Liliane chatted on the phone with Simone, dancing at the end of the cord. Petula Clark was singing “Coeur Blessé” on the radio. No, she told Simone, Gat was not with her in the apartment. She laughed merrily, excitedly. Couldn’t she guess? Where else would an officer be tonight? Sealing the fate of the prisoner, of course. Yes, a great night for Katanga! By the time it was over, everything would have changed. When Gat returned, Simone suggested, why didn’t they all go party? There’d probably be dancing in the streets. They’d meet somewhere. They’d come home and make love. What a night!
Gat stood in the darkness, waiting for the third man to be brought before the vehicle headlights. Nearby three shallow graves lay in the sandy soil. Bodies rested in two of them. The third man whose body would fill the empty grave sat huddled on the ground, his hands and feet manacled. The conspirators waited in silence. Earlier in the evening these men, officials of the self-declared government of Katanga and their former colonial masters, now their advisors, had kicked and beaten and pummeled this third man. That had been in the parlor and bathroom of the small house outside Elisabethville where he and the others were brought, tied together, and imprisoned.
Because of the beatings this man could not now walk. Gendarmes lifted him, dragged him to a tree. The air was cold for Central Africa. The smell of gunpowder hung in it. The gendarmes stood the man against the tree. Headlights illuminated his shirt, his teeth, the whites of his eyes. Tall, thin, dazed from beatings, the man still managed to hold himself erect. He looked at the conspirators one at a time as they stood backlit by the headlights. Most of them averted their eyes. Several stared back at this enemy who had fallen into their hands. One of them coughed sputum into his mouth, with a sound like the crack of a whip, and spat at him.
A Belgian advisor quietly commanded, “Gat, do your duty.”
The prisoner’s eyes sought the captain. Gat stared back at him. He thought: I did not know he would look at me. The eyes watched from a bruised and swollen face. Time seemed to stop. Gat did not give the order. He stared at the man who, six months before, had led his country out of colonialism into independent nationhood and now—
“Captain Gat!” An impatient whisper from the colonel.
Gat did his duty. He pronounced the order. Shots reverberated in the still darkness. No longer a man, the lank frame crumbled to the ground. An official of Katanga stepped forward to kick the body. He spat at it. Others joined the spitting. They passed a bottle of whiskey. Gat shuddered. He hoped no one saw him.
The body was dragged beside the other two and shoved into its grave. Katanga gendarmes shoveled soil over the bodies. When they finished, they swept branches from the tree across the graves to disguise what they were.
The men returned to their vehicles. Gat rode in the fourth car, the one that had brought the prisoners. During the trip back to Elisabethville neither he nor the driver spoke.
When Gat returned to his apartment, he found Liliane in a party dress and dancing shoes. “Is it true?” she asked. “Is Lumumba dead?”
“Were you there?” she pestered. “Did you see him die? That monkey!” She laughed and twirled so that her skirt flared above her knees. “Did you kick him for me?”
Gat walked past her into the bedroom. He flung the shirt of his combat fatigues onto the floor. Liliane watched him from the doorway, her feet still dancing. When Gat’s tee shirt landed on the floor, she stepped uncertainly into the bedroom. She picked up the shirts and folded them over her arm. Gat sat on their bed, loosened the laces of his boots, pulled them off and pitched them at her feet. His socks followed. Then his fatigue trousers. Then his shorts. Gat went to the bureau, grabbed fresh underwear from a drawer, and left the room.
Liliane followed him into the hall. “Let’s go dancing,” she said. “The whole town is celebrating!” Gat shook his head. “Mon capitaine!” she laughed. “Let’s go. It’s not even midnight. What a night for parties!”
“You go,” Gat told her.
“Simone and Jean-Pierre are meeting us.”
Gat walked naked to the bathroom, tossed the fresh underwear onto the bidet, and entered the shower. He rubbed water onto his body. He lathered his hair. He soaped and scrubbed every part of himself with a sponge as if his body had not seen water in a year. He rinsed himself from head to toe, started to turn off the water, but instead turned it on with even more force. He relathered his scalp, resoaped his body. As he dried his body with a towel, Liliane knocked tentatively at the door. She peeked inside. “Are we going out?” she asked. She had turned on the radio in the living room and was dancing again.
Now dry, Gat gazed at his image in the mirror. His eyes narrowed at the sight of himself. He turned away from the mirror. He stepped back into the shower, turned on the water, and began to soap himself again. Liliane watched him. Finally she said, “I’m going out.” And she went.
After he dried himself the second time, Gat put on the underwear, walked barefoot to the kitchen, and got himself a beer. Turning off all the lights in the apartment, he went into the living room. He sat in the darkness, taking occasional swallows of beer that had no taste. He listened to the dancing and firecrackers in the street below. He thought about Patrice Lumumba, the prime minister of the newly independent Republic of the Congo. His party had won the elections the year before. He had acceded to power only last June. Now he lay in a shallow grave.
Gat left the beer unfinished and returned to the bathroom. He showered yet again. After he dried off, he sat on the toilet lid with the door closed so that he did not hear the music from the streets below. After a while the phone began to ring. He did not answer the calls. Some offered congratulations. “Man,” these callers would say, “I wish I’d been there myself!” Other callers, who would not identify themselves, cried: “Death to assassins! Gat, you will die for this!”
After a time he went into the bedroom. He gathered Liliane’s dresses and shoes from the closet. He opened the bureau drawers and assembled her tops and panties, hosiery and bras into a pile. He swept all these items into his arms, walked to the front door of the apartment and threw them all into the hallway. He returned to the bathroom and took another shower.
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