(44 – Moon Shadows)
The half-moon was at its zenith when the first hints of dawn began to tint the eastern horizon, and its light etched the shapes of the tall trees and low bushes in starkness on an ambient canvas of silver luminescence.
As Precious walked from the squat box like staff rooms, along the narrow path which led to the gap in the fence leading to the kitchen, there was nothing but the soft crunch of her footsteps to dent the silence.
She loved this time when the night held its breath just prior to the birth of a new day. Its pregnant heaviness imbued a special creativity in her imagination. The night’s shadows and shapes were like pencil sketches stacked against the walls of her mind, where they waited to be painted with the colors she would soon select from a palette filled with the light of the new born day.
As she walked she did not feel the twinge of anxiety that was often present when there was no moonlight. At such times her progress along the path had to be found by feeling the grass at its verges brushing against her shins. And she knew that like a big cat the unknown always prowled the bush most actively when it was cloaked in complete darkness.
Of course she could always wait for Charity or Nora to rouse, and have their company on this short walk, but Precious was aware of her own slight sense of aloofness when it came to her relationship with the other girls at the Lodge.
She was glad that the woman were never the first to rise. That was Gilbert’s domain. Gilbert would always don his clothes a full hour before dawn and head over to the pizza oven outside the kitchen. There he would blow on last night’s fire and pick up its embers. Then with another bucket of kindling, he would methodically move down the line of chalets, lighting a fire at the base of each of their ‘donkey’ water boilers.
But right now in the bright predawn moonlight, precious did not need Gilbert’s reassuring scouting to allay any anxiousness about the unknown, because everything was bathed in monochrome clarity.
She took the kidney shaped shadow of a monkey bread trees pod, and replicated it in spooned repetitiveness down her mind’s eye, alternating them in reds and bright oranges on the ruffled silver of the grass below the monkey bread tree itself.
And then she stripped away the ruffled silver, and instead replaced it with a weave of the long shoots of the elephant grass in the patch she was passing.
With the big gaudy pods of color on the fabric it would have to be that of a summer style printed on light linen. And for the winter she would take away the monkey bread, maybe even leave the tight straw patent to augment the warmth of the weave of a heavy suede.
Suddenly she paused and stood still. A flicker of that dark anxiousness brushed aside the bright pods in her mind, to whisper its warning.
It had been a rustle in the grass ahead which triggered her hesitation.
She stood very still holding her breath with her whole body tensely alive, pressed back into its evolutionary passed with its primeval instincts ready to burst into flight.
Everything seemed still and in place.
But a flicker of movement ahead drew the sweep of her eyes.
As she strained to see, the silhouette of a Warthog moved out of the grass into the path a hundred meters ahead.
It was followed by a little piglet.
Precious could feel her relief turn to a slight weakness in her legs as her muscles relaxed their tightness, and the adrenaline faded.
She began to slowly move again, with one gentle step in front of the other.
She thought how she had listened as Gidi said to Moses, that in his opinion the area around the Lodge held the highest concentration of warthogs anywhere in the national Park.
He could not give any reason for this, but in many ways, he said, it was a blessing to the Lodge, because even though the Warthog itself could hardly be considered for the centerfold in the lodges brochures, their abundance attracted some unique predators.
‘We are not the only ones who like bacon.’ He had joked.
He then described how the week before, a Martial Eagle flashed out of nowhere as a hog and her piglets nibbled the buffalo grass in front of the chalets.
He had stood motionless looking at the unfolding drama, only meters away, with the little pig squealing its agony as the eagle mantled over its victim with spread wings, footing and crushing its talons into the little hogs body. How after subduing its struggles the huge bird had looked up and noticed him, and in its fright abandoned the piglet to fly up into a nearby tree.
He recounted that he had backed away slowly leaving the little piglet squealing pathetically with its lungs punctured, and with a crippled front leg, it was unable to walk straight in the direction in which its mother and sibling bolted.
From the inside of the chalet where he would not be noticed, he had watched how the eagle returned to carry the helpless little creature, still squeaking pitifully for its mother, up to a bare branch.
Once up there, Gidi described how the majestic bird, holding the piglet in its talons, began to tear off chunks of flesh, until its feeble whimpers of misery subsided into silence.
But now, Precious pushed aside these gory images of predation, and watched as the mother hog before her turned to trot away with flagged tail, followed by her piglet, as they were swallowed by the moon shadows of the night.
And then, she sighed as she herself sank back into the shadows of her mind.
(45 – Moral laws)
Did the warthog feel any sense of loss? Is there any sadness or bereavement amongst animals?
Precious toyed with the idea as she approached the entrance to the kitchen.
Just because they do not speak, does it mean that animals do not have emotions? Clearly they have fear, and anger, and excitement. Anyone who had watched a dog trembling during a lightning storm, or yipping when chasing a rabbit, or a bull when disturbed from his cows, could detect these emotions. So why not joy, happiness and its converse, sadness and sorrow.
And if so would it not be possible to find these emotions at the root of morality.
And where did the morality of motherhood fit in? The warthog had bolted when danger suddenly appeared, faster than her piglets could run. Should she have turned and defended her progeny when she heard the squeal of her piglet. And when she had time to think, and seen that it was an eagle, and not a leopard, should she have been aggressive? Some animals are.
Should she have been willing to sacrifice herself? Maybe it was worth it for two piglets, but if it is only one, are they expendable.
Is morality, with its ingredients of kindness and care, an integral part of nature? Or is morality only amongst those animals who can communicate ideas. Something not part of instinct. Something which needs to be taught and learned,? And if so how fundamental can its ideas be. Is there any universality. But if so, why the disparity of morality between religions. or are religions simply the adaptations of each society to police its needs. Could the choices of the hog be refined by evolution into language, and into religious morality, and further percolated into the laws of society.
Precious suddenly had a picture of how on the side of the road in the park, here and there she could still see the signs, rusted and forlorn colonial remnants, 35 mph, instead of the present republics 60kmh. Society needs a speed limit, she thought, but 35mph is not the same as 60kmh.
She was ambivalent about all of it.
After all the fate of her mother had not been much above that of a warthog, on its knees rooting in the mud, scrounging for scraps.
It was a fate still destined to be suffered by so many of her peers in the villages. ‘Hewers of wood and bearers of water’. A status which was almost biblical in its nuances. To which should be added bearers of babies.
Out there, where could one find a husband who would limit his aspirations to only one or two children? How often had she seen her peers, even the most ambitious, seen their aspirations smothered under their emotional obligations to care for a child, and another, and another, until their dreams were lost in the cries of babies, and the chopping of wood, and splash of water from the community pump.
After all in the villages the age of consent was largely biological, and not statutory. ‘She has grass, we play ball’ was the adage.
And most girls had enough grass by the age of thirteen for the game of life to begin.
Precious reach the kitchen and turned on the lights. Without guests in camp there was still enough power in the solar batteries to brighten the light filaments and reveal the pots and pans stacked on the shelves, and the kettle on the stove, the heating of which would be her first task.
She continued her reverie as she moved through the mechanics of her duties.
Was she wrong to have resisted the pressure to marry and be some man’s possession. To be purchased and be bred like a cow.
She knew that she was special, and it was reflected in her aloofness. In her case, not all of the social laws applied.
Not that she had chosen it that way.
She realized from the stories, that her obstinacy came from her father, as did her acute sense of injustices, perceived or real. She had also inherited his focus and determination to resist any injustices, in so far as she was affected.
But, Precious knew that her logic and ability to reason was from her mother.
If he had been able to reason, her father would probably not have ended up with a bullet through his eye and another in his chest, and his body been put on display on the streets of Solwezi, for all to see that the power and muti of this magic man had ended. He would have realized the futility of his cause.
But it was the legacy of his lingering magic in the minds of the people that was both a blessing and a curse.
It had rendered both Precious and her mother relatively ‘untouchable’. People were wary of messing with Mushala’s women,. Nobody knew what kind of spirit lurked in their shadows. What kind of spirit had he become? Would his ghost haunt those that messed with his kindred?
No man was bold enough to take Mushala’s widow to wed. And an unsupported woman in the village without a man to provide the framework of structure and support, leads an austere and meagre life in most of its facets.
But, sometimes these ‘limbo’ women culd find themselves being considered as preferable if tradition has to be fulfilled. After all Mushala’s ghost could hardly object if his wife or his daughter were unwillingly chosen to be at the center of an age old ceremony.
Precious let her thoughts flow through her hands and down into her grasp on the handle of the broom. She automatically swept the floor of the kitchen, and mindlessly brushed the few crumbs and dust left from the previous eve’s activity towards the door. Guests were expected to arrive later in the day, and the cleaning would start in the kitchen.
So was her mother behaving like the warthog wehn she was instructed by the chiefs orderly to send her daughter to the hut of a invited and privileged guest.
Precious wondered, if she had wailed, or screamed would her cries have been as futile as those of the piglet? Was it that her mother had another slightly older child to tend to. Or, like the hog, had her shock rendered her unable to count, and understand that one of her progeny was not at her side. Had she been emotionally expendable to her mother?
But maybe, despite the terror she had felt, it was that experience on the final eve of the annual ‘Juba JaNsomo’ festival, when she had just begun to feel the grass growing on the field of her life, which afforded Precious the luck which changed it all.
The luck came in a very strange form, in that of a Seventh Day Adventist. This honored guest had incurred a fine, a very severe fine, for showing disrespect to the chief. His religious morality had balked when he was confronted with the accepted in the tradition of the festival. He had refused to accept the gift bestowed upon him of a 14 your old virgin consort for the eve. And by the next year, Precious was no longer young enough to be considered as one of the offerings.
No longer young enough to potentially be condemned to a biblical life hewing its wood, and bearing its water and babies.
Instead, the man had given the child a magazine, to placate her nervousness before sending her on her way back to her mother.
It was a magazine left laying on a coffee table in his house in the far off city by his wife.
He had picked it up to read a political article, whose catchy phrase, in small print on the cover had caught his attention.
But it was not the catchy phrase that caught the young girl’s attention, it was the sumptuously dressed woman who dominated its cover.
The Vogue magazine was filled with a plethora of color and clothing, brimming with fashion and style. It was over-flowing with ideas so radically different from those of the bush, of the huts of the village, of the tin cans of water to be carried, dirt floors to be swept with a grass brush, and corn flour to be cooked into Nchima.
And as they say, all the rest is history.
(46 – The River God) (started 2018 10 29)
The echoes of the subdued sense of elation which had filled my core for the last twenty four hours still reverberated in my soul as I sat on the couch in Claudia’s little hideaway cottage.
Strangely that sensation had only taken hold a few minutes before the aircraft entered Zambian airspace, and began its descent to Lusaka. It was as I looked out the window and could see, far below, the silvered reflection on the waters of Lake Kariba. I could imagine it was the long arthritic finger of Nyami-Nyami the river god pointed disrespectfully, along the twisted path of the Zambezi valley, out west towards the setting sun.
‘Iwe, Muzungu! I could hear the cranky God shouting up at me, ‘Just like the sun sets, your efforts to drown my power will one day fail and be futile.’
And a memory of the old news reels flickered in my mind of the drama that is now smothered by time and the placid waters of the dam. Empresit the Italian firm battling to sve its coffer dams, and Rupert Fothergill rescuing the drowning animals.
Africa, still pointing the blame for its ills at others.
Surreptitiously, so that my fellow passengers would not notice, from my window seat I gave my middle finger back at the hoary old sod.
‘Go fuck yourself!’ I muttered under my breath.
My perception of the feisty old bugger’s attitude lifted my spirits and with it my sense of elation.. Intrinsically it was part of Africa’s appealed to me, like the Greeks, the African pantheon of Gods are much more interesting than those of the west. This just augments my feeling of returning to the ‘Real Africa’ I love, whose vestiges begin north of the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers..
My elation had even survived the slight sense of despair that usually niggles at my consciousness when the flight from Joburg is routed over the northern portions of the city. This allows me to see how the unsightly urban sprawl is steadfastly scratching away at the farmlands and remnants of the bushveld that once existed between the city and the airport.
Even as recently as a decade ago I always felt that the road from the airport to the traffic circle where it meets the great East Road, tobe one of the most picturesque approaches to any African airport. The unspoiled richness of the original veld trees filled the view on the airport side of the road, and the parklike openness, dotted with tall Borassus palms pleased the eye on the other.
But, of course, the amulet at its end, the Eucalyptus grove which decorated its junction with the Great East Road is gone. Gone along with the man who planted the trees, old Abe Galoon, who came here when the vast expanses of Africa was supposed to host the new Eden of a Jewish Homeland. Gone too, is the pair of Black Sparrowhawks who, each year would raise their chicks in the grove.
Now, large commercial buildings are starting to spring up along the south side of the road, and there is a rumor of a new airport terminus,. Obviously it will be funded by the Chinese, and built by them, and the predictable lack of repayment on its debt will be held as government blackmail.
And, beyond the airport north towards the mission, big billboards in Chinese announce the great new Sino African partnership and brotherhood. On the flight a third of my fellow passengers had been Chinese. Probably they were on their way out to join their peers in building an industrial park as well as the roads, bridges and whatever else it will take to buy the Chinese government influence and ability to grab access to more of the country’s resources.
It being the late flight into Lusaka I only cleared out of customs after sunset. Thus I did not have to suffer a visual update of the slow attrition to the grassy verdancy that is the lush wet season panorama, and how the unique open parkland to the northeast with its sprinkling of palm trees, is being replaced by low-cost housing.
Instead I was grateful to be collected by the shuttle to Pioneer camp, close to the Great East Road, where I spent the night hosted in its atmosphere of old comfortable Africa, and listening to the cries of the night-apes and the hoods of the spotted Eagle Isles in the trees above my chalet.
Hearing these sounds of Africa I smiled to myself as I thought of the billboards announcing the Sino-African brotherhood. Just the ostentatious announcements of the latest quasi-colonizer believing their own bullshit I surmised. I wondered how long it would take before the yellow replaced the white man in the African psych as the prime motivating focus for resistance or blame.
Africa always eventually manages to find a teacher to champion its lessons, Idi Amin taught the Indians that they were not welcome. Mugabe repeated this to the Europeans. I wondered where, and which leader would be tasked by history to teach the Chinese that here the only true brotherhood is that of the tribe.
But, now I am sitting updating my journal on the couch in Claudia’s small cottage in one of the dilapidated suburbs of Lusaka. It is now very beautifully upgraded.
Mohammed has provided her with the where-with-all to create a little cloistered oasis. It is surrounded by red brick walls high enough to hide it from -the scruffiness outside, and thereby give it a hidden anonymity which screens it from the attention of unsuspecting passers-by.
On the inside the walls give the place a courtyard like atmosphere, which is augmented by the Bouganvillea creeper which Claudia has trained up and along the top, each wall draped in hues of red, white, pink, or purple profusion.
I checked out of Pioneer about an hour ago and intend spending the night here, as I plan to leave back for the bush at 5am, to avoid the choking strangle of traffic that clogs the city center later on.
I was very lucky I had found this place, and Claudia. When visiting the city I could be here six days of the week. Fridays I needed to stay elsewhere, hence last night’s sojourn at Pioneer.
To make things work, I always needed to adjust my schedule around Claudia’s, because once a week she entertains Mohammed.
Lately he had taken to spending Thursday eve. He would then rise early on Friday, as it seemed he enjoyed the extended daybreak walk to attend the morning prayers with his sons at the mosque, as was his strict custom.
In my journal I noted that I had returned to Joburg after my short trip up to Bulawayo, to pick Trevor’s brains about the Mlimo, and if he could shed any light on how it may be involved in the weirdness up on the Kafue.
I also noted that while in Joburg I had met Sophia.
Yes….. Really…. I met Sophia yesterday.
I waited 7 years the first time to meet her and now I had waited 23 years to meet again.
After all this time I am still moved by her memory and her presence.
Miracles do happen. Not least was getting my passport renewed the day before I left, and after I had given up hope of being able to make it. Luckily I had not yet booked new air tickets.
I did not write about the meeting when I arrived back from Joburg last night as I was still on a high.
Now I have had all night to think about it.
I wondered if she would respond to my post telling her the she is beautiful… or was she still able to cut me back out of her life as profoundly as she had in the past. She was always stronger than I in this aspect of life.
But…. What was amazing was that I never expected to see this pinnacle of beauty, and success, and moral aloofness in mourning.
Yup *mourning* is the only word I can think of which epitomized my impression. An aura of sadness, of loss and dark despair, even fear.
For days I had been on edge with eager anticipation to see this woman who had haunted me for most of my life.
I arrived early and sat at the café we later were to sit and sip our coffee as we unfurled the past.
I read my book and counted down the minutes to 11am…… 22 minutes, then 12. At 4 I was too excited and nervous. I walked up the street and back and exactly as 11 appeared on my watch I pressed the door buzzer.
I was awkward and bumbling and trying to impress, and I did not connect all the dots… But I registered all the dots and slowly over the night I put them one at a time in place, until the pixilated image of her life slowly emerged, as i had thought about it all night.
As I walked in the door she was standing opposite…. from out of the dim gloom of her office I saw her smile at me for the first time in 23 years.
She led me into a side office, hers maybe?, and she started talking to me almost as if it was a job interview, letting me talk and tell a bit of my life… kids, years, business… after all it was her turf and I was the intruder,…..she had the psychological edge on me. She initially offered me something to drink… I said no.
‘Let’s get the fuck out of here’…. I was constantly thinking if I should say that.
A call came in and she asked a pretty young dark haired girl to come in and do something.
That was when the mourning and sadness first broke through to my senses. As she talked to Camie she was accusing and annoyed, and made it even worse with a hollow laugh at the end of each ‘paragraph’ of their conversation…. just to rub it in and pretend to be civil. My heart went out to the girl. I wanted to say to her ‘You are doing just fine sister..’
But…. I seemed to have thawed Sophia out a tad and she suddenly said ‘lets go out and eat..’
Ohh man!! I could have jumped across the table and kissed her. I did not need this formal bland office talk crap, and know that her employees were listening.
As she stopped to give instructions to Camie… something about something needing to be sent to the printer and for Camie to finish her stuff and for it to be ready for a Monday meeting….
As I stood listening, I sought to change the heaviness of the atmosphere, of unease and anxiety. So, knowing the magic I have to encourage and provide leadership and motivate…. I introduced myself, I used this dramatic interjection, and then paused.
I wanted to show them all how different I was and how I felt for Sophia . I wanted to signal to her my feelings, without upsetting her equilibrium, just as I had said in email. But I did not want to say it directly. I also wanted to thank her for saying lets get the heck out of the stark grey austerity into the brightness of the Highveld sunshine…..
So I used the dim austere setting of the impromptu stage to narrate what had always been my silent personal soliloquy.
I told all of them the story, from his ‘Stone Cold Jug’, of Herman Charles Bosman walking the 100 yards to fix a light fixture of the prison gate after being in a 1920 prison for years. Of him not seeing the outside world for so so long. How beautiful it actually was for him in the subdued hues of the dust and the rocks and dry grass, as opposed to the kaleidoscope colors of his imagined world.
I told them that was how I saw Sophia… I told it from my heart and they could tell its truth and they responded to that truth… all of them.
Later she said it made her blush. She needs to blush much more. Everything about her broadcasts sadness and despair. Her office is stark, bleak and without cheer. Her clothing is grey and black with long sleeves and done all the way up her neck, and acts as a defensive barrier between her and the world. It covers and hides her body and dissipates any joy and happiness that may sneak out from behind the wane smiles and slight twinkles in her eyes when I did manage to get her to briefly forget about the weight of the world on her shoulders.
I tried to remember her gorgeous big soft and surprisingly weightless breasts… the beautiful bell shape of her hips, as they spawn the curves of her thighs and calves. But the bleakness of the covering and clothing smothered my memories.
I asked her if she had pierced ears. I wanted to give her a pair of my autumn earrings. She exclaimed that she has no jewelry except a ring from her father, engraved HK? – Henry, if I remember correctly. She told me he is still alive. I asked of her sister.
She seems to see herself as a victim of her own character. She chooses the same kind of men in her life she says. Men who let her down. Men like me… and now her husband. She says there were others. Her Alan has survived the purges of the ‘Black Empowerment’ at the University. . He is off doing his fun academic thing, surrounded by adoring young student groupies. Naturally he has been dallying with a few of them while she has been trying to make the business run and raise her daughters.
With me she is right the first time and wrong the second, and third, maybe now the fourth time. I told her I did not want to upset the equilibrium of her life in anyway…. And I didn’t.
What I did not know is that the equilibrium of her life is fucked up in any case. If anything I could maybe nudge it back into kilter.
She is still the only woman I think that I could have stayed with all my life….. hmmmmm maybe….. I say maybe because I do not know who this woman in mourning is today. I have changed and she has changed and we are not who we were and I may still be able to love her, but that is not enough.
Where is the bright happy impulsive girl I loved, and if that girl is still in her body, I still loved her..
Just like I stilloved the bush which has not changed since I was a boy, I knew that I could still love her body, still full and round and cuddly. But the bush regenerates and rejuvenates itself with each rainy season. We do not.
She said she remembers our time almost as if it was someone else’s. That she wonders that she was the age of her daughters now when all that happened.
Not me! I remember everything….
And I do. I remember the first interview she had with me as an induction nurse.. Under the eucalyptus trees at the base in the Karroo. Of her walking out the mess tent early in the morning as I was doing pull ups on the bars and seeing her full swaying figure which she could not hide under the shapelessness of her droopy brown sweater. That was the moment I fell in love. The moment I wanted to be with her. The first time we almost made out on her bed. The other girls in her barrack room almost entering, and then leaving as they obviously saw what was going on… Then later, on leave, me calling her to say that a friend of mine was outside to bring her something and then watching her run across the street from her parents apartment and seeing me and the joy and excitement of our embrace… Going to the beach with Mark and seeing how white and lovely she was and how wonderfully curvy were her legs. Floating down the Mooi River and making love after the disastrous weekend on the Drakensberg and a car hitting into the back of the one we were hitchhiking in as we returned to the base in Durban.
So much and so many memories.
And as I told her, relationships were and are the biggest failure of my life. The lack of commitment, and trying to please everyone, has destroyed some of the biggest chances I ever had….. or did they?
The war changed everything. Without the war and hearing that young soldier crying for his mother I would have gone back to Sophia . I would never have gotten to know my daughter. Maybe it was for the best, as I was still too weak. I would have been too weak for Sophia. She needed a strong man to be a rock of steadiness in her life. I matured late. Only in the war and with Moses help did I learn to take real chances, and provide real leadership. Only now would she feel the power of my life. my optimism and zest for life no matter what it throws at me…. Even the prospect of a potential future blindness. After all I have my father’s genes.
To hell with being blind, but to feel her soft gorgeous figure press up close to me, and hear her voice and laugh as a bridge connecting the now and the then.
We will see. She has no idea the turmoil and strife that awaits if she decides after all to leave her man. Neither does he. When she does he will get all frantic and mistake the horror of rejection for love….
Hmmmm I wonder if there was a lot of that in her feelings for me and the devastating hurt that overcame her when I went silent and withdrew into myself during the war.
But she did not know that I was not rejecting her. I was sacrificing myself for my daughter, and a feeling of doing the right thing for that new life.
Since then I have listened to Claudia telling of the horror of her life when her man walked out , when her second baby was 2 months old. I am glad I was not so cruel to Erin..
Anyway to hell with the water that has passed under the bridge.. It is gone. It is the ice of the last 30 years that may be thawing, which interests me. Where is it going to seep? Is it going to trickle? Or flow? Maybe even flood? Will it sweep us away like Empresit’s coffer dams?
Weird how wonderfully complex life is.
We will see!
Once we stumble over the crest of our lives we are who we are..
I am who I am. I am no longer like uncured concrete which can flow and fil and shape itself to the forms of life.
Like the crusty character of the old river god, time has made us brittle and hard. Now, we are who we are. We can no longer be as someone else wants us to become, not even ourselves.
With the toothless grin of Nyami-Nyami leering at the flood of my thoughts, I finished scribbling these last words in my journal, and looked up to see Claudia’s smiling face as she walked through the dooway.
And suddenly I heard the melody and lyrics of Steven Stills singing in my mind…
Don’t be angry – don’t be sad
Don’t sit crying over good times you’ve had,
There’s a girl right next to you
And she’s just waiting for something to do.
Well there’s a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove,
And if you can’t be with the one you love honey
Love the one you’re with
(47 – Claudia)
WOW! You look very businesslike!’
I was unused to see Claudia wearing such a smart mono-tone business suit, and holding a leather briefcase.
Usually she was dressed in more colorful clothing, more eye catchingly patterned, and comfortably cut.
It was one of the reasons she liked working back in Africa, she claimed, ‘out here people are a bit more personally extravagant, they like to show off a bit more, and bright clothing is not frowned on in the workplace.’
‘Why not, she often iterated, ‘colors cheer everyone up!’
Claudia is one of those wonderful people who never seem to have a bad day. She is always full of smiles and laughing at something. And I guess if her predilection for color has a part in this, I am all for it.
‘Well, I’ve come straight from the office.’ she replied, as she set her leather briefcase and car keys down on the table.
‘In certain circumstances, I have to portray an image of respect for the situation’, she quipped over her shoulder as she filled the kettle to make a cup of tea. ‘Thankfully, that is not often. However, today was one of those occasions. I was dealing with someone, who I feel needs to be sent an emphasized message that I am a ‘no-nonsense professional. Hopefully it will be the best way to nip things in the bud.
My curiosity was piqued. I knew that she handled the financial and accounting side of some of Mohammed’s more sensitive business’s.
Exactly what these were she never overtly explained. She is surely very good at her job, because he obviously trusts her ability to do what is needed, and it was said that Mohammed did not suffer incompetence at close quarters.
Even though I was excluded from her business life, like a dog let back into the house after a party, I often could sniff out and pick up enough of the discarded scraps to know what had been served as the main course at the previous eve’s party. Sometimes it was hearing her replies to snippets of phone conversations, or at others it was being privy to her rare expressions of frustration at the possible consequences of her tasks.
I knew not to pry. The only occasions I had ever endured a flash of her annoyance and a snap of her tongue was when I had crossed that line, which even extended into our public interactions. On the few occasions I bumped into her at the Rhapsody restaurant in the Arcades., her favorite lunch venue, a frown flashed my way would warned me off when she obviously was hosting a lunch meeting.
I often wondered if it was more to protect herself, or me that she withheld information. Was this also why, outside the walls of her courtyard, she publically kept me at a distance, bolstering the appearance of our transactional tenant landlord relationship.
She obviously benefited from Mohammed’s protectional umbrella, and surely it was of a type that was able to withstand more than just the splash of raindrops.
One did not accrue such a reputation, and the reputed wealth as Mohammed. Or be known to dabble in some of the more choppy businesses of Africa, without sometimes sailing close to the wind, especially if one is not an African. He obviously cultivated friends in high places, which meant, of necessity he had accumulated corresponding enemies who splashed more than just the mud at the bottom of the puddles.
if I were associated with her, and thus with him, I ran the risk of becoming a minor part of a tally, if any old outside scores were settled.
And I ran an even greater risk if the score was being kept inside the courtyard walls, and it was Mohammed who was the scorekeeper.
From what I could gather, Claudia was brilliant at keeping Mohammeds affairs sailing as closely into the wind as possible, and knowing what to do, ease the tiller, or tighten the jib when the sails began to luff.
And who was I to complain, indirectly I was also the beneficiary of some of the appreciations he slipped her way.
‘Would you like a cup of tea with me?’ and without waiting for my reply she started pouring out a second cup.
‘ I am sorry I missed you when you came through a few weeks ago.’
I took the tea cup she handed me.
‘No problem.’ I said as I also reached out to take a few of the Marie Biscuits she presented. I dunked one into my tea before continuing.
‘I have the spare key, and I got your text that the coast was clear.’
I quickly lifted the sodden biscuit to my mouth before it disintegrated in the hot beverage.
‘By the way where were you?’ I asked.
‘I was up in Mufilira on business.’
She always sent me a WhatsApp message saying she was gone, and noting if her rental room was available.
‘I deposited the ‘rent”, so I am legit.’ I winked at her, ‘As always I strive to be one of your best boarders.’
She glanced her dark eyes at me over the top of the cup she held in both hands.
‘Ohh you are!’
Claudia’s cottage sits to one side of the courtyard complex. The brick work of its surrounding wall, and most of the patio paving and path which leads across to the back of a twin car garage, is much fresher than that of the cottage and the servant’s quarters behind it.
The dwellings older brick work and building style match some of the larger adjacent dwellings on the block, hinting at a common vintage. This is an age which matches that of the large Jacaranda’s whose shade somehow ameliorates the tiredness of the old buildings beneath them.
Back in the colonial days the cottage was a managers dwelling, part of a bigger operation which once occupied the whole block of what is now a part of the city suburbs.
Claudia no longer has dependents and her relatively austere lifestyle means she does not need servants.
Both her sons are in the UK, where they had grown up. It was only once they had left home that Claudia returned to Africa. In the final tally her children had been fortunate. Even though their father had been a bad husband, he had been a good Dad, Thus her kids grew up with all the benefits of UK citizenship, and the privileges that a barrister father and an accountant mother could afford.
Her only regret was that her ‘boys’ were little ‘Englishmen’, who had none of their mothers love of Africa, or desire to do anything other than briefly visit the tourist spots when they occasionally came out to visit.
Claudia often reminisced to me how her son’s youthful years were very different to hers, which were initially spent in poverty, and then found her bouncing back and forth between her English father and her Zambian mother. How she was glad that she had provided a more stable upbringing for them than her own. She said in some way she envied them this foundation, which gave them their sense of identity.
Claudia’s mother had been a Bemba nanny, taking care of the children of a sergeant in the British Army. He stayed after Zambian independence as part of the British Government’s aid in training the new Zambian army. The irony had been that it was his wife, and not the Sergeant, who had most fervently resisted and denied Claudia’s mother’s attempts at getting the English authorities to recognize the Sgt. as the father of the little chocolate girl which she had delivered.
It was only when Claudia was on the brink of her teens, and after the Sergeant had divorced his wife that he signed the paternity papers. These finally allowed Claudia’s mother to overcome the latent racism that lingered in the British home office, and got Claudia the cherished passport which in turn enabled her to begin realizing hers and her mother’s proxy ambitions, with that of an education being at the fore. Thus, In addition to the passport, a belated child care stipend was sufficient to send her to Chisipitie Girls School in the then pariah break away ex-colony of Rhodesia. This endeavor was organized by a mate of her fathers who had joined the Rhodesian SAS during the bush war., and stayed on. Seemingly cut from the same cloth as his mate, he had also fathered an out of wedlock little mulatto girl, and thought it, rightly, best if his daughter had someone of her ilk to share the slurs and taunts that would doubtless be thrown their way, with the preponderance of white girls which still made up the major quorum of pupils.
I guess it was this baptism of racial fire that tempered the steel in Claudia’s young soul which stood her instead for the rest of her life. As well as the great schooling she received there.
But for me, the upshot of all this was that Claudia had an unused servants quarters in her courtyard. These were perfect for my needs.
I had found Claudia as a result of my search for a place to stay on those rare occasions that I came into the city on errands. The eight-hour drive from the lodge to the city almost always necessitated at least a one night lay over.
After a life in the bush, my needs were very simple. But still I preferred something that fitted in between the basics of a tent, and a chalet purposed for Safari tourists.
As she sat next to me on the couch, Claudia set down her cup and twisted sideways and then leaned back so that she lay her head on my lap.
‘It was a rough day at the office, I need a little pampering,’ she smiled up at me.
I stroked her forehead and brushed my hand over the lushness of her thick black curly hair.
But I was still curious about her comment describing her need for a business suit.
‘What do you mean needing to nip something in the bud?’
‘Ohh it’s nothing much really, she said, it is just that sometimes you have men who still live in the last century. They do not realize that today, even here, the rules have changed. This guy seems not to understand that some of his attitudes and actions are no longer acceptable, when it comes to his dealing with woman. In his world woman are all servants, and should be put behind burqas.
Claudia paused before asking, ‘Can you massage my shoulders?’
I moved my big strong hands down and began to knead as she continued.
So with him, a good business suit, and not pandering to his presumptive flippancy when he starts to flirt, helps me to keep him at a distance, and maybe make him realize that he cannot behave in his usual fashion.
Does Mohammed know about this guy? I asked, then proceeded without waiting for a reply. ‘He is a son of a bitch when it comes to business, but from the little I have met him, he seems to be a polite and mannered sort. I would imagine e would not stand for this sort of stuff!
Then slightly doubtful, I added, ‘Would he?’
Claudia just made a wry pursing of her lips as I continued.
‘Given the sort of arrangement you have with him, wouldn’t he intervene and put a stop to any monkey business you did not like?’
Claudia sighed, ‘Actually if he was a client it would be easier, but it is not so simple.’
I let the indignation creep into my voice. ‘What do you mean, not so simple. Who does Mohammed prefer getting a blow-job from? You or this other schmuck?
Claudia looked up at me sharply, ‘You and your coarseness,’ she scolded me, ‘No, the problem is that he is part of the extended clan. He is a different sort of beast… very different from the rest of them.’
I took a sip of my tea.
‘Really, I know the Beyh clan. I know Mohammed, and I know his 3 sons, and Yusuf the old uncle, who seems to be relatively harmless. I didn’t know there was another active member of the Beyh clan in the city.’
Claudia sighed again, ‘Gidi, you don’t know the whole story. It is a story of Africa.
You never met old man Beyh. He is now dead. When they Indians were kicked out of Zanzibar, he moved here.
Old man Beyh was a very astute man.’ Claudia closed her eyes in pleasure at my manipulations, and continued speaking with her eyes closed. ‘Even as he found himself being expelled by the racial fervr of the nationalism sweeping across Africa, the old man could see big opportunities. African nationalism would be Pan-African, it would need logistics, which in many instances would cross borders, and continents. Also he recognized that primarily the face off would be between Black Africa and White colonialists, or their inheritors, which in turn meant that like the Jew in the old middle age feudal system, someone who did not inherently fall into either bracket would have an advantage. They would be outside how the blacks and whites saw each other. They could move where others could not.
Even more advantageous was if the ‘fixers’ had people they could trust on the other side of borders, in countries where the rule of law was scant, or randomly and erratically enforced, maybe even non- existent, especially in times of strife.
So old man Beyh did not keep his sons next to him, he sent them to set up shop in different countries in Africa. To South Africa, to Botswana, to Kenya and Mozambique. The old man had his eldest son, Mohammed, stay here in Zambia with him.
The other piece of the canvas that has been painted with the Bayh dynasty was that On Zanzibar the old man owned a motor repair shop. All of the sons worked in that shop, and they all knew how to operate and fix big haulage trucks. And old man Beyh knew that the revolutionary movements would need logistics and trucks to haul their guns, uniforms, food, and people from the ports of Dar es Salaam, or Luanda or Beira, down to the front lines on the Zambezi , Chobe, Shire, or Limpopo rivers. Down to where ever the struggle moved.
Thus each of the sons used the same recipe, at their father’s insistence, in each of their new adopted countries to set up a Pan-African long-haul trucking network.
Old man Beyh had been in Africa all his life, and he knew that on this continent, it is only the tribal bond which counts for much.
They never looked back, and it is the long distance hauling at the core of their cross-border family allegiance that allows them to stay ahead of the other jackals.
Claudia slowly pronounced each syllable in the name. I could detect the distaste in her voice, but I could also picked up a slight note of respect in the way she said it.
‘He is the youngest of the brothers,’ she said. ‘You haven’t heard of him, because he controls those tentacles of the babe families reach up in Dar es Salaam. Of all the brothers, Mustafa is the one who is most like his father. He sees opportunities where others see only chaos. He thrives where the rule of law is scant and danger scares everyone else away.
As you know, our neighbor to the north, the Congo is a huge country, so large in fact atht it is almost ungovernable. Its eastern regions are scantly controlled from the government on the west coast, which is barely able to govern even itself. And in the east of the Congo is where many of its minerals are found. There is fierce competition for those minerals, from both east and west. The rare earths and copper are all elements treasured by the Europeans, the Americans and the Chinese. And all if it needs to be hauled from somewhere to somewhere else, and other stuff taken back again.
Lubumbashi and the Congo Panhandle, as it sticks down into the heart of this country, is one of those mineral rich and wild-west regions. It is where opportunity is rife for the stout of heart.
Like the smell of rotting meat attracts a hyena, some such stench has recently caught the attention of the youngest of the Beyh brothers. Mustafa Beyh has started to uncurl one of his long slippery tentacles. He has begun to sniff the air just across the border from Mufilira.
However, informally, but just as strictly, Mustafa and Mohammed are partners in the family business.
Thus, in some ways Mustafa also regards himself as my boss.
So you see Gidi, that is my problem, Mustafa is why I wear a suit.