Night of the fireflies


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R: One of the ways I work is to bind the backbones of cells so they can build new layers. There are machines that can do this.

M: What machines?

R: Transcription machines. They activate genes so they can multiply; body cells can be renewed forever, unless you get killed in an accident. Eternal life exists in theory, and in reality in certain places. But it is hard to define a gene because it is already a set of units among greater sets.

M: I thought a gene is supposed to be a trait?

R: No, it is already a set of traits. Ah, it is such a maze! All the time I am struggling to discover the functional purpose of a unit, fighting to pinpoint collections of subunits that have gathered into a defined structure with a precise activity. When I was talking about my lowly-evolved father, I told you that the Life-Line – the soul – is also an arrangement of informational units that become biochemically reactivated.

M: For me the soul is just a religious invention.

R: Life-Line is a better word. I say: there is a General Life-Line like the one for the human species or for the dog species – he patted Rosa affectionately – and there is a Specific Life-Line for Rosa and for you, Miguel – the individuals. A Life-Line is continuous in space-time.

M: You mean like past lives?

R: Yes. A life is a moment of genetic incorporation for a Specific Life-Line. When it is not embodied the Life-Line still exists as a record of information defining its capacities.

M: The soul exists as matter?

R: As energy. Nothing is ever lost in the universe. If you do not understand this, you understand nothing. If you throw something away, where does it go? … it simply goes elsewhere. It may transform, it may get stored as information, but it cannot vanish. By the way, the precision of energy in the cosmos is remarkable. Why, every blade of grass has a Specific Life-Line! Now you look confused. Already we are stumbling over words.

M: Grass has a soul?

R: What about atoms? Atoms also go through a moment of conception like you and me, except the units involved are not combining cells but combining particles. The base elements are the primal souls or the Life-Lines of the universe – single units of copper, iron, gold and so on.

M: One blade of grass, has a specific soul, you say. While a field of grass will have a broader-based soul that you call a General Life-Line? Have I got that right?

R: Except there are several types of grasses. But you have the basic idea.

M: What’s this got to do with healing?

R: Everything criss-crosses in life. Everything is moving, changing partners, transforming its nature along the way. Two Life-Lines of hydrogen and one of oxygen produce a new functional collective – water, a new Life-Line.

M: Let’s forget about Life-Lines. Stick to genes – everyone’s heard of them. What about these transcription machines you mentioned for genes?

R: They are Zeegan.

M: Is that the name of the machine?

R: No. The place where they make them is Zeega.

M: Oh dear! Life-Lines, and now some sci-fi place called Zeega. Let’s try and stick as close as possible to pure science!

R: Your ignorance makes this interview impossible!
After this put-down, I paused to finish a sandwich and have a glass of orange juice. I was afraid that I might have to abandon the whole exercise. I needed to coax more down-to-earth material out of Rainer to get an interview I could sell.
M: Rainer, I have to stop you if I don’t understand. The readers of this article are going to be Mr & Mrs Average.

R: I do not have the tidy mind of a scientist. You want me to remember what I was doing in a trance with that soldier. That is not easy. I need to look for the words. And if you keep on interrupting I shall forget what I am getting at.

I put down my empty glass and sat up with fresh determination.

M: Let’s start at the beginning. The soldier is lying in front of the car lights. What did you do first?

R: Ai Jesus! I will try again. We are all receptors and emitters of energy. I directed rays from my brain through my fingers. First I scattered them into the soldier: you saw me turning my hand – I was scanning the injured zone.

M: What are these rays?

R: The normal. I can only use what is available in nature. Alpha, beta, gamma and so on.

M: I saw the skeleton of the man, the shadow of his heart. It was like seeing an X-ray. Were you producing X-rays?

R: Yes, at first. The high resolution of short waves helps me focus my energies to acquire a psi picture of the many layers in an injury: broken structures, severed connections, discordance ...

M: Hold on! Psi again! What exactly is psi?

R: The abbreviation of psychic. As I have told you, psi is not supernatural, there is no such thing. In healing, psi consists of beams of electrons of various lengths which I use to push forward synthesis of cells in blood, tissue, bone. But in the larger area of communications and transference there are higher powers of psi, much higher – in fact psi can generate reactions stronger than the four flavours of power known to hominoids, and infinite within our universe.

I was surprised but pleased by Rainer’s precise use of the word “flavour” – at least it was evidence that he had some genuine scientific knowledge. As I knew a little about the four flavours of energy, I did not press Rainer for more specifications. But let me remind the reader … the standard hierarchy of known strengths is as follows: gravitational – 1; electromagnetic – 10/20th; chemical – 10/25th; nuclear – 10/40th.

M: Can’t these healing rays be harmful?

R: Of course. I had to speed up that soldier’s metabolic rate to break down debris and synthesise millions of cells. Such electromagnetic energy can sometimes add up to a lethal dose and kill off good cells. It is a precarious battle. I hope you did not feel unwell from incidental rays?

M: Just watching you digging into the fellow made me unwell. And all that blood!

R: If I put that energy into a baby I would kill it.

M: You can electrocute a baby with rays from your brain!

R: If I wanted to kill someone it would be easier to shoot them. You are doing an interview about healing, or would you prefer to discuss killing? In nature the two are easily interchanged.

M: Sorry. Please go on. After removing the bullet from the soldier …?

R: I hurled everything useful at the escaping blood to make it clot ... What do I throw, you were about to ask? I believe they are proteins. I know they are proteins because I have studied them in books and at university and they match the atomic structures I find through psi connections. Even if I could not name the proteins, with psi power I can still use them to do a job, and those who can name them – the surgeons – cannot do it unless they have tools, machines and drugs.

M: What do proteins do?

R: Proteins are the building blocks of all organisms. They are strong catalysts. There is one wonderful protein I have used to suppress tumours. It is like a bar of shimmering neon. It glows unlike all the others, like a yellow rose in a field of poppies. It loves to stun cancer cells. I help it wage war.

I asked Rainer to name this protein, but he could not do so. Since then, I have asked several doctors, and it has been suggested that it could be one that is classified as nm23. I found an article about it in Science Vol 261, 23 July 1993, p 428, describing the capacity of nm23 to stun cancer cells. But nm23 is still under research.
M: Your stepmother died of cancer, you said. Why didn’t you save her?

R: Disease is always present as part of the see-saw of life – it lies around waiting for the chance to strike. I can shock certain rogue cells into stasis so they forget to metastasise. But I never know how long they will stay neutralised. I kept my mãezimha going for a long time.

M: My apologies for mentioning your stepmother so callously ... What about Rosa? You’re a healer, so why did you need to put her leg in plaster?

R: Bone cells are not as easy to rebuild as soft tissue. But without the work I did on her, the cast could not have been removed so early. You will find your rib mending far quicker than usual.

M: How do you trace the proteins?

R: I see them, hear them, feel their vibrations ... Now I can hear your magazine readers shouting “Crank!”

M: Well, perhaps you could describe “see” a bit more? Seeing proteins for instance?

R: Bats! that is what most proteins look like – bats hanging down through the roof of the body cells, all hooked together. But I do not “see” in the normal way: it is the energy pattern of their structure that registers in my brain.

M: Like a thought?

R: Yes, if you like. Or a sensation. Also a visualisation. Proteins as various formations of bats – it’s almost like a dream really. I also connect with the particular signature light of the species “protein”. Let me add, I have difficulty with the proteins; they are stubborn and mysterious. I can click on to them, but activating them depends on their size and charge: low-charged ones require hard work, sometimes I do not have the energy to make them move down the organelles.

M: You go from using a precise scientific word like “organelles” to “bats”. I find this quite difficult.

R: Most of your readers will always have problems because their minds are set – for them there will always be a real world and an unreal world.

M: Yes, and never the two shall meet! But at least with you, we can try. Let’s get back to blood clotting.

R: All right! Certain proteins make blood clot. I remove some on the outer surface of red blood cells which make the blood too thin. There are also useful ones in plasma that I use to join up molecules.

I had no idea then what he was referring to, but I have since read that lipid proteins discovered in 1979 by Dennis Chapman in red blood cells increase blood flow. So perhaps Rainer removed these from the outer surface of the cells. And indeed, it is true that plasma proteins (globulins, thromboplastin, fibrinogen) help blood to clot.

At this point the interview was momentarily interrupted …

Rainer was about to describe how he could fuse molecules when his father came in from the veranda without a sound and peered in disbelief at the depleted sandwich tray. With a pounce he grabbed what was left of the sandwiches in both hands, crushing them. Then after directing some profanity in German at Rainer, he swivelled round and went off with his loot towards the kitchen. Later in the interview I heard him banging away in his tool shed.

Rainer shrugged off the incident dismissively, and we got straight back to our subject.

M: You were about to tell me how you join up molecules?

R: One way is to make bonds with chemicals driven by energy provided by me – a sort of photosynthesis, I suppose. All I really do is help the body self-assemble. The chemicals are known by science. It serves no point to name them.

M: Name one.

R: So you can check up on me, hey? … Ras is apparently the name of one major protein I use. I also push body sugar into damaged and hungry cells. Whatever is needed I search for and fetch.

M: Can you describe this further?

R: Filho da mãe! ... Cells are like worms that you cut and they become two worms. I help the body create millions per second in this way – mass growth to repair tissues, blood vessels, whatever. How to describe this? Filaments of rays from my fingertips divide cells like scissors, or join them together like knitting needles.

M: How can you guide something as tiny as a protein?

R: You ask good questions ... I tag them with a signal recognisable to me that corresponds to the same signal in the target area. Another way is to load a required protein type with a carbohydrate that is familiar to me, go to the injured area, then pull them in.

This time it was Agi who came out on to the veranda. She was bringing more sandwiches.

Rainer used the opportunity to take off on a tangent, trying to convince me that nature had dealt him a terrible hand. When he started talking about “them” and “the enemy” who were part of some destructive force, I threatened to call off the interview.

It took a while for him to calm down sufficiently for me to try again.

M: You also spoke of vibrations when you had your hand inside the soldier’s body?

R: Oh, yes, I hear a lot of sound … like musical notes passing right through me, shaking me.

M: From where?

R: Well, from the wound for a start. I feel the sound of pain. As a healer I am like a conductor pulling the orchestra together to play the symphony the body is desperate to hear – the symphony of the body cells when they are all functioning together at their best. The score for good health was already there throughout the soldier’s body, which was like an orchestra gone out of tune because it has been shot with a bullet. I was re-tuning the instruments that have become discordant through injury. I work to increase the harmony and up the pulse.

M: You up the tempo of the music! I like the analogy: good health as maximum harmony. I could see it was hard work – you were panting and sweating. I have noticed you don’t usually sweat much.

R: I shudder at the horror of decay at the same time as I am exhilarated by building new life in the cells. There is a constant struggle between discord and chaos on one side – and harmony and conformation on the other. The trouble is these states are always transitory according to the primary functional law of nature – the Positive-Negative Dynamic as I call it. But just now you stopped me talking about this!

M: Because you made it sound like some personal vendetta being waged against you by extraterrestrials.

R: Well let me tell you straight: this fundamental duality is the driving force at the heart of all energy everywhere – with every plus there comes a minus, if you see what I mean. Once you get the harmony together, you know that sooner or later something is going to come along and break it up: like the soldier getting shot – his job is a good metaphor for how things are in life – sitting about waiting to get shot; like my mother by cancer; like you also – you have been shot by Kudzi – you will recover, but you are a romantic so you will get shot again by some other lover.

M: I’d rather not talk about Kudzi ... Anyway a broken heart is not science.

R: You are wrong there. Everything is science in the sense that everything has a cause, and energy takes more forms than you realise.

Rainer suddenly turned to look towards the far end of the veranda, frowned, and stood up. The cause of his anxiety was a cricket that had been feebly chirping away throughout our talk, and had now fallen silent.

“I think it just died,” Rainer announced as he set off to investigate.

I was astonished to find that there was a cricket lying motionless on its back in a small wooden box perched on the gauzed sill. After opening the box and prodding the insect, Rainer said, “Poor little cricket!” Without ceremony he raised a bottom edge of the veranda gauze and threw the dead insect out.

“You keep a pet cricket in a cage?” I asked incredulously.

“They are my barometers,” he answered. “They can register cyclonic shifts. If it is going to rain tomorrow or even next week, a cricket can let me know.”

I gestured impatiently towards our seats.

M: If this psi energy you talk of comes from the brain, why don’t I have it?

R: At this stage of human evolution everyone has the necessary packs of antennae – they have been around for millions of years. And the brain to make proper use of them has existed since the primates. All you need to learn is how to tune your brain correctly. You see, there are patterns in our brain cells that are an expression of a wider balance of forces.

M: What are patterns?

R: Laws of behaviour, if you prefer. Scientists call them “power laws”. Hominoids and more evolved beings have the capacity to discover and compare patterns. This is the only way we can broaden our understanding of how nature works. And I must tell you: even if science can achieve the conquest of nature, it cannot turn its knowledge into someone’s personal living experience. Only psi can bring discovery and personal experience together as one event. The evolutionary way forward for higher activates is to operate on the psi level and to refine that sensibility. I have developed my psi more than you – that is why I can heal and do other things that I consider much more important.

M: What is more important?

R: Phase transitions, for a start. Following the trajectory of my own Life-Line into future and past activates. Seeking a way out of this hell named Mozambique!

M: Now, now! You’re getting emotional again. What are future and past activates?

R: Incarnations, if you like. Santo Deus, if I had not been sent back to this lowly hell-hole, I could be in the company of beings who are closer to my level of development … elsewhere! But rest assured: I intend to remedy this error.

M: I have problems with reincarnation, and with life on other worlds – I assume Zeega is some planet that has superior life on it, according to you. Please can you stick to psi and tell me what you apply it to?

R: Olá! Let me try again! Psi consists of all the readable signals that fly between sub-particles, particles and the larger constructions of these. I am like a spectroscope with a brain that can “read” – he made the inverted commas with his fingers – the colour, “smell” the tone, “resonate” with the oscillations of a lot of these connections and follow them to wherever they lead. But psi is nothing to get fat-headed about – dogs and cats have good psi senses. Isn’t it, my Rosa? – He paused for cuddles with the dog. – Rosa senses moods as a person enters a room, she senses a human field.

M: What’s that?

R: Your guru type would say “aura” – that sort of thing.

M: Do you think I hang out with guru types?

R: I think that is how you wish to write me off.

M: Why not call it instinct instead of psi?

R: Instinct and intuition are the beginning of psi. When pigeons navigate by sensing the north-south poles in tiny globules of magnetic oxide, we are talking of psi power at a primitive level. I must make it clear to you again that my powers are not super-human – you could also become a healer. We all have the potential, mostly unexpressed ...

At this point in the interview the phone rang and my heart leapt – Kudzi at last! Rainer had quite the opposite reaction – his face fell and he got up so fast some chess pieces were sent flying off the board. Excusing himself he hurried off to the hall.

The call was for him and he must have been waiting for it. From the lounge I saw him cup his hand round the mouthpiece for secrecy. The conversation was brief. When he came back he was tense. “I have to go,” he muttered.

“We were doing so well!” I said as he passed into an adjoining room, which I assumed must be his bedroom. Within seconds he came out, wearing his sunglasses and promising to return in an hour. I was about to protest when he lifted a hand, cutting me short: “Don’t worry! I will take you to your appointment for five.”

“I’d love to get back to the interview,” I said, “sometime when ...” but he was already a thousand miles away and out the front door, pulling at the sparse hair on the back of his head with his spidery fingers.

Although it was only the middle of the day, I collapsed on the bunk bed in the library. Heat exhaustion on top of emotional and physical overload made sleep come easily.

I was woken by the return of the Peugeot. Whatever Rainer had done during his absence had worked out well, for he was cheerful. I doubted that it had anything to do with the family’s factory, which was of such little interest to him; he was up to something that Ulla had got wind of – and that something had to be political.

At 4:30 the exercise of backing the car down the drive flushed António out of the domestic quarters. He did his gate opening without looking at us. Rosa leapt about joyously in the back. I was sitting stiff with anticipation.

“Look!” Rainer was waving his chromed sunglasses at a high wall opposite the house where Embaixada da República Democrática Alemã was engraved on a golden plaque. “That is the place my father spends hours staring at from the veranda, even though he cannot see it – he can only imagine it. But when he could see it, and – more to the point – when those East Germans could see him staring at them, they grew most nervous. So they built this wall round their embassy.” He smiled mischievously, and went on, “Then they officially accused him of spying on them, due to all his staring.”

As we passed clear of the forbidding wall, Rainer laughed at his father’s misfortune. “As you can imagine, being a second-hand Bismarck my old man was not too happy to find the Marxist Democrats – a contradiction in two words if you ask me – installed after independence opposite our house. Sure enough, he got arrested. Before the authorities released him as a soft head he spent some days in Machava Jail listening to the wailing ghosts of the dead buried under the floors by PIDE.2 Of course, our SNASP is no less efficient. The only difference now is that we get to pick our own torturers.”

As we headed down the brown-baked street I could have sworn I saw the hunchbacked Totobola fellow scampering into the apartment building next to the embassy, and at once the tenuous control of reality that I had developed since daybreak slipped a notch or two. Had his pursuit of me across town been a phobic image? Or did he exist physically in space-time and live right next door?

Rainer was in such a voluble mood he managed to misjudge the corner at the end of his road, braking so abruptly that Rosa slammed against me, plunging a thousand daggers into my rib cage. Rainer trumpeted belly laughs while I shoved the dog away.

By the time we were passing the dried-up swamps around the Mini-Golf in the Parque de Campismo, my driver was humming to himself and making intermittent exclamations of satisfaction – the delighted audience of his own private show. I was relieved not to be his hired audience … at least for a while.

We continued through the suburb of Sommershield past a concrete motor-racing track, cracked like an old scab and pierced with stalks of dead maize like bristle.

Finally he dropped me off on the avenida Zimbabwé, no less, in front of an incongruously modernist social centre with undulating walls and a curvaceous roof that rose to several peaks. Security guards stood around in blue uniforms watching over a bevy of 4 X 4 vehicles with diplomatic plates. Rainer pointed out a path through the Campismo that would lead me to the nearby Búzio Bar where I could find him if I wanted a lift back. He waved goodbye jauntily, sure that he had not seen the last of me.

The scene inside the auditorium was from another world: some thirty people, mostly white and many wearing African prints, stood around holding glasses of Portuguese wine and the regulation cocktail stick skewering a tinned sausage or lump of processed cheese. Kudzi was nowhere to be seen.

A young Scandinavian asked me to identify myself, then passed me on to a Mozambican who was “a very experienced cultural worker and a member of the collective that painted the mural at the Praça dos Heróis”. Taking me for a donor, this “trabalhador cultural” rushed to lament that murals had disappeared in Mozambique with the paint shortage and even posters that developed the “correct symbolism of the struggle” had been curtailed from lack of paper to print them on. “But,” he insisted with optimism, “this bad situation can be remedied immediately by an injection of foreign sponsorship from your government.”

I distanced myself from the cultural worker and downed two glasses of wine. There was still no sign of Kudzi.

At the start of the show I went to sit in the back row so that I could spot her if she came in. Albie Sachs was introduced to the audience, a reedy man with gentle eyes and the nervy presence of a poet rather than a South African ANC militant. (Four years later his arm was blown off in a bomb explosion in the streets of Maputo, engineered by the South African secret service.)

Someone drew the curtains and a carousel began to whirl, projecting the title slide on to a screen: Images of a Revolution. Shots of traditional Makonde hut paintings appeared while Albie held forth: “… it has long been part of the culture of Southern Africa for people to paint on the walls of their homes. This painting has always been infused with meaning. The patterns symbolised the universe in which the peasant family grows and farms and dies. Under colonialism the people were forced off the land and were permitted only to gaze on the walls of the oppressive state. But after the 1975 Revolution they took back the walls and covered them with the expression of their search for freedom.”

Daylight streamed into the room as a door opened. My head shot round. I was seized by palpitations. Ulla, followed by Kudzi, entered and sat down in the row ahead of me.

In the tremulous glow of the carousel I was stunned by the sparks of light glimmering in the oiled springs of my lover’s hair. Then, like a man stumbling towards a mirage, I hauled my body across the empty seats. She flinched as I sat down next to her, stiffened, and leaned away. Not daring to look at her, I watched the screen without seeing anything.

It required a superhuman effort for me to whisper “I must talk to you!” And again, “Come outside!”

“No!” like a cry of suffocation.

The firm rebuttal stirred me. “I can’t wait ’till after,” I lied. “I’ve got a lift waiting.”

She was also staring at the screen without seeing it. She was beautiful beyond my memories of her. The raw passion of her feelings always lay just below the surface of her skin; unlike me, the mask was not in her repertoire and the panic besieging her face was equal to the shock that caused it. I wanted to cradle her in my arms – or else obliterate her.

“We must talk,” I said in a voice skirting hysteria.

She did not move, but her expression intensified as the emotional current running between us became increasingly difficult to contain. Like a flare she rose from her chair and pushed past me. I caught the fury in Ulla’s eyes as I clambered up to follow.

“... revolution is a highly conscious act,” Albie was saying as we went through the exit. “It permits the unthinkable to be thought and the inconceivable to be imagined ...”

It was sunset. Kudzi stopped among the parked vehicles and plunged her hands into the nest of her hair. On her face was the expression of someone pinned to the ground. I stood by, gaping like an idiot.

She set off towards a vacant plot with me at her heels. Once there, we had to slow down because the grass, which was alive with crickets and other small creatures, also concealed a lot of rubble from a destroyed building. Searching for a way out of the electrified tension I waved at the ruins and said, “Reality does not match Albie’s aspirations.”

She halted abruptly. “So let’s just pull up the sheet and die!”

I had been wounded by her sharpness, but I could not have made a worse opening remark – it had plunged us straight back into the entrails of our dispute. With nothing further to lose I said, “When I recall your generous and loving spirit, for me it’s like dying.”

She pointed northwards. “Thousands of people are getting cut to ribbons out there, and you’re dying!”

“One fact doesn’t abolish the other,” I stammered.

We were walking slowly now, each of us hampered by the perils of our emotions. I said, “I’m not used to seeing you so angry.”

I could see her soften. Soon she came to a standstill, and said, “I’m sorry! I hate being angry with you.” She averted her face. I stared at the side of her neck sweeping into her shoulder, its curve in the golden afternoon sun the epitome of grace. Moth-like, I wanted to crash into her lambent skin. We stood in silence until she said with a sigh, “You and I want different things.”

“My political disillusionment is a consequence of my honesty,” I said imploringly. “In no way do I deny your political consistency.”

“For goodness sake, Michael, I wasn’t talking politics. You’re looking for some female version of yourself ... on your glittering stage.” She was close to tears.

“You never cry, Kudzi.”

“Wrong! You never see me cry.” With a trembling hand she wiped the perspiration from her forehead. “You shouldn’t have come to Mozambique.”

There was a strongly toxic smell of weeds. We were both beating at flies. Did “glittering stage” refer to the Africa Centre in London during the launch of Black Fire!, my book about the war in Rhodesia? The event had attracted a glittering assembly, including the celebrated author, James Baldwin, who had been a father figure to me and whose stature had not stood in the way of a profound relationship. I had loved James. But from the podium I had kept watching this remarkable-looking woman sitting at the back of the room, shy and self-conscious. Later in the bar I had noticed that she adopted pride to compensate for social inexperience. Yet, beneath this veneer something else shone, and it was exposed to me the first time we made love – an unassailable integrity.

I said, “The day we met at the Africa Centre, you were part of that glittering stage.”

Kudzi turned to me in surprise. “I was sent as a journalist to report on James Baldwin’s speech. That’s all.” We had reached a crumpled wall which decreed that we must retrace our steps. As though recalling something best forgotten, she said, “In those days I thought I needed to become part of that world. Christ, I’d come straight from Africa to London! You took my shyness for weakness. You took advantage of my lack of social skills.”

I was astonished that she thought I could consider her weak.

She continued, “I fell in love – for the first time outside my homeland – and with a sophisticated white man. I didn’t know how to stand up to you. I became submissive.”

“I never sought to repress you, Kudzi. I used to be over-confident – I realise this was a fault. But I love you because you have opinions. You told me: ‘Most African men can’t accept an independent woman.’ Remember? It was one reason you wanted to be with me.”

She laughed sadly. “To some extent I had to break with my cultural inheritance – that’s true. But that wasn’t my problem with you. Your whole philosophy is kill or be killed. Even a discussion is a matter of life and death. You were too rough for me.”

She was getting things the wrong way round. “That’s just intellectual boxing,” I said. “I was taught to do that at university.”

We were following a pathway in the labyrinth of destruction that brought us to another stop before a broad stretch of concrete flooring from where dust powdered our skin in the scorching breeze. Bright red ants were skittering around crazily on the concrete as if they had taken too much sun. We both paused to watch them. Some were circumnavigating a crumbling snakeskin, a reminder that the Africa of old was not far away.

I went on to say, “You’re secretive, Kudzi, but not submissive. You don’t talk much. All I did was fill your silence … perhaps.”

“You see how you talk – you say something assuming you’re right. Then I know you won’t be listening when I answer.”

I frowned. “I swear I am listening to you now.”

She looked at me doubtfully.

I had leaned up against a large decaying machine that lay like a carcass with its axles in the air. Memories of us flashed through my mind. I remembered her telling me once that the women in my dreams were all neutered tom boys, thereby proving that I was unable to see her as herself. Yet all I had felt for her was love. This made it difficult to accept that for her our story had been one of suffering. How shocking to think that we may have been living together in two separate realities! It was almost as if she were describing a relationship with someone else!

Kudzi spoke again, interrupting my thoughts. “You preferred to see my strong points only – the bits you liked. You never saw how much I needed a little nurturing because I was naive and too defensive. You’re no good at that. That’s the reason you don’t want children, not because each film is like having a child, like you claim.”

We had run out of new directions in the rubble, so we began re-tracing the same circles. I hated the way she was using the past tense. And worse still, what she said made all the love that I had felt for her while we had been together seem useless.

I could sense my dismay haul slyness up from the depths; I was now ready to use any ploy that might gain me time with her, gain another meeting. When we stopped next to a wire fence, I said, “An artist has to hold himself up to the world as a mirror: self-centred doesn’t necessarily imply selfish. My work has never stopped me appreciating you ... loving you.”

Her exquisite hands wrestled with the top wire of the fence. “You offer a sort of fan-club love,” she said. “There’s a reality you’ve never acknowledged: that I didn’t feel cared for, considered ... I became very unhappy.”

Her last remark released an emotional reaction which, even in its spontaneity, came with a covert wish that it would win me some favours: I began to sob quietly. She groaned. I hid my face in a handkerchief. Soon she said, “Michael, please try and understand the truth of where we are now, you and I. I don’t love you any more – I mean like a home, like children, like forever. But please remember this: I do not wish to harm you. In fact I would be unable to do that. I just don’t have it in me as a reflex action. So please stop twisting me into something vicious in your mind.”

If only she could have put her arms round me! How much I needed her touch! Instead she stood waiting patiently for me to stop crying.

“Our love is full of poisoned arrows,” she said, and the suffering in her tone gave me hope. Shaking her head, she repeated, “I do not wish to harm you.”

I needed a raft, and as long as I could get her on to it, we might still have a chance. I said in a small voice, “I can’t stop loving you.”

A car engine started up. I could hear people coming out onto the street. The slide show was over. Kudzi sighed and said, “I distrust the word ‘love’ in your mouth. You need someone to fill your house, to fill the times between your films. You are terrified of any gaps.”

She drew away from me. “I must go ... You want your life to be filled up. That is possible. But not the way you seek to do it, through a woman.”

“Not ‘a woman’ … You!”

“I can’t help you, Michael. No woman can without sacrificing a good part of herself.”

People were getting into their vehicles, others were coming out of the hall. I heard myself ask, “Are you really going to work in Mozambique?”

“I don’t know. It’s not confirmed.”

In the doorway of the building Ulla was talking to a woman, but mainly surveying us, fretfully. Beyond the sweeping nun’s hat of a roof, the last hints of day were fading and the first mosquito of the night whined past my ear. I might never see Kudzi again. Through an appalling lack of skill I was losing the battle for her heart.

She began walking away ... I had always adored the natural bounce in her step.

Please God, give me a raft!

“Let’s make a compromise …” I called after her, “to keep talking.”

She stopped and faced me, and I watched her struggle with conflicting emotions. At last she said, “Let’s wait and see.”

I took a quick breath ...

With the glimmer of a smile, she added, “I thought you had a lift waiting?”

She had climbed on board the raft … almost! Quickly I said, “We need more time … to see clearly. We can’t leave one another in chaos. I’ll be calm, I promise, Kudzi!”

“You, calm!” As well as humour there was a touch of affection in her tone. Then she frowned and asked, “Whatever happened to your face?”

“I was assaulted … walking about town.”

“Are you mad? You can’t just walk about!” She shook her head in disbelief while studying her hands which were now caressing one another. She was such a generous person; I felt dwarfed by the size of her generosity. How could I ever rise to it? There were times when it had even been irksome because it was unreasonable – like when she gave away things that she actually needed.

She started walking off, but looked back at me again and said, “I’ll phone you.”

I watched her until she reached her transport. I gave a little wave – she returned it as she got into the car.

She had looked back at me, she had smiled at me, she had asked after me, and she had said she would phone me: I walked off towards the Búzio Bar with a spring in my step.

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