?” he asked, resting his elbows on the table and waiting for an answer, which came as a grunt of sorts.

Thankfully his gaze slid off me onto his thin arms, which came down tentatively on to the table top like the legs of a timorous stick insect. I stared at his long quivering fingers caressing the furred wood.

“You need not be so anxious to leave,” he mumbled in a voice still stripped of emotion. “Whatever you overheard last night, it will not interfere with your task in Mozambique.”

I got up with a clatter. “You’re plotting something!” I said somewhat hysterically. “I’m not a political greenhorn. I smell a rat here. You have no right to impose your affairs on me!”

During this outburst António and Agi kept their backs to me, while Rainer’s reaction was to reach out for his cold cup of coffee, raise it and sip at the contents. Eventually he said, “If you must go I cannot stop you.”

“Dead right I’m going!”

“There is no hurry. Please ...” his voice almost normal as he gestured at my unfinished toast. “Eat! You are too hard on yourself. You have lost not only your girlfriend but your ideals, your dreams. You are a man with an empty plate. And you are also physically unwell – sharp rods pass through your duodenum. Eat! The toast will absorb some of the acid.”

I flushed with resentment at his presumptive arrogance; by some wild stroke of luck he had correctly detected my ulcer and, perhaps, my crumbling faith in an international socialist future. Pointing in the direction of the street, I said, “I must leave right now for my girlfriend’s!”

“I will take you in the car,” he responded immediately.

“There’s nothing wrong with my legs.”

“You do not have the constitution to walk about in the heat of Maputo. Anyway it is dangerous for foreigners – particularly white ones.”

He lifted a trouser leg and scratched at his ankle, affecting insouciance. “Agi!” he commanded, “Go fetch the phone directory!”

“I have Kudzi’s number,” I protested. “Anyway, she refuses to speak to me on the phone.”

Agi, however, had already passed through the inner door.

“The only use for the directory is for its map of the city,” he said. “So I can find where your girl is staying.” Eager to flaunt his contempt for the common man, he added, “It is the only map made available to us, the povo.”

During this whole interchange António had not deviated from various kitchen tasks; but now, after releasing a trapped breath, he went out the back door.

Agi, meanwhile, had returned with the directory. Rainer asked me for the address. It made no sense to refuse the ride, so I took out my address book and thumbed through it. “It’s avenida Patrice Lumumba. Some flats called the Torres Vermelhas.”

“Ah! On the Catembe side!” he exclaimed. “The seedy part of town, compared with the smart Polana suburb where you are now.”

“Unlike you, her friends swim with the povo.”

Taking no notice of my verbal swipe he stared at the map for a long time. I thought he must be having trouble finding the street until he disconcerted me thoroughly by breaking into a recitation of disjointed half-remembered Portuguese verse: Uma janela vermelha sobre um mar negro (A red window over a black sea) ... Fogo nas árvores (Fire in the trees) … Homens curvam-se debaixo das luzes de guerra (Men crouch under lamps of war) … He seemed to be slipping into another of his reveries with his voice drifting off ... She watches from her red window, and weeps, for men are dying ...

“Enough!” I shouted, now rating him even more demented than his card of health indicated. “You’re either dropping me off at once, or I’ll leave under my own steam!”

His face shot up in bewilderment. “What! What was I saying? What is it?”

I shot a finger at him. “Are you taking me right now or not?”

“Of course I’m taking you! Avenida Patrice Lumumba is on my way to the factory.” He had switched back to his normal voice with suspicious ease; I had a strong feeling that I was being toyed with; in fact it was highly conceivable that he had been doing so all morning.

Without a second thought he tore the map out of the directory and handed it to me. “You will need it if you ever choose to go mad and walk alone in this dying city. I have another at our factory,” he said, releasing one of his cannon-ball laughs.

I still have that map. I found it useful when it came to writing this book.
THE DRIVE TO ULLA’S APARTMENT
It was almost noon by the time Rainer was ready to leave. Back in the old car, the heat in the streets held dominion over my flesh like a fever. I had brought along my shoulder bag with a shirt, some underwear, my money, my passport and toiletries. Rainer offered to bring me my suitcase when I had settled in elsewhere – an offer I could not refuse in view of the transport difficulties.

As we drove across the city I began to panic at the idea of meeting Kudzi. There is a point where something snaps, when the inability to make myself understood, to sort out ambiguities, misconceptions, sends rage through my veins until a murderous weapon is launched: verbal firepower. An ugly compulsion. But Kudzi also had a weapon: stonewalling silence. The two together were like oil and water.

Although he never said so directly, it seemed that Rainer really wanted me to carry on staying at his house, and for this reason he became charming. But it also occurred to me that he might have a more sinister motive – to keep me under observation because he had caught sight of me spying on his midnight intrigues with António.

“Look at all these walls around everything!” he said as we passed a two-storeyed house poking up from an ugly barricade of concrete slabs. “The only expanding industry in Mozambique – security walling. But we do not own our properties any more! Ridiculous paradox, no?”

He was swerving to miss the potholes and not doing too well, perhaps because of his zoot sun glasses, chrome-tinted so that you suffered the annoyance of seeing your reflection in them whenever he glanced at you. When we first got into the car at the house he had felt the need to provide an explanation for them that had struck me as fanciful: “They help me deal with the light fog. All the time I fight it. The short stubby waves are the worst.” And with a snaggle-toothed grin he had added, “You see, Michael, you and I – together we are pilgrims of darkness.” A chilling prospect that my imminent farewell would fortunately annul.

In the avenida Julius Nyerere, an incongruous white-wedding party had assembled for the classic photograph on the steps of a columned hall. “The Athenaeum Hall – now the Palace of Marriages,” Rainer explained. Behind the palace rose the majestic peaks of another building, an Orthodox church, its turrets overgrown with grass and weeds. My guide continued, “The pastor of that church was a friend of my father’s from Russia. No religious ties – my father is a Volga German1 and a “hell and damnation” Calvinist. But he and the priest both had families who ran first from Bolsheviks, then from Chinese Red Guards. When the Frelimo government nationalised property here, the priest nailed up his church and left for Europe. He gave my father the key to look after it. Needless to say, António is the one who does the cleaning. That church may look like a ruin on the outside, but you should see inside – it is beautiful, untouched!”

In the harsh reality of morning, the inner city was not a pretty sight. As though the Revolution had granted new strength to natural elements, the mosaics so beloved by the Portuguese had been stripped of their rich colours by the pile-driving sun and dust-driven wind, reducing the streets to a brooding gloom. Any shop or business not embalmed in protective material was falling to ruin. There were a few citizens about, but they strolled aimlessly, or talked in groups, or played cards or African mxuva with bottle tops on the pavement while waiting for an end – any end – to their suspended misery.

Rainer asked me how I got in from the airport as only the happy few had petrol. To my consternation he said he knew Irish Maeve and her husband Joe, and that he too had been invited to the Americans’ Christmas Eve Party. “I am a friend of the Embassy,” he added proudly. It was difficult to imagine him balancing a glass of champagne and nibbling a sausage on a stick.

An impressive department store was the next attraction. With its display windows shrouded in mauve curtaining it looked more like a funeral parlour. Soldiers stood at the entrance. “The Loja Interfranca – the Duty Free,” Rainer announced. “You can buy a yacht in there … if you have real money.”

Meanwhile he pointed out the boarded-up Coimbra Café, which had been a trendy spot nos boms velhos tempos. A hole had been hacked through planks as an entrance. “They serve nothing but lemon cordial from the USSR that tastes like soap,” he said. “But it is better than our water which is full of meningitis, hepatitis, polio,” – adding wryly – “Yes Miguel, we are rich in certain things.”

Soon after passing the Coimbra Café I became convinced a car was following us. There were few vehicles on the roads and of these most were army or official cars, unlike the blue re-sprayed Fiat that had come up behind us and was turning whenever we did. When I brought the subject to Rainer’s attention he shrugged it off. “In Maputo everybody is watching everybody. You will get used to it.” This was hardly reassuring. Having been spotted with him at the Polana Hotel, had I become irreversibly contaminated?

We continued in silence along the coast, the proximity of the sea pumping salted hot air into the car, so thick I could swallow it. Nevertheless, a gang of kids was playing football in the street with a can, refusing to move out of the way, so that Rainer had to drive round them. Their tired eyes passed over us and our vehicle with resigned envy.

We had reached a route high above the sea, with the Fiat still in tow, when Rainer remarked casually, “Do you wish to interrogate me about what you overheard between António and me last night?”

I concealed my astonishment. This was not something I welcomed at all. I was about to leave him for good, and the prospect of a looming Greek tragedy with Kudzi was occupying my mind. But Rainer pressed on with a eulogy of António in an attempt to explain their unusual association. “António’s parents were killed during Frelimo’s war against the Portuguese … poor things! António is a bright man. He has been to school. He reads books. He is someone I can talk to. He is a secret friend because my father would never tolerate fraternising with the servants – as you can imagine. What did you hear us say?”

His persistence overthrew my restraint: “Transmitters! plots! code words like ‘the ham’, Cimas or whatever ... do you really expect me to believe that António is a servant?”

“He is not entirely a servant. This is true,” he answered, unfazed. “With time I could explain to you what we were really talking about.”

“Sorry, Rainer! Looks like we’ll never find that time.”

“Pity,” he mumbled.

His regret seemed fake – my departure could hardly have come as a surprise. “I can’t imagine why you would want me to stay,” I remarked.

He responded with a surge of passion: “You have no idea what it is to live here! We are trapped. Maputo is cut off from the rest of the country, the rest of the world!” – shaking his fingers like frills, now switching in and out of Portuguese – “You are a vital addition, like oxygen. You will not stay long: those who come from outside never stay. But I ... I am stuck here, looking for a way out ... searching to break ... for a way to break the state of torpor.” He could come up with the oddest turns of phrase – quebrar com o estado de turpor is what he said, the word “torpor” equally unused in Portuguese and English and incongruous in the context of his sentence.

“At least you have António,” I remarked.

We had pulled up abruptly in front of one of three high-rise buildings. “Here you are,” he muttered. “At the apartments where you wish to be – the Torres Vermelhas.” They were not red at all, but a suicidal grey like so many similar blocks in high-density suburbs in so many cities.

Getting out of that Peugeot was like being released from a cage; but my exhilaration was cut short by the apprehension of being rejected, yet again, by Kudzi.

Rainer was looking straight ahead with a pitiful expression as if he were being deserted by a bosom friend. “I will wait here … just in case,” he said dolefully.

“No need. I’ll sort myself out.” I tapped the roof in a friendly manner as if I were patting a dog. “Thank you. Good-bye, Rainer. I hope you have a good afternoon at the factory.”

I had forgotten the spying Fiat, which was now upon us. As I headed towards the apartment block, two youngish men scrutinised me from the vehicle with studied menace before accelerating and speeding away – like in the movies.

The Peugeot had not moved. So I stopped and stood there staring Rainer down until he steered his old car jerkily forward. I caught a last glimpse of his saucer eyes transfixed on the road ahead, aghast with apprehension as if he were taking himself off to meet his maker.

Only when the car was out of sight, leaving ropes of dark smoke swinging above the road, did I take a deep breath and square up to the task that had brought me to Mozambique.




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